Located next door to El Guapo’s at 1st and Elgin, Comedy Parlor was founded in 2013 with the aim of giving Tulsa “a theatre with (a) major focus on long-form improvisation.” Last Friday and Saturday, the Parlor kept true to that purpose by hosting two shows headlined by their in-house improv troupe, Comfort Creatures.
Improv, by its very nature, is often hit-or-miss. Apart from some basic rules of comedy and stage presence, every game depends on being able to roll with audience prompts and having good comedic chemistry with the other members of the troupe. Compared to something like a stand-up set, largely pre-written and meticulously practiced by the comic, improv requires a very different skillset and has much more potential to crash and burn on stage.
Despite the difficulty, both Comfort Creatures and the opening act, Two Guys & Pie, were able to look comfortable on stage and interact with the audience naturally when asking for prompts and asking follow-up questions to get a bit more to work with.
The Saturday show began around 8:15 with Two Guys & Pie performing a long-form game, in which multiple scenes are performed and build on each other to tell a larger story. An audience member gave them the word “crusty” as their prompt, and the two men painted a series of scenes surrounding a failing pie shop (despite their name, the guys claim this was their first show to actually center around pie).
The game began with a scene of the two owners agonizing over sending out a burnt pie to reviewers, which led to woes about the closing of Pie Pad #7 and how it has affected their romantic relationships. Eventually, a socially inept waiter takes the pie out to the food reviewers, who end up loving the pies and vowing to save the restaurant.
Though the individual scenes were all funny, larger plot threads didn’t get resolved by the end of the group’s 30-minute block. Pacing major plot threads isn’t as important as making sure individual scenes get enough time to set up and land jokes, but a bit too much time was spent on the reviewers that could have been spent elsewhere.
Another point of improvement for the group may be their character consistency. In a couple instances, one actor would take over a role that the other actor established and acted as in previous scenes. Though this isn’t inherently bad, it was a bit confusing at points because it wasn’t always clearly established that the character on stage was the same from before. Despite these few flaws, the set was definitely funny and the actors looked comfortable on stage and had good back-and-forths throughout the set.
After Two Guys & Pie’s game, Comfort Creatures came on stage. Instead of one 30-minute set, they performed three 10-minute games. One thing that stuck out about these segments was how they used the prompts. Instead of the traditional approach, where the word from the audience is the prompt, the three members of the group would speak on stage for a few minutes about their experiences with whatever the prompt was, and those stories would serve as the basis for the games.
This method was met with varying degrees of success throughout the set. The first game stayed close to the original prompt: the word “panties” led to a skit about tensions between openly BDSM parents and their vanilla daughter. The second skit seemed to fall apart: the prompt “coffee” led to talk about pseudoscience regarding coffee beans on Facebook, and somehow ended up in a tasteless skit about a family with a mentally challenged child because they believed a Facebook article about the benefits of mixing bleach into their drinks. Thankfully, the third game ended the set on a high note: the word “carousel” prompted the actors to think of their youth and led to a surprisingly heartfelt segment about a grandfather and grandson reliving the past. Overall, I’m not convinced that this method is any better than simply running with the prompt itself, but it wasn’t a detriment to their entire set and certainly provides a unique perspective.
One thing that could definitely be improved is the group’s flow between scenes. When a scene was wrapping up, an actor would say “cut” or “freeze,” and then explain the setting of the next scene and any new characters that would be appearing. This felt like a lazy way to switch between scenes, where that information could have been conveyed without breaking the flow by doing a stage clear and explaining the new setting in the first few lines of dialogue.
After the Comfort Creatures set, both troupes came on stage for a game of “Sex With Me,” a short game based on the phrase “Sex with me is like [prompt]: [punchline].” This segment cycled through four or five separate prompts, each with a few hits and a few misses. On the whole, similarly to the long-form sets, the members of Two Guys & Pie outperformed the members of Comfort Creatures. In the future, it may be worth it for Comedy Parlor to consider switching the placements of these two groups if they perform together again.
Both sets were solid, and worth the asking price of $10 for about 75 minutes of mostly quality comedy. As the Comedy Parlor continues to grow and establish itself as Tulsa’s premier comedy club, it’s worth looking in the future for shows headlined by these troupes.