Friday, August 1, 1986

San Francisco's Femprov plays O.T. Price's Sunday night.

Femprov Comedy troupe relies on improvisation 

by Jamie S. Cackler • Santa Cruz Sentinel

"We very seldom let the audience get the best of us," says Jeannene Hansen of Femprov. The six-member, all-female improvisational comedy troupe plays the dangerous improv game of letting the audience call the shots.

They get a skit going then ask the audience to name a situation, an emotion or some unlikely twist for the plot to take. "We ask them to name a position, and there's always some bozo who thinks he's really funny and yells out 'missionary,'" Hansen said. "So one of us will drop down and start praying." 

After nearly seven years, it's probably as much experience as quick thinking that rescues the band of women from such audience-generated jams.
Femprov, which performs at O.T. Price's Comedy Night Sunday, began in 1979 when San Francisco's Holy City Zoo began its "Women's Comedy Night." The threesome of Susan Healy, Teresa Roberts and Terry Sand soon grew to six. After a few personnel changes the group stabilized with six members, now including cofounder Sand, Pat Daniels, Debi Durst, Hansen, Denise Schultz and Barbara Scott a former member of the popular Screaming Memes.

Though all female, "we never intended to be a feminist or separatist —believe me," Scott said.
"It's female humor just because it's females doing it. It's just an image when we walk on stage," said Hansen adding "We thought about adding a token guy, but then we'd have to change our name."

Still Hansen said, members of the audience see what they want to see. "We get women who want us to be right-on sisters. They take that away from the show. They get what they want out of it." On the other hand, she said, "Some guys come to see T&A, see some girls jumpin' around on the stage. Everyone interprets it differently."
Occasionally, Scott said they run into groups of people who make very wrong assumptions. "For instance, at one show there was this group of men who assumed that we were all lesbians, because we were all women working together," Scott said.
"Which is totally incorrect," chimed in Debi Durst, the wife of SF comic Will Durst.
"We asked the audience to name character relationships for a game and the men called out "Two women loving each other," Scott said. "You can always get a laugh out of a dirty joke or sexual reference, but we try to put ourselves beyond that."

Although there are six of them, a typical show includes only four at a time. "It's better that way, because we can accept more gigs, and each member gets more stage time. And every time you see the show it's different," Scott said.
The women claim there is no real leader among the revolving cast. "It's ensemble work —we each think everyone of us is funny," Scott said.
"That's what's so fun about watching us perform. If you get tired of watching one of us, you can just switch channels," Hansen added.

The flow of the show is influenced as much by who's in it as it is by the collective intellectual makeup of the audience and by what mood the performers are in.
"If the audience gives us dorky suggestions, they get a dorky show," Hansen said. "Sometimes, in a place like Santa Cruz, we get a sophisticated audience that wants a lot of political stuff. Others want a real dorky show. We can go either way."

While the nature of the act is flexible, there are some places it doesn't work as well. Television and northern Germany, for instance. 
Hansen said Femprov has appeared on some local television spots, and on a broadcast benefit telethon. Not a raving success, though. "Improv doesn't translate well on television. You can't see what's really going on. It's like magic —that doesn't work well on TV either," Hansen said.

As for Germany, Scott and Hansen toured Europe last year and managed to book a couple of shows in a Northern German town. "Jeannene and I took a couple of chances. It was very interesting, but we had to talk very slowly, it's slowed us down and that's not the nature of improv," Scott said.
And there were problems other than language. "We do this thing called an emo freeze," Hansen said "We freeze in the middle of a scene and ask the audience for an emotion. We found out that the people in northern Germany don't talk about their emotions, and that part of the act got dropped rather quickly."

O.T, Price's Entertainment roster • August 13, 1986

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