Jet Eveleth Tells The Whole Truth

by Sophie Lucido Johnson

Jet Eveleth is the kind of performer who makes you feel like you haven’t done enough with your life, just by the sheer amount that she’s already accomplished. She has been member of  The Reckoning at the iO Theater (Chicago & Los Angeles) since 2001.  She also tours the shows Adsit & Eveleth and Jet & Paul. She has also toured the original sketch shows, Ted & Melanie, The Barb Lameter Show,  Cafe Noir, Roseville, Touched, and I Live Next Door To Horses (Winner of Del Close Award for Best Scripted Show). She development the television pilots Ditch Mitchem, You Should Be Famous, and Jet Across America.  Her film works include the comedies, American Legacy, One-Small Hitch and Close Quarters.  She has performed at the Andy Kaufman Awards and was included in “Best Of Chicago’s Stand-Up” at The Lincoln Lodge. She was listed as New City magazine’s “Top 50 Players” in Chicago for 2010 and 2012. In 2012 she toured Europe performing and teaching physical theater with The Second City as part of a cultural exchange with the US Embassy. She studied clown with Paola Coletto, Aitor Basauri and Philippe Gaulier, mentor of Sacha Baron Cohen. She is the former artistic director of the Chicago Improv Festival and teaches for The Second City Conservatory Program, the iO Theater and for Columbia College’s Comedy Studies Program, where she received her Masters in Interdisciplinary Arts.

Improv Wins is lucky enough to have Jet teaching a master class this year on January 25 and 26. We sat down and talked to her about her workshops, her background, her favorite things, and her inspirations, in preparation for the conference this year.

 

TNM: So you are doing some master classes for improv wins this year.

Jet: Yes!

Tell me about the workshops you’re going to be doing.

Yeah I’m doing a “Playing Honest” workshop — I’m actually offering it twice because it can fill up. The work itself is inspired by my experience doing long form in Chicago, you know like watching shows like TJ and Dave, and playing in them as well. The way that lots of the work in Chicago is unfolding to be very honest and truthful. It is also inspired by my work in clown. I studied with some LeCoq-inspired clown teachers. Then also, it is inspired by my work in Meisner. So it’s kind of combining different schools and studies into how to bring that into long form improv. The work is very experiential in that you can talk about it but it’s really, when you’re in the room, you realize that it so much about energetics.

Yeah, definitely. TNM has had you before and we are all crazy in love with you.

Oooooh!

I think you’ve managed that because of what you’re talking about: energy, and you have a really beautiful spirit to you.

Thank you!

Could you tell me about your story? What got you interested in improv in the first place?

Honestly, we would make home movies and videos as kids and we had to improvise the scenes we wouldn’t script them first; we would sort of talk about what we were going to be doing. I think the openness of that excited me because there is so much play when you know what you want but you have your own way of getting it. And I went to college and I got in early decision to NYU in the Meisner Program and I was like, “Yeah, this is what I want to do,” but I didn’t have enough money to pay for it, so I ended up going to UMass Amherst. But there was an improv group at UMass Amherst and one day I walked by an audition they were having and they were like, “Come on in!” When we started playing games and stuff I was like, “This is all you do?” And they were like, “Yeah!” And I was like, “This is so much fun!” Because always my favorite part of doing a play was the first few weeks where everything was really open. Like, you just play the characters and don’t even worry about the script. And I was like, “Oh my god in improv you neeeevvvver get the script!” Something that has always made me feel kind of different is that I think I don’t think in words. I think more in gestures and personalities and in visuals and in space but I don’t really think in words, and I always felt different. Then recently I felt better because I read this quote about how Einstein didn’t think in words. And I was like, “Ok, so I’m not an idiot necessarily.”

Yeah, you’re actually basically Einstein!

Well yeah, that’s what I’m trying to say. No but, I realized that not everyone does think in words, but you have to figure out how you process the world and the human experience and then create from there. So I really process through energetics and connections.

So when you do improv workshops are there like a lot of those exercises where you make eye contact for twenty minutes?

That’s it! That’s all we do. (Laughs.) No, but, we do live in the eyes a lot, because the eyes are big connectors.

I hope that it’s clear that I LOVE those exercises. I think that if I’m allowed to look in someone’s eyes for twenty minutes my work improves tremendously.

(Laughs.) Well, really, I do a lot of side-coaching so nothing stagnates. I never do an exercise where you just look in the eyes and then that’s it. I try to start from simple foundation of eye contact and simple breath — things that don’t take any effort. And then from the effortless place we try to find what’s going on inside of us so that we can bring more of ourselves to the stage. I think that something that is lacking in American theater is that we don’t bring enough of ourselves to the work that we do. Sometimes I think something that holds us back is that we don’t always know who we are.

Yeah, totally! Maybe you don’t even ever find out until them moment before you die, and then you’re like, “Oooh.”

That’s kind of a beautiful idea.

Well, improv gives you such a nice ability to explore that.

Hmmm. Yeah.

It sounds like you came up studying a lot of theatre, which is so cool, because a lot of people just study the math of comedy and that’s it. It’s a nice flavor to talk to someone with such an extensive background! Who are some of your influences?

It’s kind of across the board. It’s so funny when I think about who I look up to it’s not even necessarily just actors — although I am a big fan of all these actors, and of course great improvisers, when I got to Chicago I got to see what great improv can be, like on an artful level. But also, I’m a big fan of painters. And dancers. Isadora Duncan for being brave enough to say, “I’m tired of the seventeen basic poses in ballet.” She was like, “What if we just move to the music?” To me, I was like, “OH MY GOD. That is what improv is.” To let go of this idea that there is this structure, and what happens if it’s just expression, and you design the movements; they’re not set. That’s sort of inspiring to me. Or the fact that Picasso always worked from a source, but especially in his later works, he wasn’t really worried about his work looking like his source. He wasn’t worried about people seeing a bowl of fruit. He painted form a source, and then trusted that that would be enough. I think about that with improv. If you get a suggestion, that’s really just a suggestion in the moment, and there’s no need to prove that you heard it; it’s about knowing that the word inspired you, and then moving on, and having that just be your inspiration. Inspiration is more important than the obligation to the suggestion.

That’s really beautiful. I agree. I feel like all art forms are kind of just improvising in a lot of ways. So, you started in Chicago and now you’re in LA — what are some differences, or things you’ve learned from each of those cities?

You know, I’ve only been in LA for a year, and when I came out to LA, I came out more for television and film, but I still do a lot of improv and I teach it a bit… but I feel like what I’m learning the most from both cities is that improv is an evolving art form. The times that we don’t serve it are the times we hold on to the past and try to do things the right way, because there is no right way to do it. And I do think that’s why I’m such a fan of someone like Picasso, or Isadora Duncan, or Charlie Chaplin, is because there’s no handcuffs to the past. They really were revolutionaries. And I think that when I meet people and they speak about black-and-white in improv, or rights and wrongs in improv, in a way I know that there is something off. I can’t believe that there could be such black-and-white in an evolving art form.

What are some changes you’ve noticed since you started doing improv?

Back in the ’80s, you can watch videos where it was a line on the back wall, or a semi circle, and someone took a step forward and said something witty and then stepped back. It was very high structure because it was really born out of short form. And that’s ok! Short form is its own beast. Short form is ballet: there are seventeen techniques, and this is how we do them, and they’re very structured. Now we look at modern dance, as sort of reaction to ballet, or born out of ballet, right? It’s like, now we realize that there is break dancing and evolution of modern — tap, anything! Anything that isn’t super-high-structure is sort of modern. Modern became this catch-all of, “It’s not ballet, so it’s modern.” And that’s what is happening with improv now. When people are very stuck in their ways, and things are very high-structured, to me that looks more like short-form. When improv is done in 2014 as it should be, it really starts to look more formless and effortless. It looks more gray and a little harder to figure out before it happens. You can’t see it coming. It is a little more courageous and unsafe, and that’s what I love about it.

I love that sentiment. So, if you don’t mind, tell me all about your OWN dreams and hopes and goals.

For me, I want to take everything I love about improv and everything improv has taught me and bring it to new mediums and mixed mediums so to develop film that has more improv in it and to create pieces of theater that mix clown with improv. I’m interested in blending more worlds. I went to graduate school and I studied interdisciplinary arts, and it was just the beginning of understanding. When you want to push an art form to the next place, one of the best ways to do it is to bring in other art forms to inform it and get it past its own boundaries.

What I love about your dream is that it’s not, like, “I hope to win three awards and have two children.” It’s like a beautiful, nebulous, webby dream.

Oh no! Too hippy dippy?

It’s so good!!! It’s like one of those things where you can go forward into the future and know that if you work as hard as you can, you’ll feel successful at your dreams. That’s how we should all dream! We should all dream in such a way!

I think if you talk to the average improviser, what we really want is to play with our friends. I mean, that’s what I want. And I’m really lucky, because the people I play with are also my best friends. To me, they’re geniuses, and I want to create the next level of this work. I can’t wait to be 80 and see what the NEXT level is. I like knowing that I’m part of a movement — that it’s bigger than us. I want to learn how to push myself. The stage will always be scary for me. But you get to the place where it’s not scary for me anymore. The next place for me is film. It’s really scary to me, and that’s how I know that I need to get into it. When I hold a camera, it still feels a little overwhelming. That’s why I know… I tend to thrive when I’m a small fish in a big sea. That’s when I’m happiest! When I’m a little overwhelmed. In film, I really feel like the beast is bigger than me — and not that I’ll ever tame improv, because I always say that improv is a wild horse — but I’ve learned a little bit of horse-whispering, and now I need to go learn how to ride a different horse. In LA I feel like I’m getting thrown all the time. I was like, ‘Man, what I thinking” But I wouldn’t have it any other way. What I’d really love to do is own a small production company.

That would be so cool!

The person I look up to the most is probably Charlie Chaplin. “The Great Dictator” might be my favorite movie. To me, there’s so much beauty and depth and truth and comedy in that film. And it has so much bravery and so much to say I think you can only create that work when you’re by the camera and by the light and you kin of get behind it.

Great! What was your favorite TV show as a child?

Golden Girls!

That’s such a hipster favorite!

I thought it was normal! I loved Traci Ulman and Carol Burnett and SNL, but Golden Girls was one of the biggest influences. It was four archetypical female comedians tackling a differnt type of clown. You know what? Name another show like that. No other show, I think, in the history of American television has four female leads before a male even comes into play.

Well, Real Housewives.

You got me.

 

Sign up for Jet’s Saturday Playing Honest workshop here

Sign up for Jet’s Sunday Playing Honest workshop here 

Love the comedy of Ricky Gervais and Louis CK? Having a difficult time playing clever? Try playing real. Let go of feeling robotic on stage and speaking in unnatural tones. Instead of playing a fairly convincing human, be a human. This workshop will focus on making improv easy by bringing more of yourself to the stage. Designed specifically to help students move past the traps of complicated situations and forced invention. We will focus on techniques that allow your thoughts to descend and that ignite your imagination. We will take a completely unique approach to the stage by using a long-form approach with Lecoq clown and Meisner techniques to discover your own comedic voice.

Brandon Gardner Will Straighten Out Your Straight Man — And More

by Sophie Lucido Johnson

Brandon Gardner pretty much does it all. Since beginning his tenure at the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York in 2007, he’s become a well-known improviser, writer, performer, and teacher. He has written over 20 original sketch shows with the UCB Maude Teams; is on the UCB TourCo All-Stars touring team; and is a performer with The Curfew and Improv Nerds at the UCB Ny and UCB East theaters. He’s also a dynamic personality, and all-around nice guy.

Brandon has been teaching at the UCB New York since 2009, and now he’s bringing his instructional prowess to Improv Wins with two incredible workshops: A Good Straight Man Says No Once and From Seinfeld to Key and Peele. We had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Brandon about his dreams, fears, comedy, and what he’s bringing to Austin. Take a look.

TNM: Tell me about your workshops for Improv Wins.

Brandon Gardner: There’s two. One is called From Seinfeld to Key and Peele. It’s basically talking about a lot of written comedy, like TV comedy, and what makes the successful stuff work, and what we can borrow from that improvising. Teaching, I see a lot of people doing stuff in their improv where you know these people would recognize it as not working comedically in a sketch or on a TV show, but they do it in their improv anyway. So we can use these comedy techniques on TV to help make our work smarter and funnier.

Could you give an example?

Well the example I use a lot is, in improv people love to do something where if a character has an unusual funny thing about them, often times someone will do a scene with them where they’re basically trying to tell the character to stop doing that unusual funny thing, rather than secretly trying to set them up to do it and support it. The example I usually give is that on Seinfeld, there was this running thing where Kramer would come over to Jerry’s apartment and eat stuff from his kitchen, but there’s never an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry sits him down and tells him to stop doing that, or bans him from the apartment, because you just want to see it happen. You always see Jerry frustrated with it, but there’s never a scene where Jerry tells him to stop it, because that’s not fun. Maybe it’s because in real life, that’s a practical thing, where we probably should talk to people who are doing something that bothers us, but we do it all the time in improv, and it gets us away from what’s fun.

That’s a good tip. I’m gonna steal it! Are you teaching any other workshops?

The other workshop I’m doing is related to the last concept I was talking about. I’m doing a straight man workshop about how to be a good straight man without stopping the fun of the scene.

Yeah, that’s so important. I feel like that is something that we all kind of struggle with because we like to gravitate toward the absurd.

Yeah, sometimes the funniest thing you can do, and the most supportive thing you can do, is frame your partner’s unusual behavior, by acting realistically around it without yelling at or making it stop.

I feel like the best improvisers I’ve ever seen have been people who you watch and you don’t necessarily think, “Oh that was the funniest person!” in the moment. But when you go back and really look at the game, you realize that they were playing so smartly they didn’t draw too much attention to themselves.

Yeah, exactly.

Who do you admire in the comedy world?

Growing up I guess my influences were Steve Martin — I think because my parents liked him. And I liked Woody Allen; I loved his movies. And I have loved Saturday Night Live since I was little.

How long have you been involved in comedy? You’re in New York, right?

Yeah, I’m in New York at UCB, and I started taking classes there in 2005, and started performing there about a year and a half later. Then I started teaching in the beginning of 2009.

Did you always know this is what you wanted to do?

In college I thought I was going to be a lawyer.

Yuck.

Yeah, exactly. So, I started doing improv. I joined a college improv group and really loved that. And I actually took a workshop with some UCB people that were touring and sort of loved that style, so by the time I graduated college, I knew I was moving to New York to do UCB and see what I wanted to do with improv.

That’s really brave. I think that’s everybody’s dream, but it can be scary. Were you scared to try it?

I guess so. I think I just loved it so much… A lot of people were scared for me. I know my parents definitely were. But I was just so into I just couldn’t think of something else I could do, really. So when I signed up fro my first UCB class, I didn’t know where I was going to live when I moved. I figured it out a week before I went to New York, a friend of a friend said I could stay on their couch, and I sort of just did it. I think was braver then, when I just graduated college than I probably would be now.

So when you first got there, what were some challenges for you?

I think the first challenge — and teaching now, I get this a lot from people who maybe improvised in college or improvised somewhere else and then came to New York — was just to be OK with being bad for a while. Especially since you’re learning another style, and you may have come from a place where you were sort of a big fish in your pond and you may have gotten kind of cocky about it. I learned to be humble. You have to remind yourself that you have a lot to learn, and to just do what you can. The other challenge was that I had to do it all while waiting tables and doing that kind of thing.

Whatever you have to do to live the dream! So, what is your favorite improv scene or show that you’ve ever seen?

I can’t think of a specific show, or a specific performance, but my favorite thing to watch from when I was a student and still today when I get to see them perform, is a show called 2 Square, or sometimes it’s called 4-square because there are four of them. It’s a four-person group from Chicago, and usually I see it with only two of the performers at a time. When I first started watching it was with John Lutz and Dan Bakkedahl. The last time I saw it was John Lutz and Peter Grosz.

I’ll have to look it up.

Yeah.

So, um, who is your favorite Spice Girl?

The one I’d probably want to hang out with is Sporty.

She ended up being a lesbian.

I have a lot of lesbian friends, so that would work out. When I was 12, I liked Posh Spice, but I think that was just because I was a 12 year old boy.

Brandon Gardner will be at Improv Wins on January 25 and 26.

Our First 6pack

No one wants to be called a hipster. Or rather, if you want to be called a hipster, you definitely aren’t one. But I secretly use the term “hipster” in my Internet searches a lot more than I want to admit: “hipster summer playlist,” “hipster haircut,” “hipster glasses cheap,” and “hipster restaurants in Richmond” are all in my recent Google history. As much as we all shy away from the apparent shallowness of the up-and-coming, keeping an eye on the guy with a fixed gear bike and an ironic tattoo isn’t a bad idea if you want your life to stay fresh…

So I’m excited to present some guilty pleasure improv reading for those of you in the skinny jeans set. Every month, I’ll bring six quick improv ideas that center around keeping your cool in a trend-obsessed world. They will fall under these subcategories: Play This Hipster – a character to try out based loosely on a hipster stereotype; There’s Some Truth To That – finding something valid in the often-absurd hipster mentality; Up and Coming – cool events, books, Internet phenomena, or cultural references that are excited for the modern improviser; Looking Good – photographs and properties of improvisers who dress for success; Pump Up The Jams – great new music that will impress mixtape lovers far and wide to play before or during shows; and a Wild Card. Without further ado!

 

1. Play This Hipster: The Bored One.

 Nothing is less cool than enthusiasm. If you want to be truly hip, you have to be so disaffected that you don’t want to be anywhere or do anything or engage with anyone. Should an actually cool person have her finger on the pulse of pop culture enough to know who Justin Bieber is? No she should not. Who even isthat? She thought his name was pronounced “Justin Gerber,” as in Gerber baby food. The only words hipsters can be bothered to pronounce correctly are the names of obscure German theorists and Ingmar Bergman characters. Really, the only difference between a hipster and a misanthropic octogenarian is just a few dozen years.1

How would The Bored One interact with friends at a carnival? Or at a surprise party? What would happen if The Bored One got mugged on the streets of Manhattan? There are lots of possibilities if you’re working through the lens of a character like this. The one thing I would caution about here is that there is a possibility of getting too reference-heavy. If no one in the scene brings up Jersey Shore (and let’s be honest: if it’s a good improv scene, no one is going to bring up Jersey Shore), don’t come out of nowhere and say, “Ugh, what is that on that television in that store window? Look at all those orange girls with Italian accents. I don’t even know what that is.” Instead, filter what naturally happens in the scene through the eyes of this character. Yawn a lot. Check your watch sometimes (it’s a Casio. But you don’t even care. You just got it for cheap at a fringe thrift store). Playing The Bored One has infinite possibilities, as long as you are patient and don’t call yourself out. 

 2. There’s Some Truth To That: Like What You Like

 Let’s say you’re going to hang out with a person who you know is cooler than you are. You are excited to hang out, because you look up to this person, but you’re nervous that this person – let’s call her Megan – is going to find out very quickly that you don’t know anything about what’s hot and what’s not. You guys get together at the independently owned corner coffee shop, and Megan starts talking about how passionate she is about camping. You hate camping (too many bugs, not enough Internet). But you want Megan to think you’re cool, so you pretend to like camping because she likes camping. Megan starts talking about her expensive REI tent and swimming around in some river, and you are disgusted, but you pretend like this is the greatest thing in the universe, and you nod vigorously, and before you know it, you have scheduled a weekend camping trip with Megan.

 Here’s the big reveal: the only reason Megan is cooler than you is because you think she is, and so you’re letting her preferences influence yours. Hip people are honest about what they like; they own their taste; and they refuse to bend over backward if it doesn’t match everyone else’s.

In improv, there are a lot of avenues to pursue. There are two-person scenes, group scenes, Harolds, Armandos, monoscenes, device-heavy scenes, sketch-improv combos, big groups, tiny groups, prop comedy, short form, and on and on. If you’ve tried a monoscene and it’s not your thing, you don’t have to do it. Find the thing you love about improv and do that! There are plenty of principles and ideas people have about what makes good improv; spend some time figuring out what you love, and then love it with all your heart. If a Harold is too structured for you, don’t do Harolds! There are enough people out there doing Harolds. No one will think less of you.

 3. Up And Coming:

Improv Everywhere, the New York-based group of flash mob pranksters, have had more than a few great moments in their eleven years of organized mischief (my personal favorite was when they transformed the carousel in Central Park into a full-fledged makeshift Kentucky Derby). They’ve recently developed an iPhone app (available for free through the iTunes app store) that allows users to browse past “missions” in a variety of ways; and italso brings the facilitation of upcoming events into the digital age. On the most recent version of the app, you simply push a button to indicate you’re participating in an upcoming mission, and when the time comes, your phone will play an MP3 file at exactly the right time to smooth the progress of July’s giant “MP3 Night Experiment.” Cool.

 4. Looking Good:

First things first, ladies: opaque tights are never going to go out of style. They’re called tights for a reason (and that reason is that they contain the word “tight,” which is a synonym for “cool.”) Pairing black tights with a black shirt is a brilliant move, because it allows you to be matchy without being overly matchy; and Kelly softens the whole thing by throwing in some preppy (but not too preppy) khaki. No wonder she’s standing on that chair: I would want to show off that outfit too!

 

 

5. Pump Up The Jams:

 Artist: The Rizzle Kicks   Album: Stereo Typical   Blast This At: A high-energy, fast-paced show – something with lots of games and quick edits.

It’s Hip Because: Hailing from the UK, this duo of rappers rule at playing party-heavy hip-hop, with a strong, hook-heavy pop undercurrent that keeps everything sounding fresh and danceable. They often throw trumpets and wacky percussion into the mix, which lends nicely to a fun, quirky, under-the-radar show that kicks with high energy. Try “Mama Do The Hump” and “Down With The Trumpets” to start out – power plays that will get the audience psyched for the show.

 6. Wild Card:

 Hot: Doing an improv show where everyone finds creative ways to edit.

 Not: Doing an improv show where everyone finds creative ways to edit – and they involve slow dancing across the stage and chanting a non-sequitor 100% of the time.

Show 1 footnote

  1. ed note: Aubrey Plaza is making a career out of this.