By Perry Frost
The Niche Performance Circuit
Glomp. Crunch. Yiff. Scritches. Tsundere. Dildo on a Reciprocating Saw. That was a sampling of some exotic terminology I’ve encountered in a year of improv performances across the country. What improv comedy has in common with anime, furries, and dominatrices certainly beats me, yet it’s undeniable that the organizers of these events love to hire us, fly us out, and sandwich us between more relevant programming. Skim your schedule at an upcoming fetish convention. You’ll see “Dad’s Garage Improv” between your 7 pm “Titplay Basics” and 10 pm “Pants-Off, Shirt-Off, Underwear-Off, Harness-On Dance Off.”
This blog is a retrospective of my travels into one of these weird convention worlds- Anime! I have a tendency towards exaggeration. Fortunately, in the following paragraphs I will have to do very little of it. Grab some pocky* for snackin’ while you read.
*Pocky is a slender Japanese breadstick snack dipped in chocolate or other flavors of frosting. They are packaged exactly like cigarettes but are easily twice as addictive.
DaishoCon – Kalahari Resorts – Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
When I say “125,000 square foot Africa themed indoor water park,” I can guarantee that whatever you’re picturing is not half as awesome as the Kalahari. Nestled in the cold dead heart of Wisconsin, it steeps you in colorful imagery straight out of the Serengeti—if the Serengeti shared a parking lot with a Cracker Barrel. Giant fiberglass elephants peeking out of baobab trees with hand sanitizer dispensers halfway up the trunk. Pensive CEO-style portraits of what seems to be one particular gorilla over and over. Kind eyes. Mr. Kalahari, possibly? A bar called the Ivory Coast, specializing in $27 sugarbomb drinks with names like “Mango Massacre”
Did I mention an actual REAL BABY TIGER? I didn’t pet it. The fee was $20 and I had already spent my per diem on one of those cocktails from Ivory Coast.
(Note: all of this is in the lobby. I could describe the double beds and entire floor of laser tag, but I’m not trying to make you jealous.)
The point is, this is obviously the perfect place to hold a convention geared towards Japanese culture. I’m assuming the DaishoCon organizers called up the place, hung up after “yes, our resort is themed around the continent of A-” and started high-fiving.
In actuality, the DaishoCon crew is a group of college students that have grown the event out of their immediate friend group and into a well-oiled 5,000 person event. They took amazing care of Travis, Rueben, and I, although they seemed to be under the false impression that we were “cool” or “mattered.”
Shout out to Olivia and Emily and Nicole and Cole and a bunch of people I don’t remember because they gave me cheese right after they introduced themselves. Cheese is important there. In fact, within five minutes of us getting our room keys, the DaishoCon crew had whisked us away to a restaurant called the Wisconsin Brewpub where every menu item was swaddled in cheese like the Christ child. A hurricane of dairy and beer ensued. Before I knew it I was holding a literal fishbowl of booze over my head and screaming NAAAAANTS IGONYAMA, BAGITHI BABA. Rueben told me it was for two people, and he’s usually right about stuff so I let him have some. The circle of life.
On the Job, On the Stage
Our job at the convention was twofold- teach panels that intersected nerd culture with improv, and perform shows where suggestions like “Pokemon” or “a giant robot” would be clumsily embraced. The first show was on Friday in the main auditorium while many con-goers were still in line for their badges, which they definitely needed. The second, on Saturday in a slightly smaller room called the “Daishotorium,” also the location of the karaoke we hit up every night we were there. Highlights included Travis mime-playing the pan flute solo from Toto’s Africa with his butt.
During our shows, we celebrated our anime knowledge, which ranged from very little on Travis’ part to borderline encyclopedic on Rueben’s. Much like the lettuce on a club sandwich, I’m somewhere in the middle. Our usual tipsy nighttime audience volunteers were replaced by cosplayers who were young enough that they should have been sober but probably weren’t sober. In a park bench scene, Ezio from Assassin’s Creed and Luigi teamed up to kill Mario at a Quizno’s. Viva Italia! We expect to get a cease and desist letter from Ubisoft and Nintendo for spoiling their upcoming merger.
On the Job, Off the Stage
Our other responsibility was to teach improv at three intimate panels in smaller rooms, with smaller audiences. There was a heartwarmingly large group of con-goers that showed up to both of our shows and all of our panels- they were rewarded with screams of DIE as we taught them how to play Categories.
The first panel was Improv 101, consisting mostly of name games, word association, and trust exercises. Another was called “Improve your RPG with Improv,” where Travis debuted a slideshow about why DnD and playing a character in an improv scene are similar. In both, it’s recommended that you put your character in danger, “show” instead of “tell” when it comes to your character’s attributes, and mention dicks as much as possible. Dicks are funny. ™ Dad’s Garage 2015.
The third panel and my favorite was on how to utilize improv in social situations. Look- the stereotype of the weird, creepy anime fan is a total falsehood. In fact, con-goers were friendly and kind and easy to talk to, even if the only thing we had in common was the belief that Sailor Moon is better than Citizen Kane. It’s no secret, though, that niche hobbies of the geeky variety attract people more on counterculture side of things.
Improv Style Life Hacks
In my opinion, the failing side of a social interaction with a big ol’ nerd is often on the non-nerd whose preconceived notions keep them from taking the other person seriously. “Not normal” alarms start going off in their head and shit gets awkward. Because of that, we tried to equip the people who attended the panel with some improv-style social hacks like listening, making your scene partner feel smart, and accepting offers. We also pointed out that a big improv no-no is actually a huge boon to good conversation- ask questions!
Finally, Rueben went over a technique that gets him huge laughs and makes him lots of friends- take your shirt off. Go ahead. Maybe start unbuckling your belt before the lights go down. Lights didn’t go down? You’re not going to lose THIS game of chicken. Rip those pants clean down to your knees. Tease your boxers down like an inch and revel in the screams. Show some trunk, who gives a fuck?
As we were deported back to Georgia for public indecency, I looked back in quiet reflection at the weird Japanafrican funfest we had been inexplicably featured at. Anime and improv are strange bedfellows. I can’t tell you why there is synergy between live comedy and painstakingly hand-animated episodes of Princess Schoolgirl Succubus: Sleepy Love Crisis. I CAN tell you that whether I’m facing off with a 1000 year old many-armed sex demon like in S1:E45 of PSS:SLC, or whether I’m performing on the brand new Dad’s Garage stage, I’m going to make sure I’m wearing something under my skirt. Rookie move, Kikyo.