You can ask Glynnis O’Donoghue and Tina Ollenburg anything, and they’ll have an answer.
It will, typically, be wildly wrong.
But the Charlotte improv duo known as the Know It Alls will not let ignorance stand in the way of a high-brow, possibly long-winded answer.
The two millennials say they know what earlier generations think of theirs. And for this improv act – designed to feel like a lecture, complete with syllabi – they play into those stereotypes.
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“We tell the audience we have a lot of debt – student debt and improv class debt,” says O’Donoghue, an actress and partner in Donna Scott Productions, South End’s resident theater company.
“We majored in debt,” quips Ollenburg, a stand-up comic.
They begin by asking the audience what they’d like to learn. No matter what it is, the Know It Alls turn out to be “experts” on the topic.
From the duo (check yourself at story’s end):
▪ What color is your blood when it’s in your veins? The KIA answer: “A lot of people think blood is blue in the veins, but it’s actually sparkly. When it hits the oxygen in the atmosphere, it turns red. Also – the more water you drink, the sparklier your blood is. That’s what gives well-hydrated skin its ‘glow.’ ” *
▪ How did the acting profession begin? “The first actors were actually con men hired by people who’d gotten themselves into bad situations to lie to their families. For example, an actor would play the ‘boss’ of a man who had been fired. The word actor in Taiwanese means ‘criminal.’ ” ^
▪ How was phosphorus discovered? “German alchemist Hennig Brand discovered phosphorus when he tried to make gold from urine.” +
The Know It Alls say they don’t want to get political, but one can’t help but ask if Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, inspired the act when she advanced the idea of “alternative facts.” Actually, no ... and they insist this isn’t a lie. The pair had already developed their concept by then.
The bespectacled women treat the audience as if it’s come to a lecture, and they intend to “crowdsource” learning. The audience chooses the topic they’ll lecture on.
Although they rehearse with a random word generator app, they’ve never once gotten a topic they’ve considered. “And if we did, we probably would stay away from it,” Ollenburg says. They also stay away from anything that could venture into the risqué – though the act is probably still not suitable for kids. “There’s always someone who yells out, ‘Strip clubs!’ ... We try to avoid that low-hanging fruit.”
They begin with “Little Known Facts”: “We prove our mettle right away,” O’Donoghue says, on something like, say... humidity.
“You’re lucky because Tina studied humidity in undergrad,” O’Donoghue says, using an improv technique that stalls for time while a partner figures out what to say.
“That’s right,” Ollenburg say. “Not many people know the truth about humidity. It’s actually ancient nitrogen particles falling down from the sun. In fear.”
“Yes,” continues O’Donoghue. “So, when you see someone on a humid day with frizzy hair, they are actually ... scared.”
The Know It Alls then produce three to five core things about the chosen topic that the audience needs to know – and get that audience itself to help divulge them. For a recent show’s topic – meatloaf – an audience member had to fill in this blank: “The motto of the National Meatloaf Association is ___________.” Then, the two delved into meatloaf as if addressing a group of processed-meat Ph.D candidates.
And they always include a historical re-enactment. (“We’re nontraditional learners,” O’Donoghue deadpans.) This allows the Know It Alls to perform long-form improv. The topic of meatloaf produced an impromptu bit on Meatloaf the rock singer, and a woman teaching her daughter-in-law the proper way to make meatloaf.
And all of it is played straight. As if you’re in class … but perhaps with a beer in your hand.
They add a guest improv actor as their TA (remember teaching assistants from college?), invited to give a mini-lecture. “He’s really just our whipping boy,” O’Donoghue says. Whatever the TA says, the Know It Alls know more and happily correct him.
“We just want people to have fun,” Ollenburg says.
“And give them something to think about later,” O’Donoghue adds.
“Yes,” Ollenburg goes on. “You may be watching the news several days later and think: ‘I’ve seen something this absurd recently – at a comedy show.’ ”
+ True – and not from the Know It Alls act. It’s from their Instagram (@knowitallsclt), where they periodically post Little Known Facts that are actually ... correct.
The Know It Alls
The comedy improv duo’s events are currently free: Next on the schedule is Free Range Brewing at 7:30 p.m. June 26.