The Magnet Theater not only boasts its current roster of powerful improvisers, writers, and performers, but also celebrates those who have taken on new adventures in their lives and with their comedy.
Matt Koff, a writer for the Daily Show and stand-up, started off here at the Magnet and is now taking NYC by storm. We wanted to catch up with Matt and shine the Magnet Theater Blog Spotlight on him and his journey in comedy. I (Amanda Ariel Peggy Xeller!) conducted an email interview with Matt. Below are his responses:
Where are you from originally?
Ardsley NY. It’s 45 minutes north of the city
When did you realize you wanted to get involved in comedy?
In my senior year of college. I had majored in English so going into comedy seemed like a similarly practical pursuit.
But I had been obsessed with comedy since I was a kid. In middle school I didn’t listen to music. I listened to Monty Python casette tapes.
What is your improv and comedy history?
I started doing sketch and improv in college at SUNY New Paltz.
Then around 2004 I moved to the city and got involved with a theater collective known as Juvie Hall. There I got involved writing for a weekly show called Saturday Night Rewritten. I met a lot of very talented people, little did I know, I’d be working with later in my career, including my current Daily Show officemate Dan McCoy and my current boss Elliott Kalan.
Armando Diaz was teaching classes at Juvie Hall. I started studying sketch and improv under him, and continued doing so when the Magnet Theater opened. I was on a few Magnet House teams while also working with an indie sketch group known as Mr. Whitepants.
Along the way there were a few small successes that indicated to me that what I was doing wasn’t a total mistake. I was hired to be a regular contributor for the Onion’s video site, a webseries that I worked on with Dan McCoy, 9 AM Meeting, was popular at Channel 101 NY screenings, and actually got us a development deal with MTV. Then Dan got hired to write for the Daily Show and had to abandon the MTV project. The development deal withered because the truth is I’d been riding Dan’s coattails during this process.
Around 2010 I stopped doing improv and sketch and decided to pursue stand-up comedy. The thing I like most about it, as opposed to improv and sketch, is that you don’t need to book rehearsal space or corral fellow team members. It’s a lot less administrative and you get to figure out how funny “you” are in your own voice, without the variables of being onstage with other people or hiding behind characters. Although, I’ve recently come back to improv and sketch and I like it a lot more now that I’ve sort of found my “groove” with stand-up.
What initially attracted you to the Magnet?
Armando Diaz. He is a great teacher!
Would you recommend that people interested in comedy start with improv? Why/why not? (if not where should they start in your opinion).
Yes. It’s great training. It teaches you how to be in the moment, which is huge for any kind of comedic performing. And it also teaches you how to think and build of ideas (if this, then what) which is huge for any kind of comedic writing. Also for networking reasons. Doing improv is a great way to bond with total strangers immediately.
But in general, I would say try every form of comedy, especially when you’re first starting out. You may be surprised at what you’re good at. I came to the city to be in a sketch group, and 10 years later I do stand-up on most nights of the week.
How would you describe the feel of your comedy and stand-up? What’s your style?
That’s a hard thing to say from my perspective. I guess “dry”, “Weird” maybe? Then again I know a lot of people who are a lot drier and weirder than I am. I guess you could say I tell one-liners, but that’s not intentional. I’m just bad at writing long jokes. I guess what I’m trying to say is, “don’t try and put me in a box, man.”
How much does audience factor into your performance? Is there a specific group of people you are playing to?
Well, for stand-up, the audience factors in a lot. If people don’t laugh at a joke, I probably won’t tell it, or at least until I work on it some more. Then again, not every audience will laugh at every joke. If a joke gets laughs more times than not, I consider it: “a joke that works.” The only group I’m playing to is “people who might find me funny.” Certain audiences you just know you’re not going to connect with as soon as you hit the stage, and you know what: THAT’S OKAY.
What tools do you use when creating work be it in stand-up or writing?
I tend to use a tiny notebook, a big notebook, a pen, a sausage a craisin, and Evernote. I will also workshop potential stand-up jokes on Twitter.
Can you talk about some of the projects you have taken on since improvising and performing here?
I co-wrote and co-voiced a webseries called “9 AM Meeting” with Dan McCoy, as mentioned before. I started a fake online campaign to raise money to buy a roomba. Last year I did a sketch show called The Matt Koff Show, which is the first sketch show I’ve ever written by myself.
How did you get involved with writing for Jon Stewart?
Well my old comedy buddy Dan recommended I submit a packet. So then I did. The show liked that packet, so then I submitted another packet. Then they told me no and almost a year later they were like “OK fine you can write for us.”
Any parting advice?
If you want to do comedy, do it. If you want to write, write. If you want to perform, perform. Do it constantly. Make it your life. Don’t compare yourself to others. Delete your Facebook account. Don’t actually delete your Facebook account though, it’s a good networking tool. And most importantly, HAVE FUN.
Mail’s here! Kevin Cobbs (The Music Industry, Listen, Kid!), who is performing full time on one of the Second City Cruise Ships, just sent a letter to us here at the Magnet to give us a glimpse of his travels. Check it out! And check out that picture of Kevin in San Juan! Wowie-wow-wow-wow!
Greetings and salutations from the Norwegian Gem. As I write this I’m about halfway through my four month contract with the Second City, and so far its been an absolutely wonderful experience.
Here on the Gem we typically perform one sketch show, two improv shows and one murder mystery luncheon show per nine day cruise. All of which we rehearsed extensively during our week of training in Chicago. I’d never been to the Second City before and it definitely felt like hallowed ground for a sketch and improv performer like myself. It was humbling to get up on their different stages to rehearse. And as a cool bonus experience, our director let us perform in an improv set with the regular cast on their ETC stage.
My cast here on the Gem comes from LA, Toronto and Chicago and they’re all hysterical improvisers and good people. We hang out together quite a bit and we’ve also become good friends with some of the crew and some of the other entertainers on board.
When we’re not performing, we have a lot of free time to work on our own projects. So I’ve been writing quite a few pee pee jokes and even some poo poo jokes.
In addition to writing, I’ve used my down time to finally fulfill my main duty as a liberal white person by watching the Wire (it really is great so far). I’ve also used my free time to work out every day in the ship’s gym. I’m totally ripped now and I plan on fighting all of you at the Magnet when I return. One by one. Starting with the weakest (Branson Reese) and then working my way up to the strongest.
Its a blast performing our sketch show to a crowd of 1,100 people each week. Our improv shows are in a smaller space but equally fun and they’re all short form. I was originally trained in short form so it feels a bit like returning to my improv roots, which is nice.
Passengers are very complimentary when they see us around the ship. And we get to visit some beautiful ports: San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Samana, Dominican Republic. Living on the boat is like living in a floating bubble where all of us performers are pseudo celebrities. Then when each cruise ends, everything resets and we’re nobodies again for the first couple of days before our first show.
Though I’m enjoying my time at sea, I look forward to coming home to New York and seeing all y’all Magnet people. Stay warm and I’ll see you in the spring!
Magnet Theater is now accepting applications for the 2014 spring season of Megawatt. Please fill out THIS FORM no later than FEBRUARY 18th to apply for an audition slot. Anyone who has completed Magnet Level 6 is eligible to apply, though please note that a completed form does not guarantee an audition slot. Due to the high volume of eligible improvisers and a limited number of slots, priority will be given to students and performers who have finished the class or performed on a Megawatt team within the last year. Confirmations will be sent out by THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 20th.
CLICK HERE to apply.
Along with an evening of stellar musical improv from Magnet’s musical house teams (College, The Jezebelles, Wonderland, Legend, and Aquarius), every donation you make will earn you a tasty treat from our homemade snack sale, and a chance to win great prizes in our raffle including bottles of wine, Magnet tickets, fancy jewelry, scented candles that smell like and were made by members of Wonderland, and much much more.
Funds raised from the snack sale and raffle will benefit the 10,000 people living with MS in the five boroughs of New York City, Orange, Rockland, Sullivan, Putnam, and Westchester Counties by funding comprehensive programs and services for people with MS as well as ongoing research for the cause and a cure. MS is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system. The mission of the National MS Society is to mobilize people and resources to drive research for a cure and to address the challenges of everyone affected by MS.
Laugh, sing, and dance in the face of MS! Shows at 7PM, 8PM, and 9PM. Raffle drawings at the end of each hour! Musical mixer at 10:15PM. If you cannot attend, please consider making a donation here!
February is here and we’ve got 6 more weeks of winter! Yeahh- The Magnet’s heat is finally working really well! Here are some of this month’s top shows that we recommend absolutely NOT missing.
1. The Directors Series Presents The Acid Trip!- Thursdays in February at 9pm- A brand new Directors Series, directed by Louis Kornfeld, that will take you on a journey through the layers of the mind.
2. Jana & Lauren Presents- Friday, February 7th at 7pm- A monthly character showcase hosted by Jana Schmieding and Lauren Olson.
3. CRUSHED: Improv inspired by first loves- Friday, February 14th at 7pm- an improv show inspired by your young diary entries about your very first loves.
4. Matt Koff & Friend- Sunday, February 16th at 9pm- Daily Show Writer and Magnet alum, Matt Koff, returns to his old stomping grounds for an hour of stand up.
5. Magnet Sketch Presents (NEW TEAM) Action Park & Baby Shoes- Sunday, February 23rd at 7:30pm- This night of sketch comedy is filled with simple words, big feelings, and lots and lots of dumb, funny, and extreme scenarios.
6. We Might Just Kiss: A Female Improv Event- Monday, February 24th at 10pm- Twelve lady improvisers join on the Magnet stage for an evening of comedy that will delight men, women, babies and kittens.
7. The Nominated- Friday, February 28th at 7pm- Join us for an awards show that celebrates the crème de la crème in the world of improvised cinema.
Armando’s Coaching Class needs volunteer improvisers (PREREQ completion of Magnet Level 1 improv) tomorrow, Saturday, January 25th from 4-6pm. Come in and be coached in practice sessions by the student coaches. Not only do you get FREE practice time, you get to hear the thoughts of the student coaches AND Armando himself.
If interested, email schooldirector[at]magnettheater[dot]com to confirm a spot. Spaces are limited, so first come, first serve.
Due to the snowstorm, The Magnet Training Center will be CLOSED Tuesday, January 21st. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the School Director at schooldirector[at]magnettheater[dot]com. Stay warm and get home safe!
Magnet Theater recently chatted with Beth Newell, one of the creators of Reductress.com, an online satirical news site that’s been called The Onion for women. Beth is also Managing Director of Magnet Theater’s Sketch Teams and currently performs in the improv duo Sad Kids. The conversation was mostly about shoes and purses, but Magnet managed to shift the conversation to comedy, the transcript of what followed is below.
MT: Reductress.com is a very smart and funny. I loved the ad for ‘Vagina Whitening Tampons.’ And your coverage of New York Fashion Week.
BN: Thanks. We did some videos that got passed around, which was fun.
MT: And you’ve tapped into a lot of talent in the Magnet community to help, which is great.
BN: Thanks. There are a lot of funny women with good ideas and a lot of sharp comedy skills at Magnet.
MT: Is Reductress.com run by mostly women?
BN: Yes, it is. It’s run by women. There are some men involved, too. We’re not actively avoiding using men, but since our playground is women’s media, women have a unique perspective that more directly serves our point of view.
MT: So basically, ‘no dudes’ is what you’re saying?
BN: No. But because we make fun of the way the media speaks to women and its presumptions about the way women think, it’s natural for women to be more equipped at exposing the comedy targets.
MT: So no dudes. I get it. Moving on-
On Wednesday, December 18th, I (Amanda Ariel Peggy Xeller!) got to interview Magnet’s own Russ Armstrong about growth in improv, understanding the makings of a good team, and how to be a good teacher, director, and improviser. Below is the transcribed interview.
Where are you from originally?
I’m from Michigan. I’m from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
How did you get involved in improv?
I started improvising in high school. I was watching Whose Line Is It Anyway? with my friends and started an improv group to play short form games. The Pioneer Comedy Troupe from Pioneer High School. It was my junior year of high school. We thought we were the coolest people in the world and we didn’t know we were actually the lamest people in the world.
You went to Northwestern yes? Did you do improv in college? What was the improv there called.
I did. Yep. It was the Mee-ow Show. It was billed as 1/3 improv, 1/3 sketch, 1/3 rock ‘n’ roll. Lots of short form stuff. It was great, super fun. It was a blast.
And you studied in Chicago as well? At iO and Second City? How does the training there compare to the training you learned in NYC?
It’s all the same stuff just different approaches to it. I think Chicago tends to nurture you finding your voice a little bit more. They give you a little more time, marinates in a way that Chicago does with everything, with theater and music and food. Because the spotlight isn’t on it as much, there’s less pressure to produce immediately. New York tends to have a little more pressure because it is New York. And it’s more expensive. I think they are both awesome attributes. It’s good to have that pressure. I love that about New York.