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There’s an old joke that analyzing humour is like dissecting a frog: few people are interested and the frog dies of it. But for students of improv (and we’re all students, really), there’s nothing more fascinating than discussing this art form we all love.

The Backline with Rob Norman and Adam Cawley is part class room, part personal POV, and part witty banter-slash-sparring match. Like Lennon and McCartney, Rob and Adam perform brilliantly together, but they also spur each other on to greater heights. (Adam just won Best Male Improviser at the Canadian Comedy Awards, while Rob is currently shooting a new TV show. Check, and mate.)

Both are long-time fixtures of the Toronto improv scene, Second City alumni and long-form instructors at the Second City Training Centre. They’re also working actors who’ve studied with some of the greats (Napier, Messing, Cackowski, Joe Bill, to name a few) and have performed in festivals across North America. In other words, they know their shit.

Though it’s only been around for a few months, The Backline has already covered a wide range of topics, and each episode is filled with anecdotes and great advice. Themes include Getting Started, Fear, Competition, Ethics, and Cities, History and Comedy Scenes.

Whether you’re a newb or a seasoned vet, The Backline should be on your playlist. Click here to join their Facebook group, or subscribe for free here.

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

You’ve kissed more guys than women. And you’re straight.

Photo © Corbin Smith

Photo © Corbin Smith

You’ve had to compete with at least one of these while performing:

Photo © People and Chairs

Photo © People and Chairs

Photo © siaoyue

Photo © siaoyue

Photo © James Young

Photo © James Young

This was breakfast. And lunch. You don’t remember dinner.

Photo © Steve Del Balso

Photo © Steve Del Balso

You need to set your alarm for an audition at noon.

Photo © Kevin Whalen & James Gangl

Photo © Kevin Whalen

You get endowed as the President every time you hit the stage.

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

Deep down, you still dream of being a superhero.

Photo © People and Chairs

Photo © People and Chairs

If you read one more “Women aren’t funny” article, you’ll swear like Susan f#%$ing Messing. 

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

You feel cool because everyone’s a nerd.

Photo © Laura Salvas

Photo © Laura Salvas

When this guy says, “Take your crazy monkey dance back to Hitler Town,” you know exactly what he means.

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

It isn’t Halloween. Just a typical Thursday night.

Photo © Becky Feilders

Photo © Becky Feilders

The sign of a good rehearsal.

Photo © Madelyn Rideout

Photo © Madelyn Rideout

You’ve said things that would get you fired, disowned or arrested in real life. 

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

The answer to the question, “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” is always “Yes!”

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

Matt Besser has said that the only good warm-up is One-Word Pattern Game. Matt Walsh insists it’s Eights. Wherever you stand on warm-ups, you’re going to do a lot of them in your improv life.

If the thought of doing Big Booty again makes you look for the nearest exit, why not skip a structured warm-up and just talk with your team instead? Not in clusters of two or three, but as a group. This is really important.

Almost all teams have sub-cliques, which are obvious once the team hits the stage and the same two or three go into scenes together who always do.

If you missed rehearsal or don’t see other team members very often, it’s important to stay connected with each other’s lives.

You can stand in a circle outside the theatre or sit in the green room, then take turns saying one thing that happened to you that day or week. It can be good, bad, sad, exciting, or boring. Even the most mundane things can suddenly float to the surface, turning up later in a scene or group game.

It can simply be something you observed. I snapped the photos below from the streetcar. “To-ne Sushi” made me think of “Tony Sushi,” and together with “Cameron House,” struck me as funny names for characters…but your inspiration could be anything. Maybe you went to Queen Video, and that inspires a scene about a store that only sells videos of the rock group Queen.

Sharing anecdotes about your job, your family, your life is one way to get to group mind faster. The most important thing about any warm-up is to loosen you up and get you ready to have fun together.

Go team!

Tony Sushi small

 

Tony Sushi new

The National Theatre of The World did a long scene recently where Matt Baram and Ron Pederson never referred to each other by name.

Naomi Snieckus then mischievously pimped them, herself and Chris Gibbs into doing a scene that only contained names.

The result was hilarious but also fascinating, as they used only first names (e.g. “Edgar?” “Daphne…” “Timothy!”) to emote and define their relationships to each other.

It’s a fun alternative to the “Fifty” exercise, where two people do a scene using only numbers from 1 to 50 in place of dialogue.

Try it at your next rehearsal!

Name Game Wordle

We love seeing the non-improv side of improvisers, be it art, dance, filmmaking, baking, tuning a bike, or knowing how to fix your Commodore 64. And when we saw Lara Johnson’s paintings, we were blown away by her talent.

“Movies were such an integral part to my childhood,” says Lara. “Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, Star Wars…I mean the list goes on. They shaped my sense of humour and are such a huge part of who I am. I love honouring them! My parents should have probably encouraged more books, but hey, you get what you get. No complaints here!

I am also just so inspired by how much my current work is touching people and getting them excited about art. There’s something about it that makes me feel more connected to who I am, what I love and the people around me, like its something/someone we all share love for, and have amazing memories of. We all know the story. It’s such a cool feeling.”

You can see more of Lara’s work at Fan Expo, Table A236, August 28 – 31 at the Metro Convention Centre. Or visit her website at larajohnsonart.com and “Like” her facebook page to stay updated on new works. There are prints available, and Lara also does commissions.

Artwork © Lara Johnson

Artwork © Lara Johnson

Lara has been improvising for six years, studying at Second City and Bad Dog Toronto, UCBT New York, Artistic New Directions, The Stella Adler Studio, as well as Annoyance and iO in Chicago, and The School with Paola Coletto and Jet Eveelth and The Black Box Theatre.

You can see her perform at SoCap’s 200% Vodka show Monday nights with her aptly-named team, A Team Of Improv. She also co-produces and performs War Porsche with Hayley Kellett, now in its third year.

If it’s spit-your-coffee-all-over-your-laptop laughs you’re after, The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project delivers.

He already had us at “Andy Daly,” but beyond the host’s comedic genius, the premise made us weep at its simplicity. Each episode, Daly and guests improvise the pilot episode of a podcast supposedly submitted by, well, a bunch of nutbars.

Pilots include “The Travel Bug with August Lindt,” “Hail Satan with Chip Gardner,” and our favourite, “Shut Up and Have Fun with Danny Mahoney.”

The rapid-fire dialogue will leave you breathless. As a lesson in improvisation, the number of “yes, and…”s per minute is off the charts.

Running more than 90 minutes per episode, it’s the perfect thing to download for that 12-hour bus ride to DCM. Click here to listen.

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 3.54.46 PM

My strongest memory of Robin Williams isn’t a film or TV role (though there are dozens of those); it was seeing him improvise live on television.

I was 12 years old and Williams had just exploded on the scene with Mork and Mindy. He was a guest on The Don Lane Show, and you could tell that neither the host nor the studio audience – nor I, for that matter – had ever seen anything like him.

When Williams came out, Lane gave him the floor and challenged him to make jokes up on the spot. Williams proceeded to walk around the set, riffing off every prop and piece of furniture. (Alas, the only thing I recall is when he gestured to a pointy sculpture and quipped, “Cleopatra told Caesar, “Not tonight babe. I’ve got my pyramid.'”)

I remember being amazed at his ability to create comedy out of seemingly nothing. Little did I know the man in the rainbow suspenders would go on to become one of the most successful actors on the planet.

For all the laughter (and the tears), thank you.

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