Being inclusive is half the fun of Boston Improv Festival

Junior Varsity is a long-form improv team from New York City. Junior Varsity is a long-form improv team from New York City.
By Joel Brown
Globe Correspondent / September 2, 2011

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“I will be honest. The worst part about our festival is that it’s called the Boston Improv Festival,’’ says Jeremiah Jordan.

Now in its third year, the event is not just an improvisational comedy fest, says Jordan, who’s producing the event for ImprovBoston, where he’s a regular performer. Sketch comedy and even some stand-up comedians are included along with long- and short-form improv groups. The organizers just want to be inclusive, he says, but they also have bigger plans.

“Who knows if down the line there will be a rebranding,’’ Jordan says, although he notes there’s already a Boston Comedy Festival, which focuses on stand-up comedy.

The Boston Improv Festival runs next Tuesday through Sunday in Cambridge, having grown dramatically from its humble beginnings. The first year there were only about a dozen improv groups, Jordan says, invited at the last minute by ImprovBoston artistic director Will Luera. This year roughly 180 acts vied for 100 spots on the performance schedule, he says.

In his day job, Jordan is a video and commercial producer, a role in which he specializes in crossing t’s and dotting i’s. “Last year, I was like, ‘This festival needs a little detail work,’ so Will and I started talking, instead of a month ahead, more like six months out,’’ he says over coffee. “I said . . . let’s really up the ante on the number and quality of groups we get and make it worth their while.’’

This year, stand-up comedian Todd Barry (“Flight of the Conchords’’) will open the fest with two shows on Tuesday at ImprovBoston. The rest of the week will feature acts from all over the United States and Canada, with names like Bear Eats Cow, Dumpster Tequila, and Weekend of Regret. Among the hotter troupes is New York’s Murderfist, which Jordan says is a favorite for its sketches in the “I can’t believe they went there, and then they went further’’ style.

Boston will be well represented, including by the Yellow Submarine Improv Troupe from Boston Latin School. Boston’s Dodgeprov! will put on one of the more physical acts, Jordan says.

“Basically they come out like your eighth-grade gym class, wearing eye protectors and knee pads, and they perform short-form improv, only once they have a suggestion for the scene, the [style of the] scene changes based on whether they get hit with dodgeballs,’’ he says. “They play a game called Genres, where every time they get hit with an orange ball, they have to switch to film noir; every time they get hit with a blue ball, they have to switch to anime; every time they get hit with a green ball, they have to switch to spaghetti western. I’m amazed how long they can continue their scene with some sanity while getting pelted.’’

Another local appearing is ImprovBoston writing program director Laura Clark of Arlington, who’ll perform her one-woman show, “Unbadass.’’

“The idea being that I’ve spent my whole life trying to be something I’m not, trying to be a badass,’’ says Clark, a dog-walker by day. “Who I am doesn’t really line up with that, so it results in a lot of glorious failures. The show is full of times when I’ve tried to be cool, and it wasn’t me, and it blew up in my face.’’

Other acts include Boston’s own Harry Roasts America, a “Colbert Report’’-like sketch comedy show featuring Harry Gordon and guests; Junior Varsity, an improv team from New York City, which Jordan says is one of the most consistently funny long-form groups around; and Chicago’s the Mo Show, performed by Mo Welch, combining stand-up, sketch, and video.

To get so many comedy folk together is fun for the acts themselves, who are mostly not getting rich at their craft, or necessarily well understood by friends and family.

“Most of us have our day jobs, and our co-workers may know we’re involved in comedy, but don’t really understand exactly,’’ says Clark. “To be around hundreds of people who feel that comedy is as important as I feel it is, is a wonderful thing.’’

To that end, Jordan says, festival organizers hope long-term to create a comedy conference, perhaps with workshops or coaching sessions. “We really want to foster that connection’’ between the performers, he says.

To that end there is a 2 p.m. Saturday showing of the oral-history documentary “David Shepherd: A Lifetime of Improvisational Theatre.’’ Shepherd, who lives near Amherst, is known as the cofounder of the Compass Theater, forerunner of Second City. The Compass launched the careers of Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Jerry Stiller, Alan Alda, and many more. A question-and-answer session with Shepherd and others will follow the screening.

Joel Brown can be reached at

BOSTON IMPROV FESTIVAL Presented by: ImprovBoston

At: ImprovBoston, 40 Prospect St., and the Durrell Theater at the Cambridge Family YMCA, 820 Massachusetts Ave., both in Cambridge, Sept. 6-11. Tickets: $5-18 depending on the show. 617-576-1253,