Theater & dance
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    The ones to watch at Boston Comedy Arts Festival

    Aparna Nancherla
    Comedy Central
    Aparna Nancherla

    If you know improv only from “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?,” the Boston Comedy Arts Festival may be an eye-opener. One of the main appeals of improv is watching the performers untangle a situation, and the tension is a lot more palpable when you’re in the room with them. You may also want to check out different improv formats, like Thursday night’s “Harold Teams” show or Saturday’s “Duo/Trio Improv Comedy” show.

    The festival features inventive local acts like Mark Gallagher’s “One Men Show” and Comedy Sportz, but you can also catch out-of-town performers like La Carpe Haute from France on Friday night’s “Genre-Based Improv” show or see Chicago’s the Defiant Thomas Brothers on several stages. Some of these performers tour, but there aren’t as many venues for improv and sketch comedy as there are for stand-up, so festivals like this one might be your only chance to see them.

    Stand-up comic DeAnne Smith, who’ll do shows Friday and Saturday, can charm you with her observations about relationships or having a father-lesbian bonding moment, or with a song on ukulele about zombie love. The biggest name of the festival is Aparna Nancherla, a sharp joke writer who released her debut album, “Just Putting It Out There,” last year. She performs Saturday. On Sunday night, hear comedians Caitlin Durante and Jamie Loftus discuss how movies treat their female characters on a taping of “The Bechdel Cast” podcast.

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    All shows take place at venues in Cambridge’s Central Square, near ImprovBoston’s Prospect Street theater. For more details, go to www.bostoncomedyartsfestival.com.

    NICK A. ZAINO III

    Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at nick@nickzaino.com.