Bruce Stahl is a 61-year-old high school teacher, soccer coach, a devoted husband and father of three sons. He has a passion for railroad photography.
He also strips down to his underwear in the name of art.
Stahl's act of disrobing comes as a member of the Chicago Annoyance Theater improv show “Skinprov.”
The popular all-male show is staged Saturday nights at midnight. Stahl is a regular on the first Saturday of each month.
“It’s just a lot of fun,” he said.
Stahl’s fun began in January 2011 when he decided to take a beginners class in improvisation at Annoyance.
It’s been a love affair ever since.
“The best way to describe it is like I leave and go to a different planet,” he said. “I guess it’s therapy. In theory it’s cheaper than going to a psychiatrist. And they’ve done studies that show improv people use more parts of the brain than others because of the spontaneity and everything.”
Stahl said he’s always been funny. Prior to becoming a history and geography teacher and the boys varsity soccer head coach at Michigan City High in 2001, Stahl worked at U.S. Steel. A foreman in the mill once told him he couldn’t be as funny as he was without having a script. He said Stahl must go home at night and think of things to say the next day.
“I’ve always been quick-witted and pretty sarcastic,” Stahl said.
Stahl is currently enrolled in advanced improv. It’s the second time in a row he’s taking the class. Not because he flunked the first time, but because a guaranteed show comes with it.
“Skinprov” isn’t the only time Stahl performs improv in front of a live audience. He was part of a musical improv class that wrote and sang their own songs for a live show. He’s also performed in the shows “Cheap Beer Improv” and “One-On-One.”
“It’s really addicting,” Stahl said. “It’s a very close-knit bunch of people. It’s like a big family.”
Stahl calls himself one of the most competitive people on earth. If he’s not playing all-out, he’s not going to play at all.
“If it’s ping-pong with the family at Christmas, I’m still there to win,” he said.
But performing at Annoyance is the one place he doesn’t feel that way.
“It’s never a thought in my head to be better than ‘Fred, Sally or George,’” Stahl said. “Because in improv they call it playing and you just want to play with the other players and have fun.”
It’s one of the reasons Annoyance Theater founder and director Mick Napier enjoys Stahl.
A lot of people will go as far as to move to Chicago to do improv because they have aspirations of moving on to television, film or Second City.
“Someone like Bruce has no motive so he’s purely just doing it for the fun of it and for the love of it,” Napier said. “There’s no ulterior motive whatsoever, so that’s always a special kind of joy for me to see someone celebrate improvisation in that way.”
Stahl’s wife Elizabeth has seen him perform several times. She said encouraged him to follow his dream.
“He always makes me laugh,” she said.
Stahl’s been making others in the region laugh as well.
“We had 35 people from Michigan City come one night which is rather humbling,” he said.
Although most of his Annoyance classmates and fellow performers are in their 20s and 30s, Stahl said he’s never felt out of place.
“I can be silly as anyone, so I don’t think they’ve noticed my age.”
Napier said some of the younger cast might have been wary of Stahl — until they heard him curse.
“Then they felt fine,” he said.