Saturday, June 17, 2023

"It's Not the Heat, It's the Stupidity" by Brave New Workshop at the Dudley Riggs Theatre

The common refrain: "it's not the heat, it's the humidity" can be heard frequently in a Minnesota summer. For their newest clever title, Brave New Workshop is playing off of this phrase with It's Not the Heat, it's the Stupidity (which is perhaps even more true). The longest running comedy theater in the country is doing something different for the summer. Typically their shows feature written comedy sketches, followed by a short improv section at the end. For this show, it's all improv, all the time! As host (and "boss" as the performers referred to him) Caleb McEwen said, there are just too many stupid things happening right now, and this way they can react to all of them daily instead of having a static script. Although there wasn't a lot of current events in the show I saw (yours might be different), just a lot of hilarious, clever, and delightfully stupid comedy. Each week's cast is pulled from a large group of some of the best improvisers in town, truly making each show different. The show plays every Friday and Saturday at 7:30 through August 5 (plus occasional matinees - click here for details).

While the show is fully improvised, it does have a structure, which I appreciate. Caleb introduces the show and gets the audience pumped, as he does with all BNW shows. But he sticks around, introducing each scene and explaining the rules of the game, and joining in on the fun. He encourages the Minnesota audience to participate by yelling out suggestions, or writing them down on a card for one of the games. He and the five performers (which on the night I attended the show included frequent BNW players Denzel Belin, Doug Neithercott, and Lauren Anderson, plus local improvisers Richie McLarn and Heather Meyer) then create a scene within the varying framework that was laid out, in pairs, small groups, or as the full cohort. Each one of these performers is so smart, and so fast, and so funny, it's a joy to watch them play (and sometimes crack each other up).

the lovely and talented group of improvisers from which
each week's cast is chose (photo courtesy of BNW)
The show opened with an improvised song based on an audience suggestion of something unpleasant they have to deal with (heartburn). It included several verses by cast members, and by the end the audience was singing along. Scenes include "experts," of whom the audience could ask questions or advice, a (not so) serious scene about pineapple on pizza, a story about a tornado told alternately by Heather and Doug with sentences starting with subsequent letters of the alphabet, and a musical about a shark who wanted to be a mime (played brilliantly by Lauren) which was kind of amazing. The show ended with a series of "love is like..." a suggested object or person, with all cast members taking turns.

A seventh member of the cast is Jon Pumper on keyboard, improvising a constant soundtrack to the scenes. It's so subtle and fits the story so well you almost forget it's there, until he throws in a little Wicked or a "Somewhere Out There" when the moon is mentioned. And sometimes maybe the music even directs the tone or story, especially during the musical.

Laughter truly is good for the soul, and the body, and the mind. It's Not the Heat, It's the Stupidity is an opportunity to forget the stupidity of our world and daily lives, and just laugh. And this talented group of humans shows that they're just as funny (if not funnier) when making words up than with a written script. See them now through August 5, after which they'll presumably return to their scripted format. Or maybe not, if this is a big hit!