It's anything goes (almost) when it comes to late-night improv comedy on Long Island. Two regular shows - most Fridays downstairs at Theatre Three and in Arena Players' black box second stage on alternate Saturdays - keep up a tradition that began with native sketch comedy artists Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin James and Rosie O'Donnell.
Today's improv shows are often patterned after Comedy Central's "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" as comics take cues from the audience and launch into improvised, hopefully funny scenes, often switching roles or directions at lightning pace. But Drew Carey's show was encumbered by cable sponsors' you-can't-say-that-on-TV constraints.
"Nothing's off-limits," says Doug Quattrock, producer of Long Island's granddaddy of improv, Friday Night Face-Off, now in its eighth year. "Sometimes we get things that are inappropriate. But our host can just pretend he didn't hear it. We've pretty much banned Michael Jackson skits."
2 Sic Improv started a Saturday night show at Arena Players' cozy black box theater about a year ago. Among 2 Sic's founders is Chris Hahn, an attorney by day who was former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi's deputy during his first term. Though unscripted, 2 Sic is more tightly formatted, with quick-hitting improvised games.
Face-Off draws a date-night audience, seated at cocktail tables with beer and wine available ($5), plus soda, coffee and snacks. As the name implies, two teams of "Players" compete for improv supremacy as the host keeps score and takes audience suggestions for each scene. One made-up-on-the-spot skit ended with a comic surrendering his body to a moshpit. Creative director Vinny Russo was joined on stage that night by two other original cast members, Jay Painter and Eric Robinson, who recently returned to the Face-Off fold. Some of the players perform interchangeably with 2 Sic.
It's a cheaper date night at 2 Sic. As Hahn puts it, "We have a no-drink minimum." That's because Arena sells nothing stronger than coffee. The audience is seated on either side of a black box theater. The comics may compete for individual attention, but there's no scorekeeper and no opposing teams - only an ensemble of performers, plus a host who describes the rules of each game and elicits audience shout-outs. In one game, Hahn, the former politician, leaves the room while a news conference is convening. Who's holding the news conference? What's he announcing? The audience decides before Hahn returns. With leading questions from the "press" - actors scattered among the audience - Hahn announces that he, Stephen King, is changing careers. "I'm opening a floral shop," he says, to applause and laughter.
FAT PENGUIN: Feb. 17, 19 and 20 at 8, Adelphi University Performing Arts Center, 1 South Ave., Garden City, 516-877-4000, aupac.adelphi.edu.
Two student teams compete in long-form "choose-your-adventure" scenes driven by audience suggestions. The show is a theater department production led by Adelphi alum Krystal Osborne, who performs with improv troupes in Manhattan. Like 2 Sic, Fat Penguin is staged in a black box theater. No cocktails or cocktail tables.