Back when The Second City was the 800-pound gorilla in Detroit’s improv community, many of the area’s up-and-coming improvisers studied their craft at its renowned training center. As part of their education, the students would create and perform an original show that was usually presented in front of friends and invited guests. The end result, of course, reflected the experience and talent levels of the participants. In other words, some shows were better than others.
With the demise of The Second City Detroit several years back, Go Comedy! Improv Theater has become Metro Detroit’s five-night-a-week venue for improv. But also like its predecessor, the Ferndale hotspot also offers Go U! The Improv Academy, an ever-expanding training center for those wishing to study this popular form of entertainment. And what better way is there to test the mettle of your students than by giving them a slot on the Thursday night schedule and watching them sink or swim?
Such a concept is a great way to give young performers real-life, on-stage experience in front of a public (and paying) audience that wants only to be entertained. So for the very first time, the Advanced 5 class at Go U! was tasked with creating its own original sketch comedy, and the result, “Apocalypse Pending,” premiered March 8 in the 9 p.m. slot.
Given the show’s pedigree – I was unfamiliar with everyone involved in the production except for its director, Jen Hansen – I attended with little or no expectations. After all, these were rookies, right? Just how good could this show really be?
Pretty damn good, actually!
The show’s first three blackouts are typical sketch comedy fare and mask the sharp writing that’s the hallmark of this production. (I knew the punch line of the second from almost the very beginning; it’s a head-shaking groaner!)
But the nine or so sketches that follow – and the handful of additional blackouts – are well conceived and written, so much so that I left the performance surprised that it was created by novices rather than well-honed professionals.
Among the most unique and delightful is a meeting of a doggy support group that sheds light on what our pets really think about us. Another is a progressive mom who wouldn’t mind her teenage daughter smoking pot and having sex – but eating beef jerky? That calls for drastic action!
America’s political correctness is further skewered when PBS asks Cookie Monster to help fight child obesity. And a farmer milking his cow has a chat about girls with his teenage son. “You can learn a lot from a cow,” the dad says. What that is, though, you’ll have to find out for yourself.
The final scene that ties the show together ends on a funny note, but a character affectation of the priest does nothing to advance the story and serves no useful purpose – comedic or otherwise.
The production features a bevy of talent: Amy Purcell, Jessie Kunnath, RJ Cach, Bill Tebo, Allison Tomak, John Lewis, Jessica Loria and Lisa Jacokes. Each created memorable characters and earned a fair share of laughs on opening night. (Of them all, I suspect Cach will quickly rise through the ranks and become an audience favorite.)
But the team’s on-stage inexperience was also apparent at times, as fast line delivery resulted in indecipherable dialogue. And there were instances when “side-stepping” into place seemed to be the result of an actor not ending up where he or she was supposed to.
Overall, such problems were minor irritants. The result, then, was a fine debut by Metro Detroit’s latest crop of newbie improvisers – and a very enjoyable night of laughs at Go Comedy! I look forward to watching their skills and confidence grow and mature in the months and years to come.
Go Comedy! Improv Theater, 261 E. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale. Every Thursday at 9 p.m. through March 29. $5. 248-327-0575. http://www.gocomedy.net