Denver's Next Improv Star week 8 recap: in praise of the absurd

Somewhere between the literary obsessiveness and the heroin-haze that, together, consumed his life, William S. Burroughs developed a technique called cut-up writing, which uses fragments of preexisting works and rearranges them to create something new. The results, generally, are dizzying and nonsensical, but wonderfully so: because they are unintelligible, they are glorious.

Long-form improv operates the same way.

But because it assigns its contestants specific challenges, this quality is something Improv Star -- for all its bizarre twists and turns -- tends to stifle. This week, though, the show's first act was comprised of a single scene, the kind of extended, plotless performance that is most conducive to the lucid madness that makes improvisation most interesting. In a grave somewhere, Burroughs must approve.

The long-form started with a location: Hawaii, as per the suggestion of an audience member who'd gotten sick of the bipolar Denver winter. Using that happy setting, the seven remaining audience members started the first of a long, strange series of scenes. A man on a beach reveled in a local pineapple vendor's fruit display, to the chagrin and/or fury of his wife. This grew, somehow, into a toymaker's diabolical plan to reintroduce Raggedy Andy dolls to the streets -- a plan that was derailed when one of the prototypes of the dolls developed an obsession with an old Paddington Bear, with which it eventually chose to mate.

Following this came a tale about a yoga instructor's bad temper, murderous teenage girl's theft of a cop's face, a woman who asks to be buried alive with her zombie husband, a carnival packed with suburban children infected with a pathogen called Bieber, an awkward exchange between two exes, and an overaffectionate woman's invasion of her male friend's bathroom.

When it is given the space, the human psyche creates strange, strange things.

This week's guest judge, Rita Broderick, said she was most interested in physicality and inclusiveness in acting, and both these things were in abundant supply all night. The second act, which reintroduced the standard small group challenges, demanded two things of the contestants: they could not portray humans, and they had to focus on performing physically. This produced a scene about a dog and a tree ("We have so much in common, you and I," the tree said. "Bark?" asked the dog.), one about a pigeon in love with a discarded seatbelt, and one about a parking lot and a mysterious glow-ball generator. By the show's close, the judges decided Rollie Williams was the winner. Jaimie Kulikowski was sent home.

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