For Norman Ryan, improv is a family affair. The retired high school teacher-turned-improviser performs improv and sketch comedy alongside his son, Luke Lynndale. Together, they are the cooky father comedy duo DUO DAD.
Norman, who was born in Australia, immigrated to Canada in 1960, where he earned two bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees and a PhD in engineering. And that’s just one chapter in his life. In a later chapter, in 2009 to be precise, he turned to improv, at the suggestion of his son, to further his public speaking and listening skills.
Now, Norman, who is turning 85 this week (let’s eat cake!), performs across Toronto as one half of DUO DAD. I caught up with him about his journey in the improv and comedy scene…and his life in general, because we want to know more!
First off, happy birthday Norman! Can tell us a bit about yourself?
I first immigrated to Canada with $50 in my pocket. Now, I’ve earned a Master’s degree in education at McGill University, a Master’s degree in engineering at Concordia University, and a PhD in metallurgical engineering at Concordia. I also play bridge three to four times a week and I love to travel. I’d love to visit Bucharest next.
Holy degrees! And how did you get into improv?
In 2009, I wanted to improve my public speaking and my son suggested that I take improv classes at Second City. Since then, I’ve taken the improv program at Second City, classes at Impatient Theatre Company, Bad Dog Theatre and The Social Capital Theatre, as well as The Improv Retreat in Wisconsin.
What has the journey been like for you after getting started in improv?
I’ve struggled with listening due to my lack of hearing and have often been told to listen more. I work hard at being a good listener. Also, I have found the openness of all the young people in improv lovely. I have been accepted with open arms.
What would you say is your biggest accomplishment as an improviser?
Being invited to perform at the Boston Improv Festival.
That is amazing! What was that like?
Amazing! The sellout crowds were enthusiastic and wonderful. I felt like a star.
Do you have any favourite moments or scenes?
Performing with my son, Luke, as DUO DAD. In 2017, we made it to round three of the World’s Biggest Improv Festival and it was a thrilling ride.
That’s so cool that you perform alongside your son. How did the idea for DUO DAD come about?
We were taking a workshop with Matt Folliot and we ended doing a scene together and Matt thought it was hilarious. Performing with my son is a joy. He’s one of the most generous people I’ve met in my life.
How has performing with Luke impacted your relationship? Are you guys closer now?
We are definitely closer now. Performing together has created many opportunities for us to spend some great moments together. Most of the time, I lean on him and his support of me.
How has improv made a difference in your life?
Improv has improved my interpersonal relationships. I feel more free and confident to by myself. Being a very mathematical and scientific person, feeling comfortable to think on my feet has not always been easy.
One of the fundamental rules of improv is that it’s okay to make mistakes. Can you tell me about a time that you’ve messed up on stage and just rolled with it?
With my age, I’m not good with names. I’ll sometimes refer to a character as Henry and then later in that same scene refer to that same character as George.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to get into improv?
Don’t give up. Take the stage as often as you can. It’s a great experience.
Where can we see you on stage?
I perform regularly at The Social Capital Theatre and any where they’ll have me.
Is there anything else you would like to add or anything you would like to plug?
On December 6th, my son is producing a show called Normando in honour of my 85th birthday. The show will take place at The Social Capital Theatre at 10pm. I will be interviewed by Lance Byrd and then improvisors will create scenes based on those interview answers.
Thank you so much for sharing! In case you’re wondering, there will be cake at the show on December 6th. Happy 85th birthday, Norman!