GIGGLE CITY: Julian Faid, Player of the Month, makes it all up as he goes along

There are a lot of ways to skin a cat for a laugh when it comes to live comedy – cat lovers, please hold your tongues – but both improv performers and stand-up comics have the same goal: To make drunk people laugh.

Improv comedy has been a proven alternative to straight stand-up shows since comedy “games” were invented by Loose Moose Theatre in Calgary 30 years ago. It’s huge in Edmonton, too. The 40 members of the Rapid Fire Theatre troupe manage to fill the Varscona Theatre every weekend with Theatresports (Friday at 11 p.m.) and Chimprov (Saturday at 11 p.m.), the “long form” improv where entire comedic plays are created out of thin air. Both shows start up again this weekend, starring master improviser Julian Faid, who was named Rapid Fire’s “Player of the Month” for January.

Q: If you could be any celebrity, who would it be and why?

A: Conan O’Brien. I respected him when he did his show and I respected him even more after he lost the show and did another one. And then I saw that documentary about him: The dude’s kind of surly and angry, but constantly funny. I like his style a lot.

Q: Have you done stand-up comedy before?

A: I was the host at a show with Jon Mick once and had to do five minutes. I was freaked out. I don’t like remembering things, as an improviser.

Q: Best heckler story?

A: We’ve had what you might call the “hell gigs” –generally in bars where you’re thrust up on a stage or they move some tables and you have to do improv in front of drunk people who didn’t know they were going to watch improv. Me and this other improviser did this show at Cowboys. We’re both 17 at that time, so we’re not actually even allowed to be in the bar. I don’t think we even got two scenes out before we were bombarded with heckles. I didn’t have any comebacks as a 17 years old kid in a bar full of drunken cowboys.

Q: Whose idea was this?

A: That was the question running through our minds. On another occasion did a gig for the Progressive Conservatives at some big hotel in St. Albert. So the guy who’s leading us in is Premier Ralph Klein, who gives a really boring speech and then sits in the front row as we’re introduced. So in the first five minutes Ralph just stands up and walks out, which gives the green light for everybody else in the room to say, “What? Ralph’s not watching? I’m outta here.” So a good 70% of the tables just stand up and walk out. So then one of the other improvisers starts doing jokes about arts funding, and there are certain people who were just turned off by this. They left, too. The same questions rose up – who booked this gig and why?

Q: Do you find you have to censor yourselves at the corporate gigs?

A: There’s a game we do early on in an improv set called the Forehead Game, where hold our hands to our forehead when we want the audience fill in the line for us. So If I say, “Hey, I really like your …” and they say “cat,” I know what kind of crowd it is, but if they say “pussy,” then, oh, OK, we have carte blanche to do whatever we want.

Q: What are your top five favourite improv games?

1. Hecklers – Two players try to do as serious a scene as possible, while two or three of us join the audience and heckle them. I love it. It got banned at Theatresports because it got played so often.

2. In the Life – We get somebody on stage, get a little information from them, and reproduce a day in their life.

3. The Movie Trailer Guy – We do a regular scene, but one of the characters has to speak in movie trailer: “If I’m going to sit in one place this year, it’s gonna be here!”

4. Genre Slide – We pick two genres and slide from one to another, like film noir to Shakespeare.

5. Actor’s Nightmare – One player chooses lines of dialogue on a script as the only lines they can use in the scene, and the rest of the people have to make sense of it.

Q: What’s one of the old games that have been abandoned?

A: The Hat Game still gets played Calgary all the time and we never play it here. Each person is wearing a hat and the winner is the person who can take the other person’s hat off their head during the scene.

Q: That sounds more like a wrestling match.

A: The idea is that you have to try to make the other person so engrossed in the scene that they forget they’re wearing a hat.

Q: Is all this comedy you do completely ephemeral and forgotten once it’s over or does some of it get to stick around to be made into skits or movies?

A: We did a scene many years ago that we ended up spinning into a full length movie, Losing Will. A think a lot of improvisers who write use it as a way to develop sketches, or work their way through scene in a play.

Q: What’s your goal?

A: I’ve been doing this for 11 years and never pursued it as a career choice. I work in marketing and advertising. So I still get be creative in my work. I learned a lot through improv – like learning to always say yes. Even bad ideas have something tangibly good in them. You just have to find it. And it makes it a lot more fun to work with people who say yes than people who say no

Q: Will you be putting “Player of the Month” on your resume?

A: I’m going to make a shirt that says “Player of the Month” and wander around. I’m sure my girlfriend will hate that.