COMEDY FESTIVAL ‌ Music Off the Cuff

Improv Cabaret audiences can't believe it's not scripted

| January 17, 2007
Improv Cabaret is Mark Baratelli and a piano
Improv Cabaret is Mark Baratelli and a piano

Improv Cabaret
Fri. and Sat. @ 9 p.m., Pantheon


There is such a thing as being too good for your own good. Because Mark Baratelli performs his Improv Cabaret show without any audience suggestions, people often don't realize that he's made up the entire story, as well as seven or eight musical renderings, on the spot. A reviewer at his hometown Orlando Sentinel was even fooled; not that fooling people is the point.

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"It makes it more of a theatrical event," Baratelli says, "to be performing something that appears to be scripted, but you know in the back of your mind it's improv."

Explaining the plot of a recent show, Baratelli sounds like someone telling you about a wild dream.

"I ended up on a deserted island off the coast of Florida, or I thought it was deserted, but it was inhabited by a nation of non-English-speaking tribal people," Baratelli says. "I washed up on the shore – let's see, I remember I described myself as Angelina Jolie-like, in a wet, long-sleeved shirt, struggling up the beach. They made me their king, and I asked for a banana dress made of banana leaves..."

When most people hear musical improv, they likely think of Wayne Brady, but Baratelli says he doesn't go for a lot of rhyming wordplay, instead aiming to create real-sounding jazz songs.

"Once I sing a song, then go back into the story, and I have to remember what the hell I was talking about."

If it seems a little remarkable for a guy to stand on stage and make up an entire musical based on something he saw on the internet, then you've already got a feel for the charmingly pompous, Stephen Colbert-like character Baratelli plays. He closes many shows with a variation on a number called "Thank God for the Untalented."

"It basically says: 'Thank God you didn't learn how to sing and dance, thank God you have no skills whatsoever, so that I could have an audience." –Stratton Lawrence

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