TheatreSports, Le Cafe.

Founded 20 years ago by Calgary-based improv-isation guru Keith Johnstone, author of Impro, one of the best books available on the subject, TheatreSports is based on a premise that will seem painfully familiar to improv devotees: that Spolin-style theater games can be played as a team sport. The folks at ComedySportz have been doing this since the late 80s, and before them ImprovOlympic tried something similar involving dozens of local amateur teams.

Tony Alcantar–former ComedySportz player, teacher at Second City, and performer at Toronto’s Second City–recently opened a TheatreSports franchise in Chicago, and the results are pretty unsurprising. The show I saw was wildly uneven: the few moments of true inspiration in the show, such as Paul Mullins’s brilliant parody of American Sign Language, are overwhelmed by hotdogging and bad acting. Something about the rush to win in improv-as-team-sport shows encourages performers to go for the joke and deny each other like mad.

How does TheatreSports compare to the current ComedySportz show? I can’t say. The night I went to see ComedySportz I was told at the door that they’d canceled for lack of an audience–on a Friday night. At least TheatreSports had no trouble filling its seats.