If it hadn’t been for John Huls’ comedy classes, Charissa Anderson might never have found her pressure valve.
Anderson is a claims specialist at the St. Petersburg Social Security office. “It’s a very stressful job,” she says. “It’s not something that I set out to do. But I’ve done it for 15 years.”
She’s a member of Dirty John’s, the sketch comedy ensemble Huls put together a few years ago, and will be onstage for “Dirty John’s Hot AF,” tonight and Saturday night at thestudio@620.
“This added more to my life,” Anderson said of the costume-wearing, standards-skewering troupe.
“I feel like it made my work life a little bit better. Not a lot, but a little.”
Huls, an artist, actor and educator, is a former American Stage education director. It was there he started teaching improv. That’s what attracted Charissa Anderson.
Although she’d done a bit of community theater acting, “I really didn’t know anything about improv,” she says, “so I took the class, and I loved it. I loved making people laugh. And this is going to sound so weird, but I felt very powerful onstage. I was doing something I love, and I was making people laugh. I just so enjoyed it.”
She continued taking classes when Huls moved his operation to the Morean Center for the Arts. “The great thing about improv is that some things work, and some things don’t,” Anderson explains. “And that’s OK. It’s OK to fail if some things don’t work.
“I was so hard on myself before – ‘that didn’t work, I’m not funny, forget it, I can’t do this’ – but I learned, through taking John’s classes, that it’s OK, if something doesn’ t work you try something else.”
In life, so as in art: “It helped my work life: It’s OK if I mess up sometimes. Just keep going.”
Huls eventually added a class in sketch comedy – rather than being ad-libbed on the spot, via a suggestion from the audience, the material is scripted beforehand and acted out onstage; think Saturday Night Live.
This, according to Huls, grew out of another class, standup comedy. In that group, “I told them ‘Instead of trying to teach you, you’re going to learn more if you just get up on that stage,’” he says. “So that’s what I did, and it worked really well. The best place to learn is in front of a live audience.”
Anderson fell in love with the sketch group after sitting in the audience for the very first performance. She’s been part of the ensemble ever since (this weekend’s show is the sixth Dirty John’s spectacular; the last one, done in June, was called “Say Gay Cabaret”).
“I was like ‘Oh my God, this is what I want to do. I want to try this sketch comedy.’”
“St. Pete,” says Huls, “is just full of creative people, and it’s been just amazing to see how we’ve been greeted with so many wonderful audiences. We don’t really advertise, and we’ve sold out every time. I’m amazed and humbled by that fact.”
All proceeds from Dirty John’s productions go directly to thestudio@620. Studio founder Bob Devin Jones, in fact, has been known to make cameo appearances during a performance by Huls and company.
“What I love about Dirty John’s is that we invite anybody and everybody,” Huls exclaims. “And it turns into a big dance party. It’s always fun. I am super excited to see where we go from here. Who knows?”
Tickets for Friday and Saturday shows are here. Parental advisory: Adult themes.