Dan Izzo

Dan Izzo
Artistic Director and Founder, Improv Inferno

Tottered on: 21 December 2005
Temperature: 29 F
Ceiling: overcast
Ground: snowy
Wind: NNE at 9 mph

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TT with HD: Dan Izzo

HD: Okay, totter end choice goes to the guest.

DI: I'll just try to mount up down here.

HD: I might have to do a summary at the year's end of various teeter tottering styles of different guests. I think it depends a lot on whether you're holding a drink or not.

DI: I bet. This is the first one that's had enough distance for me to effectively do it with somebody else.

HD: Well, this is made for adults. This is not a child's teeter totter. A child could do it I guess, but I engineered it with adult weights and dimensions in mind. So on the Improv Inferno website show schedule for last Sunday [www.improvinferno.com] it says, 'Staff Christmas Party' Did you really have one or was that just a joke?

DI: No, we did really have one!

HD: How'd that go?

DI: It was a lot of fun. As any kind of party with a bunch of actors and people who work in a bar, it got a little out of control, but certainly nothing that we couldn't write home about.

HD: What was the balance between improvisational actor-types and non?

DI: It was probably almost 100 percent improv actors. We have a staff of maybe about six people and half of them have a little bit of improv experience themselves anyway. So it was mainly a lot of our actors and cast members

HD: Is it just a nightmare where everybody just starts improvising and you just think, "Oh my God, would everybody just stop and be normal?"

DI: You know, my wife and I would talk about this back in Chicago, the difference between improvisers and actors. You get a bunch of actors in a room, particularly a bunch of musical-theater actors, they kind of just bust out singing their little songs and go off into their own kind of esotertic world, whereas improvisers tend to be party people. You will get the occasional thing where there's a lot of people standing around trying to be goofy, but most of your veteran improvisers are just there to drink and put on their bad social faces at parties. It's not quite the comedy fest that one might imagine ... definitely more Studio 54 than Saturday Night Live.

HD: So is that considered bad social form in some sense, to riff on a particular improvisational theme and clearly go into 'acting mode'?

DI: Yeah it kind of is bad form because improv is so tied to comedy, although I don't necessarily feel that it needs to be. Some people will start doing bits ... it's fun for a while but every now and then it does become, "Okay we need to put our real personalities on for a little bit and interact with one another instead of trying to make each other giggle."

HD: So you mentioned your wife, who's also an improv actor, ... she performs regularly at the Inferno, she's a member of the Damnation Game cast, ... when you two interact, do you have any difficulty assessing: is she doing a bit, or being serious?

DI: Nah, we have a pretty genuine relationship. You know we tend not goof around with one another. We can kinda tell from a tone of voice if somebody's got 'sarcastic mode' on or something like that. But other than that we really don't 'bit out' too much together.

HD: So that's the standard phrase for it, 'bitting out'?

DI: Yeah, I guess. We do have one bit that we're perpetually doing and I do mean perpetually to the point where we're out in public, she has to remind me and I have to remind her, not to keep doing the bit, because we provide the voice for our dog. We have an English bulldog. Our dog has kind of a running commentary on our lives in her particular voice, which is a very character-driven kind of thing. We named our dog after Shirley Hemphill from [the TV show ] What's Happening!! So our little English bulldog sounds like Shirley Hemphill from What's Happening!! We'll be out in public and even though the dog's not there the dog will chime in.

HD: I'll be on the lookout for that. So let's stick with this whole theme of improv acting versus regular acting. You said something like, improv doesn't have to be comedy.


HD: So when you're giving instruction in improv ... and you have a whole slate of classes that you guys offer that you can sign up for and take ... I could understand how you could teach, say, certain techniques for acting, freeing up the mind, getting the creative juices flowing, but how do you approach teaching the FUNNY?

DI: We really don't. As matter of fact, we try to really teach people not to be funny. I know that sounds like a real ringing endorsement of our class program! But the best, funniest moments in improv or in comedy, in general, I find, are the moments that are the most real to what's happening in the scene, the most real to the interaction. You know it's different than joke-telling. Joke-telling is this bit of story that you go into and there's kind of actually a process to it. You know the moments in this conversation where one of us will laugh are genuine to the conversation we're having and are not necessarily like: "Here's my wind up and pitch for a funny thing to say to you!" So we really try to get people to think of comedy that way and to think of just being true to the moment. If you're a funny person then the scene'll be funny. If you're not a funny person then the scene won't be funny, but it'll be genuine. We really try to discourage people from being funny, because really, to the extent that you're trying to do anything in improv, it just gets in the way. If you're trying to be funny, if you're trying to be clever, if you're trying to do a good scene, it just gets in the way of actually doing a good scene.

HD: Do you ever do the equivalent in sports of what they call "looking at film"? I mean do you play back in your mind or discuss with other actors what would have made a scene funnier, what you could have done differently, or do you just sort of say, "It was what it was and next time we'll give it another shot"?

DI: We definitely do go over scenes and we'll give notes. If we have a directed piece, the director will periodically give notes on a scene-by-scene basis. But it's rare that we're focused on funny as much as ... it's a bad analogy, but I'm a fan of bad analogies ... how long did you ride the wave? And at what point did you bail on that scene? At what point did you bail on that wave of energy that that scene had? So if a scene's not working, if it's not entertaining, if the people in it aren't having a good time, that's really the kind of thing that we focus on with the notes. Typical notes that I'll give will be "You really weren't listening to your scene partner at that point. You were really focused on what you were going to say next as opposed to just responding in the moment. You were trying to force that one idea in there, rather than respond to the idea that was already there in the moment."

HD: So along these lines of improvising versus putting something from outside the moment into it ... one night I was at the Inferno and there was an out-of-town guest being entertained, not by me, but by someone I was with, and she sat through the entire performance and she didn't realize it was improvised. She'd apparently missed the name of the club on the way in. So just based on the performance ... and I have to say sometimes it's so smooth, it's so slick, that it seems like surely to God it must have been scripted, nobody could be that clever and that funny just off the top of their head ... and on your blog you have this section where you say, "rehearse, rehearse and ... rehearse" So this idea of rehearsal and the tension between rehearsing and the improvisation, I feel like I didn't see the rough-edge evidence of the improv, you know what I'm saying?

DI: Yeah it's the unfortunate danger of improv. When we do rehearsal, it's not necessarily going to be the things you're going to see on stage. It's almost like sparring versus a boxing match, right? You're preparing yourself for whatever might come up. You're preparing yourself to think dynamically, so you're in these practice situations where you're being forced to think dynamically. And then when you get on stage, you're also thinking dynamically so you've practiced with these people thinking dynamically as a group and getting a group mind going.

HD: So sticking with the boxing analogy, you never box in the ring against your sparring partner ...

DI: I think what your question might be, or what you might be hinting at is: we're just improvising with those people as opposed to improv in general. And it is a little bit of that. I mean it is creating the group dynamic, getting everybody to play from the same playbook. And that really is a bad analogy because we don't have playbooks! But to get everybody to focus and get agreement on what's important in a scene, what's important in a show. You know some groups really want to be funny so that's important for that group. Some groups really want to have good characters. Just getting everybody to have the same aesthetic. You're 'writing' a play together on the fly essentially, so you really want everyone to have the same idea of what a play should be like. You don't want one person doing all sorts of absurdist stuff in the middle of what is meant to be like a serious thing. So there is that notion that you're getting used to each other but ultimately you're just getting used to the complete randomness of it. Because even with people you've been with for a while, they almost invariably will pull out something that you didn't expect. When you're improvising, if it becomes 'rote', that's really when bad things start to happen. It's when groups will really start getting on each other and not enjoying performing together. We've had a couple people who in the past who'd do the same character over and over again and do it the exact same way. You know like, always play the the saucy, southern barmaid, who's always saucy, and always southern, and always a barmaid. As opposed to occasionally making it a saucy southern ... stockbroker. Or today's not such a saucy day for her. Or there's some people who'll just be the old man who is ALWAYS carrying a walker. And after a while that becomes difficult to play with because it's no longer spontaneous, it's no longer in the moment.

HD: So how do you break an actor of that besides just saying, "You're not allowed to do that anymore!"

DI: What I do as a director is try to show people the value in breaking through that type of stuff. Because if you're so freaked out by the improv process, that you're perpetually doing the same characters, at some level you're operating out of fear and that can't be good for it. You can't be enjoying that. Wouldn't you rather just live in a world where you didn't have fear? Wouldn't you rather play in a space where there is no fear? And by you doing these five or six characters over and over again you know you're kind of staying in a safe zone but there's no growth in a safe zone.

HD: But wouldn't you say doing the same characters helps to establish some kind of identity? Because identity is another one of the themes you hit in your blog, the importance of developing identity.

DI: I really meant identity more as group identity than as individual identity. Everybody's got their own style, no doubt. But you want to be careful about developing your own identity. I think as a group it's important to have identity, something to tell you apart from all the other groups. But as an individual you want to maximize your flexibility. The best improvisers are the ones where you never know what they're going to do on stage, who are always full of surprises. The non-improviser looks at that and thinks, "That's gotta be the person who has the most crazy ideas in their head and can come up with new crazy ideas." But really the best improviser is the person who can perpetually create this blank slate and just find different and unexpected things in the moment of being blank. I'm sounding vaguely Buddhist right now.

HD: It seems to me that the brute reality of the fact that so many of the performers are members of at least a couple of different groups ... and that some of the performers are either physically so memorable or the distinctive way they perform, they end up establishing identify for themselves, not necessarily because of anything they're consciously doing to cultivate an individual identity. Perhaps the way they look or the fact that they're really really loud ... it's hard, say, for me to remember that they're a member of a group, or what groups are they in. As in, "I don't know which group ... uh, it's the one with PJ!" PJ, I just bring up as an example because I remember that guy by mental image.

DI: Right.

HD: And his name, because it's easy, it's two letters. I mean, to me, he's great, but the fact that I remember his name, but not the name of his group or groups doesn't seem to fit with the idea of a group identity as opposed to an individual identity.

DI: Yeah, you can't help but as an individual to have STYLE and that style will translate from group to group, from experience to experience and so you will develop an identity based on your style and based on your skill and based on your look. But you never want to let your individual style trump what the group is trying to do. You know the difference between style and identity is the difference between Thomas Kinkade, that painter who paints all those cookie cutter houses that all look the same ...

HD: ... yeah, like the ones on this block ...

DI: ... and well, name any other real painter as opposed to a painter who's a factory. If you have too much identity, then it's, "Here's the Old Number Six. Here's one of PJ's five characters." Certainly PJ has more than five characters ... if PJ has a certain style and a certain flair, then that's okay because that can still be responsive to the genuineness of the moment and you don't get a sense that he's churning out variation number three on product line number two. It is a weird thing because ultimately improv is this group work that is composed of a lot of individuals, individuals with their own goals and identities and dreams.

HD: So how does the business end work with group versus individual? As an owner of the Inferno, you deal exclusively with groups as an entity or is it each actor individually?

DI: I'm not sure what you're asking, to be honest.

HD: How do they get paid?

DI: Individually. The people who are in our regular ensemble get paid. So the people who do the Damnation Game get paid. Other shows we work out on a show-by-show basis. When we started, our Thursday night shows we paid them as a kind of incentive to get them to bring people in. It didn't really seem to incentivize them. That only hurt our bottom line. So we stopped doing that. So it varies on a show-by-show basis as to whether we pay people or not. It's certainly is never the case that I'm paying this guy but not that guy. I don't say, "If I want to get an improviser of his caliber I've gotta pay him but the rest of the people in his group, screw'em, I'm not paying them." I'm a Marxist at heart ...

HD: You're not really a capitalist pig like it says on the website ...

DI: Not at all.

HD: Okay, but you are in business ...

DI: You can't help but be in business.

HD: Do you have a one-sentence explanation of what led you to do this? From what I've read you were looking for any way to get out of the law business ...

DI: Unfortunately, most of the interviews I do have to be really quick and trite and they're looking for an angle. And that always seems to be like an interesting angle: why would you give up a great law career and go start a bar? You know the simple truth for me is that I just want to do what is interesting to me and what's exciting to me and what motivates me to get out of bed in the morning ... and the law was never that.

HD: Never EVER?! I mean wasn't there a point at which you thought, "My word, this is going to be a lovely way to spend my life!"?

DI: I can remember two moments really enjoying being a lawyer. One was when I was still in law school. We were being recruited by all these firms and at that point I think I was third or fourth in my class so I was getting recruited by a lot of big firms and I thought, "That's great!" To be that wanted, to be considered the future of the profession was pretty cool. And then there was one moment when I was working real late ... it was my first year as lawyer ... was there at 8 o'clock and was working on some big deal and I thought, "Okay this is kinda cool this is what it's all about!" But it was hardly ever about that! The late nights, sure, but there was no glory to it. And I don't mean get-celebrated-kind-of-glory. [At the Improv Inferno], I love the fact that at the end of the week, no matter what we've got going on, no matter what business travails we've gone through at the Inferno, we get to put on a show. We get to celebrate the moment of putting on the show. There's a clear kind of 'mission accomplished' ... not to quote our bad president ... there's a clear YEAH WE DID IT! You know, we made it through it, and yeah, we did this all together and boy wasn't that fun?! And the law ... it was always this really solitary ...

HD: ... so do you think it was the kind of law you were doing? From what you just said it was contracts or deals or not trial law at any rate ...

DI: Oh no, in an alternative universe I'm a prosecutor or a defense attorney or something like that, because when I was a kid I really thought that that's the kind of law I'd go into. One function was definitely the type of law I was doing, but I never felt like I was doing something that was helpful to myself other than financially, and helpful to other people other than financially. To me that is one of the least concerns to have. Unfortunately, it's a huge concern living in America. You know, if you're going to play the American game you can't do it without having some of the currency. When you're out of Monopoly money, Monopoly is effectively over for you. I just didn't feel like I was personally fulfilled doing that kind of stuff.

HD: So at what point did you decide it was going to be Ann Arbor as opposed to say Madison, Wisconsin, which is a city often mentioned in the same breath as Ann Arbor.

DI: Really, that's the other city I looked at, believe it or not. I knew I didn't want to do it in Chicago, because I had been involved in a couple of different theaters in Chicago and the improvisational theater scene in Chicago is really hard ... it's very competitive. It's like watching four starving rats trying to eat the same cracker.

HD: Okay that's quite an image.

DI: It's just limited audiences, although the audiences are great. But there's probably seven improv places at any given time trying to get those same people to come. You really need to innovate and stand out from the crowd, not that we haven't been forced to innovate and stand out from the crowd here. But the rewards of innovation were not that great. Even if you're the best improviser in the city of Chicago, you're barely eking by. Even if you run the best improv place in Chicago you're probably barely eking by. So I knew I had to get out of Chicago to level the playing field a little bit. You know, why be number eight in the market when you could be number one or number two? And I knew a college town would be good, because I was making a lot of personal choices in my life as well, in terms of what type of city I wanted to live in. I like places with little mom- and-pop shops, little mom-and-pop coffee shops and left-leaning stuff like you tend to get in a college town ... used record stores, although that's become sort of an irrelevant concept. I was really bummed when I moved to town and that place on Liberty ... there's now a spa there ... and I can't remember what it used to be called. It's like an army-navy store ...

HD: Harry's?

DI: YEAH. When Harry's closed I said "That's part of the reason I moved here!" A town with a place like Harry's. I mean I'm glad Sam's is still there but it's not the same.

HD: Yes, many people lamented the departure of Harry's.

DI: So I was looking for that type of town but I was also looking for a place that had some exposure to improv. Madison has a Comedy Store and I'd be competing with that established franchise in Madison. There had been a Comedy Store a long time ago in Ann Arbor, but it kind of never really got going and wasn't around right now, so I knew between those two, Ann Arbor would be a little more ripe. And my wife's originally from Michigan so ...

HD: ... so it wasn't the fact that Ann Arbor is at the top of all these various lists,... Best Place to blah blah blah ...

DI: No it really wasn't.

HD: It's become a bit of a local joke.

DI: I think so. And it's the unfortunate local joke because I think Ann Arbor is really cool. And it's unfortunate because you can't say that without sounding like a rah-rah person or some kind of a goofball. But strip away the hype and it's still pretty nice to live around here.

HD: Yeah, it's not bad, I have to say. It's the best place we've ever lived and we've lived a lot of different places. We lived in Rochester, New York just before here, and we wanted to get out of the cold, so we came here ...

DI: That'll be my next move.

HD: Where's that? Out of the cold?

DI: Yeah.

HD: It's kind of brutal, although next week it's supposed to be actually quite reasonable. It's supposed to get up above freezing.

DI: This December has been terrible. I mean look at how much snow you've got piled in your backyard!

HD: Speaking of snow, you know my solution to snow in the driveway ... there is no place to pitch it ... so I saw this as a great opportunity to own a big yellow wheelbarrow. If we didn't have the snow I'd have trouble justifying that, but it's great fun to collect the snow from the driveway back here. How do you get rid of your snow?

DI: We have a really nice small lot in Ypsi, so there's no shoveling that you need to do in the backyard. We don't even have a garage. Your size driveway ... about half of that. It's a quick shovel and it's done so ...

HD: ... so is there a sidewalk in front you've gotta shovel?

DI: Yeah, although one of my neighbors has a snowblower. If it gets bad enough he usually just runs down the street and does everybody.

HD: Do you feel beholden in any sense to him?

DI: Not really, I don't even know his name, to be honest. I feel bad about that because I would like to send him a Christmas card and say thanks but I don't know who to make the Christmas card out to ...

HD: Just say, "To our neighbor at ..."

DI: There you go, I should do that.

HD: Well, back to the location choice, once you decided it was going to be Ann Arbor, was it just automatic that it had to be downtown?

DI: I was really thinking it had to be downtown or on campus and I was originally thinking on campus. Then I found out how hard it would be to get a liquor license on campus and that really eliminated that as a viable choice. I mean, as much as I'm in the business of producing comedy shows, I'm also in the business of selling booze. That's a pretty crucial part of the whole plan.

HD: Who's your distributor, O & W?

DI: O & W for some products. We have different distributors for different products.

HD: So if you could make a Christmas wish-list of other downtown businesses or entities, or anything related to infrastructure ... just because it'd be interesting or it would benefit the Improv Inferno as a business, what would be on that list?

DI: I think all the restaurants downtown right now are really great. My two personal favorites are Conor's and Arbor Brewing. Another restaurant like that would be great: you know, an entry-level kind of bar or restaurant, a place you can get in there and it's pretty spacious and you can get a table without too much hassle and at the same time get some good drinks and food without too much expense. I think there's a little bit too much high-end dining on Main Street and not enough low-end or entry-level dining. More parking would be really nice in downtown.

HD: Where do you park when you go to work?

DI: I park at the lot, I guess it's Fourth and William ... I'm still not too familiar with my streets.

HD: So as a business owner do you they give you a free parking space there?

DI: No.

HD: There's no accommodation made?

DI: No, no.

HD: You'd think there would be wouldn't you?

DI: Yeah, if I could get the Mayor's ear for a minute it would be: "Every business on Main Street should have some free parking space."

HD: He might be coming to ride the totter in mid-January, so I'll mention it to him.

DI: There you go. I mean I'm bringing money into the city, but I have to pay to get into the city. You have to pay parking and I've paid my fair share of parking tickets and I know how that system works intimately now.

HD: Yes, you go online and you send your money to New York somewhere, right?

DI: Yeah, surely there's got to be a local place that could be sticking us for three bucks per transaction ...

HD: I don't know, there was a letter to the editor yesterday, I think, addressing exactly that issue.

DI: I mean I think downtown is good but it's just so geared now towards strictly dining. Come in. Have a meal. And get out. I mean our place is definitely designed to be another thing to keep you in the downtown area.

HD: What would you put there if you had a big Monopoly board and you could just put stuff wherever?

DI: I think a Main Street bookstore would be really great. More things that people could window-shop at night. More little places that people could wander into at night ...

HD: ... so along the lines of ... what is it called ... it's the place where Jules Furniture is on the one side and there's ATYS on the other, where you actually go inside and then there's various places off of it like an arcade.

DI: Yeah a little arcade maybe would be really cool with a little storefront. Everything right now seems to just close down at 7pm and it just becomes a restaurant zone. And I certainly don't think it's that the retailers on the street don't want to stay open later, and I don't think the city would prevent them from staying open later but I think ...

HD: ... bottom-line wise ...

DI: ... yeah, it just doesn't make much sense. I mean if I had a Monopoly board I'd cut the rents all throughout, so that people would have more flexibility with those types of options.

HD: You mentioned bookstores on Main Street. There is at least one bookstore on Main Street isn't there? Crazy Wisdom ...

DI: ... oh, yeah, yeah ...

HD: ... you can buy books there, but the other bookstore I'm thinking of is one where you guys have shot film as a part of the Neutrino Project, this on-the-fly improvisational movie-making deal.

DI: Yeah, right.

HD: Will that be back by the way?

DI: Yeah!

HD: So it's just sort of on hiatus because it's too cold?

DI: Yeah, exactly.

HD: Too cold to shoot, but not too cold to totter ... so anyway, on a Neutrino Project Night, you end up seeing a lot of downtown Ann Arbor even though you're inside the Improv Inferno ... as the people bring the footage in ... do you make arrangements ahead of time, sign releases with these various businesses? Because in some of these places I'd be concerned about knocking stuff over ...

DI: It's really ad hoc ...

HD: ... really? So each camera team on that night just goes in ...

DI: ... on that night, before we start the show, we will send somebody out to scout locations, so they'll run to two or three different places and find out who will let us shoot there.

HD: Oh, okay, so there is a conversation with a proprietor ...

DI: We have done a fair amount of shooting on the fly, however. Where we'll be at one place and then need to go to another place. And we'll just say, "Let's run into the video store real quick and ask them if they mind if we shoot one scene here," so our additional locations tend to be real on-the-fly. I encouraged them never to do anything that was too guerilla-ish. Like shooting-without-permission kind of stuff ... to make sure the place where we're shooting, they're comfortable ...

HD: ... so you try to be good citizens ...

DI: Yeah. I mean I really have to say that's where I think the Ann-Arbor-is-overrated type stuff kinda hurts a little bit. Because we've gotten nothing but great help from all the people on Main Street. I mean the galleries like Selo Shevel ... they've got some expensive expensive glass stuff in there, but they were really cool about letting us go in there, ..., they let us use their office ...

HD: ... so there's a certain camaraderie amongst the businesses?

DI: Yeah.

HD: So that's something I would think you couldn't necessarily anticipate, before you made the decision to locate in Ann Arbor. Were there resources that at least suggested to you what it would be like? I mean, does the Chamber of Commerce have a packet called "How to Open your own Downtown Ann Arbor Comedy Club"?

DI: The Chamber was really good in terms of getting demographics stuff, which I ended up having to put into my business plan. The business plan ended up being really helpful for me, not so helpful to the banks I showed it to. Because nobody would loan me money on that business plan. The Chamber was good in that regard. I found in terms of making connections with people in my immediate economic zone, the Main Street Area Association has been really great. Because that tends to be a lot of small business owners like myself, ..., clearly who have been doing it a lot longer than I have, ... but I can talk to the owner. When we're doing Neutrino Project stuff we could never shoot in Starbucks because you can't talk to the owner of Starbucks. Whereas, I can go into Ten Thousand Villages and talk to that person.

HD: My sense is you probably get tired of the standard why-did-you-open-this-comedy-club-after-being-a-lawyer question but are there other questions you're tired of like, "Why don't you have food in here?"

DI: That one has become my new pet peeve of a question.

HD: I have to say I like my snacks, so if there were snacks I would be buying them at the club. I'm sure there's all kinds of hoops you have to jump through?

DI: I think we might actually be licensed for light food service, grandfathered in under the existing license. But we don't have the space for it, and I'm not sure that the economic benefit of it is that great. We have really small tables and we're set up like a comedy caberet, so at best maybe we could get you a bowl of popcorn and maybe a SLICE of pizza but to have an entire pizza or to have things that required a lot of silverware or a that kind of stuff ... we just don't have the space for it.

HD: Is there anything you wish people would ask you that they don't?

DI: The question that I don't get asked a lot, that I always thought would kind of an appropriate question, would be "Why should people come to the Improv Inferno?"

HD: Yeah, okay, well, why the hell should they come?

DI: People should care about our place. And I know that's really whiny and petulant. But we're offering something that you would have to drive at least to Hamtramck to see. The type of improv we're doing you'd have to go to Planet Ant and you'd have to go on Monday or late night on Friday or Saturday. If you want ... during primetime hours ... at 8 o'clock on a Friday ... to see an improv show, we do that for you. We do a 10 o'clock Friday improv show for you. We have improv shows Wednesdays through Sunday. And besides Planet Ant, beyond that, you're going to Chicago to see the type of improv we're doing. I mean there's little game groups that do stuff around town but nobody's doing the long-form ... and I don't want to say experimental because it sounds ...

HD: ... like it's not clear whether it works ...

DI: ... yeah, it's some of the coolest stuff that's being done with improv. As opposed to some of the safest and lamest stuff that's being done.

HD: So what would you say is an example of something that's safe and lame?

DI: You know we play games in the Damnation Game but we play improv games in this bigger context of this kind of 'lounge show' and it's a real interactive experience with the audience. There's a relationship between the host and the audience in that show. There are a lot of places where they go through the games like they're a high school improv troupe ... I mean, God love the high school improve troupes, but ... and they play for the goofy and they play for the silly and they don't play to have an interesting scene. If you come to the Damnation Game you're going to see some interesting scenes. You're going to see some funny people doing funny material, that just so happens to be in a form you can understand and relate to.

HD: Let me give you some common objections to improv comedy and you can give me some quick hit responses.

DI: Okay.

HD: It's not really improvised. It's actually scripted.

DI: That is the number one knock and nothing could be further from the truth. Particularly with regard to Improv Inferno. Going back to our earlier conversation, you might feel like you're not seeing improv? That's just because we are so good at it. I assure you that everything you're seeing on stage is completely spontaneous and is being made up in that moment.

HD: I'd rather stay at home and watch Howie Mandell host Deal or No Deal.

DI: Right. Well, the thing that we offer, ... even if you're talking about the type of comedy you could stay home and watch,... and there's a couple of improvised TV shows you could stay home and watch ... ours is live and in the moment. I mean you're RIGHT THERE when it's being made! It's unfiltered, it's unadulterated. You know, if it's great, then you're one of the only people who were there and saw it and saw that it was great. And if it's terrible, you're at least witnessing the moment of live creation of that stuff ...

HD: ... so it's not like you film it and you can go back and review it on Tivo ... the specialness of it is the fact that it's in the moment and then when it's gone, it is gone.

DI: Yeah exactly.

HD: But it's too expensive.

DI: Boy. That I just don't think is a valid objection at all. I mean the most expensive ticket price we have for any of our regular shows is 10 bucks. A movie costs you eight-fifty. And the popcorn you buy at the movie is more expensive than the beer you'll buy at our place. You know four-fifty for a tub of popcorn? We can hook you up with a beer for four-fifty. I mean I've heard people say that [it's too expensive] and I always think, "Well, how cheap do you think it should be?!!"

HD: Here's fifty cents, tell me a joke Mr. Funny-man.

DI: Because I could easily see it being $15 for our weekend show. I read that objection online, even before we had opened: "I hope it's not too expensive" and I said, "Boy, ..."

HD: When you say online you mean the local blogosphere?

DI: Yeah.

HD: You spend much time reading other blogs? Arbor Update?

DI: I do. I read Arbor Update, Ann Arbor is Overrated ... the one I just started getting into is I Arbored Ann. I think it just tracks what's going on on Mainstreet in terms of businesses opening and closing on Main Street.

HD: I think what I need to do now is thank you very very much!