Improv

October Improv Specials

Project Role: Improvisor
Location: Annoyance Theatre & Cards Against Humanity Theatre, Chicago

I’ve been way less active in improv than I’d like to be lately - which is why I’m excited to say I’ve got some fun shows lined up this month!

Every Saturday night in October I’m doing a special midnight show at Annoyance called POEssession - a psedo-experimental improvised Edgar Allen Poe format that’s been a lot of fun to kick around. I think the tickets are only like $5, so, if you’re out and about in Chicago one of these weekends, come check it out!

I’m also very excited about a one time event called The Primary, which goes up Thursday, October 25th at the Card Against Humanity Theatre in Chicago. This get-out-the-vote comedy event aims to arm the audience for the upcoming midterms while holding sham of a political race that if we’re lucky might be 1/10th the comedic train wreck as the actual 2016 Republican primaries.

Apparently I need to decide on a persona and a platform to run on. I honestly have no idea what that’ll be yet but let’s find out together. Tickets and more info here.

Let Me Get This Straight: Episodes 1-3

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My latest podcast venture, Let Me Get This Straight has released three episodes, with more to come in the near future, we hope.

The gag is basically this: my friend Ryan Hruza goes off on tangents that reveal his (character's) bizarre way of interpreting the world, while I try to reel him in and wrap my head around it. Simple as that, really. And I love it. Give it a listen and subscribe via whatever crazy podcast thing you have! I dare you!

2018 KC Improv Festival

Project Role: Improviser, Accompanist
Location: The Kick Comedy Theatre, Kansas City

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This year - if all goes according to plan - I'll be heading back to the KC Improv Festival with my troupe Business of Otters!

As I am committed to growing my career in Chicago, I will abdicate my spot to a substitute performer should something come up here. But, it's only a couple of days - so unless some shoot pops up in a very narrow range - I've got my sights set on the fest!

KCiF is one of the oldest improv festivals in the country, and if memory serves, I've been performing there in at least one troupe every summer since 2014. This year, I'm slotted to perform with Business of Otters, which also happens to be the group I've been with the longest. We formed back in college. At the time (and I think to this day?) there was no official improv going on at Avila University, so a small group of us started putting up projects on our own time. We had a couple different names before landing on Otters, but the core idea and cast remains the same.

 The Otters after one of our two Improv Thunderdome wins. I think I still have that belt.

The Otters after one of our two Improv Thunderdome wins. I think I still have that belt.

Andy Perkins, Michael Hudgens, Joshua Gleeson, and I (with occasional appearances by Peter Weber) have toyed with various format specifics, but the heart of the act is a style we call "basement-prov," which is less creepy than it probably sounds. The act is just big and dumb and goofy and free; the sort of vibe that came out of playing just for ourselves in a basement. No audience, no pressure, just fun. That's what we try to bring with us. It's all helped along by the kind of chemistry that you can really only get from college buddies.

Whether that sounds like your cup of tea or not, I highly recommend checking out KCiF if you're in the KC area this August. More information on their website: http://kcimprovfestival.com/

UPDATE 8/14:

In addition to my set with Business of Otters I'll also be making the following appearances at KCiF! Here's my full schedule:

August 23rd, 7:00pm - Business of Otters
August 24th, 7:00pm - Accompanist for headliners Shrew
August 25th, 5:00pm - Hot Mess: The Musical
August 25th, 10:00pm - Accompanist for headliners Shrew

UPDATE 10/13:

I am way behind in my updates! But the festival was an absolute blast and I want to thank everybody involved for yet another wonderful year! It was tough to say goodbye.

Camp Comedy with Ben & Brian

Project Roles: Teacher/Coach
Location: SqueezeBox Theatre, Kansas City

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 SqueezeBox is a brand new space in KC.

SqueezeBox is a brand new space in KC.

My friend and long time collaborator Brian Huther and I will be popping back into Kansas City for a short while run Camp Comedy - a week of fun for kids in 6th - 8th grade!

This program is an initiative from the newly opened Squeezebox Theatre in the Crossroads district of KC. The owner Karla Deel has been a long time friend and supporter of ours and reached out about the possibility a few months ago.


As I write this, camp is right around the corner. We start Monday, June 24th and Brian and I are currently busy filling out a curriculum. The basic plan as it stands now is that we'll start with an introduction to team building and improv, then move into sketch writing, then sketch performance, and finally rehearse a showcase that brings all the elements together for friends and family.

I have a fair amount of teaching experience in these areas for a wide age range. I hope I can keep up with the energy of these kids - and I'm really looking forward to seeing what comes outta their heads. One of our goals with the week is to give the "campers" a taste of what all this is - enough that they should walk away either knowing it's not for them, or excited to delve in further. I'm incredibly grateful for programs like Christian Youth Theatre and others which gave me an opportunity to explore, at that age, what would eventually become my life's work. If we can be that first door for any of these kids, it'll be well worth it.

I'll post more later on, and hopefully have some sort of video.


Update: 7/10/18

Well, the camp has been over for a couple of weeks now and I'm just getting back around to bloggin'. As usual I wish I'd written on the experience itself sooner because so much happened so fast and the details have already started to scamper away.
 

But in broad strokes, I can say this:

 Practicing some improv with Brian

Practicing some improv with Brian

There's no video to show. We had thought that part of the camp experience would be creating a vid with the kids to post to our Friend Dog Studios page, but this was planned as a sort of bonus goal in case "we got ahead of schedule." In retrospect, that was a pipe dream. In just four days we gave a group of kids a crash course in improv as well as writing and performing sketch; nobody was gonna be gettin' ahead of nuthin'.
 

It was fascinating and hugely rewarding to get to know so many different personalities in these young folk, and help them figure out what funny ideas were already floating around in their heads, waiting to be realized. It was good stuff, too. Like, for real. Even without time to weed through a big pile and find the gems (which is how sketch shows usually work), we put some truly solid premises up on that stage Thursday night, and the students showed huge bravery diving into formats and situations they'd never previously known.

It's been a while since I've done something like this, and re-orienting was certainly a personal challenge, but I'm really proud and grateful to these kids, to Brian, and to Karla & Sterling, our gracious hosts and employers at Squeezebox. The room was buzzing when the showcase ended, and the question on everybody's lips was "Next year?"

The answer is: I have no idea.
...but I hope so.
 

Let Me Get This Straight - Pilot Episode

Project role: Improviser
Location: Recorded in Colorado Springs / KC

Today my buddy Ryan Hruza and I released a pilot/concept episode of a podcast we're calling "Let Me Get This Straight."

Ryan and I have known and worked with each other for a few years now, originally connecting through The KC Improv Company. The idea for the podcast came about when when were both in Chicago this January performing a musical. Almost all of our off-stage conversations were riff-sessions of some kind, and we kept finding ourselves in these patterns where he'd say something intentionally dense or misguided, I'd play straight man and get him to elaborate, then slowly we'd weave up some elaborate, ridiculous concept. That, basically, is the show.

My previous experience in improv-based comedy is the podcast For Serious - a Friend Dog Studios venture with Brian Huther and Seth Macchi. Technically we never quit that show, it's just been on an extended hiatus. The reason for that isn't a lack of love for the program - I personally am head over heels for it - it's just that it's a concept that takes extensive post-production time (10-20 hours per episode, usually) and we just sort of ran low on resources.

This concept, however, is the sort of thing that can be recorded in about 20 minutes and edited in about an hour, so the pressure is very low, and we can just sort of feel it out for now. The pilot is a proof-of-concept, recorded on decent mics from Ryan and I's current residences in KC and Colorado Springs, respectively.

Let me know what you think! We'd love to make more.

Movies: Live! Anchorman

Project role: Actor / Improviser
Location: Chicago

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Last night I had a lot of fun in my premiere appearance with Movies: Live! at the Uptown Underground in Chicago. I played Champ Kind in their parody staged reading of Anchorman alongside a talented and energetic cast and artistic team, and I thank them all for having me along!

The series performs one film parody per month (one performance only - though I hear they're currently looking to expand that due to good turn out). The format is fast and loose but constructed with care; you're sort of seeing the movie script performed, you're sort of seeing something new. Narration is well-used to smooth over some of the rougher edges that come along with translating from screen to stage, gags and musical numbers are inserted, text is shifted, and the script is full of blanks and bold lettering inviting the actors to improvise along the way. I love doing readings and I love improv, so this experience was right up my alley. Plus, Anchorman is the first movie to ever make me literally roll on the floor laughing, so there's that.

If you're in Chicago, come check 'em out sometime. And if you're in KC, go check out a similar regular event at The Buffalo Room in Westport! I've done several of those in the past and have extremely fond memories. This format makes for a thoroughly giggly night out.

Thank you to Maggie Mitchell, Nik Whitcomb, and everyone else at Movies! Live and the Uptown Underground for letting me in on the fun!

MINt (Music Improv Night)

Project Role: Improviser
Location: Chicago

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Wednesday,  October 25th, was bittersweet. It was my final night performing with my MINt team before a trip to KC would cause me to leave the season early. Not only that, but the future of MINt itself was up in the air, as its longtime home MCL announced they would soon be closing their doors.

So, I suppose that's the bitter. The sweet, though, was the opportunity to do all these fun shows. Music Improv Night is a long-standing tradition of, well, what it sounds like. It's not quite a class, it's not quite a troupe, it's more like a club - a club for people who didn't know they needed to be in the club until they found themselves there.

I auditioned for MINt waaay back in July, and from there was placed onto one of three teams that performed various long and short form musical improv every Wednesday night at MCL. Few if any of us actually made it to EVERY performance, but teams are stocked with a big enough cast that the show doesn't suffer for it. I think my track record was probably around 50% of the shows between when we started at the beginning of August and when I departed in late October. I wish I could have done more, because this was a blast. Huge shoutout to my friends on the unforgettably named team The Lion, The MINt, and The Wardrobe, and to our coach Ryan Cashman. Let's keep it rolling!

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Addendum 1/30/18:
MCL Chicago has now officially closed its doors, and will be missed. I'm very happy I got to be at the goodbye party.

Making a Masterpiece - Part 3: The Product

Project roles: Improviser / Editor
Location: Shot in Kansas City, edited in Chicago

The long awaited (??) finale to the Friend Dog Studios series Making a Masterpiece was finally posted on Oct 3rd, 2017 to our YouTube and Facebook channels.

This series is bonkers, and this installment is a special kind of stupid that a joy to put together. If you're confused, of course you are. If you'd like some clarify, you can see the series from the beginning here.

The Kansas City Improv Festival

Project role: Improviser
Location: Kansas City, MO

 Pictured: a KCiF sponsor, 3 members of Business of Otters, a 4th guy who looks vaguely like me but is not, in fact, me.

Pictured: a KCiF sponsor, 3 members of Business of Otters, a 4th guy who looks vaguely like me but is not, in fact, me.

It was an absolute pleasure to return to my stomping grounds at the Kick Comedy Theater in KC for the 17th Kansas City Improv Festival!

The festival, produced each year by the KC Improv Company, takes place over two jam-packed weekends and features prominent improv acts from all over Kansas City and throughout the U.S., as well as specialized workshops and of course, great after-parties. Despite being (allegedly?) based in Chicago now, I couldn't resist popping in for a couple of shows with two groups that got accepted to perform.

On Friday, August 18th I played with Business of Otters (Andy Perkins, Michael Hudgens, Joshua Gleeson, and myself.) The otters are basically a quartet of college buddies, and when we take the stage together to indulge in what we call "basement-prov" (so named because it originated in inebriated basement shows for no audience), the result is a racing, absurd, joyously stupid time. We've actually won a couple KC competitions despite rarely having any idea what we're trying to do.

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We don't get many chances to perform together these days - in fact, this was the first set we'd done since the last annual festival - but once we sat down and started talking, it took no time at all for the old sparks to fly again. The set can be viewed here (time code 21:37). It made very little sense, conveyed nothing of importance, broke several improv rules, and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

 Kate not included in this picture because she wasn't in the group yet when I made it and I am lazy.

Kate not included in this picture because she wasn't in the group yet when I made it and I am lazy.

Then on Saturday I returned to play with Breakspeare, a novel little group consisting of myself, Tim Marks, Kate Haugan, and Dave Martin. Every Breakspeare show to date has featured some combination of 3 out of 4 of us, this time it was Dave who sat out. The format is somewhat difficult to explain, ya kinda have to see it. But I'll try anyway. One player speaks in modern American English while the other two maintain a Shakespearean style of dialogue throughout. The set is divided into several unconnected scenes, each of which takes place within a genre of film or television, as submitted by the audience before the start of the show.

 Crowd for the Saturday show at The Kick Comedy Theater

Crowd for the Saturday show at The Kick Comedy Theater

In short, it's the hardest improv I've ever done in my life. The only way I can think to make it more challenging would be to layer music over top, but that makes my head spin so don't tell Tim I even mentioned it. The festival set was a lot of fun and really well received! Tim and Kate are two of the greatest improvisers I've ever had the pleasure of working with and I was so, so happy to get another chance to tackle this mixed-up style. Video of the set can be viewed here (we go up first after a brief intro.)

If you're in KC, I highly suggest checking out the KC Improv Festival next time it pops up. It's a well-curated fest that won't waste your time, and is guaranteed to introduce you to something new in the improv world. If you're part of a troupe from anywhere at all, submit for next year! You won't regret it.

 

Making a Masterpiece: Part 2

Project roles: Improviser / Editor
Location: Show in Kansas City, edited in Chicago

Friend Dog Studios released our second installment in the Making a Masterpiece mini-series. The series was improvised on set and I've been having an interesting time creating a story line out of the odd pieces in editing. See my previous blog post for part 1 and more information!

Making a Masterpiece: Part 1

Project roles: Improviser / Editor
Location: Show in Kansas City, edited in Chicago

After a hiatus of about three months to focus on stage work, my comedy channel Friend Dog Studios has returned to creating patreon funded online content! Making a Masterpiece premiered on our facebook and youtube pages this morning, and I tell ya what, it feels good to be back.

We took a premise based, no-script approach to the production of this one. While still in Kansas City shortly after the closing of our musical, we co-opted The Living Room stage and essentially improvised for about two hours while Director of Photography Joe Carey rolled camera. The result was a hilarious mess that I've been picking through from my editing bay for the last few days, ultimately forming the experience into a multi-episode story arc about three colorful playwrights.

I think there will probably be three episodes in all. Look for the next one to premiere in a couple of weeks.

I Joined the Cast of Dinner Detective Chicago!

Project role: Actor/Comedian
Location: Chicago & Schaumburg

"It's a thrill!" - TimeOut

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After a few years of semi-regular performances with The Dinner Detective Kansas City, I've joined the Chicago/Schaumburg branch where it all started!

Dinner Detective is an interactive murder mystery dinner theatre show, full of surprise suspects, plot twists, and mostly lots of laughs.

Depending on the night, I may be blending into the unsuspecting crowd, waiting to play my part in the story, or acting as Detective, which is the role I usually played in KC. The Detective role is a real blast for me - combing lose script narrative performance with improvisation and stand-up style crowd work. It keeps me on my toes even when I've done a particular show dozens of times; it'll never be the same twice.

The company currently performs public shows in both downtown Chicago (Hilton Garden Inn) and Schaumburg (Chicago Marriott Schaumburg) most Saturday evenings, and is available for private bookings as well. Visit thedinnerdetective.com for tickets and more information.