Jeremy Lamb wasn’t always a happy-go-lucky improv comedian with an arsenal of hammy jokes at his disposal.
As a teenager growing up in Austin, Texas, Lamb was withdrawn, surly and serious, a misunderstood youth with an eyebrow piercing and wardrobe of black clothes.
At one point, even his beard was dyed black.
“Improv opened me up and changed my personality,” Lamb says. “It made my relationships with people better. It made me a more positive person.”
It also turned him into somewhat of an improv addict.
After getting a degree in film from the University of Texas, Lamb, 31, studied at Second City in Chicago and at Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles. Both theaters have become breeding grounds for some of the entertainment industry’s most famous sketch comedians, including a slew of “Saturday Night Live” cast members.
In 2002, he founded Austin’s “Out of Bounds” comedy festival. Three years later, he formed the touring improv troupe, Available Cupholders, which has become a fan favorite at the Sarasota Improv Festival.
He’s recorded comedy albums, directed and starred in a sketch comedy film and an online comedy series in addition to touring as a solo act under the name Bearded Lamb.
Hired as a guest-teaching artist at Florida Studio Theatre, Lamb, whose first session of comedy classes started this week, has already created a comedy show with Managing Director Rebecca Hopkins.
“Just Desserts,” which opens next week in the Gompertz Theatre, is a hybrid of short-form and long-form improv with a dose of audience participation.
Directed by Lamb, the show is a compilation of short scenes, sketch comedy and games. It stars a cast of four improvisers (Christine Alexander, Adam Ratner, Samantha Stern and Steve Turrisi) who take turns directing one another in different scenes.
At the end of each scene, the audience will get to choose which director did the best job. Those who don’t succeed will be asked to perform an embarrassing task in front of the audience, or as Lamb describes it, “a quick penance to cleanse the palate.”
The show will serve as an introduction to long-form improv, something FST audiences have seldom seen since Hopkins created the company’s beloved improv program 10 years ago.
Long-form improv is Lamb’s specialty.
The actor is such a fan of the format that he once attempted to break the Guinness World Records for the longest play by improvising with his troupe for 27 hours straight.
Although his efforts proved futile (Guinness wouldn’t recognize the show because it was unscripted), it did cement Lamb’s status as an up-and-coming improviser.
“Long-form is more rewarding,” he says. “There are greater opportunities for character development. There’s more room to move people.”
As intimidating as it might seem to perform a two-hour unscripted show, Lamb says almost anyone can do it.
“It taps into something that’s innate in all of us,” he says. “It’s storytelling. Anyone can tell a story.”
Is that what he tells the shy students who take his class?
“Actually, I tell the shy students that the most important thing is to be OK at failing,” Lamb says. “If you’re not failing, you’re not being a good improviser. We want people to be comfortable with failure so they take risks.”
And what if they’re not comfortable with stinking?
“Then we ask them to take a giant overblown circus bow,” Lamb says. “We say, ‘That’s fine. You failed. Now bow like a ringmaster.’”
JEREMY LAMB’S COMEDY ICONS
“He’s my first comedic love. What he was saying to me — an all-black-wearing suburban white kid — seemed more like the truth than what I was hearing from my parents and teachers.”
“He’s just super fun and super positive. He’s always taking care of everyone and willing to go anywhere.”
“He plays an incredible schlub. He’s so good at being downtrodden. I love that.”
IF YOU GO
“Just Desserts” runs Oct. 1 through Oct. 29, in the Goldstein Cabaret at Florida Studio Theatre. For more information, call 366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org.
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