“Improv,” says Justin Kent, “is the perfect thing for a lazy actor, because you can do the show without having to learn the lines.”
Kent is part of a fairly large contingent of lazy actors in Savannah, but in the long run he can’t stand to be idle.
That’s why he’s at Muse Arts Warehouse every Monday night, ringleading the improv comedy troupe the Odd Lot.
Improv – short for improvisational – is unscripted comedy, stream–of–consciousness riffing, and it’s a lot like a highwire act – if you fall, you fall hard.
“A lot of it is the thrill,” Kent says. “You go out there, and it is all you. You’ve got nobody else’s words to help you out. You’re just flying on your own. And when it works, it is beautiful and it gives you a great rush.
“When it doesn’t work, you just leave it and go on. The audience is usually forgiving.”
Kent and his co–founder Christopher Soucy are the cornerstone of an eight to 12–member troupe (depending on who’s available for any particular Monday night Muse gig).
If you’ve seen the TV series Whose Line is it Anyway, you’ll know how it works: The company starts with a word, a theme or an idea, and without thinking too hard about it they just start acting it out. Where it goes is where it goes.
“Chemistry is important – we’ve been pretty lucky,” says Kent. “The kind of person that can do improv is a very special kind of person, for some reason. You have to be that special kind of crazy to do improv.”
The gang will do a rare Friday night performance June 3. “We like to do a Friday night for the people who wouldn’t normally be able to come on a Monday night,” Kent explains. “Or who don’t really want to come on a Monday night – they’re more likely to give it a try on a Friday. And every time we’ve done a Friday night show, we get more people.”
Kent and Soucy – both part–time actors and standup comedians – began their odd journey three years ago. “We decided we wanted to do a Christmas show, but we didn’t want to memorize lines for it, because we were doing other shows at the time,” Kent recalls. “So we decided to improvise our way through A Christmas Carol.”
This – much to their delight – was a success, and it turned into the Literary Improv League – once a month, Kent, Soucy and assorted funny friends would do improv on a different work of classic literature.
When Soucy’s sister JinHi opened Muse in 2009, she offered the guys a semi–permanent slot on Monday nights – traditionally dark nights in theater.
“When she did that,” Kent says, “we figured we weren’t going go be able to read a book a week – we’re just actors, after all – so we just kind of re–formed our group.”
The Odd Lot celebrated its first anniversary in March. “We’ve had a great year,” says Kent. “We’ve never had a show where an audience didn’t show up – although we’ve had some small crowds from time to time – and recently we’ve had some real great crowds.”
At the end of each semester, the Odd Lot loses a graduating SCAD student or two. For auditions, Kent says, “We basically go through the same kind of things we do in a show. I have everybody come up and do some games with other members of the group, and just see how their wit is, how quick they are, how well they can think on their feet and that kind of thing.
“You can almost sense it when you’ve been doing it for years.”
Kent, who studied with the legendary Second City comedy troupe in Chicago, and spent several years touring the Midwest with an improv group, says he’s addicted to the high wire – he wouldn’t have it any other way, risks and all.
“Improv has become one of those things I just have to do now,” he explains. “If I don’t do it for too long I get grumpy. And my wife starts telling me ‘You need to go do a show.’"
The Odd Lot
Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703D Louisville Road.
When: At 8 p.m. Friday, June 3