The Beatbox and Nobody's Token have one main thing in common: mad skills. Though their beats are vastly different — Nobody's Token whips up on-the-spot wacky sitcoms and Beatbox spits out hip-hop freestyle to a live Beatbox — these two improv groups relish the similar opportunities presented by Comedy Fest: to practice their off-the-cuff improv before a new, live audience.
The Beatbox founder Zach Ward used to freestyle anywhere he could. "I would freestyle waiting for the train, waiting for the bathroom, or waiting for the mic," he says. Rene Duquesnoy would beat box in much the same way around Chicago. When the two found themselves at a party together in the Windy City in the spring of 2002, they collaborated, Rene acting as the human beat boxer behind Ward's raps. "It was hot. Everyone loved it," Ward says. Thus, the Beatbox was born, and the pair soon started jamming at parties for practice and exposure.
Ward tirelessly promotes the Beatbox as a "party show," saying that if hip-hop and comedy had a one-night stand, their baby would be the Beatbox. And he insists everybody "except maybe your conservative uncle in the gun club" will be entertained by this show.
Each show is comprised of four to six improvisers and a beat box who sets the rhythm for the whole show. They've employed more than 30 members over the past nine years, and Ward says the best performers have a "theatrical bent," with a flair for showmanship and natural charisma. Plus, they have to be comfortable.
The group freestyles based on an audience suggestion to open the show and then pulls all their ideas from that overture. Taking inspiration from different rappers, Ward says the Beatbox more closely identifies with '90s hip-hop, like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. Their theme song is "This or That" by Black Sheep.
Charleston's Beatbox show will feature a guest appearance by Jill Bernard (also of solo act Drum Machine) from Beatbox Minneapolis, a crew from DSI Chicago (including Duquesnoy) and Ward from DSI Comedy Theater in North Carolina, where he now produces the show and schedules touring dates.
"We can already start to feel an adrenaline rush just at the thought of reconnecting on stage and playing with old friends," says Ward.
Founded by Keisha Zollar and Robert King in 2009, improv group Nobody's Token focuses on recreating the audience's favorite sitcom characters and plots from back in the day. Zollar assures us, however, that Nobody's Token does not try to imitate the sitcoms, but rather embodies the ideas, characters, devices, and plots of the beloved shows.
"We like the idea that you will see some familiar sitcom ideas, archetypes, and plot devices, but spun out in a new fresh way that is current to culture now," Zollar says.
The six-person cast retains their wacky family sitcom dynamics on stage and off. Zollar likens her classic onstage persona to Al Bundy, while comparing her comedy comrades to a host of other well-known comedians and characters, including David Spade, A.C. Slater, and Kramer.
Each performance is guided by the topics yelled out by that show's audience. One memorable show revolved around the audience member suggestion of "getting an STD from an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend." Nobody's Token rose to that challenge and instantly created a comedy out of potentially embarrassing material — they personified the STDs and they sang a song. "That show still makes me laugh," Zollar says.