Friday, June 15, 2012
Card 53 Improv getting the last laugh
“The biggest challenge I had to face was to not try to be funny and instead trust my instincts. I soon found out the best laughs come from being spontaneous ...”
TYLER Jamey Whitley and Aaron Smith were enjoying acting classes at the University of Texas at Tyler when they realized something was missing: a theater department.
The two set out to form a student theater group which focused on improvisation, or improv. Improv revolves around actors who present a scene at a moment’s notice — no script, no rehearsal and no prior idea what the performance would involve. Eventually, the group became Card 53 Comedy. Members include Whitley, Smith, Chris Pelton, Brad Johnson, R.J. Norman, Chris Brantley and keyboardist Jed McNei
“We became very driven about performing more often and created Card 53 Comedy,” said Whitley. “I started taking improv classes in Dallas and eventually went to Second City in Chicago.”
“We became a dynamic group very quickly by adding our friends that we thought we would like to be on stage with,” said Smith, who had previously been part of other improv groups. “All of them had stage experience, so it was an easy decision. Once together, we started doing other performances for different venues and became very popular, it seems.”
Their first show drew 40 people, but today, depending on the venue, crowds can top a few hundred eager audience members. The pair said they provide a unique entertainment experience for people in the area looking for something different.
“Each show is always made up on the spot,” said Whitley. “We will play several improvised scenes or ‘games.’... We take suggestions for each game from the audience and will even choose audience members to help us with one or two games. What really makes an improv show is the audience participation. The suggestions allow our show to be different each time.”
“Its one of the most interactive types of performances that the audience has ever been able to experience,” added Smith.
Whitley said the unpredictable nature of the show is what makes it so enjoyable. However, it’s also the biggest challenge for the performers.
“The biggest challenge I had to face was to not try to be funny and instead trust my instincts,” he said. “When I tried to be funny, I wasn’t, and I soon found out the best laughs come from being spontaneous in the moment.”
“I might have the greatest idea in my head and think it is so clever and funny, and then, once performed in front of the audience, I have realized I created Frankenstein and they are glaring at me,” he said. “You simply power through a low point, progress the show, and keep giving yourself on stage for the audience's enjoyment.
“I don’t believe we have ever had an audience — the entire audience — walk away from a performance dissatisfied.”
The comedy troupe has received a nice reception from their expanding audiences, as they perform more often in the area.
“We try to perform as much as possible, but usually, anywhere between once and twice a month,” said Smith. “It really depends on what kind of corporate shows we have going on. Right now, our main performance area has been the Liberty. However, we have performed previously at Julian’s, Caldwell Auditorium, Tyler Junior College and UT Tyler.”
“Before us, people would drive to Shreveport and Dallas for something different to do,” explained Whitley. “This type of entertainment attracts bachelorette parties, birthdays, exciting romantic dates, girls' night out, anniversaries and more.”
What began as a hobby has slowly grown into a developing business and passion for the entire Card 53 group. Whitley said he hopes this form of entertainment continues to catch on in the area and would love the opportunity to take the group’s show on the road.
“It became a rewarding obsession to me when I made someone laugh, because [regardless of] whatever was going on in their personal life, for that brief moment, they are laughing,” said Whitley. “My hope is the entertainment need in East Texas will grow where we must perform each weekend on a regular basis. I would also like to branch out the schools in East Texas and be able to do shows for the schools. Kids are imaginative and very creative. Much of what we do is act like we haven’t grown up. I would also like to find a place to perform in places such as Longview, Linden, Marshall, Jefferson and other cities.”
“I would like to see us doing more for the community,” added Smith. “We have toyed with the idea of having a comedy night weekly in Tyler as well, but we would want to have a broader audience as well as a steady venue. The group itself is going to continue to grow regardless of what happens on stage. We already have traveled to several venues in East Texas and will continue to do so.”
Whitley said Card 53 Comedy is available for private events and “can be as clean or as edgy as one would desire.”
They routinely have open shows around East Texas. Those interested can visit the group’s website to see where the group can be enjoyed next. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
Whitley and Smith have big hopes for their group and hope to see it grow in the future.
“To me, this is my life,” said Whitley. “ My biggest passion is doing improv comedy. If I could do anything in this world, it would be to make a successful living at only performing. I put my life into this group for it to grow and succeed.”
And while it is becoming a viable business option, Smith told us, the audience remains the core focus.
“There is no doubt that this has developed into a business for us, however it’s not a business to make money, but to make laughs.”