Improv Nation

If you still think of improv comedy as amateur night, let the Phoenix Improv Festival change your mind. This second annual two-day event brings the best of Valley improv together with the best of the nation's offerings to convert all of you unbelievers.

The festival was founded by Jay Melius and Leann Oates of local troupe Barrow Gang, and they have high hopes for the fledgling festival. "It's one of the funniest weekends in the Valley -- in Valley history, even," says Melius. "Can we say that?" asks Oates. "I think we just did," finishes Melius.

Several local troupes will be joining the bill this year: Hovercraft, Ken Burns Documentary, Apollo 12, and FLD Productions ("Fresh Like Doggie" -- a misquote from a Beastie Boys song). Most of the local groups are slightly incestuous, many sharing members and participating in each other's performances. Most have trained for years, and it shows. "I love to mess with them," explains Oates, as she lets fly an audience suggestion at a recent show. Soon, Jared "Bootsie" Hutton of Apollo 12 is acting out the Magna Carta. Payback is a bitch.

In addition to the local talent, several troupes from around the nation will participate. Bear, a two-person Chi-town troupe, will headline on Saturday night. "Chicago is like the Mecca of improv," explains Oates. Bear is a regular at the Chicago Improv Festival. Men in Shirts, from Detroit, will also perform on Saturday, and L.A.'s political comedy favorite Moving Targets will perform Friday.

Saturday night's show will be topped off with a late-night improv jam, which encourages anyone, including the audience, to be a part of the show. It lasts "until everyone goes home." Improv workshops, $15, will also be held on Friday, from noon to 4:30 p.m.