019 - The Bristol Improv Theater - On community focus, improv as a process, and balancing strong offers with discovery

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An interview on the craft of comedy with the directors of the Bristol Improv Theatre (BIT), soon to be the UK’s first improv theater! On this episode, I speak with Andy Yeoh, the Theatre Director of the BIT and Caitlin Campbell, the Assistant Theatre Director of the BIT who are also instructors with the BIT theatre school, performers on the BIT house company, Degrees of Error, and two of the sweetest human beings.

We discuss the BIT’s focus on building community (and the general “skillshare” culture in the British improv scene), BIT’s course structure and teaching approach derived from viewing improv as a process, their personal scenework approach to balancing strong offers with emotional discoveries, and the challenges of buying real estate in the UK.

To contribute to their fundraising campaign, navigate to: buildthebit.com.

Recorded in studio in Pittsburgh and Bristol, UK. For past episodes, visit http://brianmgray.com/podcast.

Music in the podcast:

018 - Megan Gray - On her confidence journey, gender and all women improv spaces, and positive notes

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An interview on the craft of comedy with the Artistic Director of the Magnet Theater in New York City, member of the Magnet resident team Junior Varsity, producer of the monthly all-female improv show “We Might Just Kiss” and level one teacher Megan Gray. The Magnet is an open and welcoming community where they teach anyone to improvise, and Megan embodies that philosophy.

Megan and I discuss her journey to become more confident on stage, the differences between mixed-gender teams and teams with only women, how she gives positive and supportive notes, and so much more! Also the debut of rapid-fire questions!

Note: you can overhear lively Magnet classes throughout much of the episode–apologies if this is bothersome.

Recorded at the Magnet Training Center in New York City. For past episodes, visit http://brianmgray.com/podcast.

More info on the Magnet Theater at http://www.magnettheater.com.

Music in the podcast:

017 - Kevin McDonald on the Kids in the Hall Writing Process, Dynamics of the Writers' Room and the Confidence of Experience

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Interview with comedian, actor, voice artist and co-founder of the edgy, dark and surreal sketch comedy troupe Kids in the Hall, Kevin McDonald. Kids in the Hall brought us 5 seasons of ground-breaking sketch comedy, the feature film Brain Candy, live tours, and mini-series Death Comes to Town. I spent my formative years watching Kids reruns after school, and learned that a lot was possible with sketch comedy. I was delighted to meet Kevin and learn that he is not only an incredible talent, but also kind, generous and humble.

Kevin and I discuss the process by which the Kids wrote a new weekly sketch show before the TV series (and to some degree during and after) by improvising pitches to refine them into sketches, the dynamics of the Kids writers’ room that led to such gifts as their inspired monologues, and the confidence of experience that allows Kevin to improvise with such ease.

After the interview, we improvise a short scene and Kevin describes how he might instruct students to write it into a sketch, then Kevin takes questions from the audience. Here's video of our improv.

We refer to a number of Kids in the Hall sketches throughout the interview that I am including here for reference:

Music in the podcast:

016 - Matt Holmes - On Improvising with Non-Improvisers and his 3 Simple Steps

 Matt Holmes interviewing Shai, his partner from the audience at a Matt & performance at Arcade Comedy Theater in Pittsburgh.

Matt Holmes interviewing Shai, his partner from the audience at a Matt & performance at Arcade Comedy Theater in Pittsburgh.

My latest interview features Philly native, 15+ year improv veteran, co-founder of renowned Philadelphia improv team Rare Bird Show, and creator of a show in which he improvises a 20- to 45-minute long form set with an audience member who has never done improv before, Matt Holmes. His show–Matt &–has enthralled me every time I've seen it, enough that I helped bring him to Pittsburgh and enjoyed lots of shop talk at my kitchen table. It took a few months to get him on the show.

Matt and I talk about the fascinating strategy he has to prepare to improvise with non-improvisers, his 3 simple steps to fun improv, and the big ideas that are occupying his mind right now.

Note: this is another episode recorded remotely, and sound quality is not always as good as I'd like it throughout the episode. 

Find more about Matt at http://www.mattandimprov.com.

Music in the podcast:

015 - Susan Messing - On Doing What the F*ck She Wants and the Annoyance Philosophy

At the Detroit Improv Festival, I felt so lucky to grab a few minutes of time with 30+ year improv veteran, founding member of the Annoyance Theater, performer and teacher at iO and Second City, the ever-inspiring Susan Messing.

We chat about the three different institutions Susan performs at, dive deeper on the Susan Messing quotes that have had a big impact on me, and what gets her off on stage.

We didn't have time for a set, but we did get to record in front of a moped gang! So enjoy the street noises!

Music in the podcast:

014 - Kevin Mullaney - On Clear Games and Using Both Organic and Premise-Based Styles

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At Improv Wins in Austin, I also caught up with Artistic Director for the Chicago Improv Festival. Artistic Director for Under The Gun Theater and former head of the training program and Artistic Director of the UCB Theater Kevin Mullaney

Brian and Kevin talk about how, since moving back to Chicago, Kevin has come to admire premise-based improv and teach it as a core way to approach scenes, particularly later in Harold. He talks about his view of games and turning an unusual moment into a game (and how they are not the same thing).

We played a few scenes, focusing on using edits to heighten character's game from the previous scene. It went ok and led to a fantastic discussion!

Thanks to The New Movement for letting us record in their classroom!

Music in the podcast:

 

013 - Chris Trew - On How Everything is Improv, the Power of Positivity and Building a Language of Improv

The return of Talking Shop features an interview with a founding member of The New Movement theaters in Austin and New Orleans, improv performer and teacher, co-author of Improv Wins, stand-up comic, the creator of the Air Sex World Championship, a pro wrestling manager, a sports columnist and podcaster, and rapper, Chris Trew. The Austin Chronicle has said “Chris Trew is out of his fucking mind.”

Brian and Chris talk about how all of his varied pursuits are filtered for him through a lens of comedy and specifically the supportive and collaborative nature of improvisation, how he has brought and maintains a positive and nurturing atmosphere to both of his theaters (on stage and off), how he and his staff build their own language of improv through metaphor and nomenclature, and much much more.

Then we play 3 scenes focusing on like characters at the top  and "heighten or die."

Thanks to The New Movement for letting us record in their classroom!

Music in the podcast:

012 - Asaf Ronen - On diagnosing improv, choosing the fun scene and The Institution

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July features an interview with 20+ year improv veteran, author of the book author of Directing Improv: Show the Way By Getting Out of the Way, and Educational Director at The Institution TheaterAsaf Ronen. Asaf has taught improvisation in Canada, Great Britain, Norway and in twenty-seven of The United States. His directing credits include the all-girl group goga, the improvised comic book adventure show Ka-Baam!!, and Death in the City, a dramatic longform improv piece, at the NY Fringe Festival. 

Brian and Asaf talk about how he diagnoses improv scenes, choosing the fun script, the philosophy of The Institution, and how his perfect improv scene starts.

Then we play a really fun genre scene with high emotional stakes!

Thanks to The Hideout Theater for hosting us in Austin.

Music in the podcast:

011 - Kevin Allison - On the sketch writing process at The State and ordinary people telling RISK!-y stories

April features an interview with comedic writer, actor and storyteller, Kevin Allison. Kevin’s first appearance into the public spotlight was on the extremely bizarre and beloved MTV sketch series The State. He is now the host and curator of RISK!, one of one of the Internet’s edgiest storytelling podcasts “where people tell true stories they never thought they’d date to share” and the head instructor of The Story Studio where storytelling is taught to everyone from performers to executives.

Brian and Kevin discuss the unique culture of The State and how it reflected in their comedy, their writing process, Kevin's discovery and love of what happens when ordinary people talk about extreme situations onstage, and how he prepares a story for a RISK! event. 

Clips used in the podcast:

Music in the podcast:

010 - Aaron Kleiber - On writing on the stage, the evolution of a joke, and the joy of improvisation

Aaron Kleiber (http://www.aaronkleiber.com)

March features an interview with Aaron Kleiber. Aaron recently made his national television debut on “Gotham Comedy Live” with host Jim Bruer and has been a requested feature performer across the country for Bob Saget, Jim Breuer and Steve-O (to name a few). He has appeared on TV, film, numerous national commercials and produced, wrote and performed in the award-winning independent films Captain Blasto and A Great Disturbance. Aaron studied and performed at the Second City in Chicago and improvises with the Arcade.

Brian and Aaron discuss Aaron's sense of humor developing into his stage persona, his process of developing a premise into an onstage story or joke, and his many performance modes: acting, improvisation, stand-up, writing.

Brian and Aaron improvise two short scenes.

Thanks to Zach Simons for audio production and tech, Arcade Comedy Theater for hosting the show, Scott Peters for providing Aaron's clip from Escape from St. Quentin's and Randy Kovitz for providing Aaron's clip from Lightweight.

Music in the podcast: