Building on the success of last year’s inaugural event, the Portland Improv Festival returns this weekend with an expanded lineup of ridiculous antics.

“We had such a good time last year,” said organizer Rachel Flehinger, who performs with the improv troupe Running with Scissors. “People in Maine are really coming out for improv.”

Last year’s improv comedy festival spanned three nights. This year, it has expanded to four nights to accommodate all the groups, from Maine and New England, who want to perform.

“Every night last year was a full house, standing-room only, except for Friday night when we were competing with the First Friday Art Walk,” Flehinger said.

By scheduling the festival for the second week in the month, the organizers won’t face the same creative competition.

Also new this year is a series of improv classes for those who want to try their hand at this special brand of comedy. Most of the classes have already occurred, but the last class takes place this Friday and will be taught by Will Leura, artistic director of ImprovBoston. He’ll share the tools that have enabled that popular troupe to keep audiences laughing in Beantown for 28 years.

This year’s lineup includes a Laughletics throwdown between Maine’s Running with Scissors and Rhode Island’s Bam!Cakes. The two teams face off to see who can win the most laughs and applause. To prevent any low blows and to keep everything on track, a referee will call fouls and watch the clock.

The festival itself will feature three performances every night, each of which will last 40 minutes or less.

“This year, I made sure there was a mix between long-form, short-form and musical improv,” said Flehinger in reference to the different styles of improvisational comedy.

Unlike stand-up comedy, where the performer has a prepared set of jokes and skits, improv is made up on the fly with a little help from the audience.

“Some groups just need one word and they can do a whole 45-minute show,” Flehinger explained. “Other groups need audience input for each game they play. Because they’re making it up, the world is their oyster. They just need a framework.

“The comedy comes out of the ridiculous situations and how you’re dealing with them.”

When asked if audiences should expect family-friendly comedy, Flehinger cautions: “I don’t think they should expect something raunchy, but they shouldn’t be shocked if it happens.”

Because with improv, you never know what might happen on the stage. 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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