Pj Jacokes knows the feeling of winning an improv tournament so when he and his business partners opened Go Comedy in Ferndale having such an event instantly went on the calendar. That was nine years ago, proving a good thing is worth keeping.
Go Comedy was born out of the ashes of Improv Inferno, an improv theater based in Ann Arbor.
“They used to have a really fun improv tournament there every year,” says Jacokes. “In fact, Chris DiAngelo, one of the other owners here, and myself won the tournament one year at Improv Inferno. So when we opened Go Comedy that was something we wanted to continue.”
This year’s BITS Improv Tournament started May 23 and runs every Wednesday through Aug. 1. The 16-team field is narrowed down each week until there are just two teams left standing for the Aug. 15 finals.
The 16 teams compete for the $1,009 grand prize and a performance slot on the Go Comedy schedule.
One of the teams in this year’s lineup wears the maize and blue. A student group from the University of Michigan is part of this year’s field. “It’s the first time we’ve had a group from U-M and we’re pretty excited about that,” Jacokes said.
Most of the teams come from Southeastern Michigan and vary in size from two members to as many as eight or nine. Teams are selected by the directors of Go Comedy based on quality, variety of long-form styles, whether the team has competed previously, and additional factors.
“We take a week off before the finals so the two teams have a chance to get their friends and family back for the finals so they aren’t asked to come back-to-back weeks,” Jacokes says.
Audience members are handed a ticket and a voting form for that night’s performance and after the two teams “perform,” each person in the crowd gets to vote for their favorite team. The team with the most votes advances.
“The audience decides which team did a better job and they decide the winner,” Jacokes says.
In the semifinals and finals, in addition to the audience vote, Go Comedy will select three impartial judges. These judges will each receive 10 votes to divvy up between the teams based on the night’s performance.
This year features a whole new lineup which helps keep the show fresh.
“We have some extremely accomplished teams this year and a few teams I have never heard of before,” he said. “The great thing about it is you get a real nice mix of pros and up and comers.”
Jacokes says “every year is different.”
“When we first started doing this there were a lot of established groups doing it,” he says. “This year we have several student groups who have gone through our class program. We also still have some established groups so it’s a nice mix.
“Because I’m a sports nerd, my favorite part of it each year is getting to rank the teams when we set up the tournament. Part of the neat thing about it is that if you can bring a lot of people you know you have a better shot at winning. And some of the lower seeds are newer teams whose friends and family want to come see them do this for the first time. There are times where the one seed will have a better set but they will be going home that night.”
Of course, there are many people in the crowd without a rooting interest which helps even the playing field.
The tournament is just part of Go Comedy’s impressive lineup of shows and classes. The venue is open every Wednesday through Sunday.
What: BITS Improv Tournament
When: Every Wednesday through Aug. 1. Finals Aug. 15
Where: Go Comedy Improv Theatre, 261 E. 9 Mile, Ferndale
Phone: (248) 327-0575
For more information: www.app.gopassage.com/events/143