Improv is a particularly entertaining segment of Denver’s booming comedy scene, one in which actors working without a script play off the audience to create characters, jokes and even songs. Last year a new improv troupe joined the funny fray: Queerbots, which has a particular and fresh slant behind its mayhem. The all-LGBTQ cast plays with perceived stereotypes on both sides of the fence and finds the comedy in those expectations.
“There aren’t a lot of gay voices in comedy and especially in improv, and we want to have a stage for that here in Denver,” says troupe member Chris Parente, co-host of Fox31’s popular Everyday show. He plays comedic ball with pals Sarah Kirwin (recently crowned Colorado‘s Best Female Improviser), Michelle Marlowe, Ashley Scroggins, Jon Jon Lannen and Britt Swenson. “Laughter really is the great unifier," Parente adds, "and we want people to leave our show with a greater understanding of the gay community and how it plays with our straight brethren.”
Comedic understanding includes the usual on-the-spot improvisational games with an audience — but these have a gay twist. At the Queerbot’s recent Valentine’s Day show, the troupe created a love song based on the audience's suggestion for the sexiest whispered word: weedwhacker. The actors redubbed scenes from famous straight cinematic romances Casablanca and The Notebook; they created a coming-out story for Parente based on audience suggestions that included fellatio with Suge Knight. The group also picked two random audience members, grabbed some background info from them, and proceeded to act out a skit about how the two very straight men met, fell in love and got married, all to the delight of the roaring crowd — which included many straight couples. “Just being exposed to gay people and watching us poke fun at ourselves and our stereotypes, it’s a fun way to relax, release and just laugh at it all,” says Kirwin.
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On TV, Parente and his quick-witted, bouncy personality have a bigger stage — but his fast thinking and comedic chops come from training with the world-famous Second City back in 2000, when the troupe first started teaching a new angle on queer comedy. Being able to see the host outside of his television persona, being open as an out gay man without a censor in sight, is certainly a draw for ticket buyers. And it's catnip for Parente: “Improv is probably my deepest love and passion,” he says, “You know how cyclists are in Colorado? All the gear, and on that bike every chance they get? Improv is like that for me, only without the lycra and butt pads, well…on most days, anyway.”
Queerbots has found great success as a monthly feature at Club M, the cabaret-style side room to fabulous burger emporium Hamburger Mary’s, where every show the crew has offered since September has sold out. This month’s show, on March 14, is dubbed St. Peppermint Patty’s Day, and promised antics include celebrating the Spring Equeernox, what's really at the end of the rainbow, gay redubbings of films starring your favorite Irish actors, and every lesbian’s favorite event, March Madness.
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For April, the members are planning a Game Of Thrones-themed show (or GAYme Of Thrones, really), and then they’ll a take a short hiatus, doing a few satellite shows for special events and returning in the fall, full of gay vim and vigor. “It's not just the performances, though they are a blast, but the form itself," says Parente. "Sounds corny, but there is something almost spiritual about improvisation when it works. The idea that anything can happen of a group mind, with support of, in this case, your queer friends, co-creating something that exists only in that moment.” .
St. Peppermint Patty’s Day starts at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 14, at Club M at Hamburger Mary’s, 700 East 17th Avenue. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at queerbots.com — but fair warning, they're going fast.