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Jimmy Carrane is the co-author of Improvising Better: A Guide for the Working Improviser. He’s the host of Studio 312 on Chicago Public Radio, has taught at The Second City, iO Chicago, and Annoyance, and is the brains and voice behind the podcast Improv Nerd.

This a great post from Jimmy Carrane’s blog, reproduced with permission.

Anger is one of the most intimate emotions and the one many improvisers are most terrified to play on stage. Instead of thinking of anger as a gift to their partner, they think they are doing something wrong. And when even a hint of it starts to bubble up in scene, they stop it immediately, backing away from it like a hot stove. They shove it down, deny it, suppressing the emotion and the scene. Afterwards, they will say things like “I wanted to get angry, but you’re not supposed to get angry. Anger is conflict and you told us we were supposed to avoid conflict.”

It’s safe to say many improvisers are confused about playing angry. Let’s be clear: Anger is not conflict, anger is an emotion. And emotions are energy that can fuel a scene.

“Ok,” you’re thinking. “Now what do we do about it?”

Easy. First, when anger comes up in a scene, look at is as a gift that you are giving to your partner, they same way you would when supporting a game or building off of the the last thing that was said. You are giving them an emotional gift — something they can react off of, which creates energy and tension — all necessary ingredients for comedy.

Second, when anger comes up, heighten the emotion and commit to it 100 percent, knowing that if you commit your ass off it will transform into another emotion.

Think of the last time you had argument or fight with someone you were close to. You started out yelling at the person, knowing physically  you can only do that for so long. Then it transformed into exhaustion or you started crying or laughing hysterically. Either way the anger was transformed. If you deny or suppress anger and only commit to it lightly, you will never give it a chance to transform, and that energy will be trapped inside of you, causing you to feel stuck.

Finally, and most important, is “Agree Through The Anger.” When most improvisers hear someone screaming at them in a scene, they naturally want to defend themselves, just like we do in life. This causes the players to get defensive, which leads to an argument and typically degenerates into a whole “Yes I did… No you didn’t… You’re such a jerk” kind of scene that goes nowhere.

Instead, agree your way through the anger. Take a look at the scene below.

Man: (Very angry and accusatory) I can’t believe you flushed the pot down the toilet.

Woman: (Very angry and accusatory back) I am tired of you being high around the baby.

Man: (Self righteous) It was Chuck’s weed.

Woman: (Enraged) Your freaking dealer was over here? In our house?!

Man: (Enraged back) Yeah, his neighbor has been snooping around, and he was afraid he’d call the cops, so was like ‘Could you store this for me?’ That’s what friends do!

Woman: (Incredulous) In C-a-r-oline’s diaper!

Man: Yes, I am taking care of you and this family. I am not willing to risk everything I work hard for to be taken away from us.

Woman: You have not worked in two years, Stu. You are on unemployment!

Man: And if you get a felony do you think you are still eligible? They will take that right away from you before you even go to court.

As the argument gets more and more heated, keep agreeing and adding specifics that heighten the stakes of the scene. If you do this, you will start looking forward to adding anger to your scene work and won’t be so afraid of it!

Tip for Your Life: I have seen this work in my real life as well. My girlfriend used to say, “Are you making fun of me?” I always agree to this question and say, “Yes, I am always making fun of you.” It diffuses the situation and it’s fun to watch people’s responses. The words “thank you” are also always a good substitute for “yes” in life. People have said “You are so mean,” or “You are so selfish.” Instead of defending it, I say “thank you” and then watch their jaws drop.

Photo © Sam Willard

Simon Pond is naturally funny, the way some people are naturally thin, or Kanye and Kim are naturally going to implode.

Like many great improvisers, Simon is also frighteningly smart. When he’s not doing archaeological digs or sampling fine wines, you can find him performing with Pondward Bound, Second City’s The Bench, as well as CCA-nominated sketch troupe Jape. You may also recognize him from How To Spot An Improviser

Photo © Nicole White

Today I want to share with you some things about the brain and improv that I have been thinking a lot about lately. You may find it boring and useless, which is probably why we don’t hang out together.

I am not really an expert in brain science, but I have had the joy of spending time with a lot of very smart people who study everything from the neuroscience of rat olfaction, to the link between art and the early human brain. That said, all of the mistakes and oversights in this post are purely my own. Unless I am confronted, then I will blame them.

When I am not improvising, I am a graduate student at Trent University working towards an M.A. in Archaeology. My thesis project involves studying the link between early human stone tools and early human cognitive abilities. It is going okay, thank you for asking.

The interesting thing about the evolution of the human brain is that over the last six million years we evolved these massive calorically-expensive brains that we carry around in our heads. The most interesting and enigmatic question of human evolution is probably, “Why such big brains?” It turns out that these big brains support a variety of behaviours that are uniquely developed in humans. The most notable of these behaviours is language, but the list also includes such things as complex tool use, advanced planning ability, artistic representation, music, and maybe even a sense of humour.

The literature on the biological and evolutionary basis for humour is pretty mixed. A good amount of it focuses on the differences between men and women, which in my opinion is probably unproductive at best. However, there is some good, thoughtful work out there. My readings have led me to a few conclusions:

• One, humour is a real thing and is a pan-human phenomenon.

• Two, humour is an adaptive, or the direct by-product of an adaptive behaviour (meaning it exists for a reason).

• And three, the base of all humour is the combination of two somewhat incongruous ideas. Don’t think about the last point too much, it will make you less funny.

But being funny in improv isn’t really the same as sitting around a paleolithic campfire and cracking wise. In fact, anybody who has ever performed comedy knows that the formalized setting of a comedic performance makes it very different from just making jokes with friends. Unfortunately, nobody has really taken the time to figure out what happens in the brain during improv from a psychological perspective (at least not anybody I have been able to find). So instead we must turn to studies of the “other” improv, musical improvisation.

In my experience, there seems to be a startlingly high number of neuroscientists who like to dabble in jazz music. Or perhaps, there are just a startling low number of people in my social group who perform jazz music. Either way, one of these neuroscientists was nice enough to decide to combine his two passions and study what areas of the brain are used during the performance of improvised music (Limb and Braun 2008).

Limb and Braun took a number of highly skilled jazz musicians and put them inside an MRI machine, which is able to determine in real time, which areas of the brain are active during a particular behaviour. He gave the musicians a little plastic keyboard (as a metal one would be incredibly dangerous in an MRI machine) and had them play both a standard learned song, as well as some improvised music.

When he compared the two samples, he found that there were some real differences in which parts of the brain were used during improvisation. Most interestingly, he found that there was a decreased use in areas that are concerned with goal orientation and self-monitoring. The author suggests that this sort of release of inhibition may be necessary in general for creative output.

Perhaps the old UCB adage of “Don’t think” is not completely accurate, as you really do have to use your brain to integrate a series of complex ideas while improvising. Instead, highly-skilled improv happens when we “don’t plan” and “don’t judge.” If you are an improviser you probably know that already, but now you have science to back you up! I take comfort in that. If you do too, we should probably hang out.

Limb CJ, Braun AR (2008) Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: an fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation. PLoS ONE 3(2): e1679.
(There is also a TED Talk on the subject. Click here to view it.)

The Larry Sanders Show was the first time I ever heard “fuck” on television. It was also the funniest, most honest goddamn show I’d ever seen.

Every character was emotionally broken in some way.

Larry keeps people at arm’s length, hoping to get through life without getting hurt. In reality, he’s a walking, open wound.

Hank is six feet of insecurity in tap shoes. (“Hey now!”)

Artie drowns his pain in salty dogs.

Even Phil, the show’s wisecracking writer, eventually falls in love after seasons of playing the hardened cynic.

Larry, Hank, Artie, Phil, and Paula weren’t just glib caricatures. They were fully-realised human beings, complete with faults and foibles.

The show’s guests were flawed as well. Real celebrities appeared in episodes dealing with real-life crises: Burt Reynolds’ divorce from Loni Anderson, Chevy Chase’s epic talk show failure, Ellen Degeneres’ coming out.

While every script was tightly written, the cast often improvised on set. Shandling also made copious notes on scripts. Beside a line of Larry’s dialogue, one of his notes reads:

“Feel it. Then say it.”

In improv, we have a tendency to talk, not feel. And being deadpan can get you laughs, no question.

But how many times have you been in a scene where someone dies, or wants a divorce, or gets fired, and no one reacts?

Expressing emotion can be scary in real life. But what better place to explore it than onstage? Instead of being unfazed by everything, try overreacting for a change.

Scream with terror when someone mentions asparagus.

Tear your boss a new A for saying “Good morning.”

Cry when your scene partner sings the Care Bears theme.

Feel your response, then speak it.

One way to get out of your head and into your emotions is to move. David Razowsky teaches an exercise that’s incredible to watch, and a revelation to perform:

Two people go up, and exchange five lines of dialogue with no emotion or inflection; they just say the words in a monotone.

Person #1: Hi.

Person #2: Hello.

Person #1: How are you?

Person #2: Fine thanks.

Person #1: Glad to hear it.

Before a line is spoken, the actor has to move. They can move wherever they like in the space. Once they come to a natural stop, they say their line.

Their scene partner then has to move before they respond. Again, they can move wherever they like, but they can’t say their line until they’ve come to a stop somewhere in the space.

It’s always surprising to see where people feel compelled to move. It could be a few steps closer, very close, or far away from their scene partner. They could end up facing towards or away from the other person.

It sounds incredibly simple, but having done it myself, it’s easy to hear your partner’s line and start to speak before moving. The important thing is to let your body decide where you’re going to move. Then say your line.

Even though the words are delivered monotone, the scenes are inevitably infused with all kinds of emotions.

As Razowsky says, “Dialogue is informed by movement.”

If you find yourself “stuck” on stage, try moving, then speak. It doesn’t have to be big or frenetic. Just let your body take control. It’ll stop your brain from overthinking and let your feelings respond instead.

You don’t have to be a Monty Python fan to love this video.

Cleese explains there are two ways of working: what he refers to as “Open” and “Closed” modes. Creativity, it turns out, isn’t possible in the Closed mode.

That’s what we’re in most of the time: the feeling that there’s a lot of work to do, and we’d better get on with it. In Cleese’s words, it’s a purposeful, often humourless state that makes us slightly anxious, impatient, tense, stressed and even manic.

The Open mode, by contrast, is relaxed, expansive, less purposeful. We’re more contemplative, more inclined to humour, and consequently more playful. We’re also more curious, purely for the sake of curiosity, which allows our natural creativity to surface.

As a writer, I found it impossible to come up with ideas by staring at a blank page for hours. Time and time again, ideas would pop into my head when I wasn’t trying: in the shower, on the subway, even while brushing my teeth.

It’s the same with improv. When I go to a show thinking, “I’ve gotta kill it!” I suck. But those shows when I meander onstage with no agenda and nothing planned? That’s when the magic happens.

Cleese goes on to say:

• Creativity is not a talent. It’s a way of operating.

• It has nothing to do with IQ.

• The most creative people are simply good at getting themselves into “an ability to play…not for any immediate practical purpose, but just for enjoyment. Play for its own sake.”

And what is that last part if not a description of improv? No wonder it’s helped me in my writing, and in life.

If you’d like to learn more about getting into the creative mode, I highly recommend The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (thank you, Shari Hollett), and Seth Godin’s Linchpin.

In the meantime, enjoy this video. You’ll be richer for it.

“Imagination is more important than knowlege.” – Albert Einstein

Paul Aihoshi‘s tumblr is one of our favourite improv-related blogs.

Just don’t go there looking for information on shortform games, how to kill your Harold team audition, or the whole Close vs Johnstone thing.

What you will find is something way cooler.

Aihoshi photographs improvisers and writes a sort of stream-of-consciousness summary that’s utterly charming and often hilarious.

So far he’s snapped a cool cross-section of Toronto performers, including Simon Pond and Adam Ward of Pondward Bound, Jan Caruana, Yitzi Gal and James Gangl. We’re looking forward to the next installment.

All Photos © Paul Aihoshi

“The best thing about improv is that no matter how bad your show is, it’s only 30 minutes, and never exists again. The worst thing is no matter how good your show is, it’s only 30 minutes, and never exists again.” – Mick Napier

A great improv show is kinda like The Beatles At Shea Stadium: you really had to be there. Still, we wanted to try and capture some of that genius, so last year we started a blog called Improv Dialogue. Here are some favourite lines so far:

“The good thing about ice cream is, you can keep it in your freezer all year round.”

“I think it’s smart not to serve decaf. Fuck those people.”

“Of the two of us, I give off the greater crazy vibe.” “That’s the most lucid thing you’ve ever said.” “I didn’t say it. My mouth did.”

“Did you want that in twenties? Fifties? Hundreds?” “Twelves.”

“It’s horrible. It’s like somebody carved a turkey and then put it back together.”

“Minnesota is like the Canada of America.”

“If anyone out there has any EMS training…any first aid training…any training… Seriously people, if you can just get to New York City.”

“That takes me back to a summer I spent naked in a ravine.”

“Captain, you’re staring into space again.” “Sorry, I thought I saw an iceberg. I’ve crashed so many planes into icebergs it’s not funny.”

“Before you go, can you just one last time…move a crate of fish for me?”

“Just because a bunch of women get together in a room doesn’t mean we’re gonna watch Sex & The City and lament about how we don’t need men in our lives.”

“I’m gonna get rid of the sperm anyway. I’ll put it in her, or I’ll put it in a sock.”

“If this compass is correct, north is everywhere.”

“Come back to the city, where you drink coffee to wake up, drink alcohol to go to sleep, watch TV to live someone else’s life, and die of cancer from using a cell phone.”

“I love franchised shows.” “Yeah, Special Victims, Criminal Intent…” “Which is the one with the guy who used to be good?”

Improvised by: Rob Ariss Hills, Conor Bradbury, Jason Donovan, TJ Jagodowski, Cameron Algie and Steve Cole, Matt Folliott and Isaac Kessler, Unknown Improviser, Adam Cawley, Jess Grant, Alex Tindal, Devon Hyland, Simon Pond, Adrianne Gagnon, David Razowsky, Michael Graham, Kevin Whalen, David Pasquesi and TJ Jagodowski

Photo © Crista Flodquist

Heard some great stuff? Tweet (with improviser credits, if possible) @improvdialogue.

Today marks the launch of Toronto’s new independent improv fest, Big City Improv Festival. We asked Gary Rideout Jr of Comedy Bar for the 411.

P&C: This is the first annual Big City Improv Festival. What’s different about it from festivals Toronto has seen in the past?

GRJ: I think the thing I’m most excited about is the production team. There are a lot of passionate improv people involved, and everyone’s not afraid to share the workload so that everything gets done with plenty of time and attention. As someone who’s been an Associate Producer with Toronto Sketchfest since day one, I know it takes great leadership and a solid support team to build a great festival.

Julie Dumais produced the Combustion festival for a few years and she did a great job. I think it took something like that to prove we could put on a world class improv festival here in the city of Toronto. Something that would help our reputation in other markets, and something that would show the international acts that we have great audiences who do support good improv.

P&C. Comedy Bar has become a hub for improv, attracting some of the best local and out-of-town talent. What kind of acts can people expect on both the main stage and side stage at this year’s festival?

GRJ: I can tell you that with the production team involved, cultivating submissions from the best local, national and international acts won’t be a problem.

That said, coming up with a great festival schedule is like coming up with a good running order for a sketch show, or composing a great piece of music. There’s ebb and flow, and there will be both massive highlights and hidden gems. There’ll be party shows and thought-provoking shows, all with the onus being on what is funny and now, and what, with this great opportunity, can we present to the public to get them coming out to see improv, not just every night of the festival, but year round.

Festivals are a great place to showcase local favourites or have a local show become a new local favourite. The lingering effects of a great performance here can translate into continued success for that act.

P&C: Are there any special guests planned?

GRJ: We’re tinkering with the idea of some special guests. Bringing in someone famous helps get press for the festival as a whole, and gives a bunch of improvisers the opportunity they might not have otherwise to perform with someone cool. That said, with this being our first year it’s also important to focus on all the already-great local acts that exist in this city, and help expose them to the general public and let them know they can see those acts year round.

P&C: There’s been an explosion of interest in improv in the last few years. What do you think accounts for this?

GRJ: It’s crazy. I’ve always had a theory that the interest in styles of comedy goes in waves. For awhile, everyone’s doing stand-up, then sketch gets big for awhile, right now we’re in an improv boom.

The Second City Training Centre expanded and always seems to be full, and everytime I see a Bad Dog class in the cabaret at Comedy Bar, it’s full. It’s a great time.

I think before Comedy Bar, there were opportunities to perform improv but you really had to be pro-active in terms of finding a space where you could produce an “improv show.”  In some ways improv was being looked at as an exercise you do just to get better at improv. So you go on stage for 25 minutes and then sit around and get told by someone else what they would have said or done in that situation.

With Comedy Bar, it’s kind of paint by numbers; you pitch a “show concept,” then you produce and perform that show for an audience. Bad Dog and National Theatre of the World have strived to put a focus on the value of improv as the presented artform, not just the vehicle to get to the content. Other acts see that and are doing the same thing in their own way. Improv is the show.

One of the first things I did with Catch23 when we brought it to Comedy Bar was move it from Mondays to Fridays. I wanted more people to see the show and the stories that come out of it, not just in the scenes but in the fake competition and relationships between judge, audience and players. It’s always packed, and almost always a great show. (I said “almost” there on purpose, I can’t help being a little bit critical.)

P&C. What’s the vision for the future of Big City Improv Festival?

GRJ: Big City Improv Festival has an opportunity to be the improv festival that properly represents the city, and all the great performers that call Toronto home. It’s something we’ve desperately needed for a very long time, and something that could go a long way to help Toronto’s reputation internationally

The festival runs October 15-20 at Comedy Bar.

Image © Big City Improv Festival

Illusionoid is an improvised comedy podcast that’s a mash-up of every sci-fi/fantasy show you’ve ever seen, and a bunch we guarantee you haven’t. We caught up with the hilarious Paul Bates, Lee Smart, and Nug Nahrgang after their show featuring special guest, Colin Mochrie.

P&C: How did Illusionoid get started?

NN: We got together the first time for a Globehead improv tournament at the Bad Dog Theatre when it was still out on the Danforth.

PB: How many years ago was that?

LS: God, 2008?

NN: 7 or 8. And so we did it for fun. Just like, “Oh, we’re gonna throw a team together.” And we wanted a name that was magic and science together.

PB: Well, we used an online science fiction name generator…

NN: …and “Illusionoid” came out and we’re like, “We love it!” And then I think it was literally seconds before we went on stage: “Well, what are we doing?” “Everything’s Doomsday!” We just decided everything was gonna be going bad. No matter what, it was gonna go evil. Everything was Twilight Zone.

LS: Yeah, dystopia.

NN: Dystopian future. And we did real well, and we did not win.

PB: We got beaten by Lisa Merchant and Alex Hatz…

NN: …playing immigrant characters.

PB: Yeah, you can’t beat immigrants.

LS: You can’t beat immigrants…

PB: It’s against the law.

NN: And then we didn’t do it the next year, because we were all doing other things.

LS: And we were still mad.

PB: Still mad at immigrants.

NN: And then in 2010 we got back together to do it, and did we win?

LS: Yes, we have the picture of us winning with the streamers.

NN: Yeah, we got magic tricks from Morrissey’s Magic Shop up on Dufferin, and we just did terrible magic tricks. Glowing thumbs, and streamers coming out of our mouths.

LS: The concept was that it was somehow illusions. We riffed on that; magic and those things.

PB: And then we went back and did it again this year and won again.

NN: So we’re two for three on Globehead champions.

P&C: When you did that, were you physically improvising, or was it [improvising in front of mics, like the podcast]?

NN: No, we were physically improvising.

PB: A while after that Globehead, the 2010 one, so I think in 2011, Nug was like, “We should do things. We should record things.” And [he] bought a microphone, plugged it into a MacBook and we just met at Lee’s place and we just did a couple. And then we sat on that for something like…

LS: A year.

NN: We recorded four at [Lee’s] place, and then three…our friend Ted Sutton had a studio at the time and we went in and did three in the studio, because he was like, “Yeah come on in, I’ll record it.”

PB: And sat on those for years…

NN: …because I went away on cruise ships with Second City.

PB: We sat on those and we didn’t know what to do with them, and again, Nug is the driving force in a lot of this…

LS: Oh gosh, yes.

PB: …Nug set up a website and an iTunes account and we added sound effects and we just started putting them up to see if it was fun or not.

NN: We made an intro, we recorded that and we added the music.

PB: And there was that long day of breaking the story of what Illusionoid is.

LS: (laughs)

PB: He’s an insane computer in the end of the universe, at the end of time…

LS: We tried to rationalize the plot line.

NN: So we have, like, an overall story for the whole show. It’s like Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt.

There’s a host, and it’s this man from the future, the last surviving human, and he’s sending these stories backwards in time to us now, in hopes that we’ll prevent these horrible things from happening.

But yet there’s no real chance for anyone to prevent this.

P&C: (laughs)

LS: Plus, the stories are so cryptic and disconnected, no one could understand. You would never, ever…

NN: “What of that am I supposed to stop?”

PB: “A mermaid isn’t supposed to fuck a guy?”

NN: “And why am I supposed to prevent this? The hotel is what I’m supposed to prevent?”

LS: “Which part of this…?”

NN: And the most fun for me is because we say, like, all of these stories somehow lead to the creation of Illusionoid. Then we put these stories online and I’m writing the…you know…[synopsis] for each episode and I’m like, “How does this connect to Illusionoid?”

I have some friends who are fans of the show, and they think they have parts of it figured out; parts of the overall story. “Ah, Carstairs is involved somehow!” And then I go, “Sure!” Because we don’t know. It’s just a fake story to get all these fake stories a home, really.

LS: It’s a paper conceit.

PB: Very simply, we really enjoy screwing around together and improvising, so it’s a lot of fun.

LS: And the tone of it…all of us are such nerds, and all sort of thrive on the ideas of science fiction and thinking about the future and dystopia. We’ve been steeped in that stuff and we send it up at the same time, because the tropes are so obvious to everyone. It’s fun to invert them and play with them.

P&C: I heard a little bit of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 when we were [inside Comedy Bar] so I thought, these guys are probably fans of that too.

LS: Well we did call Bob [Derkatch] Manos: The Hands of Fate tonight.

NN: That’s a classic. It’s the one movie that everyone remembers being the worst, and that they had the most fun making fun of. You can buy it on, I don’t know what season it is, but you can buy it as part of that season. But you can also buy just Manos as a two-disc set kinda thing. So on one side it is the horrible Manos movie, and then on the other side it is them making fun of it.

PB: Oh, that’s wonderful.

LS: Tonight though, I loved the Trouble Brothers. (two characters played by Nug and Paul)

NN: And I killed them! We had to. We were playing too many guys already. We had to kill those guys.

P&C: How many characters do you usually play?

NN: It depends. We’ve done episodes where we’ve all only played one character, but then we’ve done other ones where – and then with the benefit of editing after the fact – we can actually make Paul’s voice sound like a girl, or Lee sound like a monster, or…

P&C: Oh, you really do that?

NN: Yeah, we add effects when we record in the studio. When you’re Googlon the Robot…

PB: We android-ize my voice.

NN: And you can change the pitch to make a monster sound lower, or a guy sound like a girl.

PB: Yeah, like [in] the first one I play a Moon Spider.

NN: (high-pitched voice) “I’m a Moon Spider!”

LS: The improv is the raw material. Then we affect it afterwards.

NN: And even the raw material we barely edit. Somehow we’ve gotten really good at coming in at 20 minutes, around 20 minutes. So there’s some episodes that are like, maybe 15, and other episodes that are 22, but we always land around the 20-minute mark and if it’s a little longer we’re like, unh, who cares.

P&C: And are Bob [Derkatch] and Jay [McCarroll] normally both…

NN: No, tonight was real special to have Bob. I was talking about it one night when I saw Bob here because he wanted to come see us perform…

P&C: He was loving it!

NN: He wanted to see it, but he was like, “Hey if I’m coming, why don’t I bring my theremin?”

LS: So cool.

NN: And I went, “Oh my God, please bring your theremin!”

PB: Bob’s awesome.

LS: It added an amazing element. I was telling him that that scoring, which we don’t usually have throughout, really imbues it with a tone that we haven’t had before, live anyway.

NN: Jay usually does it live with us. But I remember when Bob volunteered I got hold of Jay and said “Hey, Bob wants to bring his theremin to our next show. Is that cool? I don’t wanna step on your toes,” and he was like, “Oh my God, the more the merrier. A theremin? This is the best.”

So just to have two nerd musicians… And I know Jay just thinks Bob is the greatest, so that’s a real fun time, too, for Jay to work with Bob. Just like for us to work with Colin [Mochrie].

PB: Jay’s getting good on that Moog.

LS: He certainly is. He was touching in at just the right times…

NN: He doesn’t get enough time to play. I think if he ever bought himself one, he would buy that app and then play with it forever.

LS: It’s an app for the iPad that emulates an old Moog synthesizer, which is from the ‘70s, so if you heard shows like Space: 1999 or Dr Who, essentially that is the sound of those things, and it adds such a retro, weird element to it.

P&C: I was amazed watching him, because he’s so fast. I know Mark Andrada when he’s in the back is fast, but [Jay’s] really on top of all those sound effects.

LS: Yeah, he was anticipating tonight, too. Some cool stuff; there was not much lag.

NN: There’s like a little delay on the app for the sound effects. So you can load up whatever sound effects are inside your iPad. So I put a ton of sound effects on the iPad, and then you can put a picture on the button too, so I can program each thing. So he can just reach up and go “Sub Door,” or “Torpedo,” or “Sonar.”

And there’s a little bit of a delay between touching it and playing, so Jay has been getting better at, “Oh, they’re gonna mention a torpedo,” so he’s already got it there, so he’s actually pushing it before we finish the word now, which is really amazing.

LS: And sometimes that pushes us to reference what the sound is as well. That happened a couple of times tonight.

NN: Like when Colin said, “I’m gonna sprinkle this on…” (explosive sound effect) “Guys, when I said ‘sprinkle’…” You’ve gotta justify the noise, too.

LS: Well the best thing for a musician to add is to be a player, as well. Not just to be following along, but to be someone who’s working and adding something that you can react to as well, so they’re actually improvising with you.

NN: We gotta get them jackets.

PB: I think I have a coupon.

P&C: And are you all friends with, or have you all performed with Colin before?

NN: Yeah. Colin’s a friend of mine. Colin and I have actually been comic book shopping together. Colin’s a big nerd; I’m kinda outing him this week. I did another interview this week where I kinda outed him as a huge nerd.

PB: Oh yeah, I ran into him once at the Silver Snail.

LS: Colin hired me for Second City. He was in the, he was the guy directing the Touring Company when I auditioned, so he hired me for the job.

PB: And in my case, if you’re a Second City actor, sooner or later you’re just friends with Colin, just because of his generosity. It’s not like I ever worked with him really, in any capacity that was significant. He’s just like, he’s just a guy that gets to know you and he’s super nice and generous with his time.

NN: I think Colin and I had run into each other a few times, and then we were both on The Tuxedo with Jackie Chan on the same day, and he was like, “Oh, someone I know.” And then we started hanging out. And then we went comic book shopping and now he and I are working together on a TV show in Sudbury for most of the summer.

LS: It’s probably the best job you can have, to be able to make a living as an improviser, and he’s done an exemplary job of doing that.

NN: Absolutely.

LS: Here, in the UK, and touring around…

P&C: The States…

LS: It’s so rare. It’s so rare to make your living improvising.

PB: One of a handful of human beings.

LS: Amazing.

NN: And you know, even talking to some people tonight, “How the heck did you get Colin?” “Oh, we asked him. We asked, then he said yes.”

P&C: Is he actually living in Toronto again?

LS: Always…

NN: He has never not lived in Toronto. He maybe lived in LA years ago, but no, he lives here, his son just graduated from NYU film school, and he’s just back home, and he and Deb live up, I think in Leaside.

PB: He’s a terrible racist though.

NN: Oh, the worst. He hates anybody not white. That’s the worst thing about Colin.

LS: Talk about, “You can’t beat an immigrant.”

PB, P&C: (laughs)

NN: You can’t tell him that. Horrible racist.

PB: You know, but he’s just such a generous guy. We forget…

NN: It makes you forgive the racism.

LS: The iron fist in the velvet glove.

P&C: That’s all going on the blog.

PB, NN: Nooooo…

LS: Disclaimer, disclaimer.

P&C: So how many episodes have you done now?

NN: This week will be 25.

PB: So we’re a month away from…

LS: …our first year.

NN: By the time number 27 comes out, that’s our first year. We’re gonna call it a season and start Season Two.

PB: See if Jay wants to do a new theme for us.

P&C: Anything else you want to mention?

LS: We were nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award…

P&C: Oh yes! Congratulations.

NN: Podcast. When we lose that…

P&C: What other podcasts are you up against?

NN: Well, we’re up against Stop Podcasting Yourself from Vancouver, which is huge. They’ve signed on to a network of podcasts that puts them out, so you can subscribe to the network and get all of the podcasts. They’re part of Maximum Fun, which is really great.

Maximum Fun has Jordan, Jesse, Go!, and so many other great podcasts. It’s gonna be real tough. If all of their listeners listened to us, we would be millionaires. I don’t really know how it works with a free podcast. But it would be the greatest thing in the world.

We’re up against Hold Your Applause, but they’re not even doing that podcast anymore. We’re up against Sean Cullen and The Seanpod. And Sean’s done our show, too.

LS: He’s very funny.

NN: He’s very funny. We just recorded with Scott Thompson this week; we did three with Scott, which was a really good time.

PB: We’re always trying to think what else to do with this. I love the podcast as it is, and we think about, “Can we pitch this as radio? Can we pitch this as TV?” But whatever comes…because it’s mainly for fun.

LS: There’s something pure and fun about putting it out there, but obviously we all have to make a living somehow. It’d be great to convert what we love into something we can get paid for.

P&C: Well, look at Comedy Bang! Bang!

NN: That is one of my favourites to listen to, and I’m so happy they got a TV show.

The other podcasts I think we have something in common with [are] Superego, because they record it and then add the sound effects later. But they just do bits, they don’t do stories like we do. And then Thrilling Adventure Hour, where they’re doing new scripts, like new radio shows, but scripted and do it live… I love those shows so much.

LS: It’s a Golden Age.

PB: It’s the Wild West, man.

NN: Other cliché!

LS: Well, the amount of creativity. There’s never been an avenue for people to create stuff and put it out there… Ten years ago we would never had the facility, the ability to do what we’re doing.

PB: Anybody who wants to be on the radio can be on the radio. It’s awesome.

LS: It’s amazing. People can listen to us and go, “Hey, I’m listening to Illusionoid this week,” and it’s a real thing. Whereas you had to go through the channels to get into radio before.

PB: It blows my mind to think that we get people writing on our pages: “I listen to this on the train in Brooklyn.” Y’know? People in Brooklyn listen. And then you check the stats; it says people in China listen, people in Ireland listen. That’s so cool.

P&C: Wow.

LS: How the hell does a guy in Ireland hear about this?

NN: I’d love to have more listeners, but we’re closing in on 25,000 total downloads. And I know there are other podcasts out there that get that every time they put out a podcast.

PB: If you get 700 people listening to a podcast, that’s still one of the biggest audiences I’ve ever had. So it’s great to have that reach.

LS: Surprisingly we have a lot of listeners in the Netherlands, and places like Sweden and Norway. I don’t know if it’s because it’s weird, and they’re sort of, they love the weirdness and the sci-fi…

PB: We should do a Girl With The Dragon Tattoo-style one.

NN: We can make that happen guys…

Illusionoid performs bi-weekly at Comedy Bar. Join their facebook page for show details, and download episodes of the podcast free from iTunes here.

Lee Smart, Nug Nahrgang and Paul Bates