Clockwise from top left: Big Dicktionary, Brandy Sullivan, Greg Tavares, Improv Inferno (that's One Man Star Wars' Charlie Ross at bottom right – no, he won't be there), the Sofa Kings, and Timmy Finch
Sat. Nov. 11, 6-11 p.m.
280 Meeting St., 853-6687
"When we started the Charleston Comedy Festival in 2004, it was a one-night thing, sort of a sampling of what Theatre 99 had to offer," says Brandy Sullivan, a founding member of The Have Nots!. "Last year we had 17 shows in three different venues over four nights. With groups from all over the country, even Canada."
It ain't bragging if it's true, as the saying goes. Sullivan and her two associates in The Have Nots!, Greg Tavares and Timmy Finch, have created something of a comedy dynasty in Charleston since their start here 11 years ago. At their Ansonborough headquarters, Meeting Street's Theatre 99, the trio's erstwhile empire now encompasses a dozen or so named groups besides THN! and nearly 35 individual improvisers, most of whom have risen through the ranks of improv classes the three offer year-round to become regularly performing members of the T99 comedy family.
With shows three nights a week at the theatre, it's easy to take in the fruits of their efforts on any given Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday. But the bigger perspective of the group's success is most easily observed twice each year. First, during January's Charleston Comedy Festival (full disclosure: it's produced in partnership with the City Paper), and again each spring, when Theatre 99's Piccolo Fringe dominates the theatre landscape of the 17-day Piccolo Spoleto Festival with an orgy of comedy groups, representing some of the nation's best up-and-comers, performing day and night at the American Theater and T99.
So there's little danger of overstatement in observing that their newest collaborative venture, next Saturday's comedy marathon-themed Improv-a-Thon, may eventually become the must-attend event of future Novembers.
"We're hoping for that kind of growth with the Improv-a-Thon, absolutely!" laughs Sullivan, in the middle of coordinating the inaugural event, which goes down on Sat. Nov. 11 from 6-11 p.m. (see schedule at right). "It's one of those 'first annual' things. We've developed so much talent here at the theatre. The individuals and all the groups we have, we want a way to showcase all this stuff. So we thought what better way to do that to have an improv event that lasts all evening long."
It's not an entirely novel idea, which Sullivan eagerly acknowledges, pointing to the Dell Close Marathon in New York, which jams 150 improv shows into a 36-hour period on three stages around the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre each July. "We're launching the first one this weekend, but we want eventually to do something like that, make this thing 24 or 36 hours long."
Saturday's stretch will include 25 improvisers and seven distinct groups, all of whom perform regularly at Theatre 99, among them name groups like Moral Fixation, 4 Play, Big Dicktionary, the Sofa Kings, and, of course, The Have Nots!. The lineup also includes members of what T99 regulars internally refer to as the Red Team and the Blue Team — a rotating cast of improvisers who perform on Wednesdays and Fridays at the theatre, here referred to as the Laugh for a Lincoln Players and Improv Inferno.
Beginning at 6 p.m., each group will perform for 30 minues, with a 15-minute break between acts for audiences to enter and leave, hit the bar and bathrooms, and for improvisers doing double duty to catch their breath. Tickets are available for individual sets ($5 per), and an all-evening pass can be had for $20.
"It's a great opportunity to showcase the goups here at the theatre," Sullivan says. "A lot of people know about The Have Nots!, but there's a lot of other great stuff going on here too."
The Improv-a-Thon serves another purpose, though, as well: the money it generates for the not-for-profit Theatre 99 will go toward cranking up the ante on next January's Charleston Comedy Festival.
"For the Comedy Festival, we're programming even more stand-up and sketch comedy this year, along with the improv," Sullivan observes. "We're also looking at including some bar venues, which will allow us to feature more stand-up and grow some that way."
Sat. Nov. 11 6-11 p.m.
6:00 -- 6:30 p.m. Laugh for a Lincoln Players
6:45 -- 7:15 p.m. 4 Play
7:30 -- 8 p.m. Improv Inferno
8:15 -- 8:45 p.m. The Have Nots! Comedy Improv Company
9:00 -- 9:30 p.m. Big Dicktionary
9:45 -- 10:15 p.m. Moral Fixation
10:30 -- 11 p.m. The Sofa Kings
Laugh for a Lincoln Players
Otherwise known as T99's "Red Team," the seven-member LFALP's shtick is long-form improv, all of it based on a short, true story related by one of the performers at the beginning of the set. "It's a very common format in the improv world," Sullivan says. "We're hoping to get some guest monologuists from the community. Because everybody's got a story."
Comprised of Greg Tavares, R.W. "Smitty" Smith, Caleb Usry, and Jessica Chase, 4 Play mines the fertile territory of romantic relationships for comedy, creating long-form improvised plays.
The "Blue Team" at T99, Improv Inferno holds down Fridays at the theatre with a format similar to that of Laugh for a Lincoln Players. Instead of a single monologuist, though, the set begins with a pair of them spinning improvised "true life" tales as fodder for the comedy to follow.
The Have Nots! Comedy Improv Company
The Classic Coke of Theatre 99 – short-form games and some long-form fooling around from the originals, Timmy, Brandy, and Greg.
Two long-form improvisers – John Brannen and Timmy Finch – and a dictionary, from which they pull random ideas for subjects. The energy knob on this one goes to 11.
Caleb Usry, Greg Tavares, and Lee Lewis explore the difficult questions that vex each of us in the dark of night, wringing from them comedy that's fearless, shameless, and often tasteless.
The Sofa Kings
The Sofa Kings got their start early in 2006 by specializing in a complex style of long-form improv called The Harold, which has knitted the brows of even the most experienced improvisers, but the potential rewards are priceless.