By Johnny Griffith
These guys are kidding around, seriously. The word is getting out about the fact that Tyler has a growing comedy scene. One of the hot spots in that community is Card 53 Comedy, an improv ensemble who specialize in random acts of hilarity on and off stage.
From stand-alone events, to corporate gatherings and educational events, the players in Card 53 are versatile, talented, and just plain ole’ funny. Co-founder Jamey Whitley was gracious enough to sit down with me and give us some more insight into this stacked deck of funny.
Johnny: In your own words, what is Card 53?
Jamey: The name Card 53 basically represents the 53rd card in a deck of cards…. yes, the instructions. No, I’m kidding. It is the Joker.
Johnny: When did you first sense you had a talent for making people laugh?
Jamey: I think I’ve always enjoyed making people laugh. Whether it was a kid trying to hide my insecurities or in the moments when I could make people laugh to kill a depressed feeling I had. Comedy is rough. “There is no gap between comedy and tragedy” – William Shakespeare
Johnny: Were you known as “the funny guy” in school?
Jamey: I don’t think so. My dad was a band director, and I knew I would be in trouble at home if I was the class clown.
Johnny: How did the idea of Card 53 begin to take shape?
Jamey: Aaron Smith and I met one day in an acting class at The University of Texas at Tyler (UTT). UTT had just disbanded their Theatre program but still offered a Theatre Minor. We both decided to start a theatre student organization called ‘Patriot Act.’
We didn’t have a budget so Aaron mentioned we should try improv. We checked out a Dallas Improv Show and then signed up for classes and started putting on our own shows. We decided to just create our own opportunity.
Johnny: Can you explain, for those of us who may not know, the main difference between more traditional stand-up routines you’ll see on cable or on a streaming service and the Improv that Card 53 is doing?
Jamey: Card 53 isn’t stand up at all. Stand up comedy is written and rehearsed. Improv Comedy is totally different. It’s more like watching theatrical scenes without a script. In Improv everything is completely made up on the spot based off audience suggestions.
If you’ve seen “Whose Line Is It Anyway” on TV this is the most known example of Improv Comedy.
Johnny: Who makes up the current cast of Card 53?
Jamey: Myself and Aaron “Smitty” Smith are the co-founders. We also have RJ Norman who was on “American Idol” and made it to the Hollywood round. Then there is Brad Johnson, who has the hottest Dad bod in Tyler (he’s also available, by the way).
Erfan Vafaie joined and made us more culturally diverse, while also a lot more intelligent. Erfan is an Iranian Canadian who works as an Entomologist for Texas A&M during the day.
Austin Day slings pizza’s out of the oven at Roast Social Kitchen by day and tickles the keys of his piano as our musical director. We also have Charles Praytor, a Music Professor at Tyler Junior College, who sits in from time to time.
Johnny: How do you go about adding more members? Open auditions or just a general knowledge of who’s in the craft and has the right set of skills for the troupe?
Jamey: Currently, we’re not looking to add anyone new but hopefully, we can book more consistent shows in the future and have a problem on our hands where we need to add new talent. For anyone wanting to join, it’s good to have some previous improv training from Four Day Weekend, Stomping Ground Comedy, Dallas Comedy House (all three in Dallas) or one of the nationally world-renowned programs such as Second City, iO, or Upright Citizens Brigade.
Johnny: About how many dates does Card 53 perform a year?
Jamey: It varies. We get hired to perform for a lot of private shows in addition to performing at Liberty Hall in Tyler. Last year, we performed for Robert E. Lee High School’s Faculty Christmas Party, the Whitehouse Chamber of Commerce banquet, UT Tyler’s New Faculty Orientation, and even the Wills Point Middle School Faculty Christmas Party.
Johnny: Does Card 53 try to perform as a complete group or do you sometimes go out in different variations?
Jamey: We’re a total package. We’re not like members of the Avengers, although we have our own individual talents, we work best when we work together. Plus, we’re all best friends so it’s more fun when we’re doing this together.
Johnny: What’s on the horizon for 2018 with the cast?
Jamey: Smitty is a new dad, so that’s pretty amazing. We love adding to our Card 53 family. We’re all about adding to our show to create the best overall experience possible for our audience, so look for even more production quality in our shows.
Johnny: What experience are you hoping people coming to a Card 53 show will walk away with if they’re a first timer?
Jamey: We realize it’s expensive to have a night out on the town and we want everyone to feel like they’re in a bigger city when they come to our shows.
It’s not just for Tyler, it’s for all of East Texas.
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