An Interactive Improv Show is Newport’s Best Kept Secret

The Bit Players need no introduction – though a cameo by Jay Leno doesn’t hurt

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When legendary comedian and part-time Newport resident Jay Leno phoned the Firehouse Theater in October 2019, Bit Players artistic director Frank Fusaro and his staff weren’t 100 percent sure the call was real.

“We were sitting down in the office preshow getting things ready and the phone rang,” explains Fursaro. “One of the guys in the office got it and said, ‘Hey Frank, can we give Jay Leno some time before the show tonight?’ I told him, ‘Absolutely, how much time does he want?’”

It was in fact Leno reaching out to the Newport theater. The former late-night TV host wanted to test out some of his stage material ahead of a scheduled tour. Fusaro knew that Leno owned a home in Newport and, although he wasn’t fully convinced it was Leno who called, he began to prepare. 

“I went upstairs and told the players, ‘If I come back in here with someone, I need you to act very professional, very cool.’ Of course, they didn’t know what was going on.” Minutes later, Leno arrived, met the crew, and surprised the assembled crowd with a 20-minute comedy set. 

Jay Leno had discovered one of Newport’s best kept secrets.

Rhode Island’s most award-winning comedy show, the Bit Players perform at the Firehouse Theater every weekend. If you’re a fan of TV shows like Whose Line is it Anyway?, this show is for you. It’s all improvisation, with no pre-rehearsed lines.

“What we do in our theater on a given night is only going to happen on that night,” explains Fusaro. “The next time you come see our show, it will be entirely different. That’s the difference between what we do and stand-up comedy. Stand-up is very formulaic, it’s very systematic.

“The other part of it is how we feed off the energy of the audience; of course, everybody does, but we are reliant upon them to have a solid show. We need them to give us good suggestions; we need them to understand their role every time. We open every show by telling them, if it’s a great show, it’s because we’re really talented, but if it’s a bad show, it’s because they didn’t give us anything to work with,” jokes Fusaro.

Improvisational comedy is best served live. “A lot of people have asked if we’ve ever thought of turning it into a TV show or streaming it. The thing about improv is that you have to have some type of intimacy for it to work,” says Fusaro. “Once you put it on the screen, you lose that inside joke that comes from being in the room, being there when it happens, seeing it created right in front of your eyes.”

The Bit Players perform weekly at the Firehouse Theater, 4 Equity Park Place in Newport Friday night at 8pm and Saturday at 7pm and 9pm. More shows are added in the summer months. They sell out regularly, so advance ticket purchases are strongly recommended. 

And as for Leno? He’s since become a good friend of the company, and has held several shows in Newport to benefit police and fire department charities.

For showtimes and more visit BitPlayers.net

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