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

Posts Tagged ‘Second City’

Wednesday February 24, 2016, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Ed Herbstman Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

Magnet founding father and sometime Mantzoukas brother, ED HERBSTMAN, talks with us about his Chicago days, moving to LA, and what makes improv satisfying. Ed was on his first team at iO Chicago by age 17 and by the time he and his friends moved to LA, they were attracting industry attention. If this sounds like a fantasy world t0 you modern improvisers, Ed and Louis will make it reality. Also, tune in to hear how love landed him in NYC and what it’s like to play with famous people.

This episode begins with one of the toughest choices Ed Herbstman has ever had to make…

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Wednesday February 17, 2016, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Woody Fu Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

Boom Chicago cast member and former Magnet baddie, WOODY FU, visits from Amsterdam to talk about building Second City style sketch shows, living abroad, and his comedy ambitions. It’s his first time stateside since moving to the Netherlands and we are thrilled that he decided to spend some time talking with us about his experiences with Boom Chicago as well as his recent reunion with Metal Boy. If you’re not interested in sketch comedy or improv, stick around for Woody’s winning personality, which he describes as, “Extremely neurotic and Chinese.”

Woody’s been gone for nine months and his first trip back to the Americas has been filled with tropical sunshine, winter snow, and Metal Boys. Confusing, you say? more

Tuesday February 16, 2016, 5:32pm - by Magnet Theater

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The Second City Touring Company based in Chicago will be holding its annual General Auditions for understudy positions in The Second City Touring Company as well as ship actors and other foreseeable opportunities ­this March in Chicago. To qualify for the audition – actor must be a graduate of a conservatory level program in sketch and/or improvisation. Ex: The Second City Training Center, iO, Annoyance, Magnet, PIT, etc.

To apply for an audition spot:

Please email your most current headshot and updated resume to: auditions@secondcity.com between 8AM CT Monday, February 22 and 6PM CT Wednesday, February 23, 2016*

The subject line must say: GENERAL AUDITIONS 2016

* ​it is possible that the appointments will be full before 6PM on Feb 23.

An email confirmation will be sent out on or by: Friday, February 26, 2016

The audition dates are: ​March 7 ­– 10, 2016

Callbacks ​will be held on Monday, March 14 ­(time of day TBD)

From Second City: “We unfortunately cannot easily accommodate requests for a certain time slot. The slots are assigned in order that they are received. The audition is completely improvised and will last about 45 minutes which includes the time you are asked to check in. ex: a 10AM group audition ­ has a call time to check in at 9:45AM (15 minutes prior to the audition).

We thank you for your interest and will be rooting for you on audition day!”

From Magnet: Finally a great excuse to squeeze nine improvisers into a Zipcar and drive to Chicago in March!  Break a leg, everyone!

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

Alexis Lambright Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy this episode. It’s great listening.

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

Kevin Cobbs Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

Whoa, boy! Watch out now, because local southern gentleman and big juicy peach, KEVIN COBBS, sits down with host Louis Kornfeld on Episode #61 to talk about getting his start in Atlanta, being a musician, and his comedic love of stupidity. They talk about Kevin’s guides to New York, his experiences working for Second City, and what else, but being a college radio DJ. You can catch Kevin every Wednesday at Megawatt with The Music Industry and you ain’t gonna wanna miss this episode!

And the episode begins with a song of rebellion! Just kidding, folks. This episode starts off with Kevin talking about being from Atlanta, getting his start in comedy at Dad’s Garage, and moving to NYC in 2010. Although he thought New York was a nightmare when initially visiting, Kevin was still filled with wonder when he first moved here. Does he have a master plan for his career or does he just take things as they come? As Louis wades through questions related to career goals, he also finds that for Kevin, the creative process is all about collaboration.

They back up to talk once again about Kevin’s improv beginnings at Dad’s Garage in Atlanta and what the scene was like down there. We find out that, similar to Episode #60’s guest T.J. Mannix, Kevin was a graveyard-shift college radio DJ! Louis asks about Kevin & Jimmy’s Guide To New York and they discuss the awkwardness of doing comedy with the public. Where do Kevin’s comedic sensibilities come from and what’s he usually going for? Kevin answers these questions and talks about working with long-time buds Jimmy O’Connell and Al King.

Kevin has done two stints with Second City cruise line casts and so he and Louis get into what that life is like. Most recently, Kevin was doing 11 shows a week, which was far more intense than his first time around. The busier schedule was more enjoyable, he says. Louis wants to know what was the difference Kevin saw between his two experiences and they discuss the advice of, “You gotta be good even when you’re not.” Plus, so much is explained when we find out that Louis loves the Kardashians.

One thing is made clear, and that’s that Second City knows how to build a sketch show. Gaining such professional experience has helped Kevin become comfortable as a sketch director here at Magnet, where he has directed Wendigo and The Executives. Hear about Kevin’s approach to directing sketch and how he focuses on keeping a show moving.

Enjoy all of this, plus, we discover how far into his own future Kevin can see and we hear him speak briefly about his experiences writing for Sesame Street! Go Panthers!!!

Wednesday August 26, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Jamie Rivera Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

Back from our one-week summer vacation, we have longtime Magnet performer JAMIE RIVERA on the show us to talk about science fiction, having fun on stage, and how improv can help us through difficult times. Along the way, host Louis Kornfeld talks to Jamie about playing characters, performing for various audiences, and The Little Rascals. We love Jamie and we’re sure that you’ll love this episode.

To start things off, Louis asks Jamie about his interest in science fiction, which is something he inherited from his father. Jamie shares a funny story about going to see Star Wars for the first time as a kid, which gets Louis talking about how children make curious assumptions. Jamie claims that Inside Out might be Pixar’s best film and admits that it had him crying. What a softy! This gets the two of them discussing the power of film to move us, even if it’s not very good. Also, Louis loves Teen Wolf.

Continuing with this train of thought, Louis suggests that television and film allow us to give structure and resonance to our lives by framing them as narratives. Jamie relates this to religion, saying that even though he’s not a religious guy, there does seem to be a guiding force that many of us seek out. People similarly interpret dreams to have meaning, when perhaps there is none. All of this is done in an effort to give more meaning to our lives, he says.

Admitting that tropes from popular media often creep into improv shows, Louis asks Jamie how he feels about stealing moves from tv and film while improvising. Jamie wants everyone to know that he has ditched his gremlin on the airplane wing move and also, that engaging in tropes feels like pretending they way you pretended as a kid. As expected, Louis sometimes thinks he’s McNulty from The Wire and the two talk about archetypes versus specific characters. Louis wants to know: Is playing characters something that increases or decreases with age? He also talks about Shakespeare. Big episode for Louis.

Onto the topic of improv fuckery, Jamie and Louis talk about how Junior Varsity is a team that really indulges in having fun with each other and we get to hear a bit about how they approach their shows. Known as a fast-playing team, Jamie chalks much of their speed up to something akin to muscle memory – a result of being together for eight years. Their longevity has also created a great deal of trust amongst the members, which Louis thinks is the hallmark of a really good team.

After a bit about how to access your subconscious, Louis talks about showering. Really! This gets them chatting about entertaining yourself as a child. Jamie was a quasi-only child, and a latchkey kid, so he didn’t have a lot of friends very early in childhood. Jamie would simply make stuff up on his own and Louis notes how often children ostensibly put on shows for no audience. The theme of childhood carries through to a description of The Little Rascals as a proxy for the improv community and Louis tries to figure out when he stopped being mortified by being on stage.

Along with JV and The Friday Night Sh*w, Jamie has also been a part of UCB Harold Night and the Second City Cruise Lines. So, Louis wants to know: “How do all the different audiences influence being on stage? “Jamie breaks down his time at UCB with Trillion, noting a high level of of pressure, and talks about how ”muggle” audiences don’t see the same connections as other improvisers do. He even shares one particular experience on the cruise ship where his heart was melted by a very special audience member.

Jamie continues the heartfelt sentiment saying that hopefully, even if we are doing fart jokes, we are exploring the human condition. What he’s really getting at is comedy’s ability to have meaning, even in its silliest moments. Jamie concludes this episode for us by speaking candidly about death and how improv has helped him through tragedy.

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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 6, 2015, 7:00am - by Magnet Theater

Laura Grey Podcast Subscribe with iTunes

This week on the podcast we welcome prolific performer, writer, and director Laura Grey to talk with us about comedy and living a life surrounded by it. With credits at theaters such as Magnet, UCB, and Second City, Laura has come a long way since her time as a creative writing and poetry major at Northwestern University. Host Louis Kornfeld talks to Laura about the early days of Comedy Central, getting her start in Chicago, and of course, Game of Thrones. They discuss the dynamics of performers in Chicago and New York and how they connect to the audiences differently. Plus, Laura provides advices on creating characters and tells us what she thinks of her comedic voice. There’s a lot of other great stuff in this episode that will no doubt make you a better person, so we suggest you give it a listen!

Subscribe to the Magnet Theater Podcast via iTunes and Stitcher.

Or simply enjoy Episode #43 below via SoundCloud.

Thursday April 9, 2015, 11:00am - by Magnet Theater

To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Magnet, Sulaiman Beg and Kelly Donahue have developed an Oral History of the Magnet Theater.

The full story will be released TOMORROW, Friday 4/10, but in the meantime we are releasing some interesting stories that didn’t make the final cut.

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

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The Armando Diaz Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(As told to Sulaiman Beg and Kelly Donahue)