Monday, April 10, 2006

(Not So) Great Moments in Improv! Part Two

December 13, 1974 - The only All-Blind Improv troupe, "Who Turned Out the Lights?!?" performs in their first and last show. "No one knew what the hell anyone was doing," explained participant Ken DiBella, who continued, "I'd be in a scene thinking that my partner was a superhero and I was his assistant, only to find out later that he was a bird and he thought I was a hunter. It was anarchy!"

June 16, 1986- Glen Wainwright, a member of "Everybody in the Gene Pool!" succumbs to a heart attack during a show in Des Moines. Though he may've survived with immediate treatment, no one realized he was actually dying and he was left onstage and used as a running gag for twenty minutes. A custodian discovered the body five minutes after the show ended.

September 23, 1992 - In Albuquerque, the highly publicized (and criticized) "Convicts Doing Improv" program, where felons received weekend passes to perform Improv, ended after three months due to poor ticket sales. Organizers blamed scene choices made by the convicts as every scene was either about serial murder , gangbanging, and/or incest.

February 20, 2002 - Improv SuperGroup "Guns and Posers!" disbands after months of acrimony culminating in tonight's show where members Jimmy Walls and Damon Curcio refused to leave the stage when Steven Pirsos and Julie Riccardo stepped in to start a new scene. All four participants were rushed to the ER to get medical attention thanks to the ensuing melee.

October 18, 2005 - While performing with "Down With People!", first time performer Jack Childress slips on a fake banana peel and suffers a real spinal cord injury. "If I had a chance, I'd do it all over again...except for the slipping on the banana peel part, " Jack stated after momentarily taking out his breathing tube.

April 9, 2006 - While performing in his first Improv show with Team Genesis, Harris Bloom inexplicably decides to, mid-scene mind you, pretend that he's been driving the whole time. After 30 seconds, he realized that he probably should grasp an imaginary steering wheel. Ten seconds later, the scene mercifully ends.

So last night was the Big Show....The first show by the first graduating students of the World's first Improv class. Rather than write a diary, I'd like to hand out some awards....

Deer in Headlights Award - Harris Bloom
See "Not-So-Great Moments in Improv"

Most Improved Male Improver - Luke Younger
From crying in class to being my personal favorite performer last night, you've come a long way baby. By the way, in forty. fifty years, when Alzheimer's has taken my memory, something tells me that I'll still remember Luke crying, and continuing to cry because he just didn't know what to say.

Most Improved Female Improver - Jeanne Knoll
Jeanne Knoll began class as timid as Armando Benitez pitching for the Mets trying to save a game vs. the Braves in a pennant race, but by last night, she shed that label like Armando Benitez pitching for the Marlins pitching against the Mets (God, I hate him). Every freakin' save we needed, he'd....oh wait...Jeanne...yeah, that kid did alright! I think she even mentioned s...e....x once. Anyway, speaking of saves...

Mariano Rivera Award (aka Best Save of the night) - Jason Quarles
I was in a scene where I announce a "Mr. Love" - no one got up to enter - Aaron (my scene partner) then pleaded for Mr. Love to appear - enter Jason, thankfully, as Mr. Love, not only saving the scene but ratcheting it up a notch. Well played Jason, well played.

Best skipping while teasing Jill Twiss by singing, "I've got a healthy kidney and you don't!" - Leah Bonoma
I think that's pretty self-explanatory. Speaking of Jill...

The "I Killed The Dog...Again" Award - Jill Twiss
I dont care what Aaron sez...that's not funny.

Best Jerry Shack Impression - Mike Johnson
Though I don't recall him "leading" any scenes, Mike displayed an uncanny ability to play off others, usually a role that Jerry Shack takes on. Which brings me to....

Most Jaw-dropping performance - Jerry Fuckin' Shack
That's his new nickname, replacing "Stinky" - In my weeks and weeks of performing with Jerry, I'm not sure I've ever heard him curse (on or off stage). Then came last night. Either due to trying to break out of his mild-mannered persona or the result of eating bad clams, Jerry infused several of his scenes with a steady stream of expletives not heard in these parts since Fleet Week '05.

The above illustrates what's so great about Improv. We always see actors interview that they took a certain role because it allowed them to do something different - to be cast "against type" as a character we'd never associate with them. Even as comics, once you develop your stage persona, you're pretty much locked in to that POV. You certainly can't change within a set or you'll confuse and/or alienate your audience. Even changing mid-career is a risky proposition.
Improv allows you to do just that - not only aren't you locked in to what people expect from you, but you can't do what anyone expects. Each short scene forces you to be someone else. And Improv takes it all one step further. Unlike a movie or stand-up, you're operating without a script. While that may seem scary, it's not. It's actually liberating. There's no right or wrong way to play a scene. You can be as wild or melancholy as your imagination allows. You may end up displaying a range that even you didn't think you were capable of (My friends were actually shocked at how animated I was onstage).

And best of all, you're never flying without a net. Your teammates are your net. The camaraderie built during classes is real and is what gets you onstage for the first time with confidence, because you know that no matter what choices you make onstage there'll someone else there standing next to you helping to make it work. Unless you're driving a car without a steering wheel. Then you're on your own.

Rock On,


Friday, April 7, 2006

My Dog is Gangsta

Actually, no, he's OG - like Original Gangter, mafia, Italian, Godfather...that kinda stuff - lemmee explain...

Bronwen and I always have to make anything movable is either bolted to the floor or kept high enough so that Stewie cant get to it. There's nothing more fun to him than surprising me while I'm on the sofa with one of my socks in his mouth, daring me to chase him. As soon as I move to get him, he runs with it.

The other morning, I got up and Stewie followed me into the living room. I watched TV or whatever and lost track of what Stewie was doing. After a while, I looked for him.

I found him in the bedroom, lying at the foot of the bed. Bronwen was still sleeping, but right next to her, on my pillow, was one of her socks. Message sent.

Thank God I saw it before Bronwen woke up.

Rock On,


Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Yet More Open Mic Madness!

Went to the weirdest open mic I've ever been to on Saturday afternoon. It was in the back of a cafe in Chelsea. Not merely just for comics, this mic was for poets, musicians, whomever.

There were about ten of us. I went first...did okay, whatever. The next guy gets up. Since I joked about Queens College, he said that he went there 30 years ago for their modern dance classes. He then proceeded to show us what he learned. His steps seemed familiar though I couldn't place it. After about two minutes of dancing (no music of course), he bows. The host said, "So they taught you the Electric Slide?" Since we each had ten minutes, he then sung a song by Billie Holiday.

The hostess hugged him as he was getting offstage because she "just loves giving hugs - they're free and awesome."

The next dude got up. Well, not literally, as he immediately went to all fours when his name was called. He proceeded to crawl to the stage while grunting. Eventually he got up and started running from one end of the room to the other, explaining that he loves space and freedom. I was beginning to wonder if freedom is such a good thing. He finished by blowing kisses at us while telling us that we loved all of us and that he hoped that one day soon, we could all have an orgy at The Rose Bowl. An orgy of 100,000 people where love would rule the day. I vomited in my mouth.

Then this interpretive dancer/poet got up. He apparently ran from Boston to get there since he was sweating the whole time we were there. Anyway, he did his dancing thing while reciting some nonsensical crap fro ten minutes.

Naturally he asked for a hug when he got off stage too.

Towards the end, the hostess, this heavyset new-agey chick explained that we were up to the Question of the Week segment - she went on a rambling diatribe about how people talk but not about the important, personal stuff. She explained how she hasn't spoken to her brother in ten years, but even when she did, it was all "Nice weather, huh" kinda stuff and they never delved into their emotions, their feelings (By the way, my feeling at this point was "nausea.")

She then went around the room and asked everyone to answer, "How personal do you like to get to know people?"

Mr. Dancer claimed, as he looked around the room, that being a dancer he could see all the unhappiness. He obviously missed my mug or he woulda seen "ridicule." Of course all the poets babbled on about how they LOVE getting to know people and what makes them tick, and how they perceive life, etc. I was last to answer...

"To be honest, I really don't care."

On that note, she moved onto the next act.

Rock On,