Over the last nine years, iO West's Los Angeles Improv Comedy Festival has become a love-in; a time when neophyte and master improvisers commemorate the late punk godfather of their craft, Del Close, with 100 performances, 80 workshops, an awards ceremony — as well as Armandos.
What sounds like a round of Mexican drinks is actually a long-form improv, created at iO Chicago, that starts with a guest's confessional and finishes with a string of improvised scenes, inspired by the monologist. Subject matter for an Armando-logue is often triggered by an audience suggestion, which last week ranged from “chocolate chip cookies” to “pissing off a roof.”
Like Close, who was an infamous heroin addict, Armandos are zany and trippy. At the same time, they exemplify his “Truth in Comedy” principle in action. For Close, great comedy came from a performer's personal experience. He had little patience for those fabricating their funny business without any sincerity. Luckily, Close didn't have to turn over in his grave as the celebrity comedians who showed up to guest host Armandos were all too willing to bare their souls. A look at the 10 comedy truths revealed last week onstage and off at the iO West festival:
10. Chris Farley committed “random acts of crazy kindness”
During Saturday's Chris Farley Award presentation to Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation), the late SNL alum's brother, John Farley, hysterically revealed that Chris once ordered his limo driver to take a bag lady to the south side of Chicago. “She put all her bags in the car and the shopping cart in the trunk,” Farley chortled. “Sometimes his charity was too much.”
9. Kate Walsh had back surgery and plays a doctor on TV
In her Armando Wednesday, the Private Practice vamp revealed that “her tailbone was worked on recently. There's a joint in my back that always made me concerned about how I'm going to run slow motion on the beach, naked.” The improv scenes that ensued were a wonky, but funny, mix. Somehow they connected: A Hyundai car salesman doubles as a back surgeon, a priceless Larry Flynt imitation appears, capped off by an impersonation of Walsh, sprinting slowly along the shore in her birthday suit (the performer was fully clothed).
8. Matt Jones looks like a stoner, but he's quietly revolutionizing improv
Dave Hill (Reno 911!) and Matt Jones (Breaking Bad) aka Hill/Jones flawlessly broke the improv glass ceiling by each playing more than one character in a scene — a big no-no in the rule book since a performer cannot personally tag himself out. Reflecting on his Wednesday antics in which he portrayed a rich old man, an effeminate bar patron and a college student in one stroke, Jones says, “We don't pay attention to any rules. We completely go on instinct, like Neo feeding The Matrix. That's what you get after learning a lot of improv: Just get out of your own way and fuck around.”
7. Joel Murray exercises truth in comedy and nearly cries
Mad Men co-star and Bill Murray's brother delivers a moving Armando, remembering how his mother died while holding hands with her eight children — a hard speech for any improviser to follow. Easing the tone, Murray said, “If you live in a town where the hospital is the biggest building — move. It's a killing center,” before quipping, “Well, Kevorkian died this week, hey — now I'm doing stand-up!”
6. Danny Pudi's teenage years provide solid fodder
The Community star reveals in his Thursday Armando that he once believed that “masturbation brought him good luck” as a teenager, especially before baseball games. What was wonderful about self- pleasuring is that “you can imagine things that you don't actually see,” exclaimed Pudi, “Like a woman holding a candelabra.” The improv that transposed was an outrageous Phantom of the Opera satire where a candelabra goes missing, complete with mush mouth British characters and Peter Lorre-like personalities.
5. David Razowsky blends Buddhism with improvisation
Some drama and improv schools barrage their pupils with rules, but iO West guru Razowsky liberated them in his Wednesday workshop Revelations! “There is no dogma with improv, the only rule is what you're feeling in the moment,” advises Razowsky, “It's similar to the Buddhist feeling of presence. It's like walking in Hell's Kitchen on an empty stomach and deciding what you're going to eat by saying 'I know when I'll see it.'”
4. Angela Kinsey doesn't make this stuff up
Talk about an improviser's muse. “Love is kind of a tricky thing and I marvel at people who find it in the oddest places like my cousin Chris who was in jail for selling meth and vehicle man slaughter,” regaled The Office star. “A woman, pregnant with another guy's baby, fell in love with Chris while he was in jail and said to him, 'I want you to name my baby.'” Typically, improvisers don't play out an Armando monologue beat for beat — but this was too irresistible.
3. Del Close would side with your mother
Despite his renegade reputation, Close avoided sending his sheep over the cliff. iO West artistic director James Grace remembers, “I was thinking about dropping out of college and asked Del about this. He answered, 'I'll give the same advice that I gave Belushi: If you're gonna leave school, get an education that's better than if you stayed.' That night before a performance, he turns to my mother, pulls up his sleeve showing his (heroin) tracks and says 'You trust your son's education to me lady?!' Del was complex like that.”
2. Adam Scott: “I pulled taffy as a teenager and also worked in a candy shop pulling taffy.”
After picking up his Chris Farley Award Saturday, Scott talked about the horror of working at a boardwalk taffy shop where he was bullied by jock co-workers and nicknamed 'pussy head.' This sets off a string of psychedelic, fall-on-the-floor scenes about a man who actually has a vagina in the back of his head.
1. Jeffrey Tambor philosophically connects with Del Close
Presenting the Del Close Lifetime Achievement Award Saturday to Tambor, actress Elizabeth Payne reveals that The Hangover 2 thespian often teaches his drama students that “We're laughing ourselves to death, play for keeps” — a preaching in sync with Close's. “Comedy is a serious business,” expounded Tambor after Saturday's show. “When you go backstage at a farce, you don't hear any noise. It's like surgery.” And as far as that urban myth goes on the Arrested Development feature film — “It's happening! There's a script” exclaims Tambor, “Hopefully I won't be in a walker when it does happen.”