This was the year when the egalitarian back-patters in the area's improv community had to face facts: To win audiences for the make-it-up-as-you-go school of comedy, troupes had to offer more than tired guessing games and fill-in-the-blanks scenes. Each month at Improv Thunderdome, Jared Brustad and Ed Doris' comedy throwdown, three teams got half an hour each to win over a packed house. That crowd then voted on a winner, who advanced to the final and competed again, this time for a cash purse, a cheesy belt and all the glory you would expect from being named the best improvisers in town. What made this exciting wasn't just the big crowds, elevated stakes and near guarantee of a good show. The breakthrough was in the daring and variety displayed by the performers who, on the Westport Coffee House Stage, debuted so many innovative formats and ideas that the non-Thunderdome shows have markedly improved. Even if there were real competition, Improv Thunderdome would walk off with Best Comedy Show for this reason alone: It made other comedy shows better.