Got Jokes? is more than an improv troupe. They're a collection of comedians; they're a small business; they're a supporter of creative arts in the community; and they're the brainchild of founder Daniel Jefferson.
Prior to their show at Tampa Improv Thursday night, we asked Jefferson about what makes a great improv show, what he looks for when evaluating talent and how he keeps his head up as a Detroit sports fan.
CL: As the leader of the Got Jokes? crew, you get to have a lot of fun. But it also falls on you to manage the business part of things. How do you balance those roles? How do you keep everybody focused when actual work has to get done?
Jefferson: Evolution and empowerment. I'm a big proponent of personal growth. We're just at the cusp of eight years of operation, and I’ve learned over time that I can’t do this without help. It’s the only way that you scale a dream. Who better to help than the foundation that has helped build your brand?
Currently, I have appointed two long-term members as creative directors: Chuck Glass and Barry S. Naylor. Nina Ramdat, another local comedian, chips in as my Tampa operational manager. Together, this team helps me to manage Got Jokes? better than before while I focus on expansion in other segments of our business.
Your shows are dependent on audience feedback and interaction. How do you practice that? When it's just you and your team, how do you keep everyone in "game shape?"
A few years back we adopted the model of the “public practice.” We provide the public the ability to watch us behind the scenes at local businesses in an open forum. Not only does this keep the team sharp and build a relationship with local businesses, but we get instant feedback from our fans as to what they like and don’t like.
What will the audience get from you that they can't get from a traditional stand-up show?
Our audience receives an evening full of laughter with the best local comedians in the area that is guaranteed to be different every single time. And if that’s not cool enough, they get to feel like they are a part of the show as well!
What separates a good improv show from a lesser one? Is some of it random or dependent on the audience, or does it always come down to the talent on stage?
It’s a combination of a lot of variables, including external factors outside of the actual performance of the comedians: Staging, sound quality, venue upkeep, and drink/food offering. If you can manage to get most of those things right along with a perfect evening of give and take from the performers, then you are normally in for a great show — especially if the audience is anxious to contribute. Our favorite places to perform are the Tampa Improv and NOVA 535 in St. Pete for those reasons.
You recently added comedian Kojo Prince to your roster. Prince has been doing stand-up for a long time, so this is a little different for him. What did you see in him that made you think he'd be a good fit? What qualities do you look for when choosing your team when they come from a non-improv background?
From the moment I bumped into Kojo Prince years back, I knew he was special. Outstanding storytelling, comedic facial expressions that bring back Lucille Ball nostalgia, physical comedy from another planet and brilliant timing are a few things that come to mind when I think of Kojo. He’s a hard worker who remains humble. That’s a recipe for a great Got Jokes? performer: Be funny. Be authentic. Provide us with a distinct voice that we don’t already have.
What's your impression of the improv and stand-up scene in Tampa Bay?
I think that comedy venues could be doing more to make outstanding local talent household names nationally. It’s not a one-sided street though, as I believe that it is up to the more seasoned performers to take the city to greater heights.
I think that it's merely a matter of time before someone finally figures out a way to have Tampa listed as one of the great comedy hubs in the country. We would love to be a part of that mix when it happens.
There are a number of good improv troupes in the area, but they don't all have your longevity. What's the secret to keeping it going, even through lineup changes?
Every year we push the envelope. We challenge ourselves to up our production value and build relationships with quality venues and business owners locally and past Tampa’s borders. We’ve done everything from run a weekly comedy club to host a statewide talent competition that has built relationships with entertainment communities nationwide. We were fortunate enough to understand our identity early on while being adaptable with change whether it be socially or technically driven.
Your nickname is "Motown Pride," and you make no secret of your support of Detroit teams. To put it nicely, sometimes those teams aren't the most successful on the court or field. How do you maintain your optimistic personality and remain a loyal fan?
If you’ve ever bumped into a Detroiter before, the answer becomes immediately obvious. In general, we wear our adversities like a badge of honor. Our sports teams are a part of that legacy. Tampa is a second home for me, but I will always be "Detroit vs. Everybody" to the core.
How can the audience maximize the fun they have at a Got Jokes? show?
Follow us on all of our social media outlets (facebook.com/gotjokesimprov) and build a relationship with the performers. In a short time you'll feel like you're a part of our family as well. Then the easy part: Come to our show, bring your loved ones and be prepared to laugh like you’ve never laughed before.
Oh yeah…you know that I have to say it: When I say "Got What?" You say "GOT JOKES!"
Showtime is tonight at 8 p.m. $10. 1600 E. Eighth Ave., Tampa (Ybor City). Info: improvtampa.com or 813-864-4000.