Q&A with Prescott Gaylord, Improv Wins 2013 instructor

Here’s a quick interview with Prescott Gaylord from the Baltimore Improv Group about his upcoming master class at Improv Wins 2013, 2:00-5:00p Saturday February 23rd at TNM Main Stage. Sign up for the workshop here.

Yes, that is Prescott’s torso in the photo above, we promise.

What do you enjoy most about the Improvised Play format?
One of the coolest things to me about improv is pretending to do things that you are not actually doing, in as real a way as possible.  Taken one step further, an improvised play is a whole event (an improv show) that is pretending to be something it is not (a scripted play).  I find this to be badass.  In ‘Unscripted’ we really strive to make the experience as close as possible for the audience as going to a play.  We have one full story, programs, props, costumes, and lighting cues that play like a play.  We just don’t know any of them beforehand. It is like going to an improv show where the input shouted out was “full two act play” and we just play it.

What are the benefits of being able to perform the Improvised Play?
Being able to perform, direct, and produce an Improvised Play hones really important improv skills.  See, we take some of the ‘normal’ improv tools away: mimed environment work, multiple characters, opening input generation.  The improvisers are forced to focus on deep relationships that evolve, strong characters, emotions, tension.  The actors who end up performing in improvised plays – come out superior actors in my opinion.
What kind of improviser should take this workshop?
Improvisers who are interested in story construction, relationships, and grounded acting should take this workshop.  I would also recommend it for anyone interested in directing a production with a large cast.  Certainly coaches will find useful things in this workshop as well. Also – anyone who wants to steal any of my ideas I have developed over the last 4 years of this production.
Sign up for the workshop here.

Charleston’s Greg Tavares publishes “Improv for Everyone”

Charleston, South Carolina is home to Theatre 99 and a thriving improv community  An instructor, performer, and pillar of that community, Greg Tavares recently answered some questions about his new book for Improv Wins! 

Tell us a bit about your book: 

I just wrote a book called “Improv For Everyone”.  It is a book for people who love improv and want improv to love them back.

How did you find improv? 

I am self taught.  I did my first show in 1985 and two years later I took a workshop during the International Thespian Conference. I knew right then and there that I wanted to do this the rest of my life.  I have opened 2 theatres here in Charleston, I get to do 3 shows a week almost every week, and I get to teach over 50 workshops a year.  I love it.

If you could get all improvisers, everywhere, to stop doing one thing what would it be? 

Judging themselves and their scene partner while they are doing the work.  That is the one “don’t” in my book.  I am actually really against negative instruction, I have a whole thing in my book about it.  I think improv teachers are too quick to say “don’t do this or don’t do that.”  I literally say in my book that I only have one “don’t” — don’t judge your improv while you are doing it.  At the bar after with your friends, do it all you want, but when you are in the mix, just play.

What inspires you then?

OK it is nerd time for me, I am still inspired by a group that broke up over 10 years ago.  They were called Burn Manhattan and they did a kind of movement/sound/performance art long form thing.  I saw them a bunch of times over a couple of months in 1999 or 1998 and I still think about them.  I get improv crushes all the time.  I tend to like the quieter cooperators rather than the super funny people.

What is up next for Greg Tavares?

I am super excited to be able to travel a little bit and teach some of the stuff that is in the book.  I am going to Atlanta, New York City, Richmond, Greenville and Norfolk VA in the next few weeks to do workshops and talk about my book.  I can’t tell you how much joy it brings me to meet and work with other like minded people who love doing improv. It makes me very happy.

 

 

The Weekly Format Special Edition: Stupid Time Machine

During the 2012 Dallas Comedy Festival, I had the chance to sit down with Stupid Time Machine, an improv and sketch troupe based out of The New Movement Theater in New Orleans. We jammed for a minute on their format, philosophy and how they’re dealing with the recent addition of TNM Austin native Vanessa Gonzales to the fold.

All right, I’m sitting here with Derek Dupuy, Mike Spara, CJ Hunt and Vanessa Gonzales who make up Stupid Time Machine. How’s it going guys?

MIKE SPARA: Yeeaaahh!

VANESSA GONZALES: Oww!

CJ HUNT: Hi, we’re Stupid Time Machine.

DEREK DUPUY: Wow.

So talk to me, in your own words, what your format is. What’s the breakdown?

DD: We do a little banter at the top. Someone will tell a story with detail or something interesting that they have and we’ll grab inspiration from it. We try to do banter because we find that it’s really good to get the audience into the show, to relate to us and like us. There’s something nice about watching people who are about to have a lot of fun doing what they do. Once you see that, it kind of becomes watching these friends fuck around on stage but in the best way.

MS: They’re real life stories, too.

DD: I think that you can relate when you see our reactions based on hearing the stories because, generally speaking, we’ve never heard any of the stories before. They’re genuine reactions and it gets people into it. I would say scene-wise we don’t generally have a structure. It’s more of a montage. We’ll try to pull inspiration from the story or a scene that’s already been done and then it’s kind of on us to get fancy with it, to tie it up and collide things and have call-backs and all that other stuff.

CJH: I don’t know how this happened, but also I’d say the pace is almost part of the form too. We’ve been slowing down recently, but we play fast. I guess you just get set with a norm with your team, but it started to get articulated to us that we go so fast right from the top. So I’d say that’s part of it as well.

Were there other forms you attempted before settling on this form?

DD: We did a number of them. We were a Harold team at one time.

MS: We started off with Harold.

CJH: And we’ve come back to Harold a few times throughout our history. Sometimes, when we felt like our game was off and we needed an injection of something new, we would be like, “Let’s just start doing Harolds.” Sometimes it’s corresponded to us moving venues.

DD: We got away from most forms we would evolve because we’d get kind of bored with the form and feel like we needed something to freshen us up. I remember the current style evolved from somebody telling a story and everybody having a crack at it. It would be like, “That reminds me of when I was a kid…” and it would go down the line, but we changed that because we were getting a little sloppy with pulling inspiration from it. That’s the tempting thing when you play fast. If you’re really excitable, you’ll kind of drop the story and do scenes because you don’t have a hardcore structure.

CJH: There’s a confidence thing, too. When we first started out, we’d never really gone longer than 30 minutes because we’d been used to having an opener. Then, when we got a gig upstairs at the Avenue Pub [in New Orleans], we did this really cheesy form of a La Ronde called “Six Degrees of Separation” that I brought to the group from my college days. The beginning felt like a short-form intro. We would say, “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! They say that in the world there are six degrees of separation between any two people! So I may not personally know Justin Timberlake but I may know somebody who knows somebody who knows Justin Timberlake and BOOM! That’s three degrees of separation. SO IN THIS GAME, we will start with one person – say, a maid – and we will show a scene with someone who knows that maid, maybe the son of the house, but then we will tap out with someone who knows the son and then someone who knows whoever knows the son and so on. You’ll get the picture.” I feel like the key to knowing your game is shitty is when you have this long intro and then have to say, “You’ll get the picture.”

DD: If we just said we were doing a La Ronde it would have been okay. But, to be fair, that was our first time outside of a theatre environment having to book our own shows, so we were trying to do this split show where we’ll give them this and then hit them with the long-form. The Dallas Comedy House was the first time where we saw anything like that. When they first opened, in this market where there wasn’t a lot of improv at the time, they’d run the Maestro and then start splicing scene work in. It got to the point to where, before the show’s even halfway over, you could feel the audience that didn’t know long-form all of a sudden wanting the long-form more than the short-form. Then, it would become long-form heavy on the back. So we were like “What’s the thing we can put at the top?” Once, [New Movement co-founder] Tami Nelson and [Dallas Comedy House co-founder] Clay Barton came to do a show and we told them we were going to do a Harold and Six Degrees of Separation. I remember [Six Degrees] being awful, just really bad. Then we did the most amazing, tear down the house Harold I’ve ever been a part of. It was crazy fucking good. That was when I remember thinking, “We’ve got to get rid of this thing.”

CJH: Whenever you’re in a new improv market, or when you’re off on your own, there’s a feeling like you have to almost apologize for long-form and lead people into it by the hand with some “accessible” short-form up top. That’s where ideas like doing Six Degrees as your thing come from. If there’s a lesson from this, though, it would be to just go for the long-form and not feel like you have to apologize.

MS: I think that there’s a certain level of badassness when you say at the very top that you’re just going to hop right into it and go for it. As much as we can laugh about the Six Degrees of Separation now, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of our speed came from how quickly those short-form La Ronde games started us off and then we went right into our long-form after that. Also, when we were doing those shows originally, we would have people roll a die to determine how much they were going to pay for the show and we would give them fake name tags that were paired off. Somebody had Batman and somebody else that was a stranger to them had Robin and there were all these different combinations. It was giving them an experience from the very top of the show.

When you pull information for the scenes, do you attempt to go in a premise based direction?

DD: We’re not hampered by the form too much, to be honest. It’s whatever we interpret that we want to pull. I think that when we’re at our best, it’s like a stew with all these ingredients. You’re going to get tap outs that advance the game, time-dash tap outs, relationship based scenes, pattern work, game based scenes and fast stuff. It’s really all over the place because we’re using our entire skill set. I don’t think it’s conscious, I think it just happens. We don’t put restrictions on ourselves to be too close or anything like that. It gets too cute when people do that often times. I think if you have an idea, just go initiate. You’re all smart people and quick on your feet, so figure it out. Putting rules on yourself in this probably wouldn’t work very well.

CJH: If the stuff that is more premise-based is going to show up, it’s going to show up towards the top and then spread out from there. Where the audience can draw the clearest lines is usually in the first two scenes before all the raw material gets put out there and then starts being used for the show. I would also say that we’re always looking at what else we can be doing with the form, how to bring some more narrative in there and stretch in some places. It’s like muscle groups. Our form is sort of defined by our strongest muscles like speed, game, free association and what we do with the devices. We’re talking now about trying to drill down more into the basics.

DD: Whenever you do a form and you get really good at it with these people that you play with all the time, in order to keep it fresh, you start doing things that are a little bit risky. If you’re funny, you pull it off. You start playing on the edge a lot more, throwing things out that you probably wouldn’t throw out in another show because there wouldn’t be that trust there. After a while, that sort of becomes your thing. You’re playing so fast and going so hard that you start realizing you’re forgetting some pretty basic things because you get away with playing this way all the time. I’d also say another thing I’ve learned in the last year, from playing in mixed-cast shows, is to be aggressive and don’t tiptoe. You’re doing a form and you’re playing with these people every week, go hard at it and start lobbing stuff up.

The thing that’s always struck me, from the first Stupid Time Machine show I saw, is that it feels like you would still be having these conversations and telling these jokes to each other if there was no audience.

DD: That is kind of what it’s like when we’re in a car. It’s just bits. I remember the first time we went to Austin, we were driving around and we would see billboards and riff on them as commercials. I remember Allen’s Boots and Einstein Bros. Bagels—

CJH: And Porn Barn!

Wait, what? That is not real, is it?

CJH: It was just a barn-looking store on the highway and we were like, “I bet they sell porn,” and then we were like,

<CJ, Mike and Derek singing> “Porn Barn, Porn Barn, come on down to the Porn Barn!”

DD: “Hi, do you like porn?”

CJH: “We’ve got bags and bags of porn in this barn!”

DD: And I remember we were going to Barton Springs and [New Movement co-founder] Chris Trew was with us and he told Tami later, “Stupid Time Machine just does commercials,” and we were like, “Doesn’t everyone do that?” It brings up an interesting thing, too. We formed this group because we were friends first. This was the dream team. We all played on different teams and thought that if we could ever play with who we wanted to play with, this would be the group. That changes everything when you’re playing together. It’s the reason we do the opening we do. It didn’t start like that, but we got so many people saying that they really like how much the opening relaxes them and makes them want to watch us play and almost root for us. They don’t have the pressure of hoping these “performers” don’t mess up, which would be awkward. They’re really pulling for these people because they like them from the start. We’re showing them our personality right off the bat.

CJH: And they get to know the dynamic, too. If Mike is telling a story in the opening set and Derek and I are just shitting on him, they’re like, “Oh, they’re doing the thing with Mike again!” That’s really solid for us.

Vanessa, you are brand new to Stupid Time Machine, having only performed with them for a couple of months. They live in New Orleans and you live in Austin. What are your views coming into the form and what have been some of your challenges playing with this tightly-knit group?

VG: When these guys asked me to be in their group, it was a no-brainer. I was flattered because everyone thinks that Stupid Time Machine is so awesome. I was a little intimidated because they are very close friends, they live in the same city and they’ve been together for a few years. I was close with them and I knew we had a rapport but I wanted it to have that same feel. Hanging out with them more, though, I knew this was going to be fun and it has been. The first couple of shows I was like, “Yeah, they play a lot faster than what I’m used to,” but I like it. I like adjusting and getting faster myself. I think it makes me better playing with different types of performers. With [my other troupe] Handbomb, we play very slow and do ten minute scenes, but I also love the gamey and fast pace that these guys bring. It’s fun to have that variety and to be able to play with different types of people.

CJH: We’ve been coming down to Austin recently just to kick it with Vanessa. That’s been really great for us. When you add someone who’s already your friend and an incredible performer, it not only makes you better but it also makes you refine a new voice a little bit.

DD: Vanessa was a slam dunk to join this group because it just fit. It was important that anybody who played with us would be able to fit the style that we do and that we genuinely liked playing with them. It wouldn’t work if we put someone up there that, in the opening, didn’t feel like they were a friend and they were in it. Vanessa clearly was. I remember, at Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York, when Death By Roo Roo went on that sick Cage Match run and got their regular spot. For a long time, people thought that you couldn’t cast in Death By Roo Roo, that it was these guys and they have their own voice and that’s it and they’re awesome because it’s them. Then, when some of the guys moved to Los Angeles, Anthony King recast and added some people to the New York group and the LA group and it really worked. I think it worked because they were very conscious about it being a type of person in order for it to work. I think that’s the same with us. We fuck with each other a lot on stage, too, and you have to have that trust with someone and share that sense of humor. You’ve got to laugh at the same shit, you’ve got to think the same way.

VG: When we started hanging out, there was very instant clicking with all of them, joking and shitting on each other and being comfortable. I could crack a joke at them and they were okay with it. They make fun of me all the time, too. I feel very comfortable with these guys. Being that we’re also all teachers, we have this stuff we relate to.

Stupid Time Machine is a sketch troupe as well as an improv troupe. Is there a common thread between the way you write together and the way you improvise together?

MS: There’s a real strong attachment to comedy math that deeply informs our improv and our sketch. We’ll have the kernel of an idea and then we’ll heighten it. One of our favorite sketches, which is a marriage proposal that happens on an airplane, was born out of having a basic structure for a sketch that we just improvised where we thought that it could go and how it could heighten. The writing is very similar to how we improvise.

DD: And I’ll even say what the line was because I think it says a lot. It’s all about the group. We were all improvising and it became more of what the people in the different airplane seats say to this guy.

CJH: The initial game was this guy who was trying to propose to his girlfriend on a plane and everyone else was not being cooperative. [STM sketch writer] Joella Fink liked the idea that normally people that would help would be like, “Don’t sing that song to her, that’s a bad song!” We liked the idea, but it was missing something so we put it on its feet. We’re in the scene and the questions to him had been like, “Do you love her?” and things like that. Then Derek was like, “Does she eat your ass?”

DD: I was just fucking around because we like to make each other laugh and everybody just lost it. CJ was crying!

CJH: And as we’re all laughing, the other characters are like, “Yeah, does she? Does she eat it?” That became the game for the sketch, which shows two things. One, if you’re out there and you’re writing sketch and you’re not in improv class then you’re doing yourself a disservice. Almost everything we write uses the same principles of heightening and game. Everything that we use to craft a good improv scene is the process when we’re in the sketch room. Secondly, you’ll see some of the same dynamics come out too. One thing in the ass-eating plane proposal sketch is that we love doing one against the many. You have one sane person, which in this case is Mike trying to make a legitimate proposal to his girlfriend, versus a room of idiots. Or we’ll do one idiot in a room of sane people. It’s just interesting because even though you’re never consciously talking about these things, you’ll end up doing a group game on stage. You gravitate towards those things that you love. You’ll look at a night’s performance and wonder which scenes killed and chances are they’re tendencies that you’re also exploiting in your sketch. We’re constantly trying to nail our voice and I think something we love is taking turns as the outraged straight man. When we can get Mike in those situations, I’m just like, “YES! This is going to be gold!” It’s the same thing with Derek and the same thing with me. I think we all just love the position of, “Are you kidding me? What is happening in this office?!” It’s like throwing meat to sharks. Everyone knows that Mike is the straight man and we are all nuts. I think that we more often set one of us up to be a straight man more than we set someone up to be absurd.

In a scenario like that, it’s very tempting for someone to almost negate, calling out the show as being invalid. How do you avoid that pitfall?

DD: Stakes. There has to be stakes. There always has to be a reason for why the straight man stays. If you’re in a bank and taking shit, why not leave? Because you have to make the deposit. If you don’t make the deposit, rent doesn’t get paid, so you have to stay in the bank and be the voice of the audience who sees this. I had a situation like this the other day. I was at work and this guy pulls up. My boss says, “Oh great, if this fucking guy comes in here with the bananas thing again, I’m going to lose it.” I say, “What are you talking about? I don’t know what you’re saying right now.” And then the guy walks through the door and just goes, “Fucking bananas! It’s bananas out there!” I just lost my shit! This guy is a walking catch phrase! He walks around and no one even prompts him to say how he feels about the world today. He just comes in and shares that with people and I want to be like, “What the fuck?” You get to do that on stage, to either build to that or right away call it out. It’s also one of those things, too, where you see different groups and everybody as improvisers has a tendency to get real cutesy with things. We have to juggle all this shit. For the most part, as competitors and people who want to get better, we do. Sometimes it’s simple and sometimes groups have a style and a form that they’re just really good at. We can sit here and pick it apart and say how it should be this or that, and maybe it’s valid or freshens it up, but also sometimes it’s just being really good at working the simple stuff that doesn’t need work. I guess that also depends on what your measure of success is as a group.

CJH: I’d say another thing that goes well with the stakes is the emotional heat of it, which is why we frequently set Mike up as the straight man. If you take this ass-eating plane sketch that is now becoming our structuring metaphor for Stupid Time Machine, while the game of the scene is for more and more people on the plane to ask him if the woman loves him enough to eat his ass, in between that he’s talking about how in love with her he is and how she’s his other half.

VG: It sets up the absurdity and allows you guys to be more absurd too, acknowledging that as the straight person and being able to set your friends up.

CJH: You can hear the people in the audience being touched when he’s talking about how this woman is his sense of home, about how she is home embodied in another person. He’s playing to the height of his intelligence as the straight person. He’s not being like, “This is so crazy!” He is like, “I am so in love.” Then, you have silence and Derek is like, “Yeah, but does she lick your butthole?” Then the audience erupts because you’ve brought that up with all that emotional heat.

DD: It’s like pipes, right? You build the pressure up and there’s a valve and at some point you’ve got to let that out and release it or it’s going to explode and it’s going to be a mess. It’s self-calibration. You’re always looking at timing. You let the pressure out and the audience just explodes.

MS: Another part of that too is that you never have to feel like endowments are only the domain of the absurd character. Anybody can bring information to the scene or to a sketch and it’s just as much the responsibility of the straight person to paint the environment and the scene work as it is anyone else. When you have everybody contributing with every single line, it doesn’t feel like straight-up negation. It feels like everybody’s building together, even if as a character you can’t agree with the choices that the other character is making. We’re all painting together.

CJH: A fun thing too, from a numbers point of view and a skills point of view, is finding different ways to do that kind of dynamic. I think it was our opening show after having added Vanessa to the group where we had a straight/absurd scene in which I was a mouse person who had been living in this office. We have this setup where I’m the absurd and Derek and Mike are on the straight team. Vanessa was a sort of swing character and was like, “So wait, is he a man, or…?” She was this idiot in between the straight/absurd, which just felt like a new element. It’s fun finding what you’re great at and how you can complicate that.

I have one final question for you and then I’ll let you guys go. What is your “Improv Wins” moment, the moment that you knew you would improvise forever? What was the moment you decided to make Stupid Time Machine what it is?

MS: There was a particular time when we decided as a trio that we wanted to up our game, to collaborate and figure out how to take it to the next level, but it’s really been a series of moments. We saw in each other, playing in different teams, choices that people made. Then we first wrote a sketch show together, playing out the parts and figuring out how we could put it all together. There was the anticipation of making this thing that could’ve gone wrong in 50 different ways, but we made it work and had a sold out crowd. There was a line that reached out the door, a very long section of a block for our first sketch show. I think that was one of the really strong moments.

CJH: We didn’t come together to be an improv troupe. We were all improvisers who wanted to do some sketch. Had that first project not gone well, it would have put a different taste in our mouths. It was the most successful thing any of us had ever done in comedy. At the time, we were at this theater that had never had a line. To see a line stretching down the block of people to come to this thing that you wrote, that you don’t know if it’s good yet, that was a moment where we were like, “We can do this again and again and we can do improv as well.”

DD: For me, it was pre-Stupid Time Machine, actually. I was at an improv festival in New Orleans. I was in a Level 2 class and I was supposed to start a team but I hadn’t yet. I was nervous as shit. I’d go watch people do improv and be like, “Wow, they’re thinking so fast, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to do this.” I remember going outside in between shows and Chris and Tami were there. I hadn’t met them yet, but I knew who they were. Everybody else at that festival was dressed in dress shirts and slacks and looked nervous about their show or a little tight, but Chris and Tami were dressed comfortable. Not in a way that wasn’t presentable on stage, but they weren’t sweating getting really dressed up. They just looked like they were hanging out having the best time and I just couldn’t fathom that at that point. I was just like, “How are these people this loose when they are headlining tonight? They look like they’re having the best time.” So I went in and took my seat and they took the stage and the vibe in the room just flipped. It was so rock star and when they were on stage it was all eyes on them. I don’t know if that was technically the best show of the festival, but boy did it feel different. I specifically remember they were having so much fun on stage. Tami was wearing a coat and by the time it occurred to her to take her coat off because she was warmed up, the lights came down. They were having so much fun that 30 minutes went by before it occurred to her.  I was like, “That’s kind of cool, that she’s ballsy enough to do that.” I remember seeing that and going, “That’s what I want to do.”

I’ve always had a fascination with people who are able to show up and watch the show and someone says, “Hey, I know this is last minute, but we’re short a person. Could you jump in?” and they’re like, “Yeah, sure,” and they jump in and they’re awesome. When this group came together, we eventually sort of became to other people who were just getting into improv. I told Chris Trew the story I just told and he smiled. I asked him, “What?” and he said, “What you don’t realize is that’s what the Austin people think about Stupid Time Machine. They want to be in a troupe that has that much fun on stage.” So there was always that in me, wanting to be in a group that had the potential to tear the house down but had a lot of fun and looked like fun.

VG: When I first decided to do improv, I was doing sketch and I was asked to be the monologist at a Megaphone Show. I had no idea what it was. It was me and [New Movement member] Danu Uribe and we didn’t even have stories prepared. It was on Cinco de Mayo and they asked us questions about what it was like to grow up Mexican. We would say our stories and then we got off stage and they started doing scenes and I was like, “That’s awesome!” It blew me away. The week after I was like, “I want to do that. Sign me up for classes.”

Thank you guys for your time and for being so open and honest. And, as always, Improv Wins.

ALL: YEAH!!!

Flip Cup Champion Amanda Austin on the Upcoming Dallas Comedy Festival

Amanda Austin is in her third year of co-producing the Dallas Comedy Festival. Amanda also teaches and performs improv at Dallas Comedy House and is currently working on a few writing projects. She chatted with Improv Wins about some of the new and scintillating things festivalgoers can look forward to this year.

 

What makes this year’s DCF extra wicked?

We’ve worked really hard this year to put an emphasis on all things comedy for the festival. We have a lot of diversity in the areas of improv, sketch, stand up, and film. This is the first year we’ve introduced a comedy short film contest as part of the festival. Submissions are already looking good and we hope it will bring more awareness to the digital aspect of comedy. (Side note: anyone can enter…some of the prizes are Dallas based i.e. passes to DCF and the Dallas International Film Festival in April, but also a $250 cash prize, so it’s open to anyone)
What are your plans for the legendary DCF after-party?

We’re gearing up for the Third Annual Flip Cup Tournament to see who takes home the legendary Flip Cup Trophy! We’ve secured some rad food trucks to park themselves outside during the week of the festival, so you can bet there will be tons of food during our after party. We’ll also show some of the short films that were submitted for the DCF Comedy Short Film Contest!
Tell us about Dallas Comedy!

The Dallas comedy scene has been shifting from a few projects around town to a real community that wants to work together to bring a total comedy awareness of improv, sketch, standup and film to the Dallas area. Our lineup includes something for everyone this year, so we’re thrilled for Dallas to experience local and national comedy they wouldn’t normally see without this festival! The week of the festival is my favorite week of the year, because of all the great comedians who share their talent with our beautiful city, and all the Dallasites who relish in the laughter.

The Dallas Comedy Festival is March 27th-April 1st at The Dallas Comedy House

FAQ 247: Houston Harold Weekend, Eric Muller

Listen! Eric Muller on the Harold's Organic Opening

Eric Muller, an improviser since 2005, is well versed in the Harold format as he has trained with Houston’s Massive improv, iO Chicago, the Second City and the Annoyance Theater.  Since Eric will be lending his expertise on the organic opening in his workshop “Organic Groupwork: Improv at Its Best” we though it fitting to have him talk a bit specifically about the opening as a function of the format. (Click on that face to hear the audio)

How would you describe the Harold in the most basic way you can?

Well, putting aside the “textbook” definition laid out in Truth In Comedy, and also the possibly-true-but-definitely-not-helpful “Everything is a Harold!” philosophy, I’m going to go with the following:

“A Harold is an improvised piece wherein – through a combination of an opening, scenes, and groupwork (scenic or otherwise) – a troupe of improvisers explore the literal, thematic, and metaphorical implications of a given audience suggestion.”

I think this accurately captures the intention of the piece, while also rightly glossing over the useful but not truly important details of how many scenes are in a beat, or how the characters tie together, etc.

 

What attracts you to the format?

Well, I think what I like about Harold is that it gives the promise of actually saying something as a team. A montage can have strong themes, a “Close Quarters” can have a strong opinion as a piece, but the Harold – starting with the opening – definitely requires that the team first come to a thesis statement about a suggestion, and then through the course of the piece work towards exploring that, refuting it, heightening it, etc.

 

A lot of schools use this format as their staple show – do you think there is any merit to having knowledge of the format as a kind of baseline for improvisers?

 

I think precisely because so many schools throughout the country use Harold as their staple show that it gives an excellent baseline for improvisers. While not every school approaches it in the same way, I think that enough schools have enough overlap in how they teach it that it will be useful for the improviser who travels looking to learn and perform around the country. Anywhere you go improvisers will have either learned it or at least heard about it, and they’ll have an opinion about it one way or the other. It’s something to talk about while you’re engaging in the other great hobby of improvisers: getting drunk.

I think it is important that everyone starting (or continuing) in improv should at least be familiar with a basic “opening/3scenes/game/3 scenes/etc.” style Harold. If you liken improv to jazz, then Harold is one of our standards: “Body and Soul” or “I Got Rhythm”. It’s one of those things you just have to learn, if for no other reason then you might be at a jam sometime and someone will call the tune “Harold”; how embarrassing if you didn’t know the chords?

Occasionally I will hear someone say how they “hate Harolds” or that “openings are stupid”. And to them I would say : If you don’t like it, it’s probably because you suck at it. Rare is the truly experienced improviser who actively hates a form, the same way you don’t frequently hear about musicians who refuse to play in a certain key.  Work harder and give it some time. The first time you do a really excellent Harold, where the oft-spoken-of-but-rarely-achieved “group mind” makes an appearance and the improv heavens open up and Del Close smiles down upon you, then you can come back to me and tell me that you don’t want to do Harolds anymore. Until then, shut up and eat your vegetables, they’re good for you.

That having been said, I also think it’s important that Harold’s “classic” form not be slavishly adhered to, because there is ultimately nothing special about the “3×3” structure or exactly how many performers are in each scene in the first beat. I think a group or scene doing nothing but textbook Harold structure is a perfect recipe for engendering feelings of boredom and ill-will towards the form. In the same way that you have to know the rules before you can break them. we should learn the “right way”, and then, definitely, feel free to start exploring. Pablo Picasso’s initial training for years and years was in classic Renaissance-style painting, wherein the goal was photo-realism. That’s not what ultimately ended up interesting him, and it’s not what he’s known for, but it gave him a place to start. While I believe it can be much more, if nothing else treat Harold as a great and well-known place to start.

For the record I think having an opening IS a sine qua non – but the number of scenes, the placement of group activities, following theme vs. game vs. character, etc. –  that can ALL easily be tinkered with and still maintain the piece’s “Haroldness”… whatever that means. And, in the course of your tinkerings, you find yourself straying further from Harold, then name what you invented as new form. You can say it was “based on the Harold”, if that works better for you. I doubt Del Close would give a shit.

Sign up for Eric’s workshop: Organic Groupwork: Improv at Its Best

Interview: Roanna Flowers and Taylor Overstreet

Conversation with Roanna Flowers and Taylor Overstreet

Location:
A red velvet sofa in Austin, Texas.

Supplies:
Two cups of coffee, an iPhone, two mostly Siamese cats, and one Festivus pole.

I’m not the raisin. The raisin is Miss California* (*not actually Miss California.)

I am here today with Taylor Overstreet, one of the members of There’s Waldo! – a fantastic sketch troupe out of The Institution Theater in Austin, Texas. Taylor, how are you?

I’m doing great!

I’m not the raisin. The raisin is Miss California* (*not actually Miss California.)

Is This Real Life (Or Is It a Fantasy) will be a series of conversations between creative people, whether they’re creative in the arts or in business (or just in conversation), about inspiration and what it means to be a creative person. We tend to keep the process stuff to ourselves. We think about it, but don’t really share it, or at least not that frequently. So thank you for joining me in this!
 
What was the first thing you can remember creating or performing where you went “Oh! I want to do this!” It can be a super early memory, or it can be something that happened last week.

It is a super early memory for me. I danced for several years as a child, and during one of my recitals, I was doing a twirling routine to a song called “I Want to Bop with You, Baby.” I was probably 5 or 6. And the dance studio I was attending didn’t have a lot of money so one year we would order costumes and the next we just did something easy and homemade. This was a homemade year, so we were dancing in just black leotards and blue jeans rolled up to our knees. At one point during the recital, probably about a third of the way in, I completely stopped twirling, went to the center of the stage and used my baton as a microphone and belted out the words of the song for the rest of the song and…never recommenced twirling.

That is fantastic.

And what I remember most about that is, when my whole family got together to watch the videotape afterwards, I could hear people laughing in the venue and then my family around me laughing. I started crying and ran out of the room because I wasn’t trying to make people laugh. I was just doing what came naturally to me, and I didn’t understand why they were amused by it. But I just, that’s what I wanted to do at the time. To me the routine was irrelevant at that point. I just thought: I need to give this to the world right now. I guess that’s my earliest performing memory.

It’s what I see you do whenever I see you perform. You know how to go to the center of the stage, take the light and do what you do. That is still there. To me, it’s really interesting to hear about a person’s first creative memory because I think that stays true. What was it about that moment or singing and dancing that really grabbed you and still grabs you?

It just feels really good. That sounds really simplified. But that’s what I love so much about improv. You can take a moment that means something completely different to your scene partner and make it your own. And I think for me what grabbed me was just doing something differently. I didn’t want to be twirling with twelve other girls who looked just like me. I love that I grew up in a family that encouraged me to be myself. Following that instinct onstage when I was 5 was exciting for me. I hope I’ve retained that!

And you’ve probably gotten this question as well: aren’t you nervous? How do you get up there when you have no idea what’s going to happen? And my response is the same every time: it sounds counterintuitive, but it is so freeing to get up there and not know what’s going to happen. I still love sketch and I think we’ve written some beautiful things…

Some beautifully twisted things…

Yes! I love it! And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But there’s something really special about the unknown. Even within sketch, we have that. Even when we write something, we’re always trying to surprise each other on stage by finding new things to throw in, even if it’s just to try to make each other break because, let’s be honest, that’s always fun.

My answer to that question is: but that’s every day! You never know what’s going to happen to you every day. There’s no real difference between walking out the door, getting in your car and getting on stage in improv. It is freeing. It’s also freeing to know you can’t break it.

Try as we might.

And I do a pretty damn good job at that, personally, of trying to break it. There’s a tremendous relief in knowing you can’t and that other people aren’t going to let you. That’s the one thing to me that attracts me to improv over stand-up.

People that are reading this: you should know that I’m nodding enthusiastically. I forget that you can’t see that.

Eventually these will be moving pictures, talkies, and you can totally see her nodding.

Yeah, I’m with you. That’s what my head is saying.

The earnest look, the knit cap…

You should all know I am wearing an adorable pink knit cap today.

What is your go-to for inspiration? I know it’s a broad question but some people have pretty specific go-to’s.

Honestly, my fellow Waldos are probably my biggest source of inspiration currently because they are just so funny, even just sitting around having conversations – I am perpetually amused and delighted. Stuff will just come out of our conversations that I’m like, “I gotta write about that. I’m turning that into something.” I was actually having a conversation with Tyler Reece Booker (look him up if you don’t know him, he’s brilliant) yesterday and he said, “Oh, c’mon, that’s just like somebody dropping a Hershey’s guilt kiss on you.” And I had to stop and ask, “Hold up. Did you just make that up on the spot right there?” And he said, “…Yeah, I did.” And I wrote it down. I can’t not use that! I think – and this is a big broad answer to your big broad question – I’m inspired by the people around me. I don’t go to a specific TV show or artist or anything like that. The people around me give me plenty of material. And silly things, like Dr. Pepper 10 or Kim Jong-il’s wardrobe. Also, my grandmother…

Oh, Mema!

Mema!

Mema needs her own show…

Mema does need her own show. For those who don’t know, Mema is Laurabelle Blackwell from Lafayette, Louisiana. She’s a trip…I have probably disappointed her in how little of her material – well, she doesn’t know it’s material – that I’ve actually brought to the stage because there is so much. She is a gold mine.

Even with that inspiration, do you experience creative blocks? If so, how to you move past them?

Oh yeah. I wanted to take a sketch writing class for almost a year. I would sit and try to write sketches before I even started the class, and I would stare at my computer screen.  It’s like I couldn’t think of anything because I was thinking so damn hard. I still have a tendency to do that sometimes. Tom Booker gave us good advice in class: when you don’t know what choice to make, make the worst choice possible. And that has served me well, both on stage and when I’m writing. And I think what I do to move past it is I just get it out there. I’ve over time become less afraid of what the end product is going to be. Just get it out there. The process is about the rewriting not about the writing. I need to just vomit everything onto the page and then just work through it. It’s not going to be brilliant the first time out or even the fifth time out. Just pressing on, keep persevering. Maybe I need that little cat poster that says, “Hang in there,” when I’m writing.

I think perfection is something that every creative person deals with – and it even speaks to that wonderful piece about the creative process by Ira Glass (NPR). Artists, or people who tend to be creative, have good taste. When you imagine this thing in your head that you want to do, and when you first start doing it, it doesn’t look anything like what you envisioned. And a lot of people stop there. I certainly have off and on. But learning how to just do it and not worry about it and do more and not less and don’t try to make it perfect – just make it.

Perfection’s not much fun.

It’s not fun at all! It’s incredibly inhibiting. It’s anti-creativity. It’s not even being creatively analytic. It’s just a road block. And I think writers suffer that – maybe musicians, but certainly writers I know suffer from that particular creative affliction. Many feel that they need to be Shakespeare or J.K. Rowling or whatever it is they think it needs to be and it doesn’t need to be any of that. It just needs to be.

One thing I really like about the stuff that I’ve written is I think if I had just handed it to somebody and they looked at it they would never guess I wrote it. I like that. There are some elements of me in it obviously, but I have cranked out some really weird stuff that I am so amused by and I wish these people were in my life. I want to write these characters into my daily life, even if they freak me out and make me uncomfortable. I want to spend some time with that person and find out what they think about things.

You know how you do that? You go all Blackstreet Production.

No diggity. Get ready.

Do you find that your experiences in improv and sketch, in particular, have changed the way you look at your surroundings?

100%. The biggest thing is I feel like I’m subconsciously trolling for material. There have been so many times since I joined this community, almost two years ago, where someone said something and I say to myself “I gotta write that down.” Thank goodness for smart phones. I can bust it out and write ideas down right there. People are fascinating and weird and unexpected. I feel like I was a pretty astute observer of life before but it’s even more heightened now Another thing that’s not different but that I wish was different – I still hate getting in front of people for work stuff. I still have this moment of panic and my pulse is racing out of control. I thought it would make me be more comfortable being up in front of people but honestly, I’m not. Sometimes I have to forget that I’m in front of an audience.

They’re not anonymous either. The anonymity of being on stage is nice.

Yeah. Being on stage, there is an anonymity but that combined with total exposure is a really interesting juxtaposition. I like those two things together. And I like the word juxtaposition.

To Be or Not To Be: Fame or …Not Fame: What does fame mean to you and would it equal success, in your mind?

Fame? I never really thought about fame, but I have thought about success. For me, “success” is about two things. The first is being prolific. Prolificity? That should be a word. I just want to keep doing this. Like forever. Keep writing, keep performing, keep playing. The second thing about success for me is being inspiring. Inspiring people onstage or inspiring someone to take a class because they’ve seen how much fun I’ve had with it, how much I’ve grown, etc. Those two things may not make me famous, but they make me happy, and that’s better, right?

For me, it would only be useful if name recognition would mean that I could get a charity established or that I could become a Goodwill Ambassador to the U.N. – if I could take Angelina Jolie’s U.N. job. I don’t care about the acting; I don’t care about that job. I care about the U.N. job she has, but you only get that if you’re at a certain stature. So I think of fame a little differently and am always curious to hear if other people equate fame with success, or how they view it.

For me, they’re not linked.  I think more about how I can keep doing this and how I can inspire other people, and that’s more to do with being successful, in my mind. I never really thought about fame. If I were “famous,” the most scandalous thing the paparazzi would find me doing is driving through Taco Bell at 2am. Angelina Jolie’s U.N. job would be sweet, though.

It would be!

I, too, am more interested in that job than acting.

How can we become Goodwill Ambassadors just being regular folks? Maybe I need to write a letter. Give me a chance! I don’t have six children but I have a lot of spirit!

We’ve got pizzazz!

The last question is one that people don’t tend to talk about, but I think it’s interesting. And I frame it this way: I Hate You (You’re Awesome), which is about creative envy or jealousy. There are always going to be people who are doing more things than you are or who are going a certain way. Have you experienced that? How do you feel about it? Have you had to deal with it and do you find that it inspires or inhibits you? (You don’t have to name names.)

Oh, I could name names. And yes, I have experienced that. Creative envy? Most definitely. There’s an element of both. The bigger part for me is that it inspires me and I hope that wins out. But there have been times where I’ve been part of a show and I had a blip of a thought like: I wanna do that! But somebody else did it and that’s a beautiful thing. Yeah, I experience creative envy. Creative envy makes it sound negative, but it’s not.

I was watching Shakespeare In Love — as silly as it is, it is also brilliant — and found myself going “Gah! Why didn’t I write this? That sucks! It’s Awesome!” It’s not that you hate them, or the movie in this case; it’s that you wish you had done it.

Yes! And that, to me, is high praise. I love what you did so much, that I wish I had done it myself. Why can’t we just enjoy that somebody did it? It’s human.

It is so human. Everybody feels it. Because if you think you’re the only one who goes I Hate You (You’re Awesome) then you just think you’re a horrible person. Taylor, thank you so much for the chat today. Thank you for taking the time and hopefully I can catch up with you in the future.

Absolutely.

I don’t hate you – and you are awesome. Have a great day!

You too!

You can find more by Roanna Flowers, aka Legs Magee, at www.legsmagee.com and on Twitter @LegsMagee.

Matt Donnelly: Harold’s Future, The Virtues of Touring & Vegas’ Glitter

Matt Donnelly has been an improviser and teacher at theaters all over New York for years and has since taken his talents to Las Vegas. He was recently voted ‘Best Male Comedian’ by BroadwayWorld.com and started working on ‘Penn & Teller Tell A Lie’. He tells us about what Vegas is like, his writing gig and teaching a unique version of the Harold.

Being based out of Las Vegas, how is that city as an improv town?

Las Vegas is a strange town to do improv in. There is no official improv theater so groups are a little ignorant to each other.  Both Long Form and Short Form thrive there.   It’s a small city with a lot of entertainment, so maintaining any kind of weekly show is hard.  The locals are asked to see a ton of shows and given great deals to do so.  So when folks come out to our shows, we feel supported. It’s a real choice to see us.  I like that.  I like Vegas audiences a lot.

There aren’t just improv people in the audience, a lot of regular folks come out. In NYC where I performed for over a decade, you pride yourself on the variety of people that come through.  Vegas has as totally different, yet very diverse Americana audience.  Performing for them, I have grown a ton as a performer.  As a teacher it’s always hard in a small market city that doesn’t dangle the carrot of professional work to keep a large amount of people motivated and focused on improv.

The scene swells and recedes often just year to year.  I have been challenged greatly here.  Second City was a huge influence here before they packed up and left town.  With my background (Chicago City Limits, IO, UCB, People’s Improv Theater) I very much feel like I bring something different and new to this city.

What was the decision like to move there?
My decision to move there was one of support for my wife.  Sarah has a huge musical theater background and Jersey Boys offered her a  job, moving expenses and 6 month’s rent.  I didn’t want to do the long distance thing, so we moved.  Thank goodness there was improv there otherwise I may have slit my wrists.  I am much better at improv than I am at blackjack.

How did your writing gig on Penn & Teller Tell a Lie come about?
Emily Jillette, Penn’s wife, was a huge fan of improv and saw me in Wayne Brady’s show at the Venetian and also saw me in some local improv stuff.  She produced my idea for an improv show called Executive Monkeys at the Palms Resort Casino and through that I met Penn.  We just got along okay and when I heard they had a new TV show deal for Discovery I begged to intern.  After about a month, Penn & Teller let me take passes at the script and I started peppering in some jokes here and there.  They liked them and hired me as a writer (actually ‘creative consultant’, but I just did the job of being a fourth writer on the show as well as my intern duties).  They are amazing people to work for and should have some fun surprises TV-wise in the new year.
How do you find time out of your busy schedule to do that, perform and do workshops across the country?
Writing is an intense but small part of my calendar year.  When we are writing, I don’t teach or perform that much.  But when we are down, I am an improv teacher/performer.  I feel very rewarded teaching improv.  I have really spent my life pursuing a better understanding of it and I pride myself and trying to understand it from the perspective of each scene. 
I don’t think I have all the answers, I enjoy soaking in each scene and love that improv is this international secret hand shake that says “we should be able to do a show, have a drink and enjoy each other’s company”.  Plus, as a comedian, it’s so important to go to as many diverse places as possible and see what makes you likable and funny.  Local scenes and get pretty comfy and inside jokey fast.  Festivals and travel are vital to keeping your personal art fresh and challenged.
Is the speed version of the Harold something you have uniquely developed?
I did uniquely develop it with my first improv group Possible Side Effects, which later became Threat at the PIT.  We kept drifting toward it when we were doing “Free Forms”.  There are many forms called “Speed Harold”.  I wanted to call it something else, but the Harold elements are so strong it that it didn’t feel right.  People sometimes refer to it as “the Donnelly Harold”, but having my name on it feels gross and egotistical. 
The 2 major distinctions on it are 1) no opening and 2) the last third of the form is rapid fire scenes instead of one scene trying to attract connections. Having no opening proved more controversial in the NYC scene than I thought when I started teaching it.
Performing long form in Jersey and later NYC, openings are pretty fruity and weird to an audience of regulars Joes.  So we dropped it.  We dropped the concept of “finding Harold” and decided as a group not to put one form on a pedestal above all others, and just “yes and ” the performance of it like any other form.
Fast forward years later where I left the UCB over my own artistic differences at the time, to come to the PIT where I was hired as a level 1 teacher.  I watched house teams who were performing just “not Harold” forms.  They were talented people just doing very organic and drawn-out forms.  They lacked certain elements that I thought were vital to engaging regular audience.  So out of necessity I started teaching the Speed Harold to every house team.  I was only a level 1 teacher so I offered my coaching for free and they could keep me on after if they wanted to.  Almost all of them did.  It really opened up the groups and I was moved to level 3 class teaching where I taught the form to every student.  I am not sure if its still taught at the PIT but for the five years I taught, it was the first form anyone learned.  I take a lot of pride in how positive an impact it had on that theater’s art and the growth of the theater that happened at the same time.
Do they do it at any other place the exact same way?
Teams at the PIT still perform some version of it. Two groups in Minneapolis from what I hear do a wonderful version of it and a team called Miss Baker is Las Vegas does an amazing job performing it.
Do you believe the original Harold holds up?
I do.  I think in places that have the right teachers it holds up quite well.  Its not an academic form.  It doesn’t translate off the pages of Truth in Comedy as well as one might prefer.  I think it needs to be directed.  But so does my version of it.  I teach a streamlined version of it with a very different focus on second beats especially.  Only improvisers would recognize it as versions of the same form. Forms don’t make good improv, improvisers do.  Any form holding up depends on the coach and its players.
A big part of your teaching is in body language. Why do you think that is such an important part of improv?
90 percent of what we communicate is body language and tone. Yet so much of improv is focused on that 10 percent- the words alone. (There is no hard science behind those percentages, I am just making a point).  Improv is the only form of theater where the audience thinks they are smarter than you and have come to watch you fail. 
So many times people are acting their butts off and their scene partner is so focused on the words and not saying yes to what they are seeing or how they are hearing and leaving so much information from those factors out of the scene entirely.  I think this is where “playing at the top of your intelligence” really finds meaning. Interpreting body language and tone lets you “yes and” what the spectator is feeling rather than thinking, and puts you 2 steps ahead of an audience that is daring you to fail.

Where can people find you performance or teaching-wise in the near future?
I’ll be performing on Monday nights at the Onyx theatre in the show SET in Las Vegas.  I will be doing other monthly shows as well.  I teach drop ins once a month and I travel to cities to teach and perform, usually 6 cities a year.  To keep up to date follow me on twitter @SweetMattyD
Thanks to Matt for his time answering these questions!

C.J. Hunt Is a Prince of Transcendence

C.J. Hunt is a member of the wildly successful sketch group Stupid Time Machine and a New Movement instructor in New Orleans. His wit is surpassed only by his intellect, and that in turn is surpassed by his charm. C.J. shares with us what thrills him about improv and why we have to push ourselves hard to have fun.

How and when did you come to find improv?

I got my first taste of improv as a senior in high school. At the time, I was attending a sort of hippy dippy private school that gave seniors the opportunity to opt out of the last month of academic classes by proposing and undertaking an interesting “senior project.”  While some kids chose to intern at a dentist’s office or a recording studio, my friends and I decided that, for our project, we would study comedy for a month and, as a culmination, put on a sketch and improv comedy show for the entire school.  Through the course of our project, we saw an improv/sketch show at the Improv Asylum,an incredible improv theater in Boston’s North End.  There we met a resident performer/instructor named Kristin who took a shine to us and gave us an all-access pass to the theater.  We spent the next month getting into all shows for free, hanging out with the performers afterwards, and even sitting-in on the team’s practices and sketch writing meetings.

[pullquote_left] I was hooked on improv right then and there.  Curiously enough, what hooked me was not the improv itself, but rather the magic of the show’s atmosphere.   [/pullquote_left]

I was hooked on improv right then and there.  Curiously enough, what hooked me was not the improv itself, but rather the magic of the show’s atmosphere.  The irrepressible electricity that buzzes through the theater as the audience sits chatting and passing buckets of beer around, waiting for the show to begin; the surge of applause and driving music that fills the blackouts between sketches – all of these things created an energy that I had to have more of.  “I want to create a show like that,” I thought to myself, “I guess I need to learn how to do improv first.”

What do you think is the secret to fun improv?

This sounds cliche, but I really do think the secret to fun improv is letting go.  From the start of level one, we all learn that improv requires us to let go and live in the moment of the scene.  While one might assume that this act of “letting go” gets easier with more experience, I find that it gets harder.  The more confident I get, the more I want to force my ideas onto a scene and make brilliant super impressive choices.  My inner monologue starts to sound like this “Shit. Shit. Shit.  What is happening?  Why is my partner doing a walk on?  I have to save this scene and make it all make sense.”  After an entire show of thinking like this, I realize that I haven’t been having fun at all; I’ve been improvising from a place of fear and worry and my scenes have suffered as a result.  The best stuff happens when I let go – to control, to the desire to make the crowd laugh, to the need to have scenes that make sense.  Allow yourself to be surprised.

[pullquote_right] While one might assume that this act of “letting go” gets easier with more experience, I find that it gets harder.  The more confident I get, the more I want to force my ideas onto a scene and make brilliant super impressive choices. [/pullquote_right]

What has been your favorite improv scene that you have either been in or watched from the audience?

I recently witnessed a scene take place between two of our students, Charlie and Shawn.  Shawn is the typical cool-glasses-ironic-t-shirt-wearing hip young dude that you would expect to take an improv class.  Charlie, on the other hand, is a 75-year-old retired jazz musician.  With a friendly smile, nicely pressed slacks, and an unassuming posture, Charlie looks more like an endearing grandfather than an aspiring improviser.  The following is my best attempt to recall a scene that these two men did at our last improv zero.

Suggested location: Speakeasy (underground bar from the 1920s)

Charlie: We should put a hole in the door

Shawn: Yeah so then we can look through the hole and make sure no cops come in

Charlie: I’ve also been thinking about the name of our speakeasy

Shawn: Me too.  I think it the name should have a floral theme

Charlie: I love flowers.  That sounds like a great idea.

Shawn: Great.  That’s why we should call it the Secret Bouquet

Charlie: From now on I’m only going to whisper its name

Shawn: Good idea, that way it will stay a secret

Charlie: Yeah, we should probably stop speaking about it in such loud voices.

For me, this scene really underscored the power of yes, and… Though these two men are generations apart and share almost no common cultural references, they are able to create a wonderful scene simply by yes anding the shit out of one another.  They were not focused on being funny, nor were they focused on creating something wonderful and elaborate and interesting; they were simply building on the last thing their partner said.  It was basic and beautiful and made me think “man I’ve got to be more like those guys when I improvise.”

What is your motto?

Always be pushing. Though it sounds like it should be a slogan for Nike or Gatorade or North Face, its actually my personal motto.  I have written this phrase on the cover of a small journal I use to store my comedy ideas.  When you have people paying to see you, it is incredibly easy to become satisfied and complacent, especially in small comedy scenes like the one we have in New Orleans.  I use the motto to remind me that I must always be actively working to expand what I am capable of.  If we want to be great, we must be always pushing our own performances, our writing, and our teaching.  When I begin feeling comfortable or overconfident, the motto reminds me “you can do more than this, so get off your ass and make it happen.”