Last Saturday, I encountered an improv show that radically expanded what I believe the form is capable of.
At the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Chelsea, New York, an improv team called Grandma’s Ashes has a Saturday night show titled Grandma’s Ashes Gets Dark. In lieu of getting a one-word suggestion for inspiration, the team invites an audience member to share the story of the worst moment of his or her life.
That’s right. Grandma’s Ashes starts its improv comedy show by asking the audience to think of the most painful thing that’s ever happened to them.
While asking for volunteers, an improviser offers up some past stories as examples—somebody nearly severing her leg in an accident and calling her dad thinking that she might be telling him she loved him for the last time, a person who lost his job, got kicked out of his apartment, and found out his mom died—and the examples are extreme, but have a certain, could-have-happened-in-a-movie quality, a survived-the-storm distance that allows us to laugh.
A young woman volunteers, and improviser Abra Tabak sits down with her for the interview, asking what moment in her life she’d like to talk about. The woman takes a breath and answers:
“It’s when I realized that my dad had been raping my sister for 18 years… and then I remembered that it had happened to me too.”
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