Even a good laugh needs an administrator. Chicago native Daniel Mer came to the Valley about four years ago to manage the then-ailing Tempe Improv. "It had been losing money for about two years, and they asked me to come out and help them turn things around," says Mer, who has worked for the Improv organization for nine years. He helped open a comedy theater called The Cablecar in San Francisco, where he also managed The Other Cafe, famous for producing one-man shows and "one of the clubs where all those Bay Area comics came from--Dana Carvey, Robin Williams, Paula Poundstone."
Under his management, the Tempe Improv, which turns 10 years old this month (Jerry Seinfeld was the club's opening act in October 1988), has evolved into one of the Valley's classier entertainment venues. Mer applies a simple philosophy: "The most important thing is quality booking. They had lost their credibility. People need to know that whether it's a big name or a no-name, that a comic is going to be funny, or we wouldn't have booked them."
Recent headliners at the Improv have included such topflight acts as Bobcat Goldthwait, Anthony Clark, Margaret Cho, Bobby Slayton, Wendy Liebman, Pam Stone, Brian Regan and Jake Johanssen, as well as Rhonda Shear and her "Up All Night Pajama Party." Local boy David Spade shot his recent HBO special, David Spade--Take the Hit, in the venue.
What's the most difficult part of managing the Improv? "Well, we're dealing with some of the smartest, funniest people in the world," says Mer. "There are a lot of good comics out there, but in terms of playing the Improv, there's really only about 20. So these people do sometimes have very big, very fragile egos, and sometimes they do need some baby-sitting.
"There are lots of difficult things, but I hesitate to say that anything is difficult, because at the end of the day, when I hear that crowd laughing, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world."
--M. V. Moorhead