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Improv Lab 411

The Low Down On MBI’s Experimental Improv Comedy Shows

A long time ago in a neighborhood far, far away (14 years, the far West side of Madison to be exact), Monkey Business Institute started performing improv shows. Based on our formative experiences as younger improvisers, we had two goals for these shows:

  1. They should be high-quality professional improv
  2. They had to be fun and accessible to a wide variety of people

For us that meant a style of improv that we in the biz call short form. In contrast to long form improv, short form shows are characterized by quick games and scene changes. For example, one moment you might see a scene where performers keep swapping characters and five minutes later you’re listening to improvised jokes. Short form shows are fun, energetic and guaranteed audience pleasers. We got very good at these shows and began to make a name for ourselves in the Madison comedy scene.

As our short form shows grew in popularity, internally we were exploring the idea of bringing other styles of improv into our performance repertoire. We knew our short form improv shows would be our bread and butter, but in order to put our troupe’s full potential on display we needed a show dedicated to doing just that. We needed an improv show for improv performers.

On May 12th, 2012, when Monkey Business Institute was approximately 7 1/2 years old, we introduced a show called Impromp2: Stripped. We thought the name was very clever. See, the show was improvised – impromptu, if you will – with a pair (2) of performers tasked with putting an entire 60-minute, stripped-down, barebones improv show minus any short form games. Get it? (We later decided to drop the “Stripped” part so that audiences would stop trying to slip dollar bills under our waistbands.)

Soon after rolling out Impromp2, The Merge made its debut on November 3rd, 2012. This show combined stand-up comedy with improv comedy. Local comics started the show with stand-up comedy sets. Then our performers – who hadn’t heard the comics’ sets beforehand – improvised scenes based on of that material. To wrap up the show, the stand-up comics joined us on stage to perform improv games.

The success of these two shows made it clear that there was an audience receptive to long form improv. Encouraged by this, we developed more shows that explored a single concept. Some of these shows were wildly exciting and successful, like our improvised disaster movie show, Possibly A Disaster.  Others were bizarre and esoteric experiments that stretched the accepted definition of successful, such as our made up in the moment variety show The Egregiously Late Show with _________. Overall, we felt that these shows were good for our troupe: they presented our cast with new challenges and gave them room to stretch their improv skills, and, as it turns out, crowds loved seeing these fresh, exciting improv show formats. This experiment in long form improv was, to our delight, proving to be a success. That’s why we decided to group them all together under the name Improv Labs.

We recently moved Improv Labs to Friday nights at 8pm (at our homebase, Glass Nickel Pizza – East on Atwood Avenue). The current show rotation looks a little something like this (but make sure to check our super radtastic shows calendar for the most accurate info):

As we move forward we plan to add more shows to the rotation. Or, perhaps we’ll swap out a show for another one if the mood for a change hits us. There are currently six mothballed Improv Lab shows packed away in boxes sitting in an undisclosed location that we can dust off and bring back into circulation or added to our rotation. As we speak, many new show ideas are in development and set to premier as an Improv Lab show. In other words, we’ve got lots of options for what we can do with Improv Labs, which is exactly why they exist in the first place.

Monkey Business Institute will always, always love our short form shows: They’re what put us on the map. But we are so super excited about our Improv Labs and where they may go in the future. Come see these shows and share in our excitement!

Experimentally yours,