Michael Lehrer, John Reynolds, Griffen Eckstein, Shad Kunkle, Tracie McBee, Linda Orr
Michael Lehrer, John Reynolds, Griffen Eckstein, Shad Kunkle, Tracie McBee, Linda Orr Credit: Shannon Jenkins/Flaming City Photography

Though it’s only been a few weeks since the grand opening of iO’s new location, the performers have already made themselves at home. The hosts of the handful of shows I’ve seen introduced the new venue with great joy, giving directions to the two bars, bathrooms, and emergency exits near each of the four theaters. Those four theaters double iO’s capacity for shows including original sketch comedy like Trap, T.J. Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi’s inaugural work in their own theater; experiments like The Boise Shuffle, in which a new show is written and performed every week; and twists on iO’s classic improv games like The Sharold, which groups comics at random to improvise with people they may never have performed with before. These innovative performances are certainly worth checking out, but the theater knows what it does best, and most of the stage time is still dedicated to good old-fashioned long-form improv.

On a recent Wednesday night (when the early show is free, iO’s best-kept secret) the veteran performers in Carl and the Passions took the suggestion “catfish” and in a tight 30-minute show threaded together stories of moral responsibility, overcoming addiction, and first experiences with death. If not for the moments of delight on the performers’ faces when they surprised even themselves—the line “Everyone who gets into this car is my boyfriend” elicited a charming giggle and shrug halfway through its delivery—the show could have been mistaken for a clever scripted performance.

Yes, we go to improv shows expecting laughs. But after you’ve watched a handful of improv shows at iO, the key to Carl and the Passions’ superiority is clear: instead of creating jokes in the moment, the team expose the humor in fleshed-out characters and stories created in the moment.