ST. PETER — Tane Danger and Brandon Boat aren’t aiming to change ideologies with their unique blend of political debates and improv comedy.
“Our goal isn’t to change minds but to leave you thinking, ‘This issue is more complex than I realized,’” Danger said.
With a $100,000 grant, Danger and Boat’s political comedy troupe is heading out on a national tour of college campuses. Their first stop is where it all began: Gustavus Adolphus College.
The former Gusties had their own improv troupe during college. Danger graduated in 2007 with a degree in communications studies and Boat graduated in 2008 with degrees in history and English.
In 2011 they founded The Theater of Public Policy.
“We thought there must be some way to combine our loves of politics and improv and bring some civic value,” Danger said.
The duo and a cast of improv artists since have put on over 300 shows with guests who have included many notable names in Minnesota politics.
They’ve debated topics ranging from legalizing gay marriage to how safe are self-driving vehicles.
Many of their shows are at Bryant-Lake Bowl in Minneapolis while others are done on the road.
The guests sometimes are politicians, who recently have included U.S Rep. Tim Walz of Mankato and Tina Smith, then lieutenant governor and now U.S. senator. Other times their guest is a state official, such as recently Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower. And sometimes their guest is a professor, journalist, nonprofit director or other expert, such as the superintendents of Minneapolis and St. Paul schools.
Recruiting guests was no easy task in the beginning when few people had heard of their unique productions, Danger said. But they have no problem these days since gaining significant media and social media buzz. A Star Tribune article likened the troupe to “C-Span being swarmed by the cast of ‘Saturday Night Live.’”
A typical show starts with Danger interviewing a guest or guests.
Danger promises his interviews are quite different from what one might watch on Sunday morning news talk shows. He uses off-beat questions and tries to steer guests away from their standard talking points while still eliciting a substantive discussion on the issue, he said.
After the interview, Boat and a few other quick-thinkers give an improv performance inspired by what they just heard.
The diverse group of performers have carte blanche but for one rule, Danger said: “We never punch down.”
The performers poke fun at both sides of the issue and rarely do they receive a complaint afterward, Danger said.
“Comedy inherently makes people lower their defenses to some degree,” he said.
After the comedic break, there is an audience question-and-answer session. The show concludes with another round of improv.
Danger said he hopes his shows “use humor to illuminate ideas and issues and help make them more understandable for a broad audience.”
The troupe received a $100,000 grant from the Charles Koch Institute to put on free shows at 10 colleges across the country. The participating colleges choose the topic and the guests.
The first stop is at Gustavus on Monday evening. The topic is “#MeToo and beyond” and will discuss the movement against sexual assaults and harassment and its political implications. The guest speakers are Greg Abbott, a civil rights attorney and former head of the Minneapolis DFL party, and Alisa Rosenthal, a political science professor and special assistant to the president for diversity, equity and inclusion at Gustavus.
If the tour goes well, Danger said their financial backers might fund another tour.
The founders of The Theater of Public Policy’s bucket list also includes recording some of their shows and sharing them with a larger audience.
Someday, Danger said, they’d like to start up troupes based in multiple cities across the country.