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J: What do you do in teaching? You have a Level 3 class where people are further along.
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 interesting.

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 2002?
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 Disney.

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.
  
   

     

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