When Andy Batt met Chris Lane in 1997 while working on a community theater project, the two hit it off pretty instantly. What followed was more than your garden variety friendship.
“He and I had the most just brutally honest and forthright conversations. He really became my mentor, my best friend. He was a constant teacher,” Batt said of Lane, who passed away in April. “He literally taught me everything I knew about the business.”
That would be the business of comedic improv and theater. Lane, a graduate of Second City in Cleveland, helped turn MadLab’s improv troupe Full Frontal Nudity into what it is today. He also was the longtime artistic director of MadLab (before he handed the role to his understudy, Batt). Lane was an actor’s director, skilled at pulling out deeper and deeper performances from his actors.
“Boisterous is the first adjective that comes to mind,” Batt said when asked to describe Lane, who was 44 when he died. “In the last few months since he passed, the common theme amongst all the stories is his laugh, how his laugh filled the room. But Chris certainly had a dark side to him. … On the other end of that he was ridiculously funny and good natured. He never played the middle of anything. He was all about extremes.”
So how does one pay respects to a dear, complicated friend who happens to be the godfather of Columbus improv?
Batt and other MadLab talent are performing a tribute to Lane this month. The evening is composed of performances by local comedy troupes with ties to Lane (he coached many of the players on the bill) as well as re-creations of Lane’s most popular artistic outputs.
“Washroom Trilogy” is a compilation of FFN sketches about guys being afraid of genital germs, but it has a suprising amount of deep social commentary — like any good dick joke — “about how we think we’re important as people,” Batt said. “Awesome Possum” is a short Lane wrote but that was never produced; “It’s kind of like a Tupac thing. He’s still putting out work even after he died,” Batt laughed.
Most notably, though, is “Spree.” Lane wrote this soul-baring story about a man at a bar considering going on a killing spree for MadLab’s theater roulette festival in 2002.
“[When he wrote ‘Spree’] he was in a really bad place,” Batt said. “He exposed himself on stage like a nerve. There was no piece that he wrote that gave you a better sense of the man himself.”
Batt plays Lane’s role in “Spree” at this month’s tribute show, a choice that has proven difficult but necessary. To help him prepare, Batt muses on the title of the tribute show —“Today’s the day.” It helps him remember why he is honoring his friend.
“If you ever worked with Chris, that was the question he would always pose,” Batt said. “Why is today the day?”