FIST (Fighting Improv Smackdown Tournament)

by John Stoltenberg

If you’re a fan of the spectator sport that is improv, you’ve gotta check out the cheap treat that Washington Improv Theater offers each year around this time: FIST, in which 67 teams of three compete to move on to the next level. At each show, four teams perform, and audience members vote to pick the two best. (Yeah, it’s got a bracket, just like March Madness, but FIST is goo-gobs more fun.)

Because each show is different, you won’t see what I saw the other night. But I’ll bet you’ll have a hoot. The team members in FIST seem relative newcomers to the game, and skill levels can vary—but the laugh-out-loud payoffs abound. Dozens of times I saw someone do something or heard someone say something and thought to myself, “Wow, that’s so good. Someone should write that down! And perform it again!” But of course, inspired improv evaporates in the instant it’s invented, and you just have to console yourself knowing you were lucky enough to be there when it happened.

I’ve raved about Washington Improv Theater here before. But I have to recommend again the company’s signature iMusical, which is performed at some, but not all, FIST shows. (Yes, they really make up iMusical on the spot, before our very eyes, bouncing off an audience suggestion,  creating original music and lyrics that could give many a Broadway showtune a run for the money.) A troupe of six seasoned zanies (plus musical director Travis Ploeger) sync in mysterious ways, their wondrous bits to perform. Really, it’s as if they’ve hacked into each other’s brains—and it’s giggles in, giggles out.

FIST runs through April 13. Catch it while you can.