Like watching live improv comedy, but hate paying for it? You’re in luck, ya cheapskate! The first Tuesday of every month, Rob Gentile hosts Free Improv at Connie’s Ric Rac, which is an accurate name for an event that is a free improv show at Connie’s Ric Rac. And though the price is cheap, the laughs sure ain’t—some of Philly’s most talented, out-there and experimental groups have played on the show.
Tonight, head to Connie’s and catch Deleted Scenes; Those Two Nice Ladies; Cake Bear; Bad James; DupliCate; No Wait; Dennis, Frank, Caitlin, Stills & Nash; and Kait and Andrew+. But first, read on to find out what Rob has to say about the show:
WitOut: How long have you been doing Free Improv at Connie’s Ric Rac? What made you decide to start it, and why did you want to keep it free?
Rob Gentile: Free Improv at Connie’s Ric Rac has been going for about a year and a half. I started it mostly because I know a lot of performers and at the time there was a need for it. I base a lot of what I do on a free show I hosted at “The Spot” in Chicago. The mantra has always been the same, a free show where 8 improv groups each get 15 minutes to do whatever they would like.
Yes, the show is free. I know. I’m a crazy man!
This is definitely a point of controversy for some people. When I started putting this show together I had anticipated the audience would be mostly performers. At this point the show has become something people really enjoy. We have great crowds, great teams, AND I am going to keep it free. The original intention was to have a place where every improviser in Philadelphia could see a little bit of what everyone else was doing without having to spend so much money. That being said, I’m not some kind of crazy comedy communist. I pay to see shows all the time and I think everyone should support the scene as much as they are able to. This show is an interesting anomaly. Without help from Frank Tartiglia who runs Connie’s Ric Rac the show would not be what it is today.
WO: You typically have groups do shorter sets (15 minutes). Is that just so you can fit more acts on each show, or is there something you like in particular about shorter formats?
RG: I like the 15-minute sets for a lot of reasons but it’s no secret that this helps to bring a bigger crowd in. I think the audience appreciates the variety and I feel like it is a little more accessible for people who don’t regularly go to improv shows. It’s also a great length of time for groups to try something new or challenging. The other half of that is the networking aspect for performers. I’ve always wanted Free Improv to be a place where improvisers get better acquainted with other improvisers. SO, pack the place with improvisers.
WO: The show is known for hosting a lot of new groups and experimental material. Is that something you intended and encourage, or has it just evolved that way?
RG: I love the new and experimental stuff. I want the show to be a place where you can meet other performers, work on new concepts, push boundaries, and get “weird.” I encourage people to collaborate on shows or do funky one-off shows with large casts. It’s fun as well as funny. It definitely keeps me on my toes and I think it does the same thing for other improvisers. I’m always open to new shows and if you have an idea and ask me for a spot, I usually put you on stage. I think the relaxed atmosphere makes it easy for people to jump up and do something out of the ordinary. I love the stuff that seems like a silly gimmick, but then works. Funny is funny and taking the risk is one of the more exciting parts about it. There is always a chance you try something and it fails. However, when the crowd gets into the moment with you and everyone enjoys whatever weird thing may be happening, the pay off is amazing.
WO: What are some of your favorite out-of-the-ordinary teams/concepts/moments you’ve seen on the show?
RG: There is a lot of great weirdness this show brings out in people. For example, Rick Horner as Monsterlogues has done some amazingly weird improv as a werewolf in the dark and over the phone. Dave Piccinetti of Sleep Walker has done an improv “magic” show, dressed up as a Christmas present, and has done improv with a fish-shaped balloon as his scene partner. Alex Gross put together an Election Day collaboration in which some of the funniest improvisers in Philadelphia did a set dressed as our nation’s greatest Presidents. It is hard not to mention things like Skyrim-Prov, Kait and Shan-drew, and Placeholder (which is always random people selected last-minute). Every month I try to pack in as much as I can. I want the show to be an experience that people want to be at.
WO: What are you most looking forward to about this Tuesday’s show?
RG: This Tuesday is going to be awesome. In addition to all the teams, we have artist Elizabeth Reindl from Temple University. She will be drawing cartoon versions of some of the improv scenes over the course of the night and it is going to be great.
The next ‘Free Improv at Connie’s Ric Rac’ is TONIGHT at Connie’s Ric Rac (1132 S. 9th Street) at 9pm. Admission is $FREE.99, obvi.