Improv is for daredevil comedians. Getting up on stage without pre-written jokes is like walking the tight rope without a safety net -- or a rope. And using audience suggestions to build jokes on the spot is like letting someone else pack your parachute -- someone who has never skydived. Improv comics can't pick the audience that shouts out the suggestions; they just have to make it work...or else.
After almost 14 years in the improv-comedy business, 4 Out of 5 Doctors has probably seen every kind of audience from lame to superb, and met their worst enemy -- the funny heckler. The Dallas troupe is composed of professional actors (Mark Walters, Gary Walters, Mark Fickert, Vince Davis, Leslie Alexander, Elizabeth Rothen, and R Bruce Elliot) who have appeared on local stages; television shows such as Walker, Texas Ranger and Wishbone; and in movies playing parts such as "Chicago sergeant" in The Newton Boys and "Chet McNurty" in Varsity Blues. Musical director Jay Spence occasionally acts as an off-stage Greek Chorus.
Nowadays 4 Out of 5 Doctors has gone professional, tailoring shows for the corporate crowd and performing at sales meetings, motivational seminars, and banquets for companies. Presumably, the audiences at these shows are less likely to make suggestions such as "dildo" than at the 15 to 20 shows the troupe plays each year at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre.
During their annual Christmas show, Holiday on Thin Ice, the members tease the Dallas City Council and Dallas Mavericks in a Christmas carol, propose toys appropriate for children of the '90s, and lampoon the absurdities of daily life and holiday cheer.
The yuks are pretty obvious, but that suits the improv stage better than subtlety. There's no time for being coy when an actor is trying to guess that the gift he's returning is an "Amish thighmaster," a gift cooked up during one of the several audience-participation skits during the mostly non-Christmas part of the show, which includes a poetry reading and a take on Jeopardy. Some of the funniest parts aren't even about Christmas, which is just fine, since it's 80 degrees outside and too early for Christmas anyhow.