Cut this paper up and have a laugh at Everett Improv

EVERETT — Things get weird at Everett Improv’s “Splash Zone” shows.

The monthly comedy gig is a test kitchen for new, kooky concepts. Like having audience members chuck Easter eggs onstage to trigger death scenes. There was the “emotional stunt burrito” show, and the show where people drew tattoos all over owner Britney Barber’s face.

Some concepts live and die in the Splash Zone. The latest one to make it out alive — “Boozie Newzie” — relies on this newspaper.

(As the show’s catchphrase reminds us: “Print isn’t dead.”)

The show involves hard copies of The Daily Herald and an audience armed with scissors and highlighters. Cut out headlines, paragraphs, comics and classifieds, throw them in the hat, and those clippings will inspire absurd, drawn-out scenes from your local improv troupe.

“I take the concept of improv very seriously,” said Barber, who recently won a Mayor’s Arts Award for her improv classes. “I’m not into novelty that can’t be sustained.”

That means avoiding low-hanging fruit. Instead, improvisers dive into 15-minute scenes, full of fleshed-out characters and over-the-top monologues.

“We (expletive) dig deep,” she said. “Like, let’s make this baby pool feel like a (expletive) lagoon, where there’s creatures at the bottom that you can’t see because it’s so dark and so deep.”

The news-themed show was such a success in April that Barber is making it a recurring thing. Catch the next rendition this Saturday at 9:15 pm Barber is performing alongside local Dan McGivern, who started his comedy career at Mountlake Terrace High School. When he’s not on stage, McGivern works in aerospace and represents low-income tenants facing evictions, pro bono.

“Everett Improv being able to thrive downtown is good for the city, and hopefully a sign of things to come for Everett,” McGivern said.

Stick around after the show for a beer, CBD fizzy or game of giant Connect Four, and Barber might tell you how she made it from Philly to Everett, now with a wife, baby and new black box theater on Colby Avenue. If you’re lucky, the longtime improv teacher will steer the conversation to extraterrestrials and her seven-year sham marriage to a man she “barely knew.”

It all started in eighth grade, when Barber played Helena in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. Or what is Hermia?

“Whoever the dorky one is,” Barber recalled. She got to play “the hot one” later at La Salle University.

At 18, she was the youngest member of a professional improv league. But she found that league embarrassing, with uniforms reminiscent of “Olive Garden servers.” She’s resolved to never utter the troupe’s kitschy name again.

“It’s not even worth printing, because it’s that bad,” Barber said.

She’ll tell you about the student improv troupe she founded instead, and how she swindled her university into paying for performances, despite the group never being school-sanctioned. That was on purpose, Barber said, because “oversight means censorship, man.”

She’ll remember about the time before improvis was mainstream. Back when people only knew “Whose Line is it Anyway,” the successful short-form improv TV show.

“To me, it’s not real improvisation,” Barber said. “If you’re philosophically looking at improvisation, there are no rules, there is no shtick, there is no game.”

Short form is “like the G-rated, mainstream, sugar-with-your-medicine” version of improv, she said.

Then, Barber might tell you about her marriage at 22 to a gay man she worked with at a restaurant. He gave up a career in Mexico to be with his boyfriend in America, where he had to work as a busboy. Unable to legally marry his love, he was on the verge of deportation. Barber was reminded of his own experience with discrimination as a lesbian in show business.

“Guess what? You don’t want gays to have jobs or get married? Well, you know what? We’re going to marry each other so we can be gay. Do you know what I mean?” Barber said. “It was like, this is the right thing to do.”

The non-couple had a ceremony at the restaurant, made fake photo albums and moved in together.

If someone was watching Barber’s life from above, mouth full of popcorn, it would make for a great show. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what Barber thinks is happening.

In her head, it’s probably aliens peering down. Or ghosts.

“Or the cosmic consciousness of when people die, and our souls create this collective, whatever,” Barber said.

Whoever the comic voyeurs are, they want a show.

“Don’t we all?” Barber said. “The world is a stage.”

The idea helps her laugh at her own misfortune, or at least think of it as a plot twist.

Everett is where she wants the rest of the story to play out. She and her wife bought a home downtown a few years back.

“We love Everett so much,” she said. “We want to die (here). They’re going to have to cart our lesbian bodies out of that house.”

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; [email protected]; Twitter: @yawclaudia.