Blacktop Comedy's goal: Make 'em laugh
Location: 7311 Galilee Road Ste. 150, Roseville
Shows/events: The Playground from 7-9 p.m. Thursdays, Comics on Top 9 p.m. Thursdays, The Colony 8 p.m. Saturdays, Kids Improv Club 10-11:30 a.m. Saturdays. Adult and youth improv courses also available.
Info: (916) 749-3100 or www.blacktopcomedy.com
Save the date: Blacktop Comedy and Stand Out Talent are co-hosting the Milky Way Improv Festival Friday, April 5, through Sunday, April 7, in Roseville. Details will soon be available at http://milkywayimprovfestival.com.
Paul Burke had one goal to achieve when he conceived of the idea for his Roseville business.
He wanted to make people laugh.
And the 40 plus people who packed into Blacktop Comedy’s theater on a recent Saturday evening to see a group of performers known as The Colony would say he’s succeeded. I was there, too, to see “players,” as they’re often called, do some long-form improv, which is a blend of live theater and comedy.
The Colony didn’t disappoint. The first half of the show involved the audience submitting secrets — true or invented — on a slip of paper, and picked out at random by one of the three players (there are six total in the group), including Burke.
They’d read the secret aloud and then immediately launch into a related scene, playing off one another’s leads. Quite the impressive and hilarious feat to watch, especially for someone like me who had never seen live improv before. As indicated by the loud laughs and applause, the audience was satisfied with the show. Burke said the theater has developed quite the following.
“That means we met their expectations and they want to come back,” he said. “It sounds cheesy, but we want it to feel like a family here.”
People consider themselves part of a community at Blacktop, Burke said, which is an aspect of improv that initially attracted him to the art form.
“I tried stand-up, and it was fun but just felt kind of lonely,” he said. “You’re on stage by yourself.”
He took a drop-in improv class in Sacramento and thought he’d been absolutely terrible. But as he walked away, two people stopped to tell him he’d done well. That’s when Burke knew if he ever started his own theater, he’d make a concerted effort to build a supportive environment.
“If it wasn’t for them, I probably never would have done it again,” Burke said.
He became an improv junkie, attending every festival he could find. He spent six weeks studying the art at iO Theater and the Second City in Chicago, a city known for its comedy scene. That pushed Burke to open up his own theater and he found a small venue in a business center behind the train tracks near Washington and Pleasant Grove boulevards.
He and his girlfriend, Betsaida LeBron, another performer, brainstormed name ideas when she had an epiphany: blacktop — the place where children go to play games and meet new friends.
For Burke, Blacktop is a labor of love. He has another full-time job and with all his evening commitments at the theater, Tuesdays are his only day off. He’s a member of Shorties, which does short-form improv such as hosting games like those seen on the television show “Whose Line is it Anyway?”
Burke is also a regular in The Colony. That name comes from the idea of putting a flag in the ground and then building a new world. He’d also heard that K-sounding words are inherently funny.
The Colony always looks for creative ways to engage the audience. Once, they had people draw pictures on an iPad, which were projected on a wall as inspiration. But Burke wants newbies to know something: Their performers will never pick on the audience or force people to participate.
“That’s our biggest misperception we have to fight … but if you want to be part of the show you definitely can,” he said.
Another way to get involved is through improv classes for adults and children, and a new drop-in stand-up comedy and improv show called Comics on Top, run by comedian Bryant Tarpley.
“People should come see the show because it is a great mix of standup, improv and sketch,” Tarpley said. “In the show, you will get to see a great mixture of seasoned and up-and-coming comedians all working together to make you, the audience, laugh.”