We’re back in business! Harold Night 3/4, 9:15pm…you’re up first.
I realize it’s been awhile since I’ve posted any observations! So here are some observations.
The great thing about improv titans going head-to-head is pure improv—it always comes down to the performance, not necessarily the people who are on stage during the show. I don’t think anyone will make any bones about Cagematch being a bringer show, I think it’s designed that way, so it’s not uncommon to see a team win, perhaps even go on a run, that might not always deserve to do so. That’s just the nature of the beast. But a few times every season at Cagematch, a really cool thing happens. Two improv greats face off, effectively eliminating the ‘bringer’ factor, uniting factions of students and improv lovers alike to see a show where the winning teams’ performance quite literally takes center stage. For the performers too, as much as I’ve surmised, those big matchups are really about leaving it all on the stage, to utilize and apply an antiquated sports metaphor for no good reason.
Last night was one of those nights as The Stepfathers faced off against Grandma’s Ashes. Newsflash: if you missed it, I’m sorry. Should’ve been there. It definitely wasn’t the same thing as missing The Stepfathers’ DCM14 Rewind show, but it was pretty spectacular.
Speaking with Amos and Diston before the show, they wanted to pick my brain about my thoughts on the upcoming match, seriously—this isn’t a joke. What would the night come down to? In my opinion, whether or not The Stepfathers could come out with the right level of energy would impact the set. Would the Stepfathers get weird (if you watch them regularly, you know what I mean)? Had Connor had a nap that afternoon? Was Gethard in the house? Would Shannon be Shannon—BTW? Would Will find a character game early on, garner enough laughs per minute to sustain it throughout? Would Grandma’s Ashes play fast and loose? Would BSJ lose his mind? What would Abra do? It’s really a bevy of factors that makes Cagematch shows into what they are, but it’s the winning over of the crowd, and sustainment of a solid performance that REALLY makes it what it is.
Hands down both teams delivered. I won’t give you the blow by blow but rather a few highlights of the match. The Stepfathers settled into a monoscene fairly quickly and had the audience on board instantly through bold choices up top. After realizing they were sitting at a Russian roulette table, and without a ‘dealer’, Silvija got up to become one. It was seamless, no one made a big deal about it but it’s important to note that she was indeed sitting to start the set—we all saw it, improv is undeniable to the audience in that sense, but mostly because with about five minutes left to the show, The Stepfathers addressed it and spent a great deal of time talking, engaging and interacting with that lady, despite the fact that none of us could see her! They remember. Will Hines remembered every bet he placed and the correct amount. Will Hines heightened his character’s emotional stakes on life/death like a real human being, with credible justifications, just like Will would and should. Specifics. Shannon O’Neill called everything out, had fun and proceeded to play a game where she tried to crack everyone up “Cool WHEELCHAIR lady.” Connor Ratliff accepted gifts like it was going out of style. When his character was likened to a weak lineage of Kramer’s family, he made sure to exit and re-enter the scene in Kramer-esque fashion. They had history, connections, reasons for being there. It was a tidy monoscene that was resolved properly. It was beautifully paced. You expect that from a team of veterans – everyone has a strong character game/point of view and was driving the scene somewhere. No one is ambling about wondering what’s happening next. They’re sitting there like human beings would in such a situation. It’s just believable. No matter how insane the concept of Russian roulette table sounds, I bought it up. Grounded. Play grounded.
Grandma’s Ashes had a fun, high energetic set too. Montages – some scenes long, some short, all good, most great. Some scenes with cutaways or complete tag outs (LOVE THAT), reenactments, award shows, weird characters, fun characters, awkward situations—just the full gamut of what you can do on that stage when you’re having fun, trusting your teammates and supporting one another. What’s there to say about GA that you don’t already know? Game monsters. Support machines. The greatest thing about GA is that teamwork is their biggest strength. They are quick to jump in and flesh things out while adding to the reality. Sure everyone’s got their INDIVIDUAL strengths and that certainly helps a team flourish and play exceptionally well but I guess it goes back to the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” thing. They jump on board so hard once they find something fun to play and won’t stop until the game has been exhausted. Watching Grandma’s Ashes play makes me MISS 401. They are having fun. Improv is FUN guys, let’s not forget or maybe I need to remember!
Again, I won’t beat their set to death. The first scene was Rue McClanahan and Brad Paisley as presenters at an Award Show. Now we could’ve just seen that—BSJ and Dru presenting the awards, and that would’ve been a funny scene, but GA builds the world right before your eyes and so quickly, that you get to see the producers, you see the actual movies been named, you see the action of the movie, and get to see the gift giving overlapping. What’s a meet-cute? I didn’t know until last night but it’s a made up word for that thing that happens when you force a cute/romantic interaction—it happens a lot in romcom movies I guess. Who’s Lupe and why’s she soliciting people in a Gap? There were just a string of killer scenes that evolved into group games – Prom scene, virginity story, etc. They just follow the fun to the ninth degree and it’s so rewarding to see. A team built on great game moves and strongly grounded in support is great at making connections, they landed a pretty big one last night to close the show but it didn’t earn them a victory.
And you know what? That’s absolutely fine. If you’re a true purist, none of that really matters. Because when improv goliaths go head to head at cagematch, you’re rooting for the best team—the one that gave the better performance but ultimately, you’re just pleased and grateful that you got to see two great sets of improv. Or at least I am.
Stepfathers 107, Grandma’s Ashes 84
Everyone on stage, everyone in attendance
but you guys, GUTHRIE and A SPARROW absolutely destroyed last night.
A big difference? I think, making really bold choices and having STRONG openings.
Guthrie’s active invocation and A Sparrow’s source scene were so SOLID. Generated so many ideas up top. Bold, active choices whether it’s being a lesbian nun or a guy whose dick gets bigger at the sight of his overly pregnant wife! SUPPORT THAT SHIT!
I’ll save the nitty-gritty details for the vid, but man, was I impressed with how these teams shook out. Energy and dynamic seems spot on.
Also…CATHRYN MUDON FOR LIFE!!!!
Lloyd Night tonight.
I saw 48 shows in 72 hours. Sure it was intense, exhausting and exhilarating but some real magical stuff happened at DCM 14. Also, some pretty weird shit.
1. The Stepfathers – Rewind.
By now you’ve heard about it and if you weren’t there, you’ve probably kicked yourself for missing this show. The Stepfathers got a number of standing ovations following various intervals in the set. What you need to know is this. The Stepfathers did an entire set. With roughly 18 minutes remaining, Gethard stepped forward and informed the audience that they’d be doing the set in reverse. Without missing a beat, they proceeded to do the set in reverse. After reaching the beginning of the set, The Stepfathers began the set for the second time and midway through the first scene, Silvija pressed pause during it and began commentating, everyone else chimed in. As the blackout approached, someone on the backline had the good sense to just forward to the blackout, at which point, the show was blacked out. It was fucking insane. I got a chance to catch up with Gethard who said, and i quote, “that was possibly the best set of improv i’ve ever done.” I don’t doubt the man, it was definitely impressive. (It also directly relates to something Gethard teaches/preaches, but i’ll save that for another post!)
2. Play By Play.
For an unusually large group of performers this went off in seamless fashion. The Brothers Hines handled their commentator duties with ease and successfully got everyone to crack up at least once with the exception of Connor “Iceman” Ratliff. I especially enjoyed the fact that Will and Kevin made a point of shouting out Jump on Three (Dennie, Phil and JD) for getting on stage late. They called out Tanoye for having referenced a blowjob early on and then again throughout the set. He may or may not have been dubbed Alan Starzinski at some point (infamous for landing in a lot of scenes. Other things I enjoyed during this set: Chelsea Clarke’s object work on a swing set—VERY specific and then my laughter in response to that move getting called out on stage.
3. Death By Roo Roo.
I haven’t had the fortune of seeing all of the West Coast guys perform, at least not at once so having Gil Ozeri and Adam Pally on stage along with the recently departed John Gemberling was a treat. In true Roo Roo monoscene fashion, the set included everything from mythical creatures to shit references to murder. Just a fun performance to watch.
4. Press Conference/UCB.
Both these shows were really fun. First of all, at the presser, we got to find out how many people have been hit on by Jeff Goldblum or Andy Dick, slight advantage to Dick. Then again when the UCB convened and organized an impromptu dating game/scenario on Saturday was another fun appearance.
5. We Can Fix You.
A lot of people jumped off line at Chelsea to get to the Beast or to queue up for Assscat but what none of us knew at the time was that Amy Poehler was sitting in with Burke, Roberts, Walsh and Besser. It was a pleasant surprise to walk in and see her posted up but even better to see how emotional she got trying to help a girl reconnect with her sister/estranged family. I took a great deal of Ian Roberts’ advice to heart, he sounds like a man who’s gone through a lot but also has a pretty solid outlook on life because of it.
6. Wicked Fuckin Queeyah.
The group was introduced by Doug Benson, could it get any better than that? Yes, it could. Missing a few notable Bostonians, those present did not disappoint.
7. Dayvin & Danielle.
Call it a mind meld or group mind or whatever. Gil and John were so in synch it was ridiculous. They undressed a man and sixty-nined another in a complete and utter crowd pleaser.
8. 15 minute sound and movement.
FUN. FUN. FUN. To watch and apparently to perform. The group was incredibly active as you expect. I saw some bum during this performance but ultimately, I saw a whole lot of chest in this show, par for the course at 4:15am.
- Watching both Zach Woods and Bobby Moynihan play with the UCB TourCo All-Stars was a real treat.
- I was a part of breaking bad prov which was apparently rendered so awful, a teacher/performer from the Philadelphia improv scene took to twitter to announce his distaste. This was then discussed at Assscat, ergo, we are famous? No. But seriously, I think we all saw “bad bit shows” or stuff we weren’t necessarily fans of but, no need to hate. People get drunk, then they improvise! At the end of the day, we’re all just here to pay homage to Del Close, so in the words of Pat Baer, ‘everybody, be cool.’
- With the help (read: permission) of Shaun Diston, Shannon O’Neill stole the show at the DCM Morning Zoo Crew.
- The Bonoscene was way more fun than I originally anticipated it would be.
- Krompf breakfast was my saving grace on Sunday morning after a full 24 hours, lets hope this tradition never dies.
- Chuck D, Pat Baer, all the managers, volunteers and behind the scenes crew did an excellent job at a. keeping the marathon running on time and b. keeping the spaces clean. Your work is greatly appreciated.
This is in no way shape or form a complete list as this is just based on the shows I saw. Feel free to respond with things you think I missed.
If you guys missed the Weekend Harolds last night, I apologize for your lack of sound judgment! Why would you miss this show?
Regardless, I have no real notes but rather a smattering of thoughts and recollections from a night of amazing performances. Things to keep in mind, most weekend teams at some point, started out as harold teams. Two, a good majority of the performers are teachers and so it was really interesting to see them get back to the structure.
Death By Roo Roo
- With Dan Black making his official debut as a member of the team and Adam Pally sitting in, the set was what you’d expect, high-octane and unabashed
- Roo Roo did a musical hotspot opening which led to a series of theme songs either hummed or sang, including Jurassic Park, DuckTales, Frasier to name a few
- Excellent sex scene from Anthony Atamanuik and Gavin Speiller
- John Murray as Frasier believing he’s actually Frasier
- Neil Casey as comedic glue/edit master/tag out king
- Anthony getting a dog to lick peanut butter off his balls
- You’re not a boss until you can run a four-person invocation and kill it
- Active scenes
- Brandon Gardner and Charlie Todd in one of the greatest car scenes. Stuck in traffic on a bridge, they explored the lifetime of a relationship from a first date to a jealous ex-husband attempting murder
- Everyone being responsible for the harold
- 911 responders who refused to respond to suicide calls at the behest of the mayor
- A nice preview for The Straight Men (DCM)
- Pattern Game opening
- Matt/Fran/Gabrus for calling out that thing people do in pattern games when they randomly shout out the suggestion whether there’s a clear connection or not
- HUGE characters-duh
- Wife scene. Brian and Gabrus (?) in a game one-upsmanship slash ultimate verbal cat fight
- Fran as a boob grabber
- Gabrus giving Brian a BJ — as dogs
- Brian as that overly friendly guy you sit next to on a plane
- Fran as a pilot freaking out on said plane
- Sue so crisp
- Oh man, great set.
- Musical hotspot as commissioned by the audience
- Will Hines singing/dancing
- Chris Gethard and Shannon O’Neill screwing with each other on stage
- Gethard calling out that all the improvisers on stage needed to rest the game at one point
- Will Hines and Connor Ratliff in the hotel/one keycard scene = the absolute tops
I left during Grandma’s Ashes and before Airwolf so no notes there. Some of my memory is hazy (as you might expect) but if you’ve got moments that i’ve missed or stuff that really stood out to you, feel free to share!
What did I miss/forget to comment on?
If you haven’t seen the Documentary yet, you should! Tonight is their final show of a four-week run. I saw last week’s set and was incredibly impressed with the entire form. I’ve only ever done a documentary opening and it was great fun but it will never compare to what these guys pulled off in 30 or so minutes.
The class includes: Daniel Buchbinder, Joseph Burns, Sarah Burton, Matt Cohen, Jocelyn Deboer, Maelle Doliveux, Cristina Duran, Sal Gentile, Eric Gersen, Chris Griswold, Alexandra Kokesh, Carrie McCrossen, John Sartori, Joseph Stanton, Kat Toledo and Joel Weidl as taught by Porter Mason.
I won’t recap everything because you should probably just go see it for yourself, TONIGHT, at UCB Chelsea, at 11pm.
The second group’s suggestion was Asylum and Maelle set up this institution. It started with an object which I thought was unique—a park bench outside It was an old folks home which for various experimental purposes—is classified as an asylum. It was a place papered with train schedules, respite with a replica train station but trains never came or went. It was just a thing that happened as one of the experiments they were investigating. I loved the backline support on this. Every time I thought I forgot about it, someone on the backline would make a train announcement to say a train was leaving. Improv is pretty cool like that.
I know listening in improv is essential but this seems especially true of the documentary form since there are no sweeps, everyone on the backline kind of has to pick their spots to come in and support what has been created.
Matthew Brian Cohen kept asking the old codgers he was sitting with to guess really mundane and nonsensical facts about his life or about other people. Someone stepped out to a cutaway to further explain his behavior and thus clarify the game, which basically amounted to the fact that MBC asked these questions, told people how close they’d get but ultimately never answered them. That game hit hard.
I was impressed by how well once games had been established, players within the world made attempts to set one another up to play them. Joel early on had established a prankster character who just messed with the old people residing at this place. A short while after the set got going, Jocelyn attempted to explain to her daughter that someone was wrapping her toilet in saran wrap to which Joel cutout to speak to the camera and establish that he was the one playing practical jokes such as the one mentioned.
I always get scared for improvisers when they don’t step out. I’ve been in classes and practices where one person has only gotten into one beat or a group game because they played timid. I was glad to see Chris Griswold step out and establish such a sincere character that lasted the duration. He was that guy who didn’t have anything really going on in his life so he still visited the gang at this old folks home—despite his Grandfather already passing. That’s fucking funny.
Aside: Sal Gentile is a sort of putty improviser. You can put this guy anywhere and just watch him work wonders.
I liked the end to this documentary. Had an authentic feel. Seemed to heighten appropriately, and just about everything tied together. Eric Gersen made a nice choice to end the documentary in the fashion that many real documentaries end in — where are these people now and what are they doing? I thought that was pretty cool.
Well that’s all i’ve got on it, but if i’m not tired, I’ll stick around for this set. It’s a cool form and a great bunch of improvisers!
Oh man, if you’re a student and you haven’t seen Hot For Teacher yet, please make reservations for next week immediately.
Last night’s cast: Ari Voukydis, Chelsea Clarke, Kevin Hines, Ben Rameaka, Ryan Karels and Silvija Ozols.
In homage to Becky Drysdale and Christina Gausas (both headed west to Los Angeles), Ari has been paying tribute to the ladies or will be doing so in the month of April by using the Let’s Have a Ball form.
The performers take three suggestions up top, last night being a word, a compliment and something you overheard on the train. Then, they pair up and do two person scenes. After each pair has gone, all six performers jump on stage and do a set with characters already established or nuggets they heard along the way. There are also an insane amount of connections and callbacks.
Things worth pointing out from last night include Ben’s sincerity in playing one hell of a middle school kid—Tweety as Kevin aptly named him. The yes and-ing in this set was on point as it should be I suppose. These are the people who teach us the commandments of improv, only makes sense that they practice them.
In class, Will always talks about how much enjoyment an audience gets from just saying yes to a statement or offer your scene partner has made, it’s so true and it happened so much in this set…with all the performers.
One that immediately jumps to mind involves Ben and Kevin. Brief synopsis of the back story, they stumble into a basement where there stepfather has apparently murdered a man and shoved him in a barrel. Kevin is a tough older brother on the verge of turning 16—he’s got a rebellious streak, Ben is a young asthmatic wimp who can’t fend for himself—very loveable. Long short, Dad died in a coal mine, this new douche guy came along, mother’s rich so likely not leaving anytime soon but just a REAL sleaze.
After being struck with fear because his caterpillar nightlite dies, Ben attempts to get in bed with his mum but the step dad isn’t having it, so he sleeps in a towel closet, on a towel which still smells like his Dad. Kevin’s character is at first bummed Ben didn’t come to his room since he’s taken on that father role to him.
Ta-da! JUSTIFICATION: Ben explains that he didn’t want to get into Kevin’s bed because Kevin’s character had told a story about their gay uncles who loved lacrosse, complimenting each others swim trunks and sleeping in the same bed. Kevin just accepted it, "Yes, that’s the exact story I told you, you’re right don’t you dare come into my bed if you get scared at night," the response got such a HUGE laugh. Why? Because Ben just took a minute of stage time to enrich their shared history and it would have been a big let down to see Kevin come out and just say, NO, you can get in my bed ANYTIME! Even though he SAID no (verbally) to Ben actually getting in bed, the improviser said yes, in accepting Ben’s offer that Kevin’s character thought two men in a bed was a gay thing. I thought that was pretty fucking cool.
Endow yourself/scene partners. Chelsea and Ryan started the show and were basically high school students doodling in a classroom somewhere. For the first maybe, three minutes of the scene, Chelsea and Ryan played a game where Chelsea looked up to and wanted to be Ryan cause he was so good at doodling and being a cool kid. Sure, that could have sustained but the direction they took it in was much more fun. Ryan endowed Chelsea with the gift of being advanced at sexual encounters and other ‘relationship’ stuff, in essence, her character was also cool but for all the wrong reasons. The game then transitioned into each of them finding ways to flatter the other while playing down their own finer points, from their they just heightened to the max.
Watching Chelsea is always a treat because she does this so well, BUT so does Ryan, so seeing the two of them last night was just like a game move machine. Two mechanics hard at work. We heightened to a place of teenagers having sex with teachers, but not really caring. Also, it never got weird. They played their characters and just committed to choices they made which I think is important when you’re invested in the scene and have progressed so far. If Cheslea (a woman) playing this sort of bad boy guy fucking everything character, winced at the idea of having to sleep with teachers/students/rip ladies bras off till they bleed so her character could amass four draws worth to go home at night and sniff them…if she ever winced or half-way committed to that notion, it would have ruined the scene. Because they did the legwork in the beginning of the scene they earned the right to blow the lid off. Make bold choices and play them truthfully.
Finally, connections. Don’t shoe horn them, it feels forced. Last night when they connected scenes and characters, it seemed effortless. That said, I can’t present any examples except for Kevin’s character dashing about town. Oh wait, here’s something. If we talk a lot about a character that we don’t get to see in a first or second beat (or maybe we reference them, as doing nothing but talking about someone not in a scene would be bad), it’s rewarding to see that person later in the show. When Chelsea came out to be the awful murderous step dad, I think we were all pleased. Food for thought.
Sorry i’ve been absent, work has unfortunately consumed my life a lot lately. I’ve still got Grandma’s Ashes’ Final Harold notes to get through (tear) but YAY for their new weekend show: Grandma’s Ashes Gets Dark which starts this Saturday, April 7th at 10:30pm. Reservations still available by clicking the link.