Jack Lyons Theatre & Film Critic

If you love ‘IMPROV’ theatre, especially comedy/improv theatre, then the High Desert Cultural Center (HDCC), in Joshua Tree, CA is definitely the place to be on opening night Friday, July 7 at 6:30 PM.  A Gala will kick off the three-day Improv/Comedy Festival with Cabaret star and actress Francesca Amari, presenting her tribute to Gilda Radner in a performance of “You make Me Laugh: A Love Song to Gilda Radner”. The lovely and talented actress/singer has long been a desert favorite with a large following.

Festival Director Jeanette T. Knight promises to deliver an even larger line up of performers than last year’s highly successful event.  This year’s format will be the same as last year and features seventy-nine acts and groups from as far away as New Zealand; consisting of Improv teams, sketch comedy groups, and stand-up comics, along with special appearances by Hollywood TV and stage star Melanie Chartoff.  Ms. Chartoff will present the world premiere of her new one-woman show, “Odd Woman Out” the stories and songs about her life; with musical accompaniment by Doug Katsarous, on Saturday, July 8, at 7:30 PM.

Chartoff Melanie

Ms. Chartoff is an improviser and inventor of stories and characters for the written page, stage, and screen, including many roles she created on ABC’s late night comedy show “Fridays”, alongside comedy star, writer and producer Larry David and “Seinfeld’s comedy actor Michael Richards.  She has also worked as a performer on such TV shows as: ‘The Newhart Show’, ‘Married With Children’, ‘Ally McBeal’, ‘Touched by an Angel’, and ‘Seinfeld’ among others.  She can be heard daily on the children’s TV show “Nickelodeon” as the voices of Didi and Minka, and Ms. Chartoff is also a columnist for the Huffington Post. Talk about being indefatigable… I’m exhausted just listing her many gifts.  This is not a lady to miss in her one-woman show on July 9th.

Also performing is the sketch comedy team of Zach Fairless and Nick Luciano, creators of the ‘The Very Nick and Zach Show’.  These two talented lads were voted an audience favorite at last year’s festival.  This year, Director Knight makes sure that the 2nd annual festival is again chock-full of wild and wacky comedy improv acts and laugh-out-loud stand-ups and comedy groups that entertain the voting audience while giving the talent an opportunity to go all-out while strutting their best stuff.

On Saturday and Sunday the festival will conduct panels and workshops in the art of comedy improv from 11 AM to 1 PM.  Instructors include stand-up comic Richard Weiss, ‘Second City’ alumni Chelsea Coleman, Viola Spolin, Andy Harmon, and American Academy of Dramatic Arts instructors Mark McCracken and Brandon Gibson.

At 2:30 PM on Saturday, July 9th, and on Sunday, July 10th, the professional competitions begin. This competition includes the top fourteen acts out of the seventy-nine performers who committed to the festival. The audience voters determine the overall festival winner, who will be offered a paid return engagement to become part of the Hi-Desert Cultural Playhouse 2017/2018 season of productions.

If you’re a comedy or Improv fan you will want to be here to see and enjoy the changing face of comedy.  I believe it’s safe to say, that the type of comedy being performed today is not your grandfather’s type of comedy.  So, come to the cabaret Meine Damen und Herren, and join the fun.

Tickets for the Festival and its events are open to the public.  However, it should be noted that some material may be R-rated and may not be suitable for children, so leave the kiddies at home with grandma.

Tickets start at only $ 8.00.  For additional festival information go to: www.jtimprovfestival.org.