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Sue Holland

Laugh It Up

SAK Improv Comedy in Downtown Orlando

Friday, December 26, 2003
Text and photos by Sue Holland, staff writer

Disney provides excellent comedic entertainment in its own Comedy Warehouse at Pleasure Island, but the Orlando area also has a number of comedy clubs that might be of interest to visitors.

Photo by Sue Holland. Copyright 2003 MousePlanet, Inc.
The SAK Comedy Lab in Downtown Orlando. Photo by Sue Holland.

While traditional comedy can include profanity and subject material that would be inappropriate or offensive to some people, the SAK Comedy Lab in Downtown Orlando provides evening entertainment suitable for all ages.

SAK Comedy Lab is located on the corner of Amelia Street and Hughey Avenue, attached to the Centroplex II parking garage (from I-4 east, take exit 83b; from I-4 west, take exit 84). From Walt Disney World it will take approximately 30 minutes, unless traffic is worse than usual. SAK is closed Sunday and Monday, students perform Tuesday and Wednesday, and the regular shows are held Thursday through Saturday. Reservations are recommended for the weekend shows, which are very popular with local residents.

SAK began in 1977 in Minnesota and came to Florida when Epcot opened in 1982 at Walt Disney World. Disney used SAK troupes to perform daily in the Italy pavilion and a month later added a troupe to the United Kingdom pavilion. In 1989 Disney hired its own cast members, thus ending the contract with SAK. By 1990 SAK was finding a new home in downtown Orlando, and eventually settled into the current location in 1998.

The theater seats 211 people, and while it lacks the polish and atmosphere of Disney's Comedy Warehouse, at SAK all seats are closer to the stage and provide better views of the performance. At SAK it's almost impossible to have the person in front of you blocking your view, since the rows of seats are tiered significantly and there is only one set of seats per row (unlike Disney, with two sets per row). The exception would be the small section of folding chairs set up on one side of the stage. The other seating is excellent, no matter which row you select.

Photo by Sue Holland. Copyright 2003 MousePlanet, Inc.
Inside SAK's theater, looking at the sound technician's booth in the rear. Photo by Sue Holland.

Usually it will cost $5 for parking, although I have heard that occasionally on weeknights the fee might be waived. The safest thing is to assume you will need to pay the fee. Tickets for the regular shows are $10 for Florida residents and $13 for everyone else. There is no reduced price for children, although children are welcome at the shows. Each show lasts 90 minutes, with one intermission break—times are 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tickets should be purchased at least 15 minutes prior to show time, and any reservations will be released at that time. The night I attended was not sold out, but a fairly long line formed shortly after 7:30 p.m.

Snacks and beverages are available at the concession stand in the lobby, with selections similar to what is found in any movie theater but with lower prices. No alcohol is served, which significantly reduces the chance of having drunk audience members shouting out inappropriate suggestions. In fact, at SAK they have a prop called the Scum Box. Anyone on stage or in the audience who says anything that is not clean and wholesome has to wear this ugly pink Scum Box on their head for a specified period of time (30 seconds or so). It's definitely more difficult to create comedy without resorting to dirty jokes or sexual innuendo, and the Scum Box is a fun way to remind everyone these are family-friendly shows. That's not to say there will not be any innuendo, but they are careful not to push it too far.

Photo by Sue Holland. Copyright 2003 MousePlanet, Inc.
The infamous Scum Box and Pink Shoe of Salvation. Photo by Sue Holland.

They also have what is known as the Pink Shoe of Salvation. This is a high-top pink basketball sneaker, and it is left on the stage. If at any point the scene becomes unfunny or is dragging, anyone can pick it up and throw it at the stage to end the scene. When this happens, the entire audience rises to their feet, throws their hands up into the air and sings “Hallelujah!” Again, it's all in good fun.

Prior to the show the emcee showers the audience with candy (Tootsie Rolls mostly) and warms up the crowd. The night I attended they picked three people at random from the audience to serve as judges, and gave them score cards to hold up at the appropriate times (1 to 5; 5 being excellent, 1 being awful).

There are two regular shows performed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. While the basic structure is the same, the shows are completely different from night to night because they are completely improvised from audience suggestions. At 8 p.m. they do Duel of Fools, and then at 10 p.m. they do Fool Jam. During Fool Jam they can do just about anything. The Duel of Fools is an improv comedy competition, with two teams of three actors competing for the highest score from the audience judges.

Photo by Sue Holland. Copyright 2003 MousePlanet, Inc.
Three of the talented actors improvise a scene. Photo by Sue Holland.

Many of the structures are the same or similar to ones at the Comedy Warehouse and the television show Whose Line Is It Anyway? In one scene the actors were interrupted and had to create a song titled by the last line of dialogue spoken. Later there were two actors who had to tell a story by talking as one person, slowly speaking one word at a time. At no time can they each say something different—they must say exactly the same words at the same time even though they are improvising the story. In another scene a couple of audience volunteers went up on stage to provide suggestions. From time to time the actors would pause and one of the volunteers would fill in the blank with whatever word they chose, whether it made sense or not. It then becomes the actor's job to incorporate that suggestion into the scene, usually with very funny results.

Photo by Sue Holland. Copyright 2003 MousePlanet, Inc.
More live comedy. Photo by Sue Holland.

They also set up a scene where an actor leaves the theater and then returns to be interrogated. While he is outside of the room, each row of the audience is asked to name a certain type of item—and the person directing the scene uses the suggestions to create the crime, location and motive. It's always completely silly and a lot of fun. At Comedy Warehouse they perform this structure, but ask the audience specifically for a crime, location and motive. At SAK they ask for benign items, which seems to work better. The actors are generally far more talented at making something funny than the audience, so random words are probably easier to make humorous than a not-so-funny audience-created suggestion.

After the show the actors leave first, and line up to thank the audience for coming as they exit the theater, which is a very nice touch. At times current and former members of the Comedy Warehouse cast perform at SAK, giving fans an opportunity to see them create comedy in a different setting. The majority of the audience appeared to be local residents who attend SAK regularly, but first-timers should not be uncomfortable there at all.

SAK also has SAK University Improv Classes, where successful students may be invited to join the SAK Comedy LabRats program. These LabRats then perform on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The quality of these shows might not be as consistently high as the others, but tickets only cost $5. Instead of doing two shows, there is just a single performance at 9 p.m. with Duel of Fools on Tuesday and the Best of LabRats on Wednesday.

Overall, I enjoyed the show at SAK and thought it was a fun place. The audience was terrific—right from the start they were very enthusiastic and supportive of the actors, which unfortunately is not always the case at Comedy Warehouse. Comedy Warehouse is still the nicer venue, and the better value ($22 for up to five 30-minute shows vs. $5 parking plus $13 for one 90-minute show), but SAK is worth considering if your plans bring you near Downtown Orlando.

For additional information on SAK Comedy Lab, check out their Web site at Sak.com or give them a call at (407) 648-0001.

Photo by Sue Holland. Copyright 2003 MousePlanet, Inc.

 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sue has been hooked on Walt Disney World since her first visit in 1972 with her parents and younger brother. She kept returning more frequently until she moved to Florida in 1986.

After joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in 1997, she now visits almost monthly. She also spends time at the DVC's non-WDW locations, and is experienced with the Disney cruise ships.

She takes many of these trips on her own, but she's also toured WDW with large groups of people, including families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

She works as the Administrative Services Division Head for a large residential facility administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families. She currently resides in Southwest Florida with her teenage son.

Sue is one of our most prolific trip report writers. Read her trip report archive here.

You can contact Sue here.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”

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