"Our philosophy is, never try to be funny," Dave Hyland says. Surprising words from a member of an improv comedy troupe. But Hyland, who at age 34 considers himself one of the genre's "elder statesmen," explains the thought process used by his group, Mod 27: "If you force the issue, it ends up being significantly less funny. Being funny is a byproduct of what we do, which is creating quality characters. We focus on letting them live and exist in the moment. That ends up being funny."
This weekend, Mod 27 hosts the Fourth Annual Improv Jam, which provides a rare opportunity for six of South Florida's improv groups to get together. The show is a benefit for Gilda's Club, a support group for people living with cancer. Hyland expects the format to be the same as last year, when the troupes mixed together and split into four entirely new groups. That makes performances more challenging and exciting, Hyland says, because "people get to work with people they don't normally work with. At the end, there'll be a jam in which all [25 or so] performing members do something together."
In addition to Mod 27, the troupes Impromedy, Just the Funny, THEY, Laughing Gas, and Name Change Pending will perform. "Every group," Mod 27 member Kat Kiernan says, "does their own take on improv." Whereas Impromedy focuses on sketch comedy à la Saturday Night Live, Just the Funny and Laughing Gas often try long-form improv, in which they start with a single audience suggestion and develop it into a full-on play.
Kiernan, who is 22 and one of just a few women performing, says that she's trying to stretch the audience's expectations. When she walks on stage, "I don't want people to assume I'm going to be the wife or the daughter. My favorite type is a physical, oddball type -- something you wouldn't normally see a girl doing. We've been working on abstract stuff lately. For example, if we're doing an Alice in Wonderland-type skit, I'd want to be the clock instead of the main character." What would a clock say? "When you're up there, it's so organic. It kind of just happens. You're not really thinking. You are who you're portraying, and stuff's just going to come out of your mouth naturally."
Improv shows have yielded some of the most hilarious characters in recent history. Members of Impromedy have given birth to such gems as Wang & Chung, the Ping-Pong Guys; the Incredibly Gay Hulk; and Drunken Bald Man in a Kimono. Just the Funny has hatched Les B. Anne and Mariachi con Cojones. Although Kiernan says that she never wants a "staple" character lest she start to lean on it, her day job can always provide inspiration: She's a Hooters girl. "I get some stuff from there," she says. Improv players are "always people-watching. There's always characters around." And, she adds, "Real life is funny enough."