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Sketchfest with The Midnight Show

(posted by t.j. peters)

“Hey, whaddya know, it’s The Ten-Thirty Shoooow!!!”  So that’s not normally how Eric Moneypenny’s calling card introduction begins, but for the trip to Sketchfest it would have been more accurate.  The Midnight Show had hour-and-a-half early performances on Friday and Saturday night during last weekend’s edition of the San Francisco Sketchfest, both of which I was fortunate enough to attend.  Unfortunately, since the shows ended at approximately 11:30 PM as opposed to their usual 1:00 AM, I had additional time to do more and remember less in the hours leading up to the next morning.  However, I did manage to come away with a few select memories, which I’ll share with you now in this extended, two-night coverage blog entry.

Friday Night

Part One – Tomotel!!!

Think about the Tomo Hotel like this:  You know your favorite anime?  Well you hate it now.  Don’t like anime?  Well then you just killed yourself.  From the hardwood print carpet to the five foot clearance hanging lamps, every room in this Japantown paradise is like a living version of Katamari Damacy.  To help put this in perspective, please take a moment to review the following mural, which was adjacent to my bed.

Why do those police officers have dogs printed on them?  Are the dogs also police officers?  Wait, are those even police officers?  Could they be train conductors?  Are the dogs also train conductors?  Eh, doesn’t really matter.  They live in a city of façade building fronts and are about to be destroyed by a giant robot, anyway.

Even if I didn’t stay up until 5 a.m. or later every night of the trip, I still wouldn’t have gotten any sleep because of that thing.

Part Two – Rubix Club

I will never solve a Rubix Cube and it upsets me.  I will never solve a Rubix Cube blindfolded and it’s less upsetting to me.  I will never solve a Rubix Cube blindfolded in a crowded, noisy bar and it definitely does not upset me.  I will never solve a Rubix Cube blindfolded in a crowded, noisy bar while drinking beer and I wouldn’t expect that Jesus Christ himself could accomplish such a feat.

Notice the inverse relationship between the difficulty of the Rubix Cube scenario and my feelings towards not being able to accomplish it.  Now take the inverse of that and look what you get – the two fucking guys I saw who were solving Rubix Cubes blindfolded in the crowded, noisy bar while drinking beer!  What?!

I have to hand it to them, though.  As far as “showing your true colors” goes, these guys absolutely pave the way (and then twist it on a pivot mechanism until each side is a solid color).  I think it might serve people well if we all brought our obscure personal interests to the bar.  The knitting needles, ping-pong paddles, and ball gags would help us figure out at a glance who we’re interested in.  Personally, I would avoid the Rubix Cube guys, though.  Despite the fact that there were two completed Cubes on their table, I never saw either of them complete one.  Just like the guy who wears a fake Rolex or a shirt that’s too small to make his muscles look bigger, these two fools only brought the Cubes to scam on some bitches.

Part Three – Honestly, This is Not Funny

In a sketch titled “Philip Seymour Hoffman Calls in Sick for Work”, James Adomian plays the Oscar-winning actor as a pretentious, froggy-throated prima donna, hollering on the phone to his boss (or agent), Gary.  At the height of his brilliantly over-acted excuse- which we find out by the end is all a lie- Hoffman screams, “I’m a truth teller, Gary!” in reference to his craft.  The irony is perfect and it always gets a laugh out of me, as it did to Friday night’s crowd.

I point out this sketch to use as sort of a scientific control.  The subject of the experiment, then, occurred thirty minutes earlier in John Ennis’s monologue.  In what I consider to be one of the most earnest moments I’ve ever witnessed, Ennis delivered a seven minute speech about The Midnight Show that was, in a word, truthful.  I don’t mean truthful in the sense that I believe his words were factual (though I do), but rather that he meant every word he said.  In an annotated version, I’ll paraphrase:

It’s so exciting to work with these guys.  I’ve been really lucky to host their show more than once.  It’s like getting to play tuba with The Beatles. . . I’m fucking serious!  These guys work so hard!  They moved into a house together, so when they wake up in the morning they’re surrounded by each other!  Isn’t that fucking amazing? . . .   And thank you [to the audience] for doing yourself a favor and coming out to see this show because pretty soon, when they’re in the TV shows and movies you love, you’re going to look back and remember coming to The Purple Onion tonight.

Result:  Some awkward laughter and lackluster applause as Ennis jubilantly leapt off stage.

Now I understand that the purpose of a monologue is to warm-up the audience and set the tone for the show, but in this instance I could have really cared less.  Frankly, it pissed me off that the rest of the crowd couldn’t embrace what they were being given.  Ennis riffed honestly.  He was an actor shedding away the character and speaking the truth.  And so, looking back to the control, here’s the question I’ve been asking myself since Friday night.  Why is it funny to watch a character who’s full of shit call himself a truth-teller, but off-putting to a watch someone genuine actually tell the truth?   Honestly, I have no idea.

Saturday Night

Part Four – Straight Line to Union Square

The plan sounded simple enough.  We’d grab a bite to eat, and then meet up with a couple people at Union Square.  We’d heard it’s pretty cool there.  Little did we know, all the 3G coverage in the world couldn’t save us.

Before I take you along on a recreation of our travels, take a moment to study the map below, tracing our route from “A” to “B” and so on.

The journey began with what I now consider to be a warm up, though at the time it felt like a cross-country trek.  We walked seven blocks (which does, in fact, suck when you’re hungover and without your sunglasses) from the Tomo Hotel (“A”) to point “B”.  I should have known that things weren’t going to go well when my buddy Hark translated the directions he received as, “the Doughboy on Quay,” when we were headed to The Crepevine, just past Clay Street.  Somehow we made it there.

After breakfast, we officially started “moving toward” Union Square.  You’ll notice that Union Square can be reached on a straight line from Sutter – the street out hotel was on – and that we blew past it and continued another six blocks to “C”.  It was at this point that we actually decided to consult a map.  Unfortunately, the one we looked at was not topographical.  Had it been, we would have noticed that after continuing to “D” and making a left, the next twelve blocks would be an eighty degree uphill climb.

It didn’t take long for morale to get low.  We started shedding travelers at the same rate as our sweaty clothes.  (If it makes it sexier for you, please feel free to picture any or all of us completely naked.)  The excuses for abandonment started off strong with reasoning such as “I’ve got to fix the DVD before the show,” but eventually devolved to departing statements like, “I’m gonna go pee over here.”  I wish I would have been as smart.  (Note:  Once again, notice that after walking the first six blocks from “D” to “E” we had traveled an approximate total of twenty-seven blocks, yet were only one block away from our hotel.)

This trend continued.  The next five blocks from “E” to “F” were at least downhill, so we all had the pleasure of working out a new set of muscles, especially if you (me) were wearing heels.  Once at “F”, a brief period of dawdling and toying around with the idea of walking the wrong direction passed before we moved south, taking us another six blocks to “G”.

“G” brought us once again to Sutter Street, six blocks from the Tomo Hotel and eight more yet to Union Square.  We had officially traveled about forty-four blocks, roughly three and a half miles, and at no point reached even the halfway point between our hotel and Union Square.  So what was the next step?

“Fuck it, let’s go somewhere else.”  Which we did. . . in a cab.

Part Five – A Picture is Worth About 2,000 Words

The above photo was taken outside The Purple Onion on the night of the Friday show.  If you’re interested in taking a little glimpse at the rest of weekend, check out this photo gallery I put up on Flickr.

Part Six – What’s Behind the Curtain?

I watched The Midnight Show perform on two consecutive nights with different hosts and altered set lists on a small, unfamiliar stage.  On night one a large contingent of the crowd was old enough to remember the first time they saw Woody Allen at The Purple Onion.  Night two came with a heckler and a pony-tailed douchebag (not me) who thought his off-the-cuff zingers deserved to be part of the show.  Regardless of these obstacles, The Midnight Show fucking brought it both nights.  Their energy from beginning to end was relentless and it translated not only to the laughs from the audience, but to the ones coming from “backstage.”

I refer to the backstage in quotes because, really, there wasn’t one.  Seeing as The Purple Onion is a room built for stand-up, the only place the dozen-or-so member cast could gather was a little alcove that led to the bathrooms.  At best, four or five of them could fit back there (six or seven if anyone was on the can), so most of time the cast was spilling out into the back of the main room.

Now I’ve seen TMS plenty of times at this point and I’ve always been able to feel their energy, but this time was different.  When the lights went down and the opening began with the blaring punk rock of The Bronx, the audience would have been better served turning their seats around.  Like a college football team getting ready to charge out of the tunnel, The Midnight Show jumped, thrashed, and stared each other in the eyes with a confidence that only comes from being truly talented.  The only thing missing was a sign for them to tap that read “Perform Like a Champion Today.”  And the beauty of it was, the energy didn’t die after the introduction.  As members went to and from the stage, it was as if they were passing a torch that carried that energy, and this went on throughout the entirety of their show.  By the end, the audience was holding the torch.

The Midnight Show comes ready to work, but they also understand that it takes more than simply showing up to make some noise; they bring heart.  It’s this dynamic that sets them apart from other comedy groups.  What they’ve created is both professional and sacred.  They do it for themselves, they do it for each other, and they do it with a purpose.  Because of this, as they grow in strength and popularity, it will only be a matter of time before they are widely known, and people will say about their talent in a plain, almost obvious tone, “Hey, whaddya know, it’s The Midnight Show.”

My name is t.j and I road blogged this.

♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦

Book your tickets for The Midnight Show’s monthly performances at UCB-LA by clicking here.

And check out the rest of San Francisco Sketchfest’s schedule by clicking here.

January 28, 2010 Posted by | Blogs by T.J. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Burning the Midnight Oil at Sketchfest

(posted by t.j. peters)

Today I journey.  I’ve packed all the essentials:  one pair of underwear, a book of Mad Libs®, a road trip apple pie, all the Burger King® gift cards I accrued over the holidays, and my inalienable, Patch Adams-esque passion for orphans.  Just as these items are packed in my suitcase, I am too essentially a piece of luggage in the cargo deck of sketch comedy group The Midnight Show as we travel to the San Francisco Sketchfest.

For the better part of their year and a half run at the UCB Theatre L.A., I’ve been attending The Midnight Show on the first Saturday of every month – starting at (roughly) midnight – and for a smaller percentage of that time, had the pleasure of chain smoking and drinking whisky on the front porch of the “Midnight Mansion”, the veritable Bat Cave where most of the group resides.  Now, as a fan and a friend, I’m looking forward to a long weekend of TMS’s break-neck sketch comedy at Sketchfest.

If you’re in the San Francisco area and want your weekend to matter, here’s a reason to check out The Midnight Show:

And if balls falling out of jean shorts isn’t your fancy, then go fuck yourself.  However, alternatively, please do no fuck yourself while watching those fancy balls fall out of their jean shorts.  Instead, occupy your perverted mind with one of the smartest sketches I’ve ever seen:

I’m serious, folks.  Tickets are still available for Friday (featuring John Ennis, Mr. Show) and Saturday (featuring Trevor Moore, The Whitest Kids U’ Know), so do yourself a favor and check it out.  As for me, though I plan to document the trip as accurately as possible, my hope and intention is to report based on the fragmented reality left over from what will surely be a very fun weekend.  Check back in the days to come for my Sketchfest updates.

My name is t.j. and this blog is on wheels.

January 21, 2010 Posted by | Blogs by T.J. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

KEEP ON TRUCKIN’: AN INTERVIEW WITH IMPROV GREATS CONVOY

Convoy (From L-R): Todd Fasen, Alex Fernie, and Alex Berg

Convoy (From L-R): Todd Fasen, Alex Fernie, and Alex Berg

Have you ever played that game where a group of people all sit in a circle and take turns, collectively, building a story? Imagine the best players in the world, times that by 50, stick them on-stage in front of a packed house, and that is LA-based improvisational comedy team Convoy.

Alex Berg, Todd Fasen, and Alex Fernie started performing shortform improv together in 2001 at New York’s Vassar College, as members of the literally-named Vassar Improv. By 2004 all three had re-located to Los Angeles and, shortly thereafter, began studying longform improvisation at Improv Olympic in Hollywood. Convoy formed from their friendship, shared comedic sensibility, and mutual frustration over the structures and limits of conventional longform improv.

The trio found their following at Cagematch, the weekly head-to-head improv competition at Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre, also in Hollywood. After winning a record 44 consecutive weeks, they were defeated shortly after accepting a weekly slot at the theatre. For a measly $5 you can see Convoy perform at the UCB every Thursday at 11 alongside another great troupe, The Last Day of School. They also perform at UCB many Mondays for Harold Night (the popular longform improv style created by Del Close), as part of UCBLA’s oldest active Harold team, Sentimental Lady. Make reservations for all their shows in advance as they ALWAYS sell out. To see the video of a full Convoy set, posted yesterday, click here.

This is the first of what I hope to be a long and awesome interview series featuring comedians with unique styles. My goal is to find the soul of what an artist or group does best, then mold the interview to best reflect that. In doing so, hopefully, I can offer a glimpse of the creative process. And also make you laugh. For Convoy, this quote acts as my template:

“What we try to do when we improvise is find worlds we can explore. We stumble upon a premise: This is what this world is. Then we explore that until it triggers another premise in our minds, and then we follow that. The whole point is, if we get the suggestion of strawberries, to never have a strawberry in the whole show, except maybe the first scene. And then just see how far we can get in twenty minutes; where can we be that is so far away from strawberries.”Alex Fernie of Convoy

I have divided this interview into Longform (the scenes connect and move forward) and Shortform (scenes end abruptly and action starts anew), to reflect the two main styles of contemporary improv. I will throw out a suggestion and let these guys do the rest. This isn’t going to be an ordinary interview. This is ImproView. Or Convoysation. I can’t decide between the two. Without further ado, let’s all join the CONVOY!

LONGFORM
SUGGESTION: IMPROV STYLE
ALEX FERNIE
We came up with the name Convoy randomly, because we were listening to the song ‘Convoy’, but then retroactively decided that it describes our form. We get our suggestion and then explicitly try to keep moving forward.
TODD FASEN
We start in a more grounded, real place and trust that an unusual thing is going to happen, and when it does, that it will be picked up on. If you are in a world where trees can talk, then what else is true about that world? Let’s see this tree going to work and having a very mundane day or something.
ALEX BERG
We have always liked the juxtaposition between the mundane and the ridiculous. For us, the more ridiculous something is the more funny it is to examine what is mundane about it. Obviously we know trees talking is ridiculous, but what are the mundane things that trees talk about? There’s a commercial on TV with a jackalope and a Minotaur getting coffee, and I love that commercial because they just talk about day-to-day bullshit. I don’t want to hear a jackalope and a minotaur talk about being a jackalope and a minotaur.
FERNIE
Because they wouldn’t. I don’t talk about being a skinny white guy with glasses.
BERG
I talk about being a skinny white guy with glasses all the time.
FERNIE
Yeah, but it’s funny for you to talk about…
BERG
…Because I don’t wear glasses…
FERNIE
…And you’re so fat.
FASEN
You’re both what Rivers Cuomo writes songs about.
BERG
Likewise, if you have a scene between two office workers, it’s more fun if they are trying to take over the world using their staplers or something.
FERNIE
A lot of times, and this can be a good thing, but it can also be our failing: We’d rather have interesting than funny. So we will just go down a road because we, as improvisers, are legitimately interested in this conversation. One of the things all three of us try not to do is just go for a joke. That kills more scenes than anything.
BERG
Going for a quick laugh is almost like not trusting the audience to be patient with you.
FERNIE
I really believe there is a big difference between doing a good show and a funny show. Ideally you want them to be the same show, but I think anyone can walk on stage and get laughs. That’s not a problem. If you trust that the laughs will come, they usually will. So we focus on some of the other stuff and let the laughs happen. When people are trying too hard, that’s when you see them not really connect. It’s like when you have a dog that you want to pet, and the dog’s like “Nope.” But the second you stop wanting to pet it, it’s going to come over.
FASEN
At the end of the day, your show needs to be funny or people aren’t going to want to see it. But if you’re just making jokes in your scenes then the show isn’t going to be funny. It just sort of comes to a halt. And for us, we don’t get a reset button after each scene, so we need to be able to move forward logically and adopt the attitude, “If this then what.”
FERNIE
We’ll nod to stuff that we’ve done and we’ll do callbacks, but I think we are greedy in terms of wanting to discover as much stuff as possible. We’re constantly trying to find out new things about these three characters. It’s not just, this guy loves hamburgers so he’s going to be spending twenty minutes talking about how much he loves hamburgers.
BERG
It worked for Wimpy from Popeye.
FASEN
And the Hamburgler.
FERNIE
That’s true. And we’re still laughing. When you go see a show, you want to see depth. If it’s only got one good idea…
BERG
…Especially if that idea happens to be a dick joke…
FERNIE
…I might laugh. I probably will laugh. But I’m not going to remember it next Tuesday.
BERG
Every time we have watched through the tape of a show that went less than good, it’s always been because one or all of us is playing with an agenda. And the shows that we all like the most are when the set is just a series of very honest reactions and responses to this first thing. I think that’s part of how you build the audience’s trust: By saying, we’re not just going to come in and invent some joke if it’s not appropriate to the scene.
FASEN
You don’t want to force a weird thing.
BERG
You don’t want to force anything, be it unusual or not.
FERNIE
No matter how many scenes with Optimus Prime talking to Goliath from Davey and Goliath we do, we always make sure there’s something there we can hang our hat on.
BERG
Sometimes you get these really rich suggestions and you don’t just want to go to the knee-jerk, obvious jokes. Like, what’s an example? Uhhh…
FERNIE
You’re really struggling.
BERG
I really am.
FASEN
One time we got Thermidor.
FERNIE
No, they suggested Jacobian.
BERG
Right, and then Thermidor was the only month I could remember off the French Revolutionary Calendar. So sometimes you get these rich suggestions and, in this case, there are so many different aspects of the French Revolution that are really interesting to explore, so…
FERNIE
…There are so many aspects of the French Revolution that are interesting to explore? Anyone who hasn’t seen us before, you just ensured they will NEVER come to a show.
FASEN
We’re LA’s #1 historical improv troupe. If you didn’t get a 4 on your AP European History test, don’t bother showing up.
BERG
Funny thing is, I got a 1. Didn’t study at all for that test. I went in going, “I either know this or I don’t,” and stayed out until 2am the night before.
FERNIE
Well, I guess that question was answered.
BERG
Yeah, I guess so.

SUGGESTION: CHARACTERS
FERNIE
People is people, and no matter what you’re doing, you still want there to be the core of a person there. We all have more things in common with, say, John Wayne Gacy, than we don’t. The big differences stand out, but he probably loved hamburgers and Sportscenter and all the things most people love.
BERG
I love clowns. Bibles. Murder.
FASEN
But not killing.
BERG
No, not killing. I like murder, I don’t like murdering.
FERNIE
No matter how crazy the scene, you still want there to be something recognizable and human there.
BERG
Sometimes you want great distance between yourself and this oaf you are creating on-stage, but a lot of times I have very sincerely brought up things that have been floating in my head. I was talking as the character, but it was this honest, idiotic, neurotic sort of thing in my own mind. Neurotic? Is neurotic a word?
FERNIE
Did you just ask if neurotic is a word?
BERG
It is, right?
FASEN
It’s a pretty well known word.
FERNIE
Very famous word.
BERG
I’m neurotic about whether neurotic is a word. Neuroticism, that’s the word I always think is real that isn’t.
FERNIE
Neuroticism sounds like worries that you’re turned on by.
FASEN
I’m okay with neuroticism becoming a word.
BERG
This is how neologisms happen. I think about philosophy of language a lot doing improv.
FERNIE
When we were in school we took a philosophy of language course with this Norwegian professor named Herman Cappelen. Exactly what you might expect a Norwegian philosophy professor to look like – that was Herman Cappelen.
BERG
And he talked like Kermit the Frog. Cappelen went through this whole thing about Paul Grice’s Four Conversational Maxims, these tacit rules that everyone who participates in a conversation agrees to. Since moving out here I have gone back and read the article and thought about it in terms of improv and it really applies. Language is a social agreement; words don’t have meaning until we agree they do. In order to create anything on stage you have to have that same level of social agreement, because nothing exists in a scene until you say it does. And then it’s ironclad.
FERNIE
There’s no “real world” connection. We are naming these things that aren’t really there, but 100 people in the room will decide that this world is real, and then…BOOM! It is real. And what makes everyone agree to it is pattern. Language and humor both work that way, and they are so inextricably linked; in terms of expectation: Expecting you to conjugate this way or hit the punchline here. Then, either by fulfilling or withholding that fulfillment, we get the response that we want.
BERG
There is something that is very satisfying about fulfilled pattern. All brains do is look for patterns everywhere. That’s why humans are good at finding metaphors and analogies.
FASEN
When this interview hits you are going to send Paul Grice book sales through the roof.
FERNIE
He’s going to skyrocket up Amazon.

SHORTFORM
SUGGESTION: DIFFERENT STAGES
BERG
It definitely affects it. I feel very at home at UCB now, but I don’t think that was always the case. I remember when we first started performing there being really thrown off by the lack of wings.
FASEN
We always play at UCB, so we’re just used to that stage. But even at UCB there can be concerns. Like, if it’s a smaller crowd so there aren’t people on the wings, you now have the whole stage to play with, so that’s going to bring its own change.
BERG
It comes down to responding to the performance space and trying to play organically to what that space needs.
FERNIE
We just went back and did a show at Vassar a couple weeks ago. It was in a huge, two-story room and there were no lights, besides ambient lights. There was a stage, but it’s a WEIRD space. You just get gobbled up and the sound gets gobbled up. You have to adjust the show.
FASEN
When we would do shows there in college we performed in these small classrooms, to the point where people were literally right in front of us. In some weird way it feels like we’ve come full-circle and now we have this crowd that knows us, that sees us kind of regularly, that’s packing in a stage. We were part of that in college and now we’ve managed to build a similar thing here.
FERNIE
There’s a bad side, too. We did a show recently that was ended by an audience member walking across the stage.
BERG
Yeah, we got edited by an audience member. Because of where they were sitting, Fernie and I saw movement out of the corner of our eyes and instinctively thought it was Todd. So we both did the improviser “freeze” to see who he was tagging out, but it was just somebody going to the bathroom.
FERNIE
I just kind of shrugged. “Engage? I don’t think I want to.” It was just ten seconds of us watching this person walk across the stage and then Todd ending the show.
FASEN
You guys were like deer in headlights.

SUGGESTION: INTERNAL CLOCKS
BERG
Mine is awful.
FERNIE
Berg’s is pretty bad.
FASEN
Mine has been much better since UCB started putting a clock up in the booth.
BERG
I would argue, by definition, that’s an external clock.
FASEN
Yes, but it helps my internal clock.

SUGGESTION: GAINING AN AUDIENCE
FERNIE
For the first year of our existence, more, it was just our friends coming.
BERG
We just liked to see who we could guilt into coming to see us.
FASEN
By the time we started performing at UCB our friends were all tired of us.
FERNIE
We’ve done shows for two people. NOT fun.
FASEN
But we did it. I remember one of our first shows, a Cagematch, there were three people in attendance. We won by one vote, two to one.
FERNIE
I still look out the curtain every week to make sure there’s a crowd.
BERG
Fifteen or sixteen weeks into the Cagematch, we started getting a following. Those first couple of weeks with really big crowds were so awesome. And then when it became where those big crowds were not such an aberrant thing, that was just as awesome.
FASEN
And now we have this sold-out show at such an amazing theatre as the Upright Citizen’s Brigade. It’s just such an honor that the theatre wants us performing on that stage, but the step above that is, people also want to see us performing on that stage.
FERNIE
It’s such a wonderful and crazy thing. In the end, you don’t do improv to get famous, and you don’t do improv to make money. We do it because we love it and we’d be doing it if no one was showing up. We we can say that because we have done it when no one has shown up.

SUGGESTION: THE END OF CAGEMATCH
BERG
We went first that night and knew as soon as we walked off the stage that we hadn’t done as strong a show as we could have, and I think within five minutes of their show it was obvious they had won. It was Kapeesh – Eric Appel and Ben Schwartz. Ben was only in from New York for one night and flew home the next day. Those dudes are so funny and they brought an unique brand of improv that a lot of people hadn’t seen before. I honestly think they deserved to win.
FERNIE
We knew we were going to start doing Thursdays the next month, so even if we had kept winning we were going to quit in two weeks. But it was sort of like getting shot the night before your retirement as a cop.
FASEN
I think had we not known we were going to get a regular slot maybe we would’ve been a little bit more disappointed. We had a shit show, they had a great show and the audience did what they were supposed to do. They voted for who had a better show that night. That’s how I want to go out.
BERG
It made all those victories take on that much more importance. We did a shit show and got voted off. All those other 44 weeks when we got voted through, that means people really liked us.
FERNIE
The only bummer was, for our “retirement” show, we were planning to promote it as Convoy against some Make-A-Wish kids whose only wish was to do an improv show. And then it was going to be Tom Lennon, Ben Garant, Kerry Kinney, and a bunch of other ‘The State’ people.
BERG
And they would all come out as these terribly-debilitated Make-A-Wish Foundation kids.
FASEN
With IV’s and stuff.
FERNIE
I think that would’ve been a blast.

SUGGESTION: PET-PEEVES
FERNIE
I will never hold it against someone when they say they don’t like improv. I’ve seen enough bad improv to understand. But what drives me nuts is improvisers that make people not like improv. They do these shows where it’s like, “Oh, it’s just improv, let’s have a few beers and get up there.” What’s the point? You should be making something worthwhile.
FASEN
You need to respect the stage. Respect the fact that you’ve been given this opportunity to perform. Whether it’s performing at the UCB or the Chuckle Hut in Duluth or your friend’s garage. Do the best you possibly can. If you want to dick around, go dick around in your living room. If you’re going to put it on a stage, make something that you’re proud of.
FERNIE
I don’t like improv that seems like people playing dress-up in the basement.
BERG
Or improv that seems like a bunch of friends going up to do inside jokes. I don’t think it’s fun to watch a couple of dude-friends get up on-stage and shit around like they would in their…
FASEN
“Shit around” is NOT a term.
FERNIE
Neither is “dude-friends.” You had two things in that sentence that weren’t terms. “Where’s Berg? Oh, he’s just shitting around with his best dude-friends.”
BERG
I’ve invented several terms in this interview.
FASEN
No one wants to see a shitty show, so don’t do a shitty show. Of course, everyone is going to have bad nights doing improv, but don’t give up before you even get on the stage.
BERG
And you’re never going to reach the point where you are the best improviser you could possibly be, so, at the very least, every time you go out there is another opportunity to sharpen the knife, so to speak.
FASEN
I’d rather go see a show where, maybe it’s not that funny or great, but it’s people on-stage trying and committing versus watching people who are maybe funnier, but you know can do better, and are instead just…”shitting around” the stage.

SUGGESTION: ANYTHING AT ALL
FERNIE
I think you should tell the readers about how much Berg is sweating right now. That’s a big stain, Berg.
BERG
Describe it as larger than a man’s hand, so the readers know.
FASEN
As a guy who sweats a lot, why did you go with the long-sleeve shirt today?
FERNIE
It seems like a faulty decision.
BERG
I don’t understand why you can’t just listen to what’s coming out of my mouth.
FERNIE
Because there are too many other things coming out of you.
BERG
There’s more than enough to go around. Who wants some?
FASEN
Get those sweat-bags away from me. It’s like a shower is pouring out of your armpits.

SUGGESTION: SOMETHING NEW
FERNIE
We’ve started doing “retractions” at the beginning of our set. Because we get specific about stuff like, say, the French Revolution, we consistently make errors during our shows.
BERG
It started about a month ago. We had this bit in a show where I went on a really long, super nerdy rant about Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing origin story…
FERNIE
…A rant so boring I walked out of the scene.
BERG
That’s right. A rant so boring it stopped the scene. A true-blue comic book nerd like Fernie said, “Nope,” and walked off. I can only imagine how the crowd felt. But I got a detail wrong, so the next week, sort of as a joke, we did a retraction at the top of the show. It’s become a fun thing to go back and find the stuff we missed.
FERNIE
Because they know. I say this all of the time: The audience will always be smarter than you. There are more of them than there are of you, so, collectively they are smarter. When you mess up, someone in the audience knows.
BERG
And part of why it’s fun is that we can say, “Whoever was here last week, it was planarian worms instead of nematodes.” Even if there’s only five or six people there who laugh at that retraction, it’s nice to feel like this isn’t just a room full of strangers, it’s a community of friends.
FASEN
We don’t just go straight into “Hey, we’re here! Let’s do stuff!” It’s a fun thing to do at the top of the show.
BERG
Or maybe it’s one of our group neuroticisms.
FERNIE
Stop it. Just stop it.

Thanks, dude-friends. You’ve been great.

My name is Ben and I interviewed them.

***RETRACTION*** – Neuroticism is a word.

April 15, 2009 Posted by | Interviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

   

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