by Ross Scarano
Everyone knows that cravings are best satisfied in twos: beer & pretzels; coffee & cigarettes; sex & cigarettes; waffles & improv. Yes, for the eighth year running, Austinites can satisfy that highly specific need for all-you-can-eat waffles and all-you-can-laugh improv at the Hideout Theater.
I spoke with Kareem Badr and Roy Janik, members of the improv troupe Parallelogramophonograph and co-owners of the Hideout, in preparation for this weekend’s decadence. The conversation was entirely improvised.
We begin with bacon, the inspiration for Waffle Fest. See, many years ago, the former owner of the Hideout heard of an improv festival in Atlanta fixated on everyone’s favorite strip of pork belly. Keeping the breakfast theme alive, Waffle Fest was born.
Kareem offered that Ice Cream Fest would have been a comparable alternative, but admitted that logistically it would have been too complicated. Waffles, of course, cannot melt.
Waffles, so many waffles. Kareem disclosed the statistics to me, laughing at the memory of the clerk’s reaction to his heavily laden cart. One 5 lb jar of strawberry jam; 8 cans of whipped cream; 2 lbs of chocolate chips; 1 lb of m&ms; 50 lbs of waffle mix. He acknowledged they would have to buy even more before the festival’s conclusion.
Still, waffles are only one half of the festival’s double-fisted approach to audience satisfaction. The other half is made up of 26 improv troupes from theaters all over Austin, almost double the amount featured at last year’s Waffle Fest. As an improv virgin, I asked if the topic could be illuminated a bit. Before Kareem could begin, Roy chimed in succinctly, saying that improv is “scriptless theater” and from there “it can be anything.”
Kareem offered some examples of what festival goers can expect this weekend. One troupe, Girls Girls Girls, works exclusively with musicals, while Charles Dickens Unleashed offers a fully improvised play in the style of canonical Victorian author. Parallelogramophonograph, Kareem and Roy’s troupe, works within a variety of genres.
Austin has an unusually close-knit improv community, Kareem and Roy explained. “Everyone is willing to come play with everyone else,” Roy said.
There will also be a waffle-eating contest Saturday featuring live commentary from three improvisers. The winner will be awarded a $50 gift certificate to Lucky J’s, a restaurant known for their chicken and waffles.
“I don’t know if it’s a sugar high or what,” Kareem said, “but audiences at Waffle Fest are always the best.” And here, I think, Kareem undersells himself. Waffle Fest is a success because the improv is the best Austin has to offer. Find out for yourself. Come hungry.