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Where geeks are the ‘popular kids’

ImprovBoston aims for comedy fest with smarts

Sarah Koske, who honed her improv chops at UMass-Amherst, is one of the performers at Geek Week.

Sarah Koske, who honed her improv chops at UMass-Amherst, is one of the performers at Geek Week.

The folks behind Geek Week at ImprovBoston say geeks and comics are a lot alike, smart people going their own way in an often hostile world.

“It’s the group of guys and girls who, in high school, stepped out of the popular kids’ group and said, ‘No, I like to be in the juggling club,’ ” says ImprovBoston managing director Zach Ward.

Dennis Hurley (left) and Dave Sawyer will perform “The Complete Works of Batman (Abridged).”

Joseph Silva

Dennis Hurley (left) and Dave Sawyer will perform “The Complete Works of Batman (Abridged).”

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“In high school, it feels like there are only a few of you, and then in college you realize there’s more of you. And then you get out of college and realize, holy [expletive], I’m in Boston, there are thousands of us!” Ward says.

“People who pursue comedy full-out,” performer Sarah Koske says, “are so enthusiastic toward the subject they pursue it blindly, dive right into it like any geek who is so into a particular subject that it takes them over.

“They learn as much about it as possible and do it as much as possible and talk it and think it and breathe it.” Koske adds one important distinction, however: “To be an extreme nerd, you also have to not understand that the juggling club is not popular. That has to completely go over your head.”

Performers are coming from all over the country for the sixth annual Geek Week, beginning Wednesday at ImprovBoston in Central Square, Cambridge. The festival has grown popular enough that there are two or three shows each night on both of the venue’s stages. The comedy delves into the obsessive nature of the geek mind as well as the pop culture that engrosses it: comic books, “Star Trek,” science fiction, and horror movies.

Geek Week originated with a group of male ImprovBoston staff and regulars who got together for role-playing games on Saturday afternoons. As Ward tells it, “They loved doing comedy, they loved improvising, they loved doing stand-up, and they’re playing Dungeons and Dragons.” Putting the two together was a no-brainer. “ ‘You got chocolate in my peanut butter,’ ” Ward says, quoting the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups ad. “ ‘You got peanut butter in my chocolate.’ ”

ImprovBoston is uniquely well located to host such an event, he adds: “Smack-dab right in the middle of Harvard and MIT. There’s a lot of smart people in Cambridge, and a lot of them really enjoy this style of comedy.”

Featured Geek Week acts include the comedy troupe Nerds of Prey, the highly specific wit of “¡The Punctuation Show!,” the Harry Potter sketch comedy “HufflePuffed!,” and the comic-book-store rants of Andrew 12-Sided Dice Clay.

Granby native Koske, soon to graduate from veterinary school in Wisconsin, will be giving a lecture on “The Virology of Werewolfism.”

“My dad is a big sci-fi geek — he used to love the older movies — so I grew up with a lot of that on in the background,” she says. “He has, like, a good collection of all the werewolf movies, except the ‘Twilight’ ones, thank goodness. I’d be concerned if he was into those.”

Koske spent a lot of time doing improv, beginning in her last year of high school and continuing during her time at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She moved to the Midwest and hung out with friends who were “chasing the improv dragon,” but vet school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison didn’t leave her much time to perform. And then:

“I was in a virology lecture one day a couple of years ago, daydreaming, and I got this idea that becoming a werewolf is like having herpes. And I did some more thinking about it, and it’s a lot like having herpes!” Koske says. “Once I thought about werewolfism having a viral origin, it made a lot of sense.”

The result was a performance at a Halloween “Nerd Nite” at a club in Madison, and eventually the call to Geek Week. And as horror-themed as it sounds, the half-hour lecture gets pretty geeky, too. Koske takes pains to point out that the virus in question results in “lycanosis,” not “lycanthropy,” a clinical term that means you merely believe you’re a werewolf. And if you’re wondering why lycanosis only erupts at the full moon, that’s the result of the proven lunar effect on certain stress hormones in the body.

Also on the bill for Geek Week is the Boston comedy team of Sawyer and Hurley, festival regulars whose best joke may be that they don’t do any “Lost” material. Dave Sawyer of Cambridge and Dennis Hurley of Hingham instead will be presenting their popular show, “The Complete Works of Batman (Abridged),” which examines the superhero through his depictions on the large and small screens.

When “Batman Begins” came out in 2005, they discovered they were both Batman enthusiasts, and talked about taking on the funniest parts of all the screen incarnations from the 1960s TV show. Sawyer notes that they borrowed their inspiration from “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, applying it to somewhat less-hallowed source material.

“Dave generally ends up being the incarnation of Batman,” Hurley says. “He’s Christian Bale in one scene, George Clooney in another, and I’m usually the villain.”

Joel Brown can be reached at
jbnbpt@gmail.com.
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