The Jacksonville Landing has been demolished, and the seeds of its destruction were sown in 2006 when local improv troupe name ImprovJacksonville was forced to close its theatre doors there.
With IJ now defunct, its committed improvisors were forced to come up with an alternate plan. With the theatre unceremoniously locked, we met at The London Bridge Pub at the corner of Adams and Ocean streets and cast the dice which would become Mad Cowford Improv Comedy.
The first order was to come up with a name. Our first couple shows were under the name of “Jax Improv” which wasn’t very clever, but had the benefits of being accurate, and different enough that none of IJ’s creditors would mistakenly come after us. The name “Mad Cowford” came from the much-disputed tale that Jacksonville was originally called “Cowford.” We thought it nicely poked fun at ourselves and our city. We performed our first shows at “Boomtown Uptown” which was located on Hemming Park in Downtown Jacksonville, in a space now occupied by The Dalton Agency.
Our residency at Boomtown Uptown lasted a year, before Boomtown’s space was bought out, which left us searching for a new performance location (a trend that has continued to this day). Our next stop was the former “9th and Main” in Springfield (current location of Strings Sports Brewery). We performed there for another year. The last few weeks we were there, there was a different manager every week. This did not bode well, and one night we arrived for our Friday night show (a student performance show!) and found the doors locked and the building dark. We had our disappointed students perform some line games outdoors for the perplexed audience members who showed up.
At the time 9th and Main closed, we shared a rented space on Bay Street to teach classes and workshops. Downstairs from our space, a man named Kris was trying to open a new downtown pizza restaurant called Northstar. Over beer and pizzas, we worked out our next residency at Northstar “The Pizza Bar” downtown.
For the next several years, Mad Cowford performed at Northstar on Fridays and Saturday nights, mixing improv games with longform improvisation. Mad Cowford incorporated in 2008, with founding members Johnny, Rachel, Bill, Rich and Robert as officers.
Through the years, Mad Cowford created several short films. In 2008 we entered the local competition for the 48 Hour Film Project. With the suggestion of “Film de Femme” we wrote, filmed and edited “Silent Movie: The Musical” which won the “Best of Jacksonville” prize. It set a high standard right away, which you never want to happen because it raises expectations. Still, we managed some other films we are quite proud of, including “Saving the Flaming Fish” (partnering with Killacozzy Productions), “OSHA’s Eleven,” and “One and Change,” a musical which was written, filmed, composted, scored, and completed in 48 hours. “One and Change” won several awards, including Audience Choice.
Every year, Mad Cowford puts on an event called “Comedy for Critters,” a fundraiser for local animal rescue organizations. Each year the event successfully raises several thousand dollars to benefit local animal shelters and adoption agencies. For the last several years we’ve partnered with First Coast No More Homeless Pets and had tremendous support of Hotel Indigo in Deerwood Park.
Mad Cowford has been invited and performed at a number of improv festivals, including the Gainesville Improv Festival, the Miami Improv Festival, Shenanigan’s Orlando Comedy Festival, the Sarasota Improv Festival, and the Chicago Music Improv Festival.
Over the years, Mad Cowford began to experiment with improv teams and formats, the first of which was “Beastwood” to focus on longform improvisation. “More Cowbell” was formed as the improvised musical side of Mad Cowford. Other teams included “Toy Box” (with its chest of props and costumes), “The Baker Act,” “One Man Show,” “MeeMaw,” “Sleepaway Camp,” “Tire Swing,” “Bach,” Evening Chill,” “Ethel MerMan,” and “No Bull.” We’ve also teamed with others to produce shows such as Amy Angelilli’s “3 Blind Dates.”
In 2014, Mad Cowford took its most ambitious steps ever, putting on shows at Theatre Jacksonville in San Marco. “Way Off Broadway” was a mixture of musical, sketch, and improv to a sold-out crowd and a standing ovation. We followed with our blowout Christmas show “Mad Cowford Presents: Presents” which featured the hit song “Mayor Brown is saving Downtown.”
Northstar served it’s final pizza in 2015, and shots of Fireball were passed around at intermission when we found out that night that we were performing our final show. From Northstar we moved a few blocks down the road to begin a residency at Shannon Widow’s “Hourglass Pub.” She gave us a home for more than two years, as we experimented with different improv forms and styles, including our first ever sketch revues. During this time, Beastwood Improv began running the “Bold City Improv Jam” at Rain Dogs in 5 points. This free Wednesday improv show and jam ran for more than 3 successful years.
After Hourglass Pub closed in 2018, Mad Cowford began performing at Dahlia’s PourHouse in Riverside, as well as a monthly show at Jack Rabbits in San Marco. We’ve continued to perform at Brewz in Riverside and Ruby Beach Brewing in Jacksonville Beach.
Over the years, Mad Cowford has performed for audiences across the First Coast and beyond, with shows at the Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre (ABET), Blue Jay Listening Room, Corzaon Cinema and Cafe, the Island Theatre, Hotel Indigo Deerwood Park, Green Room Brewing, Murray Hillbilly, Town Beer Co., Atlantic Beach Brewing, and Nocatee Community Center. We’ve been hired by companies and organizations to perform their events and do corporate training and team-building exercises for their employees. We’ve taught hundreds of students in the art of improvisation. Alumni have gone on to perform in Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta and elsewhere.
Perhaps one day we will settle down to a place of our own. Until then, we are ready to entertain you wherever we can. We are available for shows, private events, corporate instruction, and improv classes and workshops.