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It’s fair to say that now more than ever, laughter is essential. And while theaters and performance art events continue to be elusive, some groups are taking to the web with bold and fun new takes on their formula.
For over 30 years, improv house ComedySportz Houston has been delivering family friendly games and scenes every weekend – and now, for the very first in their history, the show will go on…line. And get this: their first match will be on April Fools Day! “We were wresting with dates and we wanted to get something out earlier, but we wanted to deliver a good product,” says CSz Houston owner Benji Cooksey. “But with April First, we had to assure everyone we were in fact not joking. It is a real show happening!’
Cooksey, who has serviced as the club’s general manager for five years, explains what audiences can expect to catch if you tune in on April 1. “We’ve had to adapt just like everybody else. Now we’ve been working with ComedySportz managers and players all over the United States. We’re going to actually have players broadcasting from their home, in their living rooms or whatever rooms they have in their house, and we’re going to be playing ComedySportz games right there. Each player is going to be in their own window, and it’s going to have a talking head feel. But they will be full body improvising, the way we have the cameras set up, we’ll be utilizing green screens and all sorts of stuff working. They will be fully active and engaged.”
As has been seen online with other taking to live-streaming, musical acts have found difficulty getting in sync while attempting to collaborate wirelessly. “We will have some a capella type stuff more than likely,” Cooksey says. “With games like the Do Run Run, we have found success in doing that a capella.”
For those who have seen a match before at ComedySportz Houston’s home base at 2201 Preston, they know that the audience plays a major component in every newly crafted scene – most obviously in the form of suggestions, curated by that night’s “referee” who serves as the night’s emcee. Well, Cooksey has turned to technology to keep that tradition alive. “So when you get your ticket online, we’re actually going to send you a confirmation and in your confirmation, we’ll invite you to what is essentially a webinar setting. And they will actually be able to live submit their suggestions through comments, and we can actually bring on live guests as well through their webcams, if they are able and willing.”
While Cooksey is keeping tightlipped on who exactly will appear during the maiden digital voyage, he assures that “the majority of our team is excited to jump in” for this new adventure. (Fingers crossed favorite like longtime player Samir “Mojo” Mojaddedi or Steph “Da Diva” DeWaegeneer might pop in)
Cooksey continues, highlighting the upside of their new venture. “The exciting component from that we’re looking at very quickly at having special guests and doing an inter-mural [between] cities. We have already broadcast matches in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis. Originally we were going to try to do these shows by actually broadcasting a live show together, but with the current situation with everyone kind of needing to be at home, we’ve all changed to this format. We’ve invited [Chicago and Philadelphia] down to play and we’re gonna go play with them as well. That’s a bit of a silver lining for us, that we can draw from our pool of talent across the United States and Europe to come over and play!”
If April 1 goes off without a hitch, Cooksey indicates it’s likely they’ll continue with the adapted format until the COVID-19 dust clears. “Your favorite players from ComedySportz Houston have been actively practicing everyday,” he says. “We’re ready not only for this inaugural match, but what we’re hoping to do is to have matches weekly from here on out. And, you know, if something can be done with Improv! The Musical, I would absolutely love it. We’ve been having an awful lot of fun with green screen, so there’s potential some elements there for trying an old Unscripted or trying something else out there.”
Beyond the show itself, Cooksey promotes what else his team of nearly 50 improvisers have been working on while dark. “In terms of our other stuff, we’re working on moving into working on online classes, as well as corporate team building through a digital platform as well. You know, it’s surprising how well it translates! We have a trained improviser as workshop leaders, who will not only lead you in skill building through the world of improv, but adapting to living in an environment where you’re spending a lot of time alone, or with people online through forums. We’ve adapted our formats to bring that team building element back and working through those issues they may be having now that they are newly mobile.”
More than just a job to Cooksey, ComedySportz has been a passion for the manager, a comedian in his own right. “I’ve been a part of ComedySportz professionally for about eight years, since 2012. And I was actually a member of our local high school team over at Stratford High School back in the early 2000s. We’re gonna have the same clean comedy that you can expect but as we all know, it is funny for everyone!”
ComedySportz Houston will broadcast live at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 1. For more information, visit comedysportzhouston.com. Pay-What-You-Can