We asked some of our teachers to answer a few questions about their life in improv comedy. You can read them here.
What’s your improv “origin story?” (How did you first discover improv?)
I first played improv games in rehearsals for a performance job at an amusement park in my hometown. Then I read some books that same summer -Impro, Improvisation for the Theater, Wired, The Compass, Something Wonderful Right Away.
Where have you studied improv?
The Second City, Improv Olympic, The Annoyance, Piven Theater Workshop.
Tell us about the class that you’re running.
My class is about getting physical in the space to keep scenes alive and help improvisers find inspiration in the performance space rather than the head.
What do you hope students will be able to take into their scenes after finishing your class?
Some tools to help activate the space and keep scenes physically dynamic as well as some organic long-form techniques.
What do you do outside of improv?
I write, make movies and work in the technical side theater in New York.
What’s a memorable move/scene/walk on/whatever you’ve seen someone else make in an improv show or workshop?
I’ve seen so many great moments it’s difficult to select one. I’m always delighted when something truly spontaneous and original happens. I’ll never get past that feeling. I will share this one moment from a show in a cafe with a tiny stage in Chicago: in the middle of a show Tracy Letts, a member of my group, yelled “theater can’t happen on a stage, real theater happens in a kitchen” and the performers all ran to the kitchen of the cafe to continue the show as the audience had to cram around the tiny window to watch.
My Achille’s Heel is my love of hearing the audience laugh and I too often have indulged myselfed and tried to be funny instead of playing the scene. The silence that follows a lame joke always forces me back to my partners.
What’s an improv move you’ve made where you’ve been secretly proud of it?
Secretly? I keep few secrets about my smart moves. One show here in New York at the PIT with a cast of amazing improvisers I set myself up as a cook making breakfast in the first row of the the audience. I soon realized the actual scene was taking place on stage. I nervously continued my action and occasionally someone would reference me or come to ask for some breakfast and I would silently go about pretending I was necessary to the scene. Somehow the topic of the scene turned to a woman needing help getting pregnant. When a brief pause opened up in the dialog I interjected “excuse me, maybe I can help, I am good with eggs” and the room erupted. What had been an ongoing refusal to admit I was ancillary became a display of patience, good listening and support by everyone on stage.
Most unexpected laugh you’ve gotten?
I stepped into a scene and said “have you ever scene such a grisly crime scene?” And the place went nuts. It turns out Ali Farahnakian had stepped on stage at the same time and said the exact same thing. We spoke in unison unknowingly and the audience of improvisers and improv fans delighted in the the group mind on display. I was just trying to see-up the scene and we ended up getting the biggest response of the night in one sentence.
I’m into “spontaneous theater”- highly theatrical and dangerous improv. I love defying and expanding the audiences expectations of what improv can be.
What bit of improv advice that you’d give to someone starting out in improv today?
Find your own voice. Watch a lot and be honest about what inspires you and speaks to you as a performer and an artist. Steal what you need on your way to being the improviser that only you can be.
What bit of improv advice would you give to someone that has been improvising for a while but is stuck in a rut?
The road to mastery is filled with plateaus. Be patient with the process. Take time to fill your mental cup with new ideas from places other than improv- watch movies, go to museums, read, take a drawing class, anything that gets you out of your comfort zone and towards inspiration. When I hit my plateaus I try working on my general skills like playing support or silently or just looking for edit points, etc.
What is it that you love about improvisation?
It never gets old. It’s a continuously evolving art form. As a player I just love the feeling of making something out of nothing in front of an audience.
What comedy do you like outside of improv? Movies? TV Shows? Stand Ups?
I consume a lot of comedy. New and old. Tina Fey and Maria Bamford’s Netflix shows are hilarious. Chaplin and Keaton never fail, Mel Brooks’ films are a never ending master class. I love Tim Minichin, Jessie Klein, Chelsea Peretti, Eddie Izzard, Louis C.K. Chris Rock. Lilly Tomlin, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Woody Allen and Steve Martin were big influences on my development as a comedian. And there is Mike Nichols and Elaine May…
I have unexpected patience and can listen better than some. Saying yes always leads me to unexpected places and people.
What’s the coolest shit that being an improviser brings you?
I meet so many great people that bring me great joy to be around.
Who have been some improv teachers and coaches that have taught you and what did you like about them?
Mick Napier taught me to just do it without hesitation.
Martin de Maat was a gentle hand that guided me toward artistry.
Shira Piven dared me and my contemporaries to be great.
Michael Gellman is a constant reminder that it is a process.
Del Close berated me to stop forcing everyone to get on my train, a lesson I didn’t trust for years.
What’s your favourite warm up exercise?
I like just talking and sharing what is on our minds, getting into a rhythm and space together.
Rubbing The Google – list game with tribal chant element is always fun.
What’s your favourite improv exercise?
omething I call Snap Scenes. A quick game in offers and yes-and. It can go for hours.
Got any pre-show rituals?
Shower, get my suit ready, complain about my hair.
What is one of the most fun or useful improv workshops that you’ve taken?
I did a workshop with Jerry Sweet that was so simple and so effective- put objects in your scenes and use them. Some of the biggest revelations are the simplest ideas. I did a lot of clown work with Cristopher Bayes that was hilarious fun as it was exhausting work. It’s reinforced the notion that the more you work the more fun you can have.
What (if anything) do you hate about improv?
People think it’s easy and get on stage an make easy choices. Not enough people see it as a art form for them to put their voice into and explore what it means to be human through. Even experienced improvisers can get lazy and still get some chuckles which prevents them from pushing forward.
How do you describe what we do to someone who has never seen improv before?
I call it professional pretending. It’s writing a play as you perform it.
What public figures do you think would make good improvisers and why?
Barrack Obama- he is a team player who knows how to listen. He’s also very funny.
Kevin is performing Wednesday 19th October with 3G
He is also doing an amazing Organic Improv workshop.