Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tina Fey and friends on the benefits of improv


Instructor Eric Hunicutt in brief

According to a 2007 interview Eric Hunicutt gave Josh Fult, the world has Hunicutt's father and grandfather to thank for Hunicutt's performance acumen. 

However, paraphrasing Hunicutt's website: his thoughts and opinions change with the tides, which is fitting for an improviser. 

This week, I was fortunate to gather some of Hunicutt's more recent ruminations on his participation in the long-form art form, albeit in brief.

SKK:  What was the moment when you first discovered you loved performing improv?

EH:  I started my first improv class in high school when I was 15.  Within a year, I was performing a couple times a week with ComedySportz in Raleigh, NC, and was totally hooked.  It's incredible, now, to realize that I've been doing this for over half my life. I still love it and am intrigued by it.

SKK:  What has been your favorite on-stage experience so far?

EH:  I'm not sure I can pinpoint a single experience that stands out above all others.  There are a lot of great memories. Some of my favorite shows have been at festivals, performing in an unfamiliar space – a new town.
The energy in that kind of environment has produced some really cool shows, ones I'd love to do again.

SKK:  What led you to begin teaching improv?

EH:  I want to use my experience to help others feel the same joy and sense of power that I feel in improv, and, after coaching for awhile, I found I was able to articulate a lot of things that were helpful to others. I want to help this art form continue to evolve, to grow. And I have pretty strong opinions about playing with integrity and honesty. So, like any opinionated person, I want to share my thoughts with younger and newer artists.

SKK:  What is the most rewarding aspect of teaching for you?

EH:  Witnessing students finding themselves in the work – the rare moment when they forget about getting it "right" and trying to be "good" and just flow.  Seeing the kind of confidence and power that shows up in those moments is the best. Plus, I've learned more about improv, acting, and performing by teaching than I ever did before. There's definitely a self-serving aspect of teaching for me.  I've grown exponentially since I started and continue to do so.

SKK:  What has been your favorite in-class experience so far? This experience could also be as a result of class.

EH:  I really like getting a chance to perform with former students.  The whole generational aspect of improv is great in that way.

SKK:  Lastly, for everyone reading this blog who is trying to figure out what shows to see first, which are a few Harold teams you think are particularly successful, and why do they work so well? You can include your own.

EH:  I'm a fan of Waterloo (and also their coach, full disclosure).  They are doing really fun and unconventional work.  They're a great ensemble, and their shows are a blast for them and the audience alike.

Eric Hunicutt's bio:

Eric Hunicutt is an actor, director, writer and teacher based in Los Angeles.  His work can be seen in commercials, television and films as well as onstage weekly with the groups Sweeterhouse, The Armando Show, and The Reckoning at the iO West Theater where Hunicutt is a member of the teaching faculty and former director of the iO West Training Center.

Hunicutt currently teaches all over the country as well as at iO West.  Keep checking the iO West schedule to find his classes.

 - Shawn Kathryn Kane

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Instructor Craig Cackowski in brief

Craig Cackowski is a busy fellow – actor, improviser, popular iO West teacher, and sometime-police officer on hit NBC comedy Community.  I stole some of Officer Cackowski's time, in brief, so that he could provide some insights into the man, the myth, the...instructor.

SKK:   What was the moment when you first discovered you loved performing improv?

CC:  This is going to both sound lame as hell and date me horribly, but I was in my college improv troupe when "U Can't Touch This" by MC Hammer was popular, and I made a reference to "Stop! Hammer time!" that (you'll have to trust me on this) was totally in the moment and appropriate to the scene and it simultaneously surprised me, my partner and the audience at the same time and brought the house down. I guess I've been chasing that unique high you get from improv in front of a live audience ever since – and I've also improved my reference level.

SKK:   What has been your favorite onstage experience so far?

CC:  Wow, tough to pick just one! I guess the most recent great show I've been in is always my favorite... We just did a Quartet show where we were all in high school concert band that was both tons of fun and allowed me to exorcise some personal demons dating back to my own band experiences.

SKK:   What led you to begin teaching improv? 

CC:  Besides the sweet, sweet cash money? I was a coach for a couple years in Chicago for a terrific team called Frank Booth. I guess [founder and director of iO Chicago] Charna [Halpern] saw enough in me as a coach to believe I could teach as well. I can't say I was totally ready, but I got to do a lot of on-the-job training. I learn just as much from teaching improv as I do from performing it.

SKK:    What is the most rewarding aspect of teaching for you?

CC:  Just those "A-ha" moments that students get when you [as the teacher] can make a small adjustment and help them understand what a truly great scene really feels like. It doesn't mean that they'll immediately begin to duplicate that feeling every time, but I can tell when I've helped to hook somebody onto this great art form for life.

SKK:    What has been your favorite in-class experience so far? This experience could also be as a result of class.

CC:  I always enjoy the last day of Level 4…Evaluation Day. The students get to give feedback to each other, and it's always overwhelmingly more positive than they would ever expect. Then I give them feedback and assign them specific exercises off of their problem areas. It's a productive and supportive day for everyone.

SKK:   Lastly, for everyone reading this blog who is trying to figure out what shows to see first, which are a few Harold teams you think are particularly successful, and why do they work so well? You can include your own.

CC:  I think Local 132 and Waterloo are great to watch for playfulness [and] USS Rock n Roll for group mind and unconditional support.  Natural 20 is a super-talented, up-and-coming team. King Ten, though (who I have been lucky enough to sit in with a few times), is the team that I think pushes the envelope of the possibilities of Harold the most, and produces shows that are both hysterically funny and little works of art.

Craig Cackowski's bio:

Craig Cackowski has been involved with Improv Olympic as a performer, coach, teacher, and director since 1992. He recently relocated to L.A. after 11 years in Chicago, where he also performed with Second City on their 2 resident stages, and with their National Touring Company.

Presently, Cackowski performs with Quartet, The Armando Show, COG, Thoughtcrime, Dasariski, among others, and he currently teaches Advanced Scene Work – Level 4.

 - Shawn Kathryn Kane

Monday, November 28, 2011

Begin the last month of the last year at the top of the Noble fir

As we approach the ultimate month of 2011 (according to the sheep who believe the Mayans) and face imminent obsolescence, let’s all agree to go out in style. I, for one, will be celebrating my encroaching death every single, dingle day of December.

And I can think of no better way to start than with an evening stacked head to toe of alum and celebs.

The lineup on the iO West Main Stage this Thursday, December 1 is a rare assemblage of presence (not a misspelling).

First, at 8, The Lampshades with Scot Robinson (Anchorman) and Kate Flannery (The Office) will perform their Christmas special. This mock lounge act, which has been mocking it monthly for years, is so mock bawdy and mock raw and truly hilarious you will need to up your life insurance because you might actually bust a nut laughing.

Then, at 9, Joel Murray and Friends grace the stage with their clever version of the Armando. Typically, folks from Mad Men and Whose Line is it Anyway? join the cast along with other brilliant seasoned improvisers.

Finally, long-standing giants Quartet followed by newly formed stars Pascal share the ten-o-clock hour.

There is clearly no better way to spend the first month of the last of your life.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bardic poem for the women of improv

Bardic poem for the women of improv to be read aloud with a 17th century Irish accent:

Lion Tamers

From the comfort of a chair
One glances toward the sun
Where wombs skirt souls that strut
To entertain last and remind first
That life begins with each new impulse
To breathe
Each breath another new life
Conveying upon exhale
Waves on which words rock
Then submerge
Then pop up
To support birds that sing
Shared songs
On branches of trust

Women with their whisked tongues
Lick your loins
Make you lion laugh

The following is just a sampling of women improvisers who make me laugh:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving weekend at iO West

There is much to be thankful for this year, for many. If not for you, then salve your woes with laughter.

This weekend on the iO West Main Stage:

Friday, November 25, 2011

8:00pm: Chat! Presents: The Living Room 

8:30pm: Men of a Certain Race

9:00pm: The Lusty Horde

10:00pm: Kind Strangers Are the Last People On Earth: An Improvised Apocalypse

10:30pm: McAllister

Saturday, November 26, 2011

8:00pm: 2 Beer Queer

8:30pm: Men of a Certain Race

9:00pm: The Armando Show with celebrity host Christian Rosenberg (AKA Josh Tariff)

10:30pm: First World Problems

Sunday, November 27, 2011

No shows due to the parade, but the bar will be open!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pro wrestling's Christian Rosenberg to host this week's Armando

Pro wrestling's "The Voice of Choice" Christian Rosenberg will host this Saturday's Armando at iO West in Hollywood.  

One of the most salient features of the Armando is of course the collection of monologues by the celebrity host. Rosenberg will surely share stories unmatched by any other referee-cum-commentator, or any other person, really.

Witness the ravaging, set to commence at 9, stay for the clean finish an hour or so later, and then lock up with  Dr. God at 10:30.

And bring a towel. There might be blood that might be real.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

"My name is Jeffrey Tambor and I just got done playing at iO West"

Jeffrey Tambor expounds upon the grounds of any good acting training, which absolutely includes improv.

Twitter, tumblr, blogspot et al on a plate

There are a myriad ways to enjoy iO West and its minions.

There is Twitter, of course, for those of you who prefer bite-sized, 140-character morsels of improv intrigue:

You can follow iO West @iOWest and your favorite players:


There's tumblr, which Colin Huges infuses with his quick wit and sagacious perspective.

There's blogspot with a few more words for those of you who prefer the muse of words.

There's youtube for those who prefer the lure of movies.

And there is facebook.

Basically, there's a whole bunch of ways to ingest iO West.

Choose one or the whole buffet.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

But I've been doing this for ten years...

In every improv class there is a mix of new improvisers excitedly taking in every bit of information with a zeal of inquiry and a group of experienced improvisers thinking: But I've been doing this for ten years, what could I possibly discover?

With newfound humility, I admit, I am from the latter, and I'm not alone.

You know who you are - sure of yourself and your skills based on a string of previously successful teams and shows.

As much as you love improv, which is why you swallowed your pride and signed up for class in the first place, deep down you cannot escape the feeling that nothing and no one will ever touch the golden memories of your old team and the group mind that allowed you to soar to new heights of improv glory.

Then you mount the stage on your first night of class and perform a so-so scene that you secretly blame on your partner, and it suddenly hits you: What if it was JUST group mind all those years?

Granted folks on your old team were talented, smart, funny, and enthusiastic, etc, but the fact that you had been playing together for five years certainly helped. The time together is what made you.

Now, during your moment of self-doubt, you realize that maybe it is time to leave your ego at the door and learn something new.

Thus begins the job of marrying your existing improv self with new guidelines, games, ideas, and exercises.

Obviously, based on my earlier confession, I am no expert, but here are some ways I have been able to mix my old with my new:

1. Stop Judging Yourself. Ok, this is a no-brainer, but it's easy to shut down in class, especially when things are different than what you are used to or you feel like you are not doing your best.

Let it go. Let go of the belief that you know everything there is to know about improv.

Yes, use what you know, or think you know, but don't give yourself the added pressure of proving your skills to yourself, to your students or to your teacher. If you go in with nothing to prove, you have nothing to lose.

2. Listen. When you have in your memory bank a backlog of scenes and experiences, it is easy to go into your head when the teacher is describing a guideline or idea. It is easy to try and relate it to your past experience, which at first seems helpful but ends up not being helpful at all, especially in a class setting where experimentation is essential.

When you get too much in your head and compare new ideas to old, you stop listening. Feel free to ruminate and compare at home in your pajamas, but stay present as much as possible in class.

3. Stop Judging Your Classmates. It's our dirty little secret, but we all do it at one point or another. Stop!

On your previous team you learned from the other players and from the group mind you had established.

So, don't stop learning now just because your classmates seem to have varying levels of experience. They all have something to teach you. We all have different strengths. Rather than deciding that you know more because you've been doing this longer, remember that they have a fresh perspective.

And some of them might have been doing it longer than you think.

4. Learn the rules and then forget them. Most teachers will tell you there are no rules, just guidelines. Remembering this is of the utmost importance in improv.

You need to learn the guidelines because ultimately they are there to make you more comfortable and successful.

But the second you start to make your focus the guildelines instead of the relationship, game, need, or location, then you're already in your head and the scene is lost.

Let go of the fourth-grader who desperately wants to impress everyone, follow the rules, and earn 100%.

That fourth-grader is only holding you back from discovery.

Once you have learned the rules, forget them. From my experience it is almost impossible to completely erase them from your memory, so you won't, in fact, forget and break them to the point of your collective demise; instead you will forget to obsess over them, ultimately using them unconsciously, naturally and successfully.

In closing, I haven't said anything that us improvisers don't all already know.

I'm just reminding us all to remember it before entering the classroom.

And please, if you see me around, feel free to remind me too.

I welcome the group remind.

- Annie Mackay

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

iO West artistic director James Grace in brief

JamesGrace, Artistic Director of iO West, is known to many as an authority figure, the location where the buck stops, the guy in charge, albeit a hilarious guy in charge.

I sat down with him recently, and briefly, in the iO West office to get a glimpse of the man behind the machine.

SKK: What was the moment you first discovered you loved performing improv?

JG: Improv as we [perform it] now? I started in high school. I went to a high school that fostered our development, and they brought in different workshops: Shakespeare, improv, and other artistic classes. So in high school, I got a taste of improv, and I loved it.

SKK: What has been your favorite on-stage experience so far?

JG: Oh, there have been too many to list.

SKK: What led you to begin teaching improv?

JG: I started coaching when I was 18 back in Chicago, and I really enjoyed working with people, passing on what I knew and learning from them. It was part of my learning process back then; it was part of my growth as well as theirs. And I would say that that continues to this day, about 10 years later at the age of 28. You're constantly learning from the people you're working with. So it's a really unique experience to pull something out of someone and then also grow as a result.

What has been your favorite in-class experience so far? In-class or as a result of class?

JG: Well it's been over 20 years of teaching, so I don't have a specific [experience in mind], but what I really love is having taught someone and then later getting to play with them on stage. So I love the relationships. You meet someone, you help them develop, you learn from them as well, and eventually new relationships and friendships are born from that.

SKK: Lastly, for everyone reading this blog who is trying to figure out what shows to see first, which are a few Harold teams you think are particularly successful, and why do they work so well? You can include your own.

JG: I think that King Ten is one of those teams, and part of the main reason is the relationships that they have on stage. They're a team that's been together a long time, and yet they're using the basic improv rules to create great work onstage.USS Rock n Roll is a team that does exceptionally good group work. They have great writing energy. They can find something, heighten it, and build it to the next thing.

I would highlight those two as two of our strongest veteran teams, but there are also a number of newer teams coming up. Trophy Wife is a team that's very connected and does consistently outstanding work. [It's] also a team that is not afraid and is challenging itself to grow.

James Grace's bio:James Grace, the Artistic Director of the iO West Theater, has performed, written, produced and directed comedy for the stage, web, television and film.

Credits include Super Troopers, Beer Fest, Real World Hollywood, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Reno 911, Mr. Wrong and many more. He has performed and taught improvisational comedy for over two decades.

James currently teaches Work Out Classes and Harold - Level 5.

- Shawn Kathryn Kane

Monday, November 14, 2011

Video of James Roday in "Celebrity"

Watch Saturday's "Celebrity" with James Roday:

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sketch Sunday

This Sunday, November 13, iO West stretches its sketch over the course of an entire evening beginning with new Main Stage sketch teams Pilot, Super Kudsu, Mr. Worm and Hashtag.

Del Close Award winners Top Story! Weekly (who were featured this week on both the Huffington Post and CNN with their viral video "Three Things with Rick Perry") are anchored in between.

So, this Sunday from 8-11 (or any fraction thereof) enjoy cheap valet parking, even cheaper drinks and a bevy of laughter sure to get you through the coming work week:

8:00 Pilot
8:30 Super Kudzu
9:00 Top Story! Weekly
10:00 Mr. Worm
10:30 Hashtag

Main Stage schedule

Friday, November 11, 2011

Beautiful routine

It's interesting starting at the very beginning, when you have been doing something for so long. It has been said that through practice a task becomes routine and once it becomes routine it is ready to arrive at beautiful.

When I lived in Buffalo, I was a bigshot improviser in a few different groups. In NYC, while I focused more on voiceover and my 9-5 job, I stayed connected to improv by taking classes. When I got to Los Angeles, which is really the Holy Grail of improvising, I discovered how little I actually knew.

My teacher at the Wednesday night drop-in "Work Out" class mentioned that in improvisation if you think you don't have to work and grow anymore, you find yourself in real trouble. You can always keep growing and discovering new things about yourself and your performances.

iO West is a veritable buffet offering classes, workshops and incredible shows.

I learned about IO West through my friend Tara. She raved about it, and since I missed registration, I decided to start my studies at iO West with the drop-in Wednesday night Work Out class.

With regard to iO West's signature Harold, I had heard of him, but I had never been formally introduced. I was excited but nervous to meet his acquaintance.

I arrived at the Wednesday Work Out class with my friend Beverly. She's a fellow actress, 20 years my senior, who has been in mostly musicals and has also been a teacher for a long time. She and I are quirky characters who met during a play about the circus.

She has had no formal improvisational training, but she and I both have our degrees in musical theatre.

What I like about drop-in Wednesday Work Out class is that it includes a mixture of people. You get to be a sort of mentor to those who are new to improv, but you get to learn so much from the veterans who are there to return to basics.

Our first assignment was to create a scene in a fake play. Mine was "Death at Midnight." For my emotional highpoint I strive for the last time to get help during a snow storm, and my little sister gives me a sandwich with mayonnaise.

It's a comfort and we share a tender moment.

It is pretty incredible the amount of trust you must have when improvising, especially in a drop-in class when you have just met your scene partner a few moments before.

So many questions go through your mind: Am I allowed to touch them? Will they listen? Will I listen?

In a play you have months of rehearsal and the chance to get to know your partners.

Yet, in improv, despite not knowing my partners well, I have had some of my best moments on stage.

After last Wednesday's Work Out class, Beverly and I decided to see Wednesday night Harolds, which I HIGHLY recommend.

Honestly, if you have time after the Wednesday Work Out class, it's a fantastic way to see what you just learned put into play on stage.

The games you play and lessons you learn you can pick out while watching the shows.

The Lottery is a show that pairs beginning students with seasoned improvisers. What a treat!

In addition to the Lottery, we experienced Hot Toddy and Tatanka, two Harold teams, each inspired by basic suggestions such as "time" and "gum."

Each team created an interesting 30-minute show where all the scenes gelled together to create a cohesive and compelling whole.

In one of the shows there are adopted sisters vying for the love of a math genius who is more focused on his numbers than he is the ladies.

And there is a couple who travels the world to get away from each other and sings songs from Rent. But somehow it all makes sense and you would swear someone wrote it.

They have all learned the rules of improv (or the guiding principles) so well that seamless cohesion has become their routine.

And, like I said, when a task becomes routine, it is ready for beautiful.

 - Kate Sorice

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Brandon Sornberger in brief

This week, popular iO West teacher Brandon J. Sornberger steps into the additional role of iO West bar manager. 

Sornberger will soon be busier than ever, so I was lucky to catch up with him, briefly, to discuss his thoughts on improvisation and teaching at iO West.

SKK:  What was the moment you first discovered you loved performing improv?

BJS:  It was 1996, I was going to Hamilton College and I was cast in a play - 12 of us were cast - but the parts weren't to be decided until after we'd improvised the first several weeks of rehearsal. So we improvised for weeks, and I'd never found anything as invigorating.

SKK:  What led you to begin teaching improv? 

BJS:  I sort of fell into it, but I'd also developed a specific theory over time that I wanted to pass on to students. 

SKK:  And what was that theory?

BJS:  Basically, "be yourself and react honestly.  Stop with all the characters, please."

SKK:  What is the most rewarding aspect of teaching for you?

BJS:  Watching a struggling student do a gratifying scene - a scene that realizes the potential of the art form.

SKK:  What has been your favorite in-class experience so far?

BJS:  "In-class" or "as a result of class"?

SKK:  Sure.

BJS:  I've received notes and cards from students thanking me for helping them discover this [art form] and find that they really love it.  And that's been really satisfying to pass on - my passion for it - to someone else.

SKK:  Lastly, for everyone reading this blog who is trying to figure out what shows to see first, which are a few Harold teams you think are particularly successful, and why do they work so well? You can include your own.

BJS:  I think King Ten is good because, with all their experience, they have a great group mind and are confident.  I also enjoy the playfulness of Spirit Cat and Waterloo.

Brandon J. Sornberger is originally from Upstate New York. He has performed and taught improv in New York City, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles.

While at iO Chicago, Sornberger performed with the "iO Muscial Featuring The Deltones," "Bullet Lounge," and "Let Them Ho’s Fight." He is happily married and has an affinity for cowboy boots.

Furthermore, Sornberger currently teaches Harold – Level 5 and Intermediate Forms – Level 6.

  - Shawn Katheryn Kane

Brandon Sornberger and Jessica Makinson

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

James Roday at iO West this Saturday

"Celebrity" with James Roday this Saturday at 8pm

With the help of a special celebrity guest, improvisers Betty Cahil (SNL), Mike Coleman, Jeff Drake (The Megan Mullaly Show), Brian Gattas (Arrested Development, Dexter, Brothers and Sisters), Wendy Molyneux, Dana Powell (Bridesmaids), Adrian Wenner and Ethan Sandler embark on a long-form improvisation where the real-life celebrity is pressed into service as a faux celebrity's personal assistant.

James Roday, star of the TV detective dramedy Psych, will be the celebrity on hand for this Saturday's show.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

After five years, Brian James O'Connell hands over the iO West bar

After five years of managing not just a bar but a family, Brian James O'Connell will be passing the cask to fellow improviser Brandon Sornberger.

Sornberger will begin his reign as bar bard tomorrow, November 9, so head to the iO West bar tonight AND tomorrow to say good-bye and hello to two extremely talented and generous men.

And to drink cheap drinks in a warm and lively atmosphere.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Glory Stories on the Main Stage Friday, November 18, and potentially monthly thereafter

Glory Stories is an Armando type improv show where a visiting celebrity shares stories from his or her life based on suggestions from the audience and a team of expert improvisers improvises scenes inspired by those stories.

One key difference between Glory Stories and The Armando is that the visiting celeb at Glory Stories is an adult entertainment artist.

Hosting the show November 18th will be Nikki Nefarious, which should prove to be both unique and hilarious and a fun way to ease into the weekend.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

It's all about the bar...round 2

Bar manager Brian James O'Connell  expounds more on his experiences behind the iO West bar:

Anytime I’ve had to ask anyone to leave, it’s been relatively smooth because I physically have 30 people standing behind me giving the offender the same look. There really isn’t any room for douchebags or assholes at an improv bar because disagreement makes for bad comedy bits and “this ain’t that kind of scene, dude.”

I’m reminded of this frequently when I travel to other bars in town. I see various acts of rudeness going unchecked. I see rampant egos ruining other people’s evenings simply to serve their own selfish needs for what they consider to be “partying."

I see people over-served and wandering aimlessly because their “friends” abandoned them.

I see guys fly off the handle in situations where a simple “excuse me” would suffice. It always makes me think, That would never happen at iO. Someone would take care of that person. Cooler heads would prevail. It helps that we at iO all speak the same language, though.

QUICK ASIDE: Kim Mulligan asked me the other night whether or not I was able to “turn it off” when I’m at other bars. Honestly, I can’t. I’ve been doing this way too long. I can walk into any bar, anywhere, and within five minutes tell you who has been over-served, who is underage and HOW they got in, whether or not the bouncer is on the take, which bartender is drunk, if the owners are on drugs (and yeah, I can tell who the owners are usually), and so on and so forth.

I can see a fight 10 minutes before it happens. Studying improv and learning how to read people’s body language has only heightened that skill. It used to drive me crazy but now I just remind myself that I don’t work there and Charna signs my checks, not these people.

I usually just turn to my buddy and tell him to stand with me in a different part of the room. When they ask why, I tell them, “Because that guy who hasn’t touched the drink in his hand since we got here can’t take his eyes off of that girl...

"And the guy twice his size standing to her immediate left has….noticed. This isn’t going to be a very safe place to be in about, oh say, three minutes.” But I digress.

And about that shared language I mentioned earlier. Improvisers speak in a different rhythm. There is a give and take there and any new person picks up on it. The bits fly back and forth; shared jokes are told in quick character voices.

Any conversation a lay person has with an improviser is inevitably politely interrupted by another improviser who wants to say hello and then is immediately followed by an introduction and greeting with the new person.

That sort of warmth is extremely inviting to a new visitor. They want to be in on the joke. They want every person in the bar to be happy to see them just like it seems to be for the improviser they are talking with at that moment. It just LOOKS fun. And it is.

When I meet a lay person who is the boyfriend/girlfriend of an improviser, I inevitably make the joke, “So when are you starting classes?” You simply can’t be around improvisers talking very long without wanting to be part of the conversation.

In most bars, we just want your money. At an improv bar, we add you to the conversation. You’ll buy drinks simply because you don’t want to leave.

It’s also why everyone who works at an improv bar also performs there.

I can’t imagine how a lay bartender could function at an improv bar. He wouldn’t know the language. He wouldn’t know the history. He wouldn’t understand that a Level 2 student is ordering in that old prospector voice not to be a dick but because he’s trying to be funny - to impress you.

The student is trying to belong - to join the conversation. And he wouldn’t know Miles Stroth or Bob Dassie from a hole in the ground, which could be a problem.

Can you imagine how difficult my job would be if I had to stop every five minutes and explain to the lay bartender, “No, dude, that guy just raised his voice because he’s doing a bit. He’s not starting a fight; he’s doing his Mr. Energy character from The Friday 40...

"And by the way, please don’t make TJ Jagodowski wait five minutes for a beer; he is an improv legend and has probably earned a little extra prompt service for all he’s done for the art form. That’s embarrassing. What’s that you say? (Sigh.) A bit is when….”

I shudder to think.

Which leads me to the dark side of having your crowd know each other rather than strangers at a club who may never see each other again: Things can get…..complicated.

When you have a lot of sensitive, artistic types in the same room with healthy egos whose art is so closely tied to their personality and their self-value, you need a bar manager who can be a calming influence.

Yeah, we don’t have any fist fights at iO but we do have people who have long histories with each other and sometimes not always the best histories.

I hear everything. I know more than I should know and a very important part of my job is being discreet. I sometimes see people not at their very best (which happens at EVERY bar) but at an improv bar, that person is part of the family. I need to contain that situation because I don’t want them to be embarrassed.

I need to let them know I don’t want to ever see that again AND I need to keep my fucking trap shut about it.

In this job, I spend a lot of time patiently listening to a particular view and attempting to be objective. I try to find mutually beneficial solutions. I try to encourage people to work with me.

Hey man, I want a lot of people at your show as well. Let’s try and work out some drink specials.

I spend a good part of my time reminding interns, who are our lifeblood, that although they are not getting paid, they are still getting something of value (free classes) so they should really try to treat it as, you know, a “real” job.

I also spend a lot of my time encouraging those who go that extra distance and do something because it needed to be done and not because they were asked to do it.

I want those interns and staff members to know that I saw it and appreciated it. That they aren’t faceless, that someone is watching and recognizes effort when it is given.

And I always wasn’t very good at it at first. I was used to regular bars where I had to exert a little more authority and use a different sort of language - “bar” rhythms, not “improv” rhythms.

I was reminded by one of my servers not too long ago that one of my first requests for her to do something the way I wanted it done began with the line, “Now, I know you’re not retarded but,…”

Woof. Yeah, not good, I admit! But I was used to working with restaurant/bar “lifers." My godmother, my Aunt Kathy, was the head server at Coletti’s in Chicago for thirty years. She would have smirked and gone right on with it.

At the end of the night we would have been friends again. That’s just how the business works.

You can read this post in its entirety where it originally appeared at PhillyImprov, and you can see Brian James O'Connell don his many clever hats either behind the bar (through November 8) or on the Main Stage with Top Story! Weekly, Dr. God, The Armando Show and others.