Never let it be said that TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi aim too low. The Chicago-based comedy improv team, billed simply as “TJ & Dave” (names shortened for obvious convenience), is nestling into an open-ended run at the cozy Barrow Street Theater. The two plan to stay there until, as Dave humbly puts it, “We take over the world.”
The lack of modesty is, of course, a joke. In reality, TJ & Dave are affable guys whose credibility derives from their very plainness. They’re the kinds of fellows you’d spot at a Mets game or microbrewery, if you noticed them at all. They morph in and out of long-form improv scenes onstage with nimble authority, creating new characters through subtle changes in posture and vocal tone. Nothing is planned.
“Maybe at the same moment,” TJ says, “we’ll both realize, ‘Oh, Christ, we’re in a car dealership.’ But what we want to do in that place is not going to be the same.”
Natural tension between the two personalities—Dave is more aggressive, TJ tends to play it quieter—urges their plots forward, lending dramatic heft. In one recent performance they were close friends vying for the same woman, a celestial beauty seen only through their detailed characterizations (each took turns portraying her). As she seduces one, then the other, the actors were faced with romantic situations that would have flummoxed less intrepid men. Do they ever feel they’ve gone too far?
“More likely,” asserts Dave, “we think, ‘oh, we’ve gone too far. We should go further!’ ”
“If it feels uncomfortable,” TJ offers, “it’s probably where we should be headed.”
Like TJ, Dave is a veteran of Chicago’s famed Second City troupe, and likes to pepper his scenes with trivia. One night he spouted an impressive disquisition on Caravaggio’s painting of the Madonna, detailing rumors of how the artist used a prostitute’s corpse as his model. Arcane facts are dredged up and offered, seemingly at will.
“Wouldn’t it be really great,” Dave enthuses, “if I actually didn’t know that stuff, but the character knew it? That would be the best!”
On a good night TJ & Dave can elicit steady laughs for the bulk of an hour. Humor comes from not knowing what will happen next and the knowledge that TJ & Dave don’t know, either. TJ’s style, in particular, is refreshingly naturalistic.
“I’m only an improviser,” explains TJ, who has never taken a formal theater class. “That naturalistic approach is not knowing how to act.”
Performing Thursday through Sunday allows the pair to fly back to Chicago during the week, but Dave wants New Yorkers to know he intends to stick around, even if reality calls for simple expectations.