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creation story: Christine Walters, improvisational comedian

With stand-up you had to learn your dialogue and monologue, and know where to pause for laughs. With improv, I loved those moments you weren't ready for onstage, the things that just happened.

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What is Comedy Sportz? A fast-paced improvisational comedy show in which two teams compete for laughs and points as they make up scenes, games and songs on the spot. It's similar to the TV show "Who's Line is it Anyway?" There are Comedy Sportz teams across the country, all of which belong to the Comedy Sportz league. Walters owns the team in Richmond.

Her first joke: Walters remembers the teasing she suffered as a child because she had a space between her front teeth. Rather than let it get her down, she used it to her comedic advantage and learned how to whistle through the space while talking. "I was going to go to school and they weren't going to tease me," she says. Instead, she made them laugh.

How she became interested in comedy: "When you're labeled the class clown, you know you're on you way," Walters says of her early interest in making people laugh. She first tried stand-up comedy after graduating from college, but it wasn't until she saw an improv show that she really got serious about being funny.

"What I liked was the pure spontaneity of the medium," she says. "I liked just having to get in there, getting a topic and having to run with it. … With stand-up you had to learn your dialogue and monologue, and know where to pause for laughs. With improv, I loved those moments you weren't ready for onstage, the things that just happened."

What it takes to do improvisational comedy: Though it may seem like a free-for-all onstage during a Comedy Sportz show, there is actually a craft to improv.

"Improv is built on the philosophy of 'Yes, and…,'" Walters explains. "You have to say 'yes, and' to heighten the scale. The more specific you can be the better. And you have to avoid questions because they don't help the scene move forward. … Those are the two most basic rules."

It also helps to know a little bit about everything, "from Shakespeare to Seuss, from film noir to action and horror," so that you can respond to any situation that is thrown your way.

Why she brought Comedy Sportz to Richmond: Walters was performing with a Comedy Sportz troupe in Arlington when she told the team's owner he should start a team in Richmond. "He told me that should be my goal," she says, and Walters set out to form her own team.

Within a year she had moved here, placed an ad in the newspaper announcing auditions, spent three months training people in the art of short-form improv and begun performing at the Movie Café, which promptly closed five weeks later.

Walters persisted, and until summer 2001 when she opened Comedy Alley, she and her Comedy Sportz players were gypsies, performing in a variety of different venues.

How she teaches people to be funny: In addition to training her Comedy Sportz team members, Walters offers improv classes for kids and for corporations. "When I teach improv, I teach people that I don't want them to force the funny," she says. "Life is funny — it happens naturally. Responding to a situation quickly will bring out funny situations. If you can teach people to quickly respond and go with that moment, it will naturally be funny. …What's funny for me is being able to connect, be real and be true to the moment."

Most difficult thing about being funny for a living: "Being in the moment with the other person and tuning out that you're being watched," she says. "Getting into the moment under that much pressure is difficult."

Why she wants to make people laugh: "It's my defense mechanism and it brings me pleasure… ," she says. "I just love doing it. I have to force myself to be serious sometimes because I rely on [humor] so much." — Jessica Ronky

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