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Fun, Feverish Competition at Arcade Comedy Theater

The Comedy Royale Improv Madness Tournament returns for its fifth year.

Photo by Amanda Myers

Matt Hartman knows that most people showing up to a round of the Comedy Royale Improv Madness Tournament haven’t been to an event of its kind before — or perhaps even visited Arcade Comedy Theater. That doesn’t mean, however, they aren’t game for a night of improvisational, competitive comedy.

“I would say [at] every show we have at least 50 percent of [our] audience that have never been to the show. I don’t think people know what’s gonna happen,” Hartman, the game’s host, says. “We do definitely have people who come back again and again.”

Comedy Royale is a March Madness-style event that augments improv with good old-fashioned sporting aspects. Contestants will battle it out throughout March (for the fifth consecutive year) to see who comes out the 2019 champion.

The five-week tournament takes place every Friday this month and consists of four preliminary rounds before the finale, scheduled for March 29. Each week, four contestants take a stab at earning points individually and in team competition.

That sports-like feel is indicated by the garb; each participant wears either a black or gold t-shirt. On that t-shirt is a specific number (1 or 2) and shape (circle or square). This correlates not only to how the audience identifies the contestants, but also how they gain points. Three audience volunteers are assigned as judges and given paddles that feature either a color, number or shape. Though the volunteer judges have the final say in who wins a game, the audience is encouraged to influence the judges’ selections.

The real fun of improv is that no one knows what’s going to happen, including the performers. Hartman says that he determines which games will be played about 45 minutes before showtime (most are games that the competitors are already familiar with).

One game requires players to tap on an audience member’s shoulder for a random word, that will shift the sequence of a story. In another, volunteers create the sound effects for a suggested scene.

Though the games are determined beforehand, the scenarios are purely at the behest of the audience. Hartman helps in picking the suggestions and adapting to the flow of the rounds by means of banter and encouragement.

“I keep the show moving, explain different games, explain the format in the beginning,” he says. “I have a whistle and stopwatch to time games.”

While the audience ends up deciding who comes out victorious in the preliminary rounds, the finale will gather the winning contestants of the four opening rounds to be judged by a local celebrity panel. In previous years, Rick Sebak, Bonny Diver and Jeff Jimerson have been judges, with Jimerson even singing the national anthem at the 2017 Comedy Royale Final.

This year’s lineup will feature judges from KDKA —  Ross Guidotti, Meghan Schiller and Ron Smiley — for the ultimate matchup. Shows start at 9 p.m. Fridays; tickets, $12, are available online or at the box office.


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