The National Comedy Theatre, the nation’s leading improvisational comedy club, has opened a new theatre in Manhattan for a permanent run off-Broadway. Improvisational comedy, a show in which the audience yells out suggestions for the performers to create scenes, has been around for many years in many variations. Drew Carey’s popular show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” is a typical example.
The National Comedy Theatre takes the format and adds a new spin by making the show a competition between two teams, each trying to out- funny the other. The competition is fast and furious, with each team trying a number of tactics to win the audiences favor. Volunteers are routinely brought up on stage and asked to perform with the team, and performers will go to any means necessary to convince the audience that their team is funniest.
The show is not without structure however, a referee, dressed in black and white stripes, is on hand to solicit audience suggestions, move the show along and call the fouls and penalties. There are three major penalties that can occur in an NCT show (although the ref can make up his own if he feels like it).
The “Delay of Game” foul is called if a scene is boring or going nowhere. Picture “The Gong Show” and you get the idea here. A “Groaner” foul is called if a player causes the audience to groan because of a particularly bad pun or joke. In this instance, he would have to apologize to the audience and beg forgiveness or risk losing a point for his team. Finally, the most notorious foul, the “Brown Bag” foul, is called if a player says anything that the audience considers offensive, suggestive or crude. Should this occur, the player would have a brown paper bag placed over his or her head for the remainder of the scene. The audience is cautioned at the beginning of the show that they can be bagged as well, so the suggestions are kept strictly “above the belt.”
Since the show is completely clean, it is appropriate for all age groups. It is not uncommon to see three generations of people sitting in the audience on any given night.