Review: Geekprov / Improv Against Humanity (The 404s)

Toronto improv group The 404s get their geek on at Comedy Bar

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Improv Against Humanity (presented at the Comedy Bar) is a fantastic idea. The 404s are one of Toronto’s best-kept comedy secrets, bringing improvisational comedy with a geeky bent to conventions, conferences and clubs all over North America, while Cards Against Humanity–the source material for tonight’s improv set–has been a runaway success fuelled entirely by laugh-out-loud hilarity and poor life choices.

It’s always a good sign when a comedy troupe has enough fans to fill a room to capacity: the 404s have earned their success through over a decade of consistent, careful work, and their fans didn’t leave disappointed.

But I’m afraid to say that I did.

The experience reminded me of the first time I saw Rocky Horror with a floor show. When you see Rocky in this environment, you’re supposed to do stuff: wear a costume, throw toilet paper, shout one-liners at the screen, and so on. Yet as an outsider, you don’t really get it. You understand it: you see the fun people are having, you grok the point of the exercise, and you might even catch some of the jokes. But most of it is going to go way over your head. You’re left all alone in this crowd of people: the only one in the theatre without a sequinned hat or a leather bodice. And trying to have fun by proxy just isn’t very much fun.

Did you make it to Anime North? Do you recognize Princess Celestia? Have you ever cosplayed? If so, this show has a lot to offer you: the 404s genuinely got a room full of people to spill their drinks with laughter, and there’s something very praiseworthy in their ability to do so.

If not? Well, good news. During their best moments, the 404s can wiggle over this hurdle: Michael “Big Mike” Chindamo in particular has some excellent all-around comedy chops, and at times the show has a goodly amount of crossover appeal. Several sketches–the three-headed broadway singer, the closet documentary and the opening bit about genders and blenders–showed off some truly impressive, and universal, comedy skill.

But at other points, it felt like all they had to offer was a string of pop culture references–some of which they themselves didn’t seem to fully understand–before running the joke straight into the ground. One of the basic skills in improvisation is knowing when to end a scene, and this felt like an area of special weakness tonight. At moments, I could swear that the performers themselves knew a sketch had thoroughly and completely died, but they felt compelled to continue in the hopes it would somehow jump back to life. This strategy never pays. End it and move on.

I don’t want to shortchange the accomplishment here. I’m clearly not in the target market for this show: this isn’t about me. And those people found it amazing: best thing since Mudkips. Their triumph in niche comedy is obvious, and they certainly deserved the applause they received. (And, I hope, some healthy merch sales as well!) This is success on their own terms, and we couldn’t demand anything more.

Yet it felt like this was an attempt to cross over: to move beyond the Anime North crowd and do something more mainstream and accessible. And if that was the goal, the results left something to be desired.

Details

  • Improv Against Humanity played as part of the Geekprov series at the Comedy Bar. (945 Bloor St. W.)
  • The 404s will next be performing in late June with a special show themed around Pride Week: check website nearer to the date for details.

Poster image courtesy of The 404s.