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Underground comedy: Improv group celebrates one year in basement theater

The Brooklyn Paper
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These comedians are in their happy place!

An improv comedy theater will throw a party on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the one-year anniversary of its underground theater space. The Annoyance Theatre and Bar in Williamsburg has created a vibrant space for comedians to push their limits, says the group’s executive director.

“It’s a literally underground theater, in the basement,” said Philip Markle, who lives in Williamsburg. “The vibe in there is electric, it’s very intimate. It feels like you’re in a clubhouse. It’s a place where people feel welcome and take risks.

The Annoyance Theater started in Chicago, but branched out to teaching its brand of subversive improvisational comedy in Brooklyn in early 2014. Since then, the Annoyance Theatre has taught more than 500 students, opened its underground physical theater, and grown beyond improv, hosting performances four night a week of sketch comedy groups, game shows, and semi-scripted performances like “The Devil Wears Prada — the Musical.” Markle says the group tries to keep a rough balance between improv shows and other formats.

“There’s a lot different types of comedy you can see, but it shares a voice,” he said. “A loose, edgy, screw-the-Man kind of voice. But more than anything else, it’s playful.”

Among the theater’s regular shows is “Dog Fight,” in which three improv teams compete before a canine comedy connoisseur. Markle, who created the show, says that the concept is a way of deflating the pressure of competition.

“I said ‘This is ridiculous, we don’t care who wins. Let’s just have the dog judge it,’ ” said Markle. “So we interview the dog between all the sets. We have stage-worthy dogs with very expressive faces.”

At the end of the show, a member of each comedy team is given a doggie treat, and the pooch determines the winner.

“Whichever treat the dog goes for is obviously the funniest team,” said Markle.

The anti-competitive nature of that show matches the executive director’s plan to keep the company level-headed.

“It’s my goal to keep an ego-free zone, where anyone can come up to anyone else at the bar,” he said. “As we get bigger, we want to keep it open. We’re trying to avoid the hierarchical system that can sometime make improvisers too cool for school.”

The New Year’s Eve party is another way to bring comedians together. It will not include any performances — instead offering improvisers and friends a chance to drink and socialize in the space where they have often taken the stage. It will also function as a release party for the new improv guide “Behind the Scenes,” written by Mick Napier, the group’s artistic director.

“It’s a celebration for anyone to come in and have three drinks and champagne,” said Markle. “It’s open to anyone in the comedy community who wants to feel the vibe. We’re just taking it easy and celebrating that night.”

New Year’s Eve Party at the Annoyance Theatre and Bar [367 Bedford Ave. at S. Fifth Street in Williamsburg, (718) 569–7810, www.theannoyancenewyork.com]. Dec. 31 at 8 pm. $20.

Reach arts editor Bill Roundy at broundy@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4507.

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