This article previously appeared on Crossfader
I have to confess something most media-savvy millennials don’t want to admit: I think most improv is bad and unfunny. I know, I know, so much of our modern day comedy heroes were born out of UCB, but I tend to feel like I’m supposed to be so amazed that it’s being invented on the fly that I’m supposed to overlook that the jokes themselves are often obvious and try-hard. The thing that’s really always ground my gears about improv is that it seems like it doesn’t have to be obvious, that the comedy should still be original and good.
A perfect example of what improv can be when done right is Jessica St. Claire and Lennon Parham’s elaborate, out-of-the-box podcast, WOMP IT UP! The show’s premise is based on St. Claire’s character Marissa Wompler, “a high school senior of indeterminate age,” who is making WOMP IT UP! as an elaborate senior project, under the helpful supervision of her instructor, Charlotte Lister (Parham). Marissa is neurotic, foul-mouthed, and has an entirely unhealthy obsession with DiGiorno pizzas. Charlotte is seemingly no-nonsense, but in actuality is filled with a troubled past and a deep-seated need to see Marissa not completely fail at this undertaking. Together, the two interview the unusual inhabitants of Marina Del Rey (St. Claire and Parham’s famous comedy friends masquerading as an absurd cast of characters).
It’s a strange premise and the show just has to be heard to be understood, but it doesn’t take more than an episode to lock into the frequent in-jokes. (I recommend the recent “Live from Largo” episode as a good starting point). What really makes the show special is that it demonstrates what kind of amazing things are possible when you just really let funny people be funny together with no constraints, and the results are spectacular. The characters barely make sense and their elaborate backstories are just a series of punchlines—no Hollywood producer would ever let a show like this be filmed. This is a show that could only ever work as a podcast, and overall serves as a reminder of the limitless potential of this medium. Talented people have never really needed the machinery of the entertainment industry in order to produce humorous material, it’s just that for so long that was the only way to reach a huge audience. It’s only recently that we’ve begun to see what can happen when you simply put funny people together in front of microphones, and if it’s anything like WOMP IT UP!, the future of improv, and comedy as a whole, looks bright.