Credit: Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

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When it opened last year, Riot Act seemed poised to take on D.C. Improv and Arlington Cinema ‘N’ Drafthouse as rivals for the city’s funny business, thanks in part to a greater willingness to feature rising area comedians. But only a few months into its run, the club was mired in some distinctly unfunny stuff: financial woes, internal struggles, and a messy lawsuit. The feud worsened when John Xereas, a former D.C. Improv co-owner and manager, was forced out of the business for alleged mismanagement. For restaurateur Geoff Dawson and lawyer Marjorie Heiss, the two other owners, that meant steady losses. Some early success was quickly forgotten, and between court dates, Dawson and Heiss rebranded the club as Penn Social, dropping comedy for live music, other performances, and arcade-style games. Joking around, it turns out, is pretty serious stuff.