Comedy for the People
Peoples Improv Theater founder Ali Farahnakian talks about his comedy club’s new Chapel Hill location, his time at UNC and his advice for aspiring comedians.
Ali Farahnakian was moved to found People’s Improv Theater after 9/11.
Ali Farahnakian is a 1990 UNC graduate, former Saturday Night Live writer and founder of the People’s Improv Theater (PIT). He is opening a new PIT location on West Franklin Street in the space previously occupied by the DSI Comedy Theater. The PIT will host live comedic performances as well as musical performances and will offer classes and workshops to the public. The location is be the first PIT location outside of Manhattan and has a slate of classes and shows for their future programming. Farahnakian talked to Cassie Hazell about his plans for the theater, his connections to Chapel Hill, and his experiences in the comedy scene.
Cassie Hazell: What is the mission of the People’s Improv Theater?
Ali Farahnakian: The mission of the PIT in Chapel Hill is to put a performance art space in a building that would’ve become office space, and from my understanding, there’s not a dedicated performance art space or comedy club in the town of Chapel Hill, so that’s our goal: to give the town a place for folks to come and give performances.
CH: What inspired you to found the PIT?
AF: I’m an alumnus of the Improv Olympics in Chicago and Second City and Saturday Night Live, and post 9/11, I felt like i needed to do something with my life. I was living in New York, and I felt like it was time to open up a comedy theater performance art space. That’s how I felt like I could help.
CH: What's changed in comedy since you opened your first club?
AF: There are a lot more people doing it, it's more accessible as a hobby and a way to live and try something new.
CH: What made you choose Chapel Hill for the newest PIT location?
AF: I’m an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I graduated in ‘90, and my folks live outside of Winston-Salem. Really it was a matter about the building. The building had been a performance art space a comedy theater, it was being abandoned and if anybody else had stepped in to make it a comedy theater, I would’ve been happy to just come by and say hello.
CH: Did anything happen while you were at UNC that convinced you to pursue a career in comedy?
AF: I met a lot of amazing, funny, smart people, and it seemed like we were always doing "bits," and that probably prepared me in some way.
CH: What programs and shows are going to be available at the Chapel Hill location?
AF: We’ll have all types of shows in terms of stand-up, improvisation, sketch comedy, solo performance, but we’ll also have music. We may have salsa, poetry, Ted Talks, interview shows; however people see fit to use the space for their needs, and there’ll be, hopefully, three classroom spaces as well and hopefully a podcast room.
CH: Is there anything that you want people who are experiencing their first time at PIT to know?
AF: Hopefully they know it’s a place where they can play and hopefully feel safe and supported, and for folks who’ve always wanted to try performing in some way.
CH: What do you want people to experience when they come to the PIT, either as a performer or as an audience member?
AF: My hope is that for a moment in time they get to forget about their woes and the stuff going on in their lives and they’re able to laugh a little and think a little and be around folks who enjoy doing the same.
CH: Do you have any advice for people interested in stage comedy and creating original comedic content?
AF: Well, I think it just comes down to you’ve got to build your own boat so you’ve got to just bail more quickly and you’ve got to decide about getting off and decide about stage time and how you’re gonna do it and just make a plan for yourself where you can get as much stage time as you can.
CH: What do you want to accomplish by opening the PIT in Chapel Hill?
AF: My hope is that we’ll be open by spring and hopefully we’ll be putting a place on West Franklin in the town of Chapel Hill and Carrboro and the surrounding areas will benefit from.