Like a young pilgrim climbing a mountain to seek the wisdom of a wizened sage, Dave Thurston made a trek many years ago to the heart of improv comedy: Chicago. There, he studied with Second City, the Annoyance Theatre, and iO, and met such comedic greats as Tim Meadows, Martin Short, and Catherine O'Hara. Now, returned from this metaphorical mountaintop, Dave produces more than 250 shows a year at his network of Outliars Comedy Clubs, and shares his more than 14 years of experience with classes of hopeful improvisers.
Voted the Best Local Performing Arts Troupe by readers of the East Valley Tribune in 2011, National Comedy Theatre’s ensemble of players concocts improvised situations at lightning-fast speeds, relying on audience participation and their own wits to elicit thunderous laughter and applause. After turning to their all-ages crowd for assistance in shaping games and scenarios, the cast employs knowledge gleaned from operating-room sketches to tickle ribs with anatomical exactitude. The show often favors spontaneity over prudence, with performers gleefully stepping into their roles as acrophobic skydiving champions or long-winded court stenographers. Audience members get to select the winning team at the conclusion of the show, and can learn the form themselves during improv classes.
The first Improv comedy club had virtually nothing to do with comedy. Broadway producer Budd Friedman founded the now legendary franchise in 1963 as an intimate spot where performers could eat, drink coffee, and sing along to piano ditties after their shows. Soon after, the club's first comedian, Dave Astor, tried out some new material on a whim. The stand-up set was a hit and led to the venue's eventual transformation into a full-blown comedy club. New York's hottest comedians would do nearly anything to be featured on the Improv stage; for instance, it's rumored that Lily Tomlin hijacked a parked limousine in order to make a stunning entrance when first meeting Budd.
Since 1988, Tempe Improv has lived up to the lofty reputation of its parent club by showcasing comedic heavyweights such as Kevin Nealon, Carlos Mencia, and Pablo Francisco. A diverse calendar draws instantly recognizable comics from the airwaves of the E! channel and Comedy Central, but it also opens up the stage to promising up-and-comers. A menu of bar food and drinks ensures audiences stay fueled and ready to laugh throughout the evening.
Arizona’s most promising side-splitters share the stage with nationally renowned headliners at Speakeasy Comedy Club, a venue taking its atmospheric cues from a Prohibition-era nightspot. Shows on Friday and Saturday nights feature performers who have honed their anatomical knowledge of funny bones during televised appearances on Conan, Last Comic Standing, and HBO specials. Though the club discloses its password to a range of comics from diverse backgrounds, most performers eschew squeaky-clean comedy for a brand of dirty humor that appeals to the noir detectives who regularly lean on the venue's gray brick walls or occupy the back row’s plushy seats. A friendly wait staff supplies cocktails, signature margaritas, and other exquisite libations along with Mexican cuisine to soothe bellies aching from chortling fits.
At Stand-Up, Scottsdale! bellies ache from a rotating selection of nationally known comedians seen on Comedy Central and late-night talk shows. The intimate 180-person venue, where such local legends as David Spade got their start, beckons a cast of talented funny persons that changes regularly. Voted Best Comedy Club of 2012 by Arizona Foothills magazine, the ha-ha hot spot has recently hosted performances by noted names including Dana Carvey, Frank Caliendo, and Norm Macdonald. A full menu of pub-food appetizers and entrees keeps would-be hecklers otherwise occupied, and Wednesday evening open-mic nights allow rookie comics to test their mettle.