Improv comedy might be the only form of show business that can make you a better person, according to comedian Charles Pettitt.
Pettitt, a Shreveport native, has dedicated himself to learning the art of improvisational comedy and now tours with The Second City Improv All-Stars, a traveling crew from the world-renowned Chicago theater company.
With improv, actors have to think on their feet, pay attention to the other performers and make split-second comedy decisions.
“You are really learning how to be a better listener and more empathetic,” Pettitt said.
Pettitt and the Improv All-Stars will bring their quick wit to L’Auberge Casino and Hotel Baton Rouge at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 30.
The group’s six-person cast creates characters and circumstances during improvisational games that have a few basic constraints designed to build a fun scene.
“We’ll be improvising and taking the audience suggestions,” Pettitt said, “and making up funny characters and funny situations for these characters to live in.”
After growing up in north Louisiana, Pettitt attended a boarding school in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then studied engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
He decided to study improv after a friend at a party offhandedly said, “You should be a comedian.” After that, he actually considered it a career option.
Studying the career of legend Chris Farley led him to the Second City website. The theater company, founded in 1959, has been a proving ground for dozens of actors and comedians including John Candy, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and John Belushi.
In 2009, Pettitt began studying improv with an Atlanta group to learn the basics so he could study at Second City after college. While watching a touring comedian perform at his college campus, he was given the chance to perform for five minutes.
He wasn’t funny, he said, but it was more exhilarating than chemical engineering classes.
“This is a thing I have to keep doing,” he decided. “It was a feeling I had never had before, certainly not from doing inorganic chemistry labs or studying chemical processes.”
After graduating, Pettitt moved to Chicago, determined to take classes from Second City and join the company.
“It was definitely kind of blind confidence and almost cockiness to think I would be able to do that,” he said.
In 2013, after two years, he started performing with one of Second City’s groups on a cruise ship. In addition to the touring group, Pettitt works with other comedic troupes in Chicago.
He’s performed at bar mitzvahs, Presbyterian church conferences and art museums in addition to the typical theater or nightclub stages. Audiences, whether in the Midwest or the South, love the same types of humor, Pettitt said.
“There are a lot of universally funny things people laugh at,” he said.
The shows his troupe will perform at Louisiana casinos from New Orleans to Lake Charles are no different.
“If you love comedy and love to laugh,” he said, “this is your show.”