Orange County

This former ‘Saturday Night Live’ writer is bringing improv comedy back to Franklin Street

Ali Farahnakian, clockwise from upper left, mugs for a photo with Bill Chott, Pat McCartney, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Rachel Hamilton during a mid-1990s stint with the Second City Touring Company.
Ali Farahnakian, clockwise from upper left, mugs for a photo with Bill Chott, Pat McCartney, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Rachel Hamilton during a mid-1990s stint with the Second City Touring Company. Contributed

Improv comedy will return to Franklin Street this fall, after a brief intermission caused when DSI Comedy shut its doors.

Ali Reza Farahnakian, a former “Saturday Night Live” writer and UNC alumnus, will open his third Peoples Improv Theater space by November at 462 W. Franklin St. The PIT has two existing locations in New York City.

Farahnakian is holding an open meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11, at the Franklin Street space to meet the community, share more information and let people know about openings for teachers and administrators.

“The PIT is dedicated to creating a creative and supportive comedy theater in Chapel Hill, and it all starts with you,” read a Facebook announcement posted Sept. 6.

Ali Farahnakian
Ali Reza Farahnakian Contributed

The new venture will fill an entertainment vacancy created when DSI Comedy theater closed in August after 17 years in Carrboro and Chapel Hill.

DSI Comedy founder Zach Ward, also its owner and artistic director, decided to step down and close the venue after former performers and students alleged on social media that he mistreated women and workers, creating a climate that favored some performers over others and discouraged them from taking other jobs.

Ward has denied the allegations, but the incident galvanized nearly 175 Triangle improv performers and afficionados to launch The Better Improv Communities project, “to ensure that our improv theaters and improv community spaces are supportive and safe for everyone.”

The incident also prompted Triangle area improv and theater companies to hold an expert panel discussion on rape culture and harassment in August.

The possibility of a new Chapel Hill improv theater and the chance to work with Farahnakian elicited excitement online this week.

“Enter a new era for the local comedy scene in the triangle, but particularly in Chapel Hill/Carrboro,” Chapel Hill native Joey Shea posted on Facebook. “I have too many feelings to put into words here, but I wish this endeavor nothing but the best and I hope it connects people to joy, love, security and community like improv should.”

A news release from The PIT said the theater company offers its communities multiple opportunities to enjoy and perform improv and learn about comedic arts “in a safe and nurturing environment.”

Farahnakian did not return calls seeking additional comment about his plans.

The new venture is something of a homecoming for Farahnakian, who grew up in the small-town North Carolina communities of Danbury, in Stokes County, and Advance, in Davie County. His parents still live in Advance.

Farahnakian graduated from UNC in 1990, before moving to Chicago to study sketch writing at The Second City improv comedy enterprise. He stayed for nine years and was a founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade, a comedy group that also featured actress Amy Poehler, with whom he also toured as part of the Second City Touring Company.

He also trained at Improv Olympic with co-founders Charna Halpern and Del Close, an actor and a guru to many well-known comedic actors.

Farahnakian moved to New York after being hired as a writer at “Saturday Night Live” in 1999, and three years later, opened the original Peoples Improv Theater in Chelsea, New York. The PIT expanded to the Flatiron District in 2010.

His body of work also includes theater, commercials and television shows such as “Law & Order,” “30 Rock,” “Inside Amy Schumer,” and Adult Swim’s “Delocated,” and a number of films, from “The Bourne Legacy” to the “Edge of Darkness,” “Arthur” and “American Gangster.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb