Posts Tagged ‘Improv’
The NEW YORK MUSICAL IMPROV FESTIVAL by T.J. Mannix
In 2009, musical improv was still a relatively new form. The Magnet had two musical teams performing on every-other Friday – and the weekly Made Up Musical.
Having been a part of so many improv festivals over the years, I thought the time was right for one that focused just on musical improv. When I pitched the idea of the first annual New York Musical Improv Festival, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I went to the two musical teams and asked if anyone wanted to volunteer. Two hands went up, Robin Rothman and Melanie Girton. We became a producing team (eventually including Mary Archbold, Lisa Flanagan, and Michael Lutton) and organized the first festival in November 2009.
It was two nights long and featured NYC teams, Broadway performers, and “BASH” from Chicago – Blaine Swen’s incredible one man improvised musical provoked the first spontaneous standing ovation I ever saw at the Magnet. (The photo [to the right] is from the Tara Copeland’s “NYMIF All-Star Show.” Notice the old wooden chairs.)
2010 included performers from Chicago, Minneapolis and Washington DC, and cast members and musicians from Broadway’s “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson.”
We sponsored our first benefit performance for Gilda’s Club New York City – featuring our first Tony Award winner (Cady Huffman from “The Producers”) and Tony nominated guest performers. This has become an annual event raising money and awareness for Gilda’s Club NYC. We also celebrate the comedic legacy of Gilda Radner with an all-female musical team “Generation G.”
It also featured over-doing it, forgetting to eat, and not sleeping – as one of our producers was carried from the Magnet office into to a waiting ambulance.
2011 may have over-expanded. It was six nights long and had a producing teams of 16 people. Since then, we have enjoyed a four night festival with three or four people on the producing team and over the years, the festival has featured hundreds of performers from across the U.S. and Canada, and even Australia.
From the beginning, the goals of the New York Musical Improv Festival have been clear:
1. Treat the performers like gold.
2. Promote Musical Improv as a form in NYC and across the country.
3. Promote the Magnet Theater.
4. Feature every performer and their home theatre – even if it’s down the street from ours.
As the festival grew, so did the musical improv program at the Magnet – from one level to four, from two musical megawatt teams to as many as nine. Other musical improv programs in NYC, Chicago, Boston, and across the country grew every year. Chicago now has MCL – Music Comedy Live – with musical improv shows seven nights a week.
Performers return to the Magnet year after year for the NYMIF, meeting, performing, watching shows, exchanging ideas, talking theatre upkeep and mortgages, arranging to perform at each others theaters – and relaxing at the annual performers brunch.
As we head into our 7th annual festival, we can proudly say that the NYMIF and the Magnet are recognized as national leaders in musical improv.
We’re so excited to announce the brand-new season of Conservatory Circuit is now open for applications! What’s Conservatory Circuit, you say? Why, it’s just like the regular Circuit, except it’s open only to students who have been accepted into Magnet’s Conservatory program (Level 5 and above). It’s a really great way to work consistently with a team and coach as well as get more reps under your belt. We highly recommend it!
Application deadline: Friday, October 23rd at noon
Team announcements: Wednesday, October 28th
Shows: Fridays at 10pm; November 6th, 13th, 20th and December 4th, 11th, 18th
What are you waiting for? Check out the details and apply now!
Questions, thoughts, comments, or concerns can be directed to email@example.com.
Whoa, boy! Watch out now, because local southern gentleman and big juicy peach, KEVIN COBBS, sits down with host Louis Kornfeld on Episode #61 to talk about getting his start in Atlanta, being a musician, and his comedic love of stupidity. They talk about Kevin’s guides to New York, his experiences working for Second City, and what else, but being a college radio DJ. You can catch Kevin every Wednesday at Megawatt with The Music Industry and you ain’t gonna wanna miss this episode!
And the episode begins with a song of rebellion! Just kidding, folks. This episode starts off with Kevin talking about being from Atlanta, getting his start in comedy at Dad’s Garage, and moving to NYC in 2010. Although he thought New York was a nightmare when initially visiting, Kevin was still filled with wonder when he first moved here. Does he have a master plan for his career or does he just take things as they come? As Louis wades through questions related to career goals, he also finds that for Kevin, the creative process is all about collaboration.
They back up to talk once again about Kevin’s improv beginnings at Dad’s Garage in Atlanta and what the scene was like down there. We find out that, similar to Episode #60’s guest T.J. Mannix, Kevin was a graveyard-shift college radio DJ! Louis asks about Kevin & Jimmy’s Guide To New York and they discuss the awkwardness of doing comedy with the public. Where do Kevin’s comedic sensibilities come from and what’s he usually going for? Kevin answers these questions and talks about working with long-time buds Jimmy O’Connell and Al King.
Kevin has done two stints with Second City cruise line casts and so he and Louis get into what that life is like. Most recently, Kevin was doing 11 shows a week, which was far more intense than his first time around. The busier schedule was more enjoyable, he says. Louis wants to know what was the difference Kevin saw between his two experiences and they discuss the advice of, “You gotta be good even when you’re not.” Plus, so much is explained when we find out that Louis loves the Kardashians.
One thing is made clear, and that’s that Second City knows how to build a sketch show. Gaining such professional experience has helped Kevin become comfortable as a sketch director here at Magnet, where he has directed Wendigo and The Executives. Hear about Kevin’s approach to directing sketch and how he focuses on keeping a show moving.
Enjoy all of this, plus, we discover how far into his own future Kevin can see and we hear him speak briefly about his experiences writing for Sesame Street! Go Panthers!!!
- Al King
- Dad's Garage
- Jimmy O'Connell
- Kevin & Jimmy's Guide To New York
- Kevin Cobbs
- Louis Kornfeld
- magnet sketch teams
- magnet theater
- magnet theater podcast
- magnet training center
- new york
- new york city
- Second City
- Sesame Street
- sketch comedy
- The Executives
- The Music Industry
Musical improviser, gifted actor, and flat-out handsome man, T.J. MANNIX stops by the podcast to talk about pursuing his dreams in NYC, the craft of acting, and the upcoming New York Musical Improv Festival [NYMIF]. This is our 60th episode and we’re excited to share it with one of Magnet’s beloved instructors and long-time performers. T.J and host, Louis Kornfeld, discuss T.J.’s wide range of experience as an entertainer, everything from DJing for college radio to getting the right take on Law & Order, and of course, Louis opines on NYC’s romantic appeal. Give it a listen, kiddos!
Hear about T.J.’s time spent as a middle-of-the-night college radio DJ and about how Louis didn’t start listening to music until college. Find out what Louis’ first two cassette tapes were and what songs kept T.J. connected to English while studying abroad in Germany. Plus, Louis talks about his years in “local local broadcasting” on Staten Island.
T.J. moved to NYC in 1997 from North Carolina, where he had lived for a few years. He was working for Blockbuster Video and acting on the side, but was finally convinced by visiting actors from New York to give his dream a shot. He subsequently moved to NYC and got a job at the Jekyll & Hyde Club, which he explains was a very different place when he worked there. He talks all about all the fun the staff had and what it was like having it as his first gig in New York. Louis gives his thoughts on surveys, which we know you want to hear.
It’s been about 10 or 11 years now that T.J. has been a performer without a “day job,” so Louis wants to know, “What is it like to be a working actor?” Amongst the advice T.J. bestows, he says you’ve got to “9-to-5 it” because you’re the CEO of your own company. He gets into the life of a working actor and he and Louis end up disucussing NYC neighborhood culture. Next, Louis wants to know, “What’s the strangest job you’ve had in recent memory?” You’ll get to hear all about that, but [spoiler alert] it wasn’t playing Santa Claus at Radio City Music Hall, but he talks about that fun experience as well, even giving away some Rockettes stage secrets.
Without a doubt, T.J. loves the process of acting. He talks about learning on your feet as an actor and tells of his experience working on Law & Order: SVU. He embraces and cherishes the challenge of just about any acting job and recognizes both the strengths and weaknesses in different kinds of actor training. He and Louis talk about small moments on stage and dealing with auditions. Plus, T.J. gives a great tip for playing villains.
Finally, the episode concludes with a discussion of the upcoming 7th Annual NYMIF, Oct 15-18 at Magnet Theater. Working with co-producers Robin Rothman and Michael Lutton, the festival is in its 7th year and has 215 performers coming to the stage. T.J. talks about what the festival has meant to the musical improv community and he shouts out some returning favorites that he’s looking forward to seeing!
- Jekyll & Hyde Club
- Law & Order
- Louis Kornfeld
- magnet theater
- magnet theater podcast
- magnet training center
- Michael Lutton
- musical improv
- musical theater
- new york
- new york city
- new york musical improv festival
- NY Film Academy
- Radio City Music Hall
- Robin Rothman
- t.j. mannix
- TJ Mannix
- working actor
Step right up and listen to Episode #59 of our show with veteran performer, beloved instructor, and resident clown, ALAN FESSENDEN. Alan joins host Louis Kornfeld to talk about clowning, theater, nervousness, and of course, a deep dive into improv philosophy. It’s always great to hear two seasoned performers discuss the ins-and-outs of improvising and this episode is no exception!
Louis begins the interview by asking about Alan’s background in clowning. Though he says that blackmail got him to take his first clown class, Alan soon found himself very interested in the process of finding one’s own clown and how performers can magnify certain characteristics of themselves for use in clowning. Louis asks him to describe what a clown show might look like and we get to hear Alan’s clown Bartholomew say “vagina” several times. Clowning has helped Alan open up a particular path of communication within himself that informs all performance he now does.
Getting into his background before improv and comedy work, Alan tells us of going to school for theater and trying to forget that he once did musical theater. He’s come around to appreciate the latter at this point in life, which causes Louis to opine that dismissing any type of genre or show isn’t any good for us. These vets talk about the arc of doing your first shows, filled with excitement, to the hard work of getting good, and then becoming an expert. Despite his experience, Louis like to always feel a little bit lost and confused. Similarly, Alan likes the first time he runs an exercise with a class or team, because he’s exploring it with them, rather than simply handing something off to a group.
Hear Louis and Alan talk about nervousness and fear before and during shows!
Louis gets to talking about how Alan improvises and engages with the audience, particularly within Hello Laser. Describing his own development, Alan feels like he had a great freedom of play for a while, then became complacent, and now he fears losing it. They debate relaxation versus putting forth effort in improv and Louis shares with us that he feels tight if he finds his body going for laughs. There’s a nice bit about exploring and being playful even within scenes where you know where you’re trying to get to and Alan talks about eating cake.
Plus, Alan shares great enthusiasm for Louis’ thoughts on “Yes, And” and his habit of playing shows with a secret. They talk about experiencing life and moments, and Alan worries that maybe he doesn’t teach comedy, just moments. While it’s good to know that something is funny, he wants to know, can it be real? They also talk a lot about finding truth and being challenged, which is something that theater is perhaps more readily suited to do than improv.
Finally, Louis and Alan touch on the ability to laugh at who we are and the difficulty of being good people. How can you be a part of the problem even when you’re trying to fix it?
The Magnet Theater Podcast triumphantly returns from a late-summer respite with a glorious episode featuring Magnet performer, gamer, Training Center House Manager, and boy made of metal, PAT MAY. He sits down with host Louis Kornfeld for a sweaty conversation all about going to comedy camp, his approach to improv scenes, and how he seeks to create shows that are truly for the audience. He also discusses writing and performing sketch comedy, TV Party Tonight, and his incessant self-deprecation.
Louis begins this episode by asking Pat about his summers spent at Buck’s Rock Performing & Creative Arts Camp and doing comedy for the first time at age 16. At Buck’s Rock, Pat met a lot of folks now in the comedy world like Rebecca Drysdale, Louie Pearlman, Griffin Newman, and Sam Rogal. He grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, which allowed him to do some open mics in NYC as a teenager, but the stand-up environment soon turned him off. Pat believes that the open mics he went to were like YouTube commenters in a circle jerk, which is a beautiful analogy.
It didn’t sit well with him that people simply wanted to be funny, or simply to be funny to themselves. When performing or putting up a show, Pat always tries to think: “What would make someone get off their couch and come out to the theater?” He loves to make things that people genuinely enjoy. Pat tells of a recent show he put up to which zero people showed up and gets into the topic of failure. Even on his team Metal Boy, which is a sucessful team, Pat knows that he’s still going to have fuck ups. It can be frustrating to know that you’re not in control of the whole show or team, but part of that is also what’s exciting about improv.
Talking about improv mechanics, Pat has never really cared about labeling from inside the scene. It’s all about the present dynamic for him. “Who cares about labeling?” he asks. “Just improv nerds!” What does Pat think about before a show or do to prepare for it? To describe his style, Pat says that he’s not a thinker, which you might have already known if you saw his recent show where he repeatedly fell out of a window. Among the different members of Metal Boy, Louis takes particular interest in exploring Pat’s relationship with Sam Rogal, his frequent collaborate, former roommate, and longtime friend. Louis observes that Sam doesn’t let things go and Pat won’t give up on any small thing he’s doing, which often allows them to continue scenes forever. Breaking the rules of improv is one of Pat’s most favorite things. Louis thinks that if a team says they’re going to follow the fun that night, they’re doomed to fail. Pat weighs in on The Spokane as a form. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t like it.
Paying him a compliment, Louis says that Pat’s characters are always very clear and have obvious wants. What kinds of choices really click with Pat? He relates to a lot of the teaching he received from Louis and Rachel Hamilton.
Pat talks about his farts. For real. He also burps a lot. Powering through his bodily functions, Pat and Louis discuss being in the moment and having needs, wants, and drives in scenes. Both guys comment on big characters. Plus, you will learn Pat May’s improv cure-all. It’s really dumb!
Louis finally cuts through the heavy self-deprecation and asks Pat why he shits on himself all the time? Laughing at being called out, Pat claims he’s just trying to check himself and reign in his ego. He holds himself to a high standard and needs to be reminded of that.
Finally, they talk about Pat’s show TV Party Tonight and how he loves to create shows that the audience can feel a part of. TV Party Tonight is a show where Pat, his friends, and special guests watch TV and make jokes, talk to the audience, and give out free beers. For real though, Pat cannot stop burping and farting. Louis asks about translating the experience of hanging out with friends to a show meant for an audience. Pay says that performing can often be selfish, but a show like this is one that the audience too can get involved in. He really wants to make shows for other people.
Plus, these important topics:
- Do you ever feel truly great about what you’re doing in comedy? Or is ownership the best we can do?
- Pat talks about Sketch Jesus!
- Louis vamps a whole lot!
Back from our one-week summer vacation, we have longtime Magnet performer JAMIE RIVERA on the show us to talk about science fiction, having fun on stage, and how improv can help us through difficult times. Along the way, host Louis Kornfeld talks to Jamie about playing characters, performing for various audiences, and The Little Rascals. We love Jamie and we’re sure that you’ll love this episode.
To start things off, Louis asks Jamie about his interest in science fiction, which is something he inherited from his father. Jamie shares a funny story about going to see Star Wars for the first time as a kid, which gets Louis talking about how children make curious assumptions. Jamie claims that Inside Out might be Pixar’s best film and admits that it had him crying. What a softy! This gets the two of them discussing the power of film to move us, even if it’s not very good. Also, Louis loves Teen Wolf.
Continuing with this train of thought, Louis suggests that television and film allow us to give structure and resonance to our lives by framing them as narratives. Jamie relates this to religion, saying that even though he’s not a religious guy, there does seem to be a guiding force that many of us seek out. People similarly interpret dreams to have meaning, when perhaps there is none. All of this is done in an effort to give more meaning to our lives, he says.
Admitting that tropes from popular media often creep into improv shows, Louis asks Jamie how he feels about stealing moves from tv and film while improvising. Jamie wants everyone to know that he has ditched his gremlin on the airplane wing move and also, that engaging in tropes feels like pretending they way you pretended as a kid. As expected, Louis sometimes thinks he’s McNulty from The Wire and the two talk about archetypes versus specific characters. Louis wants to know: Is playing characters something that increases or decreases with age? He also talks about Shakespeare. Big episode for Louis.
Onto the topic of improv fuckery, Jamie and Louis talk about how Junior Varsity is a team that really indulges in having fun with each other and we get to hear a bit about how they approach their shows. Known as a fast-playing team, Jamie chalks much of their speed up to something akin to muscle memory – a result of being together for eight years. Their longevity has also created a great deal of trust amongst the members, which Louis thinks is the hallmark of a really good team.
After a bit about how to access your subconscious, Louis talks about showering. Really! This gets them chatting about entertaining yourself as a child. Jamie was a quasi-only child, and a latchkey kid, so he didn’t have a lot of friends very early in childhood. Jamie would simply make stuff up on his own and Louis notes how often children ostensibly put on shows for no audience. The theme of childhood carries through to a description of The Little Rascals as a proxy for the improv community and Louis tries to figure out when he stopped being mortified by being on stage.
Along with JV and The Friday Night Sh*w, Jamie has also been a part of UCB Harold Night and the Second City Cruise Lines. So, Louis wants to know: “How do all the different audiences influence being on stage? “Jamie breaks down his time at UCB with Trillion, noting a high level of of pressure, and talks about how ”muggle” audiences don’t see the same connections as other improvisers do. He even shares one particular experience on the cruise ship where his heart was melted by a very special audience member.
Jamie continues the heartfelt sentiment saying that hopefully, even if we are doing fart jokes, we are exploring the human condition. What he’s really getting at is comedy’s ability to have meaning, even in its silliest moments. Jamie concludes this episode for us by speaking candidly about death and how improv has helped him through tragedy.
- Friday Night Sh*w
- Harold Night
- Inside Out
- Jamie Rivera
- junior varsity
- Little Rascals
- Louis Kornfeld
- magnet theater
- magnet theater podcast
- magnet training center
- new york
- new york city
- science fiction
- Second City
- Star Wars
- Teen Wolf
- The Wire
On this week’s episode of the podcast, we’ve got Julia Hynes who performs with Junior Varsity, The Stank, and Sad Kids. A founding member of long-running Megawatt team, BRICK, Julia talks to host Louis Kornfeld about her improv development, being “good at school,” and the freedom of improvising with an all-female team. We’re taking next week off, so we’ve made sure this one will tide you over!
Louis begins this interview by asking Julia about what it’s like to go from forming and being on BRICK for four years to joining a very established team in Junior Varsity (JV). One of the amusing things, she notes, is stepping into JV’s established ways of communicating with each other. Group email threads aside, Louis wants to know about Julia’s own differences in play between the two teams. She says that on BRICK she was a big editor and now with JV, she’s not as concerned with that task. Julia also describes a big improv lesson that came during her early days of BRICK which she has always kept in mind: Remember to make it feel honest and real.
Between the end of BRICK and when she joined JV, Julia was able to take some time off from performing on a weekly show. Louis talks to her about how nice it was to have the chance to get away from the theater for a bit. She’s a full time school teacher, so the additional time in her evening schedule was appreciated, as was the ability to step away from the pressures that can exist at a theater. Between her own shows and those of her husband, Nick Kanellis, it was starting to feel like she had to be at the theater all of the time. Since coming back to a weekly show, she says that it’s really on her terms that she’s there and, of course, it helps to be doing a show that she’s proud of.
Julia’s interest in improv began in college at Penn State, but she initially pursued academia after graduating. Eventually, she moved to NYC because a lot of her Penn State comedy friends were living there and doing improv at UCB. On a recommendation from a friend, she ended up taking Level 1 at Magnet with Tara Copeland and loved it. As a student, Julia says that she didn’t go to many shows initially because she was intimidated. It wasn’t until around Level 4, when she met some future members of BRICK, that she began to get more fully involved in the community. To that end, Louis asks her about how long it took to settle into “being an improviser” and declaring that as an identity. Though she said that was tough at first, because she knew other improvisers who had been doing it longer and perhaps took it more seriously, she eventually got over that fear of judgement.
Julia says she’s at a stage in her life where she’s evaluating, “What do I actually want and why do I want it?” This leads Louis to discuss finally facing our mortality after the age of 30 and how that change from “I’ve got plenty of time” to “time is running out” feels. Life is already happening, he says, which seems to cause him alternating feelings of crippling anxiety and a cool calm sense of acceptance.
Speaking of “who she is,” Julia is a full-time English as a Second Language 5th Grade Specialist in New York City who just finished her 8th year of teaching. Since high school, she was someone who wanted to make a difference in some way. Initially, went into Women’s Studies and felt she could make a difference through that field in the world of academia, but then found the cracks in that plan and decided to be a teacher in NYC. Since making the change, Julia feels like she’s making a bigger difference, especially in the last year, during which she feels she really started to come into her own as a teacher. Louis nearly shares the zen parable of the empty cup and also horribly misquotes Joe Bill, saying, in improv any class “…there are givers, takers, and prove-ers.” Everyone agrees that it much more difficult to teach the prove-ers.
Speaking more about teaching and class, Julia claims that she’s always been “good at school,” which is something that Louis has never really heard. For Louis, in adolescence, school became the straight man that he played against and he found it difficult to excel. As opposed to Louis’ oppositional experience, Julia says she had a good rapport with teachers and a family who encouraged her to take school seriously. And though she admits that she was not good at science, which she avoided, the rest just came easy to her. Louis goes further, saying that he had an aggressively contrarian approach to school, but Julia didn’t start feeling like that at all until college. They discuss the importance of having teachers that check in with you and care about teaching. They then talk about Julia’s own teaching methods and how she’s had to add more structure to her practices over the years and be “less chilled-out” than when she first started. What does it take to control a room of 5th graders? She enjoys finding the balance between making the kids laugh and having them get down to business.
Louis just has to ask, do Julia and Nick go to the zoo and look at animals together? For those of you who don’t watch Trike frequently, Nick Kanellis is really into animals and animal behavior.
Circling back to this idea of being surrounded by guys who quickly identified as comedians, Louis wants to know how that has influenced her, especially in an improv world that still has a male majority? While she was comfortable always being the one girl hanging out with the comedy guys in college, she says that it felt good having female teachers at Magnet and then being put on BRICK with strong female players Amie Roe and Fiona Bradford. Many of the improv moments that have felt the best, she says, have been a lot of the all-female shows that she’s gotten to do, like We Might Just Kiss, which brings together women of all skill levels to play with each other. Julia finds it very hard to explain the feeling when, on a nearly all-male cast, something she says isn’t given the space she hopes for. The feeling of ownership of the stage is just very different with gender taken out of the equation. Louis admits that maybe cast diversity can hamper group mind.
Louis tries to avoid asking about the difference between playing with an all-female show versus a mixed-cast show, but he asks anyway! Julia says that the biggest difference is, “Whatever I say is going to be just embraced…” in a way that is beyond what happens normally. She also credits the women she plays with. On her duo Sad Kids, she notes that partner Beth Newell has a way of molding whatever Julia says into a beautiful game. On The Stank, they’re all seasoned improvisers, strong players, positively minded, and nonjudgemental — all of which goes a long ways. Julia goes further to says that, even when the men on a team are great, there’s just something there that doesn’t quite feel the same. There’s a added sense of pressure to be the token female, which then can inhibit how she plays. There’s a feeling as if she has to represent for all women. Relieving that pressure opens up more freedom of play.
Finally, Louis and Julia discuss playing real people from their lives and pantomiming objects that they actually own in order to make scenes feel more real to them. Louis is really taken with the idea of the original improvised theater companies, which viewed improv as an opportunity to show people what we know and who we are. The people performing are the people creating the art, so it showcases them in a way that other formats maybe can’t. He finds it exhausting simply to engineer comedy night in and night out without getting to be himself.
But really, finally, Louis asks the hard-hitting question: How cuddly is Nick Kanellis???
We’re now accepting applications for the 2015 fall season of Megawatt. Please fill out THIS FORM no later than SEPTEMBER 2ND 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 SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 5th. Good luck to everyone!
Magnet instructor, writer, and performer, MIKE DWYER, takes a few minutes out of his comedy-making schedule to talk with host Louis Kornfeld about simplifying improv scenes, the difference between talent and skill, and how he missed the point of film school. These two gentlemen find that they have remarkably similar paths to becoming comedians and relate over their experiences studying with Rebecca Drysdale. You can catch Mike performing with The Wrath and Friday Night Sh*w at Magnet and Southpaw at UCBeast.
Louis kicks off our interview by referencing a recent show of Mike’s with The Wrath. He describes a quintessential Mike Dwyer move, which is characterized by very quickly finding an opportunity that others might miss and then using it to crack a scene wide open. Louis wants to know how Mike is able to be such a lightning fast player and more specifically, how he’s able to take on points of view so quickly. Though Mike thinks that his process is more patchwork than precision, he says that he approaches scenes knowing that his characters are doing what they do on purpose, which leads quickly to POV. He certainly doesn’t think of it as, “Better have an answer real fast.”
Despite his patchwork approach, Mike tells us that he does have conscious goals, and currently, he is working on making scenes be as simple as possible, even dumb, if they have to be. There should be no over-complicating a scene, which happens very often in group scenes. Mike says that it comes from a feeling of wanting to add your own thing, but that it’s liberating to know that everything you need is already there. Louis thinks maybe the over-complication comes from AND-ing too hard and that people botch the YES too often. Mike and Louis get into the difference between passively accepting offers versus enthusiastically accepting them and agree that you don’t have to add things to every single moment of the scene. Mike likens new improvisers to goldfish in a loving analogy.
Flattering him once again, Louis says that Mike is an incredibly good game-based improviser — so, what’s his approach to finding games in scenes? Perhaps surprisingly, Mike thinks that game is merely a result of good improv, so he’s usually not thinking hard about it. He trusts that his training has worked and instinct will lead him down the right path, so that he can find himself in a place of flow. Louis offers two rival takes on how we learn game as improvisers: You have conscious thought and effort, but you can also absorb a lot of that skill by being around it all the time.
What pisses off Louis in class? When people don’t want to do the hard work it takes to gain skills. Both improvisers agree that coasting through your improv education isn’t going to end very well for you and it isn’t very fulfilling. They examine the difference between skill and talent, noting that no matter how much talent someone has, they’ve got to keep developing their skill in order to feel satisfied. Mike finds the skills that he’s acquired to be more interesting than any talents he may have held innately.
What’s the highest compliment Mike could get about a show? That it was funny, duh. Louis talks about the roots of “funny” being a dirty word in improv. Maybe believing in “don’t be funny” is only really important early on in an education and scene? Mike concurs, saying there needs to be a set up in order to have a punchline. Improv scenes are like inside jokes and Harold is a sophisticated form of hanging out with your friends at the bar. Often, when people start getting decent at improv, they focus too much on the unusual thing and forget about the boring stuff. Mike describes a phenomenon regarding going back and forth between the unusual thing and the base reality. The mundane things in our scenes make the ridiculous shit digestible. Louis prods everyone to look up Norm McDonald’s “The Moth” joke from CONAN. Spoiler alert: It’s great.
Although Mike spends nearly all of his time doing or teaching comedy these days, he started out as a film student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Louis had the exact same path, he says. He talks to Louis about his writing partner and best buddy from high school and how they took themselves very seriously. Comedies, interestingly enough, were never a focal point until later on when they finally attempted to write one. In fact, he first took an improv class simply because he wanted some basic comedy training. In film school, Mike thought of himself as very serious and very lazy. He’d always loved comedy, but had no pretense about being a part of it. Because of his perceived laziness, Mike thinks that perhaps he missed the point of film school at the time. Louis and Mike have strikingly similar backstories, including the fact that they were both great illustrators at the age of 12. For both of them, realizing that comedy was going to be the central thing in their life was a very slow process.
Since it wasn’t immediate, Louis asks Mike when it was that he began taking improv seriously. When he felt competitive about it, Mike says. He shares an an eye opening experience from a Rebecca Drysdale class that came directly from listening. Louis says that he also had a breakthrough moment in a Drysdale class and they discuss for a bit what it was like to study with her.
Mike teaches Level 3 now, so Louis wants to know – what’s he focusing on? Coming back to some earlier points, Mike says that he focuses on keeping scenes simple, committing to the mundane, respecting each others’ ideas, and getting enthusiastic about what your scene partner is doing. These two teachers discuss how to encourage people to be enthusiastic without planting a fake enthusiasm in them. He also shares a note that stuck with him: Always have a sense of mischief. The rules of polite society are exactly the things we look to avoid in improv. This is something The Wrath is very good at, Louis claims. But they’ve been together for years, so what can less experienced groups do to instill that sense of troublemaking? Mike shares a fun exercise in that pursuit and clarifies what we mean when we say, “Everything you need in a scene is already there.”
Louis claims that improvisers look younger than everybody else and quotes Magnet founder Armando Diaz, saying, “The trick to improvising is to do just enough to not get fired.” If that doesn’t get you excited for this episode, I don’t know what will.