San Francisco comedian Jill Bourque is sharpening her arrows and loading her quiver - appropriate tools for this time of year.
Her global smash Valentine’s Day show, “How We First Met ,” turns lucky 13 this year, and will see three local couples get their love stories reenacted onstage Thursday in Marines’ Memorial Theatre in San Francisco.
Here’s how it works: Couples who plan to attend the show can submit a little tale about how they came together to the “How We First Met” Web site.
People visiting the site then vote for the story they like.
Three couples are chosen from the top submissions to end up on stage with Jill, who serves as interviewer and the instigator for the actors who perform the couples’ stories.
“These stories are coming from the heart,” Bourque said.
She admitted her emotions sometimes get the best and the couples’ stories start her crying, which makes the audience cry, too.
“It is really funny but also real. People really put themselves out there onstage. When comedy is based on something really happening, it’s so powerful.”
Bourque will be joined by improv performers Laura Derry, Paul Erskine, Scott Keck and Deborah Wade and Musical Director Jerome Rossen—in case a couple’s story inspires a song, which probably will happen, according to Bourque. She added that while the couple is telling their love story, it’s pin-drop quiet in the theatre. Once the actors get rolling, the audience is screaming.
“So many fans come back. They want to know what happens to the couples. We’ve had two men propose live on the show,” Bourque said.
“At the end of the show, the improviser got down on one knee and the guy did the same thing with his girlfriend. People were going hysterical!”
One magical and comical moment Bourque recalled was when a straight-laced, middle-aged couple told their story. During their first date 30 years prior, while in college, he walked her to the door. She had to warn him that her parents were nudists and had another nudist couple over to play bridge.
“Scott played the dad. He’s wearing clothes in the scene, but you imagine he’s naked. He’s doing all these inappropriate naked things like bending over in front of the guy playing the date. Stretching. The audience was dying,” Bourque said. Bourque got the idea for the show while she was performing with improv troupe Bay Area Theatresports back in 2000.
While the typical improv games played were fun, she was looking for something “real.”
So, she got the idea to have couples tell their meeting story and have it performed onstage on Valentine’s Day in 2001. The show sold out and Jill said it was one of the most amazing nights she ever had. But, she didn’t plan to do it again. Then, 9/11 happened, while she was working in New York City. Jill made two decisions: one, to have kids right away and two, to get “How We First Met” performed in New York on Valentine’s Day in 2002.
It happened and was also performed that year in 12 other cities around the world. Since, “How We First Met” has been performed on cruise ships and a nuptial version was recently featured on the TLC show “Four Weddings.”
While “How We First Met” has made it to Australia and Japan, it’s the San Francisco version—the original—that is most special to Jill, as she gets to help create a piece of history for three couples every Valentine’s Day.
“This has been my baby for a while,” she said, aside from the two boys she did have after 9/11. “It’s a really neat show. It’s kind of hard to describe to people who haven’t seen it. But once you do, wow!”
Marines’ Memorial Theatre is located at 609 Sutter St., San Francisco.
Corey Andrew has been interviewing comedians and writing about comedy for the last decade and a half. He recently published the book, “Laugh Lines: Conversations with Comedians.” Corey was a writer and performer with Midwest sketch troupe, The NonProphets, before moving to the Bay Area with his family several years ago.
If you have ideas for future columns about comedy, you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/coreywrites.