Like many people, Cameron and I were stunned to hear of Tony’s Rosato’s passing. In addition to tears and sadness, there’s regret that we didn’t spend more time with such a wonderful person in our community.
When we started this blog, I made a mental note to interview Tony: about his life, his career, and his return to improv after enrolling in Level A at the Second City Training Centre. (I mean, he’d been on SCTV and SNL and he’s taking a Level A…who does that?!) But I was shy to start the conversation, and the post never happened. Cameron knew and performed with him, but both of their shynesses resulted in not hanging out much outside of shows.
And yet, Tony had the ability to make everyone feel like a friend. He would genuinely listen fully with people, even for a short chat, and let you know he cared about this moment together.
The outpouring of emotion for him has been so beautiful, we asked to share some of the remembrances. Hearing the stories, and thinking of our own experience, our take-away is: Don’t wait, connect. Thank you Tony, for making us all laugh and feel loved.
“Last night we lost one of the greats. Our friend, Tony Rosato has passed away.
I had the pleasure of working with Tony on many occasions, most recently while coaching his long-form team, Janice. It always warmed my heart to watch him play. I know he was so thankful to be a member of this community and find improv again after overcoming many challenges in his life.
He was an incredible performer. Tony’s medical condition made comprehension and day-to-day interactions challenging for him. But onstage you’d never know. He would navigate complex forms, dissolve completely into the fabric of scenes, and parade his favourite characters: Italian hothead, Mafia brute, or put-upon straight man. Characters that were assembled with a craftsmanship you don’t see anymore on improv stages. Huge, hilarious, but also real and lived in.
Sometimes when leaving the theatre, I’d compliment his set or thank Tony for playing. He never gave a glib response. Instead he would smile and say “I love you Rob.” Not in a showbiz way. In a quiet, understated way. Tony was worried that I would leave the building without knowing how he felt.
As the son of a British dad and passive-aggressive librarian, it made me uncomfortable at first. I didn’t know how to respond. But Tony kept saying it to me, until I started saying it back to him.
Tony’s incredible courage could be seen in his vulnerability both on and offstage. To reach out. To connect with the people that mattered to him.
Thanks for everything Tony (and I love you too).” – Rob Norman
“So many comedians and improvisers expect laughs. They get up there and are pissed when the laughs don’t come. They blame the audience, their team, whoever! But Tony Rosato always seemed shocked and grateful that the audience would howl with laughter when he was on stage. He would get a little smirk as if he was thinking “Whoa, they like what I’m doing? Awesome!” He was that humble. I had the pleasure of teaching Tony three or four terms and he wore a suit every week, to every show and to every class. Every class! He always wanted to be professional and respectful of his craft.
He found a special place at The Second City. Twice! He was a MainStage member, SCTV cast member, SNL member and then went through some tough times. But years later, he returned. And he once again found a family of people who welcomed him as if he’d never left.
It was a special thing to watch Tony perform. It was exhilarating to share the stage with him and it was lovely just to know him. I’m very happy and spoiled that I got to do all of it.” – Adam Cawley
“I am heartbroken to hear about the passing of Tony Rosato. In the improv community, and especially the Longform community, we have so many kind souls, but Tony was one of the sweetest among the sweet people.
Me being a newb, the first time I met Tony he was sitting outside a Second City student show 40 minutes early. I judged him immediately as some oddball who knew nothing about the place. Little did I know this man knew more about Second City, improv, and the comedy scene than I may ever know.
Some of us fall into problems with ego and competition in performing in this community, I certainly have. Tony was sincerely a man with none of that. Despite his incredible level of experience, he would never bring up his resume, or explain anything to anyone. He acted like a student even though he was a master, and respected the people he performed on stage with.
I can think of so many times this rang true, but one in particular was when he was accidentally standing underneath a photo of himself performing on Mainstage years ago. I asked him, “Tony, are you standing underneath that photo of you to make sure people know you’re a bigshot?”
Of course I would think that way, that’s how jealous people think. You should have seen the face he made when he noticed it! He looked at me like he didn’t understand at all. Of course he didn’t. Tony would never consider something like that. He was so sweetly appalled at the idea. It was the furthest thing from what he was.
I could go on about all the kindness Tony showed me, but he was just someone who always made me feel noticed. He would light up when he recognized me, and for someone who performed like he did to act so genuinely loving to everyone, without any care about crap like ‘status’, meant a lot.
I will miss seeing you perform so much Tony. I wish I could tell you that myself but I can’t, so this sappy Facebook post about how great you were and how much I promise to learn from your kindness will have to do.” – Geoffrey Cork
“Tony Rosato performed on SCTV, worked on SNL, but he got nervous to do an improv show in a basement. He hugged the back wall for the first few scenes, but when he finally stepped out he brought the house down with just one look. I’ll miss you Tony.” – Kevin Whalen
“I had the great pleasure of teaching Tony Rosato last term at The Second City. Every single class I fought the urge to scream to the rest of the group “DO YOU GUYS WHO TONY IS!??!” But he was there to learn, and I didn’t want to embarrass him.”
I was in awe of the courage and humility it took for Tony Friggin Rosato to show up to an improv class. But he was curious, attentive, and present every time. And so good on stage. He was a master in the process of remastering.
I liked you a lot, Tony, and I’ll miss you very much.” – Ashley Botting
“The year Tony first came to Second City, at Halloween I put on the movie Halloween, and he walked in and there’s a scene with actor, Donald Pleasence, who to me is a very famous actor and was a very famous actor in the 60’s-80’s. He calmly said, “Hey that’s Donald, he did SNL back in the day with us. He was a very nice guy. I wrote a few scenes for him.” Then he left the room and everyone just looked at each other in awe. Oddly enough, the movie that got Donald the SNL gig was Halloween.” – Paul Aihoshi
“I remember when Kevin Frank told me that Tony Rosato was taking classes at the Second City Training Centre. As someone who grew up watching SCTV and Saturday Night Live, the chance to meet and talk to someone who did both was amazing.
A month later, after a weekend class, I walked into the SCTC washroom and there was Tony, I took the chance to in introduce myself with the brilliant statement of “Hey you’re Tony Rosato! I am a big fan!” He laughed and shook my hand and then I apologised for the awkward washroom meeting. He asked my name and every time I would see him at the training centre he would say “Hey Jon how’s it going” or something along those lines. He would also say something nice about my performance. It meant a lot to me and was a big deal.
He was humble, nice, supportive and so talented watching him perform in the old JCB was an extremely lucky privilege. It’s amazing when someone meets and greatly exceeds your expectations. My condolences to his loved ones.” – Jonathon Bernstein
“I had the pleasure, and honour of playing with him a few times, and always had a fun time. He would always remember your name, was always polite, and even though he had the kind of career we all dream to have, he never acted like he was better than us. He just wanted to play. I remember being blown away when he told me he thought I was funny, and liked what I did. I will miss him, and I know I’m not alone in saying that. Rest in peace, Tony.” – Andrew Haggith
There are many different, passionate schools of thought on plot in improv. If you’re doing a narrative form like The Quest, or a musical format that requires you to hit certain plot points, it can lead to great shows. But for “regular” long form, it’s always been a stumbling block for me. So when this appeared in my newsfeed via David Razowsky, I had to share:
Hey, improvisers. I’m reading Stephen King’s On Writing, and he has a great paragraph on the need for plot. As many of you might remember, I’ve said “Fuck plot.” He, of course, said it in a more elegant way. (At the final sentence, please replace “writer” with “improviser.”):
“I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. It’s best that I be as clear about this as I can –– I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow…”
Improviser Dave Clapper added:
Both as a writer and as an improviser, I couldn’t agree with this more. Here’s another favorite quote that applies to both:
“Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through. That is all Plot ever should be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal. It cannot be mechanical. It can only be dynamic. So, stand aside, forget targets, let the characters, your fingers, body, blood, and heart do.” – Ray Bradbury
After an emotionally charged 2016, we wanted to know people’s thoughts, goals, hopes, and wishes for the year ahead. Some are funny, some are profound, and all of them are inspiring.
Laura Salvas: Take action on my secret plan to write for TV. This means facing my fear of being a nuisance or learning that I suck and asking people for advice or to read my original pilot. My 2016 plan of shyly waiting around in an artistic coma, hoping to simply be discovered like Snow White, didn’t work as well as I’d hoped.
James Gangl: In 2017 I want to use my experience to help people. Right now, I bring my life experience to the stage primarily to entertain and primarily for me…folks get something out of it, gravy. In 2017 I’d like to devote time and talent to causes focused on those dealing with childhood trauma, and use storytelling to give voice to those who haven’t been given the opportunity to be heard. That and find a nice coffee table for my new apartment.
Nelu Handa: No one really has any of this figured out. So maybe just get real quiet and ask yourself for the answers instead. Feel like an imposter if you must, but get over it faster. Tell your cynicism to fuck off.
Colin Munch: This whole “2016 was the worst” thing is bullshit. It’s chaff, a distraction. Beautiful and terrible things happened this year like they do every year, and all we can do is carve out a little life for ourselves in the maelstrom of life. I resolve to spend 2017 the way I’ve spent the last 10 years: I will bring the people that matter to me closer, grow distant from the people that don’t, work hard, make art that matters to me, and learn more about the universe while keeping my own fragility in perspective. That’s all I can do.
Erin Goldsmith: In 2017 I’d really love to learn a new language. Not half-ass it; fully commit. I want to be double valuable.
Oliver Georgiou: I’d like to start working on a lesson plan for my own specialty improv classes. An expanded one for a 4-8 week course, but more immediately a condensed or specific three-hour workshop with which I can travel to festivals. 2016 has been a period of significant growth for myself as a comedian and artist, and I feel like I have much to share with anyone who’d be willing to listen.
Isaac Kessler: In 2016 I had about seven emotional breakdowns, compared to zero emotional breakdowns that I had never experienced. And ya know what, even if I was a time traveller with a cool car alarm laser weapon, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. In 2016 I also experienced more miracles than ever, and not some sea-parting-for-a-cool-chase-sequence miracle, I’m talking step-out-of-your-comfort-zone-real-deal-self-created miracles. And sure, maybe in 2017 I don’t want to shower in my own tears as much as I did this past year, but I certainly am going to keep leaping into beautiful growth and making sure I spread joy as far and as wide as I can. I wish for all of us a year filled with creation and learning and discovering the beauty that we possess, and how to share that beauty with the world around us.
Candace Meeks: My personal goals for the year are to write more, and simplify my wardrobe. 30 is creepin’ up, y’all! My community goals include encouraging women and LGBTQA persons in comedy to live fearlessly in 2017, myself included. I don’t want anyone to worry about what they look like or how likeable they are on stage. Instead I want them to not give a fuck what other people think and just go for it!
Nug Nahrgang: In the coming year let’s focus on supporting each other in the real world, much like we do on stage. Wouldn’t it be great to feel like you can do anyone with people supporting you all the time?
Jimmy Carrane: My wish for improvisers in 2017:
That you keep performing.
That you become even more comfortable in failing, because that is how we get better.
That you try out things that scare you and you don’t care about the results.
That you understand rejection is part of the process and there’s no need to take it personally.
And to realize you are enough. Because you are.
We need your unique voice today more than ever.
Rob Norman: This is an impossible job to do without community. Everyone wants to help you make cool things. Engage. Reach out. Ask for help.
Wayne Jones: In 2017, I’m focused on making smart choices, and supporting great people around me. Whether it’s a friendship, or a creative/business relationship, I will motivate and encourage people by being the best example I can. I will collaborate with wonderful and talented people to reach new heights and exciting achievements. Efficiency is another major key. Getting things done in a more concise manner. Focusing on a smoother, faster, more productive effort. I won’t work longer, but clearer and more organized. This will lead to a higher success rate, and greater number of accomplishments. I will forgive more, be kinder to all, and protect the ones I love. Live with love in your heart, compassion in your soul, and strength in your body and mind. God bless every last one of ya.
Chris Moody: I want to make Improv Utopia East, West, and Yosemite the most anticipated improv weekends of the year.
David Razowsky: In my lifetime there hasn’t been a time where my art and my fellow students have meant more to me. We share the language of connection, communication, and collaboration. What I will continue to do in 2017 is to keep being the change I’d like to see in others: to keep being aware, alive, fierce, focused, passionate, open, empathetic and honest. I will dare to be lovely, I will dare to be kind, I will dare to be vulnerable, I will dare to keep listening, and I will dare to be moved. In other words, I will continue to live my life by the tenets of compelling scene work.
Dani Alon, Chris Hannay & Val Perelshtein: In 2017, no matter what else is going on in the world, we know we can make our space one in which people feel safe to express themselves, practice their art, and laugh.
Carmine Lucarelli: If I start it, I’ll finish it.
Thanks to everyone for sharing their insights. Eighteen people. Eighteen visions. Now what about yours?
Douglas Coupland makes incredible Lego cityscapes, like this one he built through crowd-sourcing. We’ve all got used to buying those kits where each piece goes in a pre-determined order. These colourful structures are a reminder of the power of imagination and collaboration.
Let’s all think outside the box again, and make 2017 the world we want to live in.
Cameron and I saw the Chihuly exhibit with our friend, Nadine Prada, yesterday. It was like walking into a glass wonderland, filled with colour and light.
Part of the exhibit was a film where the artist described his career in glass-blowing. He spent the first 10 years, he said, just “making mistakes.”
A decade is a long time to keep failing. And yet, the result of all those mistakes is now enjoyed by millions, in museums, gardens, rivers, and hotels worldwide. We wouldn’t have these breathtaking sculptures without all the crashing and burning.
As improvisers, we have the opportunity to make mistakes every time we perform. Chihuly’s work was a brilliant reminder of just what a gift that can be.
We loved this photo by Rachel Mischke from David Razowsky’s recent visit to Europe. What better message as we approach the holiday season? In scenes, as in life, presence is a present.
Need a fun gift for your favourite scene partner? We’ve put together a list of goodies you can order from the comfort of home. So grab your vape, settle back on the sofa, and fire up the ol’ computes for this year’s holiday extravaganza.
Let The Games Begin
Card games, board games, Game of Thrones…improvisers love games. Why not surprise your favourite nerd – uh, improviser – with a custom D&D die? If that’s too advanced, think retro entertainment like Twister, Hungry Hungry Hippos, or Jenga. There’s no surer way to put a smile on someone’s face than with a big box of wood.
Don’t Think Twice
Great acting and lots of insider jokes make this smart, funny, very human film from Mike Birbiglia a must-see. Don’t Think Twice is available on iTunes, BluRay, and DVD.
TJ and Dave on Vimeo On Demand
OK, we’ll admit this one’s hard to wrap. But with nearly eight hours of footage of the greatest improvisers on Earth, this gift is too good to pass up. It’s especially great for folks outside the U.S. who’ve never seen them perform. Click here or below for this MasterClass in the art of improvisation.
Saint Celebrity Prayer Candles
Light up someone’s life this season with with a candle from Saint Celebrity. You can even request a custom order of your favourite comedy hero, like Colbert, John Oliver, or Samantha Bee. Because God knows, we’re gonna need ’em.
No holiday would be complete without a good book to curl up with. Here are some of our improv faves:
Improvising Better: A Guide for the Working Improviser by Liz Allen and Jimmy Carrane
Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ & Dave Book by TJ Jagodowski & David Pasquesi with Pam Victor
The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual by Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh
Improvising Now: A Practical Guide to Modern Improv by Rob Norman
Truth in Comedy by Del Close, Charna Halpern and Kim “Howard” Johnson
Long Form Improvisation and American Comedy: The Harold by Matt Fotis
Improv Tees, Pillows, Mugs & More
Lastly, we’ve expanded our range of designs this year, so there’s bound to be something for the funny person on your list. Click here or below to shop. And happy gifting!
It’s been an intense week for people in the arts. We’ve seen actors, filmmakers, comedians, and musicians called “cucks,” “crybabies,” “snowflakes” and far worse for expressing themselves, or being concerned with “feelings versus facts.”
But no one goes to see a show about facts. No one stands in front of an equation at MoMA, or dances to string theory.
How do you speak your truth and show vulnerability onstage when tensions are so high? We asked a few of our favourite improvisers for their perspective.
Anand Rajaram What we do as artists is unique because it’s the only field in which we are not only welcome to, but required to express our feelings.
Lawyers may or may not empathize with their clients, or police with their suspects, but it cannot get in the way of doing their job or they’re deemed unfit to hold their position. Artists, as a result, do what everyone else suppresses.
Naturally, that causes those who suppress themselves most to respond strongest, either in thanks for petitioning an idea on their behalf, or with vitriol for challenging their beliefs.
There is no potential worse time for democracy. That means there is great potential for intense feelings and self and societal suppression. And that means artists are well positioned, if brave enough, to emerge as strong social pillars in these turbulent times.
But it starts with recognizing one’s feelings, then having perspective, and finally, having the strength to withstand criticism for one’s viewpoint. Improvisers, like actors, need empathy to understand alternate perspectives and represent them honestly. Big ears and openness may lead to a very transformative time to come.
Christine Aziz I haven’t been doing a lot of improv in NYC, but have been feeling particularly vulnerable considering I’m in a country where I have legal status but not really. I’m living in the US, but I’m not an American, so it makes me sometimes think, well, who am I to be having opinions about this? Or my opinion or reactions to the election aren’t as heavily weighted. Of course the leader of the free world makes decisions that affect the whole world, so my reactions are as a citizen of the world, who of course is affected.
I was at a jazz show last week where the headliner talked openly about his feelings, and people appreciated not only his music, but his authenticity. I worry about being too much of a downer as people start to say “Be positive and hope for the best” and “Be the change” etc, but this is totally unprecedented and I don’t think it’s right to suppress people’s perfectly valid fears. I’m so grateful to brave artists who are speaking up, especially the cast of Hamilton, because now is the time for artists to do our work. People are looking to us to inspire them and give them hope, and to propel them towards speaking up and standing up for others in their own lives.
I’m doing a cabaret show on the weekend and it’s comedic, but I want to fully acknowledge what is happening – the feelings of sadness and disappointment – but also the fight. The energy of “We aren’t going to take any bullshit, and we are paying attention.” But still keeping it light and not letting it dominate my act. The show must go on, but the show must also be mindful of what is happening out there in the world and can’t exist in a vacuum.
Susan Messing My thoughts are obviously leaking into my work. I did a show with Scott Adsit last Thursday, and one scene began with him onstage and me in the house and I said, “Mr Gonzales, are they really going to build a wall?”
“Post-truth” means LIE. I find it infuriating how that phrase and “alt-right” are bandied about as if it isn’t hurtful. At the least, comedy is helping us that feel lost and marginalized to commiserate with each other through laughter during a time that is distinctly not funny.
Etan Muskat I think the operative word in “Fuck Your Feelings” is “Your.” One of the scariest things about the American election is how divided people seem to be. There’s real rage on both sides, and a real inability for the politically divided country to find common ground.
This thing about Trump tweeting that theatre should be a “safe and special place” is particularly interesting, because that’s an idea associated with millennials – that they are routinely attacked for – but it’s also at the heart of the current wave of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia: people saying “I want my world to feel safe and I don’t feel safe around X.”
The SNL sketch with Tom Hanks about Trump voters and black Americans having so much in common was one of my favourite bits of comedy surrounding the election cycle, because it attempted to do something I haven’t seen much of lately: show the common humanity of enemies.
I remember hearing about a study that said reading novels increases empathy, because the reader is compelled to identify with the experiences of the narrator and characters outside their own experience. It’s a more intimate relationship than with a film or TV character. And that empathy translates to real life interpersonal dynamics.
I think improv has the ability to have that same effect, because of the vulnerability of the performers. But that vulnerability cuts both ways, as we’ve seen with Second City performers in Chicago being heckled to the breaking point.
I really believe the best comedy expresses profound truth. But truth is contingent on experience, even to the point that people will deny obvious facts if they don’t fit their worldview. That’s the secret to Trump, but it’s also the secret of all art. To tell a truth that our audience can embrace. So it really just depends on how you see the world.
Paloma Nuñez Share your life, your view, your experience. Everything that comes out of you comes from the filter of your life experience. That is relatable. Someone may see themselves in you and your life, and they might not feel so alone. Art is about feelings, because that’s how we process facts.
(Sidebar: This election wasn’t won with facts, it was won with feelings. People felt unheard and underrepresented, Trump capitalized on that. I mean did he even say any facts? Don’t fact check me on that…)
Fear is the enemy of creation, so you can’t worry about what others think; instead just make them feel. It’s the unifying factor. We all love people, we all want our loved ones to be safe, healthy, and happy. Show people who they are, without the filter of ridicule or judgement, and they might just see themselves in the mirror you place in front of them.
Julie Osborne Against this sort of socio-political backdrop, it’s easy to become mired in cynicism or hopelessness. Unscripted theatre affords us the opportunity to combat that with humanity in a very immediate and responsive way – inviting both the audience and performers to reflect, provoke, transpose and challenge our feelings in a setting that is very deliberately not constricted by fact, but that fails and feels hollow when there isn’t some sort of emotional truth present.
We go to the theatre to see exactly that: people being affected – experiencing things that resonate personally. We go to the theatre to feel something. In the company of others. Doesn’t matter if we’re talking comedy or tragedy (or a bit of both). It’s kind of the whole mandate, then, to speak personal truth and show vulnerability.
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The arts have always been a place for personal expression and social commentary, from Waiting For Godot, to the music of Bob Dylan, to Second City and beyond. Art can open hearts *and* minds, while breaking down barriers. On that note, enjoy this video of Christine Aziz, who bonded with a stranger on a train over their mutual love of Celine Dion.