Arts & Culture

A new comedy fest is coming to SLO — and it’s all about improv

Sabrina Pratt, right, and Mary Jo Pendley perform with the Central Coast Comedy Theater troupe at BarrelHouse Brewing Co. in Paso Robles.
Sabrina Pratt, right, and Mary Jo Pendley perform with the Central Coast Comedy Theater troupe at BarrelHouse Brewing Co. in Paso Robles.

These days, we could all use a good laugh.

That’s the philosophy of Paso Robles resident Sabrina Pratt, who’s organizing the inaugural SLO Coast Comedy Festival. The event runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday at various San Luis Obispo venues.

“When everything’s going crazy — socially, politically — who does well?” asked Pratt, owner and artistic director of Central Coast Comedy Theater. “The comedians do well. They come in and say what we need them to say.”

Unlike the SLO Comedy Festival in February, the SLO Coast Comedy Festival focuses on improvisational comedy — or, improv — a freewheeling form of live theater that challenges performers to make up characters, dialogue and plots on the spot. Often, those entertainers incorporate suggestions from the audience.

Improv, Pratt explained, is “a completely different adrenaline rush than being in a play or another (traditional) theater project.”

“It’s completely off the cuff, on the fly,” she said. “You really are out there without a net.”

Pratt, who grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, discovered improv as a 19-year-old theater student. After graduating from Winthrop University in South Carolina, she spent several years in Chicago performing and teaching with The Second City, the famed comedy troupe whose alumni include Dan Aykroyd, Steve Carell and Tina Fey.

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Members of the Central Coast Comedy Theater troupe perform at Kreuzberg Coffee Co. in San Luis Obispo. Wade Tillotson

Pratt moved to the Central Coast four years ago to be closer to her mother, father and two sisters.

“I jumped right in with the theater community here,” Pratt said, performing with Wine Country Theatre in Paso Robles and what is now San Luis Obispo Repertory Theatre. She also began connecting with local improv fans.

A year and a half ago, Pratt started Central Coast Comedy Theater, which offers improv comedy classes in Morro Bay, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo. (She also does corporate team-building workshops.)

“You can’t teach a performing art and not do a show,” Pratt said, so the theater also has a 15-member performing ensemble. They play every Saturday at Kreuzberg Coffee Co., in addition to a monthly show at The Libertine Pub in Morro Bay and twice-monthly performances at Underground Brewing Co. in San Luis Obispo.

In addition to honing their comedy skills, Pratt said many of her students approach improv with self improvement in mind.

“It’s all about not judging yourself, getting out of your own head (and) having this positive, forward-thinking mentality,” said Pratt, who teaches theater part-time at Atascadero High School.

With Central Coast Comedy Theater, Pratt said she wants to offer another outlet for performers in an area that’s already culturally rich.

“There is incredible talent here. You go to a community theater show, and you’re blown away,” she said.

Many of those local entertainers are taking part in the SLO Coast Comedy Festival, including Cal Poly’s Smile and Nod comedy troupe. Also participating are performers from Los Angeles; Richmond, Virginia; and Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Everybody’s really excited about this whole shebang,” said Pratt, whose 34th birthday follows the close of the festival. “This will be an annual thing, for sure.”

SLO Coast Comedy Festival

8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday

Kreuzberg Coffee Co., 685 Higuera St., San Luis Obispo

11 p.m. Friday

Spike’s Pub, 570 Higuera St., San Luis Obispo.

$5 per show

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