Improv comedy performers revisit their roots with downtown Detroit shows

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published April 8, 2015

DETROIT — Go Comedy! Improv Theater is packing up the laughs and taking them down the road.


The Ferndale-based improvisational comedy group will be bringing its award-winning All-Star Showdown to Detroit’s Elizabeth Theater for special performances April 18 and May 16.


The production represents coming full circle for improv audiences and performers alike. Pj Jacokes, producer of Go Comedy! Improv Theater and one of the creators of the Go Comedy! All-Star Showdown, is one of many who has roots in The Second City Detroit cast, which introduced improvisational comedy to many metro Detroit theatergoers.


“Three of the four owners of Go Comedy! got our starts at The Second City when it was downtown,” Jacokes said in an email interview. “I, myself, spent a decade there, from student to actor to more. It’s really wonderful to be able to bring this show back to Detroit, only a block away from where my career began.”


Jacokes, who grew up in Farmington Hills, now lives in Ferndale. He’s got a short commute to Go Comedy!’s regular venue in downtown Ferndale, but for some of the other cast members, the downtown Detroit shows will be closer to home.


That’s certainly the case for cast member Billy Crawford, who lives in Grosse Pointe Park.


“I think this is going to be an excellent opportunity to find a whole new audience, not to mention (the fact that) doing things in downtown Detroit these days is super exciting,” Crawford said in an email interview. “There is so much buzz around what is happening downtown, and we are really lucky to be a part of it.”


Jacokes concurred, noting, “It seems that incredible new restaurants open every other week. We’re hoping to add a little entertainment to the mix.”


Another eastsider in the show is Sean May, an Eastpointe native and resident.


“I am so proud to be part of Go Comedy!, and as we are in our seventh year, it is personally important to me that our audience reach goes beyond Ferndale and into Detroit,” he said in an email interview. “We have a strong improv community here, and the label attached reads ‘Detroit.’ The idea, the concept of ‘Detroit Improv’ is ever-changing — just like improv itself — and I am honored to be part of this community, which is defining it together. From the Planet Ant (Theater in Hamtramck), to ComedySportz Detroit (in Ferndale), to the massive footprint left behind by Second City Detroit, to my home theater of Go Comedy!, this is a strong and thriving community filled with passionate and wonderful people.”


Unlike a scripted play or stand-up comedy, improv is completely different from one performance to the next.


“If you have ever seen (the TV show) ‘Who’s Line Is It Anyway?’ you’ll have a pretty good idea of our show format,” Crawford said. “If not? It’s a super fun game show-esque hour and a half, completely made up on the spot based on audience suggestions.”


He said attendees should  “come ready to laugh and have a great time. You should also know that you will not be picked on or forced onstage unless you say you want to.”


May said audiences can expect witty scenes and surprises at every turn. He called the All-Star Showdown “an engaging short-form improv game show that audiences can really get into. The individual games are explained, then executed by seasoned cast members who aren’t afraid to take chances on our improv stage. Audiences can pick a favorite team or a favorite improviser throughout the show, all the while engaged to see what happens next. It’s an unexpected great time for first-time guests, and a familiarity of the unknown to those who have seen it before.”


Although the improvisational nature of each performance makes it impossible for actors to predict exactly what will crop up on any given night, most say they hope Detroit-centric references will be a part of the mix.


“When Second City was downtown, the source material was just that — Detroit,” May said. “All of the observations, social commentary and laughter was believed by audiences because there they were, with the cast they were watching, in Detroit. When Second City moved out to Novi for those brief few years, it was hard to get the audience on board with any Detroit-based social commentary because the theater had moved from downtown proper to a strip mall in the ’burbs. Detroit is something to have a personal ownership of, no matter the opinion. If you are from (the) southeast side of the mitten state, you claim Detroit as your home. It is inspiring, intimidating and awesome all at once.”


Jacokes said the Showdown tours the state regularly, but it’s usually for special private events. He said this is one of the first times they’re producing the show for a general public audience.


“The exciting thing is, we really don’t know what to expect,” Jacokes said. “Doing the show downtown makes it easier for people who live there or along the Detroit River to see the show. Will that be a big enough draw? We’re going to find out. This is an incredibly unscientific experiment. We’re exploring the benefits of offering shows in multiple locations. We’ll never leave Ferndale, but we’re never done growing.”


The Elizabeth Theater is located above the Park Bar at 2040 Park Ave. in Detroit. Performances will be at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. April 18 and May 16, and tickets cost $15. There will be simultaneous productions with other performers at Go Comedy! in Ferndale. For tickets or more information, visit gocomedy.net or www.gopassage.com. For more about the Elizabeth Theater, visit www.parkbardetroit.com.