Laughter Takes Center Stage at the Phoenix Improv Festival This Week at Herberger Theater

Promising a gut-busting, grin-'til-it-hurts good time, the Phoenix Improv Festival returns to Herberger Theater Center this week. Now in its 14th year, the funny fête blends local talent with national names with sketch performances and situational comedy.

Boasting 27 improv troupes from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York City, Phoenix, and our neighbors of the Great White North, the three-day event takes place Thursday, April 16, through Saturday, April 18, packing a lot of laughs (and pratfalls) into a short amount of stage time.

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From midtown's The Torch Theatre and downtown's Space 55 to the National Comedy Theatre in Mesa, there's no shortage of spaces to catch a show around town -- but for first-timers and regulars alike, the fest is a must. Created as a one-stop display of the unique, underground talent the Valley has to offer, PIF has now become one of the longest-running improvisational showcases in the country. Past participants and famous faces include Mark Sutton and Joe Bill from Chicago's renowned Annoyance Theatre and comedy mecca The Second City, Mad TV's Stephnie Weir, Matthew Lillard of Scooby Doo, and Craig Cackowski from Drunk History.

Visiting troupes this year include For Science!, Empty Promises, Fancy Football, Pick and Roll, and Irony City. Local theaters and classes will be well represented with groups Apollo 12, Light Rail Pirates, Mail Order Bride, Galapagos, and Judd, among others. Nighttime shows consist of half-hour sets (the one-night-only Arizona showcase clocks in a slightly shorter 20 minutes) for three full hours of hilarious hijinks.

Fancy yourself funny? Sign up for the workshop series. Small-sized, 50-minute courses tackle topics like "Stage Contact" (stage combat + stage affection!), "Face Your Improv Fears," and "Everything You Need is in Your Partner." Registration is $15 for one workshop, $25 for a bundle, and classes will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday at the nearby Actors WorkHouse, 604 East Pierce Street. Reservations are required.

Many already active in improv might celebrate the return of the 4th Annual Phoenix Improv Festival Unconference, sponsored by the National Improv Network. The afternoon-long event will congregate at noon on Saturday at The Holiday Inn Express, 620 North 6th Street. Full access passes are $5 for an all-you-can see, hear, and speak conference designed by those in attendance. Registration is encouraged.

Feel like leaving it to the professionals to make you laugh yourself silly? Want to leave the behind-the-scenes mystery, well, behind-the-scenes? Curtain goes up on the event at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 16, with a showcase of Arizona acts at Herberger Theater Center, Stage West. Admission is $15. Tickets for mainstage shows at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 17, and Saturday, April 18, are $20 a piece. Also featuring a three-act, half-price Saturday matinee starting at 5 p.m. Tickets are available through the box office online or by calling 602-252-8497. Visit for schedule and details.

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Janessa is a native Phoenician. She joined New Times as a contributor in 2013. You can connect with her on social media at @janessahilliard, and she promises you'll find no pictures of cats on her Instagram — but plenty of cocktails.
Contact: Janessa Hilliard