Trolls Wanted: Detroit’s Comedy Scene Invites the Audience to Shout Back

“Prankis with Bart Dangus” encourages heckling at its weekly comedy showcase at LJ’s Sweetheart Bar in Corktown.

Chris Gerard

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The format doesn’t stray far from the tried-and-true formula of a local comedy show — comics sign up, go up on stage and try their best to get a laugh out of the audience.

But in the backroom of LJ’s Sweetheart Bar on Monday nights at 9 p.m., “Prankis with Bart Dangus” tries to flip that idea on its head by encouraging the audience to heckle the comedians.

“Prankis” is the brainchild of host Bart Dangus — a stage name of the 30-year-old comedian who transplanted from Arizona-to-Detroit about two years ago.

Dangus says he wanted to bring the concept of a heckle-encouraged comedy show to Detroit after seeing it act as a “training room for comics” in other cities.

“People think everyone is going to yell ‘you suck’ or ‘boo,’ but that’s not the type of heckles that are happening at Prankis,” says Dangus. “It’s something that will either get a laugh or poke a hole in your joke. Some people can just take that energy and soar … and it’s amazing to watch that happen. That improvisational aspect is such a skill.”

Chris Gerard

That doesn’t mean comics are guaranteed to get heckled when they perform at Prankis.

“If you have good material, the crowd will pay attention and laugh and enjoy it,” says Dangus, “but if you have something thrown together that has a bunch of holes in it, they’re going to pull your pants down and throw a pie in your face.”

With Netflix and other streaming services offering more platforms for comedy than ever, stand up comedy has found itself in a golden age of sorts — and Detroit’s comedy scene is stronger for it, says Dangus.

“There’s an underground scene here that’s hard to navigate if you’re not in with it, but there’s tons of different rooms you can do,” he says. “You can hit several mics a night, which is the goal of a comedian — you need to get as much stage time as you can.”

The room has hosted rising Detroit-based comedic talents like J. BellJosh Adams and Jeff Horste, who has his own half-hour comedy special premiering on Comedy Central at 11 p.m. on August 24th.

Still, Dangus says there’s a big difference between a live comedy show in the backroom of a bar and a polished special that makes it to a streaming platform like Netflix.

“It’s not Netflix — going to live comedy is a completely different game,” says Dangus. “Live comedy is raw and I think that’s the way it should be.”

Special thanks to Bart Dangus, who helped edit and record audio from a recent “Prankis” comedy night for this segment.

Chris Gerard

Prankis with Bart Dangus

“Prankis with Bart Dangus” happens every Monday night at 9 p.m. in the backroom of LJ’s Sweetheart Bar in Corktown. You can find more info here.


  • Ryan Patrick Hooper
    Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host of "In the Groove" on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. Hooper has covered stories for the New York Times, NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.