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

Standard

The Improv Life: Resting to Be Creative

The Improv Life: Resting to Be Creative

This blog post will be antithetical to the goal of this larger writing project (30 blog posts about comedy in 30 days).

Basically, you have to rest if you want to be creative.

I know sounds crazy, especially in our work obsessed, production focused, rinse and repeat comedy *entrepreneur culture.

*Like basically you got to be out there hustling, doing as many shows and side projects as possible. That’s why I use this term.

Don’t get me wrong; I encourage everyone to go out there and get it because no one is going to give it to you.

But you also have to rest. Sometimes it feels like if I’m not consuming content, creating it, or thinking about it, I’m not doing anything else, and that’s not healthy.

And here’s why that’s bad: my best ideas come to me when I’m not thinking. My mind is at ease, and I’m open and vulnerable to whatever my subconscious wants to present me.

This is a proven thing (I wish I had some sources right now).

Go wash some dishes and see if you get any cool ideas. Or like go for a walk and relax, and then see what comes up from that.

Or sometime you just need to sleep. Like a lot. Or just need to cruise with some good music on. Whatever rest means for you, do that.

It’s a parodox. If you want to do a lot, do nothing. Bear with me on this one. Your mind needs to process things. To do that, it needs time and space. You give it time and space by not constantly being busy. Being busy clouds your mind, blocking ideas from getting through.

So don’t be busy and your mind will process things. And as rest, ideas, insights, and revelations will arrive. And at that point, it’s up to you what to do with them. But at least you set the stage for them to show themselves.

#improv #writer #artist #creativity #growthhacking #comedy #subconsciousmind #think #rest

Standard

The Improv Life: The Biggest Benefits of Keeping an Improv Blog

The Improv Life: The Biggest Benefits of Keeping an Improv Blog

I’ve been blogging about my improv journey for almost 7 years. Here’s what I’ve learned after all that time.

1. I’d be lying if I remember every improv show, every set. What I remember most are moments and lessons – this blog is a way to record those moments and lessons.

2. You can be really affected by a class, show, or lesson, but it’s easy to forget it. Insights are transient. They arrive, blow your mind, and then they’re gone.

2a. Writing them down will make sure you retain some part of it.

2b. Plus, you can share your insights with the larger community and put some good out there.

2c. General rule for putting good out there: just do it, then do it again when you can, and repeat. Under no circumstances expect anything in return.

2d. Also, my insights are valid. Not saying they’re all game changers, but imposter syndrome will trick you into thinking that your experience has nothing of value to share with the world.

2e. My experience has value, so does yours.

3. Besides blogging about my insights, I also write about my journey.

3a. The specific is the universal. Meaning, I hope you can relate to parts of my highly specified, very personal journey.

3b. The more personal, the more people can connect to it. (That’s a rule applicable to most writing).

4. There are things in this journey that surround improv, things that happen off stage – rehearsals, team dinners, karaoke nights, driving up to the Clubhouse with Frankie Estrella, doing bits and talking wrestling the whole time. These and more are part of the journey, and they leave me affected, my art as well. It’s all connected I guess.

5. This blog, therefore, is a notebook to jot down my insights before I lose them, and a journal to archive important moments of my journey.

6. Basically, this blog is for me, to chronicle my journey, where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and what I’ve learned.

6a. That’s a great reason to start a blog.

7. I encourage you to chronicle your journey as well.

See you next time,

Fernando

#improv #impro #writer #lessons #notebook #journal #diary #insights #teacher #director #wisdim

Standard

The Improv Life Ep.9 with David Escobedo – Fernando’s Improv Podcast

Lots of insights and revelations in this episode. It’s a good one! Check it out!

The Improv Life Ep.9 with David Escobedo

Welcome to Episode 9 of the Improv Life Podcast 

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.

Listen on SoundCloud

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! 

Resources 

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.”

Thank You for Listening

Standard

The Improv Life Ep.4 with Mike Ransom – Fernando’s Improv Blog Podcast

Talking with Mike was a blast.

Ep.4 of The Improv Life with Mike Ransom

Welcome to Episode Four of the Improv Life! 

My wonderful guest was Mike Ransom! A dude I’ve known for a very long time! Damn, I’ve actually known Mike for over 10 years, and I have a great deal of respect and admiration for him. 

I’m a huge fan of Mike. I’ve been watching this guy crush it on the improv stage for years, bringing the audience to tears with his outrageous characters and spot-on choices. At first glance, you might think this guy is just naturally funny and goofy – which is partly true – but there is a lot of thought and intelligence in his improv. Mike thinks deeply about what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. If the audience laughs, it’s in response to Mike’s deep focus and attention for what he’s doing on stage. As an improv philosophy discussion, this has been my favorite discussion yet. 

I feel like Mike and I got closer in this interview. He opened himself up to me in a very honest and vulnerable way, and I’m glad that happened. Mike is a super talented, wonderful guy, and I hope this dude performs forever. As a friend and an improviser, three cheers to Mike! Thanks for doing the interview, brother! 

You can listen on SoundCloud too.

Here’s What Mike Ransom and I Talked About 

  • The long history we have in the Orange County Scene
  • How his long running team Instant Improv makes it work 
  • How respect and shared history leads to friendships and future partnerships 
  • How Mike, Improv Collective co-founder Jeff Ambas, and OC Improv OG Ryan Keel started improv at Marina High School with help from no one 
  • How Mike was a huge fan of Improv Shimprov, and then years later, found himself as a member of the team, and how he transitioned to playing their style 
  • Mike and I get deep on improv philosophy, how to add to a scene, the power of gifts, Mike’s Method for playing characters, and why people break  
  • How Mike and Instant Improv are transitioning to this new world of Zoom Shows
  • How Mike adapted to being an improv coach and teacher 

Links 

You can follow Instant Improv on Facebook and Instagram.

They do a show every Thursday at 7pm on Facebook Live. Their content is family friendly, so bring the whole family! You can watch their latest episode here. 

The Improv Collective is also on Facebook, and they are also doing live shows. 

Follow them here to stay on top of their latest announcements. 

My improv conversation about Mike made me think about some improv philosophy blog posts y’all might enjoy 

How To Unpack & Prove Gifts: Specs Friday 03/15/19 Drop-In – When I was a drop-in teacher for Spectacles Improv Engine, I would write a blog post for every lesson. Here I wax poetic on my philosophy for gifts. 

How To Make & Play Big Characters – Specs Drop-In Class 03/08/19 – My mantra and philosophy for playing characters.

Standard