People can learn a lot about life by immersing themselves in the “live by the seat of your pants” world of improvisation, according to Mike McGuire.
The Webster Groves resident and his merry band of comedy performers comprise the St. Louis version of ComedySportz, an interactive improvisational game and show touted as good clean fun for the whole family. They perform every Friday night at 8 p.m. at The Old Orchard Gallery, 39 S. Old Orchard Ave.
“We work without a net, so it’s exciting and fresh every night,” McGuire said. “We work very clean because improv really requires mutual respect between the performers and the audience. People of all ages can enjoy our shows and I love that. It is a fun, interactive night with something for everyone.”
During a show, two teams in colored uniforms must act out elaborate and wildly-concocted scenes together with little more than audience prompts and the chemistry between them. The audience responses determine who scores “comedy points.” The more players ham it up and play their part to its fullest, the more points they can score. Anything can happen — and it usually does.
A commitment to the “sports” theme, there’s even a referee to keep things civil. Nobody wants to be the one to pick up a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct during this exciting scrimmage.
“An evening of improv is enough to get people out of their comfort zone without going too far,” McGuire said. “We are all basically a big block of marble that can be chiseled and reshaped at any moment by taking that risk and letting an audience mold you.
“You are that magnificent statue hidden deep within that block and there is a piece of priceless art within us all,” he added. “And then the trick is, when it’s your turn, be you. Don’t try to be funny — try to be real.”
According to McGuire, nobody leaves unhappy. Audience members have no idea what might happen, and the big laugh of the night could belong to anyone in the house.
“I Just Fell In Love With It”
Despite his recurring gig at The Old Orchard Gallery, McGuire originally started down a very different path. At the age 23, he obtained his real estate license, assuming that would be his lifelong professional pursuit.
But over the years, he knew he wanted more, and that he had something to say. The stage was always beckoning him. Eventually, resistance was futile.
“I started slowly, first by writing what I thought were edgy essays and reading them aloud on stage in my thirties,” McGuire said. “That eventually led to me taking a three-day improv class and I just fell in love with it.”
McGuire didn’t start performing regularly until he was 45. That was over 15 years ago, and he can’t imagine life any other way.
“I’m always riffing with people. I’m constantly telling jokes and stories,” McGuire said. “My dad was my biggest influence. He loved to tell jokes, and he liked to tell the same jokes over and over again, and then he’d complain when people said they’d heard that one before.”
The radical shift from the ups and downs of the real estate market to becoming “The Clown Prince” of Webster Groves occurred in November 2017, when McGuire launched ComedySportz in the St. Louis area.
These days, McGuire also performs as many as five speeches a week to local rotary clubs, chambers of commerce and a few corporate clients.
According to Kirkwood resident and fellow cast mate Steve Hughes, McGuire has become quite the confident comedian over the years.
“Mike and I riff and crack jokes all the time. He is never not fun to hang out with,” Hughes said. “Whatever I say, he’ll run with it, tag it with the next line and that’s usually funnier than mine, and we just keep going no matter how outlandish. Off and on the stage, he’s a very fun friend to have.”
McGuire has lived in Webster Groves for 30 years now. His daughters went through the school system, he coached softball for many years and he has enjoyed watching the town grow and thrive.
“There is so much to do and everyone is so wonderful. That’s why I’m so excited that we are bringing a positive show to my favorite town,” he said. “I have been dreaming about this ever since I was a kid. We’d drive to Seven Holy Founders Church for Mass and then afterwards we’d eat ice cream at the counter at Katz Drug Store on the corner of Elm and Watson.
“Those memories are so vivid and special to me, and now with ComedySportz, I’m giving back,” McGuire added. “We are providing families with entertainment at an affordable price right here where I live. The Old Orchard Gallery is a magnificent place, so please come join us any Friday night. We offer improv workshops too for anyone who wants to learn how to do this. And I do mean anyone!”
He’s not kidding. According to McGuire, mastering the art of improv can help people become a better version of themselves.
“It helps you make better choices. You become much more efficient at quickly filtering your response to anything,” McGuire said. “You become more trusting, accepting and adaptable. You learn to love collaborating and you definitely become a much better listener. You become more like your true self and that’s the best story to tell.
“We tend to hide who we really are in order to gain acceptance,” he continued. “Everyone has a creative side that is just waiting to come out. Use me as your guinea pig. If I can switch gears later in life, anybody can.”
Comedy For A Cause
In addition to the Friday night shows at The Old Orchard Gallery, McGuire is hosting a special Christmas Comedy Show & Clothing Drive. The show will be at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 23, at the restored St. Andrews Cinema, 2025 Golfway St. in St. Charles.
The show will feature clean Christmas comedy for the whole family, and McGuire will perform along with other local comedians. Tickets are $25, or $20 and a donation to the clothing drive. Tickets can be purchased online at standrewscine3.com or at the door.