Sketch & Solo Performances
Film & TV
The Jester Interviews
What do you do in teaching? You have a Level 3 class where people are
NS: Yes. Previously I was teaching Level 1. Iím also teaching a
Ďtwo-proví class which is where you sign up with a partner and I help
you develop a two-person show together, to find a form thatís a little
unique to you. I just started that so Iím feeling my way through that.
I also work with a company called Performance of a Lifetime, where we do
corporate training using the tools of theater, so weíll go to a company
like PricewaterhouseCoopers, where theyíre accountants but now have been
promoted to managers and now they have to interact with people and
manage and be leaders in a way they never had to do before. It really
comes down to teaching people how to listen really well and know when
someone gives you a look thatís not quite right and you know that
something else is going on, so when you say something and they look
scared, to realize that youíre scaring them, and maybe thatís not what
you wanted to do.
Over the last year, I taught the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team improv, which
was really interesting to do. The idea was they brought Performance of a
Lifetime on because they were concerned about how the Olympic team would
deal with the media in China. Obviously they need to be focused on their
sports, where theyíre good or even the best in the world at that, but
theyíre not necessarily good at talking off the cuff and dealing with
people asking them a bunch of questions all of a sudden. That was very
As far as the levels at The PIT, so far my experience is that I enjoy
the Level 1 more than the Level 3. Maybe thatís because Iím used to
teaching people who donít have any improv experience, through
Performance of a Lifetime. Sometimes you can learn just enough to be
dangerous. Like what I was saying before, about how youíre not as scared
to be up there anymore, youíre not afraid to make a jackass out of
yourself, but youíre still not listening well, so youíre making big,
strong choices, but you donít realize theyíve gone awry.
A little hesitancy is a little bit better because youíre waiting for the
other person to do something, which is what you should be doing. You
should be building a bit together. Also the personalities involved -- by
the time you get to Level 3, you probably decided this is something you
want to do. The people who keep taking those levels are people who want
to be performers and can be in a place of itís their time to shine and
itís all about how theyíre doing as opposed to whatís really going on.
Sometimes that hesitancy in Level 1, where youíre just a jeweler who
thinks this might be fun to try -- youíre listening to whatís going on a
little bit. Itís like when youíre in a car crash and things happen in
slow motion because itís a survival instinct. Itís like that with a
Level 1 person. They want to survive up there, so they really are
listening to whatís going on. A lot of times you have to unteach a few
things at the higher levels.
J: Does performing improv ever spark sketch ideas for you?
NS: When I went from High Fife, there were a few improvs we took and
made sketches and short films out of. At Disney, we definitely would
work from improv to sketch. Something that really worked, weíd try it
again, and incorporate it in. With ĎAs Sparks Fly Upwards,í almost
everything we did was improv-to-sketch. I enjoy that process a lot. The
difficult thing for me on that is I feel like I need the audience to
really know whatís good or not, to get that reaction. Getting an
audience for those improv shows can be difficult, and getting the stage
time to do those, even though youíre not doing a full-on show. But
thatís the challenge involved in it. I never just went in a rehearsal
room from improv to sketch; Iím not sure that works as well.
J: Much less writing a sketch from nothing?
NS: Yeah. Ö When you donít write from improv to sketch and youíre just
writing sketch, just you at your computer -- I did a one-person show
called ĎStarkeyís Machine.í I did the show for a couple years, off and
on -- maybe less than that, but I would do a six-week run here, a
four-week run there. I did a one-off at UCB of that show. It really
wasnít until the end of my run that I was starting to learn what works.
Itís probably the same thing for a stand-up. They do it for five years
before they really figure out how to do it. The audience reaction stuff
is pretty valuable, in my experience.
When you do a short video or short film of some kind, itís really hard
to know how good something is until you put it up for an audience. Then
you realize you didnít think about waiting for the laugh or youíre
missing a lot of jokes because people are laughing at something, so they
miss all the jokes that come after that.
J: Were you in some of the first shows at The PIT when it opened in
NS: I did a show called Hee-Ha, which I think was one of the first shows
at The PIT. It was sort of like Hee-Haw, flipped on its head a little
bit, a bit darker, with very blue humor, with music and drugs -- instead
of popping up out of a corn field, the people would pop up out of a dope
field. That was one of the first shows I remember happening at The PIT.
Then I took a Harold boot camp class from Armando [Diaz], when he was
still at The PIT. Then I took a bunch of Ö a sketch-writing class with
Scott Wainio, who was an SNL writer, a Michael Showalter class and a
couple other writing classes. I was on one of the first ensembles they
put together, they grandfathered me in -- I didnít really go through the
improv classes at The PIT though; at this point you have to do the
levels to get on a group. There were a few of us who didnít do that.
J: Have you always been on a house team?
NS: I think so. Iíve been on all the different incarnations. Iím pretty
sure I was on one of the first ones. Iím happy that they kept me around.
J: Have you done other sketch shows along with the ones you mentioned?
NS: I did a show called ĎIggy & Son;í a show about G.W. [George W. Bush]
-- it ran during the fall, as our last chance to make fun of him. I
think it was called something like ĎAsshole Son of an Idiotí or ĎIdiot
Son of an Asshole,í or something like that. I did that sketch show. Matt
Oberg recently produced a Phil Collins-centric show, where he had a live
band that would play all Phil Collins music and all the sketches,
actually they were more like one-acts, were inspired by Phil Collins
somehow. So I was in that show.
Matt and I did a short-form set inspired by quotes from Phil Collins
songs. It was like a ĎWhose Line Is It Anyway?í where we would draw a
quote out of a hat and that was the next line of dialogue we had to use.
The plays were all written by Ö one of those downtown playwrights wrote
one of the sketches. Ö Off the top of my head, thatís other things I
remember doing. Itís very time consuming to do sketch. Improv is the
lazy manís comedy. You donít have to write anything and rehearsal is
optional to some degree. Sketch takes so much time. What I really
appreciated about ĎAs Sparks Fly Upwardsí is that we didnít really have
props. That makes it a lot easier and less cumbersome too. You could go
into the next sketch without having to reset the stage or make the
audience sit during a blackout for a minute while you change costumes.
But I did a lot of High Fife stuff at The PIT. Thatís the extent of the
sketch work Iíve done at The PIT.
J: Are there other projects or endeavors that youíre involved with?
NS: Mostly like video stuff. I have a small production company that
specializes in vanity videos, like a really rich guy will want a video
to show at his 50th anniversary, thatís a documentary about him or maybe
a pretend SportsCenter where heís the star. So I put a lot of energy
into that for a long time but now that the economy has gone down the
crapper, nobodyís spending money on something like that which is the
first sort of thing to go. So no oneís spending money on that, no oneís
spending money on the corporate training stuff, so Iím putting a lot
more energy into writing pilots and trying to get meetings with people
and getting back on the track of finding a manager to send me on
auditions, which is good, because thatís stuff I want to do. The other
stuff was a distraction from that but on the other hand, Iím not making
any money. The only money Iím making is teaching classes and coaching
groups, which isnít very much money. So I put a lot of energy into that
right now. Itís exciting but frustrating.
J: What would you say was your most satisfying performing experience?
NS: Doing my one-person show at the UCB, was Ö in terms of goosebumps
per minute or that performer buzz, it was good, because it was a full
house and was just my show, and it was received very well. The audience
reaction was everything a performer wants. That sticks out as a great
experience. That was in their new, or current space, which is a huge
space, so for it to be full is pretty exhilarating. For some reason,
size of the crowd sometimes plays a role.
With ComedySportz in Denver, we did road shows and I remember a show for
the University of Wyoming and it was a crowd of 2,000 or more people,
probably the biggest crowd Iíve played for. When I was in Orlando I did
a show with TheatreSports, again one of these road shows, for
Tupperware. Their headquarters is in Orlando and it was a crowd of all
women. I felt like the entire crowd of women had a crush on me at that
show, even to a point where Ö there was a point in the show where you
take an audience volunteer out of the room while the people on stage get
suggestions from the audience. Then you bring that audience member back
in the room and you have to get them to say five sentences that were
decided by the audience. I remember in the show, when you lead the
person up, they were chasing me, like they wanted to get me -- just the
vibe of the room was like I was a teen idol. There was a lot of that at
You know, performance is sex. Itís like a flirtation you have with the
audience. At Disney, there would be that sort of flirtation that would
go on with audience members. Itís always like Ö maybe Iím shallow or
something, but thatís a lot of fun to feel like a group of people are
attracted to you. Any performer can probably relate to that.
Those are some highlights. Ö There are certain ensembles that you fall
into that stand above the rest. My Truck Boys ensemble at Disney was one
of those ensembles where Ö I canít think of one particular show that we
did that was great, but consistently our shows were always very good.
Thereís also a group with myself, Matt Oberg and Ashley. When we perform
together, our shows are consistently together. My ensemble with Chris
Grace, I think we have a good ensemble, our shows are consistently good.
We continue to get better. The stuff Iím doing with Dion, even though
itís very new, I think thereís a lot of potential there.
J: How did you get connected with Dion?
NS: It was a mutual admiration thing. I saw him doing his show with Ali.
I thought he was really talented, and he saw me performing with Fancy
Dragon and made a point of telling me he liked my stuff. Then,
Performance of a Lifetime was looking for people to hire to do their
work and I gave them Dionís name as a talented person that they could
maybe bring on. So they brought him on and we did some jobs together. It
was actually Dionís idea, that he asked me to get together with him and
rent a little rehearsal space and just do some improv together, and
maybe develop a show or see where it leads. So we got a rehearsal room
together and Dion brought his tape recorder. We did some improvisations
and recorded them. Our enthusiasm sort of fizzled out; we each had other
things going on, but now and then Dion would listen to those tapes and
he thought there was some very funny stuff there. One of the things we
improvised was about two inmates being interviewed by a journalist or
someone in prison, and the idea came together that we should do an
improv show where we are two inmates who [are chained together]. We
thought it was a great idea, and I think it is a great idea. Thatís how
we hooked up.