Long the butt of smirking stand-ups and snarling critics, improvisation came back with a vengeance in the late 80s as a new generation of improvisers, bristling with energy and ideas, pushed to the fore. Suddenly the scene was brimming with new groups performing fully improvised shows with names like Ed, Pup Tent Theatre, Filmdome, Cast on a Hot Tin Roof, Comedy Underground, Blue Velveeta, The Chris Hogan Show. Out of this blooming, buzzing confusion came Jazz Freddy. Founded by several members of Ed–among them Pete Zahradnick, Stephanie Howard, and Miriam Tolan–but made up of the best improvisers from many of the above-mentioned groups, Jazz Freddy premiered last summer at the Live Bait Theater and blew me away. The young 14-member group worked together with egoless ease, creating intelligent, nicely structured two-act pieces out of thin air. In its 1993 incarnation, Jazz Freddy has slimmed down to 10 members and taken on Ed and Filmdome director Jim Dennen as a pair of “outside eyes.” Otherwise the group remains essentially the same, as sharp, witty, and eager as ever. But not so eager that they won’t hold back when a scene demands patience. This restraint was clear on opening night when Theresa Mulligan began performing a simply killing imitation of a goldfish, right down to its black, fish-eyed stare. Lesser improvisers would have leapt in, trying to yuck up the scene with awful jokes and worse shtick. Mulligan’s fellow players gave her the space and time to fully develop her marvelous silent scene. I can’t think of any other group currently performing in Chicago with the esprit de corps to let a fellow performer shine like that. Live Bait Theater, 3914 N. Clark, 871-1212. Through May 15: Fridays-Saturdays, 11 PM. $5.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marciniak Photography.