Saturday, July 20, 2019
Improv Shows to Showcase Sun Valley Insider Jokes
Thursday, October 11, 2018


Austin Von Johnson embraces what many people think is one of the scariest things they can do. Then he takes it one step further.

The actor, comedian and filmmaker takes public speaking and then turns it into improv. He takes  inspiration from his audience. And, if he can add comedic effects, so much the better.

Von Johnson and three fellow improvisational veterans will try to tickle the funny bone of Sun Valley residents when they bring Marten & Friends to The Spot for two shows on Friday in Ketchum.

Van Johnson and the Chuckle Company created by Bree Jones will present a night of “informationness and seriousity” based around the audience’s favorite Marten Stuffer news articles at 8 and 10:15 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12. Tickets for each show are $20, available at

Van Johnson, Karen Manthey, Jared Stull, and Bree Jones will take their cue from Sun Valley satirist Ron Challis’s “The Marten Stuffer,” which spoofs news in the Wood River Valley.

Recent articles in the online Marten Stuffer, for instance, dicuss how TSA agents are “pretty sure” the next Jihad will start at Friedman Memorial Airport. Another article reports how, now that the tourists have gone back to California, Blaine County Sheriff deputies will resume enforcing traffic laws.

Still another reports how there’s been a spike in the number of sexually transmitted diseases not seen since the Earth, Wind & Fire tour bus was stranded in Sun Valley during a 1986 snowstorm. And, of course, there’s everybody’s favorite story: How the Auberge Hotel is set to open in the spring of 2078.

“Everything is made up on spot. We will ask the audience to pick a few stories from the Marten Stuffer, which resembles the ‘Weekly World News’ tabloid with its stories like ‘Bat Child Found on Mars,’ ”said Von Johnson, who has performed at the Sun Valley Film Festival, Idaho Laugh Fest and other festivals  around the Pacific Northwest.

The wilder the suggestions from the audience, the better.

“One of things I love is that anytime you put on an improv show, you’re literally creating inside jokes with the audience–and inside jokes are always the funniest,” he said. “The audience ends up belly aching, but if you tried to explain it to friend they’re not going to get it. So you have to be there.”

Von Johnson grew up in Austin, Texas, where he got his start doing Ace Ventura impressions for his family at age 7. He studied theater in college and has made several short YouTube films, including “Make It Count,” which features two brothers learning about life as they venture through Idaho to spread their fathers ashes.

Another, “Reverie” shows a man devastated by the mysterious death of his wife trying to piece together the mystery using clues delivered to him in dream.

He began doing improvisational games and exercises as a warm-up for stand-up comedy and other gigs. He took private improv classes from experienced improvisational experts. And, upon moving to Boise seven years ago, he founded The Idaho Improv Collective, a private improv networking group.

“I found improv was a powerful way to develop myself personally and professionally,” he said. “One of the principles of improv is to make one another look good. It’s not about you. If everyone looks good, you have an incredible show.”

Improv is not as difficult as it might seem, Von Johnson said.

“You’re just exercising the capacity to react in any situation. One of the most fundamental principles of improv is the idea that you start with ‘Yes, and…’ In other words, you say, ‘Yes and,’ and I build on top of that. And magical things happen.

“In one sense, it can be scary and take you out of your comfort zone,” he added. “But all you have to do is deny the fear, don’t let it control you and step into the possibilities.”





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