I realize it’s been awhile since I’ve posted any observations! So here are some observations.
The great thing about improv titans going head-to-head is pure improv—it always comes down to the performance, not necessarily the people who are on stage during the show. I don’t think anyone will make any bones about Cagematch being a bringer show, I think it’s designed that way, so it’s not uncommon to see a team win, perhaps even go on a run, that might not always deserve to do so. That’s just the nature of the beast. But a few times every season at Cagematch, a really cool thing happens. Two improv greats face off, effectively eliminating the ‘bringer’ factor, uniting factions of students and improv lovers alike to see a show where the winning teams’ performance quite literally takes center stage. For the performers too, as much as I’ve surmised, those big matchups are really about leaving it all on the stage, to utilize and apply an antiquated sports metaphor for no good reason.
Last night was one of those nights as The Stepfathers faced off against Grandma’s Ashes. Newsflash: if you missed it, I’m sorry. Should’ve been there. It definitely wasn’t the same thing as missing The Stepfathers’ DCM14 Rewind show, but it was pretty spectacular.
Speaking with Amos and Diston before the show, they wanted to pick my brain about my thoughts on the upcoming match, seriously—this isn’t a joke. What would the night come down to? In my opinion, whether or not The Stepfathers could come out with the right level of energy would impact the set. Would the Stepfathers get weird (if you watch them regularly, you know what I mean)? Had Connor had a nap that afternoon? Was Gethard in the house? Would Shannon be Shannon—BTW? Would Will find a character game early on, garner enough laughs per minute to sustain it throughout? Would Grandma’s Ashes play fast and loose? Would BSJ lose his mind? What would Abra do? It’s really a bevy of factors that makes Cagematch shows into what they are, but it’s the winning over of the crowd, and sustainment of a solid performance that REALLY makes it what it is.
Hands down both teams delivered. I won’t give you the blow by blow but rather a few highlights of the match. The Stepfathers settled into a monoscene fairly quickly and had the audience on board instantly through bold choices up top. After realizing they were sitting at a Russian roulette table, and without a ‘dealer’, Silvija got up to become one. It was seamless, no one made a big deal about it but it’s important to note that she was indeed sitting to start the set—we all saw it, improv is undeniable to the audience in that sense, but mostly because with about five minutes left to the show, The Stepfathers addressed it and spent a great deal of time talking, engaging and interacting with that lady, despite the fact that none of us could see her! They remember. Will Hines remembered every bet he placed and the correct amount. Will Hines heightened his character’s emotional stakes on life/death like a real human being, with credible justifications, just like Will would and should. Specifics. Shannon O’Neill called everything out, had fun and proceeded to play a game where she tried to crack everyone up “Cool WHEELCHAIR lady.” Connor Ratliff accepted gifts like it was going out of style. When his character was likened to a weak lineage of Kramer’s family, he made sure to exit and re-enter the scene in Kramer-esque fashion. They had history, connections, reasons for being there. It was a tidy monoscene that was resolved properly. It was beautifully paced. You expect that from a team of veterans – everyone has a strong character game/point of view and was driving the scene somewhere. No one is ambling about wondering what’s happening next. They’re sitting there like human beings would in such a situation. It’s just believable. No matter how insane the concept of Russian roulette table sounds, I bought it up. Grounded. Play grounded.
Grandma’s Ashes had a fun, high energetic set too. Montages – some scenes long, some short, all good, most great. Some scenes with cutaways or complete tag outs (LOVE THAT), reenactments, award shows, weird characters, fun characters, awkward situations—just the full gamut of what you can do on that stage when you’re having fun, trusting your teammates and supporting one another. What’s there to say about GA that you don’t already know? Game monsters. Support machines. The greatest thing about GA is that teamwork is their biggest strength. They are quick to jump in and flesh things out while adding to the reality. Sure everyone’s got their INDIVIDUAL strengths and that certainly helps a team flourish and play exceptionally well but I guess it goes back to the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” thing. They jump on board so hard once they find something fun to play and won’t stop until the game has been exhausted. Watching Grandma’s Ashes play makes me MISS 401. They are having fun. Improv is FUN guys, let’s not forget or maybe I need to remember!
Again, I won’t beat their set to death. The first scene was Rue McClanahan and Brad Paisley as presenters at an Award Show. Now we could’ve just seen that—BSJ and Dru presenting the awards, and that would’ve been a funny scene, but GA builds the world right before your eyes and so quickly, that you get to see the producers, you see the actual movies been named, you see the action of the movie, and get to see the gift giving overlapping. What’s a meet-cute? I didn’t know until last night but it’s a made up word for that thing that happens when you force a cute/romantic interaction—it happens a lot in romcom movies I guess. Who’s Lupe and why’s she soliciting people in a Gap? There were just a string of killer scenes that evolved into group games – Prom scene, virginity story, etc. They just follow the fun to the ninth degree and it’s so rewarding to see. A team built on great game moves and strongly grounded in support is great at making connections, they landed a pretty big one last night to close the show but it didn’t earn them a victory.
And you know what? That’s absolutely fine. If you’re a true purist, none of that really matters. Because when improv goliaths go head to head at cagematch, you’re rooting for the best team—the one that gave the better performance but ultimately, you’re just pleased and grateful that you got to see two great sets of improv. Or at least I am.
Stepfathers 107, Grandma’s Ashes 84
Everyone on stage, everyone in attendance