A Healthy Return: Tucson Improv Movement is bouncing back from the COVID years

click to enlarge Cast members of TIM’s improv show “The Dating Scene” create good times from audience members’ bad dates. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
Submitted photo
Cast members of TIM’s improv show “The Dating Scene” create good times from audience members’ bad dates.

It’s as if a variety seed pack had been planted in the darkness of TIM Comedy Theatre. Imagine a retrospective time lapse revealing the COVID-long sprouting of it, almost every stem unique. Cut to the summer of 2022, it’s all starting to flourish, and (to strain the analogy to the breaking point), the theater now offers a veritable farmer’s market of comedy, most of it uniquely home-grown.

Tucson Improv Movement struggled with the constraints of COVID lockdown, but followed CDC guidance throughout. The company’s executive producer Justin Lukasewicz and other TIM company leaders decided early not to try live-streaming the theater’s regular programming. Instead, they prioritized maintaining an ensemble feel among players and inviting them to form teams around their own, fresh ideas for improv and other comedy formats.

Cast members played online in the spirit of “hang-time” with improv friends who had fun ideas to try.

The support for new show formats continued after the theater reopened in March 2021, carefully, mindful of CDC guidance. After some breaks for illness and switchbacks in COVID risk, Lukasewicz says, “We kind of got back up to regular strength in late summer, 2021, but we are just now getting up to our former numbers.”

As for programming, “We’re finding a good balance of what (our) people want to do, then making sure that we put good quality into it.” So now, if people come out on a Friday or a Saturday night, they’re going to see a show that feels put together and organized and right. It’s still all improvised, but we’re going to control the controllables to put on a good show.”

Four of the new formats now have such dependable quality that they’re being rotated into the theater’s regular programming. Besides such popular staples as The Soapbox and The Dating Scene, TIM prime time shows now also include The Meeting (a conference-table-bound send up of The Office), LA Law (a faux true-crime-procedural podcast) and Your Favorite Movie, Improvised, based on suggestions of genres and plot points from the audience. On deck is a new LGBTQA+ team that debuted on June 4 to kick off Pride month with A Big Wet Throbbing Queer Comedy Show.

TIM already had experienced the benefits of cast-member-led innovations with Carcajadas, the company’s unique, all Spanish-language improv show, and the more recently developed Boast Battle, a standup show that puts a positive spin on a traditional Roast Battle.

Lukasewicz says TIM’s Thursday slots will continue to feature more experimental programming, including alternating weeks of standup open mics and try-outs for new improv ensemble concepts. Meanwhile, he says, each of TIM’s rotating improv shows is different enough to have started attracting a unique following.

Lukasewicz notes that, ironically, “The standup show at 9 o’clock on Friday is one of our best-selling shows.” That may be partly because TIM also grows its own standup comics. The company’s comedy school curriculum includes two levels of standup taught by Tucson comedians and hosts Rich Gary, Rory Monserrat and Mo Urban. Standup 101 is now enrolling students for a 6-week course from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays, July 30, through Sept. 3. Registration is via tucsonimprov.com/school.

Laff’s: Maybe just pretend it’s your anniversary

This is as good as it gets for comedy date night: dinner and a show featuring Pauly Casillas at Laff’s Comedy Caffe, Friday and Saturday, June 10 and 11. Visit laffstucson.com for reservations.

Casillas has been Tucson’s top hometown comic for a decade. His appearances are rare though, because he’s a family man and he punches a clock. It turns out that’s all comedy gold.

He does occasionally get around. He’s played The Comedy Store in Hollywood and Caroline’s on Times Square. He’s shared stages with Russell Peters, Kyle Kinane and Maria Bamford, among other notables.

That’s not a shabby career for a guy who started his comedy life with a Gary Busey parody account on Twitter.

In an interview with tucsoncomedy.com, Casillas cited his early influences as Martin Lawrence, ’90s BET ComicView and Apollo comics. Now what pulls audiences are his comedic and relentlessly good-natured insights into life as observed by a middle-aged, South-Tucson cholo. Lately, his wife inspires some jokes, too, but in a way that undermines the tropes feminists abhor.

Chuckleheads does Bisbee Pride

Making plans to go to Bisbee for Pride Weekend? If you can squeeze into the 70-seat, Brewery Gulch cave that is Chuckleheads bar, check out the Tamela Turtle Variety show at 8 p.m. Friday, June 17. You can head back there at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 18, for comedy, mimosas and breakfast burritos at the Bisbee Pride Weekend Comedy Brunch.

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