Duo improvise hilarious career


When Deanna Moffitt and Stacey Hallal played the Chicago Improv Festival as All Jane No Dick, the best joke was in their advance billing.

'The Chicago papers listed us with groups from all over the world Ñ everywhere from New Zealand to Israel Ñ as being from Poland,' Moffitt says.

'The Polish embassy called and wanted to meet us. We got a call from a Polish producer who wanted to meet us to see about film work. I guess it was easier for them to believe we came from Poland than from Portland, Oregon.'

Five years after they met at Portland's ComedySportz, the duo are flying high. In the past year they've played improv festivals from Seattle to Miami, and they're auditioning for the new season of Fox network's ensemble comedy program 'MADtv.'

Moffitt and Hallal are back in Portland for two shows at the Back Door Theatre.

It was December 2001 that the two nervously launched their career at the Russell Street Theater. At that time they were part of a trio with Joslin Larson.

'Our first show was a fun one, and Stacey taped it,' Moffitt says. 'In April, she said, 'Oh, by the way, I sent our show to the Chicago Improv Festival' and we said, 'What?' '

But festival producer Jonathan Pitts liked what he saw and offered them a slot Ñ to their amazement.

'We've done about 10 shows, and we're supposed to perform in Chicago Ñ the home of improv?' Moffitt wonders.

All Jane No Dick became a two-person act shortly after Chicago, when Larson couldn't make the trip to the New York Improv Festival.

With hearts in their mouths, Hallal and Moffitt went anyway and landed a plum spot in a 48-hour improv slate at the UCB Ñ Upright Citizens Brigade playhouse. The evening started at 8 p.m. Friday and ran nonstop until Sunday night. All Jane No Dick went on at prime time, 7:30 Saturday night.

'We were standing backstage with our eyes this big, saying what the (expletive) are we doing here?' Hallal recalls.

But their show went well and led to 30 appearances since then at improv festivals from Seattle to Miami. Hallal thinks that their successful Orlando show this spring triggered the 'MADtv' invite.

'There's a strong (comedy) connection between Orlando and L.A.,' she says. 'Somebody must have gone back and said something.'

Both say that appealing to women helps enormously with their crowds.

'Women bring so many people,' Moffitt says. 'Normally, you'd expect reservations for two to three people, but for All Jane we'll get 10 to 17 to 20.'

Each show is unrehearsed Ñ 'no script, no rules' as their letterhead says.

'We tried working up ideas, but it's not spontaneous and we can tell,' Moffitt says. 'So we take ideas from the audience.' The theme goes through the evening and includes sincere moments with which people identify, she says.

Hallal gives an example of such a scene:

'Deanna and I did this scene where we were sisters, and she'd had a baby, and I was a tomboy, and there was tension and she said: 'Never mind, maybe you'll do something that will earn Mom and Dad's respect someday.' And I said, 'Gee, that really hurts.' We end a lot of shows where the audience reacts to the last remarks with 'aaaaah É''

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