When Sue Avis Christensen, a local esthetician, agreed to be the featured guest on the Anti-Cooperation League’s weekly comedy improv show, she was a little bit nervous. The cast of the show, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary on Dec. 9 at the Comedy Spot, takes stories from their guests and creates comedy scenes from them.
The League chose a tale from her days working at Marie Callender’s several years ago when she was held up at gunpoint. It wasn’t the mugging that the cast homed in on, but her reaction to it. She ran and hid behind a thin wall a few feet away from the intruder. In ACL’s version of the scene, everyone hid behind chairs, other people and an ever-increasing list of bad locations. One person even handed the attacker a pie before hiding.
“It was funny to see what they could do with the stuff I had told,” Christensen says. “It was ridiculous where I hid, but it was even more ridiculous to see someone make fun of it. I had a lot of friends there, so they got to laugh about it.”
By now the format of the show is locked down. Comedy Spot owner and lead ACL cast member Brian Crall chats with the crowd first, then interviews the guest for 15 minutes. Any of that is used as fodder, even things that Crall says. One time a guest told the 42-year-old Crall that he was old, to which he earnestly replied: “I’m not that old.” One of the cast members created a scene portraying Crall as though he were a 97-year-old man.
As ridiculous as the results can get, the Anti-Cooperation League is perhaps the most mainstream comedy show at the Comedy Spot, which is by design.
“We do these weird shows late at night after ACL,” Crall says. “You can’t do anything that’s too crazy at a prime slot. It’s our staple. We wanted something that was super accessible.”
One example of the kind of weird shows that can be found at the Comedy Spot includes “What Would Walker, Texas Ranger Do?” The audience is shown clips of the unintentionally campy show, and asked to guess what happens next.
Anti-Cooperation League, as the Comedy Spot’s flagship show, can be seen every Saturday at 9 p.m. It started in 2007, when the Comedy Spot was in its previous location, the tiny 30-seat building on Broadway that was initially painted with bright colors like “clown underpants,” Crall says.
That location opened in 2005 as a place for rehearsal and comedy classes. Crall already had a comedy troupe called Free Hooch Comedy Troupe, which started in 2001. It was a mixture of prewritten SNL-style sketches and short form improv games à la “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” The Anti-Cooperation League is purely improvisational, but they don’t do games. These are long-form sketches lasting a couple of minutes with plots and characters.
There weren’t guests originally. Audience members volunteered to have their wallets and purses rummaged through, and the crew turned these items into sketches, but that eventually fell flat.
“It’s great if it’s a woman and she had a lot of stuff in her purse, but if it’s a guy and his wallet is basically like credit card, cash, a ticket to a thing – there was not a lot of information we could get from it,” Crall says.
One early guest, local TV journalist Edie Lambert, gave them a tip on their current building location, which they were able to move to in 2009, barely.
“We did it on less than a shoestring budget,” Crall says.
The booked guest format revitalized interest in the show, and gave them the push they needed to make it a success. Guests have run the gamut: from TV/film director Joe Carnahan to local soap company Sudz by Studz owners Preston Tilotson and Tyler Robinson.
What makes the format interesting is that the guests are not generally comedians.
“We just want them to tell stories. They don’t necessarily have to be funny. They just have to be interesting,” Crall says. “If you work at a news station, hey what happens at a news station that we don’t see? People want to know behind the scenes stuff. What we do is the unusual, funny part of the show.”
Crall has been in the cast its entire 10-year run and says he’s missed, at most, 15 shows. Other cast members have been there since the beginning, but new ones join the cast as old ones leave. The current cast has 10 people, and Crall estimates that over the years, 40 people have cycled through, a dozen of whom have moved on try to make it in Hollywood.
It takes a while and a lot of persistence to join the Anti-Cooperation League. The Comedy Spot has comedy classes and several other “starter” comedy troupes – there’s live entertainment nearly every night of the week. Starting in January it will be every night.
Justine Lopez is one of the newest cast members. She joined last September after taking classes, volunteering and working on other productions starting in 2014.
“ACL is essentially where performers want to end up at the Comedy Spot. Everyone is so smart on stage,” Lopez says. “We have so much fun up there. If we’re having fun, the audience is having fun. They become a part of the show.”
Even after 10 years, people still continue to come to see the show. Crall doesn’t see an end in sight.
“We’ve always approached the show like we’re just your friends doing weird stuff on stage for your entertainment,” Crall says. “I’m happy that after 10 years we’re still expanding, trying new things, getting bigger each year. I’m very happy ACL is still going.”
Where: Comedy Spot, 1050 20th St., Suite 130
When:10th Anniversary show is on Saturday, Dec. 9; every Saturday at 9 p.m.
Info: 916-444-3137, www.saccomedyspot.com