By Travis Sharp
Do you remember that scene in Trainspotting? Renton, played by Ewan McGregor, has a heroin suppository up his butt. He ends up passing it unceremoniously into a gross toilet in a shady off track betting parlor—the “Worst Toilet in Scotland.”
Save that image while I digress.
I moved to Atlanta in late 1999. Shortly thereafter, I was looking for “something different” to do with my girlfriend for her birthday. I saw an ad for Scandal: the Improvised Soap Opera at Dad’s Garage, and decided to check it out.
When we pulled into the cratered parking lot, my girlfriend was clearly distressed.
“What is this?”
I looked down upon the windowless cinder block warehouse with a rusted tin roof. Clearly it was the sort of place where people got murdered. There were probably people getting murdered in there at that moment.
I was tempted to say, “Oops, I missed a turn. Just turning the car around,” and then drive to the first restaurant I could find. Thankfully, I didn’t. We went in, and my life was changed.
I had done improv in college—mostly directionless games with a focus on humiliation. What I saw on the night of February 11th, 2000, was a group of improvisers building a spontaneous narrative that was so funny and so engaging that I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t figure out how they were doing it. I was leaning forward in my uncomfortable wooden seat and my heart was beating fast.
On the drive home, I told my girlfriend, “I’m going to do that.”
I enrolled in the next class, and began my still-ongoing education in the deceptively simple art of creating off-the-cuff stories together.
A couple of months later, Improv Director Chris Blair made the dubious decision to cast me in an improv show (albeit Dad’s Garage’s rookie show).
This is where the Worst Toilet in Atlanta comes in.
It may come as no surprise that when the Stage Manager alerted me that I had 15 minutes until it was time to hit the stage, my bowels liquefied. It should also come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Dad’s Garage’s wonderful, terrible former facility on Elizabeth Street to learn that the backstage bathroom belonged in a Third World bus station.
I sprinted into that bathroom and experienced what would become a tradition: my pre-show bout of nervous diarrhea. For the coming months and years, about 15 minutes before every show: ker-sploosh! No matter how many shows I did, those pre-show butterfly-induced squirts stuck around. And always in the same awful environs.
As gross as this story is, it’s a smelly simile for improv at Dad’s Garage. The improv is never by rote. Nothing is pre-set. On any given night, even after all these years, a show can crash and burn. It’s a palpable risk that the performers, and the audience can feel. I think it’s that very real danger that sometimes propels a show to a level that is so funny and so engaging that the audience can’t believe it—just like that very first show I saw at Dad’s.
So when you join an improv show at Dad’s Garage, know this. It really is the first, and last, time the show has ever been performed. It could skyrocket to giddy heights, or flounder good-naturedly. And someone onstage probably had the shits moments before.