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Posts Tagged ‘kevin dorff’

Thursday July 9, 2015, 10:49am - by Magnet Theater

Christina Gausas Stairs

Our guest on this week’s episode of the Magnet Theater Podcast, Christina Gausas, is well known for her work with a variety of amazing improv duos. As a follow up to her interview, she’s returned to give a shout out to all of her duo collaborators over the years and we’ve given her the keys to the Magnet Blog to do just that. Take it away, Christina!

Ellie Kemper – GENIUS
Ellie is the brightest, most radiant light in life, on and off-stage, and she’s a genius. She has infinite talent and wild, limitless lovability. Ellie is the smartest person I know and she’s a creative genius. Her insights, her sensibilities, her clarity, the characters she creates are so captivating. The gifts that Ellie gives to you in scenes are so specific and brilliant. She’s the most engaging, playful scene partner, and, of course, she’s beautiful and warm and generous, it’s exactly who she is and always has been. (We met in 2000.) I could go on for hours & pages about the talent and joy of Ellie, and the one word to encompass Ellie as an improviser and performer is – genius.

Michael Bertrando – SEXY BEAST
Bertrando is an intense talent with gravity and fun, he’s fucking brilliant, too. Being able to do Come Together with Michael has really been a gift. Michael can get onstage and truly create a one-act play. He creates characters who are complex, complicated MEN, and at the same time, he’s hilarious because he digs into the honesty and the emotion and he is fearless. Capital “F” Fearless. He’s wickedly smart, open-minded, he is pure fire onstage.

Susan Messing – The QUEEN
Kevin Dorff is the King, Susan Messing is the Queen, and I would live in that Kingdom forever. Susan is what we all aspire to be. But I don’t know that anyone can come close. I think, just bow down. Susan is the Goddess. It’s Susan’s world and we’re just living in it.

Becky Drysdale – CREATOR
Becky is the most creative, creating, creator I know. She improvises, writes, sings, dances, animates, makes art, builds things, and she makes spaces for other improvisers. The Clubhouse in LA is amazing and she made that for other people. She did that with her school in New York, too. I was watching a documentary about Orson Welles and someone said, “there was never an Orson before him and there will never be a second,” which made me think of Matt Besser, who I admire very much, and wonder if there will ever be someone like Besser again because Improv is now so big. I don’t know Matt well, but he always seems brave to me, anarchistic, confident (all the UCB 4 do) — what Matt and the UCB created was non-status quo. Becky has a similar spirit. She gives it to the Indie teams.

Scott Adsit – CHARMING
I think Scott is one of the most charming improvisers in the country. I loved all of our shows.

I add the “e”s for how exciting Kay is onstage. Kay has the most “come run away and play with me” look in her eyes when you are onstage with her. We were only able to do one show as Cannon & Gausas and it was at a DCM and it was a delight. Kay keeps the energy, and the positivity, and the play, and the smart silliness going. You just feel so happy when you see her big eyes and her big smile. And she’s that way as a friend, too. She always lifts you up.

Armando Diaz – EMPEROR
If you’re reading this right now, please ask Armando to improvise more. No one else can as quickly and completely become a character the way Armando Diaz can. And I feel like he understands Comedy better than all of us. And, by “all of us”, I mean, the whole, entire world. We have this treasure, this wealth of insight and improv and comedy intelligence right here in New York City and I feel like we should be seeing and using him all the time. For the sake of the future! (Sorry, Armando, no sleep for you.)

Megan Gray – The GIFT
Megan has that natural grace and comfort onstage that comes from a place of love. Much like Ellie, that light and radiance. She’s a very strong and also giving improviser. I love being onstage with Megan but I also love watching her because I always feel secure. She’s funny and talented and also commanding onstage. My eyes go right to her. I always want to know what her characters are going to say. Also, when you watch her in a group, she’s the first one to “throw herself on the grenade.” She gives unbridled support without worrying about herself. Plus, as an AD, she gives so much to the community, she really diversifies and shares, and opens doors to performers and provides opportunities to shows.

Louis Kornfeld – the ORIGINAL
I think Louis has one of the most original stage personas and it comes completely from being who he is. I think a lot of people want to play to be perceived as “smart” or “intelligent” or “understanding something you don’t” but it’s always bullshit. Louis is the most NO BULLSHIT player there is. And because of that, we get to see this smart, intelligent improviser, who’s comfortable JUST FUCKING BEING. (As far as we can see.) And he’ll create a scene that might have a central, long discussion and it’s interesting as hell because it’s authentic and it isn’t full of self-aware bullshit, it’s just honest. I hear him refer to himself as a “straight man.” I have to say, I’ve never thought that. He’s always anchoring to me. Playing with MegaLou was great.

Michael Delaney – GOLOVKIN
Boxing fans will understand. Gennady Golovkin is a boxer with every weapon in a full arsenal and he has precision. He doesn’t remind you of anyone else because there’s never been anyone else like him. That’s Michael Delaney to me. He has every talent an improviser could hope for and he has precision. When you’re watching Michael Delaney or you’re onstage with Michael Delaney, you’re experiencing the best of what the work can be, at all times. He’s a true Master of Improvisation. We are lucky to have him. It’s another “bow down” situation.

Billy Merritt – JOY
Billy and I did one show in Dave Furfero’s Ampersand at the Magnet. When I think of Billy, I just think Joy. He welcomes you onstage and it’s fun and easy and unquestioned for the whole show. We did Kevin Mullaney’s Mullaney Chain at DCM 17. It was Kevin, Ellie, Sean Conroy, Billy, and me. I was in a scene with Billy where we were husband & wife talking to Sean’s character (who was off-stage) over the phone. I said, “check the caller ID” and Billy said, out loud, to the phone, “Check Caller ID”, while we were in the middle of the conversation. It was hilarious and a moment where we could get into a fun “not that way, look at the phone,” “what? why?” and those ideas and that kind of play can only come from the joyous, incredibly fun, smart mind of Billy Merritt.

Kevin Dorff – KING
Kevn Dorff is the King and that’s really all I have to say. He’s so incredibly talented, strong, intelligent, striking, commanding, and fun. He can say more with one look or one word than anyone else onstage. Which is why I should simply say – KING.

All words not in italics written by the wonderful Christina Gausas.

Thursday April 9, 2015, 11:00am - 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 TOMORROW, Friday 4/10, but in the meantime we are releasing some interesting stories that didn’t make the final cut.

Today, Magnet Theater co-founder Armando Diaz explains the origins of the long-running “The Armando Diaz Experience.” Tonight, ADX kicks off the Magnet 10th Anniversary celebrations with monologues by Ira Glass of This American Life. Advanced reservations are sold out, but a limited number of tickets will be released at the door.


The Armando Diaz Experience


(Diaz, then a 20-something film-school dropout, had been taking classes with Del Close and Charna Halpern at the iO, since it’s early back-of-the-bar days. Close eventually left Chicago to try his luck in L.A., and Diaz feeling at a low-point in his improv career, quits and goes back to film school.)

Armando Diaz (founder, co-owner, teacher): I graduated and I was just trying to find film work. It’s not easy trying to find those jobs in Chicago. I was videotaping weddings, I was working at a dubbing house where they dub commercials and instructional videos and you had to watch the same thing over and over for 8 hours. I was really in hell.

Me and Kevin Dorff were living in an apartment together and I still had improv friends, so I’d go to parties and shows and whatever, but I had given up. And people were like “Oh there’s that guy who used to do improv, whatever.”

I got burnt out. My life was a mess. I just was really kind of like, “Eh, I don’t have a degree, I’m not making any money. What future does any of this have?”

Around that time Charna is opening her theater. She had gotten a theater on Clark Street and it was a big deal. She had taken the first risk of renting space, it was like a tiny 40-seat theater. And then that went pretty well so she decided to take the plunge and get a full theater, bar and all that kind of stuff. At that point a lot of people had been hired at Second City and were going on to become paid actors and stuff like that, so they were looking for shows to put into the space.

It was like, well she’s gonna have two stages, and they wanted to have some alumni shows. So we were in Kevin and my apartment. It was late, we had closed out the bar, and we came back to the apartment to drink. It was Dave Koechner, Adam McKay, and Kevin and we were just sitting there. It was funny, they would bitch a lot about not getting to do improv, because they were doing Second City and it’s all written stuff. They do improv stuff but they didn’t get to do Harolds. They missed that.

So they started pitching this idea of an alumni show, and made a cast list of all the best people. They kept on saying, well it’s gotta be egoless work. Let’s not let anybody do hacky stuff or have any kind of personalities. There were like 30 or 40 people on the list. The other thing was how are you gonna rotate people in. Adam had this strange idea of calling the show “The Armando Diaz Experience” and saying well you know anybody in the show has to serve Armando. We’re going to create this ego, this figurehead.

I think it’s kind of like the founding of the United States. Where its kind of like, “Well we don’t want a king we want a weak president.” I think subconsciously that was part of it.

Me and Adam were friends and share a lot of comedic sensibilities. He enjoyed stuff I did. He always had a lot more confidence in me than I had in myself. A friend of ours had died, this guy Rick Roman, and a year earlier they had put together a memorial show and they were gonna give away a scholarship to go through the Second City Training Center.

It was a fundraiser, and Adam was like you gotta be in the show and it was like, “What? Doing what? I’m not in improv, I quit improv, I’m back in school.” He’s just like “I’m just putting you down to be in it.” And so I kept saying, “Adam, I don’t do stand-up.” You know. But there’s no getting out of the show so I was just like totally agonizing up until the day of the show and then suddenly the show’s going on, and I see the order, and we’re coming up to my space.

I wrack my head for like something to do. I tried writing stuff and and it was all terrible. So finally I was backstage, I’m about to go on, and the lights came up and I was still frozen backstage. And there was an empty stage and everyone’s like what’s going on. So I just came out and I was like, “Hi my name’s Armando Diaz. I’m not going to lie to you, I didn’t prepare anything for this show. I just really wanted to be in it.” And everyone started laughing. And I was like, “Uh, the thought occurred to me, like, ‘Hey, got any questions about Rick? Rick was a friend of mine. Got any questions?’” The audience would ask me questions, and I would just tell stories. And I just kind of told a lot of stories about Rick. And for some reason it just went over really well. It was in that moment, that me improvising monologues sort of happened.

Jump forward a year, and the same situation. I’m like Adam “What is the Armando Diaz Experience?” He was like, “It’s whatever, just do what you want.” And they just worked on the rest.

I’d get reports back from Charna, she’s like, “We’re sold out for the first show!” And I was like “What? What?” Dave Koechner got Del. He was like “Del’s gonna direct us.” So I was even more scared. So I showed up to rehearsal and the only thing I could think of was to improvise monologues. So, I was like, well I’ll just do that. You guys do the improv and I’ll get out of your way. And so we tried it. And I was just nervous as hell.

I looked around the room. It was just everybody. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Matt Besser and Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts and Adam McKay and David Koechner and Kevin Dorff. Miriam Tolan. Neil Flynn. Jimmy Carrane. Leo Ford. I’m missing a lot of people. It was just kind of a who’s who of the most amazing improvisers on earth, and then an idiot like me, fronting the show. Everyone’s waiting for me to do something that they could use. Rehearsal was terrible. It was just really rotten.

Unfortunately, they waited until last minute to book rehearsal. So this was two weeks before the show started. We did the first rehearsal on a Saturday and it was just a total disaster. And we had a preview show on Monday, and only two guys showed up to the show. Which was lucky. Two people in the audience. Two frat guys. And so we get up to do the show and my monologues suck and then halfway through the show it was like, “Yeah, let’s give up on this” and we refunded the guys money. They were like “This sucked.”

I was just stuck. I couldn’t talk. I felt like I became an idiot when it came time to tell a story. Nothing came to me. And it was like in a week we’re gonna open the show, there’s gonna be press there, they’re gonna review it, there’s a packed audience.

We had one more rehearsal the next Saturday before the show, and Del started the rehearsal like this, “You know there’s something in show business that’s just a sucker punch.” Something about conning people. Basically to the effect of, are we really gonna do this? Or do we have to find something Armando can do? And basically just in front of everybody let me know like you better get it right or we’ll replace you or put you to the side or whatever. I was like holy shit.

Right before I was gonna do the first monologue, he said to me, “Remember the old timey impersonators, you know, like when a comic that would do an impression of somebody. You know how they would turn their back and pretend to transform themselves into that character, do something with their hair, or collar or something like that.” He’s like, after you get the suggestion, I want you to turn around and I want you to do that. And I was like, what, this is ridiculous. He already thinks I’m an asshole. Everybody was just really on edge.

So we started, we get the first suggestion, I was like okay great, I turned around, pretended to like, you know, and then I turned back around to give a monologue. And it actually worked. It was like “Holy shit that was actually a pretty funny story.” And then they did some scenes. And it was time to do another monologue and I turned around, did the same thing, told a story, and then again another monologue. And then they did some scenes and Del’s like, “Alright, cool. We’re done.” And then he just left.

We spent like 20 minutes practicing, and then it was like, shit the show’s on Monday. So, I felt a little bit better because it was like okay, this little device seems to work for me, I don’t know why, some strange Del magic. But then, over the weekend, I lost my voice. I was so nervous like by Saturday night, I could not get words out. I had like laryngitis. I went to work on Monday, and again, I tried to spend the whole day not talking. And I went up to iO after work and slowly my voice started coming back. It kind of just came back just in time for the show.

We did the first show and I did all that stuff Del said, and it was just like…wow. It was a kick-ass show. I did work that was worthy of the cast. I didn’t feel like I totally let them down and all that stuff. And then from then on it was just a hit show.

I did it for a few months, and then at a certain point I was like, I don’t know. I’m not gonna become an actor. I’m kind of running out of stories. I don’t feel good about repeating stories. And I was taking time off from work to actually do it. I couldn’t do that indefinitely.

So I said to Charna, “Hey I gotta stop doing the monologues for the show. So why don’t we close the show and then just put up the same kind of show with a new name. Let’s just take my name off it and make it a new show.” And she was like, “No, no we’ll just get someone else to do the monologues.” And I was like, “Are you sure? You know you could change the name.” But they’d put reviews out. It had been labeled. I could see her point. But I was like, “Okay, all right, I could disappear and you guys can keep doing it.” I did my best to fuck it up and not be in it and it was something that was bigger than me.

(As told to Sulaiman Beg and Kelly Donahue)

Monday January 30, 2012, 6:49pm - by catherinewing
In 2006, Josh Fulton, an alumnus of Magnet Megawatt teams Pax Romana and Science!, single-handedly embarked on an ambitious project, into which he poured countless hours of time and energy.  He decided to interview some of the most respected improv minds in the country, in person and over the phone.  He transcribed those interviews and posted them on his blog, Improv Interviews.  His very first interview was with Armando Diaz, co-founder of the Magnet Theater.
Armando Diaz being pointed at.

Armando Diaz being pointed at.

A complete list and breakdown of interviews come after the jump… more