Whoever said that comedy and exercise don't mix is probably 80 percent right in about 96 percent of all cases.
Most of the folks that I know that have found a way to make a living doing comedy do so by staying up late performing at all hours — often at bars and other houses of ill repute, ingesting large quantities of alcohol, drive-thru menu items and other comedy-inspiring substances.
Needless to say, comedy and wellness are perhaps two of the most diametrically opposed industries in the world today, unless you count the material comedians derive from alternatively making fun of and envying health-conscious people. (And, no, the Reader's Digest "Laughter: The Best Medicine" column doesn't count either. Even if it's from Canada.)
Seeing this division between the two fields as a fresh new take for a comedy show — and looking to drop a few pounds himself — 22-year veteran improv comedian (and recent Austin transfer) Tyler Bryce pitched the show that would soon become Thinning the Herd to his friend and fellow comedian, Britain Spellings.
"Britain is an incredibly competitive guy, so it occurred to me that we could do a two man show where we weighed in every week and the loser would have to do some silly stunt that we could film and put online," Bryce recalls. Spellings suggested asking a few more friends, and pretty soon the idea began taking shape into a sort of improvised version of NBC's The Biggest Loser.
After the pitch, Tom Booker of The Institution expressed interest in Bryce and Spellings' show and booked them for a three-month run at the theater. "I was looking to create two teams of five," says Bryce. "But 14 people who wanted to make a change showed up. So now we have three excellent teams of five seasoned improv comedians committed to losing weight in the public square."
Included in the cast are some well-known Austin comedy heavyweights (excuse the pun) including Out of Bounds executive producer Jeremy Sweetlamb, Latino Comedy Project's Chuy Zarate, Confidence Men's Jeff Britt and even Booker himself.
Before each show, the teams complete blind weigh-ins to be revealed throughout the show. The audience watches all three teams perform in a 20-minute improvised scene, and they vote for the team they like best. The winning team receives a bonus to its weight loss percentage total, and the team that dropped the most body weight from the previous show gets to decide what happens to the other two teams.
During the first week's show, for example, Team Mo' Tummy Mo' Problems lost the highest percentage of body weight, so Team Captain Chuy Zarate got to decide how to divide up the other teams' challenges. Because Team Fattitude lost the least percentage of body weight, they participated in an MMA-style workout donated by Martial Way Academy's "Guru" Larry St. Clair.
The other two teams were also tasked with creating parody political attack ad videos against one another, which will be screened at the next show. "What we have is essentially a multi-media show that combines improv comedy sets with prerecorded packages," says Tyler. "The best part, though? The players are actually losing weight. At the first show, the players lost a cumulative 67 pounds."
It's true that competition can be a strong motivating factor for some people to begin practicing healthier behaviors and losing weight. But, then again, doesn't humor spring from that same reptile part of the brain that craves sex and Whataburger and reruns of 30 Rock until 3 a.m.? As America asked itself after Jonah Hillgate happened: Aren't fatter people just funnier than skinny people?
We can't answer that question (because it involves science and probably some math). But we can tell you that the jokes are what matter. And however you get to that place quickest and most successfully is fine by us.
Laughter: the best equalizer!
Follow the weight loss exploits and adventures of Tyler Bryce and crew at Thinning the Herd at The Institution Theater every other Sunday night at 6 p.m. The next episode appears on Sept. 30. Tickets are only $5.00.