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From dildos to bureaucrats, nothing is off limits with these three troupes

Politics and Punchlines

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Old Souls - PROVIDED
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  • Old Souls

Old Souls

Sometimes dildos are funny and sometimes they're not. It all depends on the audience. That's at least according to Old Souls improv-er Zach Ward. "There's always one or two people who yell out a suggestion," he says. "If someone says dildos and everyone in the audience is like, 'Yeah!" We're like, all right that's vibe in the room. If they're not into, we know our job is to call that person out."

Which means, give a bad suggestion and an audience member could get heckled from the performers themselves.

"We asked for suggestions, not what you're afraid to tell your mom about," Ward adlibs. That's the kind of gently ribbing audiences can expect from Old Souls, though Ward says he and his improv partner Harrison Brookie are ultimately all about giving the people what they want — a good time. It's a trait they learned early on when Brookie was an undergrad at Clemson and Ward was his improv group coach. "We've known each other and been connected for a very long time," says Ward. "We've been working together, teaching, directing, now he owns a theater."

They both actually own theaters. Ward runs Chapel Hill's DSI Comedy Theater while Brookie owns Greenville's Alchemy Comedy Theater. As you might guess, being 230-some miles apart, opportunities to practice together are few and far between, but Ward believes that works to their advantage.

"You know when you see a good friend after a long time and you're like 'What's going on with you?!" and you're so pumped up? We have that energy," says Ward. Add to that feeling two very oddball senses of humor and a scene can go anywhere. Especially with the current American news so ripe for satire.

"What's absurd is militia men in Oregon asking for people to send them snacks. What's absurd is Donald Trump. He's an actual leader in the GOP but that's absurd. The truth in the paper, so much of it is already outlandish. You don't have to be wacky to play in this absurd world. You just need to turn the needle up slightly."

Request for Protest - PROVIDED
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  • Request for Protest

Request for Protest

The way Request for Protest member Mary Canter tells it, the group got their start in a sweaty, un-airconditioned pop-up bookshop. "We were trying to get into a festival," she says. "Looking back, we were not qualified for that at all." But that was then this is now and what began as a 12 person troupe formed from a Unified Scene Theater class in D.C. has been whittled down to six very close and funny friends. They're a motley crew. There's a dad, a marine, two 24-year-olds, and of course Canter, a CofC grad and attorney.

"I serve as the manager. The momager. I momage. They're my stage babies," says Canter. And a zany group of babies too. Specializing in longform improv, Request for Protest or RFP likes their shows to go to places that are unusual in a way that's grounded in truth.

"We don't like to get to crazy town immediately," says Canter. "The journey builds."

For instance, one recent scene saw the troupe riffing on a bad accountant. "By the end of it there was an accountant rebellion and all of the accountant's were naming themselves after flowers."

Being from D.C. there is, of course, the occasional political discussion too. You can't escape that kind of humor in our nation's capital says Canter.

"I'm bias of D.C. Not to knock other big city's, but the perspective here is very informed. It's expositional. There's a lot of talking, a lot of people who are really smart," she says. And to make it in DC's intellectual improv scene, Canter says RFP has to stay on their game. "We always strive to have it be smart and clever."

Thus the tongue-in-cheek jab at jargony acronyms in their name. "We were brainstorming at this pub next to DC Improv," says Canter. "Some joke about request for proposals came up. Between a Guinness and some lame joke we came up with Request for Protest. Beaurocrats and sad consultants get it."

Coalition Theater TourCo

Matt Newman's Richmond, Va.-based touring company is no stranger to Charleston. They've been festival regulars for years. But aside from our sweet tea and genteel manner, he says the thing that keeps them coming back is the fact that Charleston Comedy Fest audiences are predominately made up of civilians — a.k.a. non-comics.

"At a regular comedy fest your audience is generally people from other improv groups, but not in Charleston," says Newman. And that makes it all the more entertaining for the unsuspecting attendee who gets lured up on stage during one of the troupe's shows. See, Coalition has no qualms with rifling through a volunteer's pockets, searching their iPhone iTunes, or just generally interrogating them for information. It's those juicy tidbits that inspire their long-form show where the improv-ers riff for 30 minutes. Pro tip: check your pockets before heading to Redux.

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