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The Improv Life: My First Comedy Teacher, Norm Macdonald

The Improv Life: My First Comedy Teacher, Norm Macdonald

You learn comedy by mimicking the people you look up to, the people who make you laugh the most.

In my early forays into comedy as a teenager, I was just ripping off Norm Macdonald bits and tried to pass them off as my own.

I learned to say outrageous things, just flat out lies, in the most straight man way possible, just like he did in Weekend Update.

I guess you would call it deadpan, but I never leaned into the punchline, or hinted that I was doing a bit. I just said bizarre, absurd things in a very matter of fact way to whoever was around.

My friends knew I was doing a bit, but other people would just continue talking to me as normal with me being an emotionless ass.

I would always say, “Note to Self,” pantomime a tape recorder, and record some absurd sentence that I thought was funny. “Note to Self: create secret language for my friends and I to talk about that thing we all do in private when no one is watching, but people know what we’re doing.”

I always used “Note to Self” to make a zinger about whatever was happening around me while the thing was still relevant. I guess I was learning timing from Norm.

Or even now, I still do his fake shock. In Dirty Work, or Weekend Update, he would say a joke with some surprising piece of information, act a wee bit shocked (but not really) to drive home how insane or absurd is the joke he just delivered.

Like he would say a joke with a little bit of shock, expect the audience to get it, hold for a moment, and then either address if the person got it or moved on.

Dirty Work taught me how to fish for funny people in life. If you’re working with someone and you softball them a joke with a light delivery, and wait for them to get it or not, their response (going along with your bit or going over their head) will reveal if they’re cool or not.

Out in the wild comedians have to sniff each other out. Bits are a way for us to find each other and seek refuge in each other’s company.

You always gave me refuge, Norm. And you taught me more than I ever knew. RIP, brother.

#normmacdonald #weekendupdate
#snl #dirtywork

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The Improv Life: Del Taco Nights

No one beats Del Taco nights.

The Improv Life: Del Taco Nights

On almost any given Friday or Saturday night, I could roll on over to STAGES Theater and catch whatever improv show Spectacles Improv Engine was putting on that night.

If it wasn’t packed, I’d sit at the very last row and watch. If it was IFL, I knew I was in for a treat. Austin Floyd and Matt Thomas would be hosting, the field reporter would take suggestions, and the teams would be doing improv, and we were just living up the magic of each other’s company.

I remember there was this one time where the improv was amazing, Austin was on fire with his quips, he was even responding to my heckles from the top row, where I took off my shoes because no one was around, and I was exhausted, and then when I felt safe and vulnerable, I thought to myself, “This isn’t going to last forever.”

I don’t know why I thought that. It was a thought that came to the surface when I was off guard. I looked at the stage and got a little sad.

I then immediately buried the feeling and tried not to think about it. I just knew that I was witnessing a really cool moment that would stay with me from then on.

Once the show was over, I think I went down the steps to shake hands and give hugs and let everyone know how amazing of a show it was.

I had just had a long day in LA and hadn’t ate in more than 8 hours. I had a terrible diet back then, forcing myself to go without food until I couldn’t stand the hunger.

So I went to Del Taco, the one on State College and Chapman, ordered whatever, and then ate it in my car.

It was a very Orange County thing to do: eat Del Taco after a super late show.

Being an improv comedian in Orange County meant late nights: late shows, late dinners, late karaoke jams, late hangs in the parking lot spilling your guts to your peers, or opening your heart to a new friend; you let the day linger to its last second because you wanted to feel like you did all you could that day to squeeze every ounce of value and joy from this day that would be gone forever.

Del Taco was just part of that lifestyle.

I lived late, laughed late, and ate Del Beef Burritos after midnight.

I ate Del Taco to cool down my mind, body, and soul after an epic day.

To get some calories for the drive home.

To begin to let go of a day that had to end.

When I was at Specs, even when maybe it wasn’t the best or it was phenomenal and people would quote that shit forever, I did not want it to end.

I wanted the night to continue and go on, to see more improv, and do more improv; to just laugh like a dumb kid and throw out suggestions that were also bits; to see my friends and marvel at their skills.

Del Taco was necessary for me to end the day, accept it was over, and go to bed to not be too exhausted for the next one.

And you can substitute Del Taco for Norms, Denny’s, whatever post game late night meal to draw the day out a little longer. The bonus about those places was that you ate with friends.

I miss Specs. I don’t know if I have fully processed it’s over (despite playing in a show that was labeled as the Last Specs Show). Maybe I’m not good at processing reality or dealing with trauma, but not eating Del Taco at the State College and Chapman location for over a year finally convinced me it’s over.

Love you Specs. Thank you for all the good times and memories, the friendships and lessons, the feeling of being alive. I will forever be in your debt.

Love you too Del Taco.

#improv #ocimprov #specsimprov


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A Poem For Orange County Improv

A Poem For Orange County Improv

Look man
We taught ourselves improv
In people’s living rooms
And coffee shops
And at as many shows
As we could possibly have

I mean as many shows as possible
In front of great fans
Half who were your peers
Friends and family
And half real fans
Born from someone else’s
Friends and family
And more peers

Nobody was better
Than anybody else
Except for the perception
You had in your mind
Which told you
You were better than everybody else
Because you were insecure
Or that you sucked
Because you were insecure

But we were all geniuses
And we all sucked
Just depended on the night
But we were all watching
Hoping for the best

It was all of us
Behind the Orange Curtain
Doing it for fun
For community
Because it made us feel alive
And because it gave our life: purpose

If you’re looking for purpose
That’s what you need
Fun + Community
+ Making you feel alive

And we had that
And you lived for
Your once a week practice
Your once a month show
And all the other shows
Where you would hug everyone
You know and you called them: brother

Like pro-wrestlers
Because we were brothers
Because we prioritized
This art from and our community
Over own families
And other communities
And the love we gave each other
Was the love you give family
So it became a family by choice

And yeah man
There was bullshit
Petty petty petty grudges
And cliques that made people
Feel alienated
Fake friends and shit talking
Favoritism and discrimination
Problems all communities face
Regardless of size

But man it was different
Because we had to
Teach each other basically
I mean like literally educate each other
About everything
Build civilization from scratch
With trial and error
As our brick and mortar

And yeah, LA was just next door
But what we had down here
Was special
Not because it was local
Okay because it was local
But because all these amazing people
Came together
To do something they love
And from that love
A community was born
And what is a community born in love
Home

Thank you
for making me
The man I am
Orange County Improv

161.20 #poem #improv #sketch #ocimprov #specsimprov #improvcollective #man #growth #community #family #home #artist #comedy #goodtimes

PC: Jas Sams

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Somethings Are Hard to Explain: Synchronicity & Big Selfie

I loved Canters Deli the moment I walked in, just like I loved Big Selfie the first time we played together.

How do you connect everything?

Synchronicity is the idea that unrelated events have a central cause.

More mysticism than science, this phenomenon can only be proven over time.

Moreover, I don’t think one can comprehend its entirety; in a nonsensical world, how do you pinpoint the main cause of seemingly unrelated events; how do you determine a major cause from a minor one; how do you argue Synchronicity has taken place?

I want to make a case for Big Selfie being a real life example of Synchronicity. But then I can’t.

I feel that I would be ascribing myself with a level of intelligence I do not possess. The case I was going to make, I realize now, would’ve been a shallow analysis of this grander phenomenon.

My analysis: this team was born because of an opportunity for me to build a dream team that would perform a one off show at the OC Improv Collective. However, I can go no further in deciphering what was the genesis point of this Synchronicity.

Was it that a show opportunity popped up at a theater I was a part of?

Or was it that the theater existed in the first place for us to even have a space to perform in?

Then, at the individual level, it gets freakier: how did all these individuals’ schedules line up perfectly? How did seven kind-a strangers gell so well?

Finally, it gets even more profound as I try to understand how each individual member came to improv. What factors caused them to do this artform and not others? Again, this is an intelligence I don’t have, nor do I want.

So I don’t question it. I just accept the fact that I’m lucky to be on this team.

It took incredible luck to arrive at this point, meet these wonderful people, and build something great together.

Maybe Synchronicity & Luck are just two dudes at a bar buying drinks for everybody, and where one goes the other follows.

Love the people in your life. Don’t question it too deeply. ┬áLive with the mystery. Enjoy their company, love each other, and build something from that. That’s probably the best thing we can do.

#improv #synchronicity #bigselfie

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