SNOHOMISH — Jon Sanders had grown more comfortable with machines than people.
The hack for the 29-year-old Monroe cybersleuth was to join the improv group Crackpot Comedy Cavalcade.
“I’ve been working behind a computer for so many years, I felt like I was losing my social skills, forgetting how to interact with people,” he said.
“Improv is a great invitation to stop being introverted.”
For 2½ hours Wednesday nights, he and a dozen or so others step out of their comfort zone to take center stage in a class at Tim Noah Thumbnail Theater.
They swallow shyness and fear. They project wit and confidence.
Improv is no-holds-barred spontaneous performance. A random word sets a scene. Dialogue is unscripted, one sentence a springboard for the next. There’s no time to fret or think.
For participants, instead of imagining the audience naked, it’s like being naked. It sounds scary, but it works.
The group also puts on a monthly show. There’s one this Saturday night. It’s not “Saturday Night Live,” but it’s lively.
“It’s normal people exploring their funny side,” group founder Jesse Stoddard said. “All ages. Every decade represented. Males and females. All shapes and sizes. We have really small people and really big people. It’s very eclectic.”
It’s also amateur.
“Ninety-five percent have zero stage experience. They come right off the streets,” he said. “You’d think people who do this are extroverts who need to have an outlet, people who really think they are funny and want to be on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ I’d say half the group are extreme introverts.”
“I’m a burned-out, washed-up actor,” said Stoddard, 40. “I was an actor in my 20s, performed at 5th Avenue Theatre, and was in several short films. I was in ‘The Ring,’ that horror film, for about a half of a second.”
Then parenthood entered the picture.
“I came to Snohomish, settled down and had a family and started doing different things. Over the last couple of years I felt like, ‘Why am I not back in the theater?’ So I decided to jump in this weird new way.”
He started Crackpot Comedy Cavalcade as a hobby in the fall of 2016. The first six months were seriously not funny.
“I’d get two or three people then get up to five then go down to one or two,” Stoddard said. “I was going to quit. Then all of a sudden people started showing up. They stuck and now we’ve got a core group of about 18.”
Weekly classes begin with a half hour of warm-up exercises of word associations and simple skits. The next two hours are on stage doing sketches.
“Improv is basically taught with games. It’s like charades but more ridiculous,” Stoddard said.
As Sanders put it: “It’s like a family game night but without all the rules and pieces and boards. You skip all the complicated stuff and get to the part where everybody’s laughing and having fun.”
Members take turns sharing the stage at the cozy theater, where church pews provide audience seating.
“I’m a computer nerd and it tends to help me with social skills,” said Scott Willis, of Monroe. “I’m less of a wallflower.”
You wouldn’t know it in a skit about ballet shoes, to which he added a robotic twist.
“I sometimes refer to it as a supervised adult play group,” he said.
Barbara “Blue” DeMaesschalck, 63, recently retired after a career as a waitress, bartender, thrift store worker and pet sitter. The Everett woman joined the group a year ago.
“It’s safe therapy,” she said. “I’m in recovery, from crack cocaine. I stepped off the planet in my 40s and resurfaced when I turned 50. I am always looking to get out of my head because it’s not a good place for an addict to be.”
On this stage, she’s a star. “I try stand-up comedy when I get real brave,” she said.
Snohomish resident David Flynn, 50, started improv to help with his job as a project manager for military contracts. “I do a lot of meetings and teaching and seminars,” he said. “I’m pretty outgoing, but I’m also shy.”
Paul Ferrari, a retired Edmonds software developer, said improv is exciting for an introverted guy like him.
The troupe branched out beyond the small theater to perform for another group Ferrari is a member of: Mensa, an organization for people with high IQs.
“They were appreciative,” Ferrari said. “At Mensa we’re a bunch of pussycats as far as an audience goes. I knew they wouldn’t be throwing things.”
Another event was an improv competition at Edmonds Community College.
“We came in third out of three teams, or maybe it was fourth out of four teams,” Stoddard said. “But to me it was a major victory because these are people with no experience. We were able to hang in there, get laughs and nobody booed at us.”
Keeping it humble is key.
“We are a motley crew,” Stoddard said. “We are amateurs and we know we are. We are not trying to pretend we are big shots.”
Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown @herald net.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown.