On the fly
Durango DOT Comedy serves up humor on the go

Members of Durango DOT Comedy, from left, Mark Brown, Dre Louis and Tim Zink, act our a scene dictated by the crowd Monday night at Scoot 'n Blues while fellow member Sarah St. John tries to decipher the puzzle.If improvisational comedy is all about flying by the seat of one’s pants, then Durango DOT comedy has wisely chosen its onstage uniform: overalls.

And although some of the female cast members disdain the baggy attire, all agree it serves its purpose— allowing cast member to seamlessly slip in and out of roles without distracting the audience.

“It’s plain and unifying,” said member Tim Zink, a mild-mannered employee of the Southern Ute Tribe’s Growth Fund by day.

Of course, all mild manners, reservations and inhibitions are checked at the door on show night. And the backstage scene at Scoot n’ Blues, where the troupe holds bimonthly shows, is a little like walking into a room full of, well, comics – with jokes and general ribbing taking precedence. Conspicuously absent, however, are the whoopee cushions, rainbow wigs and fake barf one might expect from a group of small-time jokesters. In fact, other than one skit that involves role playing with funny hats, props are nonexistent in the DOT comedy repertoire.

Rather, chemistry is the glue they rely on to hold the show together. For that reason, each prospective member must go through an audition before he or she is allowed to don the hallowed denim work suit.

“They go through some serious hazing,” said founding father Jonathon Hunt, who refused to divulge details other than to say it involves cocktail condiments and body parts. Hunt, a former member of Spitting Nonsense, another local comedy group, branched off with fellow nonsense members Darrin Stevens and Michael Jordan (both real names) to form Durango DOT comedy last winter.

“I’m the one who started it, so it’s my fault,” said Hunt.

Mad hatter: Jonathon Hunt assumes the role of mad gardener.Soon after forming, the loosely based group of seven took to honing its skills, rehearsing and performing for fund-raisers, including the Silver Peak Awards in March – a gig that is still haunting the DCAT airwaves, Hunt says. The group’s first official show under the Durango DOT comedy banner took place – appropriately enough – on April Fool’s Day.

“We had been rehearsing for two months and figured what better time for a comedy group to strut their stuff than April Fool’s Day,” said Sarah St. John, the group’s first female member.

Looking to expand, in May the players put out a casting call, which garnered two more players.

Auditionee Mark Brown, of Pagosa Springs, said he stumbled upon the troupe’s classified ad in the personals section by chance and instantly knew it was for him. “I never read the personals,” he said. “But for some reason I read them that day, and these guys had an ad, and I said, ‘I gotta do this.’”

Brown, who formerly worked with the Pretenders, a family-improv group in Pagosa, said the new group was an instant fit for his skills. And while being able to hang with the group and dish out as much as you’re willing to take is all important, Zink says the key is to make the camaraderie work on stage as well as off.

“We get together once a week to get comfortable with each other and learn each other’s style,” he said. “It takes practice to be spontaneous.”

And being comfortable with one another can definitely come in handy when, say, acting out a co-ed bathroom scene from “Mission: Impossible” or hijacking three men on a unicycle with a pretend rubber chicken.

However, predictability only goes so far in a profession that’s largely at the mercy of the audience, which usually has the creative benefit of a few cocktails. The players, who perform about a dozen skits or games per show, rely on audience input to set the scene, often with bizarre (a man with a pet sea cucumber that he keeps in his pocket) and humorous (poking fun of our less worldly neighbors to the east in Pueblo) results.

And that is exactly what improv is all about, said Tara Ivy Sheehan, a Fort Lewis College theater major and recent inductee.

“You just say whatever comes out of your head,” she said.

Although this includes a fair share of bathroom jokes and references to the human anatomy, this is not to say the subject matter is entirely frivolous. In fact, the players are not afraid to tackle some of the weightier issues of the day (safe sex and same-sex couples) and lampoon figures in the news (George W. and catholic priests are favorite targets.)

In fact, it could be said the DOT comedians take the business of being funny very seriously.

The troupe is currently entertaining ideas of entering an upcoming improv competition in Chicago or taking in a few workshops.

“I’d like to see what other improv groups do,” Zink said.

But in the meantime, they have kept their day jobs (all but one of them, that is) while managing to also keep perspective.

“We’re an original work in progress,” said St. John. “We just want to make enough money to be able to rent out a space for us to perform in; we’ll do weddings, parties, anything.”

But this doesn’t mean they don’t dream large.

“We want to go big,” said Brown. “We wanna do Cortez, Telluride and Ridgway.”






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