San Francisco Examiner


Jill Bourque plays Cupid.

By: Christina Troup
February 13, 2009

Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship has been posed with the question; How did you meet? From there, stories rich with sordid and not so sordid details reveal how two individuals come to find each other, and like each other, enough to enter the realm of coupledom.As far as Jill Bourque is concerned, those stories are comedy gold.

Back in 2001, Bourque, a newlywed, had the novel idea of staging a one-time Valentine’s Day improv show aptly named “How We First Met.” The evening involved picking a couple from the audience, interviewing them and improvising a story based on their initial encounter.

“In the beginning, I couldn’t find couples to participate in the show,” Bourque says. “People were reticent; they weren’t sure if they were going to be mocked or be uncomfortable. The reason we get so many applicants to be on the show now is because they see how well they’re treated. Really, the couples that are interviewed have the most fun of all. They get to see their life play out in front of them and it’s thrilling.”

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, “How We First Met,” now in its ninth year, hits the Herbst Theatre for another round of improvised romantic comedy.

Merging those two worlds, as we all know thanks to the popcorn fare from rom-com staples such as Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock, can tread heavily on sappy territory. What’s Bourque’s solution to staving off saccharine sentimentality?

“There is always this danger of letting things get too sappy or sweet and we try to not go in that direction,” Bourque says. “At the same time, you can go overboard and be mocking, which we don’t. We’re not there to judge; we’re there to illuminate and find out what happened.”

Over the years, Bourque has witnessed the reenactment of quite a few “how we met” stories, but the one that especially stands out for her is from the very first show.

She recalls the story of a same-sex couple who found each other after their respective partners passed away from AIDS. In one scene, the two discuss how they imagined that their partners set them up prior to passing away and that they were watching over them now.

Of course, for every touching tale, there are also the ones rife with painful first-time awkwardness.

“Now, if meeting the parents wasn’t uncomfortable enough, just think about them being nudists,” Bourque says of another favorite story. “I think that’s why romance and comedy go so perfectly together; they both have an element of surprise, spontaneity and magic.”