Late-night comedy is an entertainment essential—for years, we’ve seen the likes of comics, actors, writers, and performers of all kinds take the stage and put on a show for us. However, as an audience member, this world often seems untouchable, lit up only by our television screens in the comfort of our own homes. Especially in recent years, late night television, improv, and sketch comedy have defined themselves as forms of comfort and escapism. Lucky for us, this world is now opening its doors to the Queen City upon the weekend’s premiere of Cincinnati Night Live.
Improv Cincinnati’s new comedy show, inspired by Saturday Night Live, will hit the stage for the first time on June 4 at the Clifton Comedy Theatre. Each Saturday in June and July, the show will feature a special guest hosts, new guest musicians, newscast segments, and live comedy sketches.
Artistic and Education Director for Improv Cincinnati Colin Thornton produces, writes, and performs for CNL. He also runs the show alongside his business partner, Executive Director and Team Building Director Jon Ulrich. Thornton says that the work that goes into creating a show is complex, but it’s also rewarding and exciting.
“Every week we’re doing new sketches…writing a new sketch, rehearsing it, producing it, putting it up, and everybody learning their lines in a week is incredibly challenging,” he says of the process. “This is also something that’s very experimental to us. We’re trying new things—it’s a little DIY and punk rock.”
He recounts that the inspiration for the show’s production stemmed from a visit last year from Rich Talarico, a late-night improv comedian with experience writing for The Tonight Show, Key & Peele, and SNL, among others. During this visit, Talarico taught a workshop teaching comedy writing for late-night audiences, in which students would seek out news items and write punchlines. Students would later independently turn these sketches into a video series and post it on Facebook.
“When this late-night joke group started being very active, I thought ‘how can I transition this to something I can put on our stage?’ What I want to do is follow the momentum and passion of my community, and then bring that to my stage,” says Thornton. “I thought, ‘that’s something fun that we could do this summer: an SNL-style show.””
While CNL takes inspiration from SNL, its own sketches and segments will be creatively independent. For example, CNL will feature a news segment similar to SNL’s own Weekend Update, called “The Scrolldown”. Each show’s musical guest will be a local Cincinnati artist, and will vary in genre and specialty; this week’s musician is Hannah Gregory, whose original folk music Descent: A Murder Ballad was awarded the Producer’s Pick at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.
Additionally, for its debut show, CNL will welcome host Dave Powell, a graduate of Second City Detroit’s conservatory program, an improv comedy instructor at Xavier University, and the former co-director of OTRimprov. “I love the challenge of putting on a live sketch show every week with a different host—it’s a little bit punk rock, honestly,” said Powell in a press release.
“Here is a chance to really support real people who are doing comedy every week and they’re here, in town, and they’re hilarious.” says Thornton. “I really want this to open up to new audiences, and to people who have maybe never gone to a comedy show or who love SNL but don’t get a chance to see anything like that locally.”
Overall, Thornton’s main hope for the show is simply that the audience has a good time: “This is something completely new to Cincinnati; it’s novel, and it’s fun. I hope people will walk away smiling–that’s the goal.”
Catch Cincinnati Night Live each Saturday in June and July at 10 p.m. at Improv Cincinnati, 404 Ludlow Ave., Clifton. Tickets are $10.