CSz30 in Milwaukee 2014

There’s a short way to say this and a long way. The short way is, thanks to everyone who was there for the laughs, the smiles, and the good times. To everyone who wasn’t, I’ve just come back from a marvelous vacation in Milwaukee.


The long way ends here, with feelings of longing, and a pronounced reluctance to accept it’s over. Adjusting to my everyday life is taking sustained effort, and not just because of my general sleep debt. That is certainly a factor though; I’m not as young as I used to be and those sleepless nights and action filled days (and nights) take a toll. Consider yourself lucky, young people who can bounce back with a couple days’ worth of extra snoozing. Once there’s a toddler rising at 7 every day, he doesn’t care how little you slept while you were at Championship.


But it’s not just fatigue that has me in a bit of a funk. It’s detox. I was intoxicated for days by my ComedySportz family and I hate to think it’s over, and that it’ll be another year (at least) before I get my next fix.


So let’s try to cast aside today’s snit and think back. I can’t remember exactly when I decided with certainty to attend CSz30 but I suspect it was shortly before last year’s tournament in Buffalo began. I bought my plane tickets for Wisconsin in the spring but for a moment it looked like an incredible professional opportunity was going to prevent me from going. All I’ll say is, the opportunity to design a Muppets game was dangled in front of me. The dates changed and my trip to tournament was saved. I felt cautiously optimistic, but had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t the first time the trip would be jeopardized.


Instead, the day of my flight neared without conflict, personal or professional. Then the day before I learned that the gig I’d thought was virtually a sure thing was not being offered to us. It was a real kick in the dick, I don’t mind telling you. But it was actually the best timing I could have asked for: what better way to wash away a disappointment than with a week with my ComedySportz family? There’s no twist to this story. That’s what happened next.


My flight was drama-free and, on the plane, I took care of the final item on my to-do list. I deactivated my Facebook account. To future attendees of tourney, I strongly recommend considering taking this non-permanent move. I felt vividly and constantly connected to the people I was talking to and scarcely looked at my phone. Seriously, think it over. Was your tournament experience enhanced by constant connection to FB? Or would it have been better looking at the posts after you got home, as I did? Took me about an hour.


At the baggage claim, I saw Kevin from San Jose, Jenn formerly of Portland, and Amanda of Milwaukee, who tirelessly and indefatigably made a loop between the hotels and the airport for so long that she knew all the limo drivers by name, and even the pilots saw her and said, “She’s with ComedySportz.” What better ambassador could there be for our company? We should have had promotional 3-D glasses for her to hand out.


The laughs began in the car on the drive to the theater; Amanda dropped me off at ComedySportz and all was quiet, for the most part. The managers were part way through a long meeting: I saw Susan Scoville first and then stood at the glass door and made faces at Dick to distract him. I did a bit where I hiked up my trouser to show some leg and he did wolf-whistle bits and bits about his glasses fogging up. When they stood up for a leg stretch break I got to give Bron a (sweaty) hug.


Also for those who don’t know, Dick was on a scooter. He had one foot in a Velcro cast and rather than use crutches, he had his knee up on a motorized scooter that he zoomed dangerously around the theater. I was with him when he picked up the 3 nested cake pans that he dropped on the hard floor of the theater before fake falling off his scooter and lying prone on the floor, alarming everybody. It was a “crash box” bit. Great stuff. His name badge said “Scooty.” Whether he had a Star Wars tattoo on his injured leg we still do not know.



By now it was mid-afternoon on Tuesday and many more players were arriving, including Ben, Nate, and Frank from Twin Cities. Frank was a mainstay of CSz LA when I joined the company in 2002 but I hadn’t seen nor heard from him in years, so I was quite surprised to see he’d become a member of the Minneapolis roster but very pleased to see him at tournament because he is one of the all-time funniest and most skilled ComedySportz improvisers I have ever seen. He’ll fit right in on that team because what with the 2 Dougs, Ben, Nate, Jill – this is a rock star team.


The Twin Cities players got their lanyards at ComedySportz and then wanted to visit their hotel at the Residence Inn. This hotel’s 8th floor was the designated location of our Games Garden.


Quick word on the Games Garden. In 2007, my third year attending tournament, I brought some board and card games with me because I thought a few people might want to play instead of hitting the bars. Hitting the bars had never really been my scene. Still isn’t, though I drink now more than I did then. Did I mention I have a toddler?


Anyhow, the way I expected it to go was this: I’d sit in the hotel lobby with the games in my lap and people would stream by on their way out into the nightlife of Rock Island Illinois. “What’s that?” they’d say. “Games,” I’d say. “That’s cute,” they’d say. “Maybe later,” they’d say.


I was way off. The founding fathers of the Games Garden, including Nicole Devin, Jason Stockdale, Kirk Keevert, Von Daniels, and many others, seized onto the nubbins of games I’d brought and we took over a whole room on the ground floor, moved the furniture, scavenged for extra chairs, and transformed the room into a destination where groups of 40 people or more played games til well past midnight. This was also the debut year of Rich Prouty as host of Murder, the year Kat Gottsick of Chicago fooled me all the way to the end, as thoroughly as anybody has ever been fooled.


The Garden came back in Portland, in Milwaukee, and in Philadelphia. I wasn’t there in Indianapolis or Buffalo but I’m told it lived on there, and you can be sure two years ago in Chicago, my last tournament before this one, we made the garden happen. At the Golden Apple Diner, of all places! Made famous by This American Life, made a games garden by us.


This was the first year the Games Garden sported my name, a responsibility I took seriously, even though it meant missing out on some improv content. Players from around the country contributed games of all different kinds and the garden flourished. Rachael Garmon suggested using the upstairs at ComedySportz as the Games Garden location instead, so all the activity would be under one roof. I ran this idea by Mary Baird and Dick and they liked it: more space, air conditioning, games tables, lots of comfy chairs. It was a great place to make my home away from home.


Our garden was sloppy this year but it isn’t going to be featured in any magazines, but I felt proud of the fruitful playfulness that blossomed there.


And want to know something I think is great? I wasn’t even the player who started the Games Garden this year. It was  

Ellen D., a Houston player at her first tournament; she had a deck of cards on her and got 5 of us in a heated game of 99. Ellen said we need some counters in addition to the cards to play and I emptied the glass beads out of the candle on the table’s centerpiece. We had everything we needed. It was the first game of the week. Tournament had really begun.


After that, we tagged along and checked out the Games Garden. Micah, Ellen, and I played Bananagrams in the board room they’d saved for us but to my knowledge this is one of only two games that got played in the 8th floor conference room. Much later that night, a group of unnamed improvisers played Celebrity there (AKA Trash Bucket, AKA Time’s Up, AKA Twime’s Up) and, when the game ended in a tie, resolved it by determining which team could take all their clothes off the fastest. I’ve been a game master a long time but I never could have come up with something like that. I believe that was John Kehoe from Buffalo’s innovation. I also heard it was a Manchester player who took the photo.


We returned to ComedySportz and the opening night welcome party was underway. I saw Kelsey Wagner squatting in the parking lot and when we walked in the door we, like everyone else, were enveloped in a hug huddle that grew to be more than 200 people strong.


This was the first moment that I realized: this place is chock-a-block with heavy hitters. By which I mean, I saw scores of familiar faces who were not just some of the best improvisers I know and some of the loveliest people you could ever hope to meet… but they were all the same people. Skill onstage, chill offstage, kindness every which way: what a remarkable family we have!


My expectations for tournament are always high. They are always met. Yes, and they are always exceeded.


Rachel W. and Sam B. from San Jose and I got the best position in line for the food that night so we ate delicious barbecue courtesy of our hosts and then got back to the important business of gabbing and grab-assery. We got one more game in that night: Two Rooms and a Boom, played with scavenged materials. Two pads of Post-Its, a hat purloined from the Milwaukee prop collection, and 18 good sports. Here’s the thing about this game: the red team always wins. The President doesn’t stand a chance. Anyone else have any memories of this first game? I love how seriously Rich Prouty took the game, and all the good sports who entered the arena and joined us in the game, not knowing anything about it.


The next morning I was grateful for 2 well-selected workshops to ease me into a week of focusing on improv. Bron taught Silence is Golden in the art studio, but the dogs at the adjacent day care didn’t agree with the title, so we relocated to the green room. I’ll admit I dozed off a bit, but it was a fine start. Then Craig taught 2 Person Scenes upstairs, the fundamental building block of all non-silent improv, and it was so enriching and valuable to slow down and focus on these 2 critical skills.


After this was the big reveal! We all crowded onto the front lawn, bits proliferating in 360 degrees, for a group photo and a denouement: the Howie-obsolescensing logo! I didn’t have my jersey but I liked seeing the big sign. A nice bit of razzle-dazzle and the appearance by the mascot version of Howie.


Then a couple days went by and I paused in writing this account and was a dad and a business owner and now all these adventures are a lifetime ago across an ocean of time. Want to know what’s top of mind though? Mary Baird and the way she and Alex and the host city of Milwaukee made our stay fantastic, and also Rich Prouty and Murder. But we’re not there yet.


For lunch most of us went to the market and when Rachael Garmon went to the bathroom we all left her there. I picked up some random chocolates for her that she paid for, so I think we’re square.


Then it was the New Games workshop. It was fun teaching YouTube it with Scott P. I thought Frank’s scene as the aspiring Eagle Scout in Synonym Rolls was classic Frank and a highlight of the workshop; that’s the big take-away game as far as I’m concerned. It was fun being spun around in Dizzy Rascal, and to have been there for its appearance so I could see the Manchester team play it against LA.


I’m logging into the easy-to-use website now to remind me of what happened in what order. I’m really sorry I lost my water bottle. I think it was at the market. I should have hung back for Rachael, I might have remembered it.


After New Games was Playing Positively with Andrew Berkowitz, meaning on my first day of tournament I got a double-dose of Portland’s most dashing and skilled gentlemen. My warm-up group where we talked about something negative from our outside life comprised Courtney and Sam and it was a great workshop to take with San Jose players, who are such a positive bunch.


While I’m looking at the workshop list, here are some highlights from other workshops I attended.


Cheating at ComedySportz: Loved getting to attend Alex elaborating on this topic. I got beat up playing 185, everyone was trying to get in the box so aggressively . Some great playing of Story that foreshadowed in the Boston/Chicago match. The cheaters piled into that workshop and we were way above enrollment capacity, and we shared a wall with the other half of the space and when the workshop on the other side of the wall laughed, Alex would cue us to laugh LOUDER (sort of an obnoxious thing to do as neighbors, I thought) and we repeated it until Stephen Bennett came over and screamed, “ALL RIGHT ENOUGH YOU GUYS” and threw the doors and chairs around. I’m not lying. That guy is an anger ball. That part is a lie.


Dick’s workshop about using the entire space was really like Dick doing a workshop-length performance piece about putting on a workshop. We did scenes from all around the arena, that much is true. For a guy who gets a bad rap for being ADD he was really adamant about the 3D thing and had a high degree of follow-through and every time a team used the 3-D in their shows – like the town meeting vignette in the Meanwhile, Elsewhere Manchester played against LA – I thought it was really good.


But about 20 minutes into the workshop Dick decided that, moreover, he wanted each game to incorporate more games. So he’d have a team of 4 (or 5 or 6) up to play New Choice, but urge us to put some rap in there also and “more games, games within the games.”


I remember Danette from Buffalo saying she’d never been the Dimestore Novelist and she did a FANTASTIC job.


When it was my team’s turn to go up, I’ll admit I’d been snoozing in the darkness of the arena. From a sleeping position, I went on stage with my group and Dick told me to do a coin toss. It was one they used to do in the show from the old days - where you have 30 seconds to do a scene with as many characters as you can.


On Dick’s whistle (actually it was his bell) I played a man and his wife who were unhappy with the guide Mohammad who had gotten them lost (the suggestion was “caravan”). Mohammad apologized but the man said, “It’s not just me you’re inconveniencing. I’ve got the high school marching band with me” and played all the instruments, which is something I do for Fenton all the time. And then in the last couple seconds, the marching band’s parents, who were along for the trip, piped up, and Mohammaed pleaded on behalf of his four children, who also had a few words to say. The other team didn’t do it, which is not like any coin toss I’ve ever seen, but I was grateful for the opportunity to do that gag. Later Dick said to me, “Thanks for showing em how it’s done” and I walked on air.


Here’s something else that happened. Dick was telling me a story from the old days, about someone who was fucking someone else. He told me this story as part of a chain of events that included me observing Dick dandling a baby on his knee. The baby was the younger sister of Nelson, whose mom and dad are both ComedySportz players. The story also involved Dave Gaudet of Chicago and other people too. Partway through the story, Dianah Dulaney interrupted to discuss something with Dick and of course I let the President do so and I stepped aside, and got involved in something else, somewhere else, with someone else. But 25 minutes later, all the way on the other side of the building, Dick chased me down on his scooter and, breathless, picked up the story precisely where he’d left it off. For a guy who gets a lot of flak for being ADD I think we should award credit where credit was due. Tim from New Orleans was there and got the tail end of the salacious story. Snitches get stitches, Tim.


Alli Soowal’s workshop was one I absolutely wanted to get up early for even though the sleep deprivation was really taking a toll on me by this stage. If it had been anybody else I might have stayed in bed. Highlight for me was probably getting to do a scene with Micah as two 1 per centers, high status ganging up on a working class reporter. I entered the scene having just flown in from Luxembourg and denigrated Tracey’s tax bracket. Wish this workshop had been longer, felt like it went by way too fast.


And Dave Gau’s Improv Battle was the workshop I had the most expectations about and it delivered. What a fun competition, very much in the nature of what we do in the ComedySportz show. It was here that Bron coined the term “Dick Chudnow-style mayhem” as a genre. I think the highlight of my competition was the mostly-silent Western that then became avant-garde theater: “STUDENT I.D., STUDENT I.D.” The highlight of the whole thing was probably the Cinderella story of Buffalo upsetting Portland in a series of heats (this did not prove predictive of that night’s match in the garage) and then my teammate from LA Scott Palmason winning the whole enchilada. LA pride.


I wanted to attend the Warm Ups workshop but took a break instead and ended up at Spy House, which I’d missed out on in 2009. To be honest though if the best thing I missed out on was Kitty Cat Career, I’m fine with having gone to the bar. I did the chicken dance and spotted the camera in the wall right at the end. Bill Cernansky told me I pointed right at him.


That structure, using the artifacts of the week to reconstruct the workshops in sequence, was useful. Now I’ll reach for my handy blue book to try to reconstruct the matches in my mind. They all blend together you guys. Was this the year Tara DeFrancisco pretended to be an audience volunteer and joined the Chicago team for a musical? No that was 2007 in Quad Cities. This was the year Jason Stockdale pretended to be an audience volunteer. We’ll get there.


Some shows were in the arena and some were in the garage so no one could see all of them because no one could be in two places at once. I talked about this from all different angles with a lot of people at tournament. I feel that this decision was a net positive but not an unqualified positive. More players got to perform: that was great. I now believe that the hardest thing I’ve ever seen a ref do is the second half of the late show in the garage, when the whole audience is improvisers and they’ve pretty much all been drinking. Bron and Pat both did admirable jobs and should be commended.


The primary thing I remember from the 1st match on the 1st night was Alex’s amazing commitment to explain “What Are You Doing?” before every game in every round. He didn’t miss or skip one. Sensational. The rest of these matches have receded in my memory. Watching Manchester’s team is a privilege, and it was my first time seeing Kate McCabe play and she was a star. Same is true for Jade, whom I saw play against LA in the Arena. It’s always a treat having Pat on music. And Rich Prouty, the most dangerous man in improv, wearing the Portland jersey and nailing it as the Announcer.


I had to cross-reference the web site against the book to see which teams actually played against each other. The book says Boise played against Provo but the web site says Provo played Philadelphia, which is what I remember. I know Buffalo did a replay scene with a koala (Justin Green, when someone tells him there’s a cougar behind him: “Hello, ma’am”) and Alli S. played a panda in a replay scene. Great animal work from Alli. I saw three horror genre scenes on the arena stage on Saturday. What I’m trying to say is, this effort to keep the matches straight is not going well at all.


But the DC match against Boise is one I do remember. It was great seeing Boise back on the field, and I was surprised to learn that Tim was actually a New Orleans player: seems like he’d fit right in, Idaho-wise. He is a bright promising player and certainly going places.


It was DC’s match though. This was the match where I fell in love with Sleet. That’s David Sly and Stephen Heaton. Together they’re Sleet, a force of nature. I was lucky enough to gab with these guys while scamming the free happy-hour food at the Residence Inn on Tuesday evening. We talked about improv and neuroplasticity. They are as charming off the field as they are skilled on it.


But for all that, the match belonged to the power duo of Liz and Rachael. Rachael’s constant gleeful terror and Liz’s manic whirlwind of Looney Toons slapstick and unbridled Id-like commentary are a peerless combo. The fairy tale countdown became something of a masterpiece with Liz pimping Rachael through the whole Crossfit gauntlet, “I’m barren!”, and the escalation of eating the prince. Add to all this Sleet throwing each other around as horse and rider and it was a stand-out game in a strong week of matches. The object freeze at the end was another good opportunity for mayhem, but the Rock Star all over Randy was super gross. Liz got in one last classic Liz blurt with the dart gun used as super vaccination: “Ugh, autism!”


The late show in the garage on Friday also had a strong booth. MJ from New York as the Announcer was slaying me with the score updates by reading pitch-perfect commercials referencing things that happened in the show that were so good they sounded like they were written out. And Dan Czuba from Buffalo is a priori one of the best musicians working at any improv theater anywhere. I can count his peers on the fingers of one hand. Great showing from this guy.


That last chance game in Quad Cities vs San Antonio where they have to guess 24 different locations in 5 second rounds? That’s a hell of a game. Hell of a game for Pat to have to ref too, so nice job putting the onus on Pat.


When I single players out for doing or saying something funny, I classify that as “bragging” because whether or not they happen to me, we are family, whir hulled wide. After a ComedySportz show when I go home, I tell my wife all the funny things I said. Then I tell her the funny things other people said but I tell her that I said them. What I’m trying to say is, if you have read this far for some reason and you did something in one of the shows mentioned above that you think I should have bragged about but didn’t, leave a comment so I can give you props for it.


The next day I slept 8 hours and got up just in time to take a bus to the Arena and see LA play Manchester, another highly anticipated match. Seeing James do a match as a player is always a joy, and I love Rick as captain, and seeing Em and Molly in their first tournament with the LA jersey also gave me a sense of pride for James and all he’s done for our team. I remember reading Em’s Tweet when the joined the team: “ComedySportz LA Main Company player. Well 14 year old me, we did it.” And she had a fine showing in the match. I loved all Molly’s bench energy and support in the styles replay, and James getting to do opera. The return of Dizzy Rascal!  Jade’s groaner foul about “tofood poisoning.”


I missed the second half of the match because I was gabbing with James and Dianah at the bar, so I was very sad not to have seen Richmond play Milwaukee because I had so much quality time with Richmond players this year but the silver lining is I saw Matt Garnaas ref that show, and just when you can’t think that guy can’t get any greater, guess what, it turns out he can. What a champ.


The next match was the one I played in against Richmond. I think that match can best be described as the one where Spider-Man played Moving Bodies. My team had selected this game backstage because I knew non-players would be in the audience. What I didn’t know was that Dan, the guy whose place I was staying at, and his friend (let’s call her Katniss) would hit the Lyft button and receive a driver dressed in head-to-toe in a high-quality Spider-Man costume. This guy wasn’t grungy or even especially bulgy and he out-classed the 7 guys standing in front of the Chinese Theater at this moment by a country mile.


When the Lyft driver in the costume took them to ComedySportz, they invited him in and he joined them. So when I asked Dan if anyone in his party wanted to join us onstage, Spider-Man was volunteered by acclamation. It was a hell of a thing. I told Konstantine during the other team’s game that I would add the Replay at Bernie’s angle, which was simply because 4 people is a lot for 1 volunteer and I am a germ phobic and don’t like playing Moving Bodies. I didn’t know the volunteer would be a superhero or I might have changed my decision.


We lost that round to Richmond for their gibberish opera. “A TWIST!” I briefly played a bobble head in that scene because, hey, any excuse to jiggle my fluffy hair. But note to future bobbleheads: don’t choose a squatting position. It’s painful to the thighs. On your knees is fine. I commented later that maybe if we’d had the Avengers instead we could have won the round, but someone said there were so many Richmond players in the audience we never could have won, so that made me feel a little better.


I’m burying the lead here which is Dave Gaudet was the referee. Is that guy a legend or what? And so handsome. No one can touch him. In Freeze we all touched each other, a lot, which I thought was great: the whole point of doing a game like that in these shows is we got to play with each other. I had my arms around Michael Wheeler before I put them around Kim to pierce her ears at a Transylvanian Hot Topic.


We lost that round also so the stakes were high for B Movie. Our team did German accents, then Farsi, which I sidestepped, and then Cajun which was when I told a long joke in a character voice, the punchline to which was “Rotten Tomatoes gave it an A-Team.” I have never seen The A-Team. I bet Rich Prouty has.


I also want to mention how amazing Liz our stage manager was. We don’t have those in LA. There’s lots of things we don’t have in LA, but in Milwaukee we had hospitality and friendly support in an unfamiliar theater and we were never for a moment made to feel like we were second-class citizens because we were doing a garage show. I felt lucky to be in such capable hands. This was the same night that I congratulated the bar staff on how often they take out the trash and replace the paper towels. Those young people. If they keep working hard, they might grow up to be President.


In the second half of my match, Wade’s pants blew off. It  took me 19 pages to get this story, but I want to try to describe it up for those of you who weren’t there. Then again I may not be terribly reliable, even though (or, I suppose, because) I was an eyewitness.


Here’s what I feel sure about: the game was Continuation. H. Wade Minter in red was playing for Boston. Jason Stockdale from Chicago’s team was Wade’s double on the blue team. On the ref’s whistle, as the red team cleared the stage, Wade’s pants – track pants with snaps up both sides – flew forward and up into the air. He wasn’t touching them. His pants just exploded off him, revealing his boxers and knee pads underneath. And Jason, playing Wade’s character, took his spot on the stage and pulled his pants down to his ankles. Pandemonium ensued. Half the Boston team did the last chance round sans pants – a foreshadowing of the dance party on the last night perhaps? Wade says he’s been wearing pants like that in the match for a decade and that’s never happened.


If the rumors going around are true, and Angelo’s ghost blew off Wade’s pants, then I think the next 30 years and the whole CSzWorldwide campaign is off to a good, mischievous start.


There was a lot of adorable mischief in this match. Ben from Boston made a reference on stage to the fact that he’d misunderstood when his team was competing and had woken up from a nap to come do the show. Sean, a new (to me) player from Chicago snuck back into Story after being ejected, and escaped Dave’s noticing until he turned around, pointed at him, and Sean said: “Everything was resolved.”


Jason also made mischief in Story and got himself kicked out. After the Boston team’s game, he came back in wearing a false mustache and oversized plaid shirt. When Chiacgo called an audience volunteer game, Jason from the back of the garage said, “I’ll volunteer.” He came onstage for a game of Slow Jam Word From Our Sponsor and introduced himself as Matt Elwell. He was wearing Matt’s shirt. From there, as Jason told me later, he just played us all like a fiddle, with inside baseball references to Matt’s “don’t call it that, call it this” Power Point. Lots of fun lovingly poked at a guy who works hard for the league.


For the 9 PM arena show, I bought a ticket for my Couchsurfing friends and one for me, so I got to see the penultimate show in the Arena from a proper seat. Portland vs. Buffalo (grudge match from the Battle Prov workshop) and Manchester vs. Milwaukee. One thing I loved from the second half was that both teams had a BBW improviser and they both brought huge comic chops to the team. In “What You Got,” on the suggestion “kangaroo,” Rachael W. from Manchester crossed one arm across her bosom, started jumping, and said: “Support! Support! Support! What you got?” Also from this round I quite liked Matt Garnaas from Milwaukee with the suggestion “spider” nailing it with both “Walking through a web” and “Honey, can you get this?” What you got?


Also the Manchester team in “Right, Sure” where they all spoofed Americans and Rachael put on a wig to play a Valley Girl was priceless. Two other great Wareing moments from the bench: in that game, when Darryl explained the rules and how they would lose points for failing to convince the audience they were Americans, Rachael gestured with exasperation at the scoreboard, showing her team’s score: nil. Also, her frustration at herself after doing a 185 joke where she attempted to subtract 99 and got the wrong difference. Better luck next time, Rachie. Did you say you worked in a bank?


And then the championship match. For me the biggest memory from that game is Brian Green guessing all 5 Things, ending with, “Smells like freedom?” From his eye-rolling to the suggestion of “watermelon” to challenging Darryl from Philadelphia, because “I just wanted to challenge another brother without ending up in a fight,” Brian played every angle and every take on the “affably angry black improviser” to hilarious effect and had the audience eating out of his hand.


So that was the workshops and the shows. Then there’s the games. On the second night of shows we played Pit – my first time! - and some Tokyo Train and then went outside and played Ninja and Cat and Mouse before we came back inside and played Murder again. Sarah from Richmond was a remarkable Ninja player because she has those long arms and legs. I loved playing with Kevin O’Shea. There’s basically nothing I wouldn’t play with that guy. The damp ground and the threat of Michael Wheeler getting assassinated made the game even more exciting.


Now let’s talk about Murder. If you don’t know how the game works, I’m not going to explain it now. It’s now Monday, more than a full week after the last night of tournament, and I’ve put hours into writing this blog post nearly every night and it’s time for Murder. Some games are special because you don’t get to play them all the time. The Olympics is a good example, though the World Cup is a more relevant one. Playing Murder with Rich Prouty is a privilege: it’s a game that happens, if we’re lucky, a couple times a year. And I got to play it twice this year.


I am a player in Murder, which the other players seem to forget, or at least overlook. It’s unfair the way I generally get a buy to the final round, but the murderers are always free to kill me, and the townspeople are certainly free to lynch me. At this point, though, I’ve played so many times that I’m quite adept at defending myself.


I love the way we play with just 2 murderers and 1 detective: no special roles, no funny business. I love the commitment from the players, especially when they buy into the whole enterprise as real. I love the quips that come out of the game: many of the biggest laughs pay off because they are 2 hours or more in the making. I love the dedication the players bring, new and returning, to sit through a game that can last 2-3 hours. And I love the way Rich Prouty hosts the whole affair. That man is a national treasure. I vary between describing him as “The Michael Jordan of Murder” or “The Mozart of Murder” because I don’t know much about classical music or basketball so I don’t know what’s more accurate. All I know is, no matter how long he has to do it, he never complains and the well never goes dry.


So what were the highlights? Night one was Lionel Twain’s Boy Scout Jamboree. It’s always interesting to see who makes character choices: Betse Green consistently does, and so does Konstantine. This year, Konstantine as the Latino Boy Scout was quickly killed by the murderers, largely because he could not correctly execute the Scout Salute.


This was the extraordinary game where veteran Murder players Kevin O’Shea and Darryl Fishwick (who once played the game as Matt Garnaas) were selected as the Murderers and would likely have won if not for the remarkable detective work of Dick Johnson, CIA, FBI, NCIS (walk-on role) AKA Craig from Provo who revealed himself with 6 players only left in the game and outed both murderers. It was a remarkable gambit and created a great deal of drama. Kevin said later that he was going to do the same thing himself if he’d lived one more round, based on the math of how many players were left. The detective living so long, and identifying two murderers after so many wrong guesses, were extreme long shots, but it happened.


This was the same game where Sam Bowers revealed himself as the detective and promised to reveal who the murderers were if he lived another round. This was a unique game move and we talked it round and round from every angle. Kelsey, the sister of temporarily Latina Betse, was more willing than I was to give faux-detective Sam the benefit of the doubt, but although he survived the lynching at the end of the day phase he was murdered during the night and left the game room without saying a word. There are those who say it was a murderer-assisted suicide because he wanted to leave and drink alcohol, but we may never know because Sam is dead now.


There was an instance where I put my thumb on the scales. Dan Czuba from Buffalo, whom I hadn’t yet see improvise, though I now know that he has incredible musical chops, was being quiet. And I don’t trust the quiet people in the game. I draw them out. But instead of doing that to Dan, I planted evidence on him. One night Lionel Twain provided us all magazines in our rooms; during the following day phase I revealed that mine was a Highlights for Children magazine and, when I turned it to the hidden image search, a piece of paper fell out. It was a police report on Dan with info about his rap sheet, aliases, and past run-ins with the law. Dan didn’t defend himself well, and the townspeople lynched him. I didn’t expect the repercussions of my evidence to be so quickly damning, and I felt guilty that I’d gotten Dan out of the game so directly.


Matt Garnaas cool-headedly pointed out that Goofus would be the kind of guest at Twain manor who would throw out wild accusations like mine, but Gallant would rise above such things. Gallant, like Matt, is such a good role model in such affairs.


This was also the game where Matthew Wheeler of Richmond claimed the top bunk every time the lights went out, much to Lionel Twain’s annoyance. But it was all worth it because the first night after he died, Matt Garnaas claimed the top bunk to a huge reaction from the room. This was also the night I trotted out a beloved plot point from years past and revealed that Ellen from Houston was pregnant with my child… or Kevin O’Shea’s child. “Fifty-fifty,” Ellen said. Lionel Twain brought her to the basement with the time machine to kill her but, upon discovering that she was an uncommonly savvy player, he quickly shivved her and never activated the time machine, so we won’t find out what he had in store for her and her unborn child. This was the night of the return of triple-AIDS, but in its advanced stage, which is even more deadly.


This was the night Glenn made himself a mime and, when he entered the arena where Lionel Twain commanded him to kill himself, I asked if he had any final words. Glenn gave me the double bird, then gouged his eyes out with those same middle fingers and bled to death.


WHO BESIDES ME AND MATT GARNAAS SURVIVED THE NIGHT? It’s really important that you tell me. There were about 6 of us total who lived that first night and beat the murderers. It’s worth noting that neither Kevin nor Darryl played again: I do not blame them. They got to be murderers and got a great game out of it. Sometimes it’s best to walk away on top.


I was pleased that Trevor from Provo played the game; when another player claimed that his disfiguring macramé accident made his hands too weak to commit murder, Travis drolly intoned, “Oh how sad for you.” This was the game where Michael Wheeler had a cockamamie theory for the murders based on their similarities to candies, or egg dishes or… it all got rather surreal and I think it’s not just the drinks I’ve had tonight talking when I say that his arguments were less than cogent, but it was entertaining (if exasperating).


On night two, Lionel Twain invited us all to his Old West recreation themed weekend retreat where, of course, the corpses of murdered guests soon were piled up high. I remember someone in her defense referring to Twain’s “house of death and despair” and Rich responding with a subdued “Well now” which got a huge laugh. This was the night with Brit Belsheim, who barely made it in under the wire for the start, and then endowed herself as the prostitute who would die after 3 days… and then she did! I was so happy that I wasn’t the only suspect who noticed.


Of course, before that, this was the round of the invisible detective, who didn’t open his eyes during the first night phase. It was so great having all the players, eyes closed, listen to Rich make fun of him when he eventually realized he had the red ace.


The character choices were most extraordinary on this night. I’m partly to blame. After Rich-as-Twain revealed that he’d prepared tailor-made costumes for all of us I had the thought: maybe we also have an Old West persona. I would introduce mine and then, over the course of several rounds, come to identify with my Old West alter ego to the point of delusion. What I could not have expected was that a raft of other players would jump on my offer and commit themselves to their characters far more than me, to the point of intentional delusion. It was amazing.


It started when I explained that I had an index card in the inside pocket of my costume telling me that I was John Banker, and advisor to the mayor of the town. I was thinking of “House of Cards” and imagined that I’d learn who the mayor was and serve that person with blind fealty. Nate (I think) from Milwaukee asked if I was of the Providence Bankers. “I literally just know what’s on this index card,” I told him, but Nate – and he wasn’t the only one – was all in on his Old West character. It got him killed right away, which was unfortunate because he was the detective, and he died in the first round, lynched by the townspeople. But Brendon was similarly committed to his role as Mrs. Ann Ouncer and when he said, “The only man who made me angry enough to kill was my husband, “John Kehoe said, “You shut yer mouth” and the whole room went berserk. That same night, a similar reaction occurred when Brit, the prostitute, made reference to the handerkerchiefs she’d stained with blood from coughing (she had consumption) and I, slow to get the reference, said, “Oh I thought that was a period costume joke” and looked down.


It was a tragedy that Stephen’s commitment to Stephen Kneival, daredevil didn’t get many rounds to show itself. He was right that the murderers were a man and a woman: how did he know?! But I’m very glad after his head was found in bed with Lionel Twain’s horse, in a genre-bending homage to “The Godfather,” he returned as the condor who made lazy circles in the sky, absconded with my cookies (I shot at it with a double barreled shotgun, swearing and saying, “I don’t care if you are endangered”) and ultimately had glorious retribution when he exacted revenge upon Sarah, killing her as she had done to him with her accomplice Peter.


It was a strange end-mechanism: because there had been a tie earlier that night, when Elyssa and Brandon both received 10 votes and both died in a sniper-assisted recreation of the OK Corral, the final handshake round took place with 3 players who, it turns out, were all civilians. That’s because we’d voted to kill Bruce in the final lynching. The remaining players were Pat from Richmond, who became an all-star quickly, and Glenn, who abandoned his character voice after Lionel Twain opined that he’d preferred his character from the night before (a mime). Pat and I shook hands to win the game, but any of us could have. It was a peculiarity of numbers, but for those who either lived to the end or played no-looksies it was another tense game. So I survived 2 games of Murder. You see why I say it’s unfair? I’m not complaining, but I do check my privilege.


Bruce from Chicago really impressed me in this game. For a first-time murderer, he was quite calm and contributed just enough to completely escape my suspicion. I will ALWAYS kill the quiet people. Once I get you talking I can probably get you to reveal your guilt. This was certainly true of Bruce’s accomplice, tall Sarah from Richmond. Two first-time players, first-time murderers. Sarah got tangled up in her unlikely alibi which involved cookies. Cookies will never escape my attention.


The leg tattoo. Someone got murdered with a C3PO robot. Mary Ann accused me of having an R2D2 tattoo on my leg, which got a huge gasp from the crowd, and seemed to make them think that I was guilty of the crime. I said that I did not have a tattoo and Pat asked me to prove it. And I sighed and said that I’d ask the same thing if I were in his place, but for reasons I cannot go into, I could not show my legs. Pat showed his: he dropped his pants so we could all see he had no tattoos on his legs. I made up a back story involving a gypsy’s curse that would take effect if I ever showed a group of people in an Old West town my legs, but it never came up outside of my own head. Once Pat’s pants dropped, the issue sort of did too.


File under “miscellaneous”:


The saga of ordering Jimmy John’s. The same night the maniacs in the musical improv brought a delivery guy on stage and serenaded him (I wasn’t there for it, but I heard about it), Kelsey and I just wanted some food. Every place was closed. Our sandwiches took an hour to arrive. Kelsey said, “You know I stopped eating Jimmy John’s because their sandwiches all have too many things on them, so there’s always 1-2 things I don’t want and when I try to make modifications they act like I’m crazy.” I told her I could handle it on the phone, but the guy on the other end did indeed make it sound like I was asking him to perform long division. Actually the phone just kind of went dead: “We’d like the #8 with turkey instead of salami. … Hello? Hello?” He asked if I’d like the #5 instead. I said no. I said I wanted provolone on that sandwich too. “… Hello? Hello?!” It’s not like they don’t have those things in the kitchen. The sandwiches came 45 minutes later. Mine was right. Kelsey’s, which was supposed to be a salami sandwich with turkey on it instead, came with roast beef. Nobody mentioned roast beef. Fuck you Jimmy John’s. There were also no napkins. I can’t blame them though: we did shanghai their driver for our make-em-ups.


I remember Tom New playing in the championship match five years ago, improvising Shakespeare in story while Doug Neithercott improvised in the genre of Hot Topic, and it was a tie for who could last longer: the improvisers or the audience’s pleasure. This year Tom gave a shout-out to Angelo before ending his match with 185. What a pro.


Matt Elwell’s Power Point and Courtney’s follow-up. I take the note about how we will put on our CSz shoes. There’s a board game called Robo Rally where robots crash into each other and cause mayhem. The robots follow a “priority.” If two robots attempt to do the same thing at the same time in the same space, the robot with higher priority for that command will prevail. I have a command, which is: whenever someone tells me “use these words instead of those words,” I bristle. A higher priority for me than that is: I wear nice shoes. So that’s an open-and-shut case. The bottom line is, these are ways we can better serve our fans. That’s what we’re in the business of doing. So let’s get to it. But boy Dave Gaudet didn’t get the memo about the new lingo. And James Bailey calling the fans the audience all night: is that a new drinking game too?


Tournament is a week when there are so many free-flowing compliments. I remember some especially heartfelt ones I payed to Theresa from Buffalo and receiving some lovely ones from Christine of Richmond. Both those cities I thought had an especially nice showing this year.


Jeff K’s interview with Dick Chudnow. Like Frost/Nixon. Two wizards brimming with strengths. What a privilege to have been there for the back-and-forth. Dick’s saying that, when it came to the Hollywood opportunities he’d missed out in the 70’s and 80’s, his therapist telling him, “You’ve suffered enough” was something I’ll file away. And the image of David Zucker doing work on a drug house in East LA is hard for me to picture. I worked for him for 4 months before he fired me for a prank, but that is another story. He wasn’t what I’d call handy, but he was younger way back then.


The LA team lunch. That particular sub-set of our roster would likely never get together and schmooz like that at home, and I’m quite glad we did. And James picked up the check for lunch, hey hey. Our very competent waitress. Frank joining us. The adjacent Brits. Konstantine drawing the Eiffel Tower with Em attempting to block (more Tiny Games).


What were the other Tiny Games we played? I played the touch two colors game with Kelsey and Melissa from Seattle watched but didn’t play. Who else played a Tiny Game with me?


The Resistance with two guys named Ben. The Tiny Games series, including the pointing game where we gave each other pennies, the game where we made disgusting foods using the words on the menu (I think Jason Stockdale won this game) and the long-lasting napkin game that Konstantine and I played all through one half of a garage show and settled standing on one foot, that I lost when the napkin touched my wrist. A decisive and glorious victory for Konstantine. LA Pride. I bought him a drink.


Oh my god Claire Wilcher is amazing.


Thank you to Anjil from Seattle for telling me in person that I was your improv crush.


The scrimmage: our group of 10 did puns and then for the last 2 minutes we did “16 Candles” only the more aggressive of us hadn’t seen it, so Rich and I were in a scene about sacred texts and he named a cast member. This was one of a series of names Rich said that I did not understand at all. Dawkin was another.


Seeing Mary Ann in her majorly slimmed-down state was a lightning strike moment. Over 400 pounds she’s lost. And then to get to play games with her, have her accuse me of having a tattoo on my leg, shut down the theater with her on the last night – I felt in the presence of someone really extraordinary. I guess I gotta go visit Portland again soon. After my brother’s baby is born.


Jacob Bach’s nametags said Fire Island, and then a sequence of increasingly fantastic locations. Some other Milwaukee players had custom made ones, and Rich Prouty’s said The Most Dangerous Man in Improv. Kelsey W. and I were like, what are we second-class citizens because ours say our actual home towns? Also Jacob Bach told me that I hate gays because I was minding the games garden instead of attending the LBQT show and he told me some other reason he briefly hated me so I think I have to work harder to win that guy over next time. I think he’s amazing.


I talked to an improviser whose dog died during tournament. I talked to an improviser who had a grapefruit-sized cyst removed from her uterus earlier this year. My own professional disappointment seemed trivial in comparison, but at tournament we all felt happy in spite of the vicissitudes of the outside world . This unstoppable good-tidings tidal wave was carrying us all high above whatever misfortunes the outside world had in store for us. We were untouchable under the roof of the arena.


The dance party. I loved the way the men AND THERESA took off their clothes hoping the other women would do the same. No dice. But I’d attend a dance party like that every weekend if I could: the highlight for me was probably the marching band, but the Breakfast Club move was also pretty good. Bron in an email to me: “I’m sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye but you were too busy dance humping a bleacher.” I perspired a lot and was glad I brought a change of clothes. After putting on my jammies, we played 3 more games of Two Rooms and Boom and shut down the whole fucking building, locking up and saying goodbye at about 5:30 AM.


The next day, Matt Garnaas was at the theater, gamely trying to help jump start John Kehoe’s car so he could make it home in time for his daughter’s graduation. If a meteor should strike the earth, is there anyone more deserving of being saved than Matt? I admired John who, like me, didn’t look at Facebook once during the week. Then Matt gave me and Melissa from Seattle a ride to the airport, and it was lovely to have my final moments of tournament spent with a longtime friend and a new player from a new team in a new city. Best of luck to Boston, Seattle, Detroit, and anyone trying to share CSz Worldwide in a new city.


This is the 35th page of this blog post, and I’ve finished it just in time for Throwback Thursday: a throwback to 2 weeks ago when we were in Milwaukee. If you went to tournament I love you. If you are reading this I love you. If you made it to the end I will answer any question you ask me honestly. Thank you for caring about ComedySportz. Four more years. Lots more chants.