I have not yet found a more accurate description for my quarantine mood than a line delivered in the middle of Jet City Improv’s Comedy in Quarantine. “Nathan, this is going very badly. It’s a new medium and I’m suffering.” With all the new skills we’re learning in quarantine, improv has gained a big one too: self awareness. An hour long, live-streamed showcase of four indie improv duos, Comedy in Quarantine has sprung up to replace the weekly, in-person improv we know and love, utilizing Twitch streaming and chat features to simulate the suggestion process so integral to improv.
The best moments of the performance adapted advantageously to the digital medium. The first comedy duo, The Appropriate Ladies of Weatherbee, used Zoom backgrounds to transport themselves to an ambiguous, old-timey England. The backgrounds helped the scene work in a way not possible in-person, complimenting iconic, off-kilter lines, such as, “I do love to crush a small bug between my fingers from time to time”, and “Mildred, I believe your goat is the devil incarnate.” The next team, Price Nixon, used backgrounds varying from Tiger King screencaps to a Third Eye Blind concert and Trolls: World Tour. Up next, Beckz and Mads filmed in their bathrooms, playing beauty vloggers stuck in Vegas due to a cancelled convention, being legally obligated to film YouTube videos from their hotel rooms. A delightful finale, Storyboard, featured live cartooning, music, and an improvised Choose-Your-Own-Adventure storybook. Storyboard served as delightful proof quarantine doesn’t have to tamper art, and leaning in to adaptation can create something wonderful.
However, in some moments the (social) distance between a Zoom call and a theater felt all too obvious. Without audience laughter to guide, many acts went on just a bit too long, leaving actors to flounder within the same, played out tropes. And one team's attempt at purposeful subversion lacked follow through, leading to a fairly uncomfortable segment. Although the show was, by definition, improv, I can’t say every act gave me the satisfaction I usually garner from a well-done show.
When watching the show, I was brought back to the recent, socially-distanced episode of Saturday Night Live. Tom Hanks, in the opening monologue, asked, “Will it make you laugh? Eh. It’s SNL.” Laughter, while a fickle thing, remains in dark times. Would I prefer to watch SNL at my best friend’s house, with her parents, devoted viewers? Yes. Would I prefer to be seeing Jet City Improv at a TEDS outing, sharing skittles and popcorn? Also yes. But the importance of humor is not that it is served in the most desirable manner. The only thing that matters is that the happiness is there.
Jet City Improv's Comedy in Quarantine livestreams every Friday at 7:30 PM. For more information see here.