Who Are You Laughing At?

Local improv comics are packing big laughs into our small state.


Ah, February. The frantic socializing and high excitement of the holiday season has faded into memory, the good cheer wearing off only moments after all the gifts were opened. New Year’s resolutions have been both valiantly attempted and subsequently abandoned. Football season is over, for better or for worse, and with it the tailgating parties and Sunday afternoons at the local sports bar. Although it may technically only be six weeks away, those of us who have spent more than a year or two as New Englanders know that whatever Punxsutawney Phil says, spring is still a long time coming.

Sure, you could just hunker down and do takeout and Netflix this weekend, again, but why would you, when for less than the cost of a movie ticket you can not only enjoy live entertainment, but be a part of the action, as well? Rhode Island is home to a host of improv troupes that offer shows nearly every night of the week, anchored by some of the state’s top performers and propelled by (100% voluntary) audience participation. If you loved reading those Choose Your Own Adventure books as a child, this grown-up version, where anything can happen and the show is never the same thing twice, is for you.

A Belly Full of Laughs
The first Saturday of each month, Improv Jones takes the stage at AS220, performing their unique, signature brand of comedy along with a rotating complement of special guests. Counting themselves amongst the longest running troupes in the country, Improv Jones was founded by Mauro Hantman in 1992, and consistently attracts some of the most experienced players in the local theater scene to their ranks, drawing their performers from such venerable institutions as Trinity Rep, The Gamm Theater and The Wilbury Group. In addition to their monthly shows, they are also the organizers of the Providence Improv Fest, a weekend-long event, now in its 13th year, that hosts over 40 local and out-of-town groups in two separate event spaces in September. $5. First Saturday of the month. 10pm. AS220 Black Box, 95 Empire Street, Providence. improvjones.com

Improvisation Through Collaboration
The Providence Improv Guild is exactly what it sounds like: a collaboration of various smaller independent acts, coming together to build, promote and share ideas within the improv community. From its humble beginnings as a means for struggling troupes to grow their respective audiences by offering a common space and schedule, the P.I.G. (as they are called) has over the years become a driving force in not only growing awareness of improv as an art form, but also as a training ground for the next generation, offering classes and workshops to the public throughout the year. Most shows utilize the long-form format of improvisation (meaning they continually build on one central idea throughout the program), but also offer both a short-form performance (multiple independent skits), as well as an entirely musical performance, where songs and lyrics are made up on the spot, once a month. Check their website for the current schedule. $5. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. 8pm. Southside Cultural Center, 393 Broad Street, Providence. improvpig.com

It’s All Fun and Games
Billing themselves as “Good for ages 2 to 92,” Friday Night Live is a family-friendly alternative for those with little ones for whom the late night shows may be a little too risqué (or would go right over their heads). The evening starts with a series of games, similar to the popular TV show Whose Line is it, Anyway?, and is followed by a musical component, accompanied by either Bertrand Laurence on guitar, or Keith Munslow on keyboard. Hosted by the Everett Theater Group, the performers are a mix of seasoned professionals and students who have come up through the Everett’s improv training classes which, like the P.I.G., are offered to the public and are taught by the Everett School co-founders, Dorothy Jungels and Aaron Jungels. $5. Fridays. 7pm. Everett Company Stage, 9 Duncan Avenue, Providence. everettri.org

Family-Friendly Comedy
Providence is a great city for many reasons, but more often than not, easy-to-find parking isn’t one of them. Save yourself some aggravation and head down to Warwick for Bring Your Own Improv (BYOI), fresh off of their eighth season at the Warwick Museum of Art. Grab a spot in the spacious lot behind the building and head into this small, intimate venue for one of two shows offered every Friday night. BYOI offers a family-friendly show at 7pm, followed by a PG-13 late show at 9pm. At the beginning of each performance, audience participants’ names are entered into a drawing to be the “Featured Audience Member”; the lucky winner gets to answer a list of questions that form the basis of the entire show. Check out their blog afterwards for a recap and enjoy your 15 minutes of fame! $8 adults/$4 seniors, military, students, children under 12. Fridays. 7pm and 9pm. Warwick Museum of Art, 3259 Post Road, Warwick. bringyourownimprov.com

Indulge, Imbibe and Improvise
Island dwellers, never fear, you can get your fill of laughs without ever having to cross a bridge. The Bit Players have been entertaining Newport since 2007 with their short-form improvisation and a BYOB policy that can make for some raucous crowds and, shall we say, interesting suggestions. A favorite for bachelor parties, birthdays and girls’ night out, the Players are more than happy to make the celebrants the focus of the show if you let them know beforehand. All-ages performances are also offered occasionally, on school vacations and holidays, so that the whole family can get in on the fun, and the Players can be booked for private or corporate events, too. They even provide complimentary soft drinks and coffee, as well as ice, cups and whatever else you might have forgotten to pick up at the liquor store on the way over. $15. Fridays 8pm; Saturdays 8pm and 10pm. Firehouse Theater, 4 Equality Park Place, Newport. bitplayers.net

A Side-Splitting Duo
In South County, get your giggle on with the Contemporary Theater Company’s (CTC) double whammy of improv offerings, Micetro Improv and The Weekender. Micetro is a weekly competition-style show, where the audience members vote for the best performer in a series of games, until all but one are eliminated and a winner is crowned (literally). Micetro is a nationally recognized improv format, performed all over the world and brought to Little Rhody (by way of New Zealand) by Ryan Hartigan in 2010. Like several of its Providence counterparts, the CTC offers improv classes year round, and many of its graduates are welcomed into the rotating cast of 8-16 performers. The Weekender began as an experimental lab space for those very students, and is still used primarily as a forum for open performances and testing new ideas, although outside groups are also welcome to perform. The show is curated and hosted by Neal Leaheey and Charlie Santos, and the various groups perform in sets of 20 minutes each. $8. Micetro Improv, Fridays 9:30pm. Weekender, Sundays 5pm. Contemporary Theater Company, 327 Main Street, South Kingstown. contemporarytheatercompany.com