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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #77
January 22, 2009

A Stand Up Guy

Mrs. Doubtfire + Comedy Clubs for Kids

Mork, the alien from Ork, ad-libbed his way into American consciousness in 1978 and America has chuckled along with Robin Williams ever since. Famous for on-the-spot improv and impersonations, his performance in Mrs. Doubtfire got our kids giggling from the get-go. Williams plays Daniel Hillard, an unemployed voice-over artist for cartoon figures who loves to perform for children. His wife, Miranda, however, does not find his antics at all entertaining and gives him the boot. Despondent when the judge allows him visitation just once a week, he disguises himself as Scottish nanny Mrs. Euphegeia Doubtfire, and is hired. In high heels and prim dresses, Mrs. Doubtfire makes her/himself indispensable as the nanny -- connecting emotionally to his kids, even though they don't know it's their father under all the makeup. Williams in drag, channeling Mary Poppins and who-know-what else, turned our kids into comedy fans.

Even if you've got a natural funny bone, it's not easy to make an audience laugh. We thought it would be a treat to introduce the kids to improvisational theatre, so we brought a group of ten kids to a kids comedy club. The atmosphere at this small venue was extremely welcoming. Lively house music played while the audience filled the seats. The six actors took the stage, bubbling over with youthful energy, and explained how the improvisational journey would unfold. The actors were divided into two teams, with a referee, to compete using various improvisational techniques. The audience selects the game scenario, offers up suggestions and directions "Mad Lib's" style, hurling crazy nouns and adjective at the stage, and finally decides which team wins by a show of enthusiastic clapping. The kids loved the opportunity to freely interact with the cast, who were engaging, hilarious and highly skilled. The kids left the performance charged, recounting zany improvisational moments and impressed with how much hard work goes into a good joke.

 
Film Title: Mrs. Doubtfire
Directed By: Chris Columbus
1993, Rated PG-13, 125 mins.


Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Film:

  • Why This Film Is Worth It: What makes a film a classic? Casting the right star in the right role makes a huge impact, and Mrs. Doubtfire is surely one of Robin Williams' most memorable roles. Hats off to local mom and screenwriter Randi Mayem Singer for keeping the film's hilarious scenes at an honest emotional pitch. Taking on divorce, making it funny but keeping it real has put this film on the Must-See list.
  • Red Flags: This film, while funny, deals with the very sad issue of a divorce's impact on family life. This movie also involves job loss, which may be a particularly sensitive for families during this rough economic time. There is some language and mild sexual references, but the laughs will keep everyone glued to the set.
  • Great Cast: Sally Field plays Miranda, Harvey Fierstein plays Daniel's brother and Pierce Brosnan plays Miranda's new boyfriend, Stu.

Our Tips for Talking with your Kids about this Film:

  • Further Viewing: It's impossible to think of Robin Williams cross-dressing as a nanny without also recaling Dustin Hoffman's brilliant performance in Tootsie, a movie we also recommend about an actor man who has to dress like a woman to get a job on a soap opera (1982, 116 mins., PG-13, Directed by Sydney Pollack).
  • Eavesdrop Savvy:  Mrs. Doubtfire's disguise is so convincing that Daniel Hilard's wife and kids are completely fooled.  As a result, he overhears all sorts of comments around his house that are really not meant for his ears.  This helps move the story forward, and allows Hilard to grow emotionally when he sees the world through his family's eyes, but he is also hurt by what he hears.  This is a good opportunity to discuss how talk can hurt with your kids, and a nice launching off point for issues like gossip, snitching and even, im'ing.
  • Robin Williams Film Festival:  Our kids wanted more, more, and more of Robin Williams after falling in love with his comic antics in Mrs. Doubtfire.  We reminded them they were familiar with his work from Night at The Museum, Flubber, Happy Feet and August Rush, so showed them old episodes of Mork & Mindy.  For our teens, we got our hands on some old Saturday Night Live episodes, and watched old favorites Dead Poets Society, Good Morning, Vietnam and of course, Good Will Hunting.


 

Watch Improv at a Kid's Comedy Club

Age Recommendation: Five and Up

Time Allotment: Two hours



Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Adventure:

  • What Worked For Us: Once we told the kids that the stand-up was being performed by kids their own age, they were ready to rock. In our area, there is a show designed for elementary-schoolers and another for teens and up. In some cities, adult actors run the show, so be careful before promising kid talent. We also clued them in that audience participation was part of the fun, but told them they would not be required to participate, so not to cause pressure to those kids who don't like to be in the spotlight. Once there, all our kids eagerly participated.
  • Not Ready For Prime Time: Be warned, our city featured child comics and the result was, well...not exactly Saturday Night Live quality. Our kids, however, did not seem to notice and were really mesmerized on kids their own age having enough guts to put themselves out there.

Our City Editors Picks for Their Town:

  • Google Tip: Search for kid's improv, or kid's comedy club and the name of your town.
  • Boston: ImprovBoston, a comedy club at The Back Alley Theater in Central Square, has entertained audiences around New England since 1982. Not only does it feature the best comedic performers of the day, but it also trains the future stars of tomorrow. Besides attending nightly shows (6PM is the family show), improv, stand-up, youth programs (ages 7-11) in creative comedy and musicals (ages 5-high school) make up the vast array of classes.
  • Chicago: Chicago has plenty of adult impov but your best bet for kids' performance is at Barrel of Monkeys, where veteran actors perform skits written by kids. Older kids can sign up to do teen classes at Comedy Sportz.
  • Houston: As Houston's longest running improv show, Comedy Sportz offers fun, interactive, competitive improv comedy for audiences of all ages.  Comedy Sportz pits two teams of improvisers in a battle for laughs and points vis-a-vis scenes, games and songs based on audience suggestions.  Comedy is played as a sport, not about sports!  Shows are on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.  Performances perfect for younger audience members are held the first Saturday of each month at 4 p.m. 
  • New York: National Comedy Theatre  347 West 36th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues) Contact (212) 629-5202, www.manhattancomedy.com. The shows are clean and family friendly. No two shows are the same, since everything is improvised, the cast changes from show to show as they rotate through the company and, of course, the audience compliment changes as well!
  • Washington, DC: The first Saturday of each month  The Comedy Spot in Arlington, VA (in the Ballston Common Mall) caters to the 12 and under crowd with the improv show ComedySportz4Kidz. The show runs one hour and tickets are $10.00. Improv classes are also available for teens and tweens.  Check the website for details.

 
Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.



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