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The traditional format of a ComedySportz match features two teams of improvisational performers (players), competing in various improv games and performing scenes with audience members judging the results and awarding points. In every match, a CSz referee monitors the action, awarding points, and administering fouls as necessary. The flavor is somewhat like the television show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, though the ComedySportz organization precedes that show's debut by 4 years. The CSz format is a higher-energy, more varied, and more sports-oriented version of the Theatresports format, which preceded ComedySportz by 7 years.
ComedySportz penalties (put in place for the audience's benefit) include:
- Brown Bag Foul: called when a player uses explicit language or refers to something crass or off-color. The Brown Bag Foul is infamously punished by making the offender wear a brown paper bag over their head for the remainder of the scene, even if the offender is an audience member. (In some ComedySportz venues, this has been replaced with the "Potty Mouth" foul, and the brown paper bag has been replaced with a toilet seat.) This foul is the "bagged" mentioned in the ComedySportz theme song.
- Groaner Foul: whereby any player who speaks a pun bad enough to make the audience groan causing their team to lose one point (or awarding the other team with a point), unless their apology to the audience is heartfelt enough and accepted.
- Example: Two peanuts walked into a bar. One was a salted.
- Any spontaneously generated foul the referee feels is needed to move the match forward.
Although the image of competition is maintained, the teams are often dynamic, with rosters depending on which player (many of whom have other occupations) are available for a match at any given time, and match outcomes are not pre-determined as audience voting/selected judges decide the winner.
CSz Worldwide and ComedySportz are licensed by the World Comedy League Incorporated. There are over 23 cities with licensed ComedySportz organizations, most in the United States. In recent years, ComedySportz has been licensed in Manchester, England (although this team originated in Chorley, Lancashire) and Berlin, Germany.
Most ComedySportz cities operate their own "arenas," some with theatre type settings, others as nightclubs. Few (including ComedySportz Milwaukee) have their very own bar and restaurant. The clean content and audience focused nature of the ComedySportz match allows CSz groups to perform thousands of road shows for corporate, college, church, school, and association clients each year; most CSz groups also lead corporate team-building workshops. In addition, players from some cities coach ComedySportz high school and middle school leagues, in which students perform in shows similar to those seen at the "professional" level.
Teams meet annually at the ComedySportz World Championship for a competitive tournament, training, and exchange of artistic, marketing, and organizational ideas. The location of the tournament rotates among the member cities. The first World Championship, August 4–7, 2004, also served as the Grand Opening for Milwaukee's all-new ComedySportz Arena at 420 South 1st Street in Milwaukee. In 2009, the World Championship returned to Milwaukee for the 25th anniversary celebration, and returned again in 2014 to celebrate both its 30th anniversary and rebranding of the logo.
Prior to 2004, this mostly annual event was billed as the "ComedySportz National Tournament."
Year Host City World Champion 2015 Quad Cities IA & IL TBD 2014 Milwaukee, WI Milwaukee 2013 Buffalo, NY Buffalo 2012 Chicago, IL Chicago 2011 Indianapolis, IN Indianapolis 2010 Philadelphia, PA Philadelphia 2009 Milwaukee, WI Milwaukee 2008 Portland, OR Portland 2007 Quad Cities, IA & IL Quad Cities 2006 San Jose, CA San Jose 2005 Los Angeles, CA Los Angeles 2004 Milwaukee, WI Minneapolis
Notable players and alumni
- Steve Agee
- James Thomas Bailey (The Drew Carey Show)
- Joe Bereta (YouTube personality, Barats and Bereta, Sourcefed )
- Wayne Brady (Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Let's Make A Deal)
- Liz Cackowski (writer, Saturday Night Live)
- Frank Caeti (MADtv)
- Kay Cannon (producer/writer, 30 Rock, New Girl, Pitch Perfect)
- Bill Chott (actor, Wizards of Waverly Place, Galaxy Quest, The Dana Carvey Show)
- Jeff Davis (Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Harmontown)
- Steph DeWaegeneer, (Miss Plus America Ambassador, Ms. Plus America 2009)
- Jack DeSena (actor, All That, Avatar: The Last Airbender)
- Dan Harmon (Community, Rick and Morty, Harmontown)
- Derek Mears (actor, Friday the 13th)
- Eric Christian Olsen (Community, NCIS: Los Angeles)
- Eric Price (MADtv)
- Lauren Pritchard (MADtv)
- Rob Schrab (Scud: The Disposable Assassin, The Sarah Silverman Program)
- Jason Sudeikis (cast, Saturday Night Live, Horrible Bosses)
- Nick Swardson (stand up comedian, writer & producer, Reno 911!: Miami, Grown Ups 2)
- Chris Tallman (Thank God You're Here, The Thundermans)
- Victor Varnado (actor, comic book writer, End of Days)
- Jessica Williams (correspondent, The Daily Show  )
- Austin, Texas
- Boston, Massachusetts
- Berlin, Germany
- Buffalo, New York
- Boise, Idaho
- Chicago, Illinois
- Detroit, Michigan
- Houston, Texas
- Indianapolis, Indiana
- Los Angeles, California
- Manchester, England
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- Minneapolis, Minnesota
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- New York, New York
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Portland, Oregon
- Provo, Utah
- Quad Cities (Davenport, Iowa; Rock Island, Illinois; Moline, Illinois; Bettendorf, Iowa)
- Richmond, Virginia
- Sacramento, California
- San Antonio, Texas
- San Jose, California
- Seattle, Washington
- Washington, D.C.
- Improvisational theatre
- Whose Line Is It Anyway?
- The Second City
- Saturday Night Live
- List of improvisational theatre companies
Fein, G. "Sporting Shots", Pasadena Weekly, September 15, 1989
Winn, S. "These Games Are Strictly For Laughs", Sports Illustrated, November 26, 1990.
Loesing, J. "Out on the Town", The Acorn, March 25, 1999.
Patterson, D. "With honors in humor", Los Angeles Times, June 3, 2004.
Berkowitz, L. "Improv is their game", Houston Chronicle, January 25, 2005.
Parmet, S. "Class Clowning", The San Diego Union-Tribune, February 6, 2005.
Radcliffe, J. "Laugh and Learn", Los Angeles Daily News, February 17, 2005.