This is the last part of our interview with Chris Gethard. He talks about how he started at the UCB, and gives some advice to current students and aspiring improvisers and comedians, addressing more specifically diverse students.
With: Chris Gethard, Don Fanelli, Shannon O’Neill, Will Hines, Abra Tabak, Riley Soloner, Fran Gillespie, Bethany Hall, and music by the LLC. Surprise appearances pending from many Gethard Show regulars.
Great interview with Chris Gethard. This bit is a little longer than usual, but it was so good that we couldn’t cut it down!
In those last minutes before Ragnarock’s show, my anxiety took the form of a laundry list of “why nots”. There were plenty of reasons I felt hesitant to do the show I had asked my teammates and the theater to do, from the mundane (a Harold that doesn’t even ask the…
I don’t know Josh. I mean, I know OF him, we’ve met around the theater and have even shared a subway ride one evening… but we really don’t know each other. I am blown away by his courage though, and think this piece is really worth reading. I hope we’ll get to know each other better, because he seems like a hell of a guy and I am sure his dad is proud of him, wherever he is. Make sure to start with Part 1.
On a side note, I am really happy to be part of the improv community and surrounded by people who are able to share so much and demonstrate such courage.
I am as tired as the next person of the “OMG ARE WOMEN FUNNY? WHERE ARE THE FEMALE COMEDIANS? WOMEN, CREATE THANGZZZ!” conversation, but it also bums me out when I go to eagerly check out the SXSW comedy line up only to discover they’ve apparently booked just one female stand up out of 30+…
You know, it’s not only a SXSW issue, it’s an issue that women in comedy face every day. Look at the house teams at the three major improv theaters / schools in NY; check out the indie shows. I was surprised when I was invited to captain a team of improvisers at an indie show (which is one of my favorites in the city, BTW) to notice that I was the only lady among the four captains that night, that 2 of the other 8-people teams only had 1 female on them, and one had none. I heard people gasp when my all female team got up on stage.
I hear people say that there are fewer women in comedy and I disagree. As a woman, I found it really hard to go from level 3 to level 4 at my school ONLY because many of the students are part of that 20-30 year old white male population and they have the same references, laugh at the same stuff and talk about Star Wars, music and comics. I felt left out. As a matter of facts, during my first level 4 class, I was thinking about dropping out and being done with it - I felt that the teacher was ENCOURAGING this. Diversity was frowned upon, or so I felt. In my current level 4 class, there are only 5 girls among 14 students. In levels 1 & 2, we were more females.
So I don’t think it’s because there are fewer women in comedy, I think it’s much harder for us to move forward in a world where men are encouraged (well, isn’t it what SXSW does?), where there are so many male roles models and so few female, where women are referred to as “bitches” (see ABC’s new sitcom coming out soon), or viewed as not funny, and where we are not invited to host shows or be on house teams or be a captain for indie jams.
Yet, two of the best sitcoms on TV are written by women, I personally know way more women than men through my comedy life, and they are so funny that they would make you pee in your pants! They give up more quickly though, because it’s hard to be a woman in a (traditionally) man’s world and to compete with those who push through armed with the certainty that they have so many role models to look up to.
So ladies, don’t give up! And people who are booking shows, give more opportunities to women. Your shows will become more interesting to watch and maybe one day, your daughters will grow up to become successful comedians.
When I love, I love without limits, boundaries or restraint. I LOVE improv. My life is ridiculously amazing right now because of improv and because 2011 is MAGICAL! My improv dreams are coming true one by one, yet I feel like it’s all at the same time.
1) I shared a stage with Scott Adsit last week, and then again tonight (!!!)
2) Christina Gausas is coaching my all girls team (and what an amazing team that is!)
3) I am taking a one person show development class with Becky Drysdale (I have ALWAYS wanted to work with her in some capacity - since I started improv)
4) I will be starting a class with Will Hines on Sunday
5) I got to perform with Pam Murphy twice this year already (!!!)
6) I am planning an improv trip to Europe with two of my favorite coaches (!!!)
7) I am going to be performing on CageMatch, with the UCBW (!!!!)
Did I mention that my favorite improvisers right now are Becky Drysdale, Christina Gausas, Pam Murphy and Scott Adsit? I mean, I have A LOT of improv crushes (the list is long…), but these are my four favorites right now.
I don’t know… I feel like things are falling into place in my comedy world. This is probably the place for me to be at this point in time (outside of my day job). Maybe I am too passionate about it and I scare people? I have heard that before… What do you think?
My improv dreams are coming true so quickly in 2011 - it’s just amazing!
First, I would distinguish goals and dreams. You can achieve your goals with hard work and determination. Dreams only come true with hard work, and determination, and a little bit of luck (such as good timing, favorable circumstances, etc.).
Tonight, I had my first practice session with Christina Gausas. I was reading through my improv notebook and I saw the notes I took on Adsit and Gausas last year. I loved how she entered her characters through emotions first, and then strong choices, while he entered his characters with a physical trait first, and then emotions and strong choices. Also, they reacted off of each other - they weren’t looking for “game” per se, they built it as they moved along in each scene. I clearly remember a scene where Scott was really stiff (I had presumed that he had entered the scene with his spine) she entered the scene by being really snobby and looking down on him. The scene ended up being about a brother and sister who were about to sell their father’s company. She had the family pride while he didn’t care and was stiff because he had to face the board of directors and he was uncomfortable. What an amazing show - Adsit and Gausas and Gravid Water were my favorite shows last year!
Well, this year, I was lucky enough to have my improv dream #1 come true: Being on the UCB stage with Scott Adsit due to favorable circumstances (John Lutz had not been able to do the show and Scott improvised with people from the audience).
Tonight, my improv dream #2 came true: Christina Gausas is coaching my all female team. I didn’t know her at all and emailed her on FB asking her if she would. She said she usually doesn’t, but the timing is right, so she would do it! So now, Christina is our coach and we love her!
The session was amazing - she really empowered us and I feel like we became better improvisers in those 2 1/2 hours we spent with her.
I am looking forward to continuing to work with her and with my new team. I feel empowered, I am excited, and now I think that I can do anything. Anything.
Persuasion is my fav right now. It used to be P&P. But I also like S&S. I love Col. Brandon. I think Knightley is 16 yrs older than Emma, not 18. I feel like Knightley raise her more than acted as her friend. And give MP another shot. I read it 2x.
You’re right - Knightley was a friend of her dad’s… is it only 16? He is seven and thirty and I thought she was nineteen, but I probably don’t remember very well (same as in S&S, BTW). Almost incestuous. Yeah, Emma is NOT my favorite novel, but I like Knightley (mostly because Jeremy Northam portrays him in the movie).
A few years ago, I saw this excellent movie, The Jane Austen Book Club. I am not particularly romantic, but I love great literature, am an avid reader, and curious about things I don’t know and feel like I should (i.e. English language literature). Up to that point, I had only read Pride and Prejudice, but seen most of the movies that had been released, including the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. I made it into a goal: reading all of them.
I started asking around, and most people seemed to believed that Persuasion is the best, while nobody I asked had ever read Northanger Abbey or Mansfield Park. I was intrigued.
I guess I had already started, having read Pride and Prejudice, so I moved to Sense and Sensibility because I loved the movie. I wasn’t disappointed - the book was a pleasure to read. The universe of Elinor and Marianne, who had lost everything, facing the complications of a world negatively biased towards women and most importantly poor women was mesmerizing. Elinor’s strength of character and reserve, and Marianne’s passion for life depict two facets of a changing world, where women are thirsty for knowledge and emancipation, yet contrived by societal norms and bound by lack of fortune and options. Yet, there is so much love in that family that it all seems like nothing can upset them for long. Unlike Pride and Prejudice, where Mrs Bennet, Elizabeth’s mother, is a materialistic, superficial woman. Although even to Mrs Bennet we find excuses - she has five daughters and if they don’t marry before the father dies, they will be as poor as the Dashwoods (from Sense and Sensibility).
I moved on to Emma, whom I didn’t care for as a character, but I still liked the book. The secondary characters in all of Austen’s novels are well developed and you can’t help but care for them. The age difference between Emma and George Knightley is also very disturbing (18 years!!). Here, what is interesting is that Emma and Mr. Knightley are actually friends before they fall in love. I also really like that she develops a friendship with Frank Churchill, a perfectly innocent and romance-free friendship, and I love Miss Bates and was furious at Emma for humiliating her. Emma just got on my nerves. I found her cruel towards Harriet whom she misleads into fake romances and causes her heartbreak after heartbreak. I didn’t understand how Knightley fell in love with Emma.
I went to Mansfield Park after that and I have to say, this is my least favorite book. I didn’t care for most of the characters, including Fanny, but I guess Austen wanted to treat of the possibility that you CAN love again once the first love is lost. It also explores once more what financial difficulties of one family forced them to do at that time (give Fanny to an aunt so that she would be less of a financial burden; send a son to the navy at a very early age). What is interesting is that many of Austen’s characters come from families with numerous children, and here, Fanny had countless brothers and sisters she doesn’t even seem to know or care for, except for one.
Northanger Abbey is definitely under-appreciated. It’s a really funny read - I actually laughed out loud and I am sure Austen deigned the book that way. It’s a romance that doesn’t take itself seriously, and the two protagonists light heatedly laugh and discuss “Gothic novels” which Catherine is so fond of. Some parts of the novel even poke fun at those Gothic novels by imitating their style. I found it really entertaining.
Finally, I just finished Persuasion. Although I did really like it, and found it quite different from the others (the protagonists are older; the heroin, Anne Elliott, understands that her love interest loves her and distinguishes the signs of jealousy instead of wondering why Frederick acts the way he does; she is also perfectly aware of the shortcomings of her family and does not buy into it), I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite. It definitely made me laugh - the Elliott family is so shallow, selfish, and in denial that it’s comical. The social satire is obvious and the changing of their world, between the stuffiness and the odd manners of the past, and the warmth and more relaxed lifestyle of the future are well depicted and analyzed through Anne’s interactions with the various people she meets with on a regular basis.
My favorite is a tie between Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. I love the strengths of the female characters, their passionate nature, their self restraint and their resilience in the face of adversity. I like the complexities of the plot and the secondary characters; and I like the male protagonists.
If you haven’t read them yet, I would definitely recommend - these books are great reads.
Yes, we improvise every hour of every day. No matter how much we plan, no matter how much our life might be based on routine or how every hour of our day might be based on a precise idea, we still improvise. You might just as well use some of the principles of improv to improve your life. I know I have and it’s helped me a LOT since I have started.
First principle of improv, right? In life, being a naysayer never helps. Well, it’s never helped me. People don’t like to hear no (I don’t either). They want to hear that you acknowledge their ideas and add something of your own. At my office, I have people who say “no” when they mean “yes”. It’s very disturbing and disheartening, and creates negative energy. At times, we stalled on our projects because we kept denying each other. I’ve come to believe that it might just be human nature - maybe a way of affirming our independence and uniqueness? Yes, Anding has really helped me in my every day life and also to manage challenging clients. I’ve been so successful with it at work that my manager asked me to do an improv workshop with the team and teach them to Yes, And! Just saying yes, and then trying to add information, or yes anding a complaint and then trying to add constructive, clarifying information has helped me manage complex, multinational projects and build some great intellectual property for the company.
Nothing new here - life is a question of choices. Everything we do is our own doing, every direction is our own decision. Making choices from the top of the scene is essential to actually building the scene. It helps you and your partners make something fun happen on stage. In life, choices are what make us move forward, right? Nothing is going to happen to us; we are the ones that make things happen (I am not talking about freak accidents or an amazing struck of luck - I am talking about everyday life). Happiness itself is a question of choice - if you don’t chose to be happy, well, it won’t “happen” to you. Just embrace happiness, and make choices that will help you move forward. You’ll see, life will be MUCH more agreeable and reversals of fortune will be more easy to deal with. Seriously, trust me on that one, I’ve had a lot of those (reversals of fortune).
And then, once you make a choice commit to it!! Today in practice, for example, I had a hard time with the last scene which was a group game. I had a hard time committing to the choices I was trying to make, understanding other people’s choices, and in general yes anding the scene. I didn’t deny myself, but in the past, I have. I always have to catch myself and check my choices to make sure that I am moving forward or at least in the direction I want. I think denying yourself is one of the most hurtful things you can do to yourself. Committing to your choices is what moves your life forward.
I think this is one of the most important skills. When I was a journalist, one of the biggest criticisms we could hear was that we would “listen to ourselves” instead of listening to the interviewee. If you don’t listen, you can’t Yes, And. If you can’t listen, you won’t understand what’s going on around you and respond accordingly. There is nothing more powerful than listening - gathering information, being aware of what people around you are really saying, being able to fully understand the message. It directs your reactions and most importantly, you can Yes, And.
I am going to use this a little differently. It’s happened to me to cut people out of my life - people who had a bad influence on me, or who were negative and intolerant. I always find excuses for people - always try to see the good rather than the bad. But you need to be able to tag out the bad, or those who are bad to YOU (even if they are not necessarily bad people) to be able to pay more attention to the good. It’ll help your life, just as tag outs can help a scene that’s stagnating, or making it more funny by leveraging the strength of the scene.
I talked about choices and commitments, but sometimes, you need to cut your losses. When something doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Commitment doesn’t mean blindly doing things that are unreasonable and are OBVIOUSLY harming you rather than helping you. If something doesn’t work, learn to edit, adjust your goals, and move forward. I loved what Craig Rowan did with Please Give Me One Million Dollars. He edited at the right time - he had gathered a lot of momentum, and really created a buzz; he made the best of it and edited. Done.
These are some of the lessons I learned from Improv. What have you learned?
“No, but you’d better call Party Control, because this party is about to get off the hook.”
A heartfelt thank you to the outstanding crowd that came to support Famby’s debut last night at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. See you in a month!
This is a song - nay, piece of art - that Dan Chamberlain made for FAMBLY’s show last night. Based on how amazing it is, I hope he’s prepared to be roped into making a song for every month’s show.
Directing FAMBLY this month was a pleasure. They’re a lovely bunch of weird people.
SO-MUCH-FUN. I missed the show last night because I had a super early meeting this morning and couldn’t stay out late, but I am sure it must have been really good - Chris was my 201 sketch teacher and he is really funny, and 2 of my classmates who are the MOST HILARIOUS WRITERS are on the writing team. This team must be so good!! I’m going to try to NOT get early meetings set up on Tuesdays I swear - I hear Maude Nights a awesome (I was at one of them and IT WAS REALLY JUST THAT - I wish we I could DVR them instead of stupid SNL that is not even funny any more). Also, hope they recorded the show cuz I WANT TO SEE IT!