Blackout Improv looks to bring a little light to tough conversations

Talking about serious issues can be difficult, especially in 2018, though one group of Twin Cities comedians is working to use their craft in a new way to bring a little light to tough conversations.

Blackout Improv is an all African-American comedy troupe that regularly takes on subjects like race, gender and police brutality, among other things, all the while hoping that laughter can help people in the audience find common ground.

"Humor is a great device because people who are sensitive to certain things can listen to the point or critique or provide feedback from a distance because there is humor," Blackout member John Gerbratatose said Monday before a show at the Minneapolis Central Library. "Later on they may process it more deeply."

The group starts their shows with a series of improv exercises and then invites audience members to put their questions into a piece of headgear they affectionately call the "swag hat." The bulk of their performance consists of the members taking out those pieces of paper and riffing on them--regardless of whether the topics are serious or downright silly. 

Paper suggestions are more anonymous than the usual shouted prompts favored by other improv groups, freeing up audience members to ask questions and suggest things they may normally be too afraid to bring up in front of black performers, group members say, giving their performances more opportunities to push the envelope.

In the end, however, they just hope it's the audience that gets the last laugh.

"When we cry and laugh we release a lot of tension from our bodies," Blackout member Ashawnti Ford said. "So when are laughing or crying we are healing together, and I think that's really important."

The group is currently hosting a series of community workshops called "Laughing Matters" at locations across the Hennepin County Library System. For more information, visit the Hennepin County Library System website.