In the spur of the moment

When it comes to improvisational comedy anything can happen and, chances are, anything will.

Whether it’s short form — think “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” — or long form with a dramatic flair as in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” improvisational comedy can give way to the most unexpected performances.

Shaun Landry, producer of the San Francisco Improv Festival and founder of Oui Be Negroes, knows firsthand the inner workings of improv. The 42-year-old Chicago native got her first taste of off-the-cuff comedy while at Second City, and has since split her time between the Windy City and the Bay Area, serving on the board of directors for Next Stage Theater San Francisco and on the Artistic Associates Board of the Chicago Improv Festival.

Landry, who now calls The City home, is an improv ambassador of sorts, keeping the spontaneous art form alive and kicking in the Bay Area.

For five years, she’s been behind the San Francisco Improv Festival — the longest running festival of its kind in the country.

The festival, which gets under way July 10 and runs through Aug. 23, boasts a who’s who of local and national improv talent set to showcase the art and craft of making something funny on the fly.

Having witnessed the spectrum of improv, Landry says the Bay Area is home to “much more theatrically based improv.”

“Improv really isn’t that different from theater,” she says. “It’s just a different faction of it. The structure is there, the only thing that’s different is that theater is scripted and we obviously don’t have a script.”

With seven weeks of improv to tickle your funny bone, where does the comedy connoisseur even begin? Landry admits she can’t possibly pick a favorite from the lot of performers.

“I’m tickled by how many great ensembles we have performing,” says the festival producer.

OK, so if Landry won’t pick a favorite, we’ll do it. Here are three Bay Area improv ensembles not to miss:

SOUTH BAY FUNNIES

Churning out “act-letes” since 1987, ComedySportz is known for its quick, interactive comedy shows that have comics competing for laughs and scoring points based on how well they improvise audience suggestions. (July 10-12 at the Purple Onion)

THEATRICAL EXPERIMENTATION

Improv doesn’t always have to be funny; the folks at Un-Scripted Theatre Company know this. Of course, that doesn’t mean their live theater offerings are far from hilarious. It’s just that the troupe bases its shows on stage acting rather than standup comedy routines. (July 10-12 at S.F. Playhouse Stage 2)

FINAL HA-HA

After four years, San Francisco’s Revolving Madness is set to part ways. Catch the six-member troupe deliver its spontaneous comedic offerings one last time at this year’s festival. (July 17-19 at the Purple Onion)

IF YOU GO

San Francisco Improv Festival

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; runs July 10 through Aug. 23

Where: Purple Onion, 140 Columbus Ave., and S.F. Playhouse, Stage 2, 533 Sutter St., San Francisco

Tickets: $20

Contact: (415) 863-1076 or www.sfimprovfestival.com

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