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

Posts Tagged ‘new york’

Wednesday February 3, 2016, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Michael Delaney Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

Founding member of legendary UCB ensembles The Swarm and The Stepfathers, MICHAEL DELANEY, sits down with host Louis Kornfeld to talk truth in improv, how time has affected his approach to comedy, and his reverence for the Harold.  Not only has Delaney been doing improv in NYC since before the arrival of the UCB, but he’s long been considered one of the greatest minds in both improv and sketch that this great city has to offer. Listen in to hear Louis interview his former teacher and to find out what gets under Delaney’s skin.

Louis took Delaney’s Level 3 class thirteen years ago and he still has his notes from it. Beyond that nostalgia trip, Louis and Delaney quickly get into a discussion on speaking to the truth of a situation. In exploring this concept they address the practice of “calling out” your scene partner and how it can be done appropriately. They talk about being more flexible and less rigid when approaching the Harold. For the Harold as a whole, and for artists in general, both agree that variety is good and healthy. Delaney’s most trusted advice? Making the active choice is king. Louis is on a “purposeful” kick right now and he wants to know what Delaney thinks of that notion. Don’t you?

Hear Delaney talk about his own aging within the world of comedy and how he thinks comedy has aged along with him. He believes that having kids has made him a less funny improviser, which is something Louis can’t yet relate to. As someone who has stayed in the improv game for so long, Louis wants to know what’s kept Delaney driven this whole time? Where does his ambition lie? Delaney talks about what he thinks the best comedy work is and how his taste has changed over time. He also speaks frankly about why he’s failed so badly professionally. It seems to have a lot to do with doing what keeps him happy. These guys claim that, as professional improvisers, they are living better than kings of the middle ages!

Louis tells us what he admired about Delaney when taking his class 13 years ago and gets him to talk about his reverence for Harold. They debate how audience participation has developed further since Harold was introduced and how it’s different than what’s experienced with short form. At around this point, I stopped taking notes for a few minutes because the things Delaney was saying were so interesting.

They talk about getting stuck on facts over truth and ask the question, “Does every truth need a justification?” Louis claims that many justifications are simply apologies and Delaney unloads some BS he’s really tired of. He also gets into the difference between starting with a premise versus living in the discovery phase of the scene. Penultimately, they try to crack open the difference in the game of the scene between how Louis understands it and Delaney might interpret it. And finally, Delaney lets us know when to let the subconscious fly in the Harold.

As a bit of a post-script, Louis asks Delaney about about The Swarm and The Stepfathers and what makes for a truly outstanding ensemble! Get in there, folks!

Wednesday January 20, 2016, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Matt Evans Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

Jealous Dad and 1/4th of Hello Laser, MATT EVANS, joins us to discuss straight-manning, his old soul, performing characters, and how he stinks at object work! Hot off the heels of this recent pilot, Jealous Dad, Matt is getting ready for Montreal Just For Laughs auditions and finding that the scripted work he does these days can be more nerve-racking than in the past. He tells us of his history in NYC comedy dating back to 2004 and how much he loves Bob Newhart.

To get the ball rolling, Louis asks Matt to talk about his prep for Just For Laughs auditions and how it’s been trying out new material. He talks to Matt about what kinds of characters he likes to play best and whether or not he has a good handle on his comedic style. Though Matt self-identifies as a straight-man most of the time, he’s had many a chance to stretch himself from that, especially when playing with 4-Track. Louis would say Matt is 85% straight-man, 15% Chris Farley. They chat about Matt’s  affinity for Bob Newhart and how there’s a part of him that feels like an older soul. Part of that might be that he felt like he was older just when he arrived in New York and started doing comedy having moved here at age 30 after working in broadcast news.

As it turns out, Matt and Louis were part of the same generation of improvisers. Matt tells of his early character work and of starting classes at Magnet right when it opened up. He also talks about the change in confidence from the early days to now, when it comes to performing characters. For some reason, we learn that Louis can’t deal with the word “little.” Lou asks Matt if he feels up-to-date on what’s happening in the comedy world and he mentions that he watches very few things related to comedy.

Louis borrows an explanation of comedy as having two sides: the exaggerated and grotesque, and then the very real-life things that we find accessible. They explore the concept of surprising yourself and breaking away from your typical wheelhouse. Playing on teams with varying personalities seems to be one way of doing that. Matt tells how 4-Track was spawned from a Kevin Dorff class of matching, which is all they did, back and forth, for eight weeks. Louis was in the class too. Speaking on his challenges, Matt mentions trying beat the note of being neutral and how hesitation is often a form of denial. Plus, Matt thinks he’s horrible at object work and Louis thinks improvers make great parents! Which of these thoughts is correct???

Wednesday January 13, 2016, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Elena Skopetos Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

Champion of sketch and improv comedy alike, ELENA SKOPETOS, joins us on the show to talk about clowning, characters, ComedySportz, and the new J&L Presents! You know her from The Cast, The Executives, AVALANCHE, and her many appearances in other shows, but this is Elena’s first tell-all-interview-podcast with Louis Kornfeld so we suggest you strap on in before you’re swept away to Flavortown. This party is starting and you’re still at the door, buddy!

If you think Louis is messing around to begin this episode, you’re dead wrong. He immediately questions Elena about her experience studying abroad in Italy and leanring commedia dell’arte. Sadly for Pantalone and Arlecchino, commedia has never been very high on Louis’ list. He’s able to put his disdain aside though for the sake of this podcast as he discusses stock characters with Elena, in which they describe the practice of exaggerating familiar archetypes and the fun which can be had with specificity. How does Elena bring herself and her theater training to sketch comedy? Though she began seriously acting in college at Marymount Manhattan, she really started out as a performer singing in elementary school. Despite her education, she says, she really found herself in the comedy world.

Louis asks Elena what she does to prepare for a show and she also describes the experience of taking in the audience as it differs between sketch shows and the theater world. She and Louis both discuss dealing with emotional preparedness and self-confidence in performance. Then Louis spits vitriol on mirror games and, this is mysterious, claims that 80% is good enough sometimes.

Lately, Elena has been working on playing closer to herself rather than the diverse cast of characters she has commonly leaned toward. Louis talks about wanting attention but then disliking the feeling of being focused on. How does one create interesting characters with out stray too far from the self? Specificity over crazy! Getting into scripted work, Elena talks about the comedic logic behind making the funniest choice rather than simply a funny choice.  She tells us about bombing with a character and recounts a time when she thought everyone was being overly dramatic. Our two heroes examine the use of darker material and assigning inauthentic importance to melodramatic subject matter.

And did you know that Elena is a comedy machine? She does so much! Louis inquires about her experience doing ComedySportz, and they consider the benefits of doing short form, what one can take from that into long form, and what is something that long form improvisers are guilty for! He then asks her about taking over hosting duties, along with Ari Miller, of Magnet’s character showcase, Jana & Lauren Presents. They also discuss Elena’s Megawatt team, AVALANCHE, and finding a comfort with a team or group. And finally, Louis and Elena talk about The Cast (which is taking off!) and what is so special about the show and team that make it so great.

Wednesday December 30, 2015, 9:27am - by Magnet Theater

Chrissie Gruebel Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

We couldn’t get enough of CHRISSIE GRUEBEL on stage, so we had her on the podcast to talk about improv, acting, & everything else. A darling of Megawatt’s Metal Boy, Friday Night Sh*w, and Magnet Sketch Teams, Chrissie sits down with Louis and regales him with tales from Philadelphia, New York, and the theater capitol of North America, Scranton. Chrissie is one of our favs and we just know you’re gonna love this episode. May she live forever online!

To begin this episode, Louis claims he knows nothing about Chrissie and Chrissie claims she doesn’t have a Long Island accent. You’ll have to tune in to find out that both of these are lies! Though she may hail from Long Island, Chrissie went to school in Scranton and lived in Philadelphia for a number of years. Once in school, she found she wanted to be an actor and thus enrolled in Scranton’s theater department, which took a multidisciplinary approach to theater education. She talks about the “all hands on deck” experience of her program and how it made everyone more invested in the productions they mounted.

Chrissie moved back “home” to New York City after a rough break up and started taking classes at UCB in late 2009 because of a very expressive Facebook friend and because most of us are just trying to fill a void, right? CG Fun Fact: She did her first show before she was even done with 101 and it was at UCB Chelsea at 11pm, right after Harold Night! Despite (or because of?) this experience, Chrissie says it took her until the end of 301 to actually enjoy improvising. Coming that that slow introduction to being so invested in improv now, Louis wants to know what Chrissie finds exciting these days. For her, it’s a team’s energy that matters most. With a nod to legendary Harold team, Sandino, she talks about working with teams that always support you, team chemistry, and trust amongst ensembles. Louis believes that there is an addiction to beating yourself up after shows, which is probably why it’s so important to celebrate each other and keep the energy positive.

Louis digs into how and why Metal Boy is one of the great teams to grace the Megawatt stage. He also commends Chrissie for being able to call bullshit in scenes which might offend her real world views, and being able to do so in a way that only makes the show more enjoyable. What’s her secret? She says that part of it is getting to a point where you’re comfortable enough with your improv that you don’t feel thrown by bringing yourself into it. Speaking of things that matter to people, Louis launches them into a discussion about gender roles in the improv community. How are we doing right now? In answering, Chrissie talks about the makeup of her indie team, Mannequin Room, as something that helped her grow as an improviser. She also explores how we might be able to cut these issues of inclusion off at the pass rather than simply react to them. They get into talking about sophomoric humor, what it takes to be “funny,” and Louis says something that he will continue to say until the day he dies. Let’s hope that never happens! All hail Louis, The Immortal.

Wednesday December 23, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Russ Armstrong podcast Subscribe with iTunes

Boy howdy are you in for a delicious episode with the one and only RUSS ARMSTRONG. A writer for Uncommon Sense (MTV), performer galore (Master of None, Montreal Just for Laughs, 30 Rock), and improviser who has played on many a Magnet ensemble, Russ has plenty to discuss with host Louis Kornfeld regarding television, union workers, life balance, and confidence. Find out how Louis is feeling (creatively) and if Evan is real or just a made up character. All of this and more in Episode #70!

This episode begins with Russ and Louis talking about the podcast itself and how Louis must strive to stay ahead of his students that listen to it. Once past all of that nonsense, Louis asks Russ about his current gig writiing for the MTV show Uncommon Sense hosted by Charlamagne Tha God. What is the schedule like for such a show and how has Russ’s life changed since he began writing for television on the regular? Discussing work/life balance is something any corporate drone is probably familiar with, but getting to hear a comedian’s take on the matter provides a perspective most might not hear.

Further exploring what it feels like to write for a TV show, Louis wonders if the vibe of a writers room can ever mimic that of an improv team or even, improv theater. Somewhere along the line, Louis insults all union workers, as he is wont to do. Russ counters, asking, “Is there any place that’s really like an improv theater?” We’re paraphrasing with those quotation marks.

Russ answers questions about being funny on days when you’re not feeling funny and how you push yourself through those times. He also provides insight on writing for other voices, hosts, shows, and audiences. Plus, he discovers that Louis’ life is very much like a Dove soap ad. What does that mean? You’ll have to listen. Later, Louis launches insightful inquiries regarding Russ’ comedic sensibilities and sense of a linear life. Though he may not have known where he was going as a kid, Russ finds more use for goals and planning theseadays.

Then the improv chatter heats up! Russ shares a lesson he’s learned and proclaims that while improv starts with a mentality of “Your ideas are great!” it can often translate to something too cozy and too safe for growth. Ultimately, Russ says, you have to like your own ideas. Louis wants to know, when the pressure is on, how does Russ avoid letting fear and insecurity block him from that goal? Russ asks, “Is fake confidence different from real confidence?” Plus, Russ invents a character named Evan who doesn’t exist, asks Louis how he’s feeling creatively, and tells us what he says to people who tell him to cheer up! You can’t stop this episode and it doesn’t matter!!!

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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Tuesday December 1, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

SLIDESHOW_ON-December-Sale

For the entire month of December, all daytime weekday rentals at the Magnet Training Center are only $10 an hour! That’s right – between the hours of 11AM and 7PM, Monday through Friday, every single one of our lovely rehearsal spaces is available for the low price of $10/hr. Rehearse at Magnet Training Center and save your hard-earned cash for that bus ticket home! Or a flight to Miami. Player’s choice. 😉

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.

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