There's a lot of garbage out there, a lot of noise. With the advent of the Internet and smartphones, YouTube, Netflix, television, and Twitter ad nauseam there is an overwhelming and nearly unlimited array of entertainment choices competing for our attention. Much of it, especially comedy, is cruel and makes its living on the downfall of the weak.
We have never laughed harder or more consistently than at Improv Mondays at Planet Ant Theatre in Hamtramck. Nothing, not a film, television show, play, podcast, book, stand-up comedy show, has been funnier. We've gone the last three Mondays to judge the consistency across shows, and at five bucks a pop it's the best $15 we've spent all month. Hands down. They're nearly doing a public-fucking-service spreading — surprisingly merciful — joy on dreary Mondays in Detroit.
And it's not just us. Overheard at intermissions:
"This is fucking great."
"I just wish it would have gone on longer."
"Better than sex."
Here's how it works: The show starts just after 8 — get there early because it's generally packed and the theater seats about 30, although there's not a bad seat in the house. The first set is performed by a guest troupe selected from the area and lasts about half an hour. The second set is performed by what they call "the home team" a semi-consistent stable of actors possessing years of training and huge talent. The third set, which is less well attended, offers a chance for audience members and students to try their hand at improv. Although this last set seems set up more for budding improvers, it's still funny and always warm and supportive.
Cast members take suggestions for scenes from the audience. For example an audience member may shout "crystal ball" in response to a question for "a noun, something largeish." And then the improvers get to work, riffing off the suggestion.
The show is well-intermissioned so there's ample time for cigarette smoking, bathroom going, and chatting with the cast and fellow audience members. Don't be intimidated by the façade — Planet Ant is located in a purple house and the vestibule is kind of small. But it's universally unpretentious and the staff is not only unquestionably friendly, but working very hard for your entertainment.
The theater has been open for 20 years and is in its 15th year with Improv Mondays. Some remarkably famous people have come out of Planet Ant, including Keegan-Michael Key of Key & Peele and MADtv fame.
Payment is often on the honor system and they might even not notice if you drink a beer or bottle of pink wine you bought down the street. While decidedly not appropriate for kids, the humor nearly always punches up and the cast generally doesn't rely on lazy characterizations of the mentally ill, for example, or harp on misogyny to get their laughs, which is all too common in improv and sketch comedy. It's bawdy without being offensive, and taken as a whole, Planet Ant is offering the best of the old-world charm of old-school Detroit.
We can't give it a better recommendation than this: It's our job to see theater and write about it. There's very little that feels better than laughing for two solid hours. We will be returning Monday nights to Planet Ant, on our own time, as soon as possible.
Planet Ant has a variety of offerings, including late night improv most Saturdays, a regular season of non-improvisational plays, and improv classes, which start in January. Check out their website at planetant.com for times, location.