DCM 14 Highlights

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.

Other observations:
- 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.

Tuesday, June 26: Harold Night - Weekend Edition

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

The Curfew

  • 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
  • Heightening.
  • 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)

Law Firm

  • 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 

The Stepfathers

  • 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?

#DCM14 You Ready?Click through for complete schedule!

#DCM14 You Ready?

Click through for complete schedule!

Wednesday, May 30th: Lloyd Night (Spooky Ghost)

Suggestion: Castle
I haven’t written in quite some time due to my all-encompassing job which was busy occupying my soul and stealing vast amounts of my time and energy. Not to fret though, since I’m basically done at the end of the month (if not sooner), I’ve started taking liberties—which include leaving early to see shows I wouldn’t normally be able to. I’m happy to report one such show included Lloyd Night last week for Molly Gaebe’s final performance with the team.

Off the bat I will say this, Spooky Ghost is crisp and efficient—they ran a FULL Harold in 20 minutes and 15 seconds (yes, I timed it). I haven’t seen Lloyd Night in awhile but from then until now, there have been marked improvements. Last Wednesday, SG got straight to the point, followed the fun and didn’t waste time on semantics or getting caught up in silly arguments. For what people might consider a “young team,” they are attacking the stage with clear premises from the top and then just playing fast in second beats. So i’m pleased to report, Spooky Ghost has their shit together.  Here’s the gist of the Harold and what I took away from it.

Opening – Original (2:18)

It isn’t a structured opening but it is highly effective in generating ideas. They stand around in a semi-circle and just riff on the suggestion and explore it for a couple of minutes. The whole thing felt very much like when you’re doing a pattern game but just having the most fun instead of pissing about. Everyone was laughing, listening/heightening and generally, throwing out ideas that would actually contribute to a successful Harold instead of being useless—which is generally my least favorite part of a pattern game. Perhaps, most importantly, the premises SG generated in the opening were clear AND funny.

1A – Ben/Josh/Joanna/John (2:01)

This is a great first scene and a good example of just how clear the premises from the opening were to the team. Ben came out as a pilot (just with some light object work-flipping switches and what have you) and Josh immediately knew to play his co-pilot. SG gets to work immediately, starting right in the middle of the premise.  Moments after clearly establishing the relationship (Ben is a dick and doesn’t care for Josh who can’t seem to win Ben’s appreciation no matter what). To further the game, Joanna enters as a stewardess and brings John into the scene as a kid visiting the cockpit. Ben, knowing what he has to do, relegates Josh to the deadhead seat and allows John to assume the co-pilot spot. I loved how Josh and John kept finding game moves. John got to wear the captain’s hat, Josh got to gush over it, Josh mentioned how he never got to land the plane so Ben let John do flight related things. A nice example of how knowing your location (despite it’s limited size) and your relationship to your scene partners can further game.

1B – Molly/Joanna (2:08)
I’m always interested to see which premises players pull to initiate with. In the second scene, Molly initiates as a religious priest/friar brewing beer prior to Octoberfest. Based on the opening, it had been mentioned that these priests brew some of the best beer in the world and as a result, people flock to it just for a taste. Joanna listening to Gaebe’s initiation in which she remarks that people from colleges/universities across America flock to this locale, responds in the affirmative, stating that she has just graduated from BU. After that, it becomes a pseudo-college mapping scene with Joanna heightening her reactions in frat-boy fashion.

1C – John/Hunter/Matt (2:37)
Hunter initiates welcoming John as the newest member to Disney’s secret society “The Epcotters.” The specifics in this scene are incredibly fun and John plays a tremendous nervous person. The gist is that “The Epcotters” located in the center of Epcott Center are a secret group populated by various celebrities with the exception of John and Hunter for the most part. Only problem is John is a big fan of virtually anyone. He essentially sets up the second beat by stating as much. According to Hunter, the one rule of “The Epcotters” is that members keep their cool—something John will clearly fail at as the scene progresses. BUT more on the first beat. Matt Dennie does perhaps my favorite walk-on of the night by establishing a space to be a secret bar—he just flips around on his heels-emulating a trap door, places his hands on the bar and greets the gentlemen in the monorail. Real great stuff. Matt’s demeanor and moves of the specific drinks (The Epcott and the Ep-ep-cott) are also on game as John fails to maintain his cool that a second drink exists despite it just being a double of his own drink.

Group 1 – (1:49)
Spooky Ghost KNOWS how to follow the fun. This group game barely lasted two minutes but SO MUCH HAPPENED. Matt initiated with a simple phrase from the opening but delivered the line in such a funny manner, “Do you think I look good in these pannnnts?” that the whole place erupted. The rest of the group quickly filled in the details—they were homeless men and women and then someone else made a strong move to ask if Matt would go to the hobo-prom with them. From there, if/then mentality kicked into high gear and we went on a tag run, seeing a variety of hobo-prom/high school related moves.

2A – Ben/Josh/John (2:41)
In our second beat, we time dash these three characters to a deserted island where the plane has crash-landed because Josh attempted to do something. The scene starts with just Ben and Josh on stage but Ben quickly gifts John by stating that he was still off in search of supplies. Trowbridge enters shortly thereafter with a stack of firewood, yes-anding the move hard by noting that he had to walk a mile inland to an oasis to chop said wood. Ben uses the move to further deflate Josh’s character as he obviously failed to even walk a mile and has been one-upped by the kid once more.

2B – Molly/Joanna/Hunter/Alex (2:02)

Molly remains a priest and Joanna/Hunter/Alex play church goers receiving communion only since this is a college-mapping scene, they are doing everything from beer-bonging the blood of Christ—which actually turns out to be beer in addition to kegstands and other such inappropriate college-like behavior. I forget what the body of christ turns out to be, breadsticks or something to the effect but they have fun with it and most importantly, everyone commits to it. It would’ve been really easy to check out of the scene (as an audience member) if I’d seen Hunter or Alex go against what Molly/Joanna had established. Sometimes, you just need a spot of peas in a pod, no matter how insane the idea seems. Very glad everyone remained on board and no one tried to police the situation/straightman away the fun!

3C –Hunter/John & Co. (1:34)
This is scene demonstrates a nice example of listening as John comes back as the nervous Epcotter member. Hunter assures him that celebrities will enter their space and John is to maintain his cool. Josh wasted little time coming off the back line and I loved the heightening in the scene as Josh interacted with John who heightened from nervously touching his legs to profusely sweating to actually shitting himself. I appreciate that Hunter called out the fact that Harrison didn’t seem to mind or notice said shit because it was obviously unusual. Also worth noting—Ben plays one hell of a Justin Bieber.

Group 2 – (2:02)

Spooky Ghost group games are RIDICULOUSLY fun. Everyone jumps on board immediately. You know how some group games can just become a clusterfuck because there are too many ideas or not enough people saying yes to the one/first clear one? Well, I forget how this one starts exactly, well, with two people speaking in the middle of the stage about something, but at one point, someone says “COOL YOUR JETS.” It’s funny, the audience gets a huge laugh out of the delivery so someone makes the choice to just repeat that cycle. One by one, each member of the team takes a turn telling the last person who said the phrase to cool their jets as well! So simple yet so funny as they find new reasons to say it to one another. The edit comes when Trowbridge calls Hunter, who was yelling at Ben to cool his jets for being in a phone booth for too long, if he’s picked up the kids yet…COOL YOUR FUCKING JETS.

Connections (:59)

There’s just enough time for one or two third beats. The one I remember is Josh initiating as the pilot at a church confessing that some kid is basically ruining his life by taking everything meant for him. Naturally, Trowbridge walks-on and informs the priest he’d like to have a shot at the whole priest thing, much to Josh’s chagrin. BLACKOUT.

What did I learn from Spooky Ghost?

  • Follow the fun! When SG gets going, they steam-roll. You can almost see them chomping at the bit to get in there and further the scene or heighten moves. It’s awesome to watch.
  • Seems pretty obvious, but listen. There isn’t as much time as you think, so being clear but also listening to your scene partner’s offer will go a long way in not wasting precious moments.
  • Get on board with the first idea in the group game. SG had so much fun and got to explore so much more of their world in the group games because they just took the first thing that came along.
  • Take risks—if you find something funny. During the opening, I wasn’t sure how half the premises would work because not everything was “fleshed out” as they say. Know that if you find something funny—even if it’s just a line a la the first group game, go with it and hopefully, you and your teammates will build it together and make it fucking hysterical.
  • Don’t be afraid to edit once the game’s established. I credit Spooky Ghost for their timeliness. The backline never let a scene drag on, assassin-like edits the whole night.
  • Be supportive! Do what you can, when you can to make the harold better. Not everyone was in every scene but people found ways to insert themselves and help out where possible. Everyone is responsible for the Harold so it was cool to see people step off the backline and support scenes when they needed to.

Check for Spooky Ghost (and the three other Lloyd Teams—Graceland, Kinsey and Hoops) at 7pm on Wednesdays at UCB East. Each team performs twice a month, for reservations, click here.

Wednesday, April 4 - Hot For Teacher

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.

Thursday, March 8 - Cage Match (North Coast vs. Death By Roo Roo)

I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to write about last night’s cage match or not due to what I imagine might be perceived blow back. But then I remembered, the blog is titled improv observations, and i’d be remiss not to write since I made a few last night. You don’t have to agree with me on the issue, I don’t think that’s why I write this but here are my thoughts on the matter: Musical/gimmick based improv vs. regular improv.

Let me preface this by saying, I enjoy several members of North Coast as improvisers, I’ve seen them work and occasionally, I’ve gotten to play with some of them. Boris and James? Some of the funniest guys out there. So please, don’t make this some sort of blog-hate-crime. That isn’t what this is.

Death By Roo Roo is one of the first teams I started seeing regularly before I even began taking classes at UCB. They’re easily my favorite team. They have that balance—steady straight men, game machines and fucking wildcards. They are legendary. They are epic—look up the stats, talk to someone, everyone knows it.

I’m not even going to sit here and tell you that Roo Roo had an AMAZING set last night. They didn’t. BUT they were funny and sound improv happened. There was heightening—damn near immediately. There were patterns. There was justification—lot’s of it in fact. I’d like to see you try and work a lady drinking a cup of cum into your next scene and try NOT to justify it. The funny was in the justification last night.

The fact that Anthony could throw out all these crazy ideas and sit there and watch Gavin and Neil have to justify it all. And I mean the set was crazy. At one point, Anthony really wanted a sandwich to come out of Gemberling’s head, so after working on the logistics of it being a pita and not technically a sandwich, food was produced from his head. Was it insane? Yes. But everything I need to learn about improv—the mechanics of it, and everything I like about improv happened in that monoscene.

Conversely, North Coast didn’t have a GREAT set either. If you’ve seen North Coast enough, and I’ve seen North Coast enough to know they weren’t as crisp or as sharp as they have been in past performances. There were a few times when the beatboxer just edited the scene doing the explosion sound before it even got off the ground. The improv? A bit joke-y for my taste. There were a couple of moments where it seemed clunky—scene work/object work people walking through doors of bathrooms and/or into bathroom sinks. A couple of scenes just didn’t work—Carnival—taxes? I was lost. Before long, I looked at the clock with seven or eight minutes left and it just seemed like they ran out of steam. Ran out of good rhymes. That’s  my take on it. It’s a very unique thing…to rap improv, outside of North Coast, I know Patrick Noth does it and he does it on his own.

BUT it’s rap right? It’s making rhymes and that’s infinitely more impressive than just saying words and making connections? Yes? If it’s fucking ON POINT and if there’s no way I can leave that theatre not thinking, my mind wasn’t blown, I think so. Because it’s such a unique thing. The first time I saw North Coast was at a Tesla show. I genuinely left there thinking something incredible had happened and it had. Last night, I just didn’t have the same feeling.

And that’s when it dawned on me. You can have a mediocre musical/gimmick improv set and win, with a crowd but the same is not true of a regular improv set. You have to be exceptional—and even then, the crowd must be in your favor. Two weeks ago Fuck That Shit did something pretty impressive and still lost by 24 votes. I make no bones about saying i was genuinely shocked.

After last night, i’ve realized, an improv team can never match a musical improv team head to head and prevail by just doing improv. It sounds crazy. I just typed that and I know it’s crazy but it’s true. I’ve seen it enough to know it. You need an approach.

Last week, I heard Mr. Crime did six harolds in 20 minutes. That’s fucking impressive. I didn’t see it so I don’t know if those harolds were any good or if they weren’t. But they had the right idea. If you think you’re going to go to cage match and your improv—even on your BEST day (re: Fuck That Shit) is going to stand a chance against people rapping, you’ve got another thing coming.

Another realization, crowd factor of late has been suspect. I don’t think that audience has been stacked in favor of one team or another since the days of Dog Court. I think last night’s battle came down to 12 votes, let that sink in. 12 votes. If you don’t want to be that person scratching your head because you didn’t see it or had no idea what happened, show up! See what the hell is happening first hand. Make your own decision, vote for who you want! But don’t be that guy or girl who goes, “OH MY GOD, _______ won? I wouldn’t have….” Fucking take some stock in yourself as an improviser and see the show. It’s free for students and performers, $5 for everyone else.

Last realization, musical improv is not good to Roo Roo. Two years running, they’ve been eliminated from cage match with a musical situation. Remember how Captcha dropped the musical bomb last year and then won by four votes or something insanely close like that? Yeah.

Well that’s it. I’ve said what i’ve said. You decide what’s happening at cage match, quite literally. See North Coast go head to head with harold vets, Very Good Kiss next week Thursday, 11pm, UCB Chelsea.

A nice look back at the old UCB…to have been a fly on the wall my friends, to have been a fly on the wall…i’d have given anything!!


Thanks for your support, everyone.

its been a beautiful year so far.

hope you understand that i post this in good spirits, and with love for all involved!


EDITORS NOTE: this is long, and seems to be getting attention, so i will give you an out right here.

if you don’t wanna read this,…

Tags: improv UCB

Tuesday, February 14th - Harold Night (Grandma’s Ashes)

I’ve been meaning to write about Grandma’s Ashes for awhile now, just turns out, their Valentine’s Day Harold was blown out of the water, making for a pretty easy pick this week.

What can I say about Grandma’s Ashes that you don’t already know? They are super supportive of one another’s ideas and heighten to the max. After hearing Chris Gethard speak about the value and importance of slow-cooking an improv scene, I can comfortably say, Grandma’s Ashes does this AT LEAST once a show. Maybe a group game, maybe a scene where all the members walk on or tag out to establish the world but it’s true, it’s incredibly rewarding (as an audience member), to see the pay off of everyone slowly heightening some idea or concept.

Alright, i’ll get on with it.

Suggestion: Carp.

1A - BSJ initiates with Morgan as a son who needs to talk to his dad about something. His commitment to playing some angsty teenager is ridiculous, but this is BSJ and its what he does best. He basically reveals that he got a boner for his teacher Mrs. Petrinko. Slowly, we learn that Mrs. Petrinko is an elderly, haggard woman who BSJ’s character shouldn’t normally be attracted to. In a bid to heighten, Morgan introduces Cosmo magazine (not playboy as you might suspect) in an attempt to show BSJ what sort of girls he should be into. BSJ admits that he finds Mrs. Petrenko’s walker sexy, that’s the sort of thing he’s into.

1B - Josh and Winston open as a couple about to have their first kiss. Josh has fish lips and no idea how to kiss, just moving in with his mouth awkwardly agape to Winston, who’s playing it completely straight. The game quickly becomes that Josh is just bad/incredibly awkward in intimate/romantic situations. As Josh’s character attempts to “soothe” Winston, he basically just winds up embracing/rubbing his face really hard. He moves around to sort of hug Winston in a cute manner but just winds up choking the shit out Winston’s midsection. Just picture Lenny from Of Mice and Men on a date, imagine how that might go. Ryan came on as a movie theater janitor who wanted to make sure everything was copacetic. The funniest thing about this scene was Winston’s justifications. We’re taught in class to play things real, and I think 90% of us would find a way to nudge out of a romantic situation if it seemed absolutely AWKWARD, unless of course, there’s an actual reason for your staying-the person is awesome, is a billionaire, you don’t want to hurt their feelings, whatever…you get it. It’s more believable.

1C - Dru initiates the scene with the sentence, “We got Carp here” it’s an a thick Mass. accent though as he explains what seems to be the specials of the day to Winston who is sitting next to an empty seat. Lydia walks on semi-flushed, apologizing for being late as Winston explains that he always makes her park the car. Dru’s accent gets progressively thicker and less clear the more angry he gets at this couple. Abra walks on as a waitress, apologizing for being late (GREAT) heightening to state that, “the carp is served with corn on the cob and caramelized…” you get the point, in an even THICKER Mass. accent, it’s fucking hysterical. Dru comes back to ask if the couple drives a Saab—in his accent, you understand what’s happening, as he gets more infuriated, Abra takes over and literally starts to read the license plate number off before the edit comes. So fun to watch.

Group #1 - Fan boats. Who the fuck is Ryan Karels and where do these characters emerge from within his being? Karels played the sort of captain of a swamp love tour fan boat enterprise. BSJ and Lydia (?), were on board as the love couple. Dru and Abra were playing the actual fan. Josh walked on as a gator that got to climb aboard and get kissed by BSJ. It was great. It was also a reminder that group games don’t need to start with the traditional, “ALRIGHT Walmart executives, get in here to solve BLANK problem”. It’s also refreshing to see players content with just being active. Dru didn’t necessarily speak a word in the scene but his commitment to being the best fan blade at the back of the boat was worthwhile.

2A - Josh initiates as Mrs. Petrinko teaching a sex ed class. Another scene ripe with great specifics. Josh gets into a bit of the sex education and then yields to the class who are all attempting to hide their boners. Josh continues to just interact in the world as that alone seems to illicit a reaction from the class. He adds a few character revelations—a former UCLA volleyball player, sexy sport for stocky, tall women, which eventually triggers Teddy’s (BSJ) orgasm as verbalized by Lydia, “Teddy seems fine, even sleepy…” EDIT.

2B - Josh and Winston are on a date…well at first, with two guys sitting on chairs facing front, you’re inclined to think that but thanks to a walk on, we learn that they’re at Best Buy, sitting on a couch watching Driving Ms. Daisy. Josh is just pounding on Winston’s titties. The only reason he’s sitting there and taking it is that Josh is so nice, he couldn’t possibly be without him. Abra’s walk on established the location and she endowed herself as a weird best buy sales clerk who just had to watch everything going. Lydia then came on as her supervisor to double-check she was watching everything. Just to round out the environment, BSJ and Morgan walk on as a couple genuinely interested in buying a TV and a have a mini-discourse about whether or not the TV is big enough, too big etc. Just the way normal people do. The scene ended with a weird jerk off sitch and the manager asking if Abra’s character was getting all of it.

2C - Dru Johnson is playing the eastern Mass. character, only this time, he’s a karaoke DJ. This is fucking great. BSJ steps to the mike and does everything you’ve SEEN (or personally) done at a Karaoke bar. He’s up there, doing the stare, the shake, the dart off to get a sip of your drink because the music still hasn’t started, all of those things are happening. But Dru is calling out, in that strong accent, “16 more bars…5 more bars…” to let BSJ make all these moves…Finally, when BSJ does decide to speak he doesn’t lame out with some BS, he goes for it, and in his own eastern Mass. accent, starts the opening lines of Spice Girls’ Wannabe, it was fucking perfect.

Group #2 - Ryan initiates as this super sinister dinner host, welcoming everyone for coming to his estate for a dinner in which everything being served has been killed by him. We start really small with the celery and carrots which he blanched. The guests are playing along and giving Ryan more to play with by doing things like asking for his secret to the killer ranch dressing (Ryan creepily responding, you’re more right than you know). I think Josh came out to be a creepy butler, but someone in the room gifted that he was Ryan’s wife and he just accepted it without a rebuttal or anything! They moved on to the salad—someone throws out the specific that both romaine and iceberg are visible and Ryan, sinisterly, adds that lurking below is the sinister blue cheese, I can watch this all night. Ryan being creepily sinister over food and other items is a fucking treat people.

Now i’m sure staying with the food game would have been acceptable but BSJ establishes a move to rest it and used the environment to make a different one, asking about Ryan’s grandfather clock and where he got it. Of course he didn’t buy it, he murdered a 40 year old oak tree which he chopped down mercilessly after it had been struck by lightening to fashion it!

We finally reach the main course and Ryan is mentioning that once they get there there is no going back. In his best Hannibal Lecter, asks the guests if they know what he hears at night? I hear cuckoos, before adding that huevos rancheros will indeed be served. (Cue massive applause).

3B/group1 - Is two eastern Mass. ladies attempting to parallel park in one parking space before the gator walks on for the blackout.

What did I learn from Grandma’s Ashes?

  • Commit. Even if you’re being the weird one on stage, just stick to your choice and play it. Know that your scene partners will help straight-man and justify if you’re getting too weird.
  • Go hard. Just leave it all on stage. Once your harold/performance is done, that’s it. So why hold back? Why be reserved? I respect G-Ashes for consistently pushing it to the limit.
  • Patience goes a long way. I just heard Gethard speak to this effect, the delight in seeing that Hannibal dinner party scene
  • Be more like Abra Tabak. She’s always supportive and FULL of characters. We’ve all seen characters go wrong, it’s like a misfit on stage when you see someone doing something they shouldn’t be doing because it’s not believable. ONLY, with Abra, really, it’s always believable. She’s highly adaptable. It’s really impressive.

Check for Grandma’s Ashes on Tuesdays at UCB. Tomorrow (Feb. 21st) they’re up fourth. Also be on the lookout for their rotating weekend slot (when available), Grandma’s Ashes Gets Dark!!

    Tuesday, January 24th - Harold Night (Mr. Crime)

    I saw the first three harolds on Tuesday night but I’ve decided to edit the way I approach my note process (and as a result, this blog). Writing about multiple harolds at once can be pretty daunting, and lengthy (for everyone), so I’d rather break them down one at a time. Occasionally, I’ll pick my favorite, or at other times, the ones I think I learned the most from or appreciated most.

    That said, This week i’ve picked Mr. Crime. Creature gets a hearty nod though.

    Mr. Crime.
    Suggestion: Romance.

    After generating a slew of hilarious comedic premises in their opening, who the hell knew where Mr. Crime would go with this one? They went somewhere funny…immediately. Which I think set the bar for the rest of their set. They’re always so engaged with one another and supportive. They frequently step forward in each others’ beats to help grow the world and provide additional moves. Their backline is pretty solid.

    Higbie and Karin played an author and an editor/book publisher in the first beat. The main problem was that since striking it big with his first novel—Higbie’s character hadn’t been able to recreate the genius that once was as a result of his process getting in the way. His process? Locking himself away in his attic without food until the novel is complete. As you might expect, this created several problems. The game was found almost immediately.

    I love watching Karin improvise because I think she’s a great listener. Each line Higbie delivered she accepted, yes and-ed and heightened, and all fairly simply without excessive use of dialog. Higbie alluded to his first novel’s success—she accepted it, adding that “the Chocolate River” was indeed a best-seller. He said his second book didn’t fair so well. Again, she accepted it, keeping the game going by remarking that, “Banana Nut City” didn’t hit the numbers they’d hoped for. Finally, she got the edit by handing him back his most recent effort, and asking that he figure his writing process out while revising, “I’ll Eat Anything”. So fun.

    In the second scene. KRISTEN (sorry!) and Riley played an athlete and a coach. I don’t know if that’s the reaction Riley was going for when he said, “Now son, sit down we need to talk about this” but it’s improv and in some instances, you’ve got to go with the flow once your scene partner adds to the reality. Kristen quickly established Riley as an overbearing coach way too concerned with his players’ sexual development/activity, that was his gift and he played it. It literally could have changed the whole dynamic of the scene had he forced himself into being the dad—or whatever he initially had in mind.

    The third scene featured Alexis and Amos, personal favorites of mine—don’t think so? Watch their faces next time they improvise, so engaging, always so animated. Alexis was a tourist and Amos was some Italian figure going on about the romantic language and why he’d never sleep with Americans. It wasn’t immediately clear what sex he was and no one labeled it at the top UNTIL Zach stepped forward to state that this was the “Legend of Don Juan Digorno” at which point Amos realized what had happened. Wanting to remain a woman—he justified it immediately, accepting the legend that his character was the famed temptress of Italy who turned so many men down that they named her after one. At which point it was abundantly clear Amos was a lady. A peculiar edit happened next as Noth came forward to state that the play of Don Juan Digorno would continue in the next beat. It worked though.

    Mr. Crime are notorious fourth-wall breakers in group games. They do it alllll the time! In their first group game they played eight sexy detectives who fucked criminals. That was it, that was all that was necessary.

    The second beat of the the first scene was short and sweet. I’ve gotten the improv note, “let’s see that, show it, don’t talk about it” so I was quite pleased that Higbie initiated as the author doing his rewrite. The backline jumped on board so quickly after his initiation line which was, “Don’t think about food” while someone played his brain, speaking to himself about wanting food. Someone then became his typewriter encouraging him to eat it. Which are all fun game moves. Eventually, Riley walked on as a landlord (heightening), and also became an appetizing treat for Higbie’s character to make a pass at. Solid stuff.

    In the second beat of the coach/horny athlete scene, Mr. Crime expanded the world to an entire team of baseball players who apparently hadn’t jerked off in quite some time because of their overbearing coach. I don’t know how anyone plays baseball with two mitts on but the scene was less about the act of playing the game and more about the act of trying to bring yourself to completion utilizing any means necessary. Baseballs, your teammate’s body, glove, whatever. Everything was fair game.

    When we picked back up with the Legend of Juan Digiorno a new character—Penelope is trying to out Juan as being some sort of southerner and implying that the accent is in some way less Italian? I don’t know. It didn’t matter because the scene was about the American who only minutes before (really quick time dash), had been trying to sleep with Juan but had taken up with Penelope who hosted American study abroad students. It was quickly revealed that this was a classic misdirect scene which really dealt with Alexis’ character—the shape-shifting American traveler. Edit.

    Second group game is fun. Riley receives a text message “P-P-P” which Zach clarifies means, please pound penis; they send one back. Karin and Amos step out across stage to receive said text, “R-F-N” Ready for Nigthtime? No. Regional Fair Now, clarifies Amos. Higbie gets involved received a string of texts, “LMNO” and “PQRS” which just turn out to be a portion of the alphabet. The whole thing is resolved when Riley decides to just call Karin and figure out what they’re both talking about. Karin plays a nervous teenager well, edits on the nervous laughter.

    Mr. Crime made a few connections early but the scene that got the most attention led to the eventual black out was those fucking cops. No literally, the cops wanted to fuck, so they started killing each other one by one just to get fucked. Things of note, Zach gives one hell of an improv blow job. Someone connected the cops fucking to the baseball game and ZACH—the busy man that he was, then made the pitcher the Italian Temptress—Delivery from Digorno…blackout. 

    Things I learned:

    • Have fun/listen with one another (pretty obvious)
    • Yes and-ing doesn’t have to feel forced or clunky
    • When walking on/tagging out, have a specific point and make it sooner rather than later, this enables others to quickly come on and support/heighten the game (re: Higbie typewriter scene)

    That’s all for now.

    Saturday, Jan. 21 - The Lady Jam

    Shannon O’Neill is one of my imrpov, scratch that, life heroes. The fact that she created the Lady Jam is just one of the many testaments why.

    If you weren’t at the inaugural Lady Jam on Saturday, you missed a real treat. I’ve run into several women since then who had already heard how amazing it was and they’ve already expressed how were sad they were to have missed it. If you’re one of them, don’t worry! The Lady Jam returns on Friday, February 24th at Midnight, so put it in your icals and set a bloody reminder already, you don’t want to miss it (again)! I also challenge you to bring a friend with you when you come, cause you’re going to want to come.

    If you weren’t there, what exactly did you miss? A whole lot of funny ladies improvising and several dance intermissions. If you haven’t yet exhausted your lung capacity jumping around dancing before an improv set, I encourage you to try it, I was JACKED UP and ready to improvise. I wasn’t nervous, I was just really excited to play with a bunch women (don’t be a fucker and read that weird). 

    The Lady Jam, if you’re still unfamiliar, is a jam Shannon created strictly for the ladies. Each month she’ll enlist a group of UCB performers to help her host. Saturday’s cast included Chelsea Clarke, Abra Tabak, Fran Gillespie, Kate Riley, Lydia Hensler and Morgan Jarrett—who were all amazing. There were also other veteran improvisers and performers from the theater on hand to just jam it up as well—Sasheer Zamata and Nicole Byer both came out, as did Veronica Osario and Silvija Ozols. (If I’ve missed anyone, I apologize, I got drunk for the first time in three weeks so my memory is slightly foggy, days later).

    Like any jam, you get to put your name on a list and perform with peers and vets for 10 minutes. Things i immediately noticed, people were unafraid to initiate whatever they had in mind or support something that an improviser thought couldn’t be done. At one point Chelsea was afraid she couldn’t do a roll—seems silly but there were two ladies right at her side helping her along. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I personally felt there was a higher level of comfort and support than I’m used to feeling at jams (if that makes sense). There was next to no hesitation, and no one shat on each other. It was great. Honestly, I don’t think I saw a single back line frown or anyone who didn’t look like they were having a fantastic time. There was next to no nay-saying—if any at all! There was also lots of justification. LOTS of justification. Did I mention, I got to improvise with Silvija?? Okay. Well I just did. And it’s something you can do too if you come out to the show.

    Lastly, if you have a dick and you’re reading this post, don’t worry. You’re allowed to come to the lady jam and show support—I think you should come in fact, because you’ll really like it. You just can’t scream any weird sexist crap while the performance is going on (not that that ever happens during an improv set). Shout outs to Marshall Stratton, Fesh, Austin Rye and a few other gents who were brave enough to attend.

    Till next time kids.