Vilifying volleys

Vilification Tennis serves comical insults.

Jackie Renzetti

Zach Nyhus considers himself an “unofficial, unsanctioned audience recruiter” for the comedy show Vilification Tennis.

He and his fiancée go to almost every monthly show at the Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater, alongside roughly 100 regular attendees, to watch performers incorporate insult tournaments with improvisational games.

“It’s always different; it’s always fresh,” Nyhus said. “The sky is the limit with how [expletive] up they can get; they can be pretty bad. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

  The show originated as an insult battle at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival 25 years ago. This weekend, the troupe presents “Get Framed!” — an art history-themed show that guarantees to offend anyone.

  “We always say that anybody who is easily offended will be, and anybody who is not easily offended will also be,” director Tim Wick said.

During Vilification Tennis insult battles, two performers volley degrading remarks at each other to the laughter and awe of an audience. At the end, Wick, as judge and director, determines a winner.

Bonds among the cast and audience members add to the hilarity of the extreme vulgarity.

  “Everybody that is in the cast is friends with everybody that is in the audience,” Nyhus said.

He said that he and his fiancée had previously met performers Molly and Nick Glover at CONvergence, an annual convention for science fiction fans. But they got to know the performers better through Vilification Tennis shows. Now, the Glovers are set to officiate Nyhus’ wedding.

He said the interaction between cast and audience members throughout the show contributes to its community feel.  

  “There’s something about humor at the expense of other people that’s special,” Nyhus said. “With Vilification Tennis, it is somebody telling something to another person’s face, and you get that kind of that ‘shot and destroyed’ sense of glee.”

Likewise, camaraderie between the performers allows them to enjoy tearing each other down on stage without any lasting effects.

The Glovers, who have performed in the show for about four years, use the known fact that they’re married to fuel the fierceness and hilarity of their bits.

“Our marriage is so strong that this stuff would never faze us,” Nick Glover said.

  However, Molly Glover and Tim Wick said there is sometimes misconception that the insulting extends beyond the context of the show.

  Molly Glover said this assumption sometimes leads to friends insulting her, while Wick said he’s received complaint letters.

Despite disclaimers regarding the show’s potentially offensive material, Wick said its attendees are sometimes taken off-guard, and they occasionally write to him about their negative experiences. Wick said he genuinely regrets those types of criticism.

“If I get a complaint letter, I’ve always responded very politely,” Wick said. “It usually surprises the people who send the complaint letters, because they expect that I’m just going to come back to them and be a total jerk because that’s what I am on stage.”

Some audience members critique the show for its lack of humor or its offensiveness, which Wick said he finds enjoyable. He said he plans to read those emails aloud at a show in the future to exemplify his philosophy that “nobody’s above being made fun of.”

Molly and Nick Glover said performers often write insults before the show. However, they added, the actual sequence of material in performance is off-the-cuff. Taking the time to write the insults outside of the shows often adds punch.

“I think the basic structure of an insult sounds really simple, but there’s so many ways to go about it,” Wick said. “I mean, sure, maybe the basic insult in a hundred different instances is, ‘Your mom is fat,’ but they come up with so many different ways to say it, and I really enjoy that.”

Wick also serves as the artistic director for Fearless Comedy Productions and runs a podcast with Molly and Nick Glover titled “Geeks without God.”

“I think humor is the most effective means to combat, kind of, the ridiculousness of life,” Wick said. “If you can’t laugh at the curve ball that life throws at you, then life kind of wins. The idea behind the insults is … that nothing is sacred, that nobody is above ridicule.”


  What: Vilification Tennis

  Where: Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater, 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis

  When: 9:30 p.m. Friday

  Cost: $12-15