Improv Finds A Home

DAVID SEPULVEDA PHOTOSThe faux theatrical proscenium boxes, miniature decorative architectural elements lining the upper walls at Inspired Turkey, a catering business that opened last August in Ninth Square, would be smiling if they could. They make perfect decorative sense even as businesses change and evolve around them.

New business owners Ide and Melaka Ehigiato,“inherited” the opera inspired decor from the former occupant, Nini’s Trattoria, at 82 Crown St. Their entrepreneurial journey took another twist recently as they began carving up helpings of comedy and entertainment along with the pressure fried turkeys that are the mainstay of their business.

Friday night, Inspired Turkey LLC hosted the first of what will be a season of “Inspired Comedy” nights, drawing both improv and standup acts from around the state and beyond. New Haven’s Tiny Dictator Improv Group, which practices nearby at Artspace, was the inaugural Inspired Comedy act. The group will continue to perform at the new venue regularly, helping to fill a void where New Haven comedy, particularly Improvisational comedy, is concerned.

George Kouros (The Man Who Knows), a criminal defense attorney and Tiny Dictator Troupe member, emceed the comedy event. In his opening remarks he described New Haven as one of the few cities to not have a permanent venue for improv, Yale Improv groups notwithstanding.

With the Inspired Turkey venue, things are about to change. “Inspired Comedy will be presenting clean and classy shows and different kinds of comedy including Christian oriented comedy” as it looks to maximize use of the space while finding new ways to increase awareness of their catering business offerings, Ehigiato said.

Among those in attendance at Friday night’s sold-out Inspired Comedy show were recent Yale Divinity School graduates Sarah Ginolfi and friend Anne Thatcher. Ginolfi, who does some improv comedy, weighed in on the evening’s vibe and improv dynamics overall: “The crowd needs to learn it. There must be an intimate interaction between audience and performers and both have to be committed.”

Comic Mikey Likey (pictured), who has had extensive improv training in Los Angeles and who will be headlining the Inspired Comedy line up on June 13, described improvisational comedy as having its own language: “It’s about the players giving gifts to each other.” He quoted the famous Improv and acting teacher David Razowski: “We are the Santas of now town.” Likey added that “living in the present is what carries the scene in improv.”

Throughout the evening audience members were able to buy helpings of pressure fried turkey and a savory coconut rice and vegetable side prepared by chef Pat Hoskie, though unlike a restaurant format, there are no tables or counters at which to eat. The informal dining arrangement is in keeping with the Inspired Turkey business plan. “We don’t want to be a restaurant,” said Ehigiato. Since the establishment has no liquor license, audience members were encouraged to bring their own refreshments. Many did.

If the notion of pressure fried turkey seems strange, that is because there are few, if any, local businesses offering the fare. It was the search for a deep fried turkey that they could buy from a commercial establishment one Thanksgiving, that led the Ehigiatos to a business epiphany. Finding no commercial outlets, they decided to start marketing their own fried turkeys, albeit a superior version of the culinary treat. (Click here for a previous story about the restaurant.)

According to their promotional materials, a pressure fried bird is healthier than its merely deep fried cousin because less oil is absorbed in the frying process as flavors and natural juices are locked in. The use of peanut oil as the frying medium, is supposedly a more healthy choice among cooking oils. Ehigiato said that their Inspired Turkey is beginning to find its way onto supermarket and specialty store shelves with their vacuum sealed, quartered turkey portions, a line which they are hoping to expand.

If catering seems a bit off the intended career paths of Nigeria-born Ide Ehigiato, who is a full time aerospace engineer, and spouse Melaka, a native Brooklynite and cellular biologist by training, becoming impresarios of a comedy venue is all part of an evolving business plan that the couple embraces. It spells good news for a city in need of more laughs.

Asked about the unlikely pairing of turkey with comedy, and the Inspired Turkey moniker, Mikey Likey had the best answer: “A turkey is a pretty funny animal.”

The laughs continue next Friday, June 6, as SEA TEA Improv of Hartford headlines the next Inspired Comedy event.

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