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BATSU! @ Je'bon Restaurant

New York, New York, USA

New York, New York, USA

BATSU! @ Je'bon Restaurant

New York, New York, USA

New York, New York, USA

BATSU! @ Je'bon Restaurant

New York, New York, USA

New York, New York, USA



I love good comedy, and in NYC, we’re lucky to have quite the slew of venues and shows to choose from if we want to get our laugh on. Since the city is home to so many talented up-and-coming and well-known comedians, comedy in NYC can be quite competitive and most clubs feature impressive line-ups of acts no matter which night you go.

Two of my very favorite comedy clubs are Caroline’s on Broadway (conveniently situated in Times Square, if you’re visiting that area) and Comedy Cellar (in the über-hip Greenwich Village) which have been around forever and never fail to put together great shows and plenty of laughs. Many celebrities stop by these venues between movies, tv shows and whatever other big deal gigs they have lined up. The clubs are where many of them got their start and honed their crafts before their careers took off, so they are often happy to come back and make appearances whenever possible.

After touring (as an audience member!) most of the comedy clubs in the city several times over, I’ve started branching out to other comedy shows that make more, er.. creative use of comedic talents. Here are three that delivered:

Losing contestants at BATSU who were penalized by having to eat sushi off of a less-than-studly model

BATSU!: Completely silly but somehow brilliant, this show- performed in the basement of the Je’Bon Sushi restaurant in the East Village- is inspired by the ridiculous Japanese game and variety shows that have been making their way to American television over the past few years. The comedy troupe, Face Off, performs a series of improv exercises and stunts, incorporating audience ideas and on-stage participation (voluntary- whew!). Whoever messes up a task or loses a challenge is penalized in any number of strange ways. When I attended, losing audience members (like J!) were made to eat sushi off of a “model’s” body while failed performers were shot with paintballs or made to tussle with a frisky “wrestler.” This isn’t the place for highbrow humor, but the performers were incredibly talented and there were plenty of laughs.

The Liar Show: Four comedians tell personal stories- some are so hilarious you’ll laugh your way to better abs while others will tug at your heartstrings. Either way, you’ll probably be blinking back tears. The performers are always master storytellers who know how to weave a tale. BUT only three of the stories are true; you have to decide which one is a complete lie.

After all four stories have been shared, the audience has the opportunity to interrogate the comedians, asking for clarifying facts and trying to find holes in their stories. Toward the end of the evening, you have to decide which of the four people were lying. Everyone that’s correct will be awarded a t-shirt. Regardless, the stories will blow your mind- I’ve always left wondering how the true stories could possibly be true, and how the made-up story could have been so well-executed.

ASSSSCAT 3000: The Upright Citizens Brigadeis a nationally-acclaimed improv and sketch comedy troupe that counts as part of their alumni comedic geniuses such as- ahem!- Amy Poehler. Over the years, the troupe has been so well-received that they had a show on Comedy Central for a few years and now have several teams in three theatres in Los Angeles and NYC.

ASSSSCAT 3000 is their signature and longest-running improv show. It’s an evening of long-form improvisation and it’s not uncommon to arrive and discover that big name actors have stopped by to take part in that evening’s show.

If you’re in NYC, be sure to stop by one of the more “traditional” stand-up clubs or one of these kookier shows for a night of laughs. Just keep in mind that show tickets can run anywhere from free (usually on a weeknight) to $30, but some do require a two-drink minimum so make sure to check in advance if you’re on a budget. -

You probably wonder what it's like to get Tasered.

Or probably want to see somebody else get Tasered.

For fans of either (or both!) BATSU! is for you.

Presented by comedy troupe Face Off Unlimited, BATSU! is a Japanese-style game show hosted in the basement of the East Village sushi restaurant Je'Bon. It promises to bring you impossibly silly challenges with some brutal punishments.

Innocent fun this is not.

Equal parts slapstick and sadism, Japanese game shows are usually a showcase of the mortifying — and frequently painful — humiliation of the contestants.

While winners will celebrate with free beer and prizes, losers will face bodily torture. Electric shocks to the neck, mouse-trapped fingers and paintball gun wounds are just a few of the battle scars you can look forward to.

Banzai! -

Beer gushed down my throat as I chugged a whole cup without taking a breath. In the most ladylike way possible, I dropped to my knees and began pushing a lime across the stage with my nose. At the edge, I used all the strength my little nose could muster to try to drop the fruit into a mug. I failed miserably.

The Singha beer tower challenge is hard. Downing cups of beer in a race against the opposing team is not difficult, but the “pushing a lime” part is tricky.

Okay, let me explain.
This is “Batsu!,” a hilariously improvised Japanese game show right in the heart of the East Village. Impromptu games are played by members of the Face Off company, and occasionally audience members get thrown into the mix.

Meaning “punishment” or “penalty” in Japanese, it was quite clear that due to the show’s namesake, I was not going to leave the stage unscathed. Praying to escape the paintball gun that had provided the night’s first batsu, my team and I lined up to receive our punishment.

When a large hairy man came out wearing nothing but a grass hula skirt, I knew we were in trouble. Four pieces of sushi were placed on his belly, soy sauce poured in his belly button and chopsticks handed to us.

“Batsu! Batsu! Batsu!,” the audience chanted as we took our penalty.

Hosted by Kenji America and featuring his mistress of torture, Noriko Sato, the show is a ridiculous riot with some incredible improv actors. Styled after Japanese game shows, “Batsu!” throws in physically painful penalties for losing teams that include actors sticking their hands in a bowl of mousetraps and have clothespins attached to their face.

“What makes the idea so beautiful is that even if we’re not funny, it’s still going to be funny because we’re doing ‘Jack Ass’ style stuff up here” Jay Painter, Face Off co-founder and “Batsu!” creator, explained. “Seeing people in pain is something that everyone thinks is funny. Everybody has a good time every time.”

Face Off’s other co-founder and “Batsu!” actor, Eric Robinson agrees.

“People love to see people on stage getting beat up,” he said.

And the show has plenty of that. The evening ended with the company members doing impressions (suggested by audience members) while wearing shock collars. Every time a comedian failed to impress, Noriko hit them with violent static pulses.

The show, while still in its infancy, is not new. In 2002, a group of actors began performing an improv comedy show in Long Island called “Friday Night Face Off.” In 2009, Painter and Robinson established Face Off Unlimited, which encompasses a myriad of shows and Face Off University, their improv school.

“Batsu!” began its open run in January after a preview last November with Robinson, Painter and Face Off director of operations, Joe Tex, performing regularly. A fourth actor or guest star rotates into the group. Alexander L. Hill was hysterical as the fourth member (and part of my losing beer challenge team with Robinson) while I was there.

Showing me the welt on his chest from where he was shot earlier in the night with a paintball gun, Robinson makes it clear that comedy is their passion.

“We do it for the laughs,” Robinson said. “Everything is in the spirit of that.”

“Batsu!” is performed every Monday at 8 p.m. at Jebon Sushi & Noodle. Tickets are $10 and well worth the money. Sponsored by Singha beer, everyone who participates in the show (after signing your life away on a waiver) gets a free beer and a ticket to another performance.

With a whole week before the next “Batsu!,” I will be practicing my lime pushing skills before I go back to one of the most entertaining Monday nights in the city. - Backstage

An hour after I signed a waiver saying I’d never sue, Noriko Sato tied a shock collar meant for dogs around my wrist. The audience watched in anticipation as she pushed a button on a handheld device. Suddenly, a spike of electricity tore deep into my skin. I yelped in pain as the crowd laughed.

We were all gathered in the basement of an East Village restaurant for “Batsu!” This Japanese game show-themed improv comedy performance runs every Monday night at 8 p.m. Upstairs, customers at the Pan-Asian dining spot Je’Bon feasted on sushi while I was downstairs getting the shock of my life.

“Can you confirm that the shock is real?” asked “Batsu!” co-host Kenji America as he held a microphone to my mouth.

“God, yes,” I said, clutching my wrist. As I walked back to my seat, someone handed me a plastic cup of beer and a strip of thick paper that read, “I survived BATSU! and won this free ticket!”

Batsu, which means “penalty” in Japanese, is a game show format where participants are punished when they bungle a task. Je’Bon’s “Batsu!” is the brainchild of Jay Painter, who co-founded the New York improv group Face Off Unlimited. When Je’Bon owner Joe Yipp was looking for ways to serve up more than just food in his restaurant, Painter offered his idea. “It just hit me — a Japanese game show!” said Painter. Batsu TV programs are extremely popular in Japan, and given the lively presence of Little Tokyo in the East Village area, Painter thought the format would translate. “Schadenfreude transcends cultural boundaries,” he added.

Co-hosts Sato and America, both actors and comedians from Japan, were cast after nailing their auditions. The rest of the team includes Painter himself, along with fellow Face Off Unlimited performers Joe Tex, Eric Robinson and occasionally, Steve Zegers. Then six months ago, “Batsu!” was born.

At the June 13 show I attended, audience members got drunk on beer and sake while contestants eagerly received punishments such as shocks, paintballs to the torso and slaps to the face.

I’d resolved not to drink during the show, but after I walked off the stage dazed, still clutching my arm, I took my seat and downed a plastic cup of beer that I’d been given. Then, I joined about three dozen other audience members in the packed basement in cheering on rest of the show.

If I had it bad, cast members Tex and Zegers had it worse: A smiling Sato tied collars around their necks. Then, based on suggestions from the audience, each performed a character. If the audience didn’t find it funny, they shouted “Batsu!” and Sato activated the collar.

Tex’s impression of Tony Soprano (my suggestion) was a failure: Tex accidentally mentioned baklava instead of cannoli. “That’s Greek, not Italian!” shouted an audience member. “Batsu! Batsu!” chanted the crowd. Sato shocked Tex, and he clutched his neck in pain. Later, Zegers’ dead-on impression of a proper, crusty old Margaret Thatcher elicited roars of approval, granting Zegers a reprieve.

There were other games as well: In one, the ensemble improvised “a-man-walks-into-a-bar” jokes. If the joke fell flat, Sato smacked the joke-teller in the face with an oven mitt covered in talcum powder. In another, the performers and volunteers from the audience were divided into two teams that raced to consume the beer in identical yellow kegs. The losing players were forced to pop enormous yellow balloons against their bodies, inflicting stinging pain.

“How’d the collar feel?” Tex asked me after the show.

“Let’s put it this way,” I replied, “that’s the first time I ever decided to drink while covering a story.”

“Glad you got into the spirit of it!” Tex said.

I sure did. “Batsu!” is a blast: A shock to the system, but worth it. - The Village Beat

NEW YORK - Singha Beer is proud to be the official beer sponsor of BATSU! - the latest creation from the critically acclaimed comedy group Face Off Unlimited. BATSU! is a live comedy, Japanese game-show! Watch as the improv players compete for comedy domination, and suffer the punishments for failure (including paintball gun executions, electric shocks and more!). Audience members may participate in certain challenges, with signed waiver, to win free Singha Beer and other prizes. Hosted by Japanese game-show host KENJI AMERICA.

BATSU! is every week, Monday nights at 8pm (dinner service begins at 7pm) @ Je’Bon (15 St. Marks Pl). Tickets: $10. Call 212.388.1313 for show and/or dinner reservations. - Singha Beer Blogspot

Ever watched Japanese TV game shows and wanted to be a part of it? Now is your chance! Come to JeBon restaurant at 8pm tonight to take part in one crazy game called Batsu! This Japanese “penalty game” takes place in the basement of the sushi restaurant. Brought to you by the comedy group Face Off, watch as improv players compete for comedy domination and suffer the punishments for failure. Audience members are encouraged to participate in certain challenges and stunts to win free beer and other prizes. Tickets are $10. - CBS News New York

Japanese game shows are notorious for resembling live torture, and now all you sadistic souls can try your hand at surviving one at Batsu!, a Japanese-style game show in the basement of the sushi restaurant JeBon. Presented by the comedy troupe Face Off Unlimited, the evening, with host Kenji America, includes impossible challenges performed by the pros of Face Off, as well as you—with free beer and prizes for the winner and severe punishments (electric shocks, being shot at by paintball guns) for the losers. If you do want to participate, you’ll, of course, have to sign a waiver. They’re not messing around. - The Village Voice

Japanese Jackass
If you experienced traditional Japanese culture yesterday at Japan’s New Year’s Day Celebration: Oshogatsu, get a taste of its wacky modern cousin with Face Off presents: BATSU! at Je’Bon Noodle House (15 St. Marks Pl between Second and Third Aves; 212-388-1313,; 8pm; $10, with 7–7:30pm dinner reservation free). Batsu is a Japanese variety-show genre that translates as “penalty game,” and members of improv group Face Off will submit themselves as contestants in Je’Bon’s live version, in which losers are forced to undergo various Jackass-like punishments. You can participate yourself, or soak up the schadenfreude-—we recommend the latter. - Time Out New York

Face Off will take you on a "non-stop comedy thrill ride" as they take comedy to A Whole 'Nother Level! Based entirely on audience suggestions, the members of Face Off combine live music, improvised sketches, physical comedy and poetry to create a complete full-length show out of thin air.

A Whole 'Nother Level is an interactive theatrical comedy experience not to be missed, a spokesperson said. Face Off is performing at 9 p.m. today at Wesley Chapel on the campus West Virginia Wesleyan College as part of a national college tour.

A Whole 'Nother Level was created and developed by its three-man cast of Eric Robinson, Jay Painter and Joe Tex, who have appeared on Funny or Die, Tru TV, MTV, PM Sports, feature films, national and international theatrical tours, numerous commercials and Off-Broadway shows (not to mention climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, jumping out of airplanes, and serving with the U.S. Marine Corps in Operation Desert Storm).

Painter is the son of Kenneth and Molly Painter of Beverly. He attended Elkins High School and first studied acting at The Old Brick Playhouse in Elkins.

"I was in the inaugural class of The Old Brick Apprentice Program and performed the role of Romeo in 'Romeo and Juliet,' their first apprentice production," Painter said. "I went on to perform professionally with The Old Brick in their touring children's shows as a company member for two years."

Painter graduated from Davis & Elkins College with a degree in theater and then moved to New York City to pursue an acting career.

Currently, Painter is the co-owner and founder of the Face Off Unlimited LLC comedy production company and teaches classical acting at Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem. - The Inter-Mountain

BATSU!: If you've ever had the pleasure of watching Japanese game shows then you will fully appreciate the humor and horror of Batsu!, a live version of the torturous games, brought to life by acclaimed improv group "Face Off." Host Kenji America guides the troupe through stunts and challenges that test the limits of human tolerance; participants must sign a waiver for the honor of being humiliated. The rewards are sweet (free beer!) but the punishment severe (ever been shot with a paintball?). The show goes on every Monday, with dinner available for hungry contestants, but seating is limited so call for a reservation.
- The Gothamist

The Face-Off Unlimited comedic improv troupe comes at you like a surreal tornado, in their East Village based Japanese game-show BATSU!

Joe Tex, a mordant comic genius, Eric Robinson, a galvanizing stage presence who is a consummate master of frenzied unpredictability and Jay Painter, whose sly witticisms and atmospheric guitar playing skillfully escalate the madness, form the heart of the troupe.

At JeBon on St. Marks Place on Monday nights, they are augmented by the satirically over the top Japanese game-show host Kenji America, and the laser wielding Noriko Sato, the disciplinarian who instantaneously delivers the due justice to any performer who fails to meet with the crowd’s approval in this audience participation melee.

After all, “batsu”, roughly translated from the Japanese, means punishment, and if the audience feels the pain, even for a moment fugitively, the performers must feel it literally. Such are the terms of this riotous theatric transaction.

What stands out about Face-Off Unlimited, beyond the crowd-pleasing hijinks at which they are so adept, is the lightning intelligence of their verbal forays into the uncharted terrain where logic and absurdity collide.

They inhabit this no man’s land through the use of theatre games, in which for example the audience shouts out “painter," “elephant,” or any other kind of animal, which is then used as a premise for a scenario that rapidly comes to defy any preconceived expectations of linearity, as the performers riff like a high speed internet connection, creating an improvised verbal mosaic too zany to recount without violating the spiritedness of the action.

Highlights included “Household Olympics,” in which a common object serves as the basis for an impromptu skit; “School Yard Insults,” in which the players who don’t get the laughs (sometimes it happens), get the laser jolt from the appropriately flamboyant, well cast mistress of pain (the above mentioned Noriko Sato); the on the spot story inventions during which the slightest hesitation or stumble from a performer elicited friendly cat calls, guffaws, and cries of “BATSU!” were another casino of hilarity, made all the more so by the accompanying good natured administration of the punishment.

The intentional absurdity of the fatuous, posturing wrestler decked out WWF style, and the hyperbolic, fluttering insanity of the chicken suited run-on, provided still more memorable moments of raucousness in this bacchanal of belly laughs.

A word must also be said about Matt Samardge, who operated the soundboard and used the lights to great advantage. His intelligent engineering created a highly effective counterpoint to the performers’ subtlest thrusts, as well as their wildest juxtapositions.

Face-Off Unlimited, already an entertainment institution out on Port Jefferson, Long Island, where they have done a weekly Friday night show for years, has more recently based itself in Astoria, and give enthusiastically received classes in comedic improvisation at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City. In addition Face-Off Unlimited is creating a fierce buzz on the college circuit. The troupe is an engaging unit clearly destined to reach audience. -

From Second City to IO, Chicago knows how to bring the laughs, and now it will show the rest of the world too during the Chicago Improv Festival running from April 25-May 1. The festival features 95 shows from 8 nations and 32 cities. So get your tickets to the 14th Annual Chicago Improv Fest and take note of the 5 must-see acts you won't want to miss.

Face Off Unlimited: Prepare to go on a "non-stop comedy thrill ride" with Face Off Unlimited's reliance on physical comedy, live music, improvised poetry, and audience interaction. The New York Times called Face Off Unlimited "really funny," while New York City's Night-Life Exchange called them "nothing short of brilliant." - The Huffington Post

SO Harry Truman and a guy who has some emotional problems involving thongs (the underwear, not the flip-flops) both go to see Sigmund Freud, and.

Sounds like the start of a pretty bad joke. But it was, in fact, the middle of a really funny scene at a recent performance of ''Friday Night Face-Off,'' a weekly improvisational comedy show that has become a late-night hit among a young and demonstrably appreciative audience at Theater Three here.

With a cast that usually numbers seven or eight quick-witted performers, ''Face-Off'' will temporarily expand Friday for a show marking the start of its fifth season. Former cast members will join the current crew for what is likely to be an even more frenetic twist on the show's usual competitive improv format.

That format will be familiar to viewers of the longtime TV show ''Whose Line Is It Anyway?'' Teams vie for points as they create scenes on the spot, based on suggestions called out by the audience. A referee (Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director of Theater Three, dressed for his role in black-and-white referee stripes) assigns broad categories, switches gears on the cast -- ever try doing a scene backward? -- and awards the points.

It may be a touch arbitrary, but who could blame Mr. Sanzel for awarding a point recently to the team that managed -- imaginatively, if perhaps anachronistically -- to bring Harry Truman to Dr. Freud, who was also treating the thong guy. Thongs may be inherently funny; the 33rd president of the United States is not usually a subject of much hilarity, though Harry was boffo that night.

A hip-hop segment, ''Beastie Rap,'' in which team members completed each other's lyrics (''her name was Carol'' was rhymed with ''barrel,'' ''peril'' and even ''Will Ferrell'') also went over big with a college and high-school crowd that has embraced ''Friday Night Face-Off'' as a way to start the weekend.

''I've come many, many times,'' said Vincent Giarraputo, 17, a high school senior from Stony Brook who stood among dozens of youthful fans outside Theater Three before the show, waiting to head downstairs to its second-stage Ronald F. Peierls Theater. ''It's different every week, and you bust a gut laughing.''

The current crowds are a far cry from the 35 or 40 people who turned out for the very first ''Friday Night Face-Off,'' said Eric Robinson, 26, who originated the show with Jay Painter, 30, while both were performing in Theater Three productions at area schools.

Driving together from school to school, the two actors, who had done improv in the past, found themselves ''doing mini-scenes in the car,'' Mr. Robinson recalled. Soon they got the idea for an improv company at Theater Three's second-stage space, where ''Friday Night Face-Off'' kicked off in February 2003.

While they are no longer regulars, both will take part in what is billed as the ''Fifth Anniversary Show,'' which, given ''Face-Off's'' 2003 debut, is really a ''beginning of the fifth season'' celebration, Mr. Robinson agreed. ''Next year we're planning on having our 10th anniversary show,'' he quipped.

The ''Friday Night Face-Off Fifth Anniversary Show'' will be performed Friday at 10:30 p.m. on the main stage at Theater Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson; Tickets are $12; call (631) 928-9100, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Tickets for regular performances in the second-stage Ronald F. Peierls Theater ($12; cash only) are available the day of the show only. - The New York Times

Think "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" without Drew Carey in this comedy show, which takes place downstairs at Theatre Three in a cafe setting complete with cocktail tables and drinks and snacks for the date-night crowd. Two teams of improv comics take audience suggestions and then use their quick wits to put together sidesplitting routines. A host keeps score and, let's just say, anything goes in what's become a Friday-night staple in Port Jeff. - Newsday

There comes a time in every adventuring-blogger’s life when you lose the liberty of, well, being choosy. After falling off the event-going wagon last week and being felled by a stomach bug this weekend, last night it was high time to seek out nyc-vicariously entertainment. My trusty, oft-referenced online newsletter had nothing listed for that evening, so I turned to the pages of TimeOut Magazine for Monday’s events. There were only two.

The first described a lecture event at the MoMa, featuring a performance artist famous for an “obscenity laced disco song” who would discuss her “provocative work.”

The second event took place at a bar/restaurant, and centered on “members of an improv group who will submit themselves as contestants in a live version of a Japanese game show, in which losers are forced to undergo various Jackass-like punishments.”

Despite the tempting notion of combining obscenity and disco, I opted to go to the second event; for, I confess, I love improv. A couple of times in college, a roommate and I went to improv comedy shows and I was 100% “that girl”—the one guffawing at jokes that garnered half-smiles from the other audiences members; the one that you look at wonder, “what could possibly make her react so strongly to a half-decent imitation of Jay-Z?” (The answer? I really don’t know; something about a group of people riffing on random topics just gets me going).

I grabbed a sushi dinner to go from the takeout restaurant across the street, and headed to St. Mark’s, only to find that — surprise, surprise— this “live version” of a Japanese game show was hosted in the basement of a Japanese restaurant. Oh well.

I treated myself to an apres dinner Sapporo

and sat down across from an older woman who there alone, reading a Nora Roberts book and nursing a pina colada. I introduced myself, and she explained to me that her son was in the Improv group and running tech for the performance.

A high-decibel chatter arose in the audience in the moments before the show began, peaking with talks of “release forms.” Turns out the the audience — if they were ready and willing—could also be subjected to the “Jack-ass like torture”. To remind, I was one Sapporo in, code for “not signing anything tonight.”

And then, ushered in by a rapid-fire flash of red lights (a flourish provided by my new friends’ son), an energetic, suit-and-tie clad host bounded onstage. He reiterated the show’s premise: it was Batsu, based on a popular Japanese game show theme in which an incorrect answer yielded punishment of a creative variety. The audience was partially responsible for, helping to judge the events and make it known that it was time for punishment with the increasingly familiar chant of “BATSU!” Here, we’re being introduced to the contestants, members of the Improv comedy troupe Face Off:

The first round was story-telling: an audience member supplied a prompt for them, and the first Face Off-ite member to stutter, stumble on his words, or leave room for a too-pregnant pause would, at the sound of a ominous gong in the corner, be subject to Batsu torture. The prompt was “It hurts!”, which led to a tale of going to a nail salon for manicures and pedicures. It certainly seemed like a gender-biased response to “it hurts.” That would be my answer to the prompt: “What I always try to get my mother to do with me when she visits.”

The torture that time was a paintball to the stomach.

In another early event, three of the men and two audience participants took shots of sake in rapid succession while one Face Off member strummed away, blind-folded, on his guitar. (As you can see below, when they finished their shot, they—somewhat inexplicably—had to hold the empty shot glass above their head.) Whoever was unlucky enough to be holding the jar of sake when the music stopped was subject to Batsu. This time, it was eating FRIED CRICKETS, which an incredible sport of an audience member consumed in one gulp. He was rewarded for his efforts with a beer.

Throughout the evening, it was clear that the sake was taking its desired effect, and the poor members of Face Off grew a little more numb to the punishments they faced round in and round out.

The challenges that ensued were fun to watch, but not especially creative—there was a round of celebrity impressions, a round of free-styling, a round of “___ walks into a bar” (the blank, once again, provided by the audience. In this case, psychologist, and walrus, respectively.)

But the punishments, oh my, the punishments! THOSE were borderline ingenious, and clearly the crux of the show. Administered by a Japanese woman who switched costumes according to the punishment theme, they included, but were not limited to: a giant balloon that the punishee had to pop without using hands or feet; a baby-powdered slap to the face; clothespins placed on nostrils, mouth and (eeeek) nipples; a lap dance supplied by a guy in a scanty wrestler costume - nycvicariously

The Long Island City/Astoria area has become the home of an improv production company with a long list of accomplishments and supporters that continues to grow by the minute.

In 2002, comedian and actors Jay Painter and Eric Robinson created a short-form comedy show called Friday Night Face Off. They met while on one-year contracts as company members at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson, Long Island. The theatre had a vacant second stage, which they decided to use to create their own show. Now, every Friday comedians compete two-against-two or three-against-three in short improvisation games and scenes suggested by audience members. The show’s continued success, even nine years later, inspired Painter and Robinson to create Face Off Unlimited, LLC in 2009.

“Eric was tired of having to work for people and tired of having a day job… so we decided to make improv into a legitimate business and we formed Face Off Unlimited,” said Painter.

Since its creation, Face Off Unlimited has expanded into more than just a weekly comedy show. The “Face Off Universe” includes a Japanese game show-style improv show in the East Village called BATSU!, a touring improv show and the Face Off University.

Students in Face Off University learn the fundamentals of improvisation while acting out games and exercises designed to test and strengthen one’s own improv skills. Classes are held at the Secret Theatre, and the five-week course ends with graduates performing at the theatre in front of a live audience, usually headlined by a Face Off Unlimited show.

“A lot of our classes are filled with actors, singers and dancers, but we also have plenty of people who have never done improvisation before. People [come] looking to become a better performer or unlock their creativity and just have fun,” said Joe Tex, an instructor at Face Off University and director of operations for Face Off Unlimited.

Tex has become the group’s “third head,” working side by side with Painter and Robinson since being cast and serving as its creative director from 2003 to 2007.

“We are the best of friends and we work well together,” said Tex. “My kind of funny works really well with them – we have different types of humor, but we complement each other so well. It’s not work, it’s kind of just fun.”

Making Astoria/LIC the home of operations for Face Off Unlimited was a decision made easily. The company’s web site called LIC “an artistic [and] creative force to be reckoned with” and both Painter and Robinson lived in Astoria for quite a few years.

“We looked into places in Manhattan, but we found [LIC] had such a high rate of artistic people. There are musicians, actors and painters – it is so rich with the arts here and we thought this is a place where we could imbed ourselves and become part of a community,” said Tex.

The improv team also has a comedic influence in Manhattan. Their weekly show BATSU! is made up of four competitors battling it out in short-form improvisation games with the help of audience members and their suggestions for game topics. The twist is that the show is set up in the classical form of a Japanese game show with their host, Kenji America, and co-host, Noriko Sato, announcing the games and administering punishments if the actors are not funny or fail the task at hand.

With all the different projects the company is involved in, the question remains, why specifically improv?

“[With improv] the show just happens all around you,” said Tex. “That’s a magical moment when you and the audience are creating together and they participate without even realizing they are doing it. Everyone’s taking the ride with you.” - The Queens Courier

The creators of Face Off Unlimited -- Jay Painter, Eric Robinson and Joe Tex -- don’t want their live show A Whole ‘Nother Level, which debuted to a packed house at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City on September 28, to be viewed as just another improv show. And while the performance is technically long-form improvisation, it is much more than that.

To open, the audience turned its attention to a video screen where Painter, Robinson and Tex shook their scrawny (and not-so scrawny) butts to Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls.” The group then entered the theatre, jumped onto the stage and announced how they were “completely unhindered by rehearsal.” Unhindered, unshaken and unanimously creative might be the right words to describe this dynamic trio.

As with most improvised shows, the audience is prompted to throw out suggestions. With the debut show being a month from Halloween “witches” was the first of three (suggestions) yelled out by the audience. Without missing a beat, Painter played some Wizard of Oz music on the guitar as smoke filled the room (kudos to the technicians). Robinson and Tex took their turns under the spotlight making up songs about famous witches.

While Tex confused "Bewitched" with "I Dream of Jeanie," at one point, no one in the audience seemed to notice, and if the rest of Tex’s group did they certainly didn’t let on. Just one of many examples of this team’s strong and consistent synergy. Painter’s flying monkey was funny and physical. There were also some well-executed, wicked voices and some funny jokes thrown in to complete the scene.

The two other inspirational words from the audience were "string cheese" and "blind date." Tex’s clever joke about “ripping Polly-O from seven of his friends,” was hilarious as was the relationship between Eric and Joe as husband and wife farmers. The two clearly defined their male and female roles and never broke character.

Through music (Painter enthusiastically playing guitar) and a series of short-form games, the scenes and suggestions continued to flow, taking the audience for a fun ride that led from witches to tornadoes, to a farm that produces string cheese, and finally a blind date in that very barn. The progressive, character-driven scenes were nothing short of brilliant and creative.

The interwoven games, however, were at times a little confusing and distracting (especially if you are not familiar with that kind of improvised action). A game called ‘forward-reverse’ was obvious with Painter making the calls and actually became rather funny when Tex was commanded into slow- motion mode. An original game called “slang that” was less thrilling and even hard to understand when Robinson called it. The games that involved music were easier to follow and a bit more lively. One of the highlights of the show was when the trio broke out into a blues-type song with a repeating chorus of, “I can’t see you” (to go with the ‘blind date’ scene) which had the audience clapping and singing along.

Some self-deprecating humor, call backs to earlier jokes and even a comical reference to the warm temperature in the theatre, rounded out a wonderfully entertaining performance that just demonstrates the true genius of Painter, Robinson and Tex. It’s no wonder this trio has decided to take their improvised spectacular to "a whole ‘nother level."


As a post script, it would be wrong not to mention the opening act of this particular show – none other than Face Off University’s Level 2 improv class. The students performed six short-form games that were funny, thoughtful and purely enjoyable.

Face Off’s next A Whole ‘Nother Level will take place on November 16, at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City. Admission price is $12. Reasonably priced beverages (including 4 Yuenglings for $10) as well as hamburgers and hot dogs were available outside the theatre throughout the show. There was an intermission for those in need of a snack or a bathroom break.

For more information on upcoming shows go to -


2002 Created Friday Night Face Off in Port Jefferson on Long Island. highlights include 58 consecutive sold out shows, Six episodes on local cable network, now in it's 9th year and is LI's most successful, longest running, and funniest show. FNFO still performs regularly to sold out crowds!

2002 - 2009 Players come and go, careers grow and skills are sharpened as members of Face Off begin to infiltrate all area's of the industry.

2009 The founders of FNFO, go legit and form FOU LLC.

2009 Become producers of DFD*TV and executive produce the successful comedy content site Winner of a 2011 Telly Award for their hilarious commercial for Pookies.

2010 Create and develop the one of a kind long form, rocking improv comedy experience: A Whole 'Nother Level.

2010 BATSU! previews on December 6th to sold out show and rave reviews.

2011 BATSU! opens on Jan 10 and performs weekly since to packed houses.

2011 Becomes TONY Critics' Pick, The Village Voice: Voice Choice", CBS News NY, NYCVicariously, Nite Life Exchange, The Queens Currier all rave!

2011 Singha Beer becomes official beer sponsor for BATSU! at the East Village home show.

2011 You book BATSU! and your audience has a night they will NEVER forget!



Face Off comics compete in improvised games and wild challenges, based on audience suggestions to avoid hilarious punishments (including a paintball marker, a shock collar, a giant egg smashing chicken, and lots more).

Featuring Game Show Host Kenji America, and his co-host the lovely, yet merciless, Noriko Sato.

There will be a winner. There will be a loser. There will be BATSU!

The question is, are you willing to play? In certain challenges, audience members play along side the Face Off players for a chance to win prizes. Of course, if selected, you risk suffering the punishment for failure!

To learn how you can bring BATSU! to your next event: email us at and tell us a bit about your venue and the date(s) you have in mind. visit for more on the FOUniverse.