The Improv and Sketch Invasion: Rockola, Phat Beethoven, and Sandino presents Blind Date

When: Fri., Jan. 20, 9:30 p.m. and Sat., Jan. 21, 7:30 p.m. 2012

From bad '80s ballads to destructive bromances, this trio of acts draws comedic inspiration from diverse sources. But whatever sets them off, you can count on an entertaining hour of improv and sketch comedy.


Music has the ability to inspire love, sadness, and anger. And if you're a member of Atlanta group Dad's Garage performing in the show Rockola, music is the perfect inspiration for comedy. But you might be surprised at the kinds of songs that provide the greatest eureka moments.

"For whatever reason, sad sappy songs tend to make the funniest scenes," says member Chris Blair. "Perhaps that's because they shouldn't. 'Wind Beneath My Wings' produced one of the funniest Rockola scenes I have seen."

The group, composed of Blair, Megan Leahy, and Travis Sharp, starts each show by creating a setlist of about 20 songs based on audience requests. "The song suggestions are played and the actors use what they hear to inspire the beginning of a scene," Blair says. "It could be the rhythm, a lyric, or a personal memory of the song that's used to launch a scene. The scene ends when a new song is played."

It's an innovative way to inspire scene-work, and a way to incorporate music into a show without making a musical. And while they're not directly making music, the trio knows their stuff. "Megan Leahy played bass in a punk band for over 10 years in Atlanta," Blair says. "She is our resident badass. Travis Sharp was a music editor for TuneAge magazine and has interviewed everyone from LL Cool J to Dolly Parton. I was a DJ for my college radio station in Orlando for a few years. Combine those experiences, add some improvisation, and you've got yourself a fun little show that is ready to rock your face off."

Phat Beethoven

The four members of Chicago-based comedy troupe Phat Beethoven have a lot of fun together onstage. But, as is often the case with hyperactive young men, occasionally that results in someone getting hurt. And that sometimes attracts unexpected fans.

"Sociopaths who love to watch other people suffer should come because we'll probably play some characters they'll relate to," member Daniel Shar says. "Even when we're doing that and playing terrible people who treat each other poorly, I think it's clear how much we're all loving it. We've been told by multiple people that our enjoyment of each other is a big part of what makes us enjoyable to audiences. We have a blast hanging out and doing the show together, so instead of feeling like they're being presented to, our audiences feel like they are hanging out with us as they experience the show."

The Phat Beethoven seed was planted when Adam Cole, Jordan Haynes, Daniel Shar, and Samuel Stone Watters took a comedy studies class together at Second City in 2008. When they had all permanently moved to Chicago in the spring of 2011, they decided to make it official.

"A typical Phat Beethoven show is probably going to explore some pretty dark territory while retaining an air of playfulness," Shar says. "These are going to be harder for me to articulate, but I would say that common themes for us include remorse (or the lack thereof), good friends sharing strange experiences, and absolute weirdos being humanized/accepted/treated with respect." Although they specialize in sketch comedy, Shar says there's a good chance they'll change their running order from one night to the next, so if you like them on night one, check out their second performance, too.

"This festival will be one of our first ventures outside of Chicago to perform, so we are super excited to reach people we never would be able to otherwise," Shar says. "Ideally, everyone who can would come to our show. We're driving 19 hours to get there, so small crowds would be a tough blow."


If we had to guess what comedians do in their off time, we'd probably say drink beer, watch funny movies, and work odd jobs to pay the rent. But the eight members of Sandino do something a little unexpected: They have a book club. Although success has kept them too busy for reading the last few months, they initially bonded over decidedly unfunny titles like Catcher in the Rye and A Clockwork Orange. But boring bookworms they're not.

As one of the Upright Citizens Brigade's Harold house teams in New York, the members of Sandino were selected out of hundreds of hopefuls. "It's insane," team member Alan Starzinski remembers. "When I auditioned, 477 people auditioned. Twenty-two people got cast, and that's the most that has ever been placed." In other words, Sandino represents some of the company's star improvisors.

The group has been performing together for about two years, but they were recently hit with a few unexpected cast changes. Artistic director Nate Dern had to step down due to other obligations, and Dru Johnston moved to another team. Luckily, they found two new members who are an equally good fit.

"We know these guys and they know us," Starzinski says. "Terry Withers was our coach for seven months so he knows us inside and out and we know him inside and out. ... Same thing with Don Fanelli. Those guys are good friends."

They specialize in the Harold, a long-form, basic type of improv inspired by just one word from an audience member.

"We all have special skills. You can't really find a stand-out person on the team. That's why we work so well together," Starzinski says. "We're just a unit. We function like one big machine. Without each individual part it wouldn't work as well."

Erica Jackson Curran

Price: $12.50

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