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We're Not Making This Up

By Jocelyn Geboy in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 29, 2005 11:09PM

Saturday night was the 25th anniversary celebration of the Improv Olympic, we mean, the IO theater. Held at the Chicago Theater and hyped for months, the bill was rife with comedic talent. IO has schooled some of television and film's biggest stars, and they were all coming home to wish IO and its living founder, Charna Halpern, a happy birthday. (Del Close -- who helped Charna found IO when she split from Second City -- died of emphysema on March 4, 1999.)

2005_08 comedy tragedy.jpg The lineup brought people home from around the country. Michael Myers, Tim Meadows, Rachel Dratch, Andy Dick, Andy Richter, Amy Poehler, and Horatio Sanz were all on hand to celebrate. Tina Fey was slated to be there, but ended up due to be somewhere else... having her baby.

Since a ticket went for 75 bucks and Chicagoist is light on cash and used to paying around five dollars for a seat at an IO show, we weren't able to catch the show first hand. However, Chicagoist heard an insider's view of the night's events. One of the things Chicagoist loves about seeing improv is that Chicagoist never knows exactly what is going to happen. There's always a certain danger in watching performers work without a net. Any given performance could go brillantly, or it could flop miserably.

And Charna Halpern wasn't getting any breaks. She had recently lost an ongoing legal battle to keep the name of the Improv Olympic to the International Olympic Committee(for the use of the word Olympic) and to a man who said he had copyrighted the word "improv."

The performance, which was being filmed, couldn't get started due to a breakdown of the sound equipment. None of the wireless FM microphones that the performers were supposed to wear were working properly, and after a long delay (an hour or so), they had to resort to using hand held microphones -- connected with wires and making walking around the stage extremely difficult not to mention the concept of object workcompletely useless. For those unfamiliar, it's hard to properly mime objects and do physical work when you're already holding an actual object in your hand.

But the show must go on. The old gang worked to perform IO long-form improvisation standards like the Armando Diaz, where a player comes out and does a monologue, and scenes are loosely formed around the starting monologue.

However, the long delay, microphone malfunctions and pricey seats for an event you could hardly hear combined for a very unhappy crowd. People were walking out and others were leaving during intermission never to return. There were lines of people demanding their money back. For people staying to watch, the improvisation itself was falling fairly flat. A lot of improvising is learning to give and take and having the wherewithal to listen -- all of which was going out the window. It seemed that the "rules" of improvisation -- agreement, listening, really forming an ensemble -- were all being thrown to the wind.

There were some Chicagoans who are still in the city, doing improv around the city on a regular basis -- Dave Pasquesi, Dan Bakkedahl (who just got himself a correspondent gig on the Daily Show) -- who knew when to back off and let the mayhem go on around them.

Hosts Jimmy Carrane and Dave Koechner were doing their level best to keep things together, but all in all, this was a highly hyped event that truly fell flat on its face. Chicagoist is sad that this marquee event is going to be talked about for a long time, but for all the wrong reasons.