The Ventura Improv Company is a unique bird in this growing scene. While it’s been a mainstay in Ventura County for the last 25 years — in fact, it’s celebrating its 25th anniversary this weekend — it’s not like the other comedy shows going on around the area these days. Simply put, “Scripts are for sissies,” said Tom Mueller, co-founder of the Ventura Improv Company, with a laugh, recalling one of his theater colleagues who coined the phrase. There are fundamental differences between improv and standup, he said.
“The difficulty coming into improv from standup is giving up control because in improv, it is primarily teamwork and you don’t know what is going to happen,” Mueller said. “Standup is pretty scripted. Improv, you don’t know what is going to happen. Improv amps up that reliance on teamwork. That to me is one of the biggest seductions about improv. The motto is, accept all offers. When your partner does something in a scene, you have to accept it.”
Such is the life of these comedians. This sort of theater and the element of surprise can be addicting, exciting and well worth it for those on stage and in the audience. Gary Best, co-founder of the Ventura Improv Company, recalled watching his first show.
“Tom Mueller did a scene where he was a prisoner describing his life in the cell,” Best said. “I just thought it was pure magic. I thought, ‘I want to do that!’ ”
Founding members Best and Mueller have been in it for the long haul. They have seen many come and go, but interest in joining the ensemble is still strong. At any given time, there are 20-plus members ready to go on stage. Also, the company conducts regular workshops, which is the pathway to joining the group. Travis Greer, a comedian with the group, conducts workshops regularly at the House of Magic in Ventura. But it is the longevity of the ensemble, which has seen other theater groups dissipate over the last two and a half decades, that proves the formula is working.
The other element that really separates the Ventura Improv Company from most, if not all other comedy performances — it’s family-friendly. With no food or alcohol being served and a general effort to keep the content clean enough that parents won’t frown upon it, it’s kept a separate identity in the comedy scene. And it’s perhaps this unique approach that will keep the company going for another 25 years.
The Ventura Improv Company is located at 34 N. Palm St., Ventura. It offers regular shows on Friday and Saturday night and it also hosts birthday parties and other activities. For more information, call 643-5701 or go to venturaimprov.com.
The public is also invited to Ventura Improv Company’s 25th birthday party and fundraiser on Saturday June 28 at the Rubicon Theatre at 1006 E Main St., in Ventura. The reception is at 7 p.m.; the show is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by going to www.venturaimprov.com/25 or calling 643-5701, ext. 2.