dubstep remix
Skip to Content

Magnet Theater Blog: News and Ideas about Comedy, Improv Shows & Classes in NYC

Posts Tagged ‘armando diaz’

Wednesday April 1, 2015, 12:00pm - by Magnet Theater

To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Magnet, Sulaiman Beg and Kelly Donahue have developed an Oral History of the Magnet Theater.

The full story will be released in early April, but over the coming weeks we will be releasing some interesting stories that didn’t make the final cut.

The first in this series is a profile on how the teachers & founders first discovered improv in their own lives.



Armando Diaz: I grew up in Illinois, south suburbs Chicago, a place called Country Club hills. It was a regular old suburb. There weren’t really country clubs. I had this friend in high school, Kevin Dorff, who kind of woke up comedy in me. He was voted class clown. Really funny guy. We’d write little sketches back and forth during class. I didn’t realize they were sketches back then.

Ed Herbstman: I lived in the suburbs of Chicago and about fifteen to twenty minutes away from my house by car was Second City. We would go to the improv sets on weekends. The weekend sets were 10:30 – 11:00 on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. We went to every single one.

Diaz: I was in film school at Columbia College, in the program they had suggested if you’re interested in being a director, one thing you want to do is take an acting class from the acting department. I took a class and the teacher had graduated from the Second City training. He was a traditional actor but he would have us do a lot of improv in the class. That was fun. I had never done that before.

Alex Marino: My counselor at church camp in high school was a guy named Michael Lewis, he introduced me to improv. He was really involved with a short form troupe called Comedy Sportz, which had a franchise, weirdly, in Bakersfield, California, where I grew up. I got on my high school Comedy Sportz team, and if you got on, every Saturday you would meet for a couple hours next to a comic book store, in an abandoned tanning salon, and do improv.

Rick Andrews: My dad found some listing for ImprovBoston, when I was 11 or 12. They used to have Sunday afternoon shows, which was a terrible idea. We went down and saw a show, and no one was there but my family. They weren’t even supposed to do the show, they were supposed to cancel if it was less than ten people. But they did the show. It was great. In my mind, it was great.

Louis Kornfeld: My senior prom, myself, Charlie Whitcroft and Corey Grimes decided not to go to prom. Instead, we pooled our money and got a hotel room together. We got like a bottle of whiskey, and that was our night. Megan came too. The next day, we had some time before we had to check out, so we walked around the neighborhood a bit. This was like on 22nd Street. We were walking and we just happened to bump into the UCB 4 who were all outside smoking outside of their old theater. They’d just opened it.

Megan Gray: We would go in to see UCB shows in high school. We had heard they have teen classes and we were like ahh, I don’t know. We were always too scared, or we didn’t have time. We were making videos and stuff.

Peter McNerney: I had done a little short form in theater class in middle school and high school. My first week at Northwestern, I saw The Meow Show, which was this historic short form and sketch show that’s been around since the 70s. Ed was in it, and Melanie Hoopes and Rachel Hamilton and Julia Louis Dreyfus. It was this big deal show and I saw that and I was like I want to do that!

Gray: I was a dramatic writing/screenwriting major, and I had read somewhere that Conan O’Brien had said improv is a good way for writers to get over writer’s block so I thought that would be really cool.

Kornfeld: Megan’s dad signed us up for UCB Level 1 in October 2003. Me and Megan, and Corey and Charlie. And in that class we met Kelly Buttermore and Jon Bander. We also met Damon Ketron in Level 2.

Herbstman: When I got a car at 16, I would just go by myself and be one of the weirdos that was in line for every show and would see every show. At that time it was Dave Razowsky, Steve Carell, Amy Sedaris. I had just missed Colbert. It was just awesome. I mean imagine seeing Steve Carell four nights a week do improv. And Dave Razowsky who’s just awesome. And them doing it together. It was just really funny.

Diaz: I ran into Kevin Dorff one day and he had just gone to see a show at Improv Olympic that his sister recommended. He mentioned it to me and said, “Hey you gotta take this class.” It was with Charna. We went to this German bar, and it’s empty. It’s Wednesday night at 7:00. There’s no internet, everything is done by phone. We sat there for 20 minutes, and nobody showed up. It was just me and Kevin and the German bartender. Finally, […] Charna called the bar and was like, oh we’re pushing back the class a week. I don’t know why we did, but we came back the next week and people showed up and we had our first class and it was just like.. By the end both of us were just like, totally excited, totally pumped. It was great.

Herbstman: I was seeing so many shows at Second City, eventually they were like you could take classes here, and I was like, are you kidding me? I got a job tearing tickets, being a house manager, seating people. Suddenly, I was working there on the weekend and that meant free classes for me. So I would seat people and watch every single show, because I had to sit there and watch the show while the show was going on which was great.

Andrews: I kept seeing a bunch of of shows at ImprovBoston, and the AD was just like, take our class. He popped my friend Mike and I into their adult classes. So it was two 12-year old boys and a bunch of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. We were annoying. We were mature for 12, but the would put us at, like, 15.

Marino: When I got a car, and was able to drive myself there, I went and started taking classes in LA at iO West. I lived in my car for awhile in Los Angeles, just taking classes at IO, until some people in one of my classes learned that and was like, don’t do that, you shouldn’t do that, you should come live with me. And they put me up on couches.

Herbstman: My teacher for Level 1 and Level 2 was Dave Razowsky. Level 3 was Steve Carell. I had Level 4 and 5 with Dave Razowsky again. It was great. And I was 16-17, didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life or where to go to school or wherever but I knew improv was the one core fundamental thing that I wanted it all to revolve around.

Continue to Part 2…

Wednesday March 25, 2015, 12:21pm - by Magnet Theater


You’ve seen the infomercial, you’ve visited in person, but if you want to get the low down on the new Magnet Training Center, you’ve got to come by our Open House this Friday, March 27th. The evening will begin at 5:30pm with a town hall style meeting which will last roughly an hour. After that, Magnet owners and staff will be hanging out until 8:30pm to answer questions and talk about anything under the sun. This is a great chance for the entire community to come together, see the progress that the Magnet is making, and chat with some of the people helping with its development.  If you haven’t seen the new digs, what are you waiting for??? Come say hello! All are welcome!!

Magnet Training Center Open House

Friday, March 27th, 5:30-8:30pm

22 West 32nd St, Floor 10

Friday January 23, 2015, 10:59am - by Magnet Theater

MVL_Round3_Web_273x475-2 large_anniequick

Magnet Video Lab premieres its third season on Sunday at 6pm, so we thought we’d catch up with Annie Quick, one of the driving forces behind the entire operation (along with Jim Turner and everyone’s favorite friend, Armando Diaz). We asked her a few questions over email and she was kind enough to give her insights on what makes a great video, how MVL has grown, and how important deadlines are to the process (spoiler alert: very important). Check it out!

1. Why did you start the Magnet Video Lab?
I took Sketch Level 1 & 2 at Magnet and loved the structure of it—it’s a great way to get feedback and have writing deadlines. At some point I realized that’s what I needed for a few video projects I was working on—the self-generated films that were suffering from lack of a formal work structure.

Since Jim Turner and I both work in production and he’s also at Magnet, we thought it might make sense to start a group in the style of Magnet’s sketch writing classes. Our main goal was to have each participant come out of the ten-week session with a completed video.

2. What’s a Video Lab?
At one point, Jim had pointed out we were essentially creating a salon where creators come for mutual support, but in the end we decided that lab is a better handle—it involves assignments and deadlines and an expectation that you’re obliged to show up because your lab partners are counting on you.

Jim and I spent a lot of time talking about the roadblocks we encounter when we’re working on our own films. All steps of the process are challenging. At any stage a project can flounder from lack of labor, feedback, gear, time, etc. The thing that sinks most film projects, though, is the lack of a real deadline. That’s the main thing we wanted to give everyone.

We also thought about how a beginner might dip their toes into the water and gain knowledge and confidence in the process. The Video Lab is a place where beginners and experts help each other bring their projects to life. Everyone rolls up their sleeves and pitches in.

3. What’s your favorite thing about the Magnet Video Lab?
I love that we are all working on our own things.  I know that other groups exist where everyone works on the same video together, and that’s cool too, but I think the Magnet’s program is unique because we support the individual filmmaker and help them to bring their own ideas into the world.

For me, that’s been educational because I’ve had to wear so many hats that wouldn’t if we were all working on one film. So, for instance, this session I helped one of my labmates with costuming and another session I was a DP, and for others I’ve helped out in audio.

I also take a lot away from watching other people go from blank page to done. Films are so time consuming to make, and so it’s really inspiring to be around a group of people who are finishing their stuff, and making great stuff!

4. How has MVL grown?
It’s been a trial and error process, taking a group of strangers and making them into a video-making team. At the beginning I thought of it as mostly a creative project, but it quickly turned into a lesson in group management. Jim and I have spent a lot of time tweaking the process and getting feedback from the Lab members so that each session is a bit smoother than the last. There are a crazy amount of details to handle when you have ten weeks and seven films to make.

In the first two sessions we kept it very small—only seven participants, so that we could beta test the process and figure out what we were doing. That first session Armando helped us to sort out a structure and also came to our table reads for feedback on our scripts.

In the third session our goal was to scale up a bit. We wanted to see if we could keep the level of engagement with a bigger group. We also wanted to add new people with different skill sets and experience levels. So far it’s been working great! It’s been both productive and friendly, and a great stretch for all of us.

The great thing about Magnet is that people come with comedy and story skills so even if someone doesn’t have any production knowledge, they still have a lot of useful feedback to give and a lot of talent to draw on.

5. What is your role?
I am part teacher, part student, part manager, part strategizer, part director, part production assistant. The first two sessions I did a lot of  teaching about editing and post production, while Jim handled a lot of the shooting guidance. In our third session, people are more up to speed in those areas and we can be a little more hands off.

6. What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to comedians creating their own videos?
Is it okay if I have three? I can’t pick just one.

First, learn to edit. It’s the most time-consuming part of filmmaking and the hardest to get someone else to do well. If you learn to edit you can control the pacing and, essentially, how funny something is. It’s also the point where a lot of projects get derailed. If you’re controlling that step you can make sure it gets out there.

Second, I’d say pay attention to capturing good audio. If, as a beginner, you learn that well, your videos will be 30% more credible right out of the gate.

Third, remember film is different than live. It’s pretty hard to retrofit stage pieces or improv into a watchable video. So start from scratch and write for film, at least while you’re in the beginning stages.

7. What’s your favorite internet video of all time?
Maybe this is cliché, but I’m standing by Dramatic Chipmunk. Love that guy.

Once again, thanks to Annie for all this awesome info! Don’t miss the screening of Magnet Video Lab’s third season this Sunday at 6pm. Did we mention it’s free? Because it is. See you there!

Wednesday January 21, 2015, 6:15am - by Magnet Theater

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 5.13.29 PM
We’re looking for eager improvisers (prerequisite: completion of Level 1) to participate in warm-ups and exercises run by the students in Armando’s coaching class. All the details are below—but keep in mind that space is limited. Hope to see you there!

When to be available: Saturdays, January 31st-February 14th from 1:00-3:00pm

How to sign up: Simply send an email to schooldirector@magnettheater.com with the subject line: “COACHING CLASS VOLUNTEER.” Please include your full name and phone number.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at (212) 244-2400.

Monday January 19, 2015, 2:00pm - by Magnet Theater


We’ve got a brand-new training center! We’re so excited!

As of Saturday, Jan. 24, we’ll be beginning the process of moving classes, rehearsals, writing meetings, etc. over to our new space at 22 W. 32nd Street on the 10th floor. Things might be a little hectic for a while, so please bear with us, but we’ll do our best to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone.

What does all this mean? We now have 10 classrooms, a studio theater, a dedicated writers’ room and more than two bathrooms (so luxurious!). Simply put, it’s a bigger, better space to keep up with our growing needs as a training ground for the best comedic minds in the world.

This is a new, exciting chapter for us and it wouldn’t be possible without your enthusiasm, hard work, and continued brilliance.

Thanks for being the best community around. Stop by and check out the new digs when you can!

Wednesday January 14, 2015, 12:00pm - by Magnet Theater


**Update** — Sketch Club now meets Sundays 3-5pm.

Sketch Club is a drop-in sketch writing workshop devoted to qualified sketch students and performers who are interested in developing and performing their own material. The drop-in will meet on Saturdays 3-6pm beginning February 7th. Members of Sketch Club will workshop original sketches every week at a table read run by Armando Diaz. Participants will be encouraged to try out their sketches at the soon-to-premiere “Generator” show on Sundays at 6pm. Interested in participating? Email SketchClub@magnettheater.com for more information!

Friday November 21, 2014, 11:45am - by Magnet Theater

21_emilyshapiro magnetituneslogo-PODCASTmedium

On this episode of the Magnet Podcast, host Alex Marino chats it up with improviser and yogi Emily Shapiro about teaching yoga and doing improv in Costa Rica, Emily’s affection for Lord of the Rings, and people who look like Smeagol.


Subscribe to the Magnet Theater Podcast via iTunes here.

Enjoy Episode #21 on iTunes or below via SoundCloud.

Tuesday June 10, 2014, 9:29am - by Amanda Ariel Peggy Xeller

Ally Kornfeld

Ally Kornfeld, (Baby Shoes), one of the Magnet’s sketch writers, got a chance to take her idea for a TV Show, Cracking Royalty, to Austin Texas. She was one of the ten finalists in the ATX Television Festival’s Pitch Competition this past weekend. What is the Pitch Competition? It’s a chance to pitch an idea for a TV show to not only a live audience but to a panel of industry judges including Paul Scheer, Bryan Seabury, Julie Plec, Kyle Killen, Katie Krentz, and David Semel. Oh and get this: SHE WON.


“This winner will receive a meeting with one of our judges (based on the show’s genre/judges’ availability) to explore the idea of his/her series and gain notes to better develop the series. After the pitch is honed, the winner will then get a pitch meeting in front of one of our studio/network partners (again, dependent on the show’s genre and style) to try and sell his or her pilot for production.”


Monday April 21, 2014, 8:11am - by Magnet Theater

Magnet Theater is excited to announce The Magnet Podcast! In Episode 1: Host Louis Kornfeld interviews Magnet Theater founders Ed Herbstman, Alex Marino and Armando Diaz about their past, present and future.  They chat about their Chicago beginnings, the creation of The Armando Diaz Experience and the process of starting The Magnet Theater.  Ed tries to explain why he became a cop while Armando makes fun of him.  Don’t miss it.

Huge thanks to our wonderfully talented podcast engineer, Grant Goldberg.

Monday March 31, 2014, 8:21pm - by Magnet Theater

magnet co-owners survey the new space
Magnet Theater is excited to announce that it will be moving to a new location this coming fall.

In November, the Magnet will take over the Foxwoods Theater, most recently the home of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

Armando Diaz, co-owner of Magnet, spoke on the need for a new space, saying “The Magnet community has been growing at an exponential rate, so we’re looking to plan not just for the immediate future, but also for what’s beyond the horizon, like in a couple hundred years.  If you filled up our current space to capacity, it’d only take up the first row at the Foxwoods.  So, the house might feel small in the beginning, but as the word gets out that there’s plenty of room, I’m confident that we’ll sell out all 1,932 seats, especially to non-English speaking tourists.”

Alex Marino, another of the Magnet’s owners added:

“One of the great things about moving into the Foxwoods Theater is we’ll have our office space, training center, and main stage and my apartment all in one central location.  So often our new students would get lost when directed from the theater to the Training Center for student shows, and then to my apartment for banjo jam sessions. Now it’ll all take place in one space – a space with a lot of  good energy because of all the great things that happened during the run of Spider Man.”

Of course, with a new, much larger space will be some inevitable changes.  All shows will have a 35 intern team of stage hands.  Performers will have access to four state of the art green rooms before their shows. And everyone must be an Actors Equity performer in order to appear on the stage.

The only planned renovation to this legendary theater is to immediately remove all bathrooms except one near the stage.

Another change will be the tickets prices, which will go up slightly from $5-$10 to $125 for balcony seating to $225 for orchestra seats (though Megawatt and Thursday Night Out admission will remain at $7 for the entire night).

Alan Fessenden, Magnet performer and instructor, noted his excitement about the move.  “I love the monoscene, but when you ask for ‘a location that’ll fit on this stage’ you’re limited by the size of the stage.  With the new theater, we can do a whole submarine instead of just the bridge of a submarine.  It really opens up the possibilities for all shows, but especially for monoscenes about submarines.”

When Ed Herbstman, the third Magnet owner, was asked about the move, he said, “I own a theater?”

One concern was voiced by Louis Kornfeld, Artistic Director of Megawatt.  “This new stage is massive compared to the old stage, so sweep edits are going to be problematic.  Not only will the timing be off, but the editor may very well be winded after the edit, especially improvisors who are out of shape, which includes all of them.”

Magnet is immensely ready for the move and excited to announce that the first show in the new space will be Rick Andrew’s Level One Class Show! Stay tuned for more details!