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From unscripted to sketch

Two venues showcase local comedy troupes weekly, one an improvisational group called the Unprofessionals, the other a sketch comedy group, the Flor-idiots.

By PAMELA DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 24, 2002


photo
[Publicity photo]
The Unprofessionals, an improv group, was formed about a year ago. The eight men and women, from 22 to 57 years old, rely on suggestions from the audience and make up their skits on the spot.
TV has taught us what to expect from sketch and improvisational comedy. Shows such as Saturday Night Live, SCTV, Kids in the Hall, Mad TV and Whose Line Is it Anyway? have been offering up the comedy art forms for years.

Now you can turn off the TV and go out to see the same type of comedy performed live by local casts.

Two comedy troupes, the Unprofessionals and the Flor-idiots, are currently performing at venues in Pinellas County.

The Unprofessionals is strictly an improvisational group, akin to what viewers see on the ABC TV show Whose Line Is it Anyway?. The Flor-idiots is mainly a sketch comedy group with some improv tossed in.

Improv is fast-paced and made up on the spot. Performers use audience-suggested settings, tasks and characters to complete a skit.

Sketch comedy is a short, scripted humorous drama with a beginning, middle and end.

The key to good improvisation is not to think -- especially about trying to be funny -- when you're on stage, says Harry Chittenden of the Unprofessionals. Instead, the goal is to do nothing but listen and respond.

"Funny happens," Chittenden says. "If you try to be funny you just die."

photo
[Times photo: Jamie Francis]
The Flor-idiots, who perform at Coconuts Comedy Club on St. Pete Beach, includes eight actors who perform sketches written and rehearsed in advance.
Sometimes the audience makes it even harder than it should be. During a recent Unprofessionals performance, the scene was a children's television show. The audience was asked to supply the location -- they chose Alcatraz. And the theme -- they chose cannibalism. Surprisingly, the comedy group made it work.

If the audience isn't so good one night, "It's not as much fun," Chittenden says. "Some nights are just riots and everything clicks, and other nights are a struggle. That's part of it. There's really no wall between you and the audience."

The audience held up its part of the bargain during a recent performance and, in addition to laughing at almost every skit, offered up some creative suggestions for the actors to work with.

The Unprofessionals was formed about a year ago. The eight men and women range in age from 22 to 57 and have backgrounds in theater and/or comedy. Some of the members perform at an area Renaissance festival.

Unlike the Unprofessionals show, where there's no rehearsal and every show is different, the comedy performed by the Flor-idiots was written by three people.

"It's a very specialized type of performing," says Mary Jane Heath, the Flor-idiots director and a writer/actor for the troupe. "One of the best actors cannot necessarily do this type of entertaining. It takes spontaneous creativity."

"At the Mall" is the first in a series of sketches the Flor-idiots will perform at Coconut's Comedy Club on St. Pete Beach.

Situations (many of which are sexual in nature) range in subject from two older women smoking pot as they wait for the mall to open, to a restaurant that urges patrons to load up on food and then vomit in a bowl.

Opening night for the Flor-idiots was disjointed and the comedy bits uneven and sometimes offensive, but the audience hung in there and was rewarded with humorous moments such as a grouchy female wrestler visiting the mall for an autograph session.

Heath, a 10-year veteran of murder mystery theater, considers her work satire. She has been creating and collecting characters over the years with the thought of one day doing a Tracey Ullman-type show. Instead, she's put her ideas into the Flor-idiots.

PREVIEW

The Unprofessionals perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays (except Super Bowl night) at the Lobby Bar, 217 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. No cover charge. They will perform at the Largo Cultural Center, 105 Central Park Drive, at 8 p.m. Feb. 1. Tickets are $10, (727) 587-6793.

The Flor-idiots perform 8 p.m. Tuesdays at Coconut's Comedy Club, 6100 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach (at Howard Johnson's). Tickets are $10.

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