Monday morning I got a message from my old newspaper friend Matt Memrick. The message was suitably vague. Enough to get my attention. It stated, “Danbury huh? Who knew comedy came out of that town?” The quote came with a link to a story headlined, “This former ‘Saturday Night Live’ writer is bringing improv comedy back to Franklin Street.”
Hmmm, former “Saturday Night Live” writer with connections to my hometown of Danbury, North Carolina? Not possible. Just not possible. The town has 175 people. It’s tucked into the Sauratown Mountains at the gateway to Hanging Rock State Park. it has more than a casual association with the words “remote” and “rural.”
Just not, you know, possible.
Of course I had to open the story and take a look. After reading a few paragraphs I said — audibly — “holy shit.”
It was indeed possible, very possible.
I HAD NOT thought of the name Ali Farahnakian in years — decades. Now known as Ali Reza Farahnakian or Ali Reza, he did indeed write for “Saturday Night Live” in 1999-2000. He worked in Chicago’s famed Second City with Amy Poehler, an “SNL” alum who went on to star in the series “Parks and Recreation.” He’s performed with any number of the top comics of this era, including Tina Fey, also of “SNL” and Amy Shumer. He was a semi-regular on Conan O’Brien where he played a running cast of characters. he’s had dramatic roles in TV and movies. Today he’s also an influencer and leader in the world of improv comedy and started the People’s Improv Theater (PIT) in New York — coming soon to Chapel Hill.
And yeah, he spent some time in Danbury as a child. How the hell did I not know this already?
The story Matt sent was published in the Durham Herald-Sun and written by reporter Tammy Grubb. It detailed Farahnakian’s plans to open a Peoples Improv Theater at 462 Franklin St. He has two others in New York. Farahnakian, as it turns out, graduated from UNC in 1990.
While Grubb couldn’t reach Farahnakian for comment, she did include this paragraph:
The new venture is something of a homecoming for Farahnakian, who grew up in the small-town North Carolina communities of Danbury, in Stokes County, and Advance, in Davie County. His parents still live in Advance.
MOST OR ALL bios I found of Farahnakian only say he grew up in North Carolina. This story clearly identifies Danbury as one of his homes. And I knew an Ali Farahnakian in Danbury in the 1970s. He’s 10 years younger than I am, meaning when I was 16 he was only 6. But in a small town you know pretty much everyone. And everyone knew the Farahnakians. Ali’s dad, also Ali, was a doctor lured to the rural area because it was short of physicians.
It wasn’t an unusual arrangement in those days. Two doctors, both from the Philippines, earlier made homes in Stokes County to practice medicine near the hospital in Danbury. Dr. Rudolfo Flores took up residence in Danbury in the house once owned by an aunt and uncle who died far too young. His daughter Cristy is a friend who was a high school and college classmate. We’re connected today on Facebook. Her brother Adrian is my brother’s age.
The Farahnakians are from Iran and arrived in Danbury a couple of years after Dr. Flores. They moved into house at one end of a spot known as “Scott’s Meadow” in an unusual house constructed by a cranky sort I only remember as Mr. Fuquay. He built a very modern house for 1970s Danbury but didn’t live there long. I don’t recall if he sold or rented to the Farahnakians. My friend from high school Leslie Bray Brewer lives there today.
I remember meeting the family on a couple of occasions. A new doctor in Danbury was novel, after all, and often invited to events. Ali was a child so I really didn’t know him at all. He would have no recollection of me. Not sure how much he remembers about growing up in Danbury.
I don’t recall how long the family remained in Danbury. When I returned from college they no longer lived in that particular house, but I think Dr. Farahnakian had a practice there for some time.
As I looked over a few of the clips with links below, I certainly saw Ali in his appearance on “30 Rock.” And probably more than a few of his walk-throughs on “Conan.” But I obviously didn’t pick up on his name during opening or closing credits or it failed to register.
I just gotta pay better attention.