We have no idea what Scott Adsit is going to do or say, and neither does he, when he returns to San Francisco to perform on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 19 and 20, at the Eureka Theater.
Of course, that’s OK, because the “30 Rock” and “Second City” alum is part of the 10th annual San Francisco Improv Festival. Adsit will be performing long-form improv scenes with Jet Eveleth.
“I know that you're going to get amazing character work out of Jet. She’s just phenomenal,” Adsit said. “[She] melts into her characters and kind of oozes onto the stage and creeps into your psyche.”
Adsit is no stranger to SF fans of improv as he’s performed at SF Sketchfest shows such as Upright Citizen’s Brigade: A.S.S.S.C.A.T. and Gravid Water, which sees one actor performing from a scripted play and the improviser making up the scene as it goes.
While he’s still recognized as the typically-tortured producer, Pete Hornberger, from NBC sitcom “30 Rock,” Adsit was part of a remarkable cast at Second City in Chicago that also included Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch and Adam McKay, director of the “Anchorman” movies.
One of the most audacious audience experiments in improv comedy history happened during the run of Second City’s “Piñata Full of Bees.” While seeking an answer to the question, “Can we get the audience to feel something other than joy?” Adsit and his cohorts decided to interrupt the show by announcing the President had been shot. He shared the story of what happened.
“We thought, ‘Let’s break some boundaries.’ I volunteered to be the one to go on stage and tell people that President Clinton had been shot. We didn’t know if he was alive or not. I entered into a scene very quietly, walked on stage and whispered into the actors’ ears, and they shuffled offstage.
“I even bought what I was saying. I had a tear come out of my eye, unexpectedly. I kind of very soberly said, ‘The president had been shot; we’re going to stop the show. We’ll bring a TV monitor on stage, and you can watch the coverage or go home or whatever you need to do,’” he said.
Adsit recalled the comment that it was so quiet in the room, you could hear a mouse poop.
“We brought out a monitor and turned it on, and I couldn’t quite figure how to get it to work. Adam came out to help me. I turned it on, and there was a show with sports bloopers. I said, ‘I’m sorry; I’ll change it.’ Adam said, ‘Wait a minute.’ A guy got hit or whatever, and we both chuckled. Then we kind of got interested in another blooper. We laughed harder at that, and then we sat down in front of the TV and watched bloopers. The rest of the cast came out, and we just silently with our backs to the audience, sitting Indian style, watched sports bloopers.
“I think Adam turned to the audience, and they were just confused, and he said, ‘Everybody loves sports bloopers!’ We just sat there until the audience was gone, which didn't take long. And then the letters came in. People were not happy,” Adsit added.
Could they make the audience feel something other than pure delight? Yes, but Adsit has since learned that he’d rather get people to relate to and empathize with his improv characters.
“I’m still striving for that; I’m just not going about it with a sledgehammer,” he said.
Visit sfimprovfestival.com for more information on Adsit’s and Eveleth’s performances on Friday and Saturday, September 19 and 20.
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/coreyshame.