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Pa.'s Oxymorons 'really good at laughing' at themselves

If you're looking for a good place to take a date, Liz Curtis recommends a comedy show, especially improv.

"You can tell a lot about a person by … what jokes they laugh at," said Curtis.

Curtis is a member of the Oxymorons, a southcentral Pennsylvania improv comedy troupe that performs in an unscripted "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" style. The group, created in 2010, relies on audience suggestions and games to create characters, scenes and jokes on the spot.

During one scene at show, which is posted online, the characters said closed captioning was down, so one member acted out a variety of moments described in an interview: women giving birth while standing on their hands, a man getting mauled by a puma, and a man using a staple gun on himself for some emergency surgery. In another game, video of which is also posted online, members told a series of one-liners about 400 bars of soap, 400 wines, 400 jumper cables and 400 several other things walking into a bar.

Toby Bradbury, 38, of Harrisburg, said the audience suggestions, the changes in which games they do, and the rotation of who performs in each game mean that "no two shows are ever the same."

The six-member group has performed at colleges, comedy clubs, bars, restaurants and theaters, and has experience doing corporate-team building workshops. On the second Sunday of each month, the group performs at The Abbey Bar at Appalachian Brewing Company in Harrisburg. Members have a mix of improv, stand-up comedy and theater backgrounds.

Three members of the team in separate interviews talked about the most challenging moments on stage, how improv has influenced their everyday life and other aspects of performing.

Challenging moments: "If you're doing ... stand-up in a room where they don’t care about you, you’re just talking,” said Curtis, 30, of Harrisburg, “and they can tune you out."

For improv, performers are more reliant on the audience.

At one show at a bar, the Oxymorons showed up to find a crowd that seemed to have no idea there was going to be an improv comedy show that night. The group was off in a corner of the bar. Maybe two or three people were sort of watching them, said Sara Shaw, a performer and the group's co-director. Everybody else was getting drinks, watching a game or otherwise not paying attention.

Shaw turned to the people in the bar, and asked something along the lines of: Are you ready for some improv?

"No!" was the response from a couple people, Shaw said.

That kind of reaction is rare, Curtis said. In that type of situation, Curtis said it's important to keep smiling and look for a few or even one person who is interested.

Said Shaw: "We're all really good at laughing at ourselves. And so we’re just like, all right, well, this is what this is today."

Favorite games: Bradbury and Curtis both picked a guessing game that requires a shopkeeper to guess what a customer wants -- such as tie-dye, aluminum Q-tips endorsed by Shaquille O'Neal -- based on clues. Because the audience supplies the product details, they can enjoy “watching the person … struggle to get it," said Curtis.

Shaw's favorite game is one that involves four performers rotating from scene to scene, and switching characters as they go. "I love the collaboration," said Shaw, 35, of Conewago Township.

What to expect at a show: It's interactive, but audience members control how involved they get. "We don’t pull anybody up on stage who doesn’t want to go," said Bradbury.

How improv has influenced them: In an improv scene, if another performer begins a scene by saying you've landed on the moon, you shouldn't say, no, we're in Florida.

"You don’t shoot somebody else down," Shaw said.

You have to accept the premise, and add to it. Shaw said she applies that approach to motivational speaking she does about body image at colleges.

If you go

The group performs the second Sunday of each month at The Abbey Bar at Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron St., Harrisburg. Admission for the 7 p.m. June 12 show was $7.

For more information, search for Oxymorons Comedy Troupe on Facebook or visit