Insensitivity training ‘having lots of fun’ every Sunday night

It starts with the ringing of a bell, and immediately the ambient chatter stops and the attention of all those seated at the tables turn to the front of the basement pub.

There — looking eager and ready with smiles on their faces — stand the quick-witted men of Insensitivity Training, an improvisational comedy troupe that have become the regular Sunday night entertainment at the Bytown Tavern.

“Ok, we’re going to start with a game called World’s Worst, so on the count of three I need you to yell out some jobs,” instructs Phil Genest, troupe member and host for the evening.


The crowd erupts. “Stripper!” yells one woman. “Dog catcher!” shouts someone else. “Gynecologist!” says another.

And with that, the troupe is off and running, each stepping forward to comically convey the worst qualites of the professions mentioned.

“We usually start with World’s Worst because it breaks the ice and gets people warmed up and ready to participate,” explains Genest.

But it doesn’t take much to get this crowd going. The energy and laughter in the pub is infectious, even on a snowy night when less than the usual crowd of 40-plus arrives for the show.

“I think people like it because it’s a release,” explains troupe member Scott Goldman. “It’s two hours to just laugh and have unadulterated fun.”

Genest and Goldman, along with fellow members Mike Kosowan, Greg Rankie, Michel Sauvé, Matthew Sloan and frequent “guest star” Jim Davies, have been putting on this weekly laughfest for nearly a year.

Similar to the television show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, but a whole lot racier and edgier, the show gives troupe members a chance to be spontaneous and zany, working with the crowd and working off of each other. They not only have to think fast, they have to think funny.

But Genest says all the members have an affinity for improvisation, and though most of them studied, or are currently studying, theatre in school, they see this as a different kind of acting.

“Most people think of stand-up comics, or you say comedy and they think scripted acting. We are comics in a sense, but there’s a theatricality in it, and somewhere in that weird middle ground is improvisation,” says Genest.

And after nearly a year doing it, they certainly know how to work as a team.

“We are a supporting cast who shares the spotlight,” says Rankie.

“We know each other’s strengths, and I think we’ve gotten better since we started,” adds Goldman. “And we’re definitely still having lots of fun.”

  • Insensitivity Training improv happens every Sunday at the Bytown Tavern, 292 Elgin Street. Cover is $2 at the door.

After covering hard news for a few years, Kim discovered her real passion – writing about the wonderful world of music, theatre, visual arts and literature.

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