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

Posts Tagged ‘Louis Kornfeld’

Wednesday December 16, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Christina Dabney podcast Subscribe with iTunes

Everyone’s favorite vegan, CHRISTINA DABNEY, stops by the podcast to talk about telling the truth, homeschool education, her sketch team Stockton, and of course, yoga. Plus, Louis spends some time criticizing modern learning and, wouldn’t you know it, Christina gives a shout out to her mom and dad. It’s a thought-provoking episode that you’re just going to love.

Christina and Louis begin this episode talking about people opening up to one another in both the context of improv and in everyday life. Both have found, in different ways, that it’s easier for them to be truthful when they feel it will help others – Louis perhaps to illustrate a point to a class; Christina to make people feel more comfortable in social settings. Outside of those helpful moments though, they acknowledge being oddly closed off at times, which gets them talking about anxiety as a human condition.

They get more into improv as Christina posits that the particular things a character cares about will allow it to relate to other characters. Louis asks Christina if she thinks relationships change over time and then probes into her homeschool education (which somehow includes traveling clowns) and the virtues of such a learning experience. Louis guesses that today’s education system, at best, prepares one to tolerate boredom at one’s future boring job.

Though she feared she’d be terrible at improv,  because it was all about being funny, Christina shares that her supportive teachers convinced her to continue and she eventually fell in love with it. Hear the story of how her first taste of improv coincided with her first yoga experience and what she loves about them both. Louis asks her, “Why are so many people turned on by doing something that has no future whatsoever?” Christina claims we enjoy pushing ourselves just to know we can do it. Louis also asks, “Is yoga just stretching?”

Finally, they touch on the practice of taking a step back from something you love so that you can return to it refreshed and we hear about Christina’s sketch team, Stockton.

All of that, and! We find out the answer to the age old question, “Who does Louis hate in his yoga class?”

Wednesday December 9, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Rob Webber podcast Subscribe with iTunes

A mainstay of Magnet Sketch Teams and long-time NYC improviser, ROB WEBBER, joins us to discuss his life of comedy, dish on how he wanted to teach music once upon a time, and provide advice that can aid any team. In addition to being a writer/actor for Wendigo and the director of Adults, Rob has been doing comedy in NYC for 20 years now and he has a lot of insight on what makes great teams, how to find success on your own terms, and his favorite kind of improv. Dig in, children.

Since Rob has been in the comedy game for two decades, Louis begins this interview by asking him how he has he integrated comedy with the rest of the life. Whether it’s been comedy or his first passion of wanting to be a music teacher, Rob talks about how he’s spent most of his life following his interests very closely. He first came to New York to study musical theater, where he learned Viola Spolin exercises, and then picked up Second City in the late 90’s when it opened here. Rob tells us about those few years during which Second City had a New York branch and describes legendary teacher Martin de Maat.

Born out of those SC days was Rob’s long-running indie team Johnny Lunchpail, which was a team that Louis fondly recalls looking up to when he began improvising. Rob talks about that team, as well as the team he most looked up to when he started out: Burn Manhattan. Louis and Rob discuss the Johnny’s style of physical, viewpoints-influenced play and Rob tells us what he found most useful about Spolin’s exercises. He gets frustrated these days with people “burning their steps” and encourages players to take their time.

In addition to his work at Magnet, Rob has also studied at UCB and was on Harold Night for about 5 years. He talks about he evolution of My Kickass Van becoming Gigawatt and eventually, Arsenal, and notes that Giuliani made a lot of performance venues for comedy by closing down strip clubs. Louis and Rob get into game, plot, narrative, and story, which can be a confusing goulash of terms and definitions, even for the most seasoned improviser.

To wrap up the show, Louis asks Rob some big questions about writing, performing, and directing sketch comedy. Rob provides guidance and insight on what makes great sketch writers and performers. Most of it boils down to this: Look out for people and take care of the unsexy stuff. Louis asks a super obnoxious question, but gets writing advice out of it. And finally, we hear the compare and contrast benefits of the Second City approach to creating sketch versus the more UCB/Magnet approach.

Extra finally, Rob talks briefly about teaching improv in Brazil. What?! So cool!

Wednesday December 2, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Quinton Loder Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

Longtime performer and jack-of-all-trades, QUINTON LODER, joins his good friend Louis Kornfeld to talk about Topeka, The Boss, and being an improv hand-grenade. Not only does Quinton perform weekly with The Boss, but we is quite literally in charge of many of the Magnet’s day-to-day operations. Pretty cool, right? From Kansas to Chelsea, Quinton tells us about his improv life.

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Wednesday November 18, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Armando Diaz Podcast 66 Subscribe with iTunes

Magnet Theater co-founder and all around improv know-it-all, ARMANDO DIAZ, sits down with us to talk about film, improvisation, and what he thinks of the “guru” label. It’s not everyday we get to hear so intimately from one of the greats of improvisation, but Armando stopped by to chat with host Louis Kornfeld and we couldn’t be more thrilled. Who knows – maybe this will be one of many? What we do know for sure is that this episode is not one to be missed.

Our conversation with Armando Diaz begins with the moment he gave up on the film industry. Both he and Louis had forays into the film industry and neither of them particularly liked it. However, it was this rejection of film that steered Armando toward improv. These two encyclopedias of improv and film discuss how improv keeps people more honest than film, how it strips away pretentious defense of art, and how Louis learned more about scene structure and motivation through improvising than attending film school. You need the laboratory of improvisation to learn and grow, says Armando.

Louis notes that, when teaching, Armando talks a lot about culture and art, so he asks Armando where he finds inspiration these days. In giving his answer, Armando opines on the need for art and culture to become local again. They talk about the dual importance of experiencing something together with a group of people, as well as the value of truly having time alone with your own thoughts – time devoid of entertainment and third party interference. In this part of the interview, we find out how many children Armando has! You’ll be surprised.

Tying in Armando’s notion of communal art with David Shepard’s goal of The Compass to be a popular theater, Louis asks how those ideas can be transposed into the improv of today. Armando tries to recall the first improv he saw that set the bar or made a big impression on him. For him, it’s always been about exploring the unknown. If for a period of time you can transcend yourself, those are the best moments. Where does such deep water lie for improv these days? Louis and Armando talk about challenging audiences in a helpful way and how we need imperfections and flaws.

If you came for the good stuff, look no further than Louis asking Armando about the status of his name. He talks about what it means to him to be “Armando.” People will think whatever they want, so he keeps himself grounded in real interactions with other people. He also tells use why he doesn’t love the idea of gurus and relates how the burden of experience can get in the way of trying to learn something new. Not wanting to watch people who have a list of rules in their head, Armando has developed his teaching methods to focus on inspiring students rather than correcting them.

Among a bevy of talk on improvisation, Louis asks Armando why he’s such a reluctant improviser and Armando talks about what it’s like to play with his frequent duo partner, Christina Gausas. Finally, Louis reminds us of this wonderful quote from Elaine May: “The only safe bet is to take a risk.” Amen.

Wednesday November 11, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Alexis Lambright Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

Magnet All-Star performer, ALEXIS LAMBRIGHT, chats with us about The Wrath’s 4-year anniversary, representation in improv, and her various hilarious scripted shows. You can see Alexis all around the Magnet performing with The Wrath on Megawatt, with The Cast on Saturday nights, as host of The Griot Show, as a member of The Stank, and with Rebecca Robles as the soul-singing duo Cocoa Dreamz. This week, she sits down with host Louis Kornfeld to talk about all manner of things related to comedy and we’re excited to have her as a guest!

With The Wrath’s 4-year anniversary having just passed, Louis inquires as to what makes The Wrath work so well – why is this team so amazing? Alexis talks about the team’s dynamics and the importance of having her ideas justified and embraced right away. Louis says that he often references Alexis as an example of someone who plays with their own style yet is never hindered by it. Pretty cool, right?

Stemming from their discussion on The Wrath, Louis and Alexis talk about the pressure she feels to represent not only woman, but also people of color, when she’s performing. This leads into a discussion on diversity in improv, Rita Chin’s recent essay, and some of the things Alexis came to expect as she began improv classes. She stresses the importance of having all voices be heard (and accepted) and answers the question, “Do you work on your own stuff or do you keep trying to fit in [to the theater system]?”

Alexis began taking class at Magnet in late 2008 and she tells us about what brought her to improv in the first place. Her first formal improv training was a weekend-long Second City workshop which she took after being inspired by watching SNL. Louis talks about new students’ ability to convert fear into power and asks Alexis how The Wrath has managed to keep the romance alive after 4 years. Hear about how they’ve spiced it up recently and what Alexis has to say about their foray into musical improv!

Going further back, Louis talks to Alexis about her family, moving around as a child, and where she feels most at home. He also asks about her friendship and artistic relationship with Rebecca Robles. As Alexis puts it – they’re like the Odd Couple. Although they maybe have different energies, they have very similar work styles. She talks about their act Cocoa Dreamz, which is a Motown-era singing duo, and how that show allows her to channel her mother and aunts. On an unrelated note, Louis talks about finding inspiration in sad people and taking what you don’t like about someone and choosing to make it what you love about them.

Finally, they wrap up the episode discussing Alexis’ one-woman-show, The Alexis Lambright Tell-A-Thon: Combating Adult Virginity, which has enjoyed runs at Magnet, NY Fringe, and Hollywood Fringe. They talk about the origins of the show and the writing of it, as well as the attention it received as a result of an NY Post article, which wasn’t without its compromises. Louis opines that coping with scary things allows you to move forward and become who you are. We think he’s probably right.

Enjoy this episode. It’s great listening.

Wednesday November 4, 2015, 7:42am - by Magnet Theater

* Subscribe with iTunes

Justin Torres is all over the Magnet Theater these days, performing with GOATS, Heartbeat, and Premiere, and now, he’s a guest on our podcast! In this episode, we learn about Justin’s experiences studying at the four major improv training centers of NYC, how he approaches different shows with different teams, and his advice for people looking to get into voiceover work. It’s a truly wonderful episode that will surely put a smile on your face. Listen in!


Right off the bat, Louis asks Justin how he has quietly become the hardest working man in improv. In just the last few years, Justin has studied improv at every theater in the city and currently performs or rehearses fives days a week. He talks about being on a new team and how it’s necessary to have a positive outlook and energy with each other. Drawing on his house team experience, he discusses the interplay between veterans and newbies in an ensemble. What are his favorite things about improvising? He loves putting a smile on his teammates’ faces and he’s really into group mind. If you’ve ever watched him improvise, you’ll recognize too that he is not afraid of doing something that “breaks” the show, which is just a part of his pursuit of playing in order to surprise himself. He also has a particular fondness for dynamic stage pictures.

What are Justin’s approaches when playing with his three different groups? He tells us about GOATS’ love of getting crazy together, hearing the heartbeat of Heartbeat, and being the guy who is always putting Premiere on the brink of failure. From there, Louis gets into how gracious Justin is prone to being. Not only is Justin incredibly thankful about his improv life, but he’s very specific about his gratefulness. As he tells us, we’ve only got so much time with these teams, so you’ve got to be grateful for it. Louis talks about being on both sides of getting cut and how people respond to it. In particular, he admires Justin’s non-attachment to results. How does a team react to being cut and what does it tell us? Improv is a great way to be constantly working with your fears and insecurities. Justing thinks it can help you realize yourself in the time you have available. It’s all about doing improv as a corollary for life. What do you want to do? You can do it in improv.

Louis gives a shoutout to Justin’s improv blog, Improv, NYC and asks Justing to provide advice for a new improviser coming to NYC. He talks about what the four different theaters have to offer a new improviser and then provides advice for people going through different schools at the same time.

Finally, Louis asks Justin about his career in voiceover work. He gives very concrete advice for people looking to get into it, including: “Who to take VO classes from?” “What should you keep in mind before jumping in?” and “What does one need to get started?” Justin’s voiceover archetype is “Honest Everyday Guy,” and while we agree wholeheartedly with the first part, we’re convinced he’s far more than just an everyday guy.

Wednesday October 28, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Roman Rimer Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

Comedian and activist, ROMAN RIMER, visits us from San Francisco to talk about using comedy to punch up, learning from personal confrontation, and the development of our cities. This is an episode unlike any we’ve had thus far, dealing with matters of social tolerance, capitalism, and human nature. It’s a thought-provoking episode and we’re thrilled to have Roman as a guest!

A one-time Magnet student and performer, Roman now lives in the Bay Area. Louis is quick to point out that, perhaps more than anyone he knows, Roman truly straddles the line between comedy and activism. As he puts it, he is always looking to use comedy to “punch upward.” Amongst the causes he champions, Roman is particularly interested in combating police brutality, prison abolition, and cannabis legalization. Roman talks a bit about growing up in the Bay Area and Chicago and how, as a child of the 1980’s he feels as though the media and authority figures of that time were very much interested in scaring people into conforming, especially children. Louis leads them into talking about the “us vs them” mentality which is so prevalent in our society.

Roman studied Theater and Psychology in college and eventually made his way to NYC, where he was immediately confronted with the challenge of being an artist in a capitalistic society where funding was difficult to come by. We hear a bit about how Roman got his start in the arts and Louis deconstructs our “top dog” nature. He then asks Roman about traveling all around the country doing his solo shows, which have always been heavily autobiographical. Given that Roman shares such personal details through his shows, Louis wonders what it’s like to be so intimate with strangers in strange places. Has he encountered a lot of people he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with? Roman describes a performance where he was confronted by an audience member and how both men have grown from the experience. Louis wonders, are we as a species getting closer as time goes on, or is the gulf widening? Louis likens improv training to Professor X educating the X-Men as a force for good, which is a beautiful thing to think about.

Where is Roman’s art these days? He tells us about his podcast called The Weekly Review on Mutiny Radio out of San Francisco, which deals with current events and activism. Speaking of – what’s going on in San Francisco right now? It sounds horrible, right? At least, that’s Louis’ take. They discuss the development of San Francisco and the changes that have been occurring in NYC as well. Finally, Louis asks Roman how the improv scene can address the issue of diversity? What resource does Roman want you to check out? Find out all that and more.

One this is extraordinarily clear from this episode, Roman Rimer is making a dedicated effort to change the world around him and it’s damn impressive.

Wednesday October 21, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Phoebe Tyers Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

Magnet performer, writer, and talk show host, PHOEBE TYERS, joins host Louis Kornfeld to talk about the outsider view of comedians, her background in playwriting, and so much more! Phoebe performs regularly on Megawatt with The Music Industry and on Magnet Sketch Teams with Stockton. Additionally, you can catch her late night talk show Phoebe Tonight Tonite regularly at the Magnet. She and Louis dive deep into the psyche of comedians in this episode, which is perfect for all you performers and writers out there. Tune in!

This episode begins with Phoebe and Louis talking about finding comedy despite not being comedy geeks. Adding to that, Phoebe talks about how she doesn’t even like being the center of attention. So how did it come to pass that this woman became so taken with the world of comedy?

Phoebe tells us why, despite making life her a mess, comedy has enriched it in a way she never thought possible. This “wildly dyslexic” comedian speaks with Louis about the secret language and point of view of comedians everywhere that link them to each other and separate them from the “pinks.” Is it possible to enjoy simple things if you’re conditioned to look for the skewering point?

Louis asks Phoebe about her approach to character work in improv and we hear about how certain characters allow Phoebe to share herself with the audience. They explore character and what it means to be truly playing with your teammates. Although she was first mystified by the structure and inner workings of improv, Phoebe comments on the fact that it’s now become more like second nature. They talk about being zen and you get to hear about it.

Maybe you had no idea, but before comedy, Phoebe was a playwright! She and Louis compare and contrast playwriting with sketch comedy and it’s all kinds of interesting. Is length the biggest difference between the two disciplines, or is it more nuanced than that? Hear about Louis’ head-fuck confusion with the “assumed genius” of great playwrights. Plus, Phoebe and Louis take the pretension of certain writers to task.

They talk about Phoebe’s late night show, Phoebe Tonight Tonite, and bringing a little bit of soul to everything she does. At the center of her universe is the idea of telling a good story. They circle back to discussing the beauty of being able to enjoy simple things in life and Phoebe’s experience of acting in a pilot directed by Michael Showalter.

Wednesday October 14, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Kevin Cobbs Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

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!!!

Wednesday October 7, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

TJ Mannix Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

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!