I Like Hosts and Jam
Haven’t seen them in a while? Now’s the perfect time to revisit Theatre 99

What do rattlesnake-skin loafers, a human yin-yang, YouTube, cage dancing, and Myrtle Beach all have in common?

Surprisingly, not a homemade porno film! Rather, all of these ingredients were part of the hearty stew that was the May 26 opening performance of the Have Nots! Comedy Improv Jam.

While you’re not likely to taste any of them again (well, maybe Timmy Finch will break out the rattlesnake loafers for another show), I guarantee you’ll see and hear zany bits of pop-culture arcana akin to those above only in their randomness and inspired hilarity.

With all the comedians traveling to Charleston for this year’s heavy-hitting Piccolo Fringe line-up, it’s too easy to take the creators of our very own local laugh factory (Theatre 99), The Have Nots!, for granted. For over 10 years now, the crack team of Timmy Finch, Brandy Sullivan, and Greg Tavares have entertained and enlightened audiences with their nimble wits and graceful entendres.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll ever see the same Have Nots! show twice. Their latest regular performances, dubbed “Improv Jams,” are indeed gooey, sweet concoctions consisting of fast-paced improv games starring the Have Nots! — along with unofficial fourth member Sean Sullivan, the unseen booth man with the uncanny sense of timing — and various special guests, who change each night depending on everyone’s schedules. The later Jams will include some of the out-of-town comics, too, although we can’t say who. Because we don’t know. (These Jams, they’re full of surprises!)

The Nots! are sharper than ever, as demonstrated at Friday night’s opening Jam, which featured local cut-ups Lee Lewis (who performs in Moral Fixation with Tavares and Caleb Usry) and Citadel grad Thomas Dotstry. One of the biggest perks of The Have Nots! being around for over a decade is that their reputation just keeps growing — not only nationally, but here in Charleston — and their clout constantly lures new talent into the ever-expanding Have Nots! family.

It would be sort of pointless to sum up Friday night’s show in this review, since every single Improv Jam is its own original sensation, birthed fresh each night right in front of the audience. Suffice it to say that the first half featured the Nots!, Lewis, and Dotstry playing five different, audience-interactive improv games, including the lightning-fast “New Choice,” in which Lewis and Dotstry created a scene about mountain climbing while Tavares squatted just off-stage with a bike horn — when he honked it, Lewis or Dotstry had to immediately repeat the last line they said, but changing one word or element. Watching the two try to top not only each other, but themselves, yielded many riotous moments and clever turns of phrase.

The second half of the show was a long-form game, similar to Lewis and Tavares’ Moral Fixation, where the audience yelled out one word (in this instance, “beach”), then Lewis delivered a short monologue about “the girls of Myrtle Beach,” which was the fount of inspiration for a gaggle of short scenes starring various combinations of all the performers. And airbrushed T-shirts weren’t even mentioned once!

The audience demographic was equally divided between male and female and ranged from young (definitely some teenagers in the house) to grey-haired, with people from all walks of life throwing their heads back in laughter together — I spotted a leather-clad biker sitting next to a couple dressed in cocktail attire. One of the running themes of the show focused on audience member Eric, who listed “creating videos and posting them on YouTube” as one of his hobbies. Technology reared its head after the show, too, when I spotted not one, but two young lads snapping pictures on their camphones of the Marius Valdes artwork in the lobby.

After the show, I eavesdropped on the audience members filing through the lobby and caught the perfect summary snippet — two college-aged girls, dressed to go clubbing, were walking past, and one turned to the other and excitedly exclaimed, “That was FUN!” This sentiment was echoed by some other passerby, and the simple statement rings extraordinarily true: No matter where the show’s subjects stem from or wander to, you’re going to have a good time at a Have Nots! Comedy Improv Jam.

THE HAVE NOTS! COMEDY IMPROV JAM • Piccolo Spoleto • $15 • (1 hour 45 min.) • June 1 at 7 p.m.; June 2 at 8 p.m.; June 8 at 7:30 p.m. • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. • 554-6060