Podcast Episode 65: All In – Show Notes

pooh bearMany apologies for the delay in this Femoir: The Podcast, friends! This episode, I talk having a personality that only knows how to go “All In” on something.

I talk about my upcoming web series (again), The Other Client List.

I also talk about a girl that makes me giggle like crazy. You can follow her hilarious quips on Twitter.

I talk about studying improvisation everywhere I could. Some places include The Second City Chicago, iO Chicago, The Annoyance Theater, with Gary Austin Workshops, at The People’s Improv Theater and at the Master Improv Retreat, UCB, and The Groundlings. Among other places. Like I said… a lot of friggin improv.

I also try and make reference to this Winnie The Pooh Quote. It’s a good one.

 

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Break’s Over

I had an epic day yesterday. I performed on The Groundlings stage in the early afternoon then a few hours later on the UCB stage. It was delightful.double day

A lot of time, energy, and effort went into both shows and I had a blast.

I also went without working out for two weeks because of the amount of time, energy, and effort that went into those shows.

I have to watch myself because I have a tendency to put too much on my plate. When I do that, I let the important me-things like exercise, meditation and journaling fall by the wayside.

Now that my big day yesterday is done (and was a ton of fun), it’s time to start reevaluating and re-grounding. I let myself sleep in but still worked out in my apartment as best I could for 20 minutes this morning. I’m gonna make sure I get in a quick meditation this afternoon. I’m gonna try and get some rest tonight so I can get up tomorrow and start getting back on track.

Of course there are lots of things I always have on the docket, but I gave myself a break to focus on getting through yesterday. Now that yesterday is done…break’s over. Back to work.

Improvising in Los Angeles

 I get asked about improv in LA often. I finally created a comprehensive outline of my humble opinion of every school out here. I sent this to a couple stand up comics who asked me about getting into improv, but I’ve tweaked it for anyone.

These opinions come from a place of total love for this form.

And they are just my opinion. Hopefully it helps you. Hopefully, if you work for or are obsessed with a particular institution- it doesn’t offend you. Just like in improv, there is no “right” choice. You just make a choice, live in it, and see how it makes you feel.

So let’s get all touchy-feely, folks.

FYI: I studied at Second City Conservatory in Chicago, iO Chicago and the Annoyance. I’ve done improv intensives and retreats all over the country before coming to LA (happy to share which ones if you ask). In LA, I’m involved with Groundlings and UCB while still hitting up the other comedy places regularly. I’ve spent a lot of money, energy, and time in this world. Does that make me more qualified to have an opinion? No. Anyone can have an opinion. But it does mean I’ve hustled and still regularly hustle. So I have feelers out everywhere.  Constantly feeling. And this is what I’ve felt.

See how I brought it back to the touchy-feely stuff ? That’s called a callback. You’re learning already!

Here’s what I say to everyone  who want to start improvising: know what you want to get out of it before you choose a theater training center. Go see several different shows at each place and see which speaks to your sensibilities. At the end of the day, it’s a form of expression and we all express ourselves differently. Each major improv training ground offers very different outcome goals and it’s important to know what you want before you do it. Also, it’s a major expense, so before you go and blow several hundred dollars, it’s good to know why you want to be there in the first place.

UCB

Offers awesome classes for people who are first improvising and a really positive environment to learn the basics. They approach improvisation as an end unto itself meaning their improv shows are just that- completely improvised (and I’ve heard their sketch program loves to use improvisers to help brainstorm ideas and what not, though I haven’t taken any sketch classes there).

PROs: great for beginners; you get a show at the end of each of your classes on the UCB stage which is not only awesome because the UCB stage rocks, but is great for industry because UCB is arguably the ‘hottest‘ comedy theater right now for scouting and opportunities and whatnot; they have a super-diverse stage lineup so any given night of the week can be filled with all styles of comedy- stand up, sketch, and improv. There are also AMAZING performers and performances that happen nightly. Plus, show costs are the most reasonable you’ll find anywhere (ranging between $5-$10). And, while you’re a student, most shows are free. Also, you get to choose your teacher (assuming you have options in when you can take the class, of course).

CON: In the improv program at least, they hit very hard on a very specific form of improvising- using ‘game’ to find the funny in the scene. This could make you feel stifled at first- but you know what they say- you have to learn the rules to break them properly. Then again, some people love love love game (and do very well with it) so it could be a catapult for you rather than holding you back. You don’t know until you try (and fail then try, try again).

GROUNDLINGS

Fantastic basic classes for beginners as well and really awesome stuff for people who want to get better at specifically character work. They approach improvisation as both a tool to create sketch and as an end unto itself (though their weekend mainstage shows- the stuff their known for- is sketch comedy that they used improvisation to create). They have plenty of other shows that are completely improvised (my personal favorite is the Wednesday night Crazy Uncle Joe show. In my humble opinion, it is exactly what improvisation should be. It’s out there, fast-paced, filled with strong character work, and extremely fun and accessible for the audience. There’s room for failure, but the pace of the show and the caliber of the performers make it successful week after week. If you’re in LA- go see it. Now. Or rather, next Wednesday.)

PROs: They have a track of classes you don’t have to audition into that are for beginning improvisers as well and are just as fantastic as what they call the ‘core track’; I’ve had a very positive experience there and LOVE it; they let you be a little sillier and wackier while still teaching you how to be a good improviser; some of the funniest people I’ve ever seen are Groundlings; I see a Groundling or a person I recognize from the Groundlings on every other commercial and in like half the shows I watch- they work like crazy. (Note: This is true for many UCB performers, too, there is just a much more massive pool to choose from. So while may faces are easily recognizable, many are not working as much.) Also! They have created a new “G2” theater space specifically for student shows, so if you’re on the waiting list (like me…see below) for your next class, they’ve gotten better about offering workshops with the opportunity to keep your skills sharp and perform more regularly.

CON: If you choose to go through the core program, you have to ‘pass’ at the end of each of your classes in order to continue to the next level. You can retake the class up to 2X (total of 3X taking the class) in order to ‘pass’ if you go this track, as well. This ‘pass’ system can sometimes create a weird vibe in class because everyone wants to move ahead and theoretically (many years down the road) become a ‘Groundling.’ The good news is, you get feedback while being told ‘pass’ or ‘retake’ – so you know what to work on not just be told “GETOUTTAHERE! NO!” You also only get a class show at the end of each class starting with the advanced class only (not the first two- basic or intermediate). The first the classes- basic, intermediate, and advanced are all offered pretty frequently. After that, you’re put on a waitlist for nobody knows how long (current average wait time 1.5 years) until you get called for the next level ‘Writing lab’ where you produce shows and write a bunch. After that, assuming you ‘pass‘ you’re on a waitlist again for the last level of the training program. Rumor is right now that waitlist time is around 2 years.

I don’t know a TON about SECOND CITY and iO West programs in LA. I do know that both of those theaters are filled with some of the most talented and funniest improvisers (especially many former-Chicago transplants) in the city.

Second City tends to approach improvisation as a tool to help you create sketch comedy and uses it less frequently as the show itself (though, like all other theaters, they have a wide variety of shows, plenty of which are fully improvised).

iO tends to approach improvisation as the end unto itself- they improvise within different forms and teams and experiment with styles and whatnot. Improvising is the show. Of course, they offer a (great) sketch program as well, but we’re talking improv here. Let’s stay focused.

The only real CON with these places is they’re not as ‘hot‘ as the other two theaters in LA. At least that’s the “word on the street”- for what it’s worth. You’re more likely to get industry to come out to UCB or Groundlings rather than iO and Second City- though OF COURSE there are amazing people at all of the theaters. And industry DEFINITELY come out to both Second City and iO. Who knows? (Answer: f***ing nobody.)

Financially, they all cost about the same…a boat load for a ‘poor’ actor. But this is what we invest in, right? Second City, iO and UCB all have internship programs to help you pay for classes. But they are highly competitive so don’t count on it- at least for your first couple classes. Groundlings offers a couple payment options to make it hurt a little less when paying outright for the classes, but you do pay a small interest for using them. But, speaking from experience, when you’re shelling out that much cash- it’s sometimes worth it.

So I’ll say it again, know what you want and why you’re getting into improv before you choose a place. That will help you enjoy the experience there even more. Go see shows. Each of these major improv institutions offers a variety of classes depending on your wants and needs. They all have comprehensive classes in improvsation, long form improvisation, sketch comedy writing, solo workshops, advanced improvisation, etc. Just choose where you can vibe with.

I’ll also say, lots of teachers teach improv on their own on the side. Although this can be beneficial and may be a route you want to go, I’d at least start at a major institution before veering off to a more specialized teacher. Mostly because you get a much more diverse group of peers and students at the major places which can help you decide if a certain style or approach works best for you.

I should also note, this is a pretty comprehensive list but not completely satisfying by any means. It’s just a start. The anal retentive part of me wants to keep discussing all the nuances of each place and why some of my generalizations are not completely true and yadda yadda. But the normal part of me is tired of typing and obsessing over this. So… I’m done. For now.

I love improvisation and have had really positive experiences in that community. I find it makes ALL performances I do better- stand up, sketch, auditions, writing- everything. I have so much more confidence now in my own ability and my own voice thanks to improvisation. Were it not for my confidence in all that, I would not have begun stand up because I would have been so nervous about what could happen onstage. Now, I look forward to when things don’t go according to plan or it’s a really feisty audience or it’s a really quiet audience- whatever!

Having the foundation that improv puts in your mind means you’ve always got something to fall back on in your own talent toolkit, so you never have to get mad or angry at the audience for not being as responsive or too responsive or whatever. They’re always right because in improv, everything that’s happening is always right. You’re more present and responsive in the moment and aware of your surroundings because of the improv training.

Basically, improvisers are just kinda better people. So… you know. Start improvising, you a$$hole.

Loves ya.

The Misfits

People talk a lot about community. Friends are your chosen family. Find your community. Birds of a feather. All that jazz.

My best friend is a water skiier and a jet pilot (and, clearly, a badass). When she’s around jet pilot people, she clearly fits in. When she’s around military, she’s one of them. When she talks about water skiing, she uses all the jibber jabber and knows all the terms and competitions and whatnot.

My mom loves to quilt. She has friends at all the fabric stores in Indianapolis. She goes with some of her friends to quilting shows. Her friends will discuss their latest projects and patterns and exciting quilting news. For them, there is such a thing.

I used to be somewhat envious of people’s communities. I’m a floater- and happy to be one. I never really had a set community. I’ve always had a few good friends who are clearly part of different set communities.

Then it occurred to me. I clearly do have a community. I’m one of the misfits. I’m a comedy misfit.

When I go to read thrus for the sketch show I do regularly, I’m with my people. I’m with a bunch of goofballs who make big character choices and are excellent at making words come to life for the sake of comedy.

When I go to the Groundlings for shows or workshops, I’m amongst a bunch of hilarious people who are all writing their own work and creating shows and characters. These are people who want to work in the industry and have successful careers. But also, they just want to make people laugh. Be silly. Be outrageous. Have fun.

When I’m at UCB, I’m with people passionate about improvising. People who speak the same jibber jabber lingo that I do. We admire the same actors. Know the origin stories of different improv philosophies. Talk about them nonstop. Love to perform even if it’s for three people in the worst place ever.  And- the good ones at least- listen more than they talk.

And especially when I’m at stand up mics, I’m with my people. These are a bunch of comedians who are thoughtful about their days. They look around and observe the world. They take note of interactions they have with people. They write down ideas they think might be funny. They’re willing to be brave and vulnerable in front of audiences. Even the douchebag assholes who yell at you for not thinking they’re funny- they’re my people because they want to make you laugh. They’re as insecure about their works as I am, they just show it in a different (more aggressive- less likeable) way.

In fact, comedians are quickly becoming my favorite people. They’re the loners who are willing to show up to an awkward space with a bunch of strangers and say “HEY! LISTEN TO ME!” They’re willing to be terrible because they know it’s a long-term investment. They want to meet like-minded people to work with. They want to bounce their ideas off people but are willing to say “Nah, I wanna do it this way. Thanks though,” if they don’t like what you say. They craft their voice carefully. Every word, every movement, every intonation matters. They’re willing to say the same thing over and over again until it’s perfect. And every time they say it, they pretend it’s the first time they’re sharing it with an audience. And they’re excited to be sharing it. It’s as magical as anything else.

But most importantly, all these communities are filled with people as obsessed with making people laugh as I am. They’re not interested in being the funny friend in their group of friends. They’re interested in their group of friends being nothing but funny friends. And making people they’ve never met laugh.

It’s the best.

And I call them misfits because, let’s be honest, when your passion and self worth are dependent on the feedback from total strangers, there’s something wrong with you.

Plus, if you met most of the people I hang out with, you’d agree there’s something wrong with all of us. And we would agree with you.

They’re my wonderful little funny misfits.

And I love them.