The Improv Life: Be a Cool Person That People Want to Work with
I got one piece of advice that had been taught to me by experience and repeated by lots of my teachers: be a cool person. People want to work with people who bring a chill vibe.
Basically, don’t be a dick, jerk, asshole; in general, a person people would prefer to not spend time with because of the energy you bring and the reputation that follows you.
Not that you have to be fun 24/7 (although that helps) but people have to feel safe to be themselves around you. If you got that, than collaboration will be a lot easier.
Also, it’s emotionally draining to have to deal with an asshole who might not be aware their an asshole.
Maybe asshole is too strong of a word. What I mean is someone who is not considerate of others, puts their needs first, judges others harshly, isn’t aware of how their energy and behavior can affect a social ecosystem – just someone people wouldn’t want to hang out with.
Okay, Fernando, enough! I know how not to be an asshole! How do I become a cool person?
That’s a good question! I don’t know? I guess be nice, kind, considerate, giving, listen, be a friend, try to do good when you can, etc. I’m not saying you have to be some goody two shoes trying to save the world.
You just have to be someone people want to spend time with because of the energy you bring, the vibe you maintain, and the contributions you make.
And by the way: I’ve been an asshole too. I’m pretty sure I’ve turned people away from working with me because I was selfish, lacking empathy, asked for too much, didn’t trust enough, projected onto to people, came off insensitive, unsympathetic, and arrogant without realizing how I was making other people feel – I’ve made mistakes.
But I’m learning from every experience. I’m not trying to be a cool person because I want to be liked; I’m trying to be a cool person because I want to work with people who excite me creatively, and I want to see what we can bring into the world when we collaborate.
My biggest concern as a performer (even since my first show) has been getting over.
“Getting over” is a term pro wrestlers use to describe the experience of being embraced by the audience and becoming a fan favorite.
If you’re a wrestler, getting over is the end-all and be-all. You want to get over, and do whatever you must to stay over.
I didn’t come from a proper theater background. I grew up in a working class immigrant neighborhood in Santa Ana, CA, which is practically Mexico.
The closet theater to me was a movie theater. I grew up with no arts except for the movies I saw on HBO, the music I heard on the radio, the comic books I collected, and the tons of pro wrestling and sitcoms I watched on every television channel possible.
Pro wrestling felt different than all the other art forms. It seemed real to me (and for the longest time I thought it was) because of how much the wrestlers hated each other in ring, which was proven through the brutality of their matches.
In addition, I was sucked in by pro wrestling’s long running angles and narrative arcs anchored by strong characters I could emotionally invest in.
Wrestling gave you a reason to keep tuning in every week, to cheer the good guy, boo the bad guy, and hope justice would prevail.
The first live performance I ever went to (if you don’t count Mass) was a live WWF show at the Long Beach Convention Center in the 1993. It impacted me. It made me a life long fan and gave me a way to understand life. Shit, I did amateur wrestling my freshman year of high school because I loved wrestling so much!
Okay, what I’m trying to say is this: pro wrestling was a performance art I could understand; therefore, I could draw from it and use it to shape and inspire my own artistic journey.
So as a reminder: I love pro wrestling and have no proper theater background because I grew up in the hood.
Okay, next part. Because I felt this performer in me waiting to get out and I had no theater or role models to help me out, I channeled all this energy into wrestling.
I became a mega fan and started doing impressions of all my favorite wrestlers. I could do Stone Cold, Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Ric Flair, Paul Bearer, Vader, and more. I annoyed the hell out of my family for a few years there.
Finally, I got some improv training. And for a year, a dedicated few of us practiced every week with the hopes of one day doing a show. Then, a date was booked, and we were mere moments away from becoming comedy legends.
But wait! All this improv training did nothing to equip me mentally to perform for a live audience. Don’t get me wrong. I knew about yes-and, never deny, and don’t ask questions, but I didn’t know anything about the mental game for performing unscripted comedy theater. Who was going to help me with that?
Well, I think you know the answer: pro wrestling.
My first show is here. I’m nervous as hell. What am I going to do once we’re out there, live on stage with no script and nothing but our training and our wits to get out alive, with all eyes on us.
I needed some confidence, and fast.
But in lieu of actual confidence developed over a long time of performing show after show, building on a string of repeated failures that lead to real and measurable growth, I needed fake confidence, and lots of it.
Unfortunately, our improv training did not address the mental aspect of performing in front of a live audience.
So I looked to pro wrestling for guidance and inspiration. I literally put together a “Show Outfit,” a dedicated stage garb exclusively for performing improv comedy in front of a live audience.
My hero was Bret “The Hitman” Hart, so I leaned towards pink and black for my stage attire.
I would always shower and shave, and have a moment alone before every show to check in with myself and pump myself up with hypewords and positive psychology. In my mind, I knew I wanted to get over, and I was going to use every trick available to do that.
Did I get over? At the time, I felt like I did, but I was pretty delusional back then. Honestly, before I was going to get over with the fans, I was going to have to get over with myself.
Basically, if I was going to expect an audience to get behind me, I was going to have to present a performer who had genuine confidence. But how do you get that?
But how do you get over? Or rather, how do you build genuine confidence that gets an audience to emotionally invest in you and wants to see you succeed?
It’s pretty simple: training, shows, patience, humility, and the belief you deserve to be on stage
Training – there are no shortcuts to knowledge, especially the technical know how you’re going to need to go on stage and know what you’re doing, along with the personal breakthroughs that come with consistent practice.
Shows – Look, you got to test yourself in front of an audience. There is no substitute for performing in front of fans who are watching you with eyes wide open and giving you energy you have to acknowledge and respond to in the moment.
Patience and Humility – your growth will take time, so you can’t lose hope. And once it comes, you can’t let it give you a big head and make you feel like you know all there is to know about improv.
Belief you deserve to be on stage – okay, this one goes back to wrestling. Dusty Rhodes, the American Dream and wrestling legend, once said, “That if you don’t want to be number one in this business, you got to do something else.”
How I interpret it is that if you don’t want to be on stage, if that’s not of the upmost importance to you, you’re probably not going to get a lot of stage time, so what’s the point.
I understand that this position might alienate people, but I’m a performer, and that need to perform has driven so much of my growth as an artist. You don’t need this drive to do improv, but it is part of my drive, and I encourage you to reflect on how important performing is to your improv journey. Performing is essential for me, and that’s why I think it’s important to get over. How are you going to get over if you’re not doing a show?
So what does getting over mean to me now?
You know, the deeper I’ve gone into this art form, the more parallels I see with pro wrestling.
In pro wrestling, a proven way to get over is by having a veteran talent put you over, meaning they lose to you in a competitive match.
Beating an established star gives you the rub and you can startup getting some heat for a push, a concerted and intentional effort to build your brand and make you a superstar.
And you see it all the time too. The veterans help the next crop of stars by putting them over.
And I feel – and I have always felt – thar’s how it should be in improv. The veterans help put over the next generation by doing shows with them, training with them, sharing their knowledge, and doing whatever they can to build the next generation.
Yes, you should still focus on getting yourself over as in meaning never stop growing, taking risks, and challenging yourself as a performer. BUT also put over others wherever you can and however you can.
We serve the art as much as we serve as ourselves, and we owe it to the art – to its perpetuation, growth, and evolution – to share what we know with those who want to learn.
So, last question: am I over? Yes and no. I’ll always be over as long as I keep working hard to stay over; to stay committed to my craft by pushing myself to never stop learning and growing, and helping out whoever I can along the way.
May you get over and help put others over whenever you can.
Man, today I had a very special guest. Literally, one of my favorite people in the whole world – David Escobedo, global improviser. Also, this was my first international podcast as David is in England!
Me and David go a ways back since we were both producers for Spectacles Improv Engine, a now defunct theater in Orange County, CA, USA. David and I produced a show called Ladies and Gentlemen, and ever since then I’ve been in awe of the guy.
David is simply amazing. David is on the front lines of the global improv movement. He’s connecting with improvisers from all over the world, connecting with them and collaborating with them, discovering new ways to play and work with another.
His Facebook page, The Improv Boost, is one of the most active and visited Facebook pages for improvisers across the world. David is a community builder, and The Improv Boost is proof of that.
In this podcast, we talk about his improv journey, his recent experiences in the UK Improv Scene, his most recent insights and revelations, and much more.
Here’s What We Talked About
Why it’s nice to have your name pronounced correctly
The Mexican Food in England and where the good spots are
David’s experience as a Mexican-American man from San Diego in England
How there is a lack of awareness of Mexican culture in England, and how this ignorance causes people in the UK to celebrate Mexican culture with the things they know about it, which unfortunately are stereotypes, and how David has to educate people about his culture
David’s journey to becoming a global improviser
How David walking away from a theater that did not give him back the love he was pouring into it may have been one of the best things he’s ever done
Why he started The Improv Boost, and that by starting The Improv Boost he has transcended whatever box or finite boundaries a singular improv theater may have wanted to confine him to
Powerful quote: “When they mean family, they mean kingdom.” – Me, reflecting on David’s idea of theaters weaponizing the idea of family to keep students in line.
David’s experience in arriving to the England Improv Scene and how it was five years behind the American Scene in terms of some of the community standards of holding people accountable and dealing with toxic leaders and their “petty empires.”
Powerful quote: “It’s so important for people to realize that their journey in improv is not as someone’s student, but as their own journey in improv.” – David talking about why it’s important for people to study with a lot of people and focus on their development as an improviser, not as a disciple of a specific teacher or identifying with a certain community
David’s encounter with tribalism in the UK Improv Scene and how he combatted it
How the sense of classicism is different in England and how that affects how improv teams and communities develop
David leading by example in England and showing other groups how they can work together to elevate each other
How the British Improv Scene is developing independent of influence from the American Scene
How the Keith Johnstone school of improv is more prevalent in England and how that’s influenced the style over there
How David’s experience in England has opened up his eyes to new ways to doing improv
Individuality vs. Dividuality = Western culture vs Eastern culture
Dividuality – your actions affect a larger community
“Status is expressed how we treat other people” – David Escobedo
You can’t learn to be more creative; you’re just as creative as you are. But you can unlearn to be uncreative – David echoing Keith Johnstone
How people seek gurus but how they should be their own leader
Some of the turnoffs David experienced while studying at some of the big LA improv schools
How David to learn improv on his own, and reflecting on how he could create space for others
The pitfalls of teaching, coaching, and directing
The kind of teachers you should avoid at all costs
The relationship between skills and community, and how Gurus sell one more than the other but how you have to have both
How the UK improv scene is beginning to have conversations about boundaries as being inspired by the Me Too movement that happened in the US and forced improv theaters to have conversations about sexual harassment and create policies to combat it and create safe and inclusive spaces
Key quote – “You can have vulnerability without having boundaries” – Brené Brown
How England’s long history and tradition creates a conservative environment that makes it hard to have open and direct conversations about difficult topics like sexism and racism
Key quote – “Allow yourself to suck at something new…in the risk is where the genius happens” – David Escobedo
How Americans have to have more humility about our improv and how we relate to the global improv scene
David’s overall experience in the UK, how it is being an American in the UK and having to explain America’s politics to UK folk, and the next parts of his journey
It was awesome having David on the show, and I can’t wait to see where his journey takes him. Thank you for being on the show, brother!
Here are some of the different Facebook pages David mentioned at the end of the show. Check them out!
The Art of Yes – [From the Facebook Page] “Welcome to The Art of Yes! Our goal is to inspire others, share knowledge, and provide a forum for asking questions about improvisational theater (otherwise known as improv). All posts will be moderated, and we kindly ask you to refrain from advertising any shows or local events. We encourage you to invite friends, family, coworkers, basically anyone who is or may be interested in improv, to join the community. Hope you enjoy reading the Art of Yes as much as we enjoy creating it!”
Today Improv – [From the Facebook Page] “Today Improv is a Los Angeles based company teaching improv for actors, improv for business and improv for everyone else. Change your life”
Improv MKE[From their website] – “What if you opened an improv theater and school that brought teachers from all over the country and the world who can teach others some of the things you’ve learned over the years and continue to learn yourself? That’s what Improv MKE LLC is all about! The organization is designed to create access, both in-person and online, for people to have fun, learn, grow, and play together in ways they never thought possible! Thanks for coming by. We hope you stay to play with us. YES AND, we also do corporate stuff! Entertainment, workshops, and custom-created programs and training are available! We do it ALL!! Mainly because Michelle is no longer a baby, and has a team.”
The Black Improv Alliance – [From the Facebook Page] “The Black Improv Alliance provides a space for improvisers of African descent to build worlds and tell their authentic stories unapologetically! We are committed to dismantling white supremacy in improv, one scene at a time.”
Introducing The Improv Life Podcast and Special Thanks to Frankie Estrella
It’s here – the first episode of my new podcast: The Improv Life – Fernando’s Improv Blog Podcast!
Here’s the premise: I’m going to talk to my favorite comedians about their journeys and if they have any tips to help other artists out there right now. I’m sure we’ll talk about more, but I think I just want to sit down with people I love and respect and just talk about comedy. That simple! So I hope you check it out and follow me on SoundCloud or YouTube!
I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a while, so I decided to go “Fuck it!” and just do it!
If I’m going to be honest, the technical issues of producing a podcast are what prevented me from launching one in the past.
However, my really good friend Frankie Estrella – who is the opposite of me in so many ways – launched his own podcast a few years ago – The Whatever The FuckEver Podcast – with no care about technical issues, just a desire to talk to people.
I was his first guest actually! We actually had a big fight towards the end about wanting to play a YouTube video over the podcast studio mic, a good example of Frankie’s DIY ethos and my need to know how to do something before doing it.
Seeing Frankie launch his own podcast and develop a show throughout these past few years really inspired me to start thinking about launching my own podcast.
So for that I want to say! Thank you, Frankie! Couldn’t do this without you!
Love you brother.
Welcome to The Premier of Fernando’s Improv Blog Podcast – The Improv Life!
You can listen to the first episode below on SoundCloud.
Our first guest ever is none other than the amazing Ricardo Feliciano!
Ricardo is an LA improv vet with over 10 years of experience in the scene. He has been there and done that!
Ricardo and I were supposed to be on a Pack House team together, but it just wasn’t in the cards for us at that time. Since then, Ricardo and I have become great friends because of his amazing show EBay Power Selling 101, a surreal talk show about the highs and lows of selling on EBay, a show he co-hosts and co-produces along with Jay Light.
In this first episode, Richardo and I talk about
The importance of taking breaks and walking away from improv
Why you need to other art forms besides improv
How do you go beyond what’s expected as a performer and give the audience a special experience.
Finding the balance between production value and performance
The poor habits improvisers develop when they get settled
Ricardo’s amazing Pack House Improv Team audition
How to be on a house team again after it had been a while
Building a new improv night from scratch at the Pack with his new house team
Team dynamics: you’re not going to be BFFs with all your teammates
The goals of an improv house team vs the goals of a house sketch team
Embracing the thing you do that the audience comes to see
I’ve been very lucky to produce a lot of shows this year.
As much as I enjoy being a writer, performer, and director, being a producer brings its own special reward.
You create this thing — a show — that brings a lot of people together and lets them share their talents with the world.
Producers unleash creativity on a mass scale, and we’re all better off for it.
However, there is one thing as producers we all have to accept.
No one needs to see your show.
Hurts to say that, and hurts to write it. But it’s an indisputable truth about being an artist and entertainer.
We’re competing for people’s time and attention against Netflix, Hulu, Avengers Endgame, another Warriors NBA Championship Run, hooking up on Tinder, vegging out on the couch, and just anything else that is easier than showering, getting dressed, driving to a theater, and paying $5, $8, $10 for a live comedy show.
So how do you compete in this saturated marketplace where the buffet of entertainment options is limitless?
You have to care about your show.
And that is the no.1 responsibility of a producer.
You have to care enough to do whatever it takes to make your show successful.
You have to rent rehearsal spaces, coordinate schedules, write emails, write copy for advertisements and social media, talk to writers, performers, directors and whoever else, and put out fires. Always putting out fires.
And these are just the standard things that come with the job.
And they require a lot of energy.
Delivering a show from concept to show date is a mountain climb.
But the journey, although vigorous and exhausting physically and emotionally, is worth it once you get to the mountain top and see your great work laid before you.
That’s why we produce: to accomplish incredible things.
And to do that, you have to care.
That will always be the no.1 responsibility of a producer — the rest fall underneath it.
Now go produce a show!
Shout out to all the producers out there creating opportunities for people and delivering shows — thank you.