Jim Henson’s Puppet Improv

Filed Under Aspen Comedy Festival, Improv

This show was packed. According to one account, only 300-350 were anticipated and 600 people showed up. It made for a rowdy crowd, perfect for shouting out suggestions to the improvisers. The show was billed “adults only”, but, in some ways, it’s only because what naturally happens whenever you solicit for ideas from an audience. As the show went along, people were following along, chanting for the improvisers to “puppet up” (which is simply picking a puppet to put your hand inside).

Host Partick Bristow was great at working the crowd for suggestions and for tossing off one-liners. When one suggestion resulted in a scene where characters are carpooing to the Church of Scientology to make a human sacrifice, he simply tossed off “enjoy my obituary.”

The show was impressive, since the performers not only have to figure out what to say but how to represent it physically through the puppets. I sometimes appreciate improv because it’s the mental equivalent of the trapezee act, it’s amazing simply to watch these performers catch each other from the leaps they make. By that measure alone the show is a success.

The show is a bit more “Who’s Line” than “UCB” with the focus on games more than creating scenes. Improv fundamentalists might be a little bothered by the occassional lapses of “Yes And”. During one scene, one improviser choosed to make a random noise provided for the game a “mini-helicopter”, but the other improviser denied the choice and made it a “vibrating propeller condom.” Sometimes improvisers actively asked in character for their partner to provide the answer for predicaments they were in. These are perhaps purist’s concerns, but yes-anding a bit more could help some scenes. Still, it’s a dazzingly inventive show, and worth seeing for the high-wire aspects.

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