John Lasavath

John Lasavath is a comedian from the St. Petersburg area. He is definitely in this year’s festival.

We’re so, so excited to have you performing with us in the inaugural Very Normal Festival, John! Can you tell us a little bit about your show? What can audiences expect to see?

Hey guys for the last time, I’m not performing in the festival. Quit texting me.

So let’s dig deep into your creative process. How did you first come up with the idea for the show? How did you develop it over time?

I wake up, I shower, and then I don’t perform in the festival. That’s my creative process.

You’re headlining the final block on Saturday night, and we couldn’t be more excited to have you there! Be honest: Are you nervous to have such a prime-time slot? How do you stay calm when you know that so much is riding on your performance?

Why do you guys keep giving me the headlining spot in all your festivals? The only thing I’m doing Saturday night is catching up on Great British Bake Off and I only get nervous when Noel Fielding talks to the bakers.

You’ve worked often with improv luminary Joe Bill. We’re not asking for spoilers or anything, but maybe just a little preview: Can we expect to see a cameo from him in your big show Saturday night?

I’m not on speaking terms with Joe Bill right now.

You’re a very funny guy, but we never knew that you could also sing! What inspired you to decide to share your musical talents with the world this time around? Are you hoping to show the world a different side of John Lasavath with this show?

Just no.

Finally — we are contractually obligated to ask this question — on an ascending scale from 1 to 10, how normal can we expect your show to be, and why?

I don’t even get the point of this festival. Is the whole thing just a meta bit? Speaking of numbers I don’t know how you got my phone number but I’m blocking you guys. Again.


Just a Few Quick Notes (Harpoon)

Chris George is a Chicago-based actor and improviser who performs with the ensemble Harpoon, among other groups. On Saturday, December 12 in the 7:37 p.m. EST show block, Harpoon will present their show Just A Few Quick Notes: an improvised post-show notes session for a just-finished improv show that did not actually happen. In this spotlight interview, George talks about the worst post-show notes he’s ever received, some of his favorite improviser archetypes, and why so many improv teams insist on giving notes while standing in a circle.

 We’re so excited to have you with us on the festival’s maiden voyage! Can you explain the concept of the show you and Harpoon will be doing on Saturday? What can audiences expect to see?

All of the Harpoon players are relative veterans to a number of national and international improv scenes, and we believe that improv teams and communities are often drama unto themselves; this show allows us to sort of embrace our usual sarcastic, high reference level improv into an improvised improv note session. We’ll be playing a fictional, but probably typical (and only slightly heightened) improv team getting notes after their show. We hope to play with some of the tropes and cliches of the practice of improv and how teams function, while also having fun getting to play characters that we all certainly have previously worked with (or maybe even have been in the past). 

What to you is the difference between a good post-show note and a bad post-show note? What’s the worst (or dumbest, or least welcome) improv post-show note you’ve ever gotten?

I think good notes are actionable, specific, and confirmatory. That is: there is something you can actually do or change, you know what needs to be changed, and they point “the way” as opposed to “not the way” (also included in confirmatory: when someone hits it, you endorse the success). Bad notes are soupy, general, long, and opportunities for the coach to prove how much “funnier” they are than you. To that last one, I think of the great film critic Roger Ebert, who had some authentically good zingers about some movies, which is great for him because he is writing these critiques as almost entertainment pieces unto themselves, but notes aren’t an opportunity for performance: they aren’t critiques or reviews, they are opportunities to shape the performance, and are literally part of the work.

Worst feedback I’ve gotten:

3. “Can you do it more like <other improviser> next time?”
2. “I really want you to be interested in moving on to another team.” (Note: I never got another team there, the coach just wanted it to look like I did to make the owner happy.)
1. “You’re too straight and white.”

Why do improv groups like to stand in a circle when they do notes after a show? Why not just sit down in chairs or something? Why is the improv community so obsessed with “circling up?” Please ignore this question if you have no idea what we’re talking about, it’s possible that this is just a NYC thing. 

Not just a NYC thing; I’ve been in my fair share of circles from San Diego to Vancouver to Richmond. The “answer these questions right” part of me says: a circle is a nice way for everyone to be able to see each other, standing hopefully would encourage them to be shorter (I think of “stand up” meetings I’ve had at work being generally half to a third as long as the “sit down” meetings), and people can’t get too comfortable and lose focus if they’re standing (that last one feels like a stretch). The “snarky” part of me says: one teacher thought it worked well one time, and we’ve never given it up. I’ve done plays, and we usually get notes sitting around the rehearsal space or in email, so I think we’re the outlier.

You are a scholar of improviser archetypes — like “guy who really wants to be doing standup,” and “woman who only plays animals or children,” and so on. Can we expect Just a Few Quick Notes to toy with/pay tribute to some of these archetypes during your set? What are some of your “favorite” improviser archetypes?

Most definitely. At Harpoon’s rehearsal, we spent about an hour writing down archetypes, and then drafting a very loose framework of character POV’s to play that would (hopefully) best exemplify enough of those motifs to recreate the (woefully) worst improv team of all time. Gosh, this is a tough one, because I think at some level we’re all one of them and I’ve probably been a good chunk of them, and also because I’m thinking “does ‘favorite’ mean ‘best’ or ‘worst’?” What person would I want to be on a team with? I came up with a hopeful list:

Worst: “Person who thinks their improv or their theater is a gift to all mankind”

Best: “Person who actually understands the work requires diligent, constant, mindful effort”

Rarest: “Person who watches shows, but not because they’re in them, their partner is in them, they’re coaching them, directing them, or someone famous is in them”

You wrote a play during the pandemic, which is amazing! What’s it about? What inspired you to write it?

 I wrote two actually! “A Weekend at Macbeth’s” is a parody mashup of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and the 1989 “comedy” “Weekend at Bernie’s”. The plot is that two fools in the Scottish court are intended to take the fall for King Duncan’s murder and have to pretend that he’s still alive for the weekend. It lampoons a lot of Shakespeare stuff and some 1980’s excess, while also exploring themes of destiny, power, authority, and responsibility. I think it’s fairly funny, and I’ve gotten some good feedback from some table reads I’ve done; I’m putting the finishing touches on it now in the hopes that I’ll be able to stage it next year. The other is “Fakespeare”, which is a “what if”: Shakespeare’s acting company, on their last night in the Globe, get rip-roaring drunk and improvise the greatest play they’ve ever performed only they can’t remember a thing about it the next day and have to do an exact, encore performance for the king or lose their patronage forever. I get to play around with some Shakespeare tropes in it, which is familiar ground now, but also had a lot of fun playing with some theater and improv stereotypes. Basically, it’s high time we knocked improv down a peg or two. Not sure what the plan for the second one is right now, but hopefully live theater will return in 2021. I think in general I’ve been trying to find ways to fill the creative itch, and I had been wanting to create stuff for a while that was more permanent than improv that I could use to demonstrate what “I can do,” so here we are.

 Finally — we are contractually obligated to ask this question — on an ascending scale from 1 to 10, how normal is Just a Few Quick Notes, and why?

A 10, obviously: everything in the festival is very normal.


Disney Princess Zoom Call

The Disney Princess Zoom Call is a show featuring five Disney princesses living their best quarantine lives in 2020. Starring Tori Baird, Alicia K. Garcia, Stephanie Rae, Lauren Ross, and Katerina Smith, the Disney Princess Zoom Call will take place on Thursday, December 10 in the 7:00 p.m. EST show block at the 2020 Very Normal Festival. In this spotlight interview, Tori Baird talks about the challenges inherent in playing such well-known characters, the upside of Zoom performances, and whether or not she thinks Disney villains *also* have a regular Zoom call.

The conceit of your show is so fun! Do you think it also poses an interesting challenge for the cast as actors, in terms of how to bring something new to these well-known roles? What are some ways in which you’re working to meet that challenge? 

Absolutely! There were some tropes that were just too fun not to play with, but as a whole we really tried to focus on a grounded personification of these classic characters. The question was always “What would Snow White do in 2020 on a zoom call” and then expanding on that, instead of “what is a stereotype of this character.” The goal with our comedy is always smart and witty so that made diving into these story book characters a delightful experience! It really all stems from treating them like real people. My question was always how human can we make them while still keeping the magic alive. The end result is a bunch of princesses who bicker and love and have pet peeves and inside jokes all while still singing a merry little tune. 

Was it difficult to determine which Disney princesses to include and which to omit from the show? Are there any princesses that you wish you’d been able to include that just didn’t make the cut?

So difficult! If we had it our way there would be a nod to every princess! I (Tori) personally would have LOVED to see how Rapunzel was handling a SECOND quarantine in her kingdom of Corona. But at the end of the day we had to come back to “what story are we telling and which characters tell that best.” Who knows though, maybe a spinoff is in the works! 

Do you think that the Disney villains also have a regular group zoom call? If so, who do you think organizes it; who’s the “funny” one; who constantly forgets to unmute themselves; and which villain is the butt of all the other villains’ jokes?

Oh they DEFINITELY do. They heard about the princesses call and got jealous so Malfecient organized a group call. Captain Hook always has trouble with the mute buttons for obvious reasons and Hades roasts him endlessly about it. But they can never get everyone in the same room, bad RSVP etiquette. 

We’re roughly nine months into this new Zoom world. Have you found anything that you *prefer* about Zoom/online performance to live theater? What, if anything, will you miss about Zoomprov when the world reopens and we can all do this in person again?

I think if done right it can create a really intimate focused environment for performers and the audience without some of the distractions of live venues. That being said, there’s nothing quite like a in person show and we are all so excited to see everyone’s faces when it’s safe!

Finally — we are contractually obligated to ask this question — on an ascending scale from 1 to 10, how normal is your show and why?

Definitely 10 very normal. Just gals being pals. What could be more normal than that?


I’m With Her

Bill Binder and Merrie Greenfield improvise together as the duo I’m With Her. Based out of the Torch Theatre in Phoenix, Binder and Greenfield will perform in the 10:10 pm EST show block on Wednesday, December 9 at the 2020 Very Normal Festival. In this spotlight interview, Binder and Greenfield discuss the genesis of their duo, how they know when they’ve had a “good” show, and why it seems like there are so many Chicago transplants in the Phoenix area.

We’re so lucky to have both of you with us this year! Tell us about I’m With Her. What can audiences expect from your show this year?

We both feel so lucky and excited to be involved, thank you! Merrie here, and I’m haunted by writing show descriptions, but I’ll try. I think audiences can expect seasoning of vulnerable and/or emotional prodding, in a bouillabaisse of grounded/absurd play and references to antiquated pop culture nobody remembers/wants to remember except us. Bill has provided a couch for me to quarantine away from my older, immunocompromised parents this year, for which I’m immensely grateful and in constant awe of. I’m sure the extra lockdown time in the same space has been marinating a couple of heightened shows, hopefully even sillier than we usually get. Also, I just learned I’ve been using “bouillabaisse” wrong for literally years.  

Can you please tell us your duo origin story? We seem to recall that it involves the 2016 presidential election, is that right?  

Bill Binder: I actually had a two-person Cagematch-type show at another theater across town and my scene partner had to drop out last second, so I asked Merrie to sit in. It was right around the 2016 election.  

Merrie Greenfield: Ha, Bill always misremembers this as pre-election, but I have an emotional atlas I can consult. It was actually 12 or so hours before Trump’s inauguration ceremony in 2017. The other theater is run by really kind folx, located in a much more MAGA-centric demographic than the Torch. The last time I’d been there, I was performing on a show Matt Storrs and Hattie Hayes put together… on 2016’s presidential election night. Coming back was weird. 

I’m from New York, so I already knew Trump wasn’t “putting on an act,” as I heard theorized. I’d volunteered to get HRC elected. I had to be a human Snopes page more than during any other progressive volunteering I’ve done. The loss wasn’t a shock, I’d already had some wonderful private discussions with a few loved BIPOC loved ones and it was impossible to miss the tenor in my feed. But I was still upset I hadn’t done more and I was on a low constant boil of rage. I wanted to poke the bear. Bill suggested calling ourselves “I’m With Her,” knowing all this and noting how anxious I was to replace an improvisor with years of experience, still intimidated by Bill’s talent. Since he’s well-known in the improv world and I’m not so much, I thought “I’m with Her” was really supportive. I remember being nervous about it, though, because dogs own guns out here. It would be a bait and switch, as we wouldn’t reference politics in the set. Then I was mad about being afraid. He let me decide, but encouraged me it was the right name for the moment.

BB: Especially since it was kind of an ad hoc show. 

MG: One night only.  In a suburb.

BB: We wound up winning by audience vote to return, and we enjoyed the give and take of our play and decided to keep it going.

MG: Bill and I already clicked as colleagues and friends, and he made good on a promise to have my back.  It was satisfying the audience was so warm towards us by the end of it.  

You’re two of the most thoughtful improvisers we know, both in terms of your choices on stage and the ways in which you approach the craft of improvisation. So we wanted to ask: What to you constitutes a “good” I’m With Her show? How do you define success within your duo and your format?

BB: Why, thank you. 

MG: Wow, that’s so kind to say, especially coming from you two. I adored talking to some of our students after your From Justin to Kelly shows, and watching them watch you, sitting forward in their seats. A few literally said they had no idea that’s what improv could be. I am very inspired by you two in multiple ways! I have to save this for future Imposter Syndrome moments.

BB: Our best shows probably come when we find a good relationship (or two) that just feels easy to play forever. A good show has us discover things about each other. A great show has us discovering things about ourselves through each other.

MG: Bill and I are so different offstage, but I trust him implicitly. I have a lot of fun when Bill plays a character totally in control, and my character pours Strawberry Quik all over his blueprints. He does the same to my reserved characters. One of us will tag in with a touch of manic pixie dream girl for the other person. I love the moments when Bill plays someone who isn’t All Business. Offstage Bill’s silliness and generosity of spirit is fun to see peeking through. If anyone else has anywhere near as much fun onstage as I do, if it feels like the times when we’re making the other person wheeze with laughter offstage?  Jackpot.    

The two of you also — and perhaps primarily — perform with several larger ensembles in the Phoenix area. Does duoprov scratch a particular itch for you both that large-format improv doesn’t? Are there things you find uniquely rewarding about duo performance?

BB: Both offer awesome gifts. One thing that’s great about two-person shows is that you can settle in on a good run of discovery and be as patient as you want to let it flower.

MG: I love the big ensembles I’m lucky enough to work with. But two- and three-person teams draw me like a magnet. I grew up on my parents’ stories about the Nichols and May show they saw in a little NY club, about how in tune they were. My favorite shows to watch are either so committed to having fun the train is in danger of jumping the rails, or else high dosage vulnerability. Managing both is always the goal. We were forced to strip away as much pretense as possible in my scripted theater training and I was intimidated out of even trying improv after seeing positively magical shows like that in Chicago. I love when I wonder if an improvisor is using their own life onstage, because it feels voyeuristic and true. I love feeling like I found someone’s diary, or like it’s part of a well-made documentary. That’s a much easier goal for me with one or two other humans.

The two of us were in Phoenix last year for Ghostfest, and for some reason we ended up spending a lot of time at the bar of the Lou Malnati’s in the strip mall down the road from the Torch. Our question is this: Why are there so many Chicago people in the Phoenix area? (Justin is himself a Chicago person who has *lots of* relatives who have relocated to Phoenix.) Any theories?

BB: You know how when you buy a new car, you suddenly see it everywhere? When you learn a new word it pops up three times in the next week? 

MG: Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. Not to be confused with the Dunning-Kruger effect.  

BB: That’s Phoenix. If you’re from Cincinnati, you’ll meet 45 people from there in your first week. If you’re from Detroit, you’ll be surprised how many Detroiters pop up right away. This city exploded since the invention of air conditioning. Our population is 45 times what it was in the 50’s. So most people here identify from where they used to live. Also Chicago is very cold, and Phoenix is not.

MG: I disagree, ha!  I meet other New York transplants out here, but nothing like Chicago expats. They are legion. NY tends to slide mostly down to Florida when it gets sick of the grind, in my experience, and I think a lot of Chicago started coming out to Arizona because of the Cubs spring training and somewhat nearish White Sox training. (I was so happy to leave behind commutes through the mobs of suburban frat guy Cubs fans in Chicago, but now I regularly have to commute through them again after their facility moved in my path.  Go Sox.) When we moved from Long Island, there just weren’t a lot of Jewish people out here. It’s better now, but I still run into “exotic” reactions more than I should, you know?  [My parents LOVED watching The Frisco Kid with Gene Wilder a lot when I was a kid, maybe as catharsis.] I think the whole cowboy pew pew thing deters a lot of potential transplants, except Chicagoans, who harbor nostalgia for the ’20s gangster pew pew thing. I remember I always got shit for moving from Phoenix to Chicago, but I’d just say “I’d rather be cold than embarrassed of my state, especially politically.” I love how mad and desperate some people here are getting while confronting that’s changed. Poke. The. Bear.

Finally — we are contractually obligated to ask this question — on an ascending scale from 1 to 10, how normal is your show and why?

Negative three. Because that’s what this festival demands of us. We’re going to be so damned normal, you’ll start feeling self-conscious about any weirdness you harbor. Also, this answer is not abnormal. Go to sleep.


Heart to Heart with Vanessa

Vanessa Anton is an improviser based in San Diego, Calif. In her show Heart to Heart with Vanessa, she invites audience members to join her in a heartfelt conversation and then perform some improv scenes based on that conversation. Anton will perform Heart to Heart with Vanessa at the start of the 9:15 p.m. EST show block on Saturday, December 12 at the 2020 Very Normal Festival. In this spotlight interview, Anton discusses the genesis of her show, the ways in which online performance can work to facilitate authenticity and vulnerability in improv, and what she likes about living in San Diego.

Watch the show on Twitch:

We’re so happy to have you with us this year, Vanessa! Can you tell us a bit about your show and how you came up with the idea?

Thank you for having me! My show is Heart to Heart with Vanessa and I submitted solo. I hoped that someone would join me and have a conversation about something we’re currently feeling/ experiencing, and then do a little improv! Pretty simple, I suppose! I got lucky that not one, but TWO people were interested. Thanks to your zoom meetups, I found Casey Newman and Susan Kleinman. And we’ll do the set together!

We all know that it can be really hard for comedians to just sit down and talk to each other sincerely, without the conversation devolving into an escalating sequence of bits. What successful strategies have you found for getting people to open up and be vulnerable?

I have found that sharing my own fears, etc. has helped in letting others be more open. I’m also not afraid to embarrass myself or do very dorky things to make others feel more at ease. Also, I like to just call out moments that don’t feel genuine, and encourage others to approach the moment with more honesty and authenticity. If you feel like crap or like an imposter or you have no idea what to say, just use that. Use that feeling, or fear in the character you’re playing instead of pushing so hard to find the “correct” thing to say.

You’ve long been a champion of vulnerability and authenticity in improv. What appeals to you about this style of play? And do you think there are ways in which online performance facilitates vulnerability and authenticity moreso than live performance?

When I started teaching I noticed how people would second guess themselves and try hard to be something they weren’t. So I began focusing on coming from an honest place. Using that realness in characters, instead of trying hard to be “funny” or like a comedian they admire. The interesting thing about being online is that you are there facing each other in these boxes. There isn’t a whole stage space or a physical audience to distract us. We’re present in a different way when we do virtual improv and I think it is even more powerful to play authentically in this space.

You’re the director of inclusion and vulnerability for Cornerstone Improv in San Diego. What does that role entail, and how does it fit within Cornerstone’s broader mission?

Cornerstone has been on a hiatus this year, but when we’re in business the heart of our org is the Inclusion Scholarship. Each workshop has an inclusion spot, some have two. The lovely part is how involved the community got in this with donated inclusion spots. It was really awesome to see folks thrive in a space they might not have been able to be in financially. I look forward to getting back to this again someday. 

You’re based in San Diego! What do you like about living there, other than the weather?

I’ve come to realize how important good weather is! Especially when you’re at home most of the year due to lockdowns. I also love that San Diego is a big city with a smaller feel. And how you the beach, city, desert and mountains are all within reach. I’ve often said I want to move elsewhere, but it’s been 24 years, and I’m still here. I must like it!

Finally — we are contractually obligated to ask this question — on an ascending scale of 1 to 10, how normal would you say your show is, and why?

Hmm, I think it’s actually pretty normal. Maybe a 7? But if you consider that I’ll be playing with two people that I just met a few weeks ago in zoom boxes that you all set up for the Very Normal Fest on the internet, maybe it isn’t as normal after all? But 7 is my final answer. For now


Stay Tied by the Campfire

Greg Philippi is an improviser and actor based out of Boca Raton, Fla. He will perform his solo show Stay Tied by the Campfire on Friday, December 11 in the 6:00 p.m. EST block at this year’s Very Normal Festival. In this spotlight interview, Philippi talks about what audiences can expect from his show, his long and fascinating career in the entertainment industry, and the time he and his band got banned from a punk club in Soho.

You’ll be gathering us all around a virtual campfire for your festival show, Stay Tied by the Campfire. What can audiences expect when they tune in for your show on Friday? 

Rope…They will see rope. It’s a gritty crime drama and I’m all tied up. Okay, so maybe not quite a crime drama. I mean it’s rather bloodless. Audiences will meet some of my imaginary friends… but are they imaginary, really? For example: I know an exotic squash that just joined the library and I’m quite proud of that fact. I had made the acquaintance of an eggplant who adores being cuddled. Don’t we all? So yeah, they should expect to see me, in my jammies, next to a warm plastic fire and I’ll invite them in to sit beside me at the fire and meet a few friends. We might even celebrate with a couple songs provided there’s something to celebrate or lament. Love songs? I don’t think so. That would be going a bit too far. Okay, okay. Sorry, they’re talking in my ear. Right. I’m getting push back from a few of the culinary side dish items. They tell me due to the travel restrictions from COVID, you never know “what” might stop by as opposed to “who”… I’d just like to leave you with this one thought; What if Rodin sculpted a marshmallow? Would that have changed the trajectory of modern art?

Tell us a little bit about your improv journey. What got you interested in improv in the first place? What keeps you interested in it now?

I had been director of music for Vin Dibona Productions (America’s Funniest Home Videos and America’s Funniest People) and manager network music West Coast at the ABC-TV network, where I’d also worked in prime time dramatic programming. Anyhow, I’d just left a corporate job and saw this ad in the L.A. Weekly (west coast version of the Village Voice) for the Second City. The ad spoke to me, and soon after I signed up for the Second City conservatory program. That is what started my improv journey. It was an interesting time for me because I’d had a career, shifted gears midstream, and began to embrace the craft a bit later than many.  

Years earlier, while studying at NYU, I would watch SNL religiously and even went to see the original cast. I remember sending SNL postcards and postcard-size photos of me with witty verbiage on the back; sometimes I mailed a couple a week, thinking the show might invite me to audition. However, at the time I was a musician not an actor and I had no clue how the cast was recruited. I didn’t even know about improvisers or what improv was. With the popularity of improv now, I know that’s hard to believe.

When I went through the Second City program, the final show involved acting and that was a new frontier. Final shows at Second City were all written by improvising an idea or concept over and over until a game or story emerged. Our final show then ran for several weeks and agents came.

After Second City I had some auditions for Fox television and several national commercials, though nothing connected right away so I kinda stepped away from improv for a time to deal with life. A few years later I jumped back in with both feet going through the UCB program as well as taking iOWest courses. I also studied at Monkey Butler Comedy. They’ve since closed but were run by former iOWest instructors. There was so much improv in Los Angeles during that time, I could go play or watch a show seven days a week and at a myriad of different theaters. There were also jam sessions available 4 nights a week at various theaters, which was a chance to not only perform but meet new players and keep your improv chops sharp. My wife had taken a job in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and I was traveling back and forth. Eventually I joined my wife here in south Florida. 

What keeps me interested in improv today is that improv is constantly changing, and there’s always something new and unexpected around the corner. It’s also a great way to exercise my mind, a stimulating creative outlet and a way to meet new people. Over the past few years I’ve become more interested in musical improv and I find that exciting. I’d also really like to put together a strong musical improv team. 

Can you share with us some memorable moments from your improv career?

I was performing in a jam at Second City when they were located in the HBO Comedy space connected to the Improv in West Hollywood CA. Robin Williams shows up and sits in the back. I’d heard that comedians get material from improv shows. I saw Robin and got so freaked I didn’t take the stage till he left. The funny thing is that the week I arrived in Hollywood he was in front of me in line at the locale Vons grocery store and about two weeks after that he exploded onto the scene as Mork.

One of my Second City instructors, Tom Booker, who was also a founding member of the Annoyance Theater in Chicago, invited Cindy Williams (Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley both on ABC-TV) to see me perform. She was evidently putting together a traveling group of improvisers. Tom, the instructor, decided to tell me just as we were going on stage. I decided to come up with the most unusual character possible for an improvised sketch in which I usually shined. The sketch went to crazy town because of my choice. 

An improv coach who knew I’d been a professional musician recommended me to a casting director, which resulted in my auditioning for an MTV show that was going to be about an improv troupe who formed a rock band. I went to the audition and did well plus made a positive impression on the producer, but MTV never moved forward with the concept. Still, the audition was thrilling…  

As a monologist for a Monkey Butler Comedy show in Hollywood, I appeared before an audience of over 300 which was the largest improv audience I think I’ve ever performed for. The show was a success, though at that moment I realized there is no money in improv.  

I played Tarzan in an improv/sketch piece I wrote for a competition judged by Derek Waters (creator Drunk History) at Second City. Tarzan was the straight man, Jane the clueless ingenue, and our chimp was the wacky character that bounced everything off the straight man. We placed second. 

Rumor has it that in addition to being a veteran improviser, you also have a background in music, playing in bands in punk clubs in New York. Can you tell us a story from that period in your life?

So yeah, I played in punk bands in New York, then went to Detroit where I did the same, and then eventually Los Angeles, where I played in bands for a period before eventually working in the industry other than as a musician. I played bass on a tribute to Johnny Thunders (New York Dolls) album with the Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith. I sat in on guitar with one-hit wonders Animotion (“My Obsession” on Polygram records) after having been in a band with their original keyboardist (now an Emmy Award-winning music supervisor), jammed with Doors guitarist Robby Krieger in his studio, and I had a short lived music supervision company with Iggy Pop bassist Tony Sales (son of comedian Soupy Sales) — but you want a story from my time in the Village in New York… 

I was playing a punk club in Soho, now an area filled with upscale clothing shops. It was a warehouse district then. Clubs requested two shows per night. My band was supposed to be sharing the bill with another group, so as co-headliners we’d agreed to headline the first show and the other band would headline the second show. 

After the first set there was a break. Our bassist sent our keyboard player uptown for some piece of gear knowing she’d be late returning so he could tell the club we had to go on second. The other band was pissed and rightly so when we didn’t take the first slot. Half the crowd were fans of the other act. So when we took the stage the crowd began to get rowdy and then angry and at the end of our second set a riot broke out. During the riot the bathroom mirror was smashed and the basement storage room broken into by a mob. Club patrons began helping themselves to free beer. I had two 1950s mannequins I’d set up in front of my gear for our show. One was smashed during the commotion. My somewhat conservative girlfriend ran out of the club screaming because the other fans were yelling obscenities and then I had to turn my amp away from the crowd so the speaker wouldn’t get kicked in. When I poked my head outside of the club for a breath of air, there was a pimp cutting coke on the hood of my car with a few ladies from his stable. I decided against disturbing them, instead returning back to the club, which banned us and the other band from ever returning.

You’ve got a book coming out soon about how improv can improve your everyday life. What inspired you to write the book? And is it true that it features an anecdote about Johnny Depp?

Life Improvised, the new book, explores improv concepts using some stories from my life as examples. The book looks at how your life can strengthen your work on stage and how your work on stage can improve your life. 

Yes, I had an encounter with Johnny Depp that I use as an example of creating strong opening lines. I also write about role-playing with Prince, a jam session I was invited to by Jon Anderson lead vocalist with classic rock band Yes. In his case I use the story as an example of my own self-sabotage. There’s an anecdotal story in which I came face to face with Michael Jackson in a comic store, and a narrow escape from a rapper known as The Claw who had a metal arm that clicked when he was upset like a Bond villain.

Life Improvised; Listening Between the Lines is more than stories. The book also takes a look at improv concepts not often covered in improv books, such as the seven magical realms improvisers utilize, power objects, and playing animals.

Though you’ve lived all over, you currently live in Boca Raton, Florida. What’s your most favorite and least favorite thing about living in south Florida?

I have lived in at least eight states, and some multiple times. We moved every couple years when I was growing up. The least favorite thing about south Florida is the humidity during the summer months. It can be brutal. My favorite thing is the wildlife. I love all the different kinds of lizards, snakes, turtles, toads, frogs, and birds. It’s fascinating. 

Having lived in southern California for most of my adult life. when I first arrived in Florida I had a hard time getting used to the food, and really missed living in an actual city and having the cultural events of a city at my fingertips, as well as being surrounded by the entertainment industry. I was also upset that it’s so hard to keep cacti alive in the humidity here. Next, it took some adjusting to living in a red state. I’ve been here awhile now and there are some great people and many are very talented and creative improvisers as well. That makes up for a lot. 

Finally — we are contractually obligated to ask this question — on an ascending scale of 1 to 10, how normal would you say your show is, and why?

So are you stating 1 as normal to 10 as super normal or maybe 1 as normal to 10 as super abnormal? I’ll put it this way: My son once told me he liked New Orleans, which is a place I love. NOLA is a real breath of fresh air. My son said he liked it cause it was the only place I’d taken him that’s more abnormal than L.A. I’ll just say here and now that my show isn’t Nebraska-normal nor is it New Orleans or Los Angeles weird. It’s somewhere in between New Orleans and Los Angeles. I like to think of Tied to the Campfire as a Dorothy Lamour picture during her Hawaiian period. It’s got nice legs!