Posts tagged Cameron Algie
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Cameron was a guest on SiriusXM’s Canada Talks Speak Easy with Carla Collins yesterday.
While he was waiting to be interviewed, he noticed another man sitting alone. Cameron introduced himself and asked the man, whose name was Scott, what he was there to talk about.
“Oh, I’m with Commander Hadfield,” Scott replied, indicating the studio.
Cameron’s eyes widened.
“You mean I’ve gotta follow him?”
They laughed, and Scott asked what Cameron did. He explained that he was there to talk about improv, and how it helped him overcome his anxiety.
They chatted for several minutes, and Cameron forgot all about any nerves he might have had. When the studio door opened, Scott told Cameron, “You’ve got to meet Chris!”
As Cameron told me this story, he said, “The ‘old me’ would have sat by myself, concentrating on not being nervous. Instead I was focused on what was happening now. Laughing with Scott was so much better than focusing inward.”
(Improv analogy, anyone?)
If you’d like to learn more about improv for anxiety (and being here now), check out Cameron’s new website at playwithfireimprov.com.
I started to write about Pattern Game* and asked Cameron for his opinion. Of course, his answer was much more interesting than an explanation of how to do it.
And so, POV was born: Point Of View. People On Video. Party On…Valium?
Stay tuned for more POVs with your favourite improvisers. Click here or below to watch.
*For a detailed description of pattern games, see page 29 of Truth In Comedy.
John Hodgman spoke recently about how Stephen Colbert overcame embarrassment by doing embarrassing things in public, until it no longer bothered him.
This makes perfect sense.
Whether he’s bobsledding in skintight Spandex, or telling George Bush to his face what a douche he is, Colbert’s commitment to character is unflinching.
But for some people, fear of embarrassment can be debilitating.
Katagelophobia is the fear of embarrassment, ridicule, or (ironically for comedians) of being laughed at.
I’ve blogged before about Cameron’s anxiety-ridden past. For years he suffered from daily panic attacks, cold sweats, vomiting, eczema, coughing, diarrhea…you name it. Finally in desperation, we went to a shrink.
The therapist, it turned out, had problems of his own. But he said two things that completely changed Cameron’s life – and mine, too.
First, he suggested Cameron take up improv. And second, he said that most anxiety comes from a fear of embarrassment.
We left the therapist after only a few sessions, but Cameron enrolled at Second City. And he did something else that helped him, in improv and in life: he started doing “embarrassing” things, like purposely tripping and stumbling in front of strangers.
At first he would blush and get cold sweats. But he kept on doing it, day after day, until he actually looked for excuses to do silly things in public.
Today he’s so happy, calm and confident that people who didn’t know the “old” Cameron are flabbergasted to learn he wasn’t born fearless.
Disapproval Starts With You
Fear of embarrassment often comes from wanting approval. (“I hope I don’t fuck up on stage tonight. I’ll never be able to show my face again!”)
I’ve seen wanting approval cripple a lot of funny people, especially at festivals, where they put extra pressure on themselves to be brilliant.
Worrying about what your audience thinks is a surefire way to get in your head. When you worry, you judge, and it’s a fast trip to Suckville from there.
Richard Burton used to stand backstage before performances and whisper, “Fuck you! Fuck you!” to the audience. If you can let go on needing approval, you’ll have a much better show. And a helluva lot more fun.
Some people say anxiety before a performance is good, even necessary. I say bullshit. I’ve done plenty of crappy shows where I was nervous beforehand, and just as many good ones where I wasn’t.
It’s natural for some adrenaline to kick in before going on stage, but if having your girlfriend in the audience makes you jittery, click here for some exercises that can help.
Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously
One of my favourite sketches of all time is the Ministry of Silly Walks. It’s so quintessentially British. And yet as John Cleese said, “The aim of any good English gentleman is to get safely to his grave without ever having been embarrassed.”
To err is human. And life’s too short to worry what other people think. Chances are, they’re busy worrying what you think of them.
So if anxiety about making the wrong move, or even just looking stupid in public is holding you back, try looking stupid on purpose. It works.
To hear Hodgman talk about Colbert, click here.
Colbert kissing David Razowsky while Steve Carell watches at Second City’s 50th anniversary.
Happy Friday! Here’s another hilarious promo for Big City Improv Festival, this time featuring Devon Hyland. Click below to watch.
BCIF just unveiled the first in a series of videos created by Toronto’s improv community. This one features Cameron Algie, Steve Cole, Quentin Matheson and Chris Leveille, directed by Chris Besler. Click below to view.
Ah, the follow-up album.
How do you top a really fun day spent goofing around with friends? We couldn’t. So we spent a day with some more cool friends, making each other laugh. (Special shout out to Chris Besler for his tireless work on the edit.)
This is for everyone who said, “Where was the…(fill in the blank)?” To see the original video, click here.
A lot of crazy stuff happens on stage. But what happens when improvisers go home?
That’s the premise Chris Besler, one of my teammates on Corgi In The Forest, threw out in rehearsal one day. “I’ve always wanted to make a video about bad object work,” he said. My eyes lit up. “We are gonna shoot that video!”
And we did. All in one day, with the help of a crazy-talented bunch of friends. Stay tuned for the sequel. And to learn more about Mime/Object Work in improv, click here.
Update: When Chris posted the video Wednesday morning, we had no idea it’d be on Jimmy Fallon’s tumblr by that evening. Woot! Thanks to everyone who watched, Liked, shared and tweeted.
Cameron Algie is co-creator of People and Chairs. He’s a member of comedy phenom Standards & Practices, and musical improv group, Smash Hit. He coaches three (count ‘em: three) long-form teams, and still finds time for his copywriting day job. Sometimes.
A few years back I saw an improv show that changed the way I play. I forget the name of the team*, but there was a scene going on and Paloma Nuñez and Kevin Williams were watching from the sidelines. They were both inspired to move onto the stage at the same time. They stopped instantly on the edge of the stage and played rock, paper, scissors to see who got to make their move.
I sat in awe, my eyes wide open. They were both willing to fight for their idea. I watched from the audience and thought, if that had been me with either of them I would’ve said, “You go.” Are you kidding me? How could my idea even compete with one of those geniuses?
It’s taken me years to gain the confidence to know my ideas are just as good as anyone’s. Paloma won and went into the scene and it was awesome. What was her idea? I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter. It was perfect for that moment. And she knew it. And Kevin’s idea would’ve been perfect too. And so would’ve little ole mine.
*Editor’s note: Little American Bastards
“No one who grew up watching comedy says, ‘One day I hope to do openings.’” – Matt Besser
Whether you agree with Besser or not, openings are a fact of longform life. If you’ve been on a Harold team for any length of time, you’ve probably grappled with:
• What form your opening should take
• How long it should be, and
• What (if anything) to take from it
We’ve all seen – and God knows I’ve been in – plenty of terrible openings. They tend to include:
• “whooshing” sounds
• players standing in a semi-circle, waiting for someone else to make the first move
• players standing in a semi-circle, talking about some invisible thing on stage
If you find yourself struggling with openings, here are some tips to help you get more out of them. Whatever you do, it’ll be exponentially better if you commit to whatever is happening right now.
Standards & Practices is a team that’s famous for their high energy, character-driven openings. They start with a word and quickly generate ideas, people and situations using physicality and soundscapes. These may or may not come back later in the show.
Watch how they go from zero to 60, forming different points of view while staying connected in this opening:
Sometimes their openings are so physical, they go into their first scenes out of breath. No wonder audiences love them. Their opening isn’t a separate entity; it’s an integral part of the set. And check out that time: just under two minutes, or about the length of a good youtube video.
Get Cooler Gets
The drunk guy in the third row has been waiting all night for this. If you just say “Can I have a one-word suggestion?” odds are he’ll yell out “Fuck!” or “Shit!” or “Dickwad!”
Instead of making them go through their mind dictionary, help the audience by narrowing it down. For example:
“Can I have a location that would fit on this stage?”
“What’s your favourite sport/colour/product?”
“What’s something you would never pack on a vacation?”
“What’s a tattoo you’ve always wanted?”
It doesn’t really matter what the question is. Just keep it as short and focused as possible. And if the first suggestion is “shit,” wait for another. There’s nothing set in stone that says you have to take the first suggestion. Be choosy.
“If we’re on the same stage, we’re on the same page.” – Joe Bill
It sounds so basic, but the most important thing you can do in an opening is agree. However many players are on stage, your opening will be stronger and more dynamic if you build on each other’s ideas right from the start. That means really listening to whoever initiates, yes-anding and either matching or heightening their physicality, behaviour, voice, and whatever else they put out there.
Like scenes, your openings will be so much better if whatever you’re doing, you commit, fully and joyfully.
Information, Sound & Movement, and Stage Picture
Too much stand-and-talk is boring. Look for ways to add to what’s being created. You can:
• Narrate the action
• Scene paint
• Use your environment to create a more interesting stage picture. If the suggestion is “baseball,” maybe you take up positions on the stage like a baseball diamond.
• Become an object. Someone taking the form of a physical object is always more interesting to watch than an empty stage.
• For bonus cool points, use symmetry. If someone moves on one side of the stage, mirror them.
Go Deep, Not Broad
It’s easy to go on a tangent and start listing things (“salad ingredients,” to quote Jet Eveleth).
Player #1: We see a ball.
Player #2: It’s a colourful beachball.
Player #3: There’s a man holding it.
Was Player #3 listening? Absolutely, and you could argue he yes-anded. But in openings you want to go deep, not broad.
Explore the first thing until you’ve exhausted it, before you move on to something else. Is the ball made in China? Is it partly deflated? Does it have shark toothmarks on one side?
A Word About Length
During a rehearsal, my team got the suggestion “shining.” I initiated with “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!” One of my teammates stepped out and said “Heeeeeeere’s Dave!” Others joined in: “Heeeeeere’s Marcie!” “Heeeeeere’s Donna!”
We went on to a second and third beat of that opening, but our coach pointed out that we could have ended it after the first. “Your set could be about exploring each of those characters you initiated.”
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.
“Decide what you want from an opening. Once you’ve got that, you can end it.” – Cameron Algie
In other words, you don’t need three beats, and it doesn’t have to be five minutes long, unless that’s what the team feels like it needs.
Finding Your Own Style
After you’ve performed as a team for a while, you’ll probably find yourselves gravitating towards a specific kind of opening. Then you can really have fun exploring it.
Mantown is another team with a signature opening style. They stand and face the audience, beer in hand, and deliver short monologues based on a word or topic. But really, they’re taking turns trying to make each other laugh. The audience goes crazy for it. Here’s a sample from one of their shows:
Adam Cawley: Sega Genesis was the better Sega.
Bob Banks: Better than the master system? Of course. It was the second generation of the master system. That’s like saying Super Nintendo is better than Nintendo. Yes!
Jason DeRosse: Genesis was the second-coolest book in the Bible.
Bob Banks: It was also the second-best time in Phil Collins’s life.
Like S&P, they throw out tons of information that they can use to inspire the set – or not. The monologues are fun in and of themselves. You can see a Mantown opening by clicking here.
For another, thoughtful take on openings, check out this guest post by Erik Voss at ussrocknroll.com.