Ya Gotta Laugh

  • Post published:March 2, 2024

It’s REAL

A Note from the Publisher, Zida Borcich

Hit & Run Theater, back in the day.

My grandson invited me to attend Mendocino High School’s Improv Club performance last Saturday night at Matheson Performing Arts Center. Goes without saying, I said yes. We ate early so we could arrive in time to fill out some audience prompts and find seats in the sure-to-be-crammed theater space. Even though I rarely love comedy shows—LIKE, HARDLY EVER—improv is a form that has always fascinated me. You have to be so quick on your feet/quick on the uptake/quick-with-the-smarty-pants retort, and so very confident, that it’s hard to believe high school kids can do any such thing. I certainly can’t imagine myself doing it when I was in high school, even though it’s true that I was vice-president of the Thespian Society at Gridley Union High School. (I’m serious!) Improv is a whole different beast.
Doug Nunn has long brought marvelous improv extravaganzas to the coast with the troupe of the hilarious Hit & Run Theater. The group of actor/comedians has produced over twenty original comedy revues and hundreds of improvisational comedy shows since 1979 under Nunn’s indefatigable leadership. To my great happiness, I learned that Doug has also been teaching Mendo kids in the Improv Club at MUHS off and on since the early 1990s…And, really, how many high schools have ever even thought of offering such a thing?
So, we arrived, we hugged and said hi to half the population of Mendocino, we filled out the slips of paper with lines we thought would feed the form (for instance: Last night, I was almost attacked by Bigfoot), and put them in a basket that would be drawn from later, we found our seats and watched parents and siblings file in as hiphop filled the room and kids and coaches zoomed back and forth across the performance space doing important pre-show stuff.
The Improv Club website says this about the club: “Since 2000 we have had yearly Improv Comedy Revues, with Mendo teens entertaining standing-room-only crowds for two nights each February. Recent shows include 2016’s I am Henry (and so can you), 2015’s Touch My Gabriel, 2014’s Streakers on the Nudist Beach, 2013’s The Democratic People’s Improv Team of North Korea Tickles Your Laugh Hole, 2012’s Too Moist to Handle, 2011’s Three Nuns in a Tub with a Garden Gnome, 2010’s Bearshark, the Musical, 2009’s My Fancy Cubicle presents Balloons, 2008’s My Great Aunt Mergatroid Took Sexy Away!, 2007’s Every Hour is Happy Hour, 2006’s Skips, Skops, Skanks, and Skaliwags…etc.”
To be honest, I didn’t have super-high expectations for this year’s show, called We Have Three Jokes and Half of Them Are Funny, but my daughter had attended the first show the night before and texted that she had actually cried from laughing so hard, so that was a recommendation I could pay attention to. Doug Nunn came out with all his Master-of-Ceremony aplomb and energy, introduced the “Mendo High Improv Club Dancers” and nineteen kids swept onto the stage to a raucous tune. What the audience didn’t know till later was that the dance number that started the show was improv too: they made the whole extravaganza up on the fly and performed it with such panache, such dramatic gestures and smiles, such absolute unabashed confidence (and irony), that we all thought they’d had a choreographer. Then the skits started, with situations suggested by the coaches.
And they were really good. Riffing off each other in a heartbeat, deadpanning the most insane non sequiturs, falling down on the floor when they got stuck, mugging, goofing, and thoroughly enjoying the point of it all: making people laugh, which they certainly did. They blithely exercised their incredibly smart teenage brains on us. The audience, as most Mendocino audiences tend to do, gave full-throated approval, whoops, and applause to each performer, each situation, and each glossed-over gaffe. It was a room zinging with an exchange of smart, hilarious wit and unremitting admiration. It reminded me of how good it is to let go and just laugh. The world is so full of sturm und drang, of so much that we wish to change, that we are a serious lot. But an evening spent in the presence of the freshness of uninhibited kid funniness took us all out of that. How this form of comedy will layer on confidence to these already amazing young people cannot be measured. Really.