Improvised comedy is experiencing another renaissance of sorts thanks to television, and for once, I'm not talking about another reincarnation of Whose Line Is It Anyway?
The TV Land sitcom Teachers — about a group of barely functional educators who let their personal lives bleed into their work — came from the mind of The Katydids, an all-female improv group from Chicago. The group will close out the Dallas Comedy Festival with a performance on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. at the Dallas Comedy House.
"I think improv is becoming more widely knows," says comedian Caitlin Barlow in an email. "I think improv is improv and I don't think it loses the spontaneity when it's on camera. Of course it's different because it's not live, but it's still exciting. I think improv is a great tool for comedy and I'd love to see more shows using it because often an improvised take is the most organic and funny one."
The group came together in Chicago while the six troupe members were working and performing in different comedy theaters around the city such as iO and Second City. Barlow says she first brought them together for a show as a joke eight years ago because all of them had a "Kate" or some variation thereof in their name, but the group has stayed together ever since.
"The Katydids were supposed to be a one-off show," Barlow says, "but we found that we had amazing chemistry and continued to [work] and write together."
Keeping a comedy group together for so long can be a challenge, but Barlow says their camaraderie and support of each other helped them stay together, even when members had to step aside to pursue other projects.
"I think that the key to keeping an improv team together is to find a balance between letting people find individual success while still keeping the group a priority," she says. "There were many times when a member of the Katydids would leave to pursue an individual opportunity, but they made it clear that the group was still important to them. You have to keep in mind that rising tides lift all boats. You can't be jealous of other members. What's good for them is also good for your group."
This year, they got the opportunity to showcase their collective energy and talent to a bigger audience when TV Land gave them their own series, Teachers. Barlow says it started as a web series that they were encouraged to start by a Chicago-based show director, who also directed the web version. When the series took off, it caught the attention of the cable network, which "was looking for a female workplace comedy," Barlow says.
They not only star in the series but they are also the primary writers, along with showrunners Ian Roberts and Jay Martel, who also oversaw the writing for Comedy Central's Key & Peele, and story coordinator Jill Cargerman.
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"We would 'break the story' all together and then two Katydids would write the first draft," Barlow says. "After that, we would bring the draft back to the writing room and everyone would offer punch-ups and rewrites of scenes. So everyone was able to put their touch on each episode. TV Land was incredibly supportive. Most of the notes that we got were to push the comedy more! We used improv to generate a lot of dialogue in the writing room. We were also able to improvise a little bit on set."
Barlow says their stage and TV shows work because they've worked hard to maintain the supportive mentality they created when they first came together as a group, even if the only thing linking them together in the beginning was their names.
"I think what makes us work so well on stage is that we respect each other," she says. "It's always good to work with a group of people that forces you to grow artistically and you learn from. I have a huge amount of respect for each of the Katydids' talent and constantly become a better performer and writer because of them."
The Katydids will perform at 10:30 p.m. Saturday at the Dallas Comedy House located at 3025 Main St. Tickets are available at dallascomedyfestival.com.