Darryl Knapp knows all the improv groups and their members around the country. He’s seen most of them — not just in Florida, but in their home states or at other festivals. He’s taken their workshops. He’s gotten to know them.
In fact, Knapp is so passionate about the impromptu form of comedy, he has earned the moniker of “Mayor of Improv” from his troupe members. Next weekend, he’ll operate in this unofficial capacity as he helps welcome improv groups from all over the country to Sarasota. Knapp, 45, is a member of FST Improv, the home team in the upcoming sixth annual Sarasota Improv Festival July 11-12.
Knapp says his mission for the festival is twofold: to make sure he’s a good hosting-troupe member and to watch as many shows as he can.
“I’m out there shaking hands, kissing babies — you know, typical mayor stuff,” he says.
In addition to FST Improv, Knapp is part of Tampa improv troupe Dear Aunt Gertrude (also in the upcoming festival), and he performs in Improv Addicts (Lakeland), Lazy Fairy Improv (Sarasota) and co-directs Alpaca Suitcase (Tampa).
This means when he’s not working as a dispatcher in his 9 to 5, he’s at rehearsals three to six nights a week. Except for Sundays. Sunday is a day of rest or, in his case, baseball. He sees the Tampa Bay Rays play or a minor league game most Sundays.
Although, the Sunday prior to this interview he skipped baseball to watch a 45-hour improv marathon. He can’t turn it off.
This time of year leading up to the festival, to say Knapp is excited is an understatement.
Knapp says he hasn’t blinked in days because he’s just watching the clock: counting down the seconds until the festival.
The festival is the best weekend an improviser can have, Knapp says. He calls it the best festival in the nation. It showcases a wide variety of talented funny people who make up the content filling the 48 hours on the spot. Sixteen groups will perform a variety of improv styles in 40-minute segments. Nothing is written down.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen!” he says, “Except that you’re going to enjoy the heck out of it.”
And it doesn’t get better than the Sarasota audience. He says at most improv festivals the audience consists of the visiting troupes. But not here. The audience is loyal at every FST show, which he says nears selling out each time they perform.
But the other portion of his enjoyment comes from the camaraderie of his fellow troupe members. He explains that it’s important to socialize together because it makes you stronger as a troupe.
As an individual, Knapp is good at physical comedy, puns and characters, but what he’s best at is playing a supportive role in the troupe. He says that making your fellow players look good is the No. 1 rule.
Knapp explains it with a simile: “In your sport, you may have a bad day, but your fellow players may have a good day, so you win,” he says.
He hopes to “win” each time he’s on stage, even though it’s not a competition. And once the festival is over?
“I just don’t want it to end,” he says with a sigh. “The drive home on Sunday is always a rough time — but the drive to the festival is all anticipation. It’s just one of the greatest weekends you can have. I can’t wait!”
IF YOU GO
Sarasota Improv Festival
When: 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, July 11 and 5 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, July 12
Where: Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave.
Cost: Single show tickets $10; special events $25; weekend pass $59; nightly pass $49; workshops $29
Info: Call 366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org.
Read more about another group performing in the Sarasota Improv Festival, Upright Citizens Brigade, here.