Reflections

Sense and Nonsense

I came upon improv by accident. It was February 1981, and my ex-girlfriend and writing partner Sari Bodi and I were starting a cable TV show on public access. (We had written some pretty bad sketches for the appropriately titled Public Abcess.) We wanted to improve our writing so we went to some stand-up comedy classes. They were okay, but I never took to the "me-ism" and hackneyed comic material that was common in these classes. (I encountered one guy who was attempting to write the perfect routine; he had been working on it for  years, but had never tried it out on an audience. He wanted to get it perfect, he said. He's probably still working on it somewhere.)

Things changed – big-time – when we went to see Chicago City Limits performing at their little theater near 11th Avenue (or was it 10th?) It was a Saturday night and we walked from 7th Avenue in a blinding blizzard. God only knows why we went out on that night. But I'm glad we did. The show we saw was marvelous; a revelation to me. How did they come up with such witty and outrageous things so fast? I was intrigued. 

Sari and I went to class soon after that. It was taught by the late, great George Todisco (who died in 1982 at age 30). George was cynical, sarcastic, insightful – and oh so supportive. He would always find the good in a scene, even if it was something as negligible as  "You had good energy" (his comment to me after my first terrible scene; I survived the scene, thinking I had "good energy," thinking, "I can do this stuff" -- although if he had been more critical I may have shut down and never returned).

I later learned that support is what improv is all about, the kind of support that says, "I make you look good and you make me look good," and "Yes and" and all the other improv standards ("The Codes of the Improviser" is what one of my teachers, Carol Schindler, calls them). It has been a support, a joy, a passion, and an obsession of mine, as I went through seven years of classes at CCL, one-and-a-half years with the N.Y. Improv Squad, a brief turn winning an award with Improv Da-Da, 25 years or so as a teacher (which I love doing), and 20 years as the host of Sunday Night Improv (and before that a guest with Ian Prior's All-Star Improv Jam).

That obsession led to the documentary I recently completed. It's called SENSE AND NONSENSE, is about (what else?) improv, and has a return engagement Wednesday, August 7, and Thursday, August 15, at 7 P.M. at the Soter-Lee Theater, 236 W. 78th St. I talked to about a dozen improvisers, who were generous with their time and insights, and I'm thankful that they shared their thoughts with me. It was also fun going through 30 years of clips (mostly from Sunday Night Improv) that best exemplified what people were discussing. Some outtakes are on YouTube, but I don't expect to put the full documentary on YouTube any time soon (if at all), so catch it at these screenings, if you're interested. (Since its debut earlier this month, I cut about 20 minutes out of it, based on audience suggestions and response.)

I enjoyed making it. I hope you'll enjoy watching it. Whether you're an aspiring or veteran improviser, or you're just someone who wonders how it's done, come on by. I think you'll laugh -- and maybe learn something, too.

July 17, 2013

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