Posts tagged David Razowsky improv
Choose another tag?
“The thing about Invention Town is, no one lives there. So you might as well live in HereNow Town, where we’re all at.” – David Razowsky
We love this infographic by Bob Kodzis. If you’ve ever taken a class with David Razowksy, you’ll get it. And if you haven’t, we hope it intrigues you to do so.
There are still a couple of slots open for his Toronto workshop this Friday. Click here for details.
What if you could start over whenever you wanted? What if you could begin again? What if you could begin again again? What would you do differently if you could do it differently? When do you have the chance to do THAT?
Well, you can each time you step on a stage, sit before a blank page, pick up your axe, sit at the bench, stand by the easel. You just have to decide that you are starting fresh. All it takes is your being aware that always your point of view can be at the “Point of New.”
What’s stopping you from starting anew?
You. Your story, your decision to think that you’re helplessly, hopelessly connected to your past actions. You know the dialogue:
“That’s what always happens.”
“That’s just the way we are.”
“I’m the kinda person who…”
“My family’s history is…”
“I’ll never get it.”
Or the classic:
“I don’t know.”
You do know, don’t you, that it’s your decision to state those statements, to engage in that text, to play that part? All of those sentences you decide to utter. Your choice to engage the thoughts then carry on with what you think is your destiny. We do it mindlessly.
Be mindful that your words matter. Be aware that your thoughts are being thought. That your mental texts have weight. You give them weight. You give them meaning. You choose to dwell on them. Think about it. You might not say the “C” word or the “N” word. These are two of the heavy weight heavyweights. For some these words are “cringe-worthy” because we’ve given them power.
Your engaging in the sentences above are just as cringeable. Those two pieces of architecture have the same energy as the words you might use on yourself: the story that you “suck,” that “others are better at improv than you,” that others have “more experience,” are “blessed with wit,” or good looks or a better family who cares more for them than you perceived your family cared for you. These are bullshit memes that lets your ego control your artistry.
Your ego does not control you. You choose to let your ego control you. You do it by listening to it, then engaging in it. In all of the museums, in all of the theaters, in all of the galleries, in any hall or field or closet or on any wall there is no artwork that was created through the union of inspiration and ego. None. It can’t be made because that voice that you’re letting to speak drowns out the voice that you use to produce your output of you-ness.
Each time I stand at the entrance to the stage I’m aware that I’m standing in the middle of absolute nothingness, emptiness, a blank canvas. It’s the opportunity for me to be aware of non-engagement. I am not attached to my past performances, I am not aware of what I’ve done “wrong,” or what I’ve done “right.” I am just there. When I’m just standing in that void I’m present to my openness, my chance to listen to all that is happening. Not what has happened, nor what I hope will happen. It’s a sacred space, that place right where I’ll be entering the stage. My awareness to the stillness that’s there helps me to be affected by whatever stimulus I enter into on the stage, the stillness that’s there not because I put it there, but because it’s been there the whole time.
It’s the opportunity for a birth. Not a re-birth. A birth. Clean, fresh, aware, awake, alive, alert. It’s not an opportunity to run the mental newsreel, to make sure that the plan is going to go as planned when you planned it during the time that you planned it. It’s your opportunity to leave the baggage in the car, to store the stuff in the locker, to time to start anew. To keep what went on yesterday securely stored in the “history bin” you keep out of reach. Now is the best time. Now. Now. Now.
The time is always there. Always. Just like the moment is. Weird, huh?
©2013 David Razowsky
If you’d like to learn more about David’s workshops, i-Acting classes, shows, and other cool stuff, visit www.davidrazowsky.com. And if you haven’t already, subscribe to his podcast, A.D.D. Comedy with Dave Razowsky and Ian Foley. It really is the shizz.
At the risk of sounding like the old man standing on his porch shouting “Get off my lawn, you kids,” I need to kvetch.
One of the reasons many see improvisers as the 19th century public saw actors (“No Dogs or Actors Allowed!”) is that we don’t carry ourselves in a professional manner. We aren’t acting professionally nor are we treating each other professionally.
In the past month I’ve had three groups who’ve hired me to coach them cancel at the last minute. It’s unprofessional and it’s a bad precedent. I’ve lost work, time and money. I and many of the other teachers and coaches and directors that are hired spend a great deal of time preparing for these sessions, thinking about how to help individual casts find their voice, finesse their shows, further their careers, and, perhaps, make money. Yes, make money.
If you’re doing this for the art, cool, I get it. But there’s also a few shekels to be made from some of this work. The more of us who see the possibilities in that, the more the public will respond to the strong work being presented. The more we work on our craft with focused professionals the better we look. The better we look the more the public will see how great this art form can be. Should you blow off rehearsals when you’ve hired someone to come and work with you, you’re not just diluting the power of your work, you’re also continuing this idea that theatrical improvisation is merely a parlor game, or a series of easy jokes, or an evening of sloppy work delivered by shitty actors. I know that’s not who we are. I know we are able to do better.
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. By the same token, you are the one that’s ultimately responsible for you being treated respectfully and honorably. If I say, “Hey, it’s okay that we scheduled a rehearsal and no one showed up,” that doesn’t serve any of us.
I allow you to treat me the way you do. Should I stand up and say, “No, we can all do better,” that doesn’t just make me stronger, it makes all of us see this work with professional eyes and hearts.
Honor me and my time. In the end that will serve us all.
When we saw this photo of Steve Carell, Scott Allman, Stephen Colbert and David Razowsky as the Fab Four, we had to ask for the story behind it. Here’s what David said…
“[Beatles] was the scene’s name. We tried to get that thing up a number of times. Well, obviously we finally did.
Here was the conceit: It was The Beatles’ debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, and they were just returning from the set. They entered the scene to the screams of the fans, each time the door opened and one of us entered the crowd screams filled the stage. They were exhausted. They talked about how the set went, and they came up with a song idea from it. They sang it, roughly, but “Beatle-y:”
“Squiddy, squiddy, squiddy,
Love my little squiddy
Squiddy, squiddy, squiddy,
Then Paul (Steve) realized he felt weird. Like something happened that he couldn’t quite remember, couldn’t quite identify.
Then John (Stephen) realized that he felt the same way, that something happened that he was unable to pinpoint.
Then George (Scott) noticed that he was going through the same feeling of incompleteness.
Ringo (me), well I felt nothing like that.
The boys (sans Ringo) realized what it was: they were repressing a horrible memory. That memory was that Ed Sullivan had fondled each one of them before the show.
The scene went on in some such manner, and toward the end Ringo realized he was intentionally untouched. He was disappointed. “I wish Mr. Sullivan fondled me.”
It was, if nothing else, a blast to do. Steve and Stephen’s Liverpudlian dialects were wonderful. I tried one, but it sure didn’t feel right. Scott didn’t even try. It was wonderful.”
David Razowsky wrote and performed in ten Second City Chicago revues. He is a co-founder of The Annoyance Theatre, has written for The Simpsons Comic, and is one half of the improv duo, Razowsky and Clifford. His special skills include juggling, photography, and – according to his resumé – ATM usage.
P&C: You’re big on truth in scene work. Why is truthfulness important when you’re improvising?
DR: To paraphrase Mark Twain, “When you’re honest you don’t have to remember anything.” I feel that when you’re honest you don’t have to work, and I don’t want to watch anyone “work.”
I’d much rather see you “float” or “glide,” easy things to do when you’re creating through honesty. Truthfulness is dangerous, it’s not an easy thing to begin to do, but once you realize your character needs to have an epiphany/revelation/turn/transformation, your courage to be truthful takes you there.
When you miss the cut-off for Truthtown, you don’t know when the next exit will come your way. It’s your job as an actor to be vulnerable, honest.
Also when you’re honest and open to express your honesty, you don’t have to fake feeling what you’re not really feeling. Try telling someone you love them when you don’t. Try expressing to your boss how much you love your job when you don’t. Try telling someone who’s just given you a turd for a gift what a nice gesture it was. It’s hard to do, so don’t tell someone you don’t love that you love them; don’t tell your boss you love a job you don’t; and don’t take a turd as a gift… That last one’s an easy truth!
Also, the time to play with being honest and truthful is on stage where there are no life-altering results of your honesty. Once you get good at it on stage, perhaps you’ll be able to be more honest in your life. Just sayin’.
P&C: You teach a method called Viewpoints. How did you learn about it? What drew you to it?
DR: I call it Viewpoints; I also call it Viewpoints Elements. It’s actually Viewpoints for Improvisers, Viewpoints for Actors… It’s probably not the same way that they teach it at a school that teaches Viewpoints. The reason I’m saying that is, it’s what I took away from watching people teach Viewpoints.
I first saw it with a woman named Kim Rubinstein, when I was working with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company… I was hired to teach improvisation, and I thought I’d watch the other teachers teach, and this woman was teaching Viewpoints and I went, “Oh my God, this is what I do. I do this! There’s a name for it?”
When stuff resonates like that so strongly, it does a couple of things. First off, it’s very inspiring, and second, you feel so much less alone because that which you thought you were not able to communicate with anybody is not only communicatable, but also codified in a way that you can learn something from the codification and then go, “Oh that’s great! It’s not just something that I know, it’s also something that I can learn.”
Viewpoints is so great. If you give yourself the presence of being present, it absolutely changes the way that you look at everything. And you don’t get confused by things, because you’re really aware of everything that’s happening.
It’s similar to what I would imagine a surgeon does, where a surgeon will open up a patient and look inside and know exactly what’s there and not be in a panic, and be able to go, “OK, that’s there, that, I didn’t expect to see that, and that. OK, good, everything’s there,” and then be able to work [with] it.
So with Viewpoints you are able to stand here and be in duration* and know what the fuck you’re doing. And move over there and know that you’re in topography. And move over there and hold onto something and know that you’re in the middle of being in your architecture, being in duration of all these things.
And not only that, but it is so fucking fun to start codifying things in that way. So that you can look at somebody and say, “Wow, look at their relationship with their architecture,” when they’re just getting drunk.
*Duration, Shape, Gesture, Tempo, Repetition, Topography, Architecture, Kinesthetic Response, and Spatial Relationship are the nine Viewpoints Elements
P&C: One thing you teach is, “Don’t get your partner on you.” Can you expand on that?
DR: It’s the idea that your point of view is your point of view, and your partner’s point of view is your partner’s point of view. And at the centre of every scene is pressure, tension and dynamic. So let’s just say at the centre of every scene is pressure.
I’m coming in with a particular emotion, let’s say anger. You’re coming in with a particular emotion, and let’s say it’s joy.
You come in and you say [happy voice] “Oh Jerry, I heard it’s your birthday today!”
And I go, “Fuck you, Bob! Fuck you!”
And then you go [angry voice] “I just said it was your birthday!”
At that moment we don’t have a scene because there’s nothing pushing up against each other. Instead of saying:
[happy voice] “Oh happy birthday, Jerry. I know it’s your birthday.”
“Fuck you, Bob, fuck you!”
[still happy] “Je-e-e-e-e-rrrrry…aw, getting old is hard, isn’t it?”
“Go to Hell! You wouldn’t know anything about it!”
“Jerry, when we get together tonight and celebrate the fact that you were born, it’s gonna be un-fuckin-believeable!”
You know? So, hold onto the emotional content that you had at the beginning of the scene, because the scene needs for you to be consistent. And if we’re working together, then I know the part that I’m playing is the Angry Guy. The part that you’re playing is the Joyful Woman.
And it’s interesting, it goes back to the idea of improvisers versus actors. Because an actor will look at a character and never feel like, “That character’s got to veer.” They’ll say, “This is consistent with that character. This character does that, because it’s written that way.”
And so that’s why Hamlet doesn’t become Polonius. Those are two different characters with two different wants. And that’s why Macbeth doesn’t become Lady Macbeth. Even going past the gender point, all of those characters have specific things that are expected for them so that we can have the dynamic that that scene needs.
So to not get your partner’s character on you means their point of view is their point of view, and your point of view is your point of view. But if you’re not present to what your point of view is, then you don’t know what you have to hold onto.
And if you’re not present to what your point of view is, it’s probably because…no, it’s most likely…it is absolutely because you’re not listening. And you’re not listening to the one person you need to listen to the most, and that is you.
P&C: You used an angry guy and a joyful woman, but I think a lot of improvisers have been taught you don’t go into a scene angry because then you’re gonna bring conflict, and conflict is a bad thing…
DR: Well, I’m not saying that we can’t have conflict. I’m saying what you want to avoid is an argument scene.
Now I’m reframing that idea that… I’m redefining what’s the basis of every scene. Or at least I’m introducing this – and you can take it or leave it – and it’s the idea that when we say conflict is at the centre of every scene, the word “conflict” is in there. And when the word conflict is in there, our system, unless you’re trained, our system goes to that being an argument.
[But] if we break it down into the elements of pressure, tension and dynamic, then we are really able to look at it in a different way. And the way that we’re looking at it then is not conflict, because if you say, “Oh, I’m angry and you’re happy,” I’m allowing you of course to be any emotion that you feel at the beginning of the scene. How can I not? How can I say, “No, you can’t be angry?” How can I do that, why would I do that?
At the beginning of scenes, people are angry. At the beginning of a play, people are angry. At the beginning of a one-act people are angry. There’s a character that’s going to be angry. Why is it that we, as fucking improvisers… somehow, “Somebody said that a while ago and it totally makes sense.” No it doesn’t make sense!
What makes sense is this: Let’s train the actor to be able to respond to that anger. Because right now we’re going, “Don’t be angry, because you’re going to have a conflict scene.” Well let’s train the actor what to do. It’s not that hard! It’s not impossible. It’s easy. It’s learning the same thing all the time; it’s always learning the same thing, and that is how to deal with what’s in front of you.
I’m blessed in that I’ve been able to look at everything we’ve been doing and put a lot more energy into it than other people are, because they’ve got a job that they’ve got to go to, and my job…I don’t work. I don’t work.
I just am sitting in front of people who just perform and it’s like, “Fuckin’ A!” I just look at that stuff and go, “Oh, that’s why that works.” Or “That’s why that doesn’t work.” Or “Oh, you’re not getting it because you’ve been taught this way.” That there’s a governor on you. And you want your mind to go wherever the fuck it wants to go, and you’re listening to some rule that some douchebag told you at some shitty fuckin’ improv school that you went to.
Martin de Maat was a brilliant, warm, kind, awesome fucking person, and he pretty much put the [Second City] Training Centre together as we know it. And Martin called Second City Training Centre an acting school. So when I was the Artistic Director of The Second City Training Centre in LA, it was like, “Welcome to our acting school. This is not an improv school, this is an acting school, and you are gonna act.”
And the people I worked with at Second City… you cannot tell me that Jackie Hoffman is not an actor. You know what show she opened? She opened a tiny little show called Hairspray. She opened it, she created that fucking part. And she was in a play called Addams Family on Broadway. She opened the part as Grandma. She is younger than I am, OK?
Steve Carell, Steve Colbert, Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello… these are fucking great actors. Rachel Dratch. Great actor. And these are just people that you know, because there’s a bunch of people that you fucking don’t know.
Let’s talk about George Wendt. Let’s talk about John Candy. John Belushi. Aykroyd. I mean you look at Aykroyd and you go OK, Aykroyd, Blues Brothers. But how about this: Aykroyd: Driving Miss Daisy. Right?
If you want to codify yourself as an improviser, good luck, because you’re an actor who improvises. You’re an actor. Knock it the fuck off. Knock it the fuck off! And open yourself up. And stop driving the joke. The joke doesn’t drive your career, because right now it’s driving your career if you’re an improviser.
P&C: You performed in Chicago for years before moving to LA. How do the two differ in your mind, or is there a difference?
DR: Well Chicago’s a theatre city, and what somebody once said was really great – I don’t know who said this and I wish I could remember because I’d like to give them credit – “If you fail in Chicago, people look at you and go, ‘Well that was bad. What’s your next project?’”
And you think, that’s great, that’s it! ‘Cause I’ve seen some shitty stuff done in Chicago by some really, really good people. But it’s less about what… there’s this great phrase, I’m sure you’ve heard it: “Wherever you go, there you are.” Right? So you’re there.
So I’m in Chicago and I’m kind of just lookin’ around going, “Ah, I’m here, I’m experiencing this, and I’m living this life!” And then I come to LA and it’s like, “Here I am, I’m experiencing, I’m living the life.” It’s whatever I bring to it.
So really the difference between the two – and I think other people are gonna say it’s not – but my experience is, in Chicago I could and did find my voice. I found my voice in Chicago, but it had a lot to do with me, what I was bringing into it.
Because I wanted to find my voice, I needed to find my voice. And if I wanted to, I could’ve gone to Second City and said, “What’s in it for me?” As opposed to, I went to Second City and said, “Oh my God, look at all you have, and I can do whatever it is that I want to do,” knowing that I could do whatever it was that I wanted to do.
And if I wanted put parameters on myself, I could do that. I chose not to. I chose to bloom, I chose to evolve, that’s what I chose to do; to listen to everything that was going on, every step of the way.
When I came out [to LA], it took me a long time before I realized, “Fuck all those people.” And I don’t mean that in a negative way. (laughs) I know that sounds negative. What I mean is, “I’m not gonna allow them to tell me who I am.”
Because the thought here is that this city wants to tell you who are. And maybe it does. But at the end of the day, they also reward people who bring who it is that they are here.
Now there’s a structure that’s here, and there’s an industry that’s here, and you live within the industry, or you work within that structure here, but that’s not to say that every once in a while you can’t try something that you really wanna do.
I’ve created a career, but my career is so different than what anyone is doing anywhere else anywhere, and I’ve found that by myself. And I’ve found that because Chicago and Second City helped me find my voice.
And then coming out here, and knowing that what I perceived as disappointments when I first came out here was just me being steered into following my bliss. To accepting the fact that I don’t like to do that. I don’t like to do that!
And people go, “Well, why aren’t you more famous?” I hear that a lot from people. And it’s like, “‘Cause I’m not?”
And it has nothing to with I’m angry at anybody, or anybody owes me anything, it’s more along the lines of, that’s not what I do. And yet there are, I think, there are hundreds of people who would look at me as somebody…how can I say this?…who would look at me and go, “Oh, Dave Razowsky. Oh, you know Dave Razowsky?” And I’m like, I’m just me.
I had a girlfriend who really had a hard time when I said things like, “I cannot believe that that person remembered my name! How great.” And she’d say, “You’re Dave Razowsky!” And I’d say, “I have no idea what that means.” I am me and that’s who it is that I am.
And I’m not looking around going, “Oh, aren’t I great?” And I don’t look at my resumé all the time; I hardly ever take my resumé out, I hardly ever audition anymore. And to say I’m OK with that, on paper, looks like, “Oh, he’s resigned.” But I’m not, I’m evolved.
And whatever it is that anybody is doing with their career is what they’re doing with they’re career. And they have to be happy with it. And if you’re not happy with it, then change it. But how do you change it? You have to change your attitude about it.
There’s that great phrase, “Whatever it is that’s taking away from doing what you want to do, is what you’re doing.”
DR: It’s such a beautiful phrase. ‘Cause whatever is taking you away from what it is you want to do, is what you’re doing. That’s what you’re doing. “I’m not doing that.” No, it’s not that you’re not doing that, it’s that you’re doing this.
P&C: You were at Second City with Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello. Did you have any sense of how good you all were, that one day you’d be legends?
DR: Back then I think everybody was just having a good time. And I think the common denominator between all those people [was], “This opportunity doesn’t happen very often, and if we wanna fuck it up, we can fuck it up. And I’m choosing not to fuck it up.”
There were a lot of people who felt that Second City owed them something, and I always looked at that and thought, How does that work out? How does that work out at all? Because you’re able to do whatever the fuck it is that you wanna do, as much as you wanna do, as often as you wanna do it, and that opportunity doesn’t come very often, so while it’s here you’ve got to replace ambition with gratitude and be grateful. And I believe that everybody that was there was very, very grateful.
Did we know that the work was good? I will say that there were certain scenes, Second City scenes… Certainly there was a scene called Pictionary that Paul and Steve and Fran Adams and Ruthie Rudnick did, and I wasn’t in that scene but I would go backstage and then come out and sit in the audience and watch that scene. I watched that scene every fucking night that it was on. I watched it Every. Fucking. Night. That it was on. I never tired of that scene.
And so looking back on that now, because at that time it was like, “Oh, Pictionary’s on! I’m gonna go watch Pictionary…”
DR: But to look at it at that moment, I appreciated being in that moment and being able to watch that in that moment, and being excited that that moment was coming up.
To not feel jealous… because the people that felt jealous of you, or that threw jealousy in there, their work wasn’t as strong because it didn’t come from a place of collaboration, it would come from a place of desperation. And nine times out of ten, if you’re trying to work a scene or create a scene through desperation, it’s not gonna wanna bloom because everything’s in its way for it to become… and it wants to become.
So I know that there were a bunch of scenes that I was in, that if I weren’t in those scenes I would watch those scenes. And there were a bunch of scenes that I was in that I was thinking, “If I were in the audience right now, this is when I’d go to the bathroom.” So… there. (laughs)
David Razowsky is.
If that’s a little too Zen for you, he’s a master improvisation teacher, actor and director who’s worked with DreamWorks, Steppenwolf, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris. He’s also the former Artistic Director of The Second City Training Centre.
I had the privilege of speaking with him about his approach to improv, life, and everything.
“The minute you let go of ego, you will surprise the shit out of yourself.” – David Razowsky
P&C: You’ve started teaching a course at iO West called “You,” that comes before students learn the Harold. Why is that important?
DR: I think people get caught up in the need for structure. It’s why you teach children to like religion, because it’s a structure. And then you’ve gotta let them leave when they want to, y’know, because it’s a structure that you’re gonna look at.
Until you know how to improvise, you shouldn’t be doing the structure. Because you’re adding so many things onto… you’re layering so many things. It’s like, “Get all these fucking blankets off me. I don’t need any of these blankets, just get them off me.”
So you’re saying, “How does this structure work?” “What is it that I do now?” And all of these fucking questions, as opposed to, “What is the foundation of everything that I’m doing?” And the foundation is really a relationship that you have with your partner. Everything else is built around that.
If you’re doing a structure, I don’t care what it is, and you don’t know how to improvise, you’re gonna be drowning in ego. Drowning in judgement and self-doubt and all that stuff. But at the end of the day if you know how to connect with somebody, you can do whatever you wanna do. Anything.
So what this class is teaching is, you to give yourself permission for you to evolve. You give yourself permission for you to artistically evolve, and for you to know that what you’re thinking is great. But you’ve got to know that you know it. It’s about you being present, and that’s what this class teaches. It teaches presence.
P&C: You’ve been performing with Carrie Clifford for some time now. What do you like about a two-person show versus a larger group? Do you think you can accomplish different things with a two-person dynamic than you can with a larger team?
DR: Oh for sure. With a two-person show, working with Carrie specifically, we can watch a relationship grow. And that’s why I think people come to theatre, is to watch these two characters build a relationship and grow from there.
Working with Carrie, it’s a very positive experience, she’s a very joyful person, and to be connected to somebody so joyful, it makes you feel joyful to watch it.
It’s never work. It’s just two people who are unfolding, evolving, and not working. We listen to each other very, very well. And we don’t just emotionally listen to each other, we’re deep-tissue listening to each other. I’m aware of where she wants a certain character to go, or to stop, or to move, and I’m aware of all that.
But that’s what you get out of working with any group, is listening to what they’re saying without them having to voice it. And I listen to what Carrie’s saying, even though she never voices it. She may say one thing, but I know that’s not what her intentions are. And that’s not to say that she’s confusing, it’s to say that I know one thing will come out of her mouth, but she clearly wants me to do something else.
Any group that you work with, if you don’t have listening, you don’t have anything. And I’m gonna go back to your question about the structure.
If you’re listening to the ego or your teacher within you, telling what you need to do or have to do in order to get this math equation working, you’re not able to connect to yourself emotionally to know where this person lives, emotionally lives.
In a group you have entrances and exits and you get to fuck around with more people, but it all goes along the same lines. If people aren’t listening, if people have agendas, it’s going to be hard.
To be honest with you, I don’t have a problem with that because I don’t play with those people. I will play with a group of people, but I will not play more than once with a group of people who have an agenda. I will play with you once if you have an agenda, then I will not play with you again. That is all. I am done. I’ve got enough, no more thanks. No, I won’t take it to go; you eat it.
P&C: Do you ever have what you would call a “bad show” anymore? Do you ever judge your performances?
DR: I think I mentioned to y’all that I don’t think I’ve had a bad show since the late ‘80s. I know that sounds weird, but something happened one day where I decided, I’m not gonna judge myself that way. I’m not gonna look at it as, Did I have a good show? Did I have a bad show?
I’m gonna look at it and think, Did I have fun? Did I listen to people? Did I forward the action? If I did find myself having an agenda, how did that work out for me? It probably didn’t work out well, and then I’d think, OK, I’m not going to do that again.
So the way that I look at it is, every single performance is a class, and if I’m not learning from me, I can’t learn. So it’s been 20 years, 25 years, whatever it’s been since I’ve really looked at the performance I do in that moment in a negative way.
But I think it has a lot to do with your attitude. What’s your attitude about everything? You can say, Did you have a bad show?, or Did you have a bad day?, or Did you have a bad experience at the supermarket? And I’ll go, No, No, No.
You know, I look at people’s facebook status and it’s like: “I’m having a hell of a day.” It’s like, keep publishing that… It’s boring to me, it’s just boring. If you wanna do it that’s great, I’m not gonna knock it, but I don’t want any part of it.
P&C: You have a very Zen approach to improv. Which came first, your interest in improv, or your interest in those kind of teachings?
DR: Improv first, and then I fell into that. I remember clearly when I fell into that. I remember it so clearly: I was at LAX, and I was about to take an American flight to Santa Cruz for the improv festival they had up there.
I went to the bookstore at the American Airlines terminal and I saw a book that said Buddhism Plain and Simple, and I thought, “Oh, it’s plain and simple. I’ll buy it.” It was written by a guy named Steve Hagen, and I bought it and I thought, “This speaks to me. This speaks to me! Everything that he’s saying speaks to me.”
And once that started happening I started to read more about those things. It washed over me in a way where I’d find myself being in an improv scene and saying, “OK, this is a wonderful place for me to practice some of this Buddhist stuff that monk Hagen was talking about.”
And as it went on I was thinking, “That worked.” To be present, to be here in the moment. Not to be ahead of myself or behind myself, but just to be here. Not to have any idea of where it’s going to go. To know that if I find myself in a place where I’m confused, to be confused.
And that is such an important thing, because in improvisation you may say, “This scene isn’t going where I want it to be.” Well, where is it? It’s “I’m confused right now,” or “I’m lost now.”
That’s the gift that you give yourself, you give yourself the gift of acknowledging what you’re feeling in that moment, and being A-OK with it because really, there’s nothing else you can do.
When I’m in an improv scene and I feel like I’m lost, it’s like, what a gift I just gave myself. I gave myself the gift of presence. I gave myself the gift of what it is that I’m doing in this moment.
I know certain people are gonna look at it and go, “You don’t know anything about Buddhism,” and it’s like, you got me on that one. I’ve read a couple of books, and I do this practice that people look at and go, Oh that’s Zen, and it’s Buddhism, and it’s like, that’s great. If that’s what it is, great.
All that I know is these precepts. I don’t need to codify it, I don’t need to tell you where it came from, it doesn’t really matter… at the end of the day, my experience in the moment with you while I’m in that scene is all that fucking matters.
And I also believe that it helps your life. So that came, and then what ended up happening was it just spilled over into the rest of my life. Where I started to gravitate towards people that had that same sort of feeling, without even really knowing it. Someone would say, “You’re talking about presence.” It’s like, Oh! We’re speaking this secret code that everybody feels but no one talks about.
A lot of people go, “Yeah, this is all mumbo jumbo.” And I just wanna go, Sure, if you say so. It’s not up to me if you’re gonna get it. I’m living it. I’m living it. I can teach it to you, or you can just watch me. Right now I’m living it, and that’s OK.
P&C: You prefer the term “actor” to “improviser.” Why is that?
DR: It cuts right to it. Because if you say you’re an improviser, you then want to put an improv structure on something that you’re going to get to anyway, and that is, you’re acting. You are acting. No matter what, you are acting.
If you wanna tell me, “Yeah, I just improvised. I’m an improviser, I’m not acting,” I wanna say, All right, you explain to me what the difference is.
Because if I’m gonna tape you and show a performance of you improvising, and then I’m gonna tape somebody who’s reading scripted material and I show it to the average person, they’re not gonna know what the fucking difference is anyway, because it doesn’t matter.
At the end of the day the end product is the end product. In Spain, they make something called pan. Here we make bread. It doesn’t taste any different.
What it also does is, one may think, “I don’t wanna be classified as an actor.” Why the fuck not?
And here’s another thing. If I say to you, “I want to pay you to act,” you go, “Ohhh, great!” If I say to you, “I’m gonna pay you to improvise,” you may be expecting less money.
P&C: (laughs) I’d say that’s probably 100% true.
DR: You might go, “OK, maybe I’ll get enough for a couple beers.” But if I say I’m gonna pay you to act, you’re like, “Ooooh, pay me to act.”
Another thing: when you look at acting – all improvisation is acting – you’re able to look at all behaviour as inspiration for you to engage with. Whereas in improvising people sit in fucking chairs and that’s all they do.
I wanna say if you’re an actor, let’s talk about blocking. Let’s talk about duration. Let’s talk about shape. Let’s talk about object work. Let’s talk about all those things.
But let’s not talk about all those things in terms of, that’s what an improviser does. Let’s talk about all those things in terms of, this is what an actor does. Let’s talk about all those things in terms of, this is what an artist does.
Let’s talk about the fact that if you’re an artist, if you’re a painter, you know what each fucking brush does, you know what the nap of the brush is, you know what all that stuff does. But an improviser is lazy. It’s lazy, lazy, lazy, lazy! (laughs)
Although there’s a lot of people I love watching who aren’t fucking lazy. But they’re not lazy because they’re really thinking about, present to and mindful of all that’s occurring to them, at the time that they’re doing it.
But I’m certain of that difference there.
Also if I say to you, you’re an actor… Anyone who’s reading this right now, if you say to yourself, “I’m an improviser,” it’s a narrow thought. And the energy of that is narrow. If I say to myself, “I’m an actor,” if I admit to myself that I’m an actor, I’ve got thousands of years of help behind me. As opposed to “I’m an improviser.”
People have been improvising for as long as they’ve been acting. But if I call myself an actor, I get to be broader. And I don’t mean to be bigger on stage or chew up the scenery or ham-fisted; I mean broader in terms of my base knowledge. Broader in terms of everything that’s going on onstage.
P&C: Sometimes Cameron will come home from a show and he’ll say, “I had a scene tonight and there weren’t a lot of laughs, but some people may have, if not cried, maybe felt a different emotion than the usual…” and he’s excited when that happens.
DR: But what you’re saying there is very interesting as well. It’s also, what’s your expectation from the audience? Because if you call yourself an actor, you don’t have an expectation that the audience needs to be fucking guffawing every minute. And the pressure is a lot, the potential to have the ego come in… The pressure is diminished, because you don’t have expectations from the audience when you call yourself an actor.
Now people are going to come to the show and they’re gonna expect improvisation but you know what? You’re improvising. If someone comes to an improv show and they don’t know that you’re improvising it’s like, Did you have a bag over your head, and you were kept in a box and then just released into this room?
That’s why I also feel like, I don’t take suggestions. I fucking don’t take them. If you don’t know that I’m improvising… And half the time that you take a suggestion the audience doesn’t remember.
P&C: I haven’t seen you improvise with Carrie, but I’ve seen TJ and Dave a number of times and they just start their thing. They don’t need this artifice of a word to get rolling.
DR: Right? Carrie and I have a bunch of videos online…
P&C: Oh great, I’ll check those out.
DR: There’s at least three produced shorts that we’ve done that are totally improvised. There’s one called Lambrusco, Mediterranean Diet, Ovened Bread, Marathon, and Maladies.
The one that I would watch first is Ovened Bread. It’s about ten minutes long, and it looks totally scripted. It looks so scripted. We didn’t go back, we didn’t re-edit it. It was just two cameras. Carrie’s husband put two cameras out and he was directing it. As this camera’s on here, he would move this camera around so it looked like three cameras.
P&C: Who are your acting heroes? Whose work do you admire?
DR: I’m thinking about somebody that I just saw that I thought, Oh my God I love everything that they do. She played Bob Dylan in that Bob Dylan movie…
P&C: Cate Blanchett?
DR: Cate Blanchett, I love her. I love her so much. Tilda Swinton, I love her. Meryl Streep… I’m one of those guys. Look, I just named three women. Oh, Steve Buscemi. Johnny Depp… Only because I like these guys, like, they know who the fuck they are. It’s like, “This is who the fuck I am.”
In terms of comedy I really like Kristen Wiig. I really like her a lot… [I'd] better get some men in there. (laughs)
I love Pasquesi. I think he’s fucking great. I really like David a lot; I like what he does. That’s plenty right there, right?
P&C: That’s great.
(In Part Two, we discuss David’s Viewpoints approach to improv, his experience at Second City with Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Amy Sedaris and Paul Dinello, and how not to get your scene partner “on you.”)