Denver's Next Improv Star starts a cootie epidemic, blows up a Scottish child

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Improv is based on inclusiveness; competition implies exclusivity. It's pretty safe to assume, then, that the two can't mix, isn't it?

It is not. Bovine Metropolis successfully combines the uncombinable in Denver's Next Improv Star, a competition that aims to find the city's funniest improviser via the tried-and-true performance-then-expulsion technique perfected in shows like American Idol. The series kicked off its latest season last week and, with the manic vigor that is improvisation's lifeblood, is steamrolling straight forward.

Saturday night's performance -- the second in this season -- began with a brief, dizzying skit: a Pollyannaish Irish girl has made the harrowing voyage to the New World, but, upon arrival, discovers the streets of America are paved not with gold but sin and that its citizenship is not a keeper-of-huddled-masses but a body of ill-intentioned hyperactive nincompoops. In spite or because of the madness around her she decides to enroll in a local school; she does, and is promptly lost to, um, a cootie epidemic. Around here, the scene came to an end.

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The judging panel for this competition is comprised of three people -- Eric Farone, the founder of the theater and the director of Improv Star, Carl Anderson, the Paula Abdul of the show, and a "mystery guest." This week it was voice coach Jennifer Thomas; appropriately enough, the challenges were themed around vocal acrobatics. After a brief discussion of the New World business (apparently, voice coaches appreciate volume control) the judges announced the next challenge: the 13 contestants would be assigned accents, divided into 4 groups, and told to perform.

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Mayhem ensued. A schoolgirl from New England with an inexplicably Southern accent learned how to make balloon animals under the supervision of her Chicagoan mother and a benevolent Spaniard. An Italian woman found herself trapped in an oversized pickle with a chipper Minnesotan and a disgruntled Londoner. A Czech, a Nola native and a German boy discussed water buffaloes. A Russian woman and her Middle Eastern husband made their tiny Scottish son hulkishly large through enthusiastic overuse of a defibrillator. Their Aussie daughter helpfully exclaimed the word 'crikey.'

The judges commented on the groups, their respective performances, and selected a winner: Nicole Nelson, whose dedication to her New England/Southern drawl was so dogged it deserved recognition. They adjourned for 10 minutes, then commenced the second half of the show, wherein the contestants were separated into two groups and given time to perform longer, looser scenes. At the end of the night, a champion was chosen (Max Schwartz, the wee Scottish boy) but so was a loser (Hollie Laudal, the Londoner).

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Chaotic might be a good word. Hilarious is another. Or ridiculous. Like any good reality TV series, Improv Star is all three. Simon Fuller would be proud.

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