FREEZE. The music stops. The wild movement on stage comes to a sudden halt. Third-year drama major Vinny Tangherlini quickly enters and taps three performers in bizarre contortions — the weirder the better — on the shoulder and exits with the remaining 40 or so performers as a silly scene ensues.
“Okay, just eat us already!”
“Not just yet! First I have to tie you up!”
The Claire Trevor School of the Arts’ Winifred Smith Hall erupted with laughter last Wednesday night when UCI’s two talented improvisation troupes, Live Nude People and Improv Revolution, who each regularly put on their own late night comedy shows on campus, convened for the opening event of Improv Revolution’s annual Coup de Comedy Festival, performing a series of funny improvisation games.
The two teams began the evening by screaming at the top of their lungs as they ran on stage together to welcome the audience to the festival. After “Dance Party,” the games, enhanced by constant hilarious suggestions from the audience members, continued with “Stage Directions,” for which four team members acted out a scene with constant obscure directions from Tangherlini, including “Take an Ellen DeGeneres-style selfie” and “Kiss a member of the audience,” “Half Life,” a repetition of the same scene in shorter and shorter amounts of time, and several others. With excellent timing and hysterical antics, the comedians earned more laughs with each game.
Joel Veenstra, the Claire Trevor’s Associate Head of Stage Management and IRev’s two team captains organized the festival, which ran from Wednesday to Saturday and included a series of performances, panels consisting of comedy professionals and workshops for UCI’s most spontaneous and fast thinking students and all who appreciate the hilarious and energetic form of physical performance that is improvisation.
Wednesday night’s performance also featured a brief stand-up set from local comedians Mark Jackson and Carrie Gifford as “Sky and Nancy Collins” — a couple from “Rancho Pico de Gallo” (“if Coto de Caza were nice, you know?”) who spoofed Orange County’s conservatives and lack of diversity.
“You know what I don’t get? Fat homeless people!”
Yet the icing on the cake, one of the highlights of both Wednesday evening’s opening event and perhaps the entire festival, was the appearance of a highly successful comedic actor himself. At the end of the night, Tony Hale, who portrays Buster Bluth on “Arrested Development” and Gary Walsh on “Veep,” arrived for a brief Q&A session with the audience and performers, moderated by Veenstra, and to share his experiences as a comedy professional.
“Within live theater, anything can happen, so you have to be on your toes,” Veenstra explained, noting the importance of improvisation as training for those hoping to act in live theater productions.
Veenstra and the members of Improv Revolution brainstormed earlier this year about who, within the professional comedy community, might be best to learn from and invite to UCI to accept their special Revolutionary Comedy Award. Because “Arrested Development” is set in Newport Beach, Veenstra and the students felt Hale would be perfect.
“He has a lot of honesty with his characters,” added Veenstra, who teaches an improv and sketch class. “That is my hope for my students.”
“A bald eagle! This is funny, considering the fact that I play meek, emasculated characters,” Hale, who won the 2013 Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, joked as he entered the stage and accepted the Comedy Revolution Award from Improv Revolution Team Captain Andra Whipple.
“There is a ton of rejection in this business,” Hale went on to explain to the many drama majors in the audience after narrating his path to success.
Hale moved to New York to act in 1995 and worked several odd jobs and appeared in commercials before his big break on “Arrested Development” in 2003. “I’ve learned a lot of lessons and made a lot of mistakes. The trait that has helped me along the way is making a support system.” He stressed the importance of maintaining close connections with family and friends to get through difficult times as an actor. “If you’re not practicing contentment where you are, you’re not going to get contentment when you get what you want.”
About his comedic technique, Hale explained that he always “lives the honesty and reality of the circumstances.”
“Buster is a 35-year-old trapped in a 7-year-old’s body. That alone is hilarious. It all goes back to not pushing the circumstances,” Hale further explained backstage. “I highly recommend improv at a young age. If you keep things too set in your own ways, you can’t explore other things. You have to keep yourself flexible.”
Featuring stand-up, sketch comedy and improvisation, and combining performances from UCI students, local professional comedians and local high school students this year’s Coup de Comedy was a success.