iScream Sandwich Will Make You Love Improv

iScream Sandwich at the Institution Theater
iScream Sandwich performs regularly at the Institution Theater.

Improv comedy can be a polarizing genre of entertainment. My door to good improv was opened by a friend of mine, Carissa McAtee, who invited me to see her improv group, iScream Sandwich.

They Won Me Over

That was almost a year ago and as leery as I was about improv comedy, iScream Sandwich and their show at the Institution Theater, Triple Scoop, won me over. In fact, iScream Sandwich made such an impression on me, that I put them on my must see list for Out of Bounds Comedy Fest this year.

Heidi Caldwell performs a scene during a backyard show.
Heidi Caldwell formed iScream Sandwich in 2011 (credit: Claudio Fox).

iScream Sandwich was founded in the fall of 2011 by Heidi Caldwell.  My knowledge of improv was limited to the two forms, long and short. According to founding member, Erica Lies, “there are about a bazillion types of long form improv.” She was cool and helped me focus in on what makes iScream Sandwich tick in the improv world. “If you’re describing iScream Sandwich,” she told me, “I’d say call us a Harold group. We do Harold format.”

Deep Roots in Improv

iScream Sandwich on stage.
iScream Sandwich performs the Harold format of improv.

Harold format is a variant of long form improv that originated from the Chicago style of improv. Chicago style simply refers to what the theaters in Chicago developed. Second City legend, Del Close is credited with helping found the Harold format. This format is practiced by the Upright Citizen’s Brigade and improv group across the world.

What does this mean?  Well, if you go to any of iScream Sandwich’s shows this month, you’ll see the seven member team perform three scenes, then a game, three more scenes, another game, and three final scenes. Del Close called this the 3 x 3 structure. It was to help performers gain a sense of organization. These are loose guidelines. iScream Sandwich tends to use the last three scenes to tie the previous scenes together.

No Two Shows Are The Same

iScream Sandwich does a backyard show.
Sometimes, iScream Sandwich improvises their own stage (credit: Claudio Fox).

iScream Sandwich follows the Harold format with dedicated fervor. Erica Lies compares it to the way a sitcom is formatted, “30 Rock starts as three different plots, but as the episode ends, they’re brought together.”

If you’re wondering what you get when you go to an iScream Sandwich show, it depends. It depends on the audience and their suggestions. That’s the fun part about improv. Every show is different and it’s a testament to the groups skill and talent when they take something as mundane as Sanka decaffeinated coffee and make a show of it. iScream Sandwich does this expertly.

Erica Lies poses for the camera.
Erica Lies is a founding member of iScream Sandwich (credit: Claudio Fox).

I had a blast watching members crisscross the stage, tagging each other in and out whenever one thinks of something cool to add to the scene.  Their rapid fire wit and timing had the audience clapping and laughing throughout the set. I was exhausted after watching them, and can only imagine the amount of Red Bull it takes for them to finish the night with any semblance of consciousness.

Catch Crash Every Party Now

iScream Sandwich is running their current show, Crash Every Party at the Institution Theater every Friday through the end of the month. Tickets are $12 general admission. The shows start at 8pm.  I recommend getting there early. The Institution Theater frequently fills to capacity.

 

Be sure to follow me on Twitter @ElDavidThomas

Stag Comedy Brings a New Theme to Austin

Ximena Estrada on stage
Ximena Estrada is a longtime member of STAG Comedy.

STAG Comedy is quite possibly Austin’s premier sketch comedy group and their annual Halloween show called STAB opens this week at The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz this Thursday, October 16th at 7:30pm.

Strong Comedy Roots

STAG was founded by Joe Parsons. The Austin native founded the sketch group sometime around 2007 with two other performers. In 2009, Mac Blake (Funniest Person in Austin Winner, 2013),  David Jara, and Ximena Estrada joined the sketch group. Eventually the three founding member moved on to other projects, but Dave Youmans, Andrew Rosas, Lance Gilstrap, and Sam Malcolm joined bringing the total of performers to seven.

The current line up for STAG has worked hard to create a high quality and entertaining show for audiences. Their efforts have helped built a loyal fan base and strong reputation for good sketch comedy.  It’s paid off in spades as STAG has performed at SXSW, Moontower Comedy Fest, Out of Bounds Comedy Fest, Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival, Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, Seattle Sketchfest.

STAB Takes Halloween to Task

Promo poster for STAB.
STAG Comedy kicks of their show, STAB, October, 16th at the Ritz (photo credit: Lauren Logan).

STAG has put their show, Below the Law on the shelf for a while and is starting up with STAB which opens this Thursday in Austin. STAB is a spooky Halloween themed show which features according to the press release, “.. It’s a mix of live and video sketch comedy. It has werewolves, murder buttons, disembowelment, filthy language, outer space judgement, and so much more.”  They had me at murder buttons.

STAG is pulling out all the stops for the opening show. Mac Blake loves the Drafthouse, “The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz is a giant room, but so much fun. Our Drafthouse shows are ones we try to go all out for and we’ll do some stuff that’s specific to the Ritz show.” If you’re wondering what specials plans STAG has for their Ritz show, remember the Ritz is a movie theater. STAG has some special video sketches planned for the audience.

Mac Blake also told me they’re taking STAB on the road with shows in San Antonio and Houston.  This isn’t the first time the troupe has left the comforting confines of their Austin home,

Go Watch STAG Comedy

STAG actor addresses the audience.
STAG actors will not hesitate to break the 4th wall.

While they’ve performed at Moontower Comedy Fest and SXSW, I first saw them at Out of Bounds Comedy Fest this year. I had them on my list of must see acts, so I was stoked as a I sat down in the Hideout Theater. At the time they were doing the Below the Law show. It was something to behold.  They brought a ton of energy to the stage and by the time they were done, I thought I had an aneurysm . Of course, I mean that in a good way.  Mac Blake is a very talented while doing stand-up.  Jara, Estrada, Youmans, Rosas, Gilstrap and Malcolm are equally talented and active outside the realm of STAG comedy. David Jara, for example, has been on the ever rotating cast of Master Pancake Theater.

So ask yourself this, “Am I really busy on Thursday nights?” If you do some soul searching, and the answer is “No, I am not busy on Thursday nights,” then get online and buy a ticket or two for STAG Comedy’s STAB show at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz on the 16th. It’ll be worth it.  Tickets are available at the Alamo Drafthouse website.

More Information

 

You can follow me on Twitter @ElDavidThomas

Doug Mellard Is On a Fart Safari

Entrance to The New Movement Theater.
The New Movement Theater is located at the corner of 7th and Lavaca.

It takes all types to make the world go round. It’s the same for the comedy world as well. Doug Mellard, born in Victoria, TX, raised in Plano, Austin comedy vet, and now resident of La La Land, is returning to his comedy home to record a live album at The New Movement Theater on October 10th and 12th.

 A Decade of Experience

According to his website, Mellard originally wanted to be a superhero.  At the same time, he discovered a love of comedy. Mellard reminisces, “I remember watching [David] Chapelle before he was Chapelle. I also remember watching Austin Stories. I think the first show I went to was at the Velveeta Room where Howard Kremer, Matt Bearden, Laura House and Brad “Chip” Pope were doing stand up.”

Doug Mellard records his live album this weekend (photo credit: www.capcitycomedy.com).
Doug Mellard records his live album this weekend (photo credit: www.jenbertrandphotographie.com).

After several failed attempts at becoming a superhero via spider bites, and probably several trips to the doctor, he gave up and grabbed a mic. That was in 2003.  In 2006, he found himself winning the Funniest Person in Austin title. In 2010, with stars in his eyes, and moral support from his family, he made the big move to Los Angeles.

Recording With Stand Up! Records

Now it’s 2014 and the comedian has returned to Austin for a series of appearances. The live recording is this weekend at the New Movement Theater which is located on 7th and Lavaca downtown. The theater has limited seating so if you want to see Doug Mellard do his thing, get your tickets now. He will be there on the 10th and 12th. The live recording is for his album, Fart Safari, produced by Stand Up! Records.  If you’re unfamiliar with Stand Up! Records, they’ve produced albums for a plethora of comedians.

Upcoming Events

Mellard is hanging around Austin for a while. If you can’t see him this weekend, you’ll get a second chance to see him as he headlines Cap City Comedy Club from October 15th – 18th. After that he’ll be rocking the yellow stage at Fun Fun Fun Fest from November 7th – 9th.

 

Mellard crowd surfs at Fun Fun Fun Fest (photo credit: www.dougmellard.com).
Mellard crowd surfs at Fun Fun Fun Fest (photo credit: www.dougmellard.com).

I’ve seen Doug Mellard perform several times over the last few years and I enjoy his style of comedy.  His influences of Stephen Wright, Mitch Hedberg, and Steve Martin definitely comes to surface as Mellard launches into a rapid fire mix of one liners and stand alone jokes.  Segues? He doesn’t have time for that. But you should make time to see him not have time for segues.

If you want to see Doug Mellard during his visit to Austin, check the following websites for ticket sales:

Feel free to leave a comment or find me up on twitter: @eldavidthomas

 

Chris Trew Redefines Improv at The New Movement Theater

Sign outside the New Movement Theater
Chris Trew holds the Air Sex Championship Belt
Chris Trew co-founded The New Movement Theater with Tami Nelson. He’ holds the Air Sex Championship Belt.

Despite its devastation, Hurricane Katrina has had positive effects on America.  In the greater Austin area, we’ve been given Let’s Big Chipper (a subject of one of my articles on The Austinot) and more pertinent to this website, Chris Trew.

From New Orleans to Austin and Back

The New Orleans native has always had an interest in comedy and dabbled in stand-up.  Eventually he joined a sketch comedy group while enrolled at LSU and was featured on the university’s television channel back in 2000.  This was when he got serious about comedy.

After the hurricane, he came to Austin and helped found Coldtowne Theater with Tami Nelson and other partners.  In 2009, due to creative differences, Trew and Nelson founded The New Movement Theater and

Entrance to The New Movement Theater.
The New Movement Theater is located at the corner of 7th and Lavaca.

they haven’t looked back.  Trew’s frequent trips to and from New Orleans has lead him to help found Dallas Comedy House with New Movement alumni Clay Barton and his partner Amanda Austin.  He also founded the Dallas Comedy Festival in 2010 (this is where he met Chris Tellez).  Barton and Austin have since taken the reigns of the annual festival.  Still not satisfied, Trew founded The New Movement Theater in New Orleans in 2012.

A New Movement in Austin Comedy

The New Movement Theater sits nonchalantly on the corner of 7th and Lavaca in scenic downtown Austin.  The BYOB club showcases stand-up, improv and sketch comedy through a variety of shows.  Their longest running showcase, and Austin’s longest running long-form improv show,  is the Megaphone Show.  This event has a local celebrity telling a real life story while The New Movement Theater’s main cast act it out through improv.   Like I stated earlier, it’s not all about improv though.  Chris Tellez’s showcase, Shit’s Golden, got its start at The New Movement Theater.  Rob Gagnon and Lane Krarup both host stand-up showcases there as well.

Aside from their regular shows and events, The New Movement Theater puts on special events like the annual Megaphone Marathon.  Starting today, 7/14 and running all the way to the 20th is the Austin leg of the Megaphone Marathon.  This marquee event features a variety of interpretations of The New Movement Theater’s long-form improv performed by every group between the Austin and New Orleans theaters.   Once they’re done in Austin, the groups join up again in New Orleans to entertain the denizens of one of the America’s oldest cities.

New Movement Theater Mural
The New Movement hosts a variety of sketch, stand-up and improv comedy shows.

But wait, there’s more!  While Trew and the New Movement crew are entertainers, they are also teachers.  Improv and comedy classes are available to aspiring yucksters wanting to learn long form improv.  As always, events, classes and all other details are available on The New Movement Theater’s website.  You can follow Chris Trew’s comedy, Air Sex shenanigans, and work as professional wrestling manager on his website ChrisTrew.com.