Our beloved Under St. Marks Theater is for sale, and Horse Trade is trying to buy the theater. For years, USM has been a home to independent improv, and we need to make sure it stays around to nurture emerging talent. Come on out and show your love.
Improv sets by (SECRET MAN GROUP), FAT PENGUIN and DREAMBOAT!, plus AN AUCTION OF AMAZING GOODS AND SERVICES. Hosted by members of THANK YOU, ROBOT
Auction/raffle items including (but certainly not limited to):
* Pair of tickets to the LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN.
* Triple membership to ROOFTOP FILMS.
* A giant stack of merchandise from THIS AMERICAN LIFE - CDs, DVDs, Tshirts & more.
* A bundle of goodies from UNDERWATER NEW YORK including photographs, prints, letterpress poems and a copy of contributor Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer-winning book A Visit From the Goon Squad.
* Wheel throwing lesson by ceramics expert CAMMI CLIMACO (you know, the sexy scene in Ghost)
* Sketch videography by EUGENE ASHTON GONZALES
* A guided tour of Hoboken by the King of Hoboken, ADAM WADE
* Awesome movie posters provided by BRIDGET FITZGERALD
* A Rap-O-Gram by ALAN STARZINSKI
* Signed books by authors MICHELE CARLO and SARAH RAINONE.
* Amazing party facepainting, also by MICHELE CARLO.
* Home cooked meal and dinner date with EMILY HOFFMAN.
AND MUCH MORE.
$5 at the door.
KABOOM: an improv benefit for Under St. Marks Thursday, June 30th - 9:30 PM USM - 94 St. Mark’s Place
They haven’t had time to add the donations by the Schmukler Twins: A boozy brunch with the Twins, a French conversation or acting in French class with me, and Danger Pin will write your own theme song! We love these Robots, and Under St Marks!!!
“I don’t want to go into the war of testosterone versus estrogen; but there is a little bit of that, where males have to sort of show-off and do a bit of posturing and do all this sort of hairy-chested type of stuff that is not as strong in women.”—Christine Lagarde to Newsweek in 2006, when she was still junior minister for trade in France
“Lagarde even has experience stepping in to help turn an institution’s image around after testosterone-fueled disaster. In 1994, a San Francisco court ruled against Baker & McKenzie in a highly embarrassing sexual harassment suit, putting a boorish workplace culture under a microscope the way the Strauss-Kahn incident has today at the IMF.”—
The UCB Training Center Open House this Friday, July 1 from 5-8 pm at the Training Center:145 W 30th St4th Floor We’ll have food and drinks, so stop by if you can. It will be fun! You can mix and mingle with other students, teachers, and members of the comedy community. Kick off your holiday weekend with us! * * *The applications for our Diversity Program scholarships are now online here: http://newyork.ucbtheatre.com/classes/diversity/ They’re due July 15. You can find out more about the program on that web page. Also, there’s a lot of cool activities and events tied into the Diversity Program, even if you’re not planning to apply for a scholarship, so join the mailing list, check out the Tumblr and Twitter, or join the Facebook group to keep up to date. * * *Here is a request for illustrators from Rob Fried and Rachael Mason: We are seeking an illustrator for the first issue and website of UCBT Comedy Magazine. The magazine will have an aesthetic similar to “Highlights”, so artist should be able to create children’s style illustrations. Please send resume and relevant samples no later than this Friday, July 1st to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. We will contact qualified candidates for a brief interview. Position is unpaid. Illustrator will be credited for their work.
“I know many people are concerned about the destruction of the sanctity of marriage, as well, and they view this as a threat. But let me as you something, ladies and gentlemen, what are we really protecting when you look at the divorce rate in our society? Turn on the television. We have a wedding channel on cable TV devoted to the behavior of people on their way to the altar. They spend billions of dollars, behave in the most appalling way, all in an effort to be princess for a day. You don’t have cable television? Put on network TV. We’re giving away husbands on a game show. You can watch “The Batchelor,” where 30 desperate women will compete to marry a 40-year-old man who has never been able to maintain a decent relationship in his life. We have “The Bacholorette,” in reverse. And my favorite show, which thank God only ran one season because it was truly distasteful, was “The Littlest Groom,” where 30 desperate women competed to marry a dwarf. That’s what we’ve done to marriage in America, where young women are socialized from the time they’re five years old to think of being nothing but a bride. They plan every day what they’ll wear, how they’ll look, the invitations, the whole bit. They don’t spend five minutes thinking about what it means to be a wife. People stand up there before God and man — even in Senator Diaz’s church — they swear to love, honor, and obey; they don’t mean a word of it. So if there’s anything wrong, any threat to the sanctity of marriage in America, it comes from those of us who have the privilege and the right, and we have abused it for decades.”—
“Even to the present day, we so often condemn books that were written to fight the very things we claim to be fighting. Mark Twain’s (Samuel Clemens’) Huckleberry Finn is so often cited as being racist, when it was written against slavery and racism.”—Jamey Fletcher
And his advice to someone who just moved to NYC and wants to break into the comedy scene:
One, I would take some classes at the UCB. Two, the secret to the success of The State was we never waited for anyone to ask us to do anything, or for anyone’s approval to do anything. We just fucking did stuff. We were shooting all the time, writing all the time. We would put up a live show every couple of months. We were aggressive. If you wait around for an opportunity to come up, it’s not coming. It isn’t, ever. Opportunities are not coming. The only opportunities that are coming are the ones you create. Otherwise you are just waiting around.
Something to teach: Young improvisers should be respectful to old improvisers on stage. I use the words “respect your elders” because they communicate “respect” but also acknowledge that there is a double standard. “Respecting your elders” dictates young people’s behavior more than the old peoples. This isn’t because old improvisers demand it but because the audience demands it. For example: In general an old person can be verbally abusive to a young person on stage and the audience could enjoy it. But if a young person were verbally abusive to an old person — the audience would likely get uncomfortable. The sooner the young improvisers understand that, the sooner they’ll be more successful on stage. Also, an old person in improv is anyone over 36.
You know what respecting your elders is in life. It means a young person holds the door open, offers a seat on the subway, offers to accept a birthday check for a sad amount of money. On stage it means young people don’t say anything too relevant to current pop culture to the old person, don’t physically challenge them, don’t scream in their faces, don’t put them in weird physical positions that an old person might have trouble maintaining for an extended period of time. Not because the old people are such delicate flowers that they would wilt (well…some might), but because it’s goddamn polite and we are going to be polite and sensitive to the rules of respecting your elders until we’ve earned the right and the confidence of our teammates to break them.
In lower improv levels, there is always a generous peppering of young persons who treat old people like weird Methuselahs. There are also old people who are unsure how much they can stand up for themselves without violating “yes and.” Respecting your elders or maybe politeness are useful terms there. “We’re going to be respecting our elders in this class,” I’ll say after the first scene with a pop-culture subject matter in it. “Young people should never put old people in a situation that is too cool on stage.”
It’s tiring and difficult to parse what’s right and wrong for young people to do to old people on stage (and vice versa). And people love to argue the specifics. “What if the old person actor ASKS to play Lady Gaga?” “What if the opening was all about the internet?” “What if the monologue was about a fairly complicated issue that an old person addressed as if he were an unquestionable authority in which he made valid points but ultimately the approach to the subject matter was kind of dickish and out of touch?” Internet threads about this topic are always hugely long. Articles about old vs. young in comedy get disproportionate attention.
Old people are sometimes rude and inappropriate to young people, also, which needs to be noted. But it doesn’t happen as often and the audience has a much higher tolerance for it and also, they don’t always know what they’re saying.
Most people get “respecting your elders” without discussion, and are happy to live by it. More importantly, once everyone knows they are entitled to expect that type of good behavior they will stand up for it on their own.
Chronicle: The Dating Misadventures of a French Funny Girl
So, here it is: the first story. I thought it would be appropriate to start this one in New York, since, well, I DO live in NYC these days.
I’ve lived in NYC on and off for the past 10 years (I went to London and then Boston between 2004 & 2007). When I moved to New York, in July 2001, I thought I’d fall in love, and have a companion and children by now. Life has funny ways of playing around with you. I moved into my first apartment on August 11, 2001. It was on 83rd st, between First and York.
I guess my first love story in New York was with… New York. It’s hard to meet someone when your heart is already taken; yet, I put myself our there. I signed up for Match.com and went to parties and bars and restaurants - places, I was told, where you meet people.
One evening that I was hanging out with some friends at some Mexican bar drinking margaritas, two guys started talking to us. I was in one of those moods (I won’t give it away here, but let’s just say that I was hyper, flirty, bitchy - you’ll hear more about these). I started flirting lightly with them knowing that it wouldn’t go anywhere - my flirting also involved giving them a hard time (kind of a push and pull - like, “don’t even think about it; this is just a game”).
One of the guys started to show strong interest. He was quite aggressive, actually. He looked much older and finally revealed that he was… 57. I was in my early 30s then, and was shocked that a man who thought (well, that’s what he said) that I might be 27, was hitting on me. We could have had a 30 year age difference (we had more than 20, which is already, like, barf). Do men have no shame? This guys could have been MY FATHER! “You’re so old!” I blurted out. He laughed instead of being turned off, this seemed to have turned him… ON.
Any ways, the evening ended with him shoving his number into my hand and asking me, almost begging me to call him. ”I’ll show you New York” (Yeah, right); “I have a job and I’m stable” (What’da’what?); “Call me tomorrow” (oh, right, cuz that’s how it works: tell me what to do).
Of course, I never called. In retrospect, I should have - I would have a better story to tell you. But this was episode I of my sorta kinda dating life in New York. Not a great start. Yet, today, it’s become a story - so pretty positive after all, right?
Come see my love life on display at our new monthly show:
Chronicle: The Dating Misadventures of a French Funny Girl
In about a week, the actual day of my birthday, Schmukler wins will start a monthly show at the Creek, Variety Amour. We will be performing a form we created, Amourette, which could be defined as Bachelorette meets Harold.
We created this form during a boozy brunch in Brooklyn, at Bar Tabac. I am notoriously and happily single, and some circumstances have been calling me to move back to Boston and / or Paris some time in the near future. The girls found a way of keeping me here: Marry someone. If for love, then I’ll have a good reason to stay put (yes, I believe in mad love despite being single by choice); if not for love, then at least for permanent residency (paper work, ya know).
And this is how Amourette was born: to find me a husband. For the first beat, I go on dates with three members of the audience, and we take it from there. I don’t want to give away too many details about how the form works, but it’s derived from the Harold, so there are three beats, group games, connections… But it also included audience participation, and dates and… well, you’ll see.
We test ran the form at open mikes, and refined it to make it more generic and less centered around me: now, Amourette offers the audience the opportunity to go on three dates with the ladies of Schmukler Twins, and at the end, there might even be a winner.
This show got me thinking a lot: in order to play a dating girl, I need to go on actual, well, dates. And lately I have been putting myself out there, starting with signing up for an online dating site, which has a name that can be paraphrased as “Seafood Chowder”. On Seafood Chowder, I’ve received many emails and started chatting with some people.
This week, I will be outlining some of those online adventures, but also some of my dating adventures in NYC and elsewhere in the world. Stay tuned!
If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I love all of Will’s posts. His improv teaching style is generous and his views on improv always open up new perspective.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you also know that I am a die hard, unapologetic feminist and that I believe that gender plays a role in comedy, as do sexual orientations, ethnicity, and all the differences: they contribute to better comedy, more varied improv and more interesting stage time.
I am ambivalent about this post. On the one hand, I love the idea of chivalry in general. I am a feminist, but it doesn’t mean that I will deny all the traditional and cultural visible signs of respect. No need to negate that chivalry is part of the men-women relationships, just as are shaving your legs or showering before going on a date / out with friends. It’s just social conventions and this one is a nice one that is actually quite important to me.
However, when it comes to comedy, it seems to me that what we should be talking about is respect for your teammates rather than narrowing this downs to chivalry. Respect and don’t judge. Create a safe environment where everyone can play without fear of their teammates / classmate. I can see that Will has witnessed some pretty distressful scenes - what he describes below is definitely unpleasant and disrespectful. And it’s as disrespectful to the entire class as it is to the woman / girl being put in this position. Nobody wants to see you start a scene with miming an uncomfortable sex scene or with violence towards someone else.
But it’s not limited to male / female relationships. I’ve seen people starting scenes with openly calling out a gay classmate and forcing him / her to play a gay bashing scene. I have similar examples about people from different ethnicity as well. I think in the world of improv where most of the population is white 20-30 YO male, this type of behavior is bound to happen. It’s ignorance at best. Lack of respect and entitlement at worst.
I think the first thing to learn in that respect is DUE to everyone. All your classmates. All your fellow improvisers. Everybody you meet in life.
Something to teach: Male improvisers should be chivalrous to female improvisers on stage. I use that word “chivalry” because it communicates “respect” but also acknowledges that there is a double standard. Chivalry dictates men’s behavior more than the women’s. This isn’t because female improvisers demand it but because the audience demands it. For example: In general a woman can be verbally abusive to a man on stage and the audience could enjoy it. But if a man were verbally abusive to a woman — the audience would likely get uncomfortable. The sooner the male improvisers understand that, the sooner they’ll be more successful on stage.
You know what chivalry is in life. It means a man holds the door open, pulls out the chair, offers to pay for the check. On stage it means the men don’t say anything sexually crude to the women, don’t physically challenge them, don’t scream in their faces, don’t put them in weird sexual conversations or scenarios. Not because the women are such delicate flowers that they would wilt, but because it’s goddamn polite and we are going to be polite and sensitive to the rules of chivalry until we’ve earned the right and the confidence of our teammates to break them.
This is a separate issue than general improv respect. General improv respect and support applies to everyone. Everyone has to listen and react and cooperate with each other regardless of gender. Saying we need chivalry also is simply acknowledging that the audience sees you as men and women and they do not forget it.
In lower improv levels, there is always a generous peppering of guys who treat girls like weird robots. There are also girls who are unsure how much they can stand up for themselves without violating “yes and.” Chivalry or maybe politeness are useful terms there. “We’re going to be chivalrous in this class,” I’ll say after the first scene with sexual subject matter in it. “Guys should never put girls in a situation that isn’t cool on stage. No one ever puts anyone in uncomfortable situations, and in addition guys will be chivalrous to the girls.”
It’s tiring and difficult to parse what’s right and wrong for men to do to women on stage (and vice versa). And people love to argue the specifics. “What if the female actor ASKS the male actor to be sexual?” “What if the opening was all about dildos?” “What if the monologue was about a creepy uncle who gives weird neck messages?” Internet threads about this topic are always hugely long. Articles about men vs. women in comedy get disproportionate attention.
In class, I cut that discussion short and say “We could argue forever about hypotheticals, but guys: you know what’s rude; don’t do it.”
That’s because there are no hard rules. It depends on how well the actors know each other, on what topics the opening developed, on the level of self-awareness of the actors, on what has happened in the show already, on the confidence and talent of the actors, etc. And everyone has different levels of personal tolerance.
But you KNOW when you’re being rude. And the words “chivalrous” or “politeness” let me discuss the easily-argued standards of men treating women well in a quick, not provocative way. “Not chivalrous,” I’ll say to the nervous 201 student who is doing only his 20th full improv scene ever. “There’s no obvious reason for your character to give a neck massage there, seems not polite.” (actual quote) End of discussion, no foul, start the scene over with a new suggestion.
I’ve seen a lot of weird starts to scenes between men and women with all degrees of malice and naivete. I’ve seen guys grab girls whom they do not know well and pretend to mime fuck them from behind as a INITIATION. I’ve seen guys call girls cunts in line one. I’ve seen 12 guys all gang up on the only girl in class in a group game when she was 100% mirroring what everyone else was doing. Those are the bad examples. Teachers should stop those scenes immediately, quickly note that it’s rude for a guy to do that to a girl and not allowed, and either re-start the scene or move on to two more people.
I don’t think a lecture is necessary there, it puts the male student on the defensive and asks him to be resentful. And students are allowed to screw up in class. Abruptly stopping, saying it’s not cool and restarting quickly saves time and send a simpler stronger message: just don’t do it.
I’ve also seen far more cases of things that probably aren’t meant as that bad: guys initiate scenes by endowing the girl as being a nymphomaniac, or guys screaming in girls’ faces a little too closely and loudly to be justified. Or guys labeling the female actors as guys and then challenging them to a fistfight. Those types of things will happen from guys who maybe are just too socially awkward to know that they are being rude. I’ll sometimes let those scenes go on a bit so they can feel the awkwardness, then stop it. I’ll quickly and directly note it feels rude.
“I didn’t mean to!” he’ll protest, embarrassed. I’ll briefly discuss those scenes, acknowledging that there could be cases where such things are the right move. I’ll also point out it’s not bad, especially in class, to try embodying offensive points of view and testing those boundaries. But the truth is the male actors cannot be seen as mistreating the female actors. “Maybe it’s earned,” I’ll say. “I could see it being a game. But we have to err on the side of being polite, it’s not worth it.”
I like putting it in terms of the audience rather than the feelings of the female actor. The female actor, if she’s the type who likes improv, probably isn’t as easily offended as an audience would be, and probably doesn’t want anyone to fight her battles. It’s not fair for me as the teacher to presume what she feels and frankly, it doesn’t matter. It’s not about any one student as it is creating a standard of politeness for everyone for the audience to see.
Being at the UCBT gives me a great trump card if anyone argues me: “This is Amy Poehler’s house. Girls are not mistreated here.” Everyone loves Amy and invoking her makes everyone behave.
Girls are sometimes rude and inappropriate to guys, also, which needs to be noted. But it doesn’t happen as often and the audience has a much higher tolerance for it.
Most people get chivalry without discussion, and are happy to live by it. More importantly, once everyone knows they are entitled to expect that type of good behavior they will stand up for it on their own.
Where does the show come from - what inspired it and why write it now?
I was researching who was the first woman to ever step on the moon for a stand up joke I was writing and, after I Googled it, I realized there hasn’t been any woman to walk on the moon. It’s maybe shameful that…
I was in the audience when this was happening with my team Schmukler Twins: we were competing against our favorite robots. We literally saw this unfold - we saw them start the scene and at around that time (3:00 mns) we were like “wow, this scene is way too long - where is it going”. And then it happened: their montage turned into a GREAT monoscene. There’s no secret that Thank You Robot is one of my all time favorite team, and I love all the players too (all around good guys); with the Twins, we call them our “Brother Team”. Seeing this blew my mind, as they usually do. Great job guys! It was amazing to watch!
Had a really cool thing happen at a TYR show tonight.
We were performing at The Arena at The Creek - a show where 4 teams each get exactly 15 minutes to perform (the time is projected on the wall behind you), and the audience votes on who had the best show. We jump in to our 15 minute set; our plan is a montage, then figure out a way to pull it together. AKA, The Robot.
Chris and I open with a scene that, I notice out of the corner of my eye, had some okay character moments but has been on its feet for 2:40 and hasn’t gone anywhere.
Jeremy jumps on stage to enter the scene as a neighbor, and about :15 into my interaction with him, Chris stands up and at that moment, we realized we were doing a monoscene instead. And it worked! Fifteen minutes later we were the proud parents of a well-executed monoscene that none of us were prepared for.
Sometimes a show has a mind of its own and you need to follow it. We listened and said yes AND then we did it. Always be open to new things happening on stage. Just as your scene partner’s reaction changes your own, the show is also changed by those decisions. It can become something completely different from what you expected, and you need to be ready to react to that too. Yes, it does also help to have been performing with your teammates for a few years as well. :D
I hate monoscenes. TYR has wanted to do them for a long time and I always fought against them. They’re my least favorite form. And now my mind is changed because we reacted and went with it.
I dunno, it felt pretty special in the moment. Oh, improv.
This is the first part of our interview with Shaun Diston, the newest member of the UCB House Harold team Standard Oil. Shaun talks about where he’s coming from, his favorite comedians and improvisers, and the importance of differences in improv.