Quick, choose a mode of death by alien.
Vaporizing, zapping or a good smashing are all possibilities. You could even succumb to an invisible death ray, after which the alien will drag you to some unknown destination.
Or, in this case, somewhere backstage, because those who were dying stood on the Manship Theatre stage. That was, until the audience shouted, “Die!.”
That’s par for the course when the Family Dinner Improv Comedy Troupe plays its storytelling game, when troupe members develop a storyline using audience suggestions. The first person to get stuck must die.
At the troupe’s last event, aliens were the cause of death, as it was “Spoof Night!” at the Manship, the target being the 1997 Will Smith vehicle, “Independence Day,” where aliens attempt to take over Earth.
Fans of the old “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” series will understand this concept.
The show featured a man with two robot sidekicks, who riffed on B-movies. But in the Family Dinner Comedy Troupe’s case, the riffing is done by humans, and the movies are usually either popular films with followings or cult classics.
But “Spoof Night!” is an occasional event in the troupe’s Manship performance schedule, which is dominated by its “Improv Comedy Night” series, which continues at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 22, in its cabaret setting at the Manship’s Hartley/Vey Theatre.
“We tell people to think of ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ when we do ‘Improv Night,’” Robert Rau says. “It’s the same format when we play our games. They give us the suggestions, and we take it from there.”
Rau sat backstage with fellow troupe members Evan Rabalais, Michael Johnson, Michael Honore, Jim Teague, David Vitrano and Brian Gouri, preparing for their “Spoof Night!” of “Independence Day.” They are seven of Family Dinner’s 10 members. The troupe has been performing for some 20 years, with a rotating membership.
“And we’re always looking for new members,” Rau says. “We rehearse at 3:30 in Hartley/Vey every Sunday afternoon, and the rehearsals are open. Anyone can attend, and we encourage people to join.”
Sometimes a woman joins the troupe, but she never stays long.
“When a woman joins, she’s usually more popular than us, and other improv groups usually steal them away,” Rau says. “But it would be great to have women troupe members, so we’re asking them to please come.”
The Family Dinner Comedy Troupe was formed during a series of improvisation competitions at LSU.
“After the competitions were over, the competitors got together and performed,” Honore says. “When they gathered together, they said it was like a family dinner, so that’s what they called themselves.”
Though Honore has been with the group the longest at 13 years, he wasn’t around in the beginning. But he worked with some of the older, former members, so he knows the troupe’s history.
“Not everyone can stay with the group or be at every performance, because they have jobs and lives,” Rau says. “Most of our performances have between five and seven members. We have to have four members to have a comfortable performance.”
Later, audience members cheered when the troupe stepped into the theater. Most had attended this event before and knew that there would be no mercy for the night’s movie.
Everything is fair game for humor, and the troupe instructs audience members to cheer when they hear characters spout iconic lines. Popcorn, soft drinks and alcohol also are sold and allowed in the theater, which prompts an order for audience members to take a drink each time Harry Connick Jr.’s character calls Will Smith’s fighter pilot “Big Daddy.”
Which brings up the point of why “Spoof Night!” is more sparse than “Improv Night.”
“There’s a lot of preparation that goes into ‘Spoof Night!’,” Rau says. “We have to watch the movie, then go back over it and develop a script for the show.”
Troupe members sit at a table at the front of the theater timing each riff from the script. Then comes intermission with its storytelling game, this time creating “Independence Day II.”
And each time a troupe member gets tripped up, he must die by alien.
But “Improv Night” is a little different. There’s no movie, and audience members relax with beverages in a cabaret setting, where troupe members play games that build on audience suggestions.
“We encourage a lot of interaction from the audience,” Rabalais says. “We want people to yell out, but we don’t force people to participate.”
But be warned — both “Improv Night” and “Spoof Night!” are slightly R-rated, meaning that they’re not always appropriate for younger children.
“We can get raunchy, but it’s raunchy in a ‘Three’s Company’ kind of way,” Rau says. “We gauge the audience. If we see young kids there, we usually hold back.”
The troupe’s next “Spoof Night!” will be Friday, Aug. 14, the victim being the 1999 Rob Lowe film, “Varsity Blues.” After that, there will be a spoof of “Back to the Future” on Friday, Nov. 13.
“That’s the closest we could come to the date that Doc sets the DeLorean at the end of the movie,” Rau says.
In the film, Doc sets the time-machine car to travel 30 years into the future, from fall 1985 to fall 2015, when the original movie is now considered a comedy classic, and prime spoof material.