By Karina Palmitesta
Attending a Sunday service may not top your list of late-night laughs, but take a leap of faith if you find yourself in Mount Pleasant on a Sunday night. Straight faces are nowhere to be found at The Sunday Service, an irreverent improv show that’s been running in Vancouver for eight years. In its current incarnation, a rotating roster of seven improvisers takes the stage at The Kozmik Zoo every week at 9 p.m.
Arrive early, and try to save a seat at your own peril: this intimate space is packed to the rafters and lined up out the door by 8:15 p.m. The pre-show atmosphere feels rowdy, happy and expectant. It’s clear that die-hard regulars make up most of the audience.
“It just became a bit of a neighbourhood tradition,” says performer and co-founder Ryan Beil. “We’re lucky to get the crowds we get.… Especially in Vancouver, where sometimes it’s hard to keep an audience and keep them engaged.”
“Last week, we had about six people over the age of 70,” says performer Caitlin Howden.
“They loved it,” says Beil. “We swore. We swore a lot.”
“We didn’t hold back,” adds Howden.
Come here for the antidote to squeaky-clean, structured improv at more polished venues. No props or set pieces clutter the tiny stage, and pianist Emmett Hall improvises live accompaniment. The performers banter with relaxed camaraderie, push their scenes just a little too far, and sometimes break into giggles onstage.
“I think we take ourselves a little less seriously,” says Beil. “It’s more about a group of buds having fun.”
Their approach seems to be working: the group was nominated for six Canadian Comedy Awards this year, including best improv troupe, best podcast, best web clip, best female improviser and two nods for best male improviser. It seems like the whole country is singing The Sunday Service’s praises, so drop by The Kozmik Zoo and join the chorus.