Ten Years of Go Comedy: Pj Jacokes Shares Memories, Laughs and Mentorship

Ten Years of Go Comedy: Pj Jacokes Shares Memories, Laughs and Mentorship

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Aug. 24, 2018)

Ferndale, MI- Earlier this year a city-wide scavenger hunt sent Go Comedy! patrons looking for such items as a full bag of garbage, a medium pizza and even the Mayor of Ferndale.

Last summer Go Comedy! fans played along with Dream Cruise BINGO, spotting traditional sights such as “overheating car,” “parking on sidewalk,” “super loud muffler,” and “truck with a bald eagle and a flag.”

And each week comedic actors get up on stage to find on the spot humor in everyday kinds of suggestions from the audience.

For those who aren’t familiar, improv is different than stand-up.  In stand-up a comedian has a routine. They memorize the jokes and share them with the audience.  But improv is a troupe of actors performing together, there is no script, and the audience helps guide the show. “Without the audience there is no show.  You can have a stand-up comic do their routine to a camera and it still works, but you can’t do that with improv,” Jacokes said.

When asked how he explains improv to people, he said.  “Most people I ask if they’ve ever seen “Whose Line is it Anyway.  And if they aren’t familiar with that I say it’s like Saturday Night Live but it’s made up on the spot.”

He remembered the moment that he fell in love with improv. “It was in Chicago in 1995. I was there watching the show and they took audience suggestions, and I yelled out ‘Spiderman!’ And the guy did Spiderman!

“It sounds simple, but I was hooked. I was so excited they used my suggestion. I loved seeing how the whole audience was really part of what was going on. Being a part of something that we’re all creating together, it’s really good for the soul.  It’s an experience.  You may not remember the jokes the next day, but you remember how it felt.”

“I was a super shy kid who needed help with my social anxiety,” Jacokes said.  “A lot of good improvisors are shy… People whose personalities are too big or too loud don’t connect as well with their partner.”  He started improv classes at the age of 19 in hopes of it helping him as a musician. “I was in a band.  I loved performing but hated being onstage. I took lessons at Second City. That blew my mind.  When I finished classes at Second City I got hired as an understudy.  By the time Second City moved from Detroit to Novi, he was an instructor. And when Second City announced it’d be closing the Detroit location, it left Jacokes with a decision to make.  What to do next.

He figured maybe a career in advertising would be good, but people kept saying, why don’t you open a theater? That’s when Gerald Knight reached out and offered to fund his dream.

They brought in business partners Chris DiAngelo and Tommy LeRoy and found an old Secretary of State office in Ferndale, across the street from the Library and City Hall, and thought “this is a good spot.”

On November 12, 2008, the cast of Go Comedy! did their first show.

About ten people have been with GO! from the beginning, and over 200 have performed over the club’s first decade. Among them have been legends like Kevin McDonald, Paul F.  Tompkins and Keegan Michael Key. “I’m proud of our reputation, and getting to play with some of my heroes is really cool,” Jacokes said. “And seeing people succeed, like Jaime Moyer.  She was in our first cast, but has been out in LA for a while.  She was a regular on Casey Undercover and guested on Parks and Rec.  She’s famous. There’s ‘improv famous’ and ‘public famous,’ and Jamie is both.  We’re so proud of her.”

The business has been fun for the whole family. “My brother has been with us since the beginning. My sister was the box office manager for a long time.  My mom’s company used to sponsor the Detroit Improv Festival and my dad serves on the board of the festival,” Jacokes said.

It’s also where he met his wife.

“I was sitting at the bar at Go, just unhappy.  I was going through a divorce, I was fighting a cold and I was just in a bad way. That’s when Lisa came in. She was there to watch her friend in a show called “Skit Happens.” She also was under the weather and ordered a Hot Toddy at the bar. I ordered one, too.  And we talked for a minute. I got her number from her friend that night and the rest was history!”

“We got married a couple of years later at The Loving Touch.  When it was done we came over to GO! And played in a show. She performed in her wedding dress.  The audience loved it.  She is so funny and beautiful.”

“So there is something to be said for having a sense of humor,” he said with a laugh.  Improv gives you confidence. That’s what it is.  If you can go on stage in front of 100 people and make them laugh, you can talk to one person and not be terrified.”

A bigger picture kind of confidence-building happens behind the scenes.  Not only are audiences uplifted as part of the show, and not only are those taking classes learning how to blossom into masters of the spotlight, but a whole segment of business for Go Comedy! serves to train groups in all kinds of settings.

Some workshops are for team-building, others teach specific skills such as how to interview for a job or avoiding misogynistic behaviors in the workplace.  Jacokes and his team have helped companies like Ford, Google, Quicken Loans, and the Detroit Lions with their trainings, which incorporate humor and participation to help make the training more memorable than a standard corporate training might be.

And sometimes it’s even more fun – like working with the Michigan Dairy Council to coordinate an interactive show for kids at Ford Field.  “It was a lot of cow puns,” Jacokes said. “That was fun.”

But mostly his passion is helping people feel more comfortable in their own skin, in their jobs, and in their relationships with other people.

“There are three main tenants of improv,” Jacokes said.  “Say yes.  Actively listen. And build something together.

“It’s a great philosophy for improv, and for life.  You can see people grow and their lives are better for it.  If you live your life this way – if you say yes.  If you really listen.  If you build something with people around you, good things happen.”

That philosophy is not just part of the comedy, but part of the business itself.  Jacokes has served on the Downtown Development Authority Board and volunteered with the Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce.  Go Comedy! often hosts fundraisers and events to support good causes in the community.  That involvement has helped him not only to see the growth of Ferndale in the past ten years, but to really be part of shaping that vision for the creative and enterprising culture that is currently blossoming.

In honor of their 10th anniversary, Go Comedy has a number of reunion shows lined for November 7, 9, 10, and 11 – On Wednesday and Sunday, old troupes are coming back together to play again, on Saturday at 6pm two of their most popular scripted shows are returning for one night only; and at 8pm and 10pm on Friday and Saturday is the Go Comedy! Allstar Showdown each featuring different performers from all ten years.

Go Comedy! Improv Theater is located at 261 E. 9 Mile in Downtown Ferndale. Learn more at www.gocomedy.net

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