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The scene at Improv Asylum's Raunch on a recent (very) early Sunday morning. Photo by Izzy Mitchell.
The scene at Improv Asylum's Raunch on a recent (very) early Sunday morning. Photo by Izzy Mitchell.

The elevator operator, his Parisian wife, and the 12-inch appendage

Tucked away in a basement on the edge of Boston’s North End, the Improv Asylum has been Boston’s biggest joke since 1998. The laughter radiating from the club can be heard from the street above. Curious night strollers descend the steps and see what the fuss is all about—only to realize they just missed the punchline. 

The club features a variety of improv and sketch comedy, and is best known for its mainstage cast. Every Saturday night at 11:59 p.m. the actors let loose with the Raunch show. It’s a chance to cleanse their minds of the dirty jokes accumulated over the past week—everything deemed too risque for a regular audience.

Raunch is a fast-paced, unrestrained exercise in the art of “yes, and?” Walk into the 60-minute show expecting lowbrow comedy and a good time. While you may want to leave Grandma at home, Raunch will seduce you with the chance to unwind and lose yourself in the crowd’s intoxicating, highly intoxicated energy. 

But fair warning, it’s not for the weak. The company’s website description says it all: “Could cause heart attacks in the elderly, or permanently scar the young and impressionable.”

The show came recommended to me by my mother, who fondly recalled drunken nights from her 20s spent giggling down Hanover Street with friends, still new to the city. 

New to the city myself, I figured what better time for a trip down memory lane. Last weekend, I corralled a few friends onto the Orange Line, headed for Boston’s version of Little Italy.

One of the best parts of the show was the opening act. My group stopped for a mandatory cannoli at Bova’s Bakery, where the doorman—an ex-stand-up wearing an NYPD jacket and a trapper hat—made verbal jabs at the customers as he let them through. 

“Hey, Miss Burgundy!” he called to one woman who was dressed head to toe in deep red tones—then she blushed the same color as her shirt. 

We followed Miss Burgundy into the show, as most of us in the crowd seemed to be heading in the same direction. We took our seats in the intimate black box theater—the noise of excited drunken chatter fighting with nostalgic 90s pop-rock hits. 

There was a buzz in the air—literally. Most people in the theater, including the actors, had either been drinking or had a drink in their hand. Actor James Melloni interrupted one scene to cross the stage for his beer he left on the other side.

While it followed a loose structure, you could go every week and never see the same show twice. 

You could even go three times in one day. Before the show even started, a woman sitting near the back stood up and shared that she had been there for all three shows that day, stumbling back into her seat and raising her cup in salute. The entertainment from the audience members alone was well worth the price of admission. 

The actors took suggestions and interacted with the crowd to guide the direction of the skit. Miss Burgundy even chimed in—resulting in the next five minutes focused on a man getting measured to receive a world record title, thanks to his 12-inch appendage. 

The show certainly lived up to its name. Raunchy is the best way to sum up the entire 60-minute experience. 

Highlights from the night included a recurring elevator motif with a non-verbal—but incredibly horny operator, his sultry Parisian wife, and one too many incest jokes.

But the real star of the show was the pianist—Nathaniel Cowper—who held the show together with two hands and a keyboard. His musical cues provided a dramatic soundtrack to the actors’ on-stage antics. 

When the lights came up, even Miss Burgundy seemed to have a good time. The crowd filed up the stairs and poured onto the street into the wintry Boston night—kept warm with booze and fuzzy feelings, a huge grin frozen on each person’s face.

This article was produced for HorizonMass, the independent, student-driven, news outlet of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and is syndicated by BINJ’s MassWire news service.

Izzy Mitchell is a Boston based journalist, studying at Emerson College. She works as an on-air host for WERS 88.9, and reports for HorizonMass. She views journalism as a way to connect communities through arts and culture, and delivers engaging pieces in audio, video, and written form.

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