A family affair

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“Performing together has created many opportunities for us to spend some great moments together,” says improviser Norman Ryan about performing with his son Luke. “Most of the time, I lean on him and his support of me.” Photo credit: Brent Robichaud.

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! 

Pushing past your fears through improv

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“It’s been an exhilarating journey learning to push past my own fears and perfectionism,” says actor and improviser Samara Stern, pictured left with fellow improviser Dana Puddicombe on the right. Photo credit: Peter Stelmach

When Samara Stern started pursuing improv, she learned rather quickly that it’s okay to make mistakes. “It taught me that I can make mistakes and it will be okay,” she says. “The world won’t end. That lesson has helped me take bigger risks in my acting, writing and personal life.”

Samara, a Toronto-based actress, turned her talents to improv in 2013. Now, she teaches improv at Second City’s Education Company and summer camp. “It feels really good to be giving back to the community by helping kids express themselves and take creative risks,” she says.

Here’s what Samara had to say about her journey in improv.

How did you get into improv?

Throughout the years, my teachers and friends encouraged me to enrol at Second City. I really love script analysis and so the idea of going on stage without knowing the guideposts of the scene was really scary to me.

While I knew I was funny in the way I interacted with the world, I didn’t think I could be intentionally funny. I took Foundations 1 at Bad Dog Theatre in 2013 and loved it. I turned my focus to screenwriting for awhile but then signed up for Improv for Actors at Second City in 2016. With no expectation that I would get in, I auditioned for the Second City Conservatory. All I knew was that I was having fun and wanted to keep having fun. I was accepted into the Long Form Improv Conservatory and have been hooked on the art form ever since.

What has the journey been like for you after getting started in improv?

It’s been an exhilarating journey learning to push past my own fears and perfectionism. I used to constantly second guess and judge myself. I learned quickly that there is no time for those negative thoughts because by the timeline is out of your mouth, you are already in the next moment of the scene. One of the core principles of improv is support so I know that whatever idea I throw out on stage, my scene partner will support it.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment as an improviser?

I am in the improv troupe Abra Cadaver which has been rehearsing and performing together for over two years. That’s like a marriage in improv years! I am proud of the way we always find something new and exciting to play.

Haha. I love the name Abra Cadaver. How did you come up with it?

Abra Cadaver was a Second City grad team formed out of the long form Improv conservatory so likely the name was created by Rob Norman or Martha Stortz.

Do you have any favourite moments or scenes?

It was an absolute blast playing with so many of my improv heroes in The Harold Experience at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

That’s awesome! Who are your improv heroes?

The Harold Experience was a masterclass in improv. I could watch Ken Hall, Paloma Nuñez, Ashley Botting, Matt Folliot, Becky Johnson, Adam Cawley, and Rob Baker forever so it was a huge thrill to work with them. Rob Norman directed the show. He was my teacher in terms one and two of the Longform Conservatory so it was wonderful to work with him again.

How has improv made a difference in your life?

The greatest gift I’ve gotten from improv is the consistent practice of putting myself out there without being attached to the outcome. That has translated to all aspects of my life. It’s one thing to say you are confident. It is another thing to practice, fail, and learn in your bones that no matter what situation you are in, you can handle it.

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?

I was able to audition for the Second City Conservatory with a theatre degree but had never previously performed in an improv show. My first show was after my first conservatory class and my scene did not go well. I am so grateful for that experience because it taught me that I can make mistakes and it will be okay. The world won’t end. That lesson has helped me take bigger risks in my acting, writing and personal life.

What advice do you have for anyone looking to get into improv?

There are so many beginner and drop-in classes that you can try. In fact, Second City has an Improv for Anxiety course. My experience was that the only way to push past the worst case scenario voice was to practice going outside of my comfort zone in a safe, supportive environment

Where can we see you on stage?

I perform regularly with Abra Cadaver. Dana Puddicombe and I host the Fresh Start improv jam at The Social Capital Theatre on the first Monday of every month as our duo FoxTrap!

Is there anything else you would like to add or anything you would like to plug?

I had a blast playing Alex in the web series Wholesome Foods I Love You… Is That Okay?, which is streaming on Amazon Prime US/UK, YouTube, Stareable, SeekaTV and www.wfily.com.

In 2014, I wrote a short film that screened at film festivals and am currently writing the second draft of a feature film.

www.samarastern.com
www.instagram.com/samarastern

Thank you for sharing your story, Samara!

Creating something out of nothing is as good as it gets

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“Improv has made an enormous impact on my life,” says Joe Amero. “It changed my entire way of thinking and dealing with people.”

For Joe Amero, a social worker turned improviser, his biggest accomplishment is pursuing his dream of getting into comedy. “Walking out there with nothing and creating something funny or sweet or brilliant or whatever with someone is as good as it gets,” he says. “It’s pure joy.”

Joe started improvising three years ago. Born and raised in Toronto, he lives in Hamilton with his family and commutes to Toronto for work and for improv. He notes that his commute is filled with podcasts, reflective thoughts and endless tears. Here’s what Joe had to say about his journey in improv and what he has gotten out of it.

How did you get into improv?

When my wife was pregnant with our first daughter, I took her to see a live performance of Night of the Living Dead at Theatre Passe Muraille for her birthday. After the show we were walking and talking about life and it hit me, that’s what I wanted to do!  After all the years of studying and paying my dues in the social services field, I forgot about my first love: comedy! Here we are talking about how we’re going to teach our kids to follow their dreams, and I’m just completely sidetracked doing what I needed to get by instead of what I truly wanted to be happy. The next day we were walking through Trinity Bellwoods Park and I found a tiny flyer for classes at Second City Toronto on a lamp post. It was a sign, literally, so I looked them up online. At the very last second, I chickened out and pushed the button for the comedy writing program since I had zero improv experience and figured I could check it out safely from there. I loved everyone I met there and would check out the long-form shows after every class. I was hooked!  As soon as I finished the writing program, I signed up for improv level A and there was no turning back.

What has the journey been like for you after getting started in improv?

The journey for me has been completely amazing so far. I’ve studied with the best instructors, formed a troupe that has trained and failed and failed and succeeded together. We’ve travelled to festivals and had our own monthly show. I’ve made great friends whom I would have never otherwise even met and we’ve laughed and shared and created and played together. Plus, we’ve gotten to be a part of The Assembly since the very beginning!

That’s awesome! Can you tell us more about your troupe?

My improv troupe Pepperoni Pizza Cats was born in the long-form conservatory at Second City. We soon started our own monthly show, stuck together after graduation, and have played in festivals in Toronto, Detroit and New York City.  We voted on the name, I lost, and I’m glad I did because people seem to love it as much as I have grown to. Pizza Cat is one of those things on the void that is the internet that makes zero sense, yet says it all, and is just for fun, which suits us perfectly.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment as an improviser?

My biggest accomplishment as an improviser is becoming one in the first place. Walking out there with nothing and creating something funny or sweet or brilliant or whatever with someone is as good as it gets. It’s pure joy.

Do you have any favourite scenes?

One of my favourite moments so far was at a workshop with Mick Napier.  He said, “Improvising is the least important thing you will ever do in your whole life, or at least it should be.”

Great perspective!  At break time, he told me I was pretty funny and I said, “Thanks! So are you.” He laughed.

How has improv made a difference in your life?

Improv has made an enormous impact on my life. It changed my entire way of thinking and dealing with people. I don’t get the same anxiety I used to (I get a different anxiety but I know how to use it for fuel) and I look forward to every day and every situation to see what crazy shit will happen next. I’m more curious about the world and how different people see it in different ways. I’ve also drank the Kool-Aid and I’m sure people see me as a proud improv nerd.

Can you tell me about a time you’ve messed up on stage and just rolled with it?

I remember a scene with my homie Bradley Tingle where one of us, or maybe both of us, messed up our word right off the top. We just dug in deep and did a whole scene that seemed to make perfect sense to us and the audience, in complete jibberish. It was awesome!

Where can we see you on stage?

I play as much as I can on my own at people’s shows in Toronto at The Social Capital Theatre and Bad Dog Theatre, where I’m currently studying. I’m on a house team in The Assembly called Pepperoni Pizza Cats and we play those shows all the time at SoCap, Comedy Bar and Cahoots Theatre. I also volunteer for Funnies For Families and so should you!

Is there anything else you would like to add or anything you would like to plug?

The Pepperoni Pizza Cats Show is the 3rd Wednesday of EVERY month at The Social Capital Theatre (3rd Floor/PWYC!).

Thank you for sharing your story, Joe!

The magic of improv

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“Some days just going into a theatre is a huge accomplishment. Sometimes just putting on pants is a huge accomplishment. It’s all relative,” improviser Dan Frampton, pictured right, said. Photo credit: Brent Robichaud

As Toronto improviser Dan Frampton says, “I couldn’t have found a better thing to have in my life.”

I could not agree more. For me, improv has been like a fun and awesome but unpredictable friend, who forces me out of my comfort zone. “Hey dude, we should get up on stage together. And you should get down on the stage floor like a rat. It will be funny,” improv would say to me. You may be scared initially of hanging out with your friend named Improv, but you learn to love him.

Anyways, let’s meet Dan, who recently graduated from the improv programs at Second City and The Assembly. He’s also a singer, songwriter and vocalist with his band, The Dean Project, which he describes as an acoustic spoof act that satirizes music culture. They toured the country with their makeshift drum, a three-foot-tall plastic nutcracker named Munchie.

Disclaimer: Dan and I were classmates together at Second City. He’s a friend and he’s awesome. Here’s what he had to say about his journey in improv.

How did you get into improv?

Unfortunately, this is where the story takes a bit of a dark turn. While driving home from a show in Peterborough, we were hit by a transport truck. My best friend, and namesake of the group, Dean, didn’t survive the wreck. The five years that followed were the hardest years I could imagine having. It took much soul searching and episodes of Frasier for me to realize what I needed in this new life of mine.

Then one day, I started thinking, “Hey, just do improv. The Dean Project was just an untrained musical improv troupe. Just learn this fer realz.” So, I dropped into Second City and the romance began.

I’m so sorry to hear about your friend. What has the journey been like for you after getting started in improv?

It’s actually been so fucking crazy. Life-changingly crazy. I find that improv fucks with my head in so many beautiful ways. One day, in one scene, a concept makes total sense. It works! Yay, laughs! The next day, in a new scene, that concept ruins everything. Boo, no laughs! The learning, I feel, is all in the play. The “rules” don’t dictate what’s good. That immediate response from the audience tells you what’s good. And I love that! That constant discovery is what keeps me going.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment as an improviser?

Some days just going into a theatre is a huge accomplishment. Sometimes just putting on pants is a huge accomplishment. It’s all relative.

I totally agree. Just putting on pants is an achievement for me. Do you have any favourite scenes?

I was doing a jam at The Social Capital. My character was a waiter. Every offer made him need to pee more. Halfway through the scene my nose actually started bleeding, giving my character the motivation to run to the bathroom. I yelled “I can’t work anymore” and ran to the actual bathroom. To this day, the SoCap 3rd floor stage has a bit of Dan Frampton DNA soaked into it. Totally gross, man!

How has improv made a difference in your life?

It’s a whole new life. I couldn’t have found a better thing to have in my life. I truly love improv. I love warm-ups. I love short form games. I love classes and drop-ins. I’m in love with long form. But to me, it’s all about the community and the shows! I’m often not the best in social scenarios and the politics of the scene sometimes really fuck with me. Those are things that I’m always working on. I’m endlessly thankful to have a community where I get to work on some shit with.

Can you tell me about a time you’ve messed up on stage and just rolled with it?

I’d say my improv style consists of only mistakes and trying to dig myself out.

Where can we see you on stage?

I’m not playing on many stages these days. Mainly because “improv audition” is a major oxymoron to me. It bends my brain in many unnatural ways. Improv is an in- the-moment experience. It lives and dies simultaneously. To bring that to a panel of judges seems unfair me. I’ll be going to events that I see posted online. While there, I’ll be doing my best to make friends. If there’s a jam, I’ll likely play. That is unless I don’t like the host!

Is there anything else you would like to add or anything you would like to plug?

I’m producing my very first show on August 16 at The Social Capital Theatre. The Social Capital has been a very important to me. It’s my improv home. It’s a magically place to me. I wish Ralph MacLeod and Carmine Lucarelli, the owners, knew how much I love and appreciate them. It means the world to me to have my show up on their stage.

It’s an experimental long form format that I came up with and want to try. It’s called Total Fucking Chaos. I’m hosting it in my Dean Project persona with our resident nutcracker, Munchie. It’s going to be a mix of all my favourite things. Punk rock, pro wrestling and long form improv. Be there!

Another disclaimer: I will be performing in Dan’s show, Total Fucking Chaos, so you should really check it out. 

Thank you so much for sharing, Dan! Improv has definitely become one of the best things in my life and I don’t know what I would do without it.

Taking the leap onto the stage

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I never saw myself as the type of person who could be comfortable and have fun on stage, let alone love it as much as I do,” improviser Laura Stricker said. Photo credit: Marko Bezic (Toronto_Improv Instagram)

The first time I performed on stage, I was terrified. I had no idea what to expect. But I took the leap regardless, performing in a scene where I played an angry guy trying unsuccessfully to get fired from his job (fictional, of course!). It was silly…but I loved it. Now, I get up on stage every chance I get.

Anyways, let’s meet Laura Stricker, an improviser based in Toronto, who recently took the leap as well. Laura started pursuing improv last year after wanting to branch out and get out of her comfort zone. Now, she has graduated from Second City’s improv program and she is currently taking classes at The Assembly. Laura opened up about how she got into improv, how her journey is going so far and how she conquered her fears of performing on stage.

How did you get into improv?

My start in improv was due to a rather serendipitous series of events. In December of 2016, I was feeling down for several reasons. I thought getting involved in an activity would help cheer me up. I’d taken baking classes and gone to the Toronto Sport and Social Club. I wanted to try something new but had no idea what that could be.

I was on Twitter one day when I saw a tweet from someone mentioning how much they loved taking improv at Second City. That piqued my interest but also terrified me. I’m a pretty quiet person, so the thought of standing up in front of a bunch of strangers and making up scenes on the spot made me feel ill. I went to the Second City site to read more about the classes – and discovered they offer Improv for Anxiety. It seemed like the perfect way to give improv a try in a supportive environment. I signed up that day and got the last spot in Cameron Algie‘s class. Luckily I only had about a week to be a ball of anxiety before classes began!

What has the journey been like for you?

The journey has been incredible. I never saw myself as the type of person who could be comfortable and have fun on stage, let alone love it as much as I do. I’ve met many amazing people through improv and it has also benefitted me in pretty much every aspect of my life.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment as an improviser?

My biggest accomplishment so far has been conquering my fears of performing on stage. When I think back to the first time I performed – in front of maybe 10 people in my classroom at Second City – to now, the difference is amazing.

Any favourite scenes?

I was in a show in May and we did a fun scene about “floor people” versus “chair people.” (I was a chair person) Another that comes to mind is a radio play about missing fish, an evil and mysterious stranger stealing all the fish, and characters with video game names.

How has improv made a difference in your life?

I’m a lot less anxious, more comfortable speaking up and giving presentations at work, and much happier with life in general. Friends who have known me forever also comment on how much more confident I seem since starting improv. Before getting involved in improv I had no idea there was such a great scene in Toronto, with so many talented and hilarious people. Going to improv shows is now one of my favourite things to do.

Can you tell me about a time you’ve messed up on stage and just rolled with it?

Nothing specific is coming to mind, but I know there are times when my tongue works faster than my brain and what I say makes absolutely no sense. I don’t see it as messing up, because those mistakes often lead to delightful scenes. Pretty much all of my teachers tell us to not be afraid to try things and fail big, which is great advice for improv AND life.

Where can we see you on stage?

You can see me next in Assembly Tuesdays at The Social Capital Theatre on July 31 at 9:30 p.m.

Is there anything else you would like to add or anything you would like to plug?

If you’re considering giving improv a shot but are scared, just go for it! Everyone I’ve met in the community is really supportive. Taking that leap and facing my fears is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

Thank you so much for sharing, Laura! You’re absolutely right. If you’re interested in improv (and why wouldn’t you be?), go for it and take the leap.

There’s no place like improv…I mean, home

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For more than 30 years, Velvet Duke has been doing improv. He says one of the main benefits is the opportunity to connect with others. Photo credit: Brent Robichaud

When I first got into improv last year, one thing that struck with me was the inspiring and supportive community that I found myself exposed to. Over the past year, I met a range of talented improvisers who continue to support each other.

One of them was Velvet Duke, an improviser and singer based in Toronto. Velvet started performing 30 years ago and hasn’t looked back. We caught up about his journey navigating through the improv community and how he sought to even further empower the community with some awesome shows.

How did you get into improv?

My high school theatre arts teacher introduced improv as one component of his curriculum. After that, I had an opportunity to go to school for programming or acting. I loved programming but didn’t think I would like it as a job. I took a year of theater in college and found it didn’t satisfy the way improv had.

Improv is the more interesting art form because you can throw yourself into the moment and each show offers different moments.

What has the journey been like you?

It has been a lifelong journey with some of my greatest joys and friendships, and some of my deepest woes.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment as an improviser?

Being thanked for some of my show formats — they were designed to uplift the community and that has seemed to have worked.

That’s amazing that you produced your own shows for the community. Can you tell me more about that?

It was new to me. I’m used to creating things but to have people thank me was really humbling.

Anyways, INTERSECTION was created to offer more stage time to diverse performers. It gives us a chance to see ourselves together as a group rather than one or two per show. It also brings in an audience that reflects that diversity.

Tough Love was part personal workshop and part show, where a featured performer could work through some of their bad habits. It was fun while it lasted and may come back.

The Sampler was a competition format that had performers working against strict timings to develop their skills for delivering and polishing material on demand.

What inspired you to produce these shows?

Initially I would look to see what I felt was a missing format in the communal landscape. Of the three though, INTERSECTION is the one I am proud of yet most similar to other shows. It isn’t the first show of its type — but there was still a hunger for it in the community.

Also, I love improv too much not to have things on the go.

What has the feedback been like?

Each sought to bring the community together. INTERSECTION often has the performers and audience talking after the show, continuing their personal stories.

Also, I’ve had professional performers unable to be part of the project thank me for creating it for the sake of the community.

That’s awesome. Anyways, back to you, my friend. Any weird moments or scenes that you can share?

I remember engaging with the audience at a Harry Potter themed show at Comic-Con. A little boy decided he was a very deadly potion but he also had the cutest giggle. At another Comic-Con show, a young woman decided she was a dragon. They were as invested as the performers!

How has improv made an impact on your life?

  • Finding the “yes” in seemingly difficult situations
  • Bringing humour to tense situations
  • Being able to empathize and connect with others
  • Being able to face down fears, to act through it
  • The joys of spending hours (okay, years) performing and talking about a shared passion
  • The friendships

If there’s one rule of improv that stuck with me, it’s that okay to make mistakes. Can you tell me about a time you’ve messed up on stage and how you rolled with it?

Once I coughed from the sidelines and that led me to be endowed as a sickly wife being used as blackmail to keep the husband working the smithy.

Also, I’ve developed aphasia and I already speak faster than I think, so I have made many unintended offers. Happy accidents!

Where can we see you on stage?

I perform across Toronto with my troupes The Dandies and OverDude. Also, I guest on shows at The Social Capital Theatre, Comedy Bar, Bad Dog Theatre, and regularly at the QAPD Collective, Toronto’s weekly LGBTQ open mic show, at Pegasus on Church.

 Is there anything you want to add or anything you want me to plug?

Learn everything you can by watching shows and taking classes but also hold on to your unique style, interests and, especially your weirdness.

Shows to plug:

INTERSECTION – the joys and struggles of Canadian life (next: June 6)
Diverse storytelling comedy show – 1st Wednesday of every month at The Social Capital

Holodeck Follies (next: June 9)
Spontaneous Star Trek and variety comedy show. 2nd Saturday of every month at Comedy Bar

Thanks for sharing, Velvet! Also, make sure you like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter!

Laughing in the face of fear

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Cameron Algie started improvising at Second City Toronto 12 years ago. “I’m a completely different person now, thanks to improv,” he says. Photo credit: Adrianne Gagnon.

Someone once told me that if you’re scared to do something, that is the reason why you should do it. I forget who that person was (I have the memory of a chimpanzee), but their words stuck with me.

To kick things off, I spoke with Cameron Algie, an improviser in Toronto. Cameron teaches improv for anxiety at Second City Toronto and Play With Fire Improv. He also produces Laugh in the Face of Fear, a show based on the theme of anxiety. We caught up about his journey as an improviser and how it changed his life.

How did you get into improv?

I was seeing a therapist for my anxiety and any time he tried to get me to be vulnerable, I’d turn to joking and trying to lighten the mood. He laughed a couple of times, told me I was funny, and said I should take a Second City class. I took it as him listening to me talk about how I felt alone and scared and sick all the time and unable to leave my house, and his solution was to go be funny on a stage in front of hundreds of judgmental strangers. I thought it over, and stopped seeing that therapist. But he had planted the thought in my head. About six months after that, I hit emotional rock bottom, and decided there was really nothing left to lose, so I signed up for a class.  I hated the idea and improv scared the shit out of me. After a few classes, I started to love it.

What has the journey been like for you?

Literally life-changing. I mean, I used to be a copywriter in advertising. I would go to classes or shows after work each night. Then I started teaching classes after work. Eventually the scales started to tip. I remember leaving work one night to do a show and the shocked expression on people’s faces that I would dare leave when there was still work to get done. But I’d found a new priority. When I finally worked up the courage to get fired, I decided to make a go of improv as a career. I make less, but I’m way happier.

Side bar, I recently went back and did a corporate improv show for the agency that fired me.

And how has improv made an impact on your life?

I’m a completely different person now thanks to improv. For one, I used to be a huge asshole. My inner voice was so judgmental and harsh. If I messed up at all, even flubbed a word, my inner voice would say something like, “You stupid useless piece of shit, no wonder nobody loves you!” I got used to that voice. It was all I heard. So used to it, it started to become my voice. I spoke to others the way I would speak to myself. If an account person (advertising person between the creatives and the clients) messed up at all, I would say something charming like, “You useless piece of shit…”

But I really took to the acceptance part of improv. This is how this is. Instead of constantly trying to change it, just give over to it and go along for the ride. It softened me tremendously. My inner voice is very loving now, and my outer has changed too. I hope there are people who can’t imagine me being an asshole, as much as I accept that there are still people from my ad days who can’t imagine me ever even smiling. Also, I smile all the time now.

I can’t imagine you being an asshole. Has improv changed the way you feel about yourself?

I felt I had to be perfect all the time. To constantly be better than I was yesterday and always growing and improving. It was a lot of pressure. I hated it. I hated life. Improv showed me mistakes were okay. I struggled to make mistakes at first, but then really grew to understand that there really is no such thing in improv. If you mess up and call cars “carbs” then your team builds a world where people drive carbs, and other people are worried about their weight and can’t drive carbs. The play is really in the mistakes. That carried over into my life and I was able to beat myself up less when something went “wrong.”

That’s one rule of improv that stuck with me, It’s okay to make mistakes. Can you share a time you’ve messed up on stage and just rolled with it?

Oh man, probably thousands of times. None are popping into my head because they weren’t treated as mistakes, so they didn’t even register as one. I remember one time seeing someone stumble a bit getting onto the stage. Very embarrassing. For one second. Before the next player on the team also stumbled. Then the next teammate fell onto the ground. The rest of the team heightened till the audience was enjoying their “obviously pre-planned” stage entrance bit. Voila, no mistake!

I’m curious. Can you tell us about a particularly weird scene you’ve been in?

That’s the thing about improv, it’s mostly weird. But not weird. I’ve played a feather boa constrictor, driven a bathtub car, had laser legs, and a whole bunch of other crazy shit, but they all felt normal in the context of the scene.

Any tips for other folks who may want to try improv?
I feel like I should know how to answer this.
    • Bring a friend. I brought Sally and my buddy Tom to my first Second City class and it helped having them there.
    • Go see a show. The first improv show I saw (Catch 23 at Clinton’s) blew my mind. I actually said, “I could never do that.” But there was something that seemed so cool about it.
    • Try a drop-in. It can feel scary to commit to a full class, but improvising for a couple of hours makes it feel more doable.
    • Try improv by yourself or with a friend. There are resources out there that have lists of improv games.
    • Just practice playing. Board games, sports, any of the 365 ways to play on Instagram at @PlayWithFireImprov.
    • Know that you don’t have to be funny and you’re not expected to be good. It’s a class, meaning you’re there to learn. And you’re not there to get good at improv, you’re there to get okay with not being good at something.
    • The class itself isn’t scary, but the idea of it is, so most of the fear will come before the class. The hardest part is walking through that door the first time. So maybe sign up at the last minute. That way you’re not signing up two months before and then waiting and imagining all kinds of things for weeks before you go do it. Decide to do a drop-in that night.
    • Also go to the place where you’re thinking of doing a drop-in or class, and check out the space or see a show. Having that familiarity will make it easier the next time you go.
    • Breathe.

Where can we see you on stage?

Gonna plug my own show here: Laugh in the Laugh-in-Face-of-Fear-Feb-e1488170420246.jpgFace of Fear. There’s a free drop-in beforehand for anxious people who’d like to try improv but are scared to sign up a full improv class. Third Tuesday of every month, 8pm, at The Social Capital.

Other than that, I don’t have a ton of regular shows. Come see S&P whenever we perform. And Booze Clues and Blast from the Past, and any show that invites me to come play. Follow me on Twitter? Don’t, I don’t use Twitter.

Thanks so much for sharing, Cameron! You heard him, folks. Follow him on Twitter.