During the President W. years (The Oughts? More like the Ought-Nots. Or the Ought-Naughts) I was affiliated with Birmingham, Alabama's only improv troupe at the time, first as a fan, then as a member. Imagine a band hiring new members from a tribute band and you've got the idea, although what kind of ridiculous band would do that? The politics could get ugly, the meetings could be like pogroms, and the shows could be like doing burlesque for The Eagle Forum. Still, there were unexpected pleasures.
Like doing shows at a dark, scary goth club. This club hired the group to perform a couple of times, once before I joined, once after. It turned out the club needed an emergency fill-in for a different kind of performance they'd had a time or two: a dominatrix doing some kind of dominate-tricks (you like that? I just made that up, with my fine mind). She'd gotten shut down by the vice squad or somebody (in Birmingham, Alabama? go figure) and there we were.
Picture the scene: a dark cavernous building with a bar like an altarpiece. The music blasted, the booze flowed, and the hair-bears and suicide grrls welcomed in the weekend with sweat and shouts.
Then the DJ stopped the music so five not-very-goth people could climb up on the tottery jury-rigged stage and make up little comic scenes. It was a bit of conceptual whiplash; people who wanted to drink and dance and meet and greet weren't really keen on this. If we'd been a band, that'd have been different. With music you can listen and/or dance and/or swill liquor and/or chat someone up. With improv you either dive right in and shout "Gynecologist!" when they ask for suggestions, or you try to ignore that weird dribbly theatre thing happening in the corner. There's only two levels of improv-engagement, is what I'm saying. Some people seemed interested in the improv... just not then and there. A few of the goth club attendees later showed up for the regular Sunday night gig at a now-defunct coffee shop, so that was nice, but no one really wanted improv at the loud goth bar on Friday night. They were polite, though, if by polite you mean "offering one of the troupe members $50 to perform light bondage." I was not either of the parties involved in this exchange, BTW, although I was present while it went down. The recipient of this offer demurred, perhaps because the public nature of the offer did not speak well to the would-be john's discretion, or perhaps because $50 is an insult. Later that night I spotted the failed bondage-john in the lobby, which for some reason had a karaoke setup right by the front door. He was doing a drunken rendition of Back in the U.S.S.R. and filling in the instrumental breaks with inscrutable erotic speculations. I'm sure glamourous nightlife has much to recommend it, but it's probably less story worthy.
I took the stage with the group on the second Goth-bar gig, and I loved it. It was as if we were sealed inside a large bubble, protected by audience indifference from the consequences of slow-wittedness. It was a terrific, if hermetically sealed, show. We were doing inventive comedy in which we could really take pride. Some of the crew was frustrated by the lack of audience response, but as a lifelong white Presbyterian I regarded apparent congregational/audience indifference as the norm.