I Live Here (now): How improv comedy paved Michael Busch's way back to CLE

Michael Busch grew up here during the era when Cleveland was more of a punchline, and now that he’s back after living in Los Angeles for 15 years, he’s rediscovering the Land—and bringing the laughs with him.

“Cleveland has a decent standup comedy scene, but there aren’t a lot of outlets for alternative comedy,” says Busch, who now resides in Old Brooklyn. “My hope is to develop a place for people to come and see affordable improv and sketch comedy shows.”

Michael Busch performing with The Imposters Society at Forest City BreweryEnter Imposters Theater, the intimate 20-person venue that Busch launched in August offering an array of live shows, classes, and workshops. The project has had a hearty reception so far, having been named a Cleveland Chain Reaction semi-finalist and been chosen for a 10-month stint inside the Tremont Business Incubator space. Imposters Theater also recently hosted the Mass Hysteria Comedy Fest in late October.

Busch attributes the theater’s early success partly to its filling a much-needed niche in Cleveland’s creative scene. “Columbus, Cincinnati, Detroit, and Pittsburgh all have multiple comedy and improv theatres, so I was honestly surprised not to find something similar here,” says Busch. “There were people producing improv shows, but no real permanent venue for alternative comedy. I saw an opportunity to help solidify the community further and build something that would be cool for Cleveland to have.”

The endeavor has also given Busch a sense of purpose for his return to Cleveland, which was initially supposed to be temporary. After graduating from Ohio University in the early 2000s, the Mentor native had moved out to Los Angeles, where he’d made a name for himself as an actor and comedian—appearing in national commercials and TV shows including “The Goldbergs,” “The Middle,” “Community,” and “Conan” (on which he was a recurring guest). He was also a fixture on the LA improv scene, performing regularly at iconic spots such as IO West and Upright Citizens Brigade.

Michael Busch playing George Lucas in The Roast of Han Solo - UCB Franklin - 2015Busch brings that wealth of experience to Imposters Theater, which he envisions as a fun and creative haven with something for everyone. “I really want Imposters Theater to be accessible, whether you’re a newbie or someone who might want to pursue a formal comedy career,” says Busch. “I also want to create an inclusive, supportive community that welcomes women and people of color who might not easily be able to break into comedy.”

The next round of classes begins in January, and Busch is also on the lookout for a permanent space to house Imposters Theater once the incubator lease ends in May 2022. In the meantime, he’s also enjoying the experience of rediscovering Cleveland from a new lens, having grown up in the far East suburbs.

“Growing up, my only experience with Cleveland proper was coming to baseball games, sporting events, and concerts,” says Busch. “I didn’t really get to experience Cleveland until I moved back, and it’s been really cool to get to know the city more and all of its really interesting, great places and people.”

And helping Cleveland get the last laugh.

Read more articles by Jen Jones Donatelli.

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast. Along with her work at FreshWater, she is the editor-of-chief of Edible Cleveland and a contributing editor for Destination Cleveland. When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes for Creative Groove, Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.