As it continues into its 14th season, artistic director Gary Kramer said he can’t believe how far the show has come. In May, the National Comedy Theatre will become San Diego’s longest-running show.
“I didn’t think it would last three years, much less 3,800 shows,” Kramer said. “And it just keeps going. We’re doing six to eight shows a week, and it just keeps going. It just got so big and our classes got so popular that we just had to add the Point Loma stuff to it [in addition to the India Street location in Mission Hills].”
The National Comedy Theatre offers improvisational workshops for children, teens and adults. Kids’ and teens’ classes are structured into six Saturday sessions with a private performance for family and friends at the end.
“To come in and within six classes to be performing an improvised comedy show without a script is a really amazing thing. And they do it. And they’re great,” Kramer said. “Kids are the fastest-learning improvisers of all.”
The adult classes are split into four levels, each one building on the others. Kramer said the adult improvisational workshops are not only helpful for aspiring comedians, but anyone who is looking to improve their speaking skills.
“People take the adult classes for all sorts of reasons. They take them to be better salespeople, doctors or lawyers, or speak better, be more comfortable in groups. We do have a lot of actors that take it as well to polish their skills,” Kramer said. “So we have people from all walks of life taking the adult classes.”
Kramer said people who are shy or afraid of public speaking really benefit from the classes.
“The fact that they signed up for an improv class, that takes guts to begin with,” Kramer said. “Boy, if I was a really super-shy person, that’s the last thing I would sign up for. It’s like being afraid of heights and signing up for a bungee-jumping class. But something in them has already gotten them to take the first step, and that’s the biggest step of all, showing up on Day One.”
Kramer said the teachers are great at easing people out of their comfort zones to help them succeed. Adults who complete all the classes also get the opportunity to perform in front of family and friends. He said people who are shy at the beginning often own the performance and really surprise their audience.
“It’s so cool … they succeed. They always succeed,” Kramer said. “A sold-out audience, the theater lights and the stage and the whole thing. It’s great. It’s an amazing moment to watch them have this success. It’s something they’ll remember their whole lives whether or not they go further with it.”
Along with workshops and shows, The National Comedy Theatre also sponsors a high school improvisational league that has been running for more than 10 years. Beginning in January, improv teams practice and compete against other schools. Each team receives monthly coaching from a member of the National Comedy Theatre’s professional cast, and teams compete in a round-robin tournament in May.
This year’s tournament will be held on May 4 and 5. The professional cast determines the winner, based on skill, teamwork and approach to each scenario.
On May 10, the high school champions will compete against the professional team during the main stage show. Kramer said it’s a really fun show to watch.
“We come in pretty tough, you know. It’s our main-stage cast,” he said. “We’re sort of like the bad-guy wrestler.”
Winners and losers are determined by the audience, and Kramer said the students always pack the theater with a supportive crowd. The professional cast usually never stands a chance.
“I mean they’re high schoolers. We’re the New York Yankees,” Kramer said. “As it turns out, we usually end up being like the Washington Generals to the Harlem Globetrotters because we invariably lose that match. I don’t even think we’ve ever won in the last 10 years.”
To purchase tickets and sign up for workshops, visit www.nationalcomedy.com.