How Improv Became My Work
Part 2: From student to professional.
My first professional job was with ComedySportz Chicago, where my first show paid…$4! And I thought I had made it! During the audition, only one of the auditors wanted call me back: Joanne Cloonan. Without her, I would not be where I am today.
And along the way, I’ve had some pretty influential teachers: Martin DeMaat, Michael Gellman, John Holston, Fran Adams, Tom Gianas at Second City, Dave Gaudet, Randy Smock and Dr. Jim McDonnell at ComedySportz Chicago. Del Close, Charna Halpern, Kevin Dorff, Jon Favreau, Peter Gwinn, TJ Jagodowski, Bob Dassie, Noah Gregoropolous, Paul Grondy, Matt Besser, Joe Bill, Dan Bakkedahl, Lillie Francis at iO Chicago, Mick Napier, Mark Sutton and Rebecca Sohn from the Annoyance Theater. I’ve studied with Keith Johnstone, Dick Schaal, Michael Gellman, Jimmy Carrane, Liz Allen, Jean Villepique, Sommer Austin, Andrew Gallant…and many more. But I’ve learned the most from the students with whom I’ve worked.
I’ve been an ensemble member of ComedySportz Chicago, on teams at iO Chicago, performed at Second City Northwest, Donny’s Skybox, the deMaat Theatre, Club Med, and I have been a guest performer at improv sets for Second City Mainstage, Second City ETC, Second City Northwest, and “Messing with a Friend.”
I’ve been a guest on “The Improv Nerd” with Jimmy Carrane, “ADD Comedy” with Ian Foley and Dave Razowsky, “Whether the Weather”, “SDI”, “Smeared, Inc.”, “SDI”, "MBSing”, “The Eisenstein Effect” and "The Improv Sound Off".
I’ve toured the country with ComedySportz, Chicago Improv Productions, and Mission Improvable. I’ve performed at Boom Chicago, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, The Del Close Marathon, The C/U Improv Fest, The New Orleans Improv Fest, Club Med...
And countless murder mysteries and team building gigs. Which helped me become a much, much better improvisor. I learned how to read and engage a crowd. I learned my stage persona. I learned how to be comfortable in front of a lot of people I didn't know.
Mentors have become colleagues, students have become teachers and, most importantly, all have become friends. I’ve performed with some of the greatest improvisors ever. With Group Mind Films, I've produced and directed movies featuring mostly improvised dialogue around scripted storylines with amazing improvisors and actors.
I’ve had an amazing life and incredible experiences thanks to improv.
I love improv because it’s all about saying yes and building together, making each other look good, embracing mistakes as gifts, treating each day like “today’s the day,” making positive choices and assumptions, playing to the height of my intelligence, having fun. It’s about support: do your job so that the group looks good. If the group is taken care of, you’ll be taken care of. When I was a student, what really stuck with me was “Do your job or the tribe dies.”
I think human beings want to be a part of something bigger than themselves,
whether that’s their family, job, church, band, Cosplay, quilting club, book club, school, whatever. For me, it’s improv.
My wife is a tremendous improvisor. But she gets stage fright so you’ll never see her on a stage. But she gets it.
When we get into arguments, my wife will say, “Treat me like your scene partner!”
Or, when I’m scared, like about moving from Chicago to LA, she’ll remind me to “follow the fear!” She’s right and my favorite scene partner.
Speaking of favorites, here are some of my favorite improv sayings:
- Aim to fail
- Make each other look great
- Today’s the day (something wonderful happens)
- Bring a brick, not the cathedral
- Moment to moment to moment
- Jump, the parachute will appear. Or if it doesn’t, do cartwheels all the way down.
- It’s never what you say it’s how you say it.
- It’s all about emotional connection. If you look at the other person in the scene, you’re going to make a connection.
- Be great
- No one ever cares if that car is fixed.
- Justify, don’t deny
- Humor is a by-product
- Play their reality
- Join in and create, don’t destroy
- Embrace ideas
- “Cool” is the death of improv
- Inspiration and obligation are inversely related
- Take care of the group and you will be taken care of
- Be specific. It’s not ‘ketchup’, it’s Heinz 57. Or Trader Joe’s.
- Find the fun and play with joy
- Treat each other like geniuses, rocks stars, and poets. Including the audience.
- Play to the height of your intelligence.
- Uncross those arms and open yourself up to the magic.
- Warm up like your life depends on it.
- Don’t kill the minotaur, ride it.
- There are no mistakes, only gifts—“happy accidents”
- You’re 1/n responsible for the scene, where n=number of people
- Go with the flow and add to the bit
- You are the least important person here
- Leave your ego at the door
- Yes and = defer judgement
- When you feel like you’re in a slump, something great is about to happen.
- Get out of your head and into your heart. Or get into their head. Or their heart.
- The first thing you have to do is ‘yes and’ yourself
- Love each other
- What you do is always good enough
Live - Laugh - Love.
As Martin deMaat said, “You are pure potential.”
Thank you for reading. Feel free to share.
If you’re feeling particularly brave, share your experiences in the comments section below.
You will find hints and suggestions to improve your performance as a troupe or an improvisor. We also cover stories from the field of performing on the stage as well as teaching improv. Sometimes we include case studies of our corporate work to show how improv can boost office productivity and morale.
Should you have any questions about our classes, our work, or our essays, feel free to contact us and start a conversation.