A Funny Phoenix 

From the ashes, Richmond ComedySportz re-emerges with laughs.

There's a famous line in "The Godfather: Part III," in which Michael Corleone, lamenting his inability to leave organized crime, erupts in frustration and says, "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." Christine Walters, whose Richmond ComedySportz celebrates a grand reopening May 7, could say the same thing about improvisational comedy.

Walters founded ComedySportz in 1996, and for years the company offered freewheeling nights of mayhem, during which two competing teams of improv players turned audience suggestions into comedy gold. In 2001 the company opened its own theater and restaurant in Dumbarton Square Shopping Center, but Walters was forced to close its doors in 2009 in response to the economic downturn.

"I tried to step away from improv," Walters says. She took a 9-to-5 job but her comedic roots dogged her. "I would stand up to do a presentation and people would start laughing," she recalls. "I'd say, 'I haven't said anything funny,' and people would say, 'But we know you are going to.' Eventually I thought, 'Who am I kidding?'"

She was also getting pressure from others. James Manley, who tried to get a ComedySportz troupe running in Richmond in the early 1990s, called her up and urged her to try again.

Finally Walters relented, but she knew she would need help. The revitalized ComedySportz is no longer just Walters' baby; she shares the load with three other managing partners, including Manley, Dave Gau and Susan Scovill. Gau, who acts as the company's artistic director, says the new structure gives the company more confidence. "We do so many things — the improv shows but also kids' camps and corporate events," he says. "All of us being involved keeps any one person from feeling overwhelmed."

The company secured a new location in the Gold's Gym Plaza near West Tower Cinemas and proceeded to build a custom stage, complete with a penalty box and what Gau describes as "an amazing new sound system." Shows at the new location will offer the same kind of all-ages but edgy fun for which ComedySportz is known, he says. "You'll never be embarrassed to bring your children, or your date."

One key difference from the old location is that there's no restaurant. "We will sell concessions but we left out the kitchen," Walters says. "We really wanted to focus on what we're good at, which is presenting high-quality shows."

Walters' officially serves as ComedySportz's sales and marketing director, and the company couldn't have a more enthusiastic ambassador. Improv isn't just a form of entertainment for Walters: The improviser's rule of engaging others with a response of "yes, and ..." is her guiding philosophy. She regularly recites quotes from other leaders in the improv movement, such as "Life should be fun, even the serious parts."

"We want to educate Richmonders about improv, of course," Walters says. "But more than that, we want to encourage them to laugh." S

ComedySportz is at 8906-H W. Broad St. Go to cszrva.com for information on the May 7 re-opening and call 266-9377 for tickets.

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