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Comics in the Doghouse

Known for its improvisational productions, Delray Beach's Doghouse Theater is enjoying success mixing improv and stand-up.

by Chuck king
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DELRAY BEACH – South Florida stand-up comic Jesse Cohen attempted to confound the Doghouse Theater improv group by conjuring images of humans consummating relationships with manatees and dolphins.

The actors’ return message: Hold my bottlenose.

The Doghouse crew didn’t hesitate to take Cohen’s joke to the next level.

“I chose which jokes to do knowing that the were going to do the improv acting, and then it was very entertaining to watch not just my own jokes but other peoples jokes get acted out on stage,” Cohen said.

Doghouse improv actor Dan Fortin assumed the role of a dolphon or manatee (does it really matter which one?), laying on the front of the minimalist stage and attempting to seduce two castmates standing on the imaginary shoreline.

Thankfully, Fortin’s mating effort proved unsuccessful. From a sheer comedy perspective, however, the laughs procreated like drunken rabbits.

Taking ridiculous premises and turning them into theater is second nature for Doghouse entertainers. Such performances have become the norm on Friday nights at Delray Beach’s intimate Doghouse Theater. For the past month the Doghouse, which holds about 50 fans, has tried a new approach to improvisational theater.

They’ve invited a handful of local stand-up comics each week to deliver brief sets, then had the troupe perform improvised skits based on the comic’s jokes.

“It’s very uncommon,” Doghouse owner and actor Tom Neile said. “I don’t know anyone else who does it. I’m not saying no one does it, I just don’t know anyone who does.”

Neile credits Sean Beagan with the original idea for the format (internally, Doghouse actors refer to Friday night performances as “The Beagan”). Casey Casperson, who leads the Sick Puppies Comedy improv company, turned the idea into a reality at Doghouse.

“He told me about it years ago and I said, ‘You’re out of your mind,’” Neile said. “That just doesn’t mix. You just don’t put those two things together. But you know what? I have a feeling you can figure out how it works.”

If the past month is any indication, Casperson has more than figured it out. He’s developed the idea into an entertaining night of theater and comedy.

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“We want to be a little bit different – and it seems like the comics really like it, and the audience, once they start to understand what is going on, starts to warm up to it as well,” Casperson said. “You’ve got comedians who have tried-and-true material that they’ve worked really hard to make happen on stage, and then we do something fresh and inventive and improvised, and the audience knows that we’re just doing stuff for the sake of doing stuff.”

Cohen, along with the 35 or so fans in attendance one late July evening, was thrilled with the Doghouse interpretation of his jokes.

That’s been a common reaction among comics – even those who aren’t too fond of improvisational comedy.

“Normally I hate improv and it makes me uncomfortable, but watching them do it based on your own set, it helped us all get new tags and write,” said Jackie Sanchez, who performed at the Doghouse the week before Cohen did. “The way we think about our sets is one way, and then hearing four other people’s point of view on it was so different and helpful.”

Comic Charly Esturilho attended the Sanchez performance as a fan. The following week he performed a brief set and, like Sanchez, found the experience to be a useful way of developing his material.

“They way they improv definitely helps me think about the joke in a different way,” Esturilho said.

The Doghouse still offer their bread-and-butter – traditional longer form improvisational comedy shows – on Saturdays, but Neile and Casperson intend to continue with The Beagan (pronounced like vegan – only much more meaty) format on Fridays for the foreseeable future.

This week Drew Illa, Bryan Sobolewski and Casperson are scheduled to perform. The show starts at 8 p.m.

“I’m totally cool with having Friday and Saturday nights with 30-50 people coming to see shows, everyone having a good time, everyone waking out with some giggles,” Casperson said. “Let’s see what happens from there.”

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