Affirmative Distraction opens its second season tonight, Aug. 29, at Via Vecchia Winery
Joseph Moorer started to find himself as an improv comedian when he finally gave in and “embraced [his] weird,” as he explained it.
“It’s taking all of those things that you think someone is going to judge you for, and just letting them out,” said Moorer, who joins his all-black improv troupe, Affirmative Distraction, in opening its second season at new venue Via Vecchia Winery on Thursday, Aug. 29. “It definitely was something that had to be unlocked. … I just stopped believing things have to be private. If I can sing [the Garth Brooks song] ‘Friends in Low Places’ onstage [with the Conspiracy Band], why am I not making up country songs at improv? Who cares if I’m black? I should be able to sing country songs. And I realized it was working when the crowd laughed.”
Moorer, who has been involved in improv for six years, said he got his start in largely white troupes and would often find himself falling into stereotypical roles as a result. “When you’re starting off, you’re always the black character. You’re the homeboy, the thug,” Moorer said. “Then I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t have to be that. It’s improv. I can be anything I want to be.’”
Now part of Moorer’s challenge — and joy — with Affirmative Distraction is getting his fellow cast members, a number of whom are well known by the public for other artistic pursuits, to embrace a similar process, breaking down any preconceptions of who they’re supposed to be onstage to let that inner weird loose. And if that means having rapper C10, born Chad Tennant, break out his synchronized dance moves while freestyling a Backstreet Boys-like pop song, well, so be it.
“I tell people to bring in what they think they know about this person, and then watch them change your mind,” Moorer said of the cast, which boasts rapper and radio personality Jae Esquire, singer Louii Weezee and MojoFlo frontwoman Amber Knicole, among others. “If you think C10 is just a rapper, he’s going to change your mind. … It’s a process where people can go, ‘Oh, this person is different than on the internet,’ or, ‘This person is different than they are onstage.’”
Though few in the group have extensive training in comedy, several have learned how to navigate onstage failure, which Moorer described as essential to improv, where characters and entire scenes can implode spectacularly and a performer still has to maintain a mindset that allows them to move onward without fear. There’s also an element of accepting that your weaknesses can be strengths, which is a tough lesson for anyone to absorb.
“If you’re doing a Jamaican character, and your accent is horrible, you have to lean into it, because the audience is going to love how terrible it is,” Moorer said. “Improv is about accepting failure and saying yes to pretty much everything. … There’s the ‘yes and…’ element, which is saying yes to something and then going, ‘OK, I’m going to add this and make it bigger, better, louder, stronger — whatever it is.’ There are no wrong answers. As long as you say yes, you can’t go wrong. You just keep going, keep moving forward.”