LA improv group goes to ‘Space Camp’

In elementary school, my best friend went to space camp; I still resent her for it. My parents wouldn’t let me go — they claimed it was too dangerous and expensive — so I sat on my couch while my friend twirled around with the astronauts.

About 15 years later, I finally got to go to space camp. And though it was nothing like my friend’s adventurous experience, The Groundling’s newest stage show Space Camp was absolutely awe-inspiring.

Though the show, quite perplexingly, has nothing to do with space — the only reference to the title was director Mikey Day’s NASA shirt — it doesn’t take long to realize the two hours of sketch comedy will be just as zany as it would have been with the galactic theme.

If you are leery of live comedy due to a slew of bad experiences with mediocre stand-up comedians or stale improv performances, do not worry: The Groundlings’ show offers 17 sketches, only three of which are improv, and all of which are hilarious.

Improvisational performances are notorious for being hit or miss. The Groundlings take care of this uncertainty by giving the audience prompts such as “act in the style of (playwright).” It doesn’t hurt that the crowd The Groundlings attracts is an older one, so the prompt is answered with responses like “David Mamet” and “Tennessee Williams” rather than the obvious “William Shakespeare.”

The other 14 shorts are scripted skits penned and performed by advanced Groundlings students. They cover subjects from gay coaches to TV networks, and spoof pop culture topics like The Terminator and The Facts of Life. While each one made my open-minded baby-boomer father cry with laughter, of your viewing partner is not so comfortable with slightly off-color humor, I advise you enroll in Space Camp another evening.

Though the skits are all fantastic, the actors make the show a unique and memorable experience. This can probably be credited to the fact that The Groundlings is not just a comedy troupe but also an improv and comedy school, and a renowned one at that.

The Groundlings School of Improvisation has been around since 1979, and began with only 17 students. Today, there are roughly 4,200 students learning the science of humor through the school’s four-step program, containing beginning, intermediate, lab and advanced courses. Once a student graduates the advanced course, he or she can be voted into the Sunday Company — the group that “nurtures” potential members.

An audition process is required to join the school, and auditions are free. If you do choose to audition, however, be prepared: you will be in the company of giants. The Groundlings’ roster of alumni includes comedic geniuses such as Will Ferrell, Cheryl Hines, Kathy Griffin and Jon Lovitz, and most of the current students demonstrate reasonably similar potential.

Their no-holds-barred take on comedy allows them to delve fully into their characters, allowing them to execute each three-minute skit with focus, sculpting each sketch into something probably funnier than it should be. The actors, who also write the skits, are not afraid to make complete fools of themselves. Their willingness to do anything for the sake of comedy certainly shows.

One of the best parts about Space Camp is the anticipation, and the disorganized layout of skits actually works in the show’s favor.

If you are unhappy, uncomfortable or unable to stop laughing, not to fear. The Groundlings will take twists and turns through their diverse comedic stylings, and whether you love or hate a skit, the next one is almost guaranteed to rub you the right way.

The Groundlings offer something for everyone, and the show is just as entertaining as its prominent history suggests it should be. For a live show and an LA experience, you’ll probably enjoy more than an episode of Saturday Night Live, $18 per ticket isn’t half bad.

If for some reason you can’t make it out to its Melrose comedy den, you can find bits of the crew’s laugh-out-loud works on YouTube (if you haven’t seen it yet, “David Blaine Street Magic” is a must). If you can make it out, get ready for a delightful evening. You may not be at Space Camp, but surround yourself with The Groundlings and you can truly say you’re among the stars.