Naples City Improv
Wants To Make You Laugh

by Julie Clay

ONE MINUTE SPORTS COMMENTORS are discussing the fierce competition between two professional slow motion leg-shaving champs going on in front of them. The next we’re watching a protest song about chickens that lay small eggs. Where am I — Short Attention Span Theater? Nope — just another unpredictable evening with Naples City Improv.

Comprised of 11 members, Naples City Improv’s shows are a series of sketches and games that rely upon audience participation along with a good dose of talent and quick thinking to put it all together into something entertaining and downright side-splittingly funny. Artistic director Jim Corsica, a founding member, explains the concept, “With improv you have to have a reserve of things to draw on. An improv player can be made, but some things you have to be born with.”

One could say that about Jim, whose experience goes back 30 years. In the mid-80s he was a founding member of the Racine, Wisconsin-based Comedy Sportz, an improv group that started in Milwaukee, then launched franchises in several cities including Chicago, Minneapolis, and New York. Since the mid-90s he has lived in Naples, doubling as an acting and math teacher at Community School of Naples and Gulf Coast High School. Jim is the nucleus of the troupe and says, “I have taught all the players the routines and games right from the beginning of the formation of the group in 2008. I decide who’s playing and what games we’re going to play. I run the practices.”

Most of Naples City Improv are also members of Naples Players, including business manager Judith Gangi, technical director Mike Santos, Lucy Harris and Craig Price. “Each of the players has a certain something unique that they bring to the group,” Jim explains, adding that Naples City Improv also includes Janina Birtolo (famous for her one-woman shows as well), Nathan Jokela, Todd Irby, Bukki Sitler, Steve Johnson and Chelsea Karst.

Their roster of 65 routines includes musical sketches, ‘gimmick’ games and ‘scene’ games. “With scene games,” Jim says, “a scene is taking place and there’s something quirky about it. An example is called ‘Bell Changes’. The audience suggests a setting or location. Maybe it’s a fruit or vegetable. The players begin doing the scene using these suggestions. At one point I, as emcee, ring a bell and they have to change what they said. Whenever I ring they change. The fun is trying to see the actor come up with an alternative in a very short period of time.”

Jim describes one of the ‘gimmick’ games they call ‘Dr. Know It All’, where four people are onstage who are supposed to be of one mind. “Together they are Dr. Know It All, who is an expert about everything you’d ever want to know. We take questions from the audience and Dr. K answers those questions one word at a time. There’s no real scene taking place, you’re just throwing words together. This could be potentially funny due to the randomness,” he says. However, there’s always the possibility of a joke or routine falling flat.

Judith points out, “This is live reality TV. The audience enjoys watching you fail.” On the particular night I was in the audience, failure was at a minimum, however. Troupe members were bouncing ideas off one another, coming up with quick rhymes and comical ideas on the spot. I could see how their backgrounds and weekly two hour practice sessions were paying off. They’ve also been performing for two years and over 75 shows. Maybe things have jelled by now?

Jim remembers how it all started back in ‘08, “Several of the players did a couple of improv gigs and they basically called on me to help with games. It was a bunch of standup comedians, a group of four or five players and an emcee. They asked me to help put together a 25-30 minute set of comedy. We had a few practices where I taught them games, which are basically comedy routines. We put this set of games together.

What happened was the standup comics didn’t go over well and we killed. Sometimes when you come off of a night like that you get a very big rush of endorphins. We went out afterward and started chatting about the possibility of trying to form a group. We met the following Monday, started kicking some names around, and Mike came up with our laughing building logo. From that point on it was just trying to find some gigs.

We started a regular series of shows at Bice restaurant (in downtown Naples).” Since then they’ve expanded to shows at Fred’s Diner and the Norris Center in Naples, and on Marco Island at the Marco Players Theater. They also perform at community clubhouses and golf outings. Adds Jim, “We offer a pretty unique entertainment experience. Word of mouth has spread and we continue to get bookings.”

Ultimately, the secret to a really great Naples City Improv performance comes down to those of us watching the show. Shows begin with Jim warming up the audience with an indication of what is going to happen. “I practice having them yell out suggestions”, Jim explains. “In a couple of cases we do games where we ask for audience volunteers. When they come up they usually have a really good time. When we get a good audience volunteer it’s manna from heaven.”

And if they’re having fun, there’s a good chance the rest of the audience will too. Naples City Improv member Lucy Harris puts it simply, “We have fun constantly.” Mike Santos adds, “We not only entertain people, we entertain each other.”

Call 685-0638 for information about where and when Naples City Improv is performing. Be prepared to have fun! •

from the January-February 2011 issue

Artistic Director, Jim Corsica

"When we get a
good audience volunteer
it’s manna from heaven.”

Lucy Harris & Judith Gangi

Todd Irby & Mike Santos