Improv and Crowd Work is one of the most entertaining parts of live comedy, and a celebration of The Improv: 60 and Still Standing promised just that, or at least, that is the impression that was given. Ten comedians are called to perform on stage to celebrate sixty years of The Improv Comedy Club. Our research tells us that this used to be the hotbed of comedy back in the day and has established many of the prominent names in the industry today. There were glimpses of Sarah Silverman, Adam Sandler, and a few others whose jokes from two decades ago are internet one-liners of this day and age. Essentially, this was supposed to be one of the finest hours and a half of comedy that we had seen in a long time, but why did we feel the incessant need to fall asleep while watching it? That is usually the case when someone’s jokes are not that good and are unable to hold people’s attention.
To address the positives first, each comedian was given a specific amount of time to present their set. This limited time usually means that the comedians can simply present their best. They can bring forward the strongest punchlines, provoke the most people, and ignite the most curiosity about themselves in people who are not familiar with their work. It is a wonderful opportunity, and that is why we found it so surprising that not many people seemed to want to be there. We absolutely don’t believe that all these comedians wrote new material for this gig. It wasn’t a testing ground but a celebration, so they already knew what they were doing. The reason it felt like they didn’t care was because there was no other reason for Fortune Feimster to present her biscuit set and for Bert Kreischer to recycle a two-decade-old set of his. He said that it was his way of paying his respects to the club, but how did he miss that the jokes were not funny? We were ready for them to be problematic, considering his disclaimer and context, but couldn’t they have been funny? His set was easily the most baffling because the intentions behind it were simply not clear. Was he showing people that comedy had evolved by presenting how the jokes used to be back then? Was he actually reliving memories, or did he simply want to provoke and engage? Either way, the fact remains that for either of the scenarios, he needed to be funny.
Then, there was the biscuit set by Fortune Feimster. An event celebrating sixty years of an important place of comedy should have reflected that we have indeed come a long way in terms of our sensibilities and what we laugh at. But perhaps the journey of understanding that making fun of bodies does not equal healthy comedy is still left to be made. There were other comedians who seemed to try. Jeff Dunham pulled out the ventriloquist’s doll, and though there were no large laughs, he was the only one who acknowledged his disinterest yet made a good job of it. Mark Normand was our favorite of the lot. Once again, this was a regular day at the job for him and not a celebratory one, but he was committed. He actually made us laugh and feel things, and he left us wondering when Kevin Hart would start introducing himself as Mark Normand.
There were others who managed something. Anjelah Johnson Reyes was cute, and Whitney Cummings seemed to realize that she cared after she got on stage, but there wasn’t much to be done at that point. There was also one comedian who pointed out how to spot when someone was bombing on stage and desperately trying to contain the situation. We will remember this knowledge till our dying day. We would like to place him in the ‘I Care’ category. Craig Robinson pulled out a musical performance that should have been a lot more ahead in the lineup, but we appreciate ending The Improv: 60 and Still Standing with Jo Koy. He was literally the only one in the entire lot who did not just care to do a good job but was conscious of the event as well. He came ready to do improv, something that no one else bothered with, and we were just imagining the conversation backstage, or with the organizers of the event, when he realized he would be the only one doing improv. But full marks to him for his passion and respect for the art form and for what the place may have been at one point in time. It may have worked a lot more if he had managed to make some good jokes or if the other comedians had cooperated together as a team for that to happen. However, Jo Koy managed to hold people’s attention with some inspirational talk and the most beautiful throwback to an earlier set in the show, which proves why he was probably the best of the lot.
The thing is that we absolutely love improv. With pre-written comedy sets, it is already guaranteed that you will have a good time, but with improv, there is a certain uncertainty and a clear lack of control from the comedian’s side that teaches you just how funny they can be in the moment. It leads to some of the most unfiltered and provocative jokes that turn out to be the real boundary pushers. The Improv: 60 and Still Standing needed to be all that. The lack of improv was an absolute disappointment, and we have to question why it wasn’t possible to put that together. Did the right people not agree, or did no one have time? We live in an era where most of us seek joy from what exists online, which is why it is a severe disappointment when something demanding eighty minutes of our time and attention is such a letdown. If Netflix doesn’t turn its focus back on quality over quantity, people are really going to start questioning the credibility of this streaming giant, and we are not ready for that kind of movement right now.