Posts Tagged ‘magnet’
Ever thought about starting your own web series? Or capturing your comedy in film? 20/400 (www.20-400.com) is a new web series brought to you from the Magnet’s own Lauren Olson, Christian Paluck, and Jana Schmieding. These three have known and have performed with each other for a very long time. Credits they have been involved in (not necessarily all three) include, Chet Watkins, Good Morning Ladies, Les Encompentent, Company 29, Risky Bottom, Tonight’s Performance, 4Some, Big Fat Liars, Jana and Lauren Presents, and The Armando Diaz Experience among various Director Series and many many other shows.
20/400, which releases new videos every Monday, is their latest on taking and based on their track record will not be their last. Recently I (Amanda Ariel Peggy Xeller!) got the awesome opportunity to sit down with 20/400’s three creators to learn more about them, their comedy background, and “friends helping friends” – 20/400.
Where are you all from originally?
Jana Schmieding (JS): I’m originally from a small town in Oregon near Portland.
Lauren Olson (LO): I’m originally from Portland proper. North West Hills.
Christian Paluck (CP): Ooo city girl! I grew up in Springfield Massachusetts.
When and how did you all meet?
LO: Jana and I met in college at the University of Oregon doing theatre. She was a year ahead of me in the acting program. She was a theatre major, I was a theatre minor. But we didn’t really get to become good friends until the end of our senior year when we both realized we were moving to New York. We were also in an improv group together.
JS: And then Christian and I met on Chet Watkins, well we were taking classes at the Magnet together.
CP: Prior to Chet Watkins.
JS: Yeah. We were put on Chet Watkins via our class.
LO: And then I met Christian through Jana and going to all the Chet Watkins shows. Christian and I were on Good Morning Ladies together.
What attracted you to the Magnet to begin with?
CP: For me, I had been studying at UCB and kind of was getting frustrated with improv. I went away and did stand up for a couple years. A friend of mine, I had been aware of Armando for a long time though I had never studied with him. So at a certain point, I had an inkling to do improv again and looked specifically for a class that he was teaching. I think it was called Instant Brilliance, which he doesn’t do anymore. It was a great class and that’s what introduced me to the Magnet and enticed me into getting back into the frame of mind where I was willing to take classes knowing I would have to get through levels to get on a team. That’s how I came to be here.
LO: Jana and I came to the city in 2005 and we started studying at UCB. UCB at the time, I think it still is, but it was very hard to get into the classes. But Jana found the Magnet online and was like, “Check this out.” We were interested and it was so new – only 6 months old. Armando started a class and it was 50 bucks off if you wanted to join it. And I was like ring-a-ding-ding.
JS: And I couldn’t start classes until a year after that. It was my first year teaching. I was just too broke and stressed out to even think about doing comedy, which was the wrong thinking because comedy actually saved my life in the second year of teaching when I wanted to kill myself every day.
Who influences you and who had influenced you when you first got into the comedy game?
CP: For me, the first time I remember being aware of comedy as a specific thing was watching Airplane or the original Police Squad, the predecessor to Naked Gun, it was on TV, but watching that with my dad. And seeing him laugh at stuff was the first specific awareness I had to comedy. And later on in High School and stuff, finding friends who were into Monty Python and the current SNL, which was the Chris Farley era. At that point, I was interested enough to try to look at is as a potential life focus. I didn’t get there until later, but knew it then.
JS: I don’t think I considered it a life focus until college because I was interested in theater and performing and even though my friends and I used to make funny videos and stuff. when we were kids. I didn’t really think of it as a career choice or a life choice until I studied in college under this man named John Schmor who was a great acting coach and he was very influential in shaping how I performed and the ability to not always strive to be a young ingénue or a young female lead, which I was quickly realizing in college was not an option for me. And I was okay with that once I realized ugly grotesque kind of ballsier characters are a skill. Once my eyes were open to that I jumped at it at every opportunity I could get. And I decided upon leaving college that instead of pursuing acting or Shakespearian Performance, I was going to try to pursue comedy when I moved to New York.
LO: My first influence is easily from my Dad. He used to bring in a lot of Charlie Chapman movies when I was a lot young and Bringing Up Baby, which is one of my favorite movies to date. I used to grew up on this stuff and Nick at Night. I would watch I Love Lucy and I Dream of Jeanie constantly. I used to watch a ton of SNL and tape it. My cousin used to write for it so we would watch for him and that continued out of habit just watching it and loving it. I was a Business major in college. I didn’t even get into acting and really thinking I could do anything like that until one of my friends wanted to launch an improv troupe in college. I loved it and found out I was decent at it. When I moved here, I wanted to do straight acting. But then Jana pointed out this improv class. I had never taken a class, that was previously mentioned. I got really jazzed about it and studying it. I never really studied theater and was thinking about going to grad school for that, but the Magnet almost became my grad school in a way. It was an interest that I really immersed myself in. I remember taking Sketch with Ed my first year here and I remember all of a sudden getting it and watching my favorite shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and stuff and predicting it. You look at things in a different light and understand it. That was a big epiphany for me. That was probably my first year in the city and really immersing myself fully.
What is 20/400?
JS: 20/400 is a project that the three of us have been working on since September. August? August September. We really wanted to strategically to make a move from live character sketch to digital. So we started writing to have 3 minute episodes and slowly we developed a concept: having the three of us as ourselves talking about ourselves in the beginning and then a tangential character sketch would come of that conversation. I’m trying to frame it as a project because it’s not the only thing the three of us have collaborated on and it won’t be the only thing the three of us have collaborated on. But it’s really fun to move into a different medium of entertainment. It’s kind of the one one thing the three of us have yet to conquer, besides of course independent film, which is our third conquest.
CP: I have an independent film credit. It’s called Sam & Amira. It’s a Vanishing Angle Productions. Sean Mullin directed it. I play Officer O’Rourke.
I think the most important thing for me is the fact that these would live farther than just an improv show or a 3-4 week run of a live sketch show. You can start to build a body of work that has some pertinence to it. If someone asks to see an example of what you do, you wouldn’t just have to say, “Hey come see me Wednesday night or Thursday night,” or “I have a sketch show up in July (that you’ll probably never come to).” There are things accessible to a broader audience in a readymade form. It’s the same things we enjoy doing on stage, but again, existing longer in this format.
LO: We want to showcase to people what we do. I think the coolest thing that has come out of this, for me at least, you see us working together and you see the finished product and you get a sense for our general sensibility and aesthetic. It meshes well. There’s a lot of similarities in what we find funny, and differences too, but there is a clear point of view which is fun to own. It’s a more marketable thing to have it all in one place as an ongoing project.
Is Jana and Lauren Presents a playing ground for trying out characters to be used in 20/400?
LO: I don’t look at it as trying out new characters for 20/400 but there definitely is an overlap. If I do something that could work I think, “This is fun. I could do this more. I bet I can find a way to put this person somewhere else.”
JS: It certainly has been an opportunity to meet collaborators – people who are also interested in doing characters and that we can use in 20/400. We are really interested in moving forward with 20/400 and getting a lot of different friends and people in the episodes. We recognize that we are only as wealthy as our network of hilarious people. Also, there is just so much talent in this community that is a little bit untapped online, I find.
CP: I agree. Now that the theater has grown, your experience as an improviser and performer might be limited to one theater or another. Some people might overlap but I find that once an improviser goes through a structure of a particular theater and they find some level of success there, they only have time to do that one commitment. While UCB probably has x number of thousands of people producing videos, the Magnet doesn’t have that as much yet and therefore the performers at the Magnet haven’t done that much yet, as I’ve noticed. There certainly are so many good people that you can draw upon for their talents and their abilities. It’s nice to know that it’s out there and that when you have an idea to do something that there are places to go to get people to fill it out.
LO: Yeah, I think too, that it’s nice to have someone else put a framework on it for you. With our show, I think it’s great because there’s this link for your talent. It’s intimidating to write a whole solo show by yourself. But if I put this character out, and find success with it, soon I have enough for a 30 minute show or an hour show. It’s the same thing with video, that we found, we don’t know what we are doing, really, when we are starting to film stuff. But we try to figure it out. We coordinate to find people to do film and sound or help out because they want to be a part of the thing. It opens up an opportunity for people to get involved in a less intimidating way instead of saying, “I’m going to do this one web series by myself.”
CP: The technical people involved, we’ve been really fortunate to have people willing to donate their time and their resources to get stuff done. At this level we have nothing to offer compensation wise. You are relying on people, not just cast to donate time, but people with cameras and sound equipment. We have been very very fortunate to have worked with all the people we have to get everything done. We wouldn’t have without a lot of help from a lot of different arenas.
JS: I think that that is how our other shows have played into 20/400. With Jana and Lauren Presents, for example, we’ve been able to network with people who are like, “hey this is an interesting idea. If you guys ever need to get something taped let me know.” People have come out of the woodwork and have offered to help. Simply by just having a little bit of visibility and just spreading the net really wide – getting different kinds of people into the show or people from different theaters – opens us up to a great many kinds of people in the entertainment industry.
LO: I think it requires a liking to collaborate with each other. It takes a long time to find your people with a common unique sensibility and also who are on the same page. There’s a level of commitment and taking it seriously as a job that you don’t actually get paid for. It’s important in order to get stuff done. The more you put yourself in a position to meet other people that are also doing the same thing you are and who are also serious improve your chances of producing something. That has worked to our benefit this past year, being around and taking it seriously, networking. Everything like that helps.
Let’s talk a little bit about relationship in comedy. You all are very close. How would you describe your relationship and the importance of it in taking on a project like this?
CP: For me, it’s important that you like the people that you are going to endeavor to do something with. It’s important you like the people because you’re going to do things that are kind of a pain in the ass for each other. It’s easy for those things to take focus at a time when you are trying to be liked and do things that are fun. If the day that you are having around it is not that much fun, it’s hard to flip the switch on camera and just doing something absurd and be really committed to it. It’s not to say that everything goes perfectly all the time, but now you have a fighting chance with the people you signed up with to take it through all the daily grind issues. I think we all know each other well enough that we can exist in those environments for day here and there where we are not going to lay into each other about things that are not important. That’s how I feel.
JS: We are old friends. Well, Lauren and I are older than Christian and I but the three of us have been collaborating for many years now. There came a point in the comedy journey where you step into a more professional mindset about the work. I think that the friendship was all ready to handle that. I think there are some friendships that when you take a professional tone in the friendship that it doesn’t go well. Amy Poehler said you have to find your tribe. That is super true in comedy because the product is supposed to be funny and the process should also be really enjoyable otherwise what the hell’s the point in doing it? I think we were ready. All three of us were on the same page at the same time with the same aesthetic ready to launch ourselves into something more serious or to take our ideas a little more seriously. We had a lot of time to fuck around and be funny with each other and we are all ready to take that next step into making comedy more of a career.
LO: Being on the same page is super important and the minutia of what that means. I completely trust them. They are not the type of people that or going to bail out or slack off. You know shit will get done. We hold each other accountable. We follow through.
JS: Yeah, reliability has become a huge friendship asset.
LO: Yeah. I mean if you get burned out or you’re exhausted and if one person is doing more of the work than the other two people are doing and it’s not equal you are going to get angry you are going to get frustrated. I mean, that’s why a lot of improv groups split up, I mean because of a lot of reasons, but also because you don’t feel like it’s equal or that responsibility is shared. But I trust them on that level – that they are going to follow through – and also trust their comedic sensibility. If they say something is funny and I’m having a tired day and just don’t understand or whatever, I trust them. I don’t stress about it or over-think it. And if it sucks, there are 2 other people sharing the burden of it sucking.
JS: We have had a lot of those conversations where one of us has been like, “I don’t think this is funny,” and the other two have been, “Nope. Definitely funny.” You just have to be honest and also pick each other up when one person isn’t feeling their best about something. The other two have to either say “Yeah you’re right. Let’s scrap it,” or “Absolutely not! This is some of the best work you’ve done!”
LO: I think we are old enough and also mature enough to understand what it is to get upset about. I don’t think we’ve really gotten upset. We really like to have fun and get really excited for fun stuff. It is a treat day to shoot.
JS: Shoot days are really fun.
CP: We get a bouncy castle.
LO: We get really big on crafts services. Snacks happen.
Who are your production people?
JS: We have worked with Bill Scurry. He’s really great in terms of camera work but he’s really busy though. He has a lot of projects he is working on. We have also worked with Bryan Berlin. He was introduced to us through Matt Antonucci. Him and Matt have kind of paired up to do more production stuff and they have helped us a great deal in shooting our last few shoots. Matt is on sound, which is something he says he likes doing, which is awesome and he’s really good at it. Bryan is really good at editing and camera work. He went to film school. They are also both at the same place that we are in terms of just wanting to put stuff online, not necessarily interested in getting paid for it yet because they are not at that level yet. It’s a collaboration in an effort to get them known to the community as well.
LO: There’s also a guy named Matt Ott who shot a couple of ours as well. We’ve only done two sketches that he’s shot because he’s busy with other stuff. I think that’s all the people.
JS: Jamaal did sound for one of them.
CP: HORRIBLY. Make sure you put horribly.
LO: And my little sister has shown up expecting to do stuff and then not.
CP: But she has been there! She did publicity stills.
LO: Oh yeah! She has taken pictures for us.
JS: Jeremy Munro did our poster. He’s an old friend of Lauren’s. They grew up together –
LO: Well in college. We were roommates for three years.
JS: He helped us create our image for 20/400. Just another example of friends helping out friends for free.
So you release 2 videos (now 3) right? Is there a video that has not been released that you are particularly excited about showing the community? Videos we should should we look out for?
CP: There’s a couple. That one that we showed last night (Homeless Mary), I was crying.
JS: The first one that we should probably plug to look out for is called “Hyah!” It won’t come for another few weeks.
CP: Jana did a character, Canning Lady.
LO: We just saw the rough cut last night.
CP: It’s a mockumentary style piece but, it just moves really well.
JS: The editing is pretty spectacular.
CP: Along those lines, some of the stuff has been, to me, some of the best stuff I’ve seen any of us do. I wouldn’t say it’s been a pleasant surprise but it’s nice to have confirmation that the efforts are panning out the way you expected they would. That makes it worth doing, to me.
JS: And you are not only not disappointed but faith is consistently renewed and the bar is only set higher with every release we do or every finished project we see. It’s like, “SHIT! Good job guys! We nailed it”
LO: We always get excited with every rough cut of what it could possibly look like. It could do with just a little green screen action or a short 20 second clip and it really just is ridiculous of how it gets us pumped up. It’s really fun! We’re like the little engine that could with, “If we put a little time and effort into something, look at what we can put together!”
CP: You can get close enough to execute the idea that is in your mind without almost no resources. No need to pay for a location or camera rental or anything. We are doing all of this on almost $0, not to say that that is not a pleasant surprise, but you can execute with the help of others to a level that fulfills your ideas from paper to finished sketch.
JS: Just a little bit of production value and your good performing goes a long way.
LO: Initially we set out with the format of our videos to be less than 3 minutes, which we are not going to totally adhere to but not going to be these long epic things. It’s fun because we’ll do stuff that we’ve put a lot of effort into and then there’s other ideas that are like “Here’s this one funny vision I had that I want to see,” and those are really fun too. I always thought that SNL was really cool because you’ll have an idea and assuming you had backing for it you’ve got thousands of dollars to put up your idea exactly how you saw it in your mind. It’s the coolest thing in the world to me. This is our low budget version of it. But it’s a bonus because very few people have veto power.
CP and JS: No censorship.
LO: And quite a wide range of ideas.
JS: Very weird.
If people want to help or get involved how should they go about it?
JS: We have an e-mail address now and a website and a facebook page and a twitter account. I mean we’re going balls to the wall with this and we love when people are interested and want to be a part of it.
LO: It’s www.20-400.com and you can find everything else through there. You can help us! If you like the video, share it, so you can help on the low level of supporting it and sharing it with other people or contacting us with an idea or if you want to help us film or if you have an idea that you want to get made can you help me. Also, I will put this as a pitch in general, the Magnet has a lot of talented people and people should reach out if they are interested. People should be doing this video stuff. It’s not that hard. If we can do it you can do it.
CP: There’s help out there. There’s no reason not to do it if you have an inkling to do it because there’s enough people to get everything done, to a surprising degree, for me. The amount of immediate yeses we got when we are really asking for peoples time, sacrificing a day or more, doing something that is not necessarily their passion project.
LO: You can also help, you know…if you know anyone who works for Adult Swim or something and tell them that they should have us in for a meeting. You can help us doing something like that. Passing this on to a higher level. Promote us and allow us to have a budget to let us do this more.
CP: Or buy the show.
LO: We would love that. ALSO! If you have access to a crazy location like a weird hospital, or your apartment is crazy, holler at us. We’ll put together the sweetest crafts services spread and maybe give you a line in one of the videos.
JS: If you are funny!
LO: Probably the number one thing.
CP: And most consistent challenge – navigating around locations.
LO: And also the connection to Adult Swim. I just feel like that’s the perfect place for us.
The Magnet Theater not only boasts its current roster of powerful improvisers, writers, and performers, but also celebrates those who have taken on new adventures in their lives and with their comedy.
Matt Koff, a writer for the Daily Show and stand-up, started off here at the Magnet and is now taking NYC by storm. We wanted to catch up with Matt and shine the Magnet Theater Blog Spotlight on him and his journey in comedy. I (Amanda Ariel Peggy Xeller!) conducted an email interview with Matt. Below are his responses:
Where are you from originally?
Ardsley NY. It’s 45 minutes north of the city
When did you realize you wanted to get involved in comedy?
In my senior year of college. I had majored in English so going into comedy seemed like a similarly practical pursuit.
But I had been obsessed with comedy since I was a kid. In middle school I didn’t listen to music. I listened to Monty Python casette tapes.
What is your improv and comedy history?
I started doing sketch and improv in college at SUNY New Paltz.
Then around 2004 I moved to the city and got involved with a theater collective known as Juvie Hall. There I got involved writing for a weekly show called Saturday Night Rewritten. I met a lot of very talented people, little did I know, I’d be working with later in my career, including my current Daily Show officemate Dan McCoy and my current boss Elliott Kalan.
Armando Diaz was teaching classes at Juvie Hall. I started studying sketch and improv under him, and continued doing so when the Magnet Theater opened. I was on a few Magnet House teams while also working with an indie sketch group known as Mr. Whitepants.
Along the way there were a few small successes that indicated to me that what I was doing wasn’t a total mistake. I was hired to be a regular contributor for the Onion’s video site, a webseries that I worked on with Dan McCoy, 9 AM Meeting, was popular at Channel 101 NY screenings, and actually got us a development deal with MTV. Then Dan got hired to write for the Daily Show and had to abandon the MTV project. The development deal withered because the truth is I’d been riding Dan’s coattails during this process.
Around 2010 I stopped doing improv and sketch and decided to pursue stand-up comedy. The thing I like most about it, as opposed to improv and sketch, is that you don’t need to book rehearsal space or corral fellow team members. It’s a lot less administrative and you get to figure out how funny “you” are in your own voice, without the variables of being onstage with other people or hiding behind characters. Although, I’ve recently come back to improv and sketch and I like it a lot more now that I’ve sort of found my “groove” with stand-up.
What initially attracted you to the Magnet?
Armando Diaz. He is a great teacher!
Would you recommend that people interested in comedy start with improv? Why/why not? (if not where should they start in your opinion).
Yes. It’s great training. It teaches you how to be in the moment, which is huge for any kind of comedic performing. And it also teaches you how to think and build of ideas (if this, then what) which is huge for any kind of comedic writing. Also for networking reasons. Doing improv is a great way to bond with total strangers immediately.
But in general, I would say try every form of comedy, especially when you’re first starting out. You may be surprised at what you’re good at. I came to the city to be in a sketch group, and 10 years later I do stand-up on most nights of the week.
How would you describe the feel of your comedy and stand-up? What’s your style?
That’s a hard thing to say from my perspective. I guess “dry”, “Weird” maybe? Then again I know a lot of people who are a lot drier and weirder than I am. I guess you could say I tell one-liners, but that’s not intentional. I’m just bad at writing long jokes. I guess what I’m trying to say is, “don’t try and put me in a box, man.”
How much does audience factor into your performance? Is there a specific group of people you are playing to?
Well, for stand-up, the audience factors in a lot. If people don’t laugh at a joke, I probably won’t tell it, or at least until I work on it some more. Then again, not every audience will laugh at every joke. If a joke gets laughs more times than not, I consider it: “a joke that works.” The only group I’m playing to is “people who might find me funny.” Certain audiences you just know you’re not going to connect with as soon as you hit the stage, and you know what: THAT’S OKAY.
What tools do you use when creating work be it in stand-up or writing?
I tend to use a tiny notebook, a big notebook, a pen, a sausage a craisin, and Evernote. I will also workshop potential stand-up jokes on Twitter.
Can you talk about some of the projects you have taken on since improvising and performing here?
I co-wrote and co-voiced a webseries called “9 AM Meeting” with Dan McCoy, as mentioned before. I started a fake online campaign to raise money to buy a roomba. Last year I did a sketch show called The Matt Koff Show, which is the first sketch show I’ve ever written by myself.
How did you get involved with writing for Jon Stewart?
Well my old comedy buddy Dan recommended I submit a packet. So then I did. The show liked that packet, so then I submitted another packet. Then they told me no and almost a year later they were like “OK fine you can write for us.”
Any parting advice?
If you want to do comedy, do it. If you want to write, write. If you want to perform, perform. Do it constantly. Make it your life. Don’t compare yourself to others. Delete your Facebook account. Don’t actually delete your Facebook account though, it’s a good networking tool. And most importantly, HAVE FUN.
February is here and we’ve got 6 more weeks of winter! Yeahh- The Magnet’s heat is finally working really well! Here are some of this month’s top shows that we recommend absolutely NOT missing.
1. The Directors Series Presents The Acid Trip!- Thursdays in February at 9pm- A brand new Directors Series, directed by Louis Kornfeld, that will take you on a journey through the layers of the mind.
2. Jana & Lauren Presents- Friday, February 7th at 7pm- A monthly character showcase hosted by Jana Schmieding and Lauren Olson.
3. CRUSHED: Improv inspired by first loves- Friday, February 14th at 7pm- an improv show inspired by your young diary entries about your very first loves.
4. Matt Koff & Friend- Sunday, February 16th at 9pm- Daily Show Writer and Magnet alum, Matt Koff, returns to his old stomping grounds for an hour of stand up.
5. Magnet Sketch Presents (NEW TEAM) Action Park & Baby Shoes- Sunday, February 23rd at 7:30pm- This night of sketch comedy is filled with simple words, big feelings, and lots and lots of dumb, funny, and extreme scenarios.
6. We Might Just Kiss: A Female Improv Event- Monday, February 24th at 10pm- Twelve lady improvisers join on the Magnet stage for an evening of comedy that will delight men, women, babies and kittens.
7. The Nominated- Friday, February 28th at 7pm- Join us for an awards show that celebrates the crème de la crème in the world of improvised cinema.
The Magnet Theater not only boasts its current roster of powerful improvisers, writers, and performers, but also celebrates those who have taken on new adventures in their lives and with their comedy.
Charlotte Rabbe, a phenomenal Magnet improviser, previously on The Wrath, is now out in L.A. We wanted to catch up with Charlotte and shine the Magnet Theater Blog Spotlight on her and her journey in comedy. We conducted an email interview with Charlotte. Below are her responses:
What’s your home town?
CR: Where I grew up? Most of my family is living in NYC now so I consider that my hometown.
What is your comedy history (highlighting improv and sketch especially)? What got you interested and when were you first exposed to improv?
CR: I would watch a lot of stand up/sketch shows growing up (The State, The Upright Citizens Brigade TV show, SNL) and I was obsessed… When I started coming into the city after high school I went to a lot of stand up shows but was too afraid to ever do it. I ended up taking an improv class after college even though I had seen very little and got hooked.
The Director Series is a monthly improv installation wherein a director picks a new form and sets it on a new cast. This month, Michael Lutton is directing “One Hit Wonder”. We chatted with Michael via email to discuss the form.
1. What is ‘One Hit Wonder’?
One-Hit Wonder is a new form that Jon Bander and I came up with. It’s a narrative that follows the story of a band: how it was created, how the group became famous with their number-one hit, the band’s downfall and where the band members are now. I wanted to direct it because I think it has a lot of fun possibilities. Everyone is familiar with “Behind the Music” and biopics about recording artists, so there is a lot to play with, and with that simple story arc the improvisers will have a lot of room to find patterns and develop characters.
2. How does this differ from normal Musical Improv?
This form uses documentary-style interviews to bookend scenes, and since the story arc is one that is already familiar, the cast members are free to focus more on character dynamics.
3. What is your favorite one hit wonder?
The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia by Vicki Lawrence is one of the best story songs of all time, and I will fight anyone who says different. Physically fight them.
4. What is the future of musical improv?
Musical improv is usually narrative, which is a lot of fun but also very challenging. Moving ahead, I think groups will find new ways to tell stories. Our musical program is relatively new and still growing, but we a have a few veteran groups that are doing interesting things with form and genre, and starting to test the limits of what you can do with a musical. I’m very excited to see what happens next!
‘One Hit Wonder’ premiers Thursday, January 2nd at 9pm and continues Thursdays at 9pm in January!
The Magnet Theater not only boasts its current roster of powerful improvisers and performers, but also celebrates those who have taken on new adventures in their lives and with their comedy.
George Basil (The Pete Holmes Show, College Humor), a Magnet performer known for his epic improv with 4Track, is now out in L.A. You probably have seen him in a Vonage commercial or maybe even a bunch of CollegeHumor Originals. We wanted to catch up with George and shine the Magnet Theater Blog spotlight on him and his work. We conducted an email interview with George Basil. Below are his responses:
What is your improv and comedy history? What got you interested and when were you first exposed to improv?
GB: I didn’t learn about improv in high school or college. The first time I’d ever seen improv was on “Whose Line Is It Anyway.” Watching those performers fly around looked so fun. Then I researched it a little and came across something called the “Big Stinking Comedy Festival” in Austin, TX. It boasted amazing improv groups, and it got me hard, so I went down. Eventually I took a class at the Hideout Theater and from then on I was totally hooked. I’ve always kind of known that my only redeeming quality is finding the keys to a person’s laughter lock, it was just hard to find the confidence to pursue it. When I got to NY I took classes all over and then found a home at the Magnet.
What initially attracted you to the Magnet?
GB: All the misfits. There were no preconceived notions about the comedy we wanted to explore. We were all making mistakes and figuring it out and loving the process of learning about people through improv.
What teams, shows, and projects were you a part of while at the Magnet?
GB: A ton of different teams and shows. The first I think was “Munchaüsan” then “El Partido”? I was at the Magnet every night until their doors were locked. I was also in 4-Track which was one of the most fun experiences of my life. Really proud of all the teams I was on and every performer I got to play with.
What were some of your favourite shows and performers while here?
GB: I loved watching “Pax Romana” a lot. They always had so much fun, it was contagious. I can’t name just a few performers I liked to watch. It was literally every last one. Aside from being my friends, they were all so fucking funny.
Who were or are your favourite improv instructors? Who do you attribute to your growth as an improviser and comedian? Who influences/had influenced you as an improviser?
GB: Obviously Armando had a lot to do with how I approached comedy and improv. His patience and insight into the reality of character was huge. He’s been my biggest influence to date, for sure.
I got to work with Mark Sutton in Vancouver once, he was awesome. Mick Napier was great too.
Dan Bakkedahl is still the improviser that knocks me out anytime he’s on stage. I love that dude’s work, always have.
What did you learn at the Magnet that helps you now?
GB: Patience. Laying in the cut. Screaming doesn’t get you food. Cool doesn’t mean shit. Any and all confidence I have as a performer I attribute to the Magnet. I feel like I grew up on that stage, having never done any other theater training.
Why did you leave NYC?
GB: I had some work in LA and everyone encouraged me to make the move for professional reasons. And I owed the Italians money.
Are you still improvising?
GB: I am but not as much as I’d like to.
What projects have you taken on since your departure from the Magnet?
GB: A lot of web shorts and indie films. Anything and everything. Always saying yes.
What are you currently involved in?
GB: I’m co-writing a web series that’s loosely based on my life as a weird stonerish dad. It’ll hopefully show the ups and downs of alternative style parenting.
What excites you and inspires you?
GB: Watching youngins do improv. This art form is still in its infancy. 4-track toured Canada a bunch and watching kids that have been doing improv since high school and in some cases even earlier was fucking rad. Game didn’t matter, character didn’t matter, they just knew. They were so good at emoting and everything
What are the differences between the New York scene and the scene of Los Angeles?
GB: The biggest difference for me is that in LA you can’t walk from one theater to another the way you can in NY. Aside from that, great stuff is happening in both cities. The weirdest thing about LA is that instead of rehearsing in a studio, you go to someone’s house.
What shows and performers should us New Yorkers totally take note of in case we take a trip out West?
GB: The main thing I would suggest is to check out every venue- there’s good shows and performers scattered across LA. The Clubhouse, Second City, UCB, I.O.West- try not to limit your perspective on style, go tons of places, and don’t be too stuck up to laugh.
Thanks George! When in New York, George has been known to drop by Magnet for shows. Keep an eye out for more of George’s work.
Mail’s here! Jon Bander (Aquarius), who is performing full time on one of the Second City Cruise Ships, just sent a letter to us here at the Magnet to give us a glimpse of his travels:
Greetings from beautiful “the sea”! Though I miss New York and all you lovely people, I’m really enjoying my time aboard the ship. Things are really different on the ship from New York. For example, I can afford to eat dinner and drink beer in the same day! Godlike, I know. Life is really fun when you can afford it!
It’s amazing how quickly things become routine on the ship. New crews board on Sundays, a few days later we do our shows, and by Thursday we’re being aggressively booed until we dock again Sunday. The shows have been great. We do sketch shows in a theater that holds around 1000 people! Usually the house is packed, unless we’re in any port at all, and then it’s empty. I mean, we’re funny, but we’re not DRY LAND funny.
We rehearsed in Chicago for a week, where we drilled sketches over and over until they were in our bones. Second City treated us very professionally, giving us an excellent director, producer, and support from their entire staff. I felt incredibly well taken care of. They even got me one of those hot dogs with a pickle on it! Eh.
It’s pretty amazing rehearsing on that same stage where so many of my heroes have played. We get to watch the old reviews on DVD, and it’s amazing to see both how comedy has evolved and see people I now know in their original SC revues. Plus they all had hair!
We’ve been to some really beautiful places. Bermuda, Aruba, and Barbados to name a few. But even though we’re far away, it’s still easy to feel like I’m right back in America. For examples, I still avoid the sun. And everyone hates me!
We’ve done some pretty great activities on and off the boat. We’ve been to breathtaking beaches. I had monkeys running around on me, macaws on my shoulder, and a woman hated a bit I did so much that she said, “You guys still here?!” in a contemptuous tone. So it’s all my dreams come true.
Life on the cruise ship can best be described as a combination of summer camp and college, minus the shows. Our cast really gels well and hangs out all the time, which makes things much easier. It’s the first time in close to a decade I’ve had a set group of friends that I do everything with. We eat together in the cafeteria, we hang out together, we cry together. It’s like family! We’ve become fast friends with the other performers, especially the dancers, who make us feel self-conscious at every beach. The nice thing is I get to snuggle with Ross Taylor every night and feel good about myself.
In all seriousness, it’s been a completely fantastic experience so far. I’m very grateful to Second City for giving me the opportunity, and to the Magnet for the training and support that allowed me to get this job. I do miss you, Magnet, and all your wonderful people and shows. I especially miss seeing my Phookas and playing with Aquarius! I miss doing and seeing the great work we all do so much, and I can’t wait to come back to see and play with you all. You’re all my best friends, colleagues and inspirations! So keep it up.
See you in the new year! Check Facebook for occasional photos through which I will try to make you jealous.
We’re very excited to announce the next round of The Circuit, which will begin Friday, January 10th, 2014!
The deadline to apply is Friday, December 13, at noon. Applicants will be chosen by lottery. If chosen, you will be placed on a team of 8 improvisers and assigned a coach. You will rehearse with your coach and team once a week, with rotating performances on Friday nights at 10:30PM at the Magnet Studio Theater.
If you have completed Level 3 of Magnet’s Training Program and are not part of a Magnet house improv team, you are eligible to apply.
The Circuit is a great way to gain experience in being in an improv ensemble. We highly encourage those who are eligilble to apply. To apply, please fill out this form.
If you have any questions or comments, please email us at circuit [at] magnettheater [dot] com.
During November, Alex Marino directs the latest installment of The Director’s Series, The Wake. Every Thursday night at 9pm, The Wake takes you on an adventure inspired by an obituary. I interviewed Alex via email to discuss The Wake and his inspiration behind the form.
What is The Wake and why did you choose this form?
The wake is a form I started thinking about when i was taking classes in LA. I was feeling kinda frustrated because we had been working on the invocation, which I found really interesting, but a lot of my classmates were really dismissive–they’d roll their eyes if they didn’t think the suggestion was cool, they seemed a little bit mocking of improv itself. It was LA and they were just too cool for it. So I started trying to think of a way to approach the invocation that would force performers to at least have a little bit of respect for the suggestion… and I figured “what if you had to do an invocation of a person who had just died… in a room full of people who loved them.” So it kinda stayed in my head gestating for a while. Then when Magnet first opened I was approached by a practice group, it was one of the first groups I’d coached in New York, and that was Louis Kornfeld, Megan Gray, Charlie Whitcroft, Jon Bander, Corey Grimes, and Kelly Buttermore. And after working with them for a little bit I asked if they’d like to experiment with this form I’d been thinking about and they were totally game. What we arrived at was a modified invocation of someone in that day’s obituaries, inviting them to come into the theater and share their story before they go. I heard, and this may be apocryphal, that the practice of holding wakes came from a period in Ireland where they disinterred a lot of old graves and found scratch marks on the inside of the coffins. They realized that something like 1 in 10 people were being buried alive. So they decided to leave the dead out in for a period of time after they passed to give them one last chance to wake up. So the Wake seemed fitting as a name for the form. I kinda liked the notion that this show is one last chance for the dead to come back.
I chose it for this Director’s Series because it had been a while since I’d seen it done and I wanted to work with the original cast again. A couple years ago I taught a class in The Wake, and those bozos have been asking me when they were gonna get to do it again, so I thought I’d invite them along too.
What do you find funny?
All kinds of stuff. Smart stuff, dumb stuff. Deep stuff, light stuff. Lots of things are funny. To me, the funniest thing to think about is that we’re all just a huge biological accident that learned how to wear clothes and comb its hair. That shit is hilarious to me. We’re a mostly bald, mostly flimsy, slow moving animal, with small, dull teeth and worthless claws. We can barely climb, we can’t fly, or hold our breath very long. We have bad backs and lethal allergies to peanuts and shellfish–but not all of us, so you don’t even know if someone is allergic until they just almost die. We eat and drink through the same hole we use to breathe and speak, and somehow we’ve survived long enough to figure out space travel, novelty t-shirts, iPhones and art that goes on your fingernails. It’s incredibly funny to me just how we spend our time.
Do you find death funny?
Death is not funny, no, but everything around death is funnier because of it. Death is the ultimate straight man. I think to have laughter there needs to be a break in tension, which means there needs to be tension to begin with. The more the tension and the bigger the break, the more satisfying the laugh. The uneasiness people feel when they’re faced with death is a great primer for laughter, and that kind of laughter makes it easier to live with death.
What is the future of improv?
I dunno. At some point enough people are going to complain loudly and correctly enough about not getting properly recognized and compensated for content they improvise for commercials and movies… so probably a union will come out of that. And you’ll see “additional content improvised by” in the credits of films which will be good, but things will be weird… or maybe they wont. Maybe the improviser union will be chill. Eventually there will be an improvised show that is so undeniably good that it will get a run on Broadway. Eventually there will be an improvised show that wins a Tony. Some people will be upset by that… or maybe they wont. Maybe Broadway will have relaxed a bit by then. Someone is going to bring a true and honest, disinterested study of improvisation with all its techniques, history, and various applications to the university level, build a curriculum around it, and just like performance studies and jazz you’ll be able to get a college degree in improvisation. I would like to think that degree in improv would be worth more than getting a degree in performance studies or jazz, but it probably won’t be… and after four years, it definitely won’t make anyone a better improviser than performing in every black box and bar that will let you… but, no matter how much actual experience you may have in the field, you’ll need to have a degree in improv to be able to teach improv at the university level… So that will be a nice little scam.
The Wake plays every Thursday in November at 9pm. Make Reservations Here!