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By John Quinn
Posted: Sept. 21, 2012 at 4:08 p.m.
The sheer wealth of original comedy available to local audiences is remarkable, given the relatively few artists who are proficient in improvisation and sketch comedy. It is no career for the faint of heart. It is a soul-baring experience, as the artist must expose the depths of his or her personality. Check your ego at the door: A well-oiled improv troupe is very much a family.
Like families, comedy teams lose loved ones. Last August, journalist, techno organizer and prolific comedy writer Dan Sicko lost his three-year battle with ocular melanoma. Sicko is best known for his 1999 book, "Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk." In his honor, a large number of his theatrical family presents "Impro Rebels" late night Thursdays at Go Comedy! The one act tribute features sketches from the fertile imagination of Dan Sicko.
His imagination was fertile indeed, and more than a little off-beat. The sketches are marked by a dry wit and a streak of cynicism, particularly when it comes to relationships. Some of them are gut-splitting, some are pretty dark.
Pete Jacokes, assisted by Bob Wieck, guide eight terribly funny people through Sicko's quirky world. That madcap bunch is Steve Forbes, Michelle Giorlando, Jen Hansen, Joe Hingelberg, Aaron Johnstone, Clint Lohman, Jeff Mansk and Chris Petersen, seasoned comedians all. The atmosphere at Go Comedy! is charged with the delight this ensemble takes in performing this material. In the intimate, cabaret-style space, their optimism just reaches out and grabs you.
There are scenes and characters that stand out. They include Johnstone's traumatized tot in "Baby Godzilla," retreating into fantasy to cope with his feuding, estranged parents. A totally absurd bit is "I Have Some Notes," in which a luxuriously eyebrowed Lohman, portraying director Martin Scorsese, seeks script advice from the blogger who's been trashing his work (Mansk). A truly bizarre, yet satisfying, sketch features a dialogue by cable between an embattled Winston Churchill (Peterson) and a disengaged, Hollywood-starlet-obsessed Franklin Roosevelt (Forbes).
I've done to death the metaphor that likens sketch comedy to cooking. "Impro Rebels" reminds me that the art can be compared to wine-making. Orson Welles, in a '70s marketing campaign, promised for Paul Masson: "We will sell no wine before its time." Much of Sicko's material is rare vintage; some is still grape juice. Yet that really doesn't matter. Like Dan's family carries his legacy, so does his professional family. In this most ephemeral genre of theater, his works will be refined and reworked as artists discover new and wonderful ways to express his vision. As our children are our bid for immortality, the artist can enjoy a type of immortality, too. Dan Sicko is gone, but not forgotten.
A portion of the proceeds from "Improv Rebels" will benefit Ann Arbor's Camp Kesem, a free summer camp for children with a parent who has or has had cancer.
SHOW DETAILS: "Improv Rebels" continues at Go Comedy! Improv Theater, 261 E. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale, 10 p.m. Thursday through Oct. 4. Running time: 53 minutes; no intermission. Tickets: $5. For information: 248-327-0575 or www.gocomedy.net.
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