By Rachel Simons
Photo courtesy of Kiss Punch Poem.
What do you get when you fuse the fields of poetry and improvisational acting? Lots of laughter, then occasional tears.
Hosted at New York City’s Magnet Theater every Saturday at 9 pm, Kiss Punch Poem is a show truly exclusive to the local comedy scene. Mixing improv and poetry, the performers base scenes off of an on-the-spot poem created by audience members (called an Exquisite Corpse), as well as published poems that are read by their creators throughout the show.
At the end of the night, Kiss Punch Poem Coordinator and poet, Jared Singer, makes up an improvised poem based off all of the others read and scenes that were acted out. Singer and Kiss Punch Co-Creators, Meghann Plunkett and Alex Marino, foster an amalgamation of comedy, words, and even tragedy to captivate New York audiences.
When Kiss Punch Poem first started, it was only supposed to be a one-time show. Plunkett loved the New York poetry scene, but felt isolated and lonely spending so much time writing by herself. Deciding to take an improv class, she then met Marino, an actor in the field. Realizing that improv and poetry didn’t necessarily have to stay in two different realms, they felt compelled to combine forces.
“We decided that we wanted all of our friends to get together and do a show,” says Plunkett. “We were just going to do it once because it seemed like a lot of work, and then we got everyone together and it was so much fun and everyone responded really well so we just kept doing it.”
Also participating in that first Kiss Punch show was Singer, another local poet and performer. Now, Singer is the person responsible for finding poets to read their work onstage. Despite having performed in multiple national poetry competitions as the New York representative, Singer says that the act of improvising a poem in front of an audience is still daunting for him.
“It is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever been asked to do and is still the only type of performance that still makes me nervous,” he admits. “Trying to improvise a thing on the spot that is supposed to be poetic and meaningful is incredibly difficult and stressful, but also super neat.”
Singer continues that the improv poetry practice motivates him to explore new topics he would otherwise not write about by choice.
Because of the emotional and personal nature of poetry, many people would think that it’s rather bizarre to instantaneously create a poem–much less use those words for comedic improv scenes. Audiences aren’t used to dealing with serious topics like death, divorce, or personal loss at a comedy show.
Marino, however, believes that there is nothing wrong with exploring darker themes in improv acts. If anything, he thinks that the diverse range of scenes is what makes Kiss Punch Poem so special.
“I have gotten to learn that the suggestion matters, [and] that what we are doing up here can be more than just comedy,” says Marino. “There have been scenes where we have gotten legit tears, both from the people in the audience and the people onstage.”
He considers such an intense emotional response to be just as–if not more–rewarding than the funniest improv scenes he’s experienced.
To be fair, Kiss Punch is more than just “sad-prov,” as Marino calls it. While the improvisers are able to get emotional and somber at times, they can still use their comedic skills to turn even the most depressing poetry into spontaneous moments of joy and laughter.
“Some of my favorite moments in the show are when there is a notorious grim, serious, and angry poet who does a heart wrenching, dark piece and then there is an explosion of hilarity that comes from it,” Plunkett explains.
Both poetry and improv purists alike may not understand Kiss Punch Poem, but they can’t deny that the show offers a distinctive style and individuality to a city saturated with comedy acts.
“Nobody else is trying to combine poetry and improv,” Singer reasons. “To have those two things work together is fucking magnificent and weird as hell.”