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

Posts Tagged ‘podcast’

Wednesday July 29, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

LAS Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

Our very own Lauren Ashley Smith stops in to talk about Speech & Debate, loving television, and engaging with her dog brain. A writer for Bravo’s “Fashion Queens” and VH1’s “Best Week Ever,” Lauren also performs at Magnet with Megawatt team TITAN and The Friday Night Sh*w. Host Louis Kornfeld kicks off their interview by discussing how she came to be involved in comedy.

Originally from St. Louis, Lauren first became interested in comedy during her days doing Speech & Debate in high school. She once found herself thrown into a “humorous interpretation” tournament and did quite well, which gave her the idea that maybe she wanted to pursue more laughs. Louis, too, did Speech & Debate in high school, which is where he finally talked to girls, so it sounds like both of them have lots of warm feelings regarding their time in S&D. Lauren’s story is particularly heartwarming because her father was her coach and director, which gave them a lot of one-on-one time together. Louis wonders what traits Lauren garnered from each of her parents, and while her dad taught her how to talk forever about a subject, she says that her mom gave her a sense of humor.

After high school, Lauren did short-form improv at Dickinson College and then moved to NYC, where she became involved with Story Pirates. Though she was very shy when she got into SP, Lauren figured out that a lot of other Pirates were Magnet improvisers, which is what led her to study there and eventually, become a Magnet performer herself. Lauren describes that time in her life as a transition from that of a wallflower to the confident, outspoken person she is today.

Switching gears, Louis wants to talk about pop culture, since that is at the foundation of Lauren’s livelihood. In addition to her work with Fashion Queens and Best Week Ever, Lauren also writes for humor site Reductress and other talking head and reality recap shows. She got her start producing for VH1’s “Best Week Ever” and talks about the production process for that show and how she got that job in the first place. From the production side, she began pitching a lot and eventually got to submit as a writer, for which she was then hired. Writing actually became harder once she had the title, she says. When asked if she prefers working alone, or having other people to bounce ideas off of, Lauren says that she likes working in a group and using improv concepts in the writers room to collaborate on ideas. Louis shares his last writers room experience and both profess that it’s very important to have a producer that trusts the writers’ ideas.

So, how did Lauren become an authority on pop culture and reality TV? Her secret is out: Watch a ton of TV and be on Twitter all the time! She proves her prowess by quickly naming all of the Real Housewives locations. Though she always has favorite shows, Lauren says that she often becomes a fan of new shows by doing research for work. Lauren talks about her parents battling over whether or not she and her sisters could watch The Real World and Louis admits his TV addiction to world. Even though a lot of TV is crap, Louis thinks that you can still grow up okay despite watching it all. How does Lauren feel being a part of the negative stereotype that reality TV is rotting people’s minds? She says despite the fact that many reality TV stars may serve as poor examples to younger people, there are still enough incredible moments to help her keep the faith and that there are many other factors at play for how an audience might internalize what they see on TV.

In a moment of great humility, Louis asks Lauren to explain Twitter to him. She does so very gently, and also tells us that she finds out about all major news events on Twitter and loves to play #hashtaggames. They talk about what constitutes something as newsworthy and how there’s a difference between dumbing things down and making sure that shows are accessible and relatable. To that end, she wishes she were a sillier person. Louis relates, saying that he wants to start closing the gap between his “show brain” and his”shower brain,” which Lauren says is the same as her “dog brain.” There are a lot of brains at play in this episode!

Finally, learn about who Lauren idolizes, the price we pay for being so angry all the time, and how Lauren’s family feels about her comedy.

Tune in to hear all of that, plus Lauren and Louis say “magnet” twice without intending to reference the Theater!

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Wednesday July 22, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Ellie Kemper Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

This week, the delightful Ellie Kemper takes a quick break from making TV & movies to talk with us about positivity in comedy, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and of course, improv! In the midst of hosting the TODAY show last week, and performing at Magnet with Christina Gausas (as KempSas), Ellie was kind enough to sit down with our lovable host Louis Kornfeld for a brief interview.

Louis wastes no time getting into it, asking Ellie, “How do you make positivity so funny?” Ellie admits that there is a a fine line between grating and funny when it comes to positivity. And though many positive characters have a naiveté to them, she maintains that you can bring more to those characters than simply ditziness. Louis believes that earlier improvisers shy away from being positive because it feels like there’s not much fuel to burn, yet he observes that Ellie is able to keep positive characters going endlessly. Perhaps it’s a psychological reflection of the performer?

Continuing in this vein, Ellie talks about her one-person UCB show centered around a cheery airline attendant who is falling apart on the inside, which of course brings us to Kimmy Schmidt. On Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, all of the characters, and particularly Kimmy, maintain a very upbeat disposition despite the darkness that seems to exist just offscreen or looming right behind them. Why are they able to stay funny? Probably because they all make good on the show’s motto: “You’re stronger than you think.”

In an improv scene, what makes one dark character entertaining to watch and another just sad? Both Ellie and Louis agree that confidence goes a long way and gives the audience faith in the actors trying to pull it off. Ellie talks specifically about how Christina Gausas’s confidence puts her at ease when they play together. The focus that Christina gives her scene partners takes their stress away and let’s them know they’re being taken seriously. Ellie and Louis both feel that anytime you have to sell what you’re doing to the audience, it puts a stress on the scene. A great strength of an improviser is to simply “be here right now.”

Louis then wants to talk about relaxation. How does Ellie deal with the difference in scale between the pressures of earlier performances and auditions, and the types of high-profile projects she does now? Interestingly, Ellie has actually gotten more anxious as time has gone on and, despite her prowess on stage, is still mystified by how other performers improvise so well. Louis digs deeper, asking Ellie if being famous has changed what it’s like to improvise in front of people. She says that audiences will laugh at things that aren’t really very funny and that you run the risk of becoming a lazy improviser. She’s returned to improvising more regularly this past winter after being away from it for some time, and though she felt rusty at first, she’s been loving it.

Louis’ favorite shows are the ones where he knows it was great improv but the audience was lukewarm about it – the pride of content over response. But that pride doesn’t prevent even great performers from going for the response sometimes. Ellie and Louis discuss the terrible feelings associated with making an easy joke in a scene. Guilt keeps you honest.

For his concluding question, Louis asks Ellie to describe what it’s like to come from the grungy, DIY world of NYC improv and sketch, and now, to be working amongst the most successful, absolute best people in comedy. Her answer is simple and reassuring. They’re all cut from the same cloth, right? Hear her answer to that question and all the others on this week’s episode. We know it’s a short one, but we swear on the skull of Del Close that it’s packed full of great stuff.

 

Wednesday July 15, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Bianca Casusol PodcastSubscribe with iTunes

Beloved Magnet Theater alumnae, Bianca Casusöl, visits from North Carolina to talk about her improv origins, making adjustments for shows, and the weird games she plays all alone in her head. Currently a performer and instructor at Dirty South Comedy Theater (dsi) in Chapel Hill, NC,  Bianca spent several years in New York performing at the Magnet on shows such as Megawatt, Kiss*Punch*Poem, and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Fortunately, we caught her while she was in town and convinced her to catch up with her old pal Louis Kornfeld on our podcast.

The conversation appropriately begins with our two stars talking about dropping back into a community after being away from it. Though they both claim to do a poor job at keeping in touch with people, Louis insists that Bianca has an ability to open people up and make them feel like a million bucks no matter how long she’s known them or how long it’s been since they’ve spoken. Has she always been that way? They talk about their birth orders and what that might have to do with their adult personalities.

Bianca started at Magnet on Jan 9, 2010, but she first got into improv at her NC high school with Viola Spolin’s theater games. She had a less than amazing experience with a practice group before taking a long break from the art form. When she eventually picked it up again at Magnet, she says she felt like the kid sister who was always just hanging around, which meant that she got to know the house managers quite well. In contrast to Bianca’s natural ability to make friends with strangers, Louis recently took a personality test and related deeply to a question about being a wallflower.

Catching us up on her current home, Bianca talks about the improv scene in North Carolina and how dsi has grown by leaps and bounds since she first came into contact with it. One major difference, compared to the NYC theaters, is that dsi does both short form and long form improv. This creates a pressure to perform for and entertain different kinds of audiences, even families with children. Before continuing, Bianca says a really uncomfortable word, but then the two of them talk in detail about making adjustments for various audiences and Bianca claims that manners are just shorthand for respect. We like that phrasing a lot.

On a related note, Louis talks about how easily impressed certain audiences are and that we lose out by judging them for liking what they like. He says that those of us in the comedy world are spoiled because we’re surrounded by people who let us be weird and indulge our ideas, but that many people (kids in particular) don’t have that luxury. This is why they delight in something as simple as an improviser using their suggestion in a scene.

Bianca reveals to us that when people aren’t nice to her, she thinks they’re trying to sleep with her. Louis claims that she has a gift for playing uncomfortable moments in scenes and Bianca chalks a lot of her improv skill up to expressing a lot of feelings on stage and her love of exploring “the weirdos.” Plus, she tells us about the strange games she plays in her head, like “Who is dreaming up the people in the world?” and “What would this person be if they were a beverage?”

Check out this week’s episode for a really fun conversation about all of the above and more. And if you don’t, well then just remember that kids deserve respect too.

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Wednesday July 8, 2015, 5:48am - by Magnet Theater

Christina Gausas Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

We welcome a national treasure of the improv comedy world, Christina Gausas, into our studio for a conversation about ensemble support, form development, Del Close, improv notes, and wanting your scene partner. Still basking in that post-DCM glow, Christina begins her conversation with host Louis Kornfeld recapping her DCM, talking about the support of the ensemble, and being in the moment.

Louis brings up the difference between bragging and acknowledging you’ve had a great show. Christina says that bragging feels counterintuitive because the whole thing relies on ensemble. Without the rest of the team, the hilarious line you delivered would have never happened. In the same vein, they discuss the difference between a real gift and a “bailout” gift and the two parts to every improv gift: the giving and receiving.

Following dual admissions of performance anxiety, Christina and Louis talk about some of Christina’s Chicago teams and how they went about developing new forms. Both agree though, that content — great scenework — comes before any concern about which form a team chooses. Christina’s advice? Create something that is your own and put the work into it. Also, explore the intention behind a show.

Christina indulges Louis’ request and shares some fond memories of the late, great Del Close. He was an artist who valued authenticity, creating complete characters, and not being topical simply for the sake of being topical. He wanted people to find the universal implications behind the suggestion, to not be literal with it but be expansive with it. While many might bring up Del because they really love discussing the rebellious and outlandish aspects of his life, Louis says that he most likes the idea that Del pushed people to go beyond their limits. Plus it’s possible that he was the Forrest Gump of the improv world. Don’t believe us? You’ll have to listen.

Inspired by Del’s approach to notes, Christina and Louis talk about the use of direct notes and how they can be useful or harmful. Both maintain that players need to develop the habit of taking notes easily. Louis pitches his idea that an improv team should approach the craft with a smart mob mentality and Christina tells us how great acting integrates with great improv. Finally, hear about Christina’s most recent revelation that people should truly want their scene partners at all times.

This is a great episode featuring one of the game’s very best players, so we recommend you turn the volume up to 11.

Wednesday July 1, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Will Hines Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

On this week’s episode, we’ve got actor, writer, and 14x UCB All-Star, Will Hines. We caught up with Will while he was in town for the 17th Annual Del Close Marathon and what ensued was a beautifully nerdy conversation about improv theory, improv practice, teaching methods, and some of Will’s early days at UCB.

The interview begins with Will and host Louis Kornfeld talking about how to navigate fighting in improv scenes. They insist that the characters must be able to have philosophical debates, not mere wizard battles. They sympathize with students learning improv though, since a bad fight and good fight feel very similar in the moment. Plus, arguments have a lot of good elements that improvisers should practice — commitment, point-of-view, feeling — but if they only serve to defend the character, they won’t be very helpful. Will goes into detail about his philosophy that scene partners must “shake hands” at the top of a scene.

If you’re wondering whether these two veteran company men discuss the philosophies of UCB and the Magnet, wonder no longer! Will and Louis get to the meaty stuff and talk about the differences between Harolds at Magnet and UCB. From there, they discuss a variety of improv “rules” and postulate that most rules are in need of a specific scope to make them useful. Will talks about the rigidity of his 10th grade english teacher and they debate the benefits and limitations of strict versus nurturing improv teachers. Though Will always loved Matt Besser’s no-bullshit approach to teaching, he says that Armando Diaz was his breakthrough teacher. He describes the two of them as the ying and yang of UCB teachers during his time coming up through classes.

We get to hear a bit of Will’s improv origin story, he and Louis discuss improv’s “huggy” vibe, plus, these two “kings of calm-edy” explore their thoughts on being funny while acting as the straight man and/or lower energy player. Louis shares with us that he’d just had his most embarrassing audition ever and Will admits that he has a lack of confidence when it comes to being funny. The two of them snap out of their temporary self-loathing to talk about Will’s days playing with Monkeydick, which was Louis’ favorite Harold Night team when he was a student there.

There’s so much great stuff in this episode for Magnet and UCB fans alike, not to mention every improv nerd out there, we’re not even sure where to start. Just trust us and give it a listen.

Packed with these extras:

The Brothers Hines have only one rule for their shows — what is it?

Louis admits his biggest weakness as a teacher and performer.

What do these guys think of the Star Wars Prequel trilogy???

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Wednesday June 24, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Joe Miles Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

An improviser with Ariana Grande (the improv team) and founding member of BRICK, the handsome Joe Miles stops by our studio to talk with host Louis Kornfeld about discovering improv, the influence of music on his life, and touchy improv scenes. Joe talks to us about coming to NYC from Cleveland (Go Cavs!) in order to further his career as a rapper, but then discovering improv and being sucked into it. Still a drummer all these years later, Joe tells Louis how he uses music as inspiration for characters and Louis tells Joe about his past as an illustrator. We hear about Joe’s favorite music and the two men wonder if new genres will ever be invented. Also, Joe describes how he psychs himself up for a show, answers the questions of how he’s changed as a performer, and discusses BRICK’s run of shows where they did a different form each week. If that’s not enough, Louis mentions the presence of our engineer Grant, who disapproves of Louis’ musical leanings. Check it out!

Wednesday June 17, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Andrew Yurman-Glaser Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

Native son of New York State, Andrew Yurman-Glaser (Broad City; Magnet’s The Wrath, Friday Night Sh*w; UCB’s Mermaids; Upstate) joins us in the studio to talk about improvising, coaching, and the dynamics of a good team. Host Louis Kornfeld dives in by asking, “Do you remember when you got good at improv?” Humility abounds as Andrew tells of getting his improv start in college and how he’s grown over the last nine years in NYC.  He goes on to compare his Megawatt team, The Wrath, to an orchestra and tries to shed some light on how a team maintains their integrity over the course of years. Louis asks if Andrew plays differently on Lloyd Night, Harold Night, Megawatt, or Friday Night Sh*w and Andrew talks about when shows feel the most successful. Hear Louis’ favorite things about how Andrew improvises, Andrew’s thoughts on the importance of listening, and of course, how improv makes you a better person. Plus! Did Andrew’s parents watch him play a masturbator on Broad City? Does Louis like giving notes?? Has this episode been recorded in front of a group of prisoners???  Find out the answers to all of these questions and more on Episode #48.

**PS** Andrew plays with his very good friend Dustin Drury as UPSTATE on Monday, June 29th at 8:30PM. These two former INSPIRADO Oh Shit! champions only get a chance to play on occasion these days, so make sure to check out this show!

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Wednesday June 10, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Jean Villepique Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

We’ve been lucky to welcome so many out-of-town guests recently and we’re excited to say that our latest visitor is the incredible Jean Villepique. One of the earliest teachers and performers at Magnet, Jean was recently back in town from Los Angeles to perform in Bummers Presents: Running. Our host, Louis Kornfeld, gets the ball rolling in this episode by asking about the origin story of Bummers, Jean’s annual(ish) writing and storytelling collaboration with Rachel Hamilton, Tami Sagher, and Melanie Hoopes. She and Louis discuss catching up with good friends by performing with them and the detriments of the more typical checklist conversations people tend to have when they haven’t seen each other recently. Jean talks about her first exposure to improv doing commedia dell’arte as a teen, joining The Meow Show at Northwestern University, where she met Magnet founder Ed Herbstman, and some of her early days at iO Chicago and Second City. Louis also asks his former Level 2 teacher about her improv show Switchboard, encouraging players to take risks, her stint on The Office, and bringing personal stuff to the stage. Hear about the time someone grabbed Louis by the beard! Listen in awe as Louis pontificates that we’re more than mere mammals! Sit in wonder as these two talk about doing drugs! It’s a great episode, so give it a listen.

Subscribe to the Magnet Theater Podcast via iTunes and Stitcher.

Or simply enjoy Episode #47 below via SoundCloud.

Wednesday May 27, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Jo Firestone Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

A purveyor of weird in an increasingly codified comedy landscape, Jo Firestone sits down with us to talk about her numerous shows, how she approaches her art, and of course, City Museum in St. Louis. Host Louis Kornfeld kicks off this episode asking Jo whether she creates shows for her resume or because they interest her. As a prolific producer — she hosts Dr. Gameshow on WFMU, Punderdome 3000, Friends of Single People, and Firestone Success Academy (among many others) — Jo says you have to do it for yourself. She and Louis discuss how it feels weird to listen to and celebrate your own shows and Louis challenges Jo to create a new show with the suggestion of “farm.” Hear about Jo’s recent ventures to see art rather than comedy and how seeing bad art encourages you to take risks. Jo pontificates on the question of quantity versus quality and how she considers the audience when creating shows. Plus! Jo tells us the stupidest ideas she has ever gone through with and one of the very best moments from her many shows. Catch her now because she’s about to go on tour with a rock band and before you know it, she’ll be bigger than hip hop.

Subscribe to the Magnet Theater Podcast via iTunes and Stitcher.

Or simply enjoy Episode #46 below via SoundCloud.

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Wednesday May 20, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Joe Bill Podacast Subscribe with iTunes

Chicago improv legend and co-founder of The Annoyance Theater, Joe Bill, stops by the studio to talk with host Louis Kornfeld. Fresh off a trip to France and England, Joe tells us about his recent attempt to perform improv in French, how he still gets nervous for certain shows, and how he has learned to channel that energy. Louis talks to Joe about improv elder Martin de Maat and how he influenced The Annoyance’s approach. Also, find out what, “Take care of yourself” means to Joe and hear about his extensive experience teaching and training corporate groups. These two well-spoken gentlemen also discuss the capacity of the “group mind,” “the rules of improv,” and “much more.” Stream or download ASAP, people!

Subscribe to the Magnet Theater Podcast via iTunes and Stitcher.

Or simply enjoy Episode #45 below via SoundCloud.

 

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