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.
A Chat with Outliars Comedy Club
What services does your business offer and what makes your business stand out from the competition?
Top national talent and local opportunities to watch learn and preform improv, sketch, and stand-up comedy.
What was the inspiration to start or run this business?
Long-form improvisation is the newest and most exciting thing to happen in comedy in 50 years. It is the future of comedy.
What do you love most about your job?
I love watching our national acts. We book the funniest people walking the eath. Because we book a new form of comedy, we can book people that other clubs haven't discovered yet. Eventually they will because this is what people are going to go out and see. We have them, for now.
What is the best reaction you've ever gotten from a customer?
"What a surprise. I didn't know what to expect but it was so funny. I didn't think the new people would make me laugh that hard. We are coming back next week." ?First-time customer
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.