Congrats to all the first-timers and returning teams, and thanks to Ms Poehler and Messrs Besser, Walsh, and Roberts for celebrating Del and throwing the world’s biggest improv party.
We hitched a ride with Chad Mallett a.k.a. Matt Folliott and Ted Hallett to talk about touring, the unreliability of pants, and their new Fringe show.
P&C: Your show is about two characters on vacation. Any stories you’d like to share from your travels together?
Matt: On a trip to Montreal, Ted fell down trying to put on a pair of pants. His excuse was that there was too much room.
Ted: Yes! There was! I didn’t have anything to grab onto. Honestly, there was too much space.
Matt: The sound of Ted hitting the floor was deafening. Like being next to a bomb going off or when someone drops a sack of hammers.
Ted: Here’s a fun story: every night before bed, just before I hit the light switch, I’d whisper to Matt that I was going to masturbate on his shower towel.
Matt: Yeah that was a lot of fun for me.
Ted: Me too.
P&C: What’s the most memorable show you’ve done?
Matt: It was one we did in Kensington Market. About 20 minutes in to a really fun show, Ted split his pants. Now if you know Ted, you know he never wears underwear. The audience may or may not have gotten an eyeful.
P&C: We’re sensing a theme here. Your show is inspired by an audience members’ vacations. What is it about real experiences that audiences love?
Matt: I think the audience enjoys seeing how we use specific details of their travel experience to inform the comedy.
Ted: It’s relatable. We all have crazy travel stories and I think an audience is invested in the performance when it’s connected to something they’ve seen, experienced or dreamed of themselves. The crowd will always give us a cool travel destination to go to, but for me, the fun is playing the multiple characters in the world we’ve created based on their memories.
Matt: What Ted said.
P&C: You’ve been a duo now for five years. What’s the secret to your longevity?
Ted: The secret is to just keep doing it, ’cause what else do we have going on? That and we also make great roommates. He drives me nuts sometimes but I genuinely like Matt and that’s important when you pair up with someone. They have to be able to stand your strange habits. What do you think, Matt?
Matt: It’s a secret and I’ll never tell.
P&C: Toronto Fringe is a great way to expand your audience. Do you think it’s getting easier or more difficult to attract people to improv?
Matt: I think we’re in a golden age of improv. I know that sounds corny but people are just excited about the art form whether they’re watching shows or taking classes.
Ted: I agree. Improv is hugely popular with a younger crowd which helps a lot. It’s in the zeitgeist. I think TV shows like Key & Peele, Drunk History and Rick & Morty which cast improvisers and use improv to create content have really made the art form an intriguing dish to sample for all ages.
Matt: Intriguing dish? What is it with you and food?
Ted: I love food more than life itself you little meatball.
P&C: The show is directed by Mark Andrada. What does he bring to Chad Mallett?
Matt: I trust Mark’s comedic mind 100%. He shares our vision for the show. He just gets what’s funny and his experience as a comedian, director, and theatre tech are invaluable. He’s our Filipino Yoda.
Ted: What Matt said.
P&C: You’ve both been part of the improv community for more than a decade. Who inspires you, either here or in the U.S. and abroad?
Ted: I love The Sufferettes and hero worship people like Bob Martin, Linda Kash, Paul O’Sullivan, and Lisa Merchant. I’m also really into David Razowsky, TJ & Dave, and that whole slow style of improv that developed over the years in Chicago. I’m also into S&P, a group right here in Toronto that Matt is a part of.
Matt: That’s nice! Thank–
Ted: –Don’t interrupt me. Okay, I’m done. Carry on.
Matt: Thank you Robert. I love local duos like Coko & Daphney, RN & Cawls or local shows like Matt McCready’s $12 Beer Beer. On the national scene, I’m really into The Sunday Service and anything happening at Montreal Improv Theatre is a pure joy to take in. Internationally, I adore IGLU Theatre from Slovenia. Peter, Vid and Jus from IGLU are just some of the funniest dudes you’ll ever meet. Also check out Ted & Lisa. They’re pretty damn good.
P&C: Any plans to take your Fringe show on the road?
Ted: If the road calls we will answer.
Matt: I like that Ted.
Ted: Me too. High five.
Matt: I can’t reach that high.
In this interconnected age it’s easy to believe anyone can find you. Like that creep from summer camp who keeps sending you friend requests.
But products are different. Just because you have a great product doesn’t mean people know to look for it. And in the case of improv, they may not even know what your product is.
With few exceptions, improvisation just doesn’t attract many outsiders (i.e. new customers). When the host says “Clap if you’ve never seen improv!” and someone claps, you can feel the amazement ripple through the space.
People aren’t coming out in droves to see improv. So what are they coming out for? Lots of things, it turns it out. Here are some tried-and-true ways to create a show that packs the house.
Have a party!
People like to party. Party Hard, Hard Party even sounds like an invitation. If you mention beer in the name, like BeerProv, they’ll get what the show is about. BeerProv is so successful, they’ve expanded beyond Canada to the U.S.
Non-improviser: Hey, you wanna go to this show? It’s a comedy show with beer.
Steal an existing following.
People like TV shows and board games and comic books. Shows like Holodeck Follies, Improv Against Humanity, and Riverdale: Improvised come with a built-in following. Facebook groups, online forums, festivals and conventions can help spread the word. Just don’t go there to spam them; interact with other fans. If they’ve been to your show and liked it, nothing beats word of mouth advertising.
Non-improviser: Hey, you know that TV show we like? You wanna go see a comedy show based on that? I hope they have beer.
Steal an existing style.
The Improvised Shakespeare Company made improv accessible to fans of the Bard, and vice versa. Anthony Atamnuik and Neil Casey’s Two-Man Movie uses film techniques to tell an improvised story. And Edmonton’s Die-Nasty is an improvised soap opera with recurring characters and a continuing storyline. (They even do a 50-hour soap-a-thon where performers go without sleep. Props.)
Show off your other talents.
Build a show around your other skills, like the singing sensations of Mansical and Showstopper! The Improvised Musical. There are improv shows based around puppetry, poetry, and true stories, to name a few.
Have a cause.
Laugh in the Face of Fear is a show where anxious people can enjoy a night of anxiety-themed comedy in a safe environment. They get a chance to perform, if they choose, and profits go to mental health charities. You could build a show to support your own favourite cause, charity, or non-profit.
Make it a competition.
Theatresports, Catch23 and Rap Battles use elimination as a hook to build an audience and keep ’em coming back. The audience tends to skew towards improvisers, but long-term shows like Cage Match and The World’s Biggest Improv Tournament round up family and friends to rig the votes…uh, cheer on the victors.
Have a POV.
People love to flout taboos, and Filthy: The No-Rules Improv Cabaret pushes boundaries to the limit. Other improv shows with attitude centre around feminism, politics, or specific cultures.
Make the audience the star.
Non-improviser: You wanna go to a show where it’s about us? Hell yeah, I love us. Beer!
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You can probably think of more categories to explore. Whatever your premise, put in the time behind the scenes and make your show something the press could write about.
Two more thoughts:
Find a new space.
You may need to go beyond your community to get noticed. Think outside the theatre for ways to expose new people to your message; people who wouldn’t normally set foot in a theatre.
Look for potential partners or or sponsors. Let’s say you have a coffee-themed show. You could promote a local cafe on posters and during the show, serve their product, put up signage in their establishment, or even perform in their space.
When advertisers talk about “white space,” it means identifying potential gaps in existing markets. You can define a new white space in improv by taking some of the steps above.
A word about form.
Formats are fun, no question. You might get excited about doing a Deconstruction or Harold, but the truth is most audiences don’t care. (And unless they’re improvisers themselves, won’t have a clue what that means.) The form you do is pretty much window dressing to them. All anyone really cares at the end of the night is, did they enjoy it?
Don’t have a form, have a “thing.” If you don’t have a thing, you probably won’t have a following. When you have a thing you’ll not only find your audience, over time they’ll find you.
Confession: I’m a Beatlemaniac. As a teen I attended Beatlefests in Chicago and New York, toured Fab Four shrines across the U.K., and decades later my love for them hasn’t waned.
I’ve often wondered what made them so different from hundreds of other groups. According to Malcolm Gladwell, the answer is 10,000 hours of hard work. While that definitely helped, I believe something else was at play. Namely…
The Beatles Played Together
Not just instruments; they played games. Silly ones. They laughed and joked and had fun together, and that playfulness infused every part of their lives.
Even when they worked crazy hours, they still made time for play. It helped them cope with stress, and kept their brains open to creative input. Here’s John in Hamburg’s notorious Reeperbahn district after playing an eight-hour set. One of the other Liverpool bands dared him to read a newspaper while wearing his underpants.
They didn’t follow the rules. In the early ‘60s, up-and-coming artists were expected to leave songwriting to “the pros” of Tin Pan Alley. And while their first albums included cover songs, The Beatles always wrote their own stuff.
None of The Beatles could read or write music using traditional notation. Instead they viewed music as a process of discovery, listening to records and mimicking them, or creating their own sounds. Their Producer, George Martin, transcribed and translated their ideas in the studio.
They also weren’t afraid to challenge convention in other ways. When The Beatles toured the southern U.S., they were stunned to learn venues were segregated. Having been influenced by artists like Chuck Berry and Little Richard, they refused to play segregated concerts – and the laws changed as a result. They also spoke out against the Vietnam War, considered a no-no for mere pop musicians.
They were curious about everything. The Beatles weren’t just fascinated with music. They were also deeply interested in art, fashion, film, photography, writing, comedy, and other cultures. That curiosity spilled over into everything they touched, from clothes to cover art. Before The Beatles, pop albums looked like this:
The Beatles changed all that, pushing the possibilities of what an album could be and turning each one into an event. By 1965 they were so well known, Rubber Soul was released without their name anywhere on the front cover. The “White Album” went even further, with each edition numbered like a work of art. The Butcher cover, meanwhile, is so legendary it deserves an article to itself.
They treated everything as a potential instrument. Paul’s shoe tapping in Blackbird. Ringo playing a packing case on Words of Love. George’s guitar feedback at the beginning of I Feel Fine. Their improvisational, “anything goes” attitude changed how people approached and listened to pop music.
They also preceded mash-ups, smashing together two completely different songs (A Day In The Life), and speeding up and slowing down the same song in two different keys (Strawberry Fields Forever).
And it wasn’t just sounds that inspired them. John wrote lyrics based on a circus poster (Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite), newspaper stories (A Day In The Life), and things he heard in everyday conversation (She Said, She Said).
They were constantly learning. In the movie Help!, The Beatles needed to ski downhill in one scene. None of them had ever skied before. Director Richard Lester gave them one day to learn…and filmed it. The result is a lot of shots of them falling down during Ticket To Ride, one of the film’s most memorable scenes.
They were really, really connected. Look at any live performance, and even though they’re playing to the audience you can see their eye contact and checking in with each other.
They collaborated with others. How many lead guitarists would ask someone else to play lead on While My Guitar Gently Weeps? And yet George did just that, giving Eric Clapton’s superb slide guitar centre stage.
The Fabs also enlisted George Martin to play harpsichord on In My Life, Billy Preston to play organ on Get Back, and Brian Jones to play sax for You Know My Name (Look Up The Number).
When Revolver came out, they could have got anyone to design the artwork. They asked Klaus Voorman, a friend from their Hamburg days, whose B&W ink-and-photo collage earned him a Grammy for Best Album Cover.
They also supported emerging artists of all kinds, including one Yoko Ono.
With the 50th anniversary of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, I’m still in awe of their talent and contributions, and still a Beatlemaniac at heart. Their lives and songs have inspired my writing and countless improv scenes. I hope you’ll be inspired to put some of their principles into play.