Rogue Improv Sets the Bar for Comedy at Rudyard's

The set up: Houston's own Rogue Imrov troupe brings its talents to Rudyard's British Pub on Thursdays and delivers a fast-paced, impressive comedy revue. As the name suggests, each evening is different, but the level is consistently high, based on last night's performance and on previous sightings. An audience member provides a one-word theme - "camera" on this night - and the group riffs on it.

The execution: Rogue uses a "long-form" improv format, and the camera theme morphed into a number of variations. All were good, and I enjoyed a potential employer explaining to an applicant that it wasn't necessary to attach "those" kind of pictures to her application. And one was outstanding, as private-eye Matt Gawloski showed photographs to a wife of her husband's growing infidelity. Suffice it to say that what begins as a few curly hairs on a pillow can end up as the first wedding photograph of a man and a llama.

And I loved a sketch where a shy man, played by Antoine Culbreath, facing up to his first turn in a kissing booth, prevails upon a co-worker to let him practice on him with the sales pitch "It's better to start at the bottom." Kisses were $1 each, three for $2, $20 got you a five minute lap dance, and for $100 the booth was closed down for a private session. Part of the humor in these last two is the escalation element, as insanity is piled on insanity. And part of the charm is the acting - the reactions of participants can be as amusing as the dialogue.

There is a cascade of talented performers, more than can be named here. The second half of the evening was provided by the New Movement improv school, with current students strutting their stuff - Rogue Improv is the premiere troupe of the school. Much of the material here was funny and some of the acting excellent. I was especially taken with Lisa Valentine, whose high-energy and striking looks were matched by her expressive reactions and clear diction and projection. Both these latter assets, diction and projection, might be prioritized in some of the classes - mumbling went out with Marlon Brando. She was brilliant as a dance partner who kept asking questions where any answer was certain to cause trouble, such as "If you had to change any part of my body, what would it be?", while brightly assuring her partner that she would welcome any response, no matter what.

Lucas Stokesberry lent an admirable sense of authenticity to his characters; comedy is funnier when the actor believes in whatever caper is afoot.

The verdict: The antics take place on the second floor of the pub, in a generous-sized room with its own bar. Admission is $5, one of Houston's better bargains, drinks are reasonably priced, and food service is available. The ambiance is warm and casual, and a patron gets the pleasure of discovering a hidden gem, one that can be shared with friends, and revisited often, to savor again.

Thursdays (except the last Thursday of the month), Rogue Improv at Rudyard's British Pub, 2010 Waugh, 713-521-0521.

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Jim Tommaney