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Review: The Institution Theater’s ‘TIT Talks: Ideas Worth Faking’

Staff Writer
Austin 360

With South by Southwest and its infinite array of pithy panel titles looming on the horizon, it seems particularly fitting that the Austin improv community has taken up the call to arms.

Running Fridays and Saturdays through March 22, The Institution Theater (TIT) presents “TIT Talks” – an improvised comedy riff on TED Talks and other precious efforts to motivate the masses. The catch, of course, is that the performers won’t know what they’re there to talk about until they take the stage.

Directors Adam Niederpruem and Justin Davidson provide each speaker with an appropriately random topic and a series of wacky visual aids to complement their talk. And it’s up to the performers to make sense of things.

Improvising speeches on topics ranging from Tupperware to fish farming for third world countries, the performers really have to stay on their toes – especially when confronted images of anything from James Brown to storm clouds.

Although perhaps out of place in the “somber” TIT Talk setting, the strongest character choices tend to get the biggest laughs, provided the improvisers fully commit – the more confident the Russian exile (Heidi Rogers) or ‘90s frat dude ghost (John Buseman), the funnier their pieces end up being.

Kristen Kurtis, our host for the evening sets the tone – oozing smarmy yet sophisticated enthusiasm and promising that the speakers will, without a doubt, “inspire the (expletive) out of you.”

To prevent lethargy in the somewhat repetitive format, however, the show offers interruptions of more rehearsed sketches. Even if these might feel a bit out of left field, they’re also great opportunities for more calculated hilarity.

On Saturday, Christina Parrish presented a bit about Nutella that devolved into a bizarre mixture of slam poetry and performance art that was priceless (and may never let me look at a jar of Nutella the same way again).

Since the show doesn’t require the energetic upkeep or teamwork of long-form improv, even the talks that flop don’t have to flop for very long.

It’s a pretty fun concept, and the best (and the worst) moments in the show come when the improvisers are presented with unlabeled charts and graphs they must contextualize for viewers.

Featuring improv all-stars from all over town, “TIT Talks” will offer new and exciting potential every performance. Check the website to see when your favorite improvisers will be showing up to offer you some inspiration.

‘TIT Talks: Ideas Worth Faking’ continues through March 22. www.theinstitutiontheater.com