Art Lab invites improv jammers new and old

A sense of humor is a highly prized trait that tops the list of most people’s favorites, particularly since making others laugh isn’t always easy.

Especially on the spot, from a stage, in front of an audience.

Every Sunday night, a group of people — led by Bill Tucker — learn how to do just that at the Art Lab’s Improv Jam. Except, instead of an audience, there is an atmosphere of play, creativity and wit that anybody can enjoy.

“A lot of people who criticize improv say that it is just getting cheap laughs out of violence and sex, and that’s a part of it, but it’s really not all that it is,” Tucker said. “I’d like to do a show that I could take my kids to, with comedy that comes from the top of our minds, not the gutter.”

This is the philosophy that Tucker uses to facilitate every Improv Jam whether two veterans or 18 beginners show up. With an open invitation and no commitment required, both are possible scenarios.

“With the randomness of the people that come in, it can be hard to balance between the different skill levels, like when there’s a group of 15 and only two have ever come before,” Tucker said.

Despite the large number of newbies that may show up on any given Sunday, there are those who make recurring appearances.

Each of these loyal members have their own reasons for attending, but are all tied together by their appreciation for the unique challenge of improv.

“I just needed a creative outlet,” said Lisa Baker, who has attended a handful of sessions. “I was really busy and stressed and just needed somewhere to channel all of that.”

In addition to being an outlet, the Improv Jam sessions can also be a gateway. Tucker and a small group of Improv Jam attendees recently ventured into Denver to take the stage as the challengers in an improv duel.

To set the mood on the car ride down, Tucker played “Dumb Ways to Die” by Tangerine Kitty, a catchy tune advising against things like poking a stick at a grizzly bear and inviting psycho-killers inside.

The last verse of the song states that being unsafe around trains is the “dumbest way to die,” as it turns out the song was actually a PSA in Australia, and Tucker turned it into an improv lesson.

“At the end they highlight what was important, when you’re on stage it is important to be able to highlight, or heighten, the part you really want people to pay attention to,” Tucker said.

Bits of improv advice and opportunities like this aren’t all that can be picked up at Improv Jam. Tucker is full of interesting facts and the conversation easily bounced around from subject to subject.

Starting with the US government using OpenStreetMap, moving into the emotional core of memory, shifting into Star Wars and Gangnam Style, sliding into yoga and stereotypical gender roles, Tucker had interesting stories and trivia about a plethora of subjects.

This probably comes in handy on stage where whole scenes must be formed around random words and subjects shouted out by audience members. It’s almost as if improv is more than just fun, but a whole philosophy and lifestyle that can really suck a person in.

One person accompanying Tucker to Denver was Sam Collins, a Texas native. Collins said “I had nothing to do on a Sunday night, so I thought I might as well give this Improv Jam a try, and I was hooked.”