The Improv Life: Everything’s Changed, Nothing’s Changed

The Improv Life: Everything’s Changed, Nothing’s Changed

We used to do shows in Downtown Santa Ana when I first started.

Those shows were special to me because performing in my home town was validation that I was on the right path.

I would ask my work if I could get off early in order to make it on time.

I’d then go to Starbucks, get some coffee, and get in the zone.

Nothing else mattered. My entire week was building up to this moment. We’d then do the show, win, lose, or draw, and then it was over. But I just wanted to be back on stage. The cycle would start over as I waited to be booked.

There would be jams, practices, dinners, whatevs. We did improv wherever they would have us. LA was close, but the cultural distance made it seem a galaxy away.

We were hunter gatherers learning how to kill our food in the parking lots, cafe patios, and random community college spaces of Orange County.

We were our own teachers because that’s just how it was. An exciting time, a time of growth and exploration, a time that would impact us forever.

But doing a show, man. That’s what it’s about. And that’s still what’s it about. Doing a show is the end-all and be-all of this art form for many of us. I know that’s a controversial statement for some, but there’s a different feeling to doing improv in a living room with your team as compared to doing a live show with your friends in front of a packed theater.

The audience, man, we need them. The energy they give us affects how we perform, and this exchange of energy is what makes performing live one of the best experiences on Earth – you’ll get the highest high performing at your peak in front of an engaged audience hanging on to everything you do.

All these years, so much has changed, but the core things remain the same, and that’s why I stay in this amazing game.

#improv #performer #show #theater #dtsa #validation #artist

Standard

The Improv Life: Trying to Salvage This Blog From My Extreme Neglect

The Macho Man “Randy Salvage.” Okay, that was a cool pun, but this was the closest pic I could find in my media library that fits my current mood.

By me, Fernando A. Funes

Trying To Salvage This Blog From My Extreme Neglect

I feel like if you switched out a few words in the title of this post, it would describe my human experience – Trying to Salvage My Life From Extreme Neglect.

In fact, if I ever make it BIG, and I mean so BIG, I don’t have to work a real job ever again, I might call my cash-grab autobiography that.

And believe me, that book will be 100% Fernando A. Funes propaganda on the level of the ridiculous documentary, History of the Eagles Part 1 and 2.

I would be both Glen Frey and Don Henley.

Whoever my David Geffen is, I would have that person in the documentary to just serve as a famous person that helped me out but who I still shit on. I would make broad, indirect swipes at Neil Young, even though I’m nowhere near his level.

This is all just fantasy. I’m just a – and this is a nod to a great but now defunct podcast – Journeyman Improviser.

So I’ve neglected this blog.

There was a time when I would write in it frequently, especially in the heyday of my Orange County Improv Days.

In fact, this blog was created to keep me focused on growing and developing as an improviser because I knew that I would not be as active in Orange County as I had been in San Francisco.

There are a lot of good times recorded in this blog.

It’s a diary of a time when Improv in the OC was golden, and I didn’t need to go to LA because there was enough here to keep me busy, engaged, and growing.

Most of the blogs are sentimental.

How so? Because I was neglected, I’m sentimental. Because I’m sentimental, I’m aware how soon things come and go; how you have to appreciate the present because it’s not going to last.

I don’t like being sentimental – mostly because people who are not sentimental don’t dig that part of me – but fuck it, that’s who I am, and I’m not going to suppress it. This blog has been a great tool in accepting that part of myself.

This blog post, A Poem For Orange County Improv, is proof of my sentimentality – it’s about my love of Orange County Improv and how a bunch of us came of age together in the OC doing improv.

Alas, LA is next door.

I just didn’t feel that I needed to go to LA.

That’s bullshit. The more comedy you do, the deeper you get into, the louder the call of LA becomes.

Half of the people I know in LA – and multiply that half by two – are here because the need to do comedy, as much of it as possible, became so overwhelming that they had to come to LA. Of course, it’s more nuanced than that, but that’s been my general experience.

I’m just very lucky that LA is next door.

Driving down The 5 sucks, but I didn’t need to move here from New Jersey (a lot of people out here seem to be from New Jersey).

So I got sucked in by LA.

And there was a time where I could do comedy both Orange County and LA, but LA’s gravity slowly pulled me closer and closer until one day I woke up and realized that 90% of my comedy life was now in Los Angeles.

The more time I spent in LA, the less time I would spend in Orange County, dwindling down to one improv show a month (the first Friday of the month with Big Selfie) and the less I would write in this blog.

Neglecting This Blog

I feel bad. I worked really hard to build this blog into something, a channel for sharing my love of improv with the world.

And I just neglected it. A common theme in my life.

I’ve neglected a bunch of things, mostly involving my relationships with people.

On the other side of neglect – not the desire to squeeze everything out of every possible moment because you know it will be gone someday – is not understanding how important something is.

You have something, but you don’t realize how precious or delicate it is. And you don’t nurture it, give it the attention it deserves, or stop giving it the attention you once gave it.

Eventually, it withers and dies, and resentment takes it place. And resentment can last a long time.

To all the people I’ve neglected whether knowingly or unknowingly, there is nothing I can ever do to make up for not giving you the proper attention. I apologize for sucking you into my cycle of neglect, and you are under no obligations to forgive me. I just hope I can grow past the cycle of neglect and be a more responsible human being.

So What Am I Going To Do Next?

I’m just going to try to start writing in this blog again.

How do you overcome neglect? Action. Action is the only remedy for neglect.

Not just random action, but calculated efforts to rebuild this blog one post at a time.

To start off, I’m going to read Truth In Comedy and post my sincere opinions about it in here. It’s not much, but it’s a start! This is my comeback angle, baby!

On the real, this blog helped me grow and develop as an improviser and sketch comedian, and just overall comedy artist.

I don’t know if I would be where I am today had it not been for this blog. This blog forced me to think deeply about comedy and share those insights with whoever would have them.

If I can stay true to that promise throughout the life of this blog, then I’ll be okay.

Fernando.

Standard

The Improv Life: Start Where You Are With What You Have

Where We Are Now Is Not Where We Began

I was driving on one of America’s worst highways yesterday at one of the worst times: The 405 North at rush hour in the South Coast corridor bleeding into Huntington Beach and Westminster.

This part of the 405 is a wall of traffic. It’s like driving in jello. Six lanes provide no relief. If anything, being surrounded by so many vehicles moving at a sun dials pace sets in existential dread.

You think to yourself, “Fuck this traffic, fuck this drive. Why am I doing this?”

What’s funny is for years I did this drive to learn improv.

Every Thursday night, I would drive from Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa to a coffee shop in Old World Village in Huntington Beach.

A group of us were hungry to do more improv than our once a week, 3-hour class at Orange Coast College.

We banded together and taught each other improv through instinct, experimentation, and ambition to be the best.

It’s like we all had this feeling of what good improv was, and what it could be, but we lacked the skill and experience to execute it.

Until then, we we’re going to have to just practice like hell and have patience with the process, and to have faith that one day we would be good.

We probably sucked. I don’t know? All we had was each other as our judges of taste.

However, we were in that stage of learning something called Unconscious Incompetence – we weren’t aware that we were bad (if we were at all? Probably).

We knew, Yes-And, don’t ask questions, don’t deny, and commit.

It’s like we were a bunch of cro-magnon cavemen with flint spears and a whiff of a nearby Woolly Mammoth – we were hungry and wanted to test ourselves.

We just played every short form game over and over because we liked them, unaware that every game reinforced some core improv concept.

New Choice taught you to listen, commit, and adapt.

Good, Bad, Worse taught you how to create a character and commit to living as them.

Countdown taught you to silence the voice in your head and just commit.

We didn’t know we were learning core skills, embedding them into our improv muscle memory. We were just having fun.

All the other stuff would come later –

wanting to start a team,

The slow drift into factions,

feeling insecure about yourself so you talk shit behind other people’s backs;

the petty power politics of the local improv scene and thinking you’re more important than you are;

The toxic improv groups nobody wants to leave because everyone is too chicken shit to talk openly about their feelings.


But good things we’re also waiting for us in the future:

Sold out shows to standing room only audiences,

Hanging out at Norms at midnight with your crew,

The endless parade of bits that made you feel connected to your teammates;

those breakthrough moments on stage where you bring the house down with a crazy character, genius support move, or heart felt monologue;

that moment outside after a show when you look at your friends and know you’re both thinking, “We did something amazing.” All that was in the future.

Right now, all we had was doing improv once a week at a random coffee shop in Huntington Beach.

It’s where we needed be.

It’s where we set the foundation for our future.


Cheers to all the friends front back then, and thanks to Amir the coffee shop owner for letting us play on his patio.

#improv #student #orangecounty #ocimprov

Standard

How To Edit Part II: The Art of Tagging — Notes from the 04/19/19 Specs Friday Drop-In

I talk about my friend John Combs in the post, so here’s a pic from way back.

Notes from 04/19/19

Two weeks ago, I taught everyone how to edit scenes in terms of ending. For the following week, I wanted to teach students how to edit in terms of tagging.

Tagging is the second tool you have in your tool belt when doing long form improv. Along with ending scenes through a swipe or clap, tagging is a way to move a long form set along and discover new things in your show.

What is tagging?

Tagging is a way of transporting interesting characters to new and different settings to see how they would react in those situations.

How do you actually physically do that?

Person A and Person B are doing a scene.

Person C on the sidelines finds Person A’s character interesting for some reason.

Person C taps Person B on the shoulder.

Person B exits the scene and Person C takes the position Person B was in.

Person C begins a brand new scene with Person A.

Person A remains the same character as before; they are just in a new situation with a new character, but their character remains the same.

Person A and Person C then do a brand new scene together.

Person D is watching from the sidelines, and they are also fascinated with Person A. Therefore, they tap Person C and start a brand new scene with Person A, who remains the character they were before?

Is there a shorter way of saying all that?

Sure! If you’re on the sideline watching two performers play, and if there is one performer who has an interesting character you want to play with or have a good idea for them, you tag the other person (the shoulder tap) they are playing with and start a brand new scene with that interesting character, and you take it from there.

Other people then have free reign to do the same or to edit the scene once they feel that character has said all they can say. Hope that is easier to understand!

Can you give an example then?

A few years ago, I was doing a show with my sweetheart team, Big Selfie.

Inspired by a monologue of mine where I talked about a man who I thought was my dad’s best friend but realized during the story that he was not, Big Selfie member John Combs came out and did a scene with me. Here is how it went.

Fernando: Dude, you’re my best friend.

John Combs: Dude, you’re my best friend too…Well…”

That last “Well….” John dropped got a huge response from the audience. He took a small pause in between, lifted his finger up as if he was going to say something, and the inflection in his voice communicated obvious doubt. There were so many elements to his character .

Brandon Thresher then tagged me out and did a scene with John.

Brandon: Wasn’t that an amazing breakfast?

John Combs: It was an amazing breakfast…Well…

Again, the audience got a huge reaction out of John just being this interesting character who always second guessed things in such an obvious manner.

Finally, Liam O’Mahoney or Dustyn Willoughby tagged Brandon out and did one final scene with John where he was forced to backtrack on a statement and go “Well…”

There have been a million examples and this is the one that comes to mind.

Why did you guys tag out each other so many times to do scenes with John Combs?

As soon as the audience responded in uproarious laughter at John’s “Well…” character, and because we all knew where that character was inspired from — my monologue about my dad — it was easy to play with John’s character.

We were all on the same page about who this character was and how they responded to things; all we needed to do was put this character in new situations where he could respond the way the rest of us (Big Selfie and audience) expected him too. And that’s exactly what John did.

That tag run — what we call a series of tag outs followed one by the other — is one of the best things I’ve ever been a part of — thank you, Big Selfie and John Combs.

That sounds like fun!

It is fun! Once you find an interesting character or situation that everyone is on agreement on — team and audience — the possibilities are endless.

Tag outs are a great way to go on a journey with a character or to build a universe.

Sometimes tags get crazy and you end up being ina fleshed out world that has different rules than the one we currently live in.

What’s amazing is that the audience is with you the whole way. They are watching, observing, and listening as much as you are.

Believe me, an excellent tag run where everyone is on board and in agreement on what is happening, and what could potentially occur/exist, is one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have on stage.

I hope you enjoyed these notes and see you at a drop-in class sooner than later!

Fernando A. Funes

Spectacles Improv Engine host drop-in Improv Classes every Friday from 12pm to 2pm and every Sunday from 11am to 1pm at STAGES Theater in Fullerton. Classes are $10, and every class is different from the other. Check it out!

One more pic with John Combs just because I love the guy and miss him.

Standard

How to Edit: Long Form Basics Pt.1 — Notes from the 04/12/19 Specs Friday Drop-In

I love what I do and I love doing it.

How To Edit by Fernando A. Funes

As a teacher, I want to teach what I know.

So what do I know best? Long Form!

I’ve done what seems like hundreds of long form sets know from all the shows, jams, and practices.

I then realized that one of the most overlooked, taken for granted, and underappreciated skills is editing –how to edit, knowing when to edit, and why you should edit.

I then thought to myself, “I have to teach this! So I did!” The following is my thoughts on editing and some of the stuff I taught in my Friday 04/12/19 class.

What is editing?

Editing is ending a scene, or it is transitioning to a new scene.

How do we edit?

Stand back and watch a scene. Give it your full attention.

Ask yourself if the scene needs anything. If it does, go in and add it.

Maybe it needs someone to add background information like adding a location. I’ve been a waiter a million times dropping off water for two people sitting across from each other. Just depends on the situation.

If it doesn’t, watch the scene and let it breathe. Sometimes a good scene doesn’t need anything but space. Watch the scene and stay focused.

Once the scene has reached a high point — a conclusion, a laugh, a funny thing that wraps everything up — edit the scene.

When do you edit a scene?

Look for a button.

A button is a way to end a scene that provides closure for the scene and ends the scene on a high note.

A button could be a big laugh. For example, someone in the scene said something that got a huge laugh because it built upon a bunch of things that were established previously in the scene

A button, more often than not, is just a big laugh line that seems like a good place to end a scene.

Why do you edit?

You want your scenes to end on high notes because that keeps the audience wanting more and it keeps them watching.

If you let scenes drag on for too long –not editing scenes that should’ve been edited earlier — you may lose the audience. And if you lose the audience, your show’s energy will dip, and you will feel it on stage.

Once you lose an audience, or you feel an energy shift because you noticed they are not reacting the way you want them to or expect to, it’s hard to get them back.

Therefore, you always want to edit their scenes at their highest point as to keep the audience happy and keep the energy high.

If you can do that, you’re likelihood of having a good show increases, and if you have a good show, you’ll increase the chances of that same audience coming back to see you again and becoming loyal fans.

I get it, but how do I actually physically edit a scene?

There are a million ways to edit.

Editing techniques will vary by market, region, and school, and ultimately, it’s about finding what works for you and your groups, or what is the uniform practice of your improv community.
Here are two of the most common!

The Swipe — someone runs across the stage during a scene as if sweeping a dry erase board. The scene is ended and a new one can begin.

The Tag — Two people are in a scene, person A and person B. One person from the backline, person C, taps Person A on the shoulder because they want to do a brand new scene with Person B. Person C then takes Person A’s place to do a brand new scene with Person B. Person B remains the same character.

The most common long form format, the Montage, is composed solely of Swipes and Tags, and a lot of other long form formats utilize these techniques as well.

What did you teach?

We started off by doing two person scenes and me calling scenes and then discussing why I called a scene.

We talked out why a certain moment felt like an ending, and what were the elements we could list off that gave it that feeling.

We did this multiple times so that people started becoming aware of how much attention they have to pay during a scene. I still called the scenes, but I asked individual students their thoughts on why I called a scene.

All the answers were in the vein that it felt like a right moment to do it. For example, a scene had a huge laugh on a line that seemed to wrap everything up was a common answer.

Explaining a button isn’t always easy, but recognizing a button and calling a scene isn’t as hard.

It’s like you know a button when you see it, and that’s a good starting point.

What did you do after talking about scene buttons?

Okay, since I was working with players of various experience levels, some having had training and some being new to the art form, I wanted to use an easy long form that was user friendly. Therefore, I taught them the Usual Suspects format.

The Usual Suspects format is a long form developed by Spectacles Improv Engine, and that is currently performed by Pictures of Spaghetti, one of the best long form teams in Orange County.

*Full Disclosure: I’m a big fan of Pictures of Spaghetti, and I believe everyone should go watch them. Here’s a blog post about them I wrote way back. Check it out! => https://fernandosimprovblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/29/the-improv-life-scene-edits-or-why-pictures-of-spaghetti-rocks/

Players line up in a backline in an A-B-C-D-E-F order.

Player A and Player B come down from the backline and ask the audience for a suggestion.

They then do a scene.

Whenever it’s reached a high point or big laugh, someone from the backline claps to signal the end of the scene and goes back to the audience for another suggestion for a brand new scene.

They use the following prompt: “That scene was about horses. What else reminds you of horses?”

They get a suggestion from the audience for a new scene between Player B and Player C.

The process repeats itself until every pairing has gone down the line or the allotted show time expires.

The scenes are not related although they can be. That’s up to the players whether or not they want to make a call back.

Players have the liberty to tag into scenes and explore those universes if they wish. Tags allow for players in the backline to explore interesting scene ideas or characters they want to play with, and are overall encouraged if there is something to be played with in a scene.

Scenes can be long. Scenes can be short. It just depends on the backline and their instincts to edit.

Why did you teach this form?

What I’ve always liked about the Usual Suspects format is its focus on editing.

The clap is such a conclusive way to end a scene that there is no ambiguity in this edit.

Edits have to be clear and final. Ambiguity makes for awkward edits, and awkward edits make for awkward shows, so watch out for it.

Essentially, the clap is functioning as a swipe.

Also, this format puts pressure on the backline to watch scenes, observe them at a deeper level, and be hyper vigilant about when to edit.

To have success in this form, you cannot be afraid to edit, nor can you push that responsibility to another teammate who you feel is better at it. What if they are in a scene? Who is going to edit them? You will become a fearless editor, and that will help you out in all areas of your improv journey.

Amongst its many joys and skill builders, the Usual Suspects format will teach you how to edit.

So what happened next after you taught them the Usual Suspects format?

They edited their own scenes! Scenes were shorter than average, but that is because people were hyper vigilant about ending scenes on a high note.

Also, since students couldn’t count on me to call scene for them, they had to be their to have their fellow students’ backs and edit scenes at high points and keep the energy up.

Afterwards, I asked the students how they felt, and one thing that stuck out to me was the need to observe scenes on a deeper level and be ready to call scene at the perfect moment.

How did that make you feel?

Amazing! I felt like the lesson I was trying to teach was communicated clearly and effectively.

Editing isn’t something I was taught in a lot of my improv classes because it’s assumed that you already knew how.

However, if you’re going to drive a car, you have to know how the different gears in the transmission work. You have to know how to accelerate, break, and change lanes.

You have to be aware at all times of your vehicle and your experience in the vehicle. To be oblivious of those things is dangerous.

The same goes for a long form set.

You have to be aware at all times of what is going on.

You have to be able to adapt and respond at a moment’s notice depending on what your team may need from you or how the energy of the audience is affecting your set.

It’s a hypervigilance that rewards you with amazing stage moments when you submit your full attention to the set, but it punishes you if you’re distracted or not giving it your full care and concern.

Damn, this is a lot to take in! What next?

Come to my drop-ins! Come study with me! Come study with Matt Thomas on Sundays from 11am to 1pm! Basically, go do improv and learn this for yourself!

Improv is fun! That’s why I do it! If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be here!

Yes, there are technical things you have to know to succeed in it — like any art form — but once you master those technical things, your improv abilities will sky rocket and you’ll be doing things you never imaged.

Yes, editing may seem like a given for a lot of people, but it’s a skill that needs to be developed by everyone if they want to be an amazing improviser.

So please go out there and do some improv.

Love,

Fernando A. Funes.

Spectacles Improv Engine host drop-in Improv Classes every Friday from 12pm to 2pm and every Sunday from 11am to 1pm at STAGES Theater in Fullerton. Classes are $10, and every class is different from the other. Check it out!

Standard