STARS WARZ previewing Saturday (March 26) at 8 pm, opens April 1 and runs through May, Friday-Saturday 8 pm. $10. inside the OUT-OF-WORK ACTORS STUDIO: A FUNDRAISER Tuesday (March 29), 8 pm. $8. 90 MINUTES IN THE CLOSET w/ SLAP HAPPY and UNCKEY DARRYL'S HOUSE OF SKETCHOLA Thursday (March 24), 8 pm. $8. All at Bad Dog Theatre (138 Danforth). 416-491-3115. Rating: NNNNN
Improv performers are used to taking on anything, but Kerry Griffin - one of the city's best - is surprised by how much is on his plate this week.
Not only is he joining fellow Slap Happy mates Dave Pearce and Tabetha Wells for their monthly long-form improv show, performing this Thursday with rising sketch troupe Unckey Darryl's House Of Sketchola.
But Griffin's also strapping on Yoda-like ears for the new improvised parody Stars Warz, and then polishing his specs and British accent to play James Tetley, host of the improvised talk-show send-up Inside The Out-Of-Work Actors Studio.
All three shows are happening at Bad Dog Theatre, the unofficial home of improv, where Griffin's artistic director.
The company marks its second anniversary this May, but true to its art form, it's had to be fast on its feet to deal with financial problems and legal issues over its long-standing Theatresports Toronto name.
What's propped them up financially in recent months is the success of shows like the frequently sold-out Hairy Patter And The Improviser's Stone and Sass And The City. Both drew crowds thanks to first-rate improv but also because they referenced known commodities.
Is this the future of improv comedy?
"I hope not," he deadpans, though the Stars Warz parody is drawing healthy crowds even in previews. Last week, a couple of audience members even brought light sabres.
"I love doing them, but it's different from what Slap Happy does, which isn't based on anything. I'm hoping there's room for audiences to accept both kinds."
What makes the parody shows so successful is improvising within a familiar structure. Stars Warz is modelled after the first film (episode four), but audiences get to rename the Death Star, influence Princess Leia's interrogation scene and even change the name of The Force.
"Last week we asked for a personality trait for The Force and we got obsessive-compulsive disorder," smiles Griffin.
The role of narrator/guide/host comes easily to Griffin, who can out-deep-voice any other improviser onstage. He's got that solid Phil Hartman-type presence that lends itself well to authority figures. Like James Lipton.
"I don't do an imitation, but sort of recreate his mood, because he's so excited and ass-kissing toward his guests," says Griffin.
Surprisingly, he hasn't tired of the monthly Out-Of-Work show, mostly because the stable of guests changes.
"We've dealt with lots of those Hollywood archetypes, like the self-destructive former child star and the old-school comedy duos," says Griffin. "Last show, Marcel St. Pierre played a German existentialist filmmaker."
As for Slap Happy, they've evolved to the point where they're thinking of dispensing with audience suggestions altogether.
"Doing improv for so long, you hear the same suggestions over and over and you end up repeating patterns or falling into familiar relationships," he says. "We're trying to tell people that improv doesn't have to be all about the suggestion. It's improv if you're making it up. Often, a suggestion can bog you down because you're always trying to refer back to that thing.
"We'd rather come up with an amazing scene from scratch than a mediocre one that hammers a suggestion to death."