Posts from the Live Shows & Festivals Category

Photo © Robyn Bacon

Matt Stone and Trey Parker worked on The Book of Mormon for seven years. One Night Only: The Greatest Musical Never Written achieves greatness in one night – with no script, no pre-planned choreography, and no clue what the show will be about until the audience tells them.

Created by Alan Kliffer and directed by Melody Johnson, One Night Only is the most ambitious improv spectacle I’ve seen in a decade. When cast member Jan Caruana nudged an audience member who was slow to give a suggestion, saying “It’s a two-hour show,” I thought she was joking.

As the show progressed – the night I went was dubbed “Nerd Alert: The Musical” – it seemed impossible that they could keep the energy, laughs, and all those improvised balls in the air for a second act.

How wrong I was.

The talented cast of Ashley Botting, Jan Caruana, Reid Janisse, Carly Heffernan, Ron Pederson and Alex Tindal performed like a well-oiled machine: one that was being built right before our eyes.

Unlike most improv shows where everything’s mimed, the characters were enhanced with a few well-chosen props. My favourite was Reid Janisse’s fluttering lace fan – a hilarious counterpoint to his Randall character’s menacing megalomania.

The story revolved around Caruana as Linda Johanssen a.k.a. Debbie Dynamite and Pederson as her long-lost love, Gavin. Botting and Janisse played Equestria and Stable Boy (a.k.a. Randall), Dynamite’s rivals who eventually leave show biz for horseplay of a different kind.

Scenes were punchy and playful, culminating in a show-stopping number where all six players came together for a song called “More,” made all the more awe-inspiring for its on-the-spot harmonies.

Special props must go to the orchestra. With back-up vocals from Kevin Vidal and Miriam Drysdale, musicians Ewan Divitt, Jake Koffman, Dave Stein, and Justin Han were every bit as (forgive me) instrumental in the creation of what happened on stage.

Besides their musical chops, they knew just when to cue the next number, and were clearly having fun with the cast. While Ashley Botting’s pipes never fail to astound, it was Ron Pederson who stole show after being badgered into one more solo by the band.

One Night Only has been playing to packed houses, and runs until February 14. Avoid disappointment; book now.

We’re huge fans of Jimmy Carrane’s Improv Nerd podcast, and this season is no exception.

The line-up includes Saturday Night Live writer Katie Rich, Second City Mainstagers Scott Morehead and Rashawn Nadine Scott, iO Chicago teacher Jeff Griggs, Jorin Gargiulo of Revolver, and Rush Howell of 3033.

Jimmy will also be doing a special interview with Jeff Bouthiette, head of the Second City Training Center’s music program, at the first-ever Chicago Musical Improv Festival.

Since 2011, Jimmy has interviewed more than 130 guests, including Key & Peele, Bob Odenkirk, Broad City, Jeff Garlin, Andy Richter, David Koechner, Rachel Dratch, Tim Meadows, and Scott Adsit. If you’re in Chicago this summer, it’s one show you don’t want to miss.


All shows will be held at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Avenue in Chicago.

June 20 – Katie Rich, 4:30 p.m. (as part of the Women’s Funny Festival)
July 5 – Scott Morehead, 4:00 p.m., Jorin Gargiulo, 5:00 p.m.
July 12 – Shithole’s Kevin Gerrity and Zach Bartz, 5:00 p.m.
July 19 – Rashawn Nadine Scott 4:00 p.m., Rush Howell, 5:00 p.m.
July 26 – Jeff Griggs 5:00 p.m.

General admission: $10, $8 for improv students

Call Stage 773 at 773.327.5252 or purchase online.

Jimmy Carrane headshot

Photo © Julia Marcus/Zoe McKenzie Photography

Combustion Festival kicked off this week with some sizzling performances at Toronto’s Bad Dog Theatre. Fan favourites The Sunday Service and Crush Improv were joined by new faces Dark Side of the Room, Big Ol’ Show (with returning Dad’s Garage alum, Amber Nash) and The Amie & Kristen Show.

If you missed the fun, don’t worry: all the teams will be performing again, along with more fantastic improvisers from far and wide. The festival runs through Saturday, May 30. Check the schedule for details.

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Photo © Eric Logan

Fans of unscripted theatre, rejoice: the 2015 Combustion Festival is here, and it’s gonna be smokin’.

Toronto’s Bad Dog Theatre is bringing together some of the hottest talent from across North America in this week-long celebration of comedy. The line-up includes such diverse acts as Crush, Junior Varsity, Folk Lordz, The Sunday Service, and Dark Side of the Room, to name a few.

In addition to shows, there’ll be workshops by instructors from Atlanta, Buenos Aires, New York, Montreal, and Vancouver. There’s even a series of $5 drop-ins every night of the fest.

Check out the full schedule, and buy tickets and festival passes at


Most live theatre is aimed at stand-up, sketch, improv, or concert audiences. Live From The Annex combines all of them – with a side of hummous – in a series of shows the first Tuesday of each month. We spoke with Artistic Director Brian G. Smith and Programmer Sasha Wentges about the project.

Photo © Robert Trick Photography

Photo © Robert Trick Photography

P&C: Tell us a little about Live At The Annex; how it came about and what the audience can expect.

BGS: Well first of all, Sally, it’s called Live FROM the Annex, and so now I’m pissed off. Nice start: you made a middle-aged, single father cry. Way to go.

SW: Live From the Annex grew out of a class that Brian was teaching at Annex Improv. Laurie Murphy (LFTA co-producer) and I were both students in the class at the time. We pitched the idea of doing live performances in a cabaret setting to Brian at our local watering hole after class one evening. We planted the seed. He watered it and out grew Live From The Annex.

BGS: It occurred to me that if we created a third level to the Annex Improv program (Performance Ensemble), and gave it an on-camera element, that would help make the idea of producing a cabaret justifiable business-wise for me. ‘Cause I needed another thing to do every month like I need another three-year-old who won’t eat anything but pizza and who takes 20 minutes just to get his goddammed shoes on. Seriously, I’m so busy with that shit already it’s insane. But another revenue stream for the school seemed like a good idea.

SW: So Brian created another level to his classes with the understanding that whoever was in that class would get a chance to perform in the monthly cabaret series. The 12 of us drank a bunch of beers one night after class and came up with ‘Brunswick Stew’ as the name. They would become the ‘host troupe’, and we rounded out the evening with a guest musician; a sketch troupe and some audience participation.

BGS: I hired Lisa Merchant to teach/direct the Performance level. She’s a kick-ass teacher, and that’s what they needed to get in shape for a show of this calibre. She focused intensely for six weeks on ensemble character and relationship work, ’cause apparently I suck at relationships, so what did I have to teach them. That’s why I’m picking up endless Spiderman shit by myself day in, day out.

P&C: Live From The Annex combines theatre with an online streaming component. How do the two relate to each other?

BGS: I have been working at finding a way to bring Toronto improv to another (audience) level ever since the days of Bruce Hunter’s Workshop at the Second City Tim Sims Playhouse in the late ’90s.

I would go home after watching those shows and think: “How can this amazing, world-class, local comedy talent get out to a bigger audience?” When Livestreaming became a thing, I bought a bunch of HD gear and started to do that around town (e.g.  Pat Thornton’s 24 Hours of Stand-up for Stephen Lewis, and Streamfest).

SW: Brian decided that he really wanted to have not just the studio in-house participation, but also the live-streamed audience participating through twitter feeds etc. We launched a ‘pilot’ version on April 7th. Audiences can expect a well-crafted show with some top-notch performers and a live ‘visual classroom’ with Brunswick Stew – and of course, free hummous!

BGS: Also, Lisa and I came up with a super-cool idea to make the Brunswick Stew portion of the show a visible classroom, where she would not only side-coach to help them out if they got in trouble, but also to point out shit that was really working – so that the audience would get an education about improv strategies while they enjoyed the show. Then Lisa fucked off to do a gig in England, and so I have to do it. Relationships, am I right?

P&C: How do you choose the acts for each show?

BGS: That’s Sasha’s baby.

SW: I tend to go out to see a lot of stuff in the city. I’m restless that way; I choose from whom I like and who is available at the time. Then Brian and I look at our options and put together the best combo for variety and overall excellence.

P&C: Brian, you’ve been involved with the Centre for Social Innovation for some time, filming, teaching improv, and now with Live From The Annex. What’s different about CSI than most other venues?

BGS: CSI Annex is a very cool place with a culture all of its own. NFPs, charities and tech start-ups mixing and connecting with each other. Over the last couple of years, I’ve outfitted one of CSI’s big flexible meeting rooms (The Garage) with a stage, lights, etc. It’s become a 75-seat cabaret theatre and we’ve had a bunch of parties and shows and video shoots down there for all the CSI members and guests. I charge them SO MUCH MONEY! I’m telling you, I’m rolling in it – shooting fish in a fucking barrel.

SW: I think the main message at CSI is the art of collaboration. Just as the three of us, Brian, Laurie, and Sasha are collaborating, so is CSI collaborating with us.

BGS: That’s a better answer. Please don’t print my last bit.

P&C: As improv continues to grow in popularity, do you find audiences are no longer just improvisers performing for each other?

SW: Having other elements in the show (e.g. music, CSI member profiling) exposes all our acts to potential new crowds.

BGS: My goal is to get as many people as possible to watch the shows on the www. Laurie has worked hard to pull together all the social media clout of our partners and sponsors (100s of thousands) to drive traffic to our livestream: I want to disrupt the notion that improv and live club comedy doesn’t translate to the screen. I think you just have to serve it up in a way that’s palatable. And that starts with really good audio. Then add three-camera live switching. Then really good Toronto comedy, which we have in spades.

Catch Live From The Annex starting tomorrow, Tuesday, May 5. Doors open at 7:30 pm. Featuring Colin Sharpe, The Templeton Philarmonic, Dr. Ew, Brunswick Stew and host Brian G. Smith. With talent like this, it’s just a matter of time before they get Sabra to sponsor.

Photo © Robert Trick Photography

Photo © Robert Trick Photography

Few things are sadder than performing to an empty room.

Unless you’re TJ and Dave, you need a little planning to ensure a good turn-out. Here are some tips that can help.

Know Your Audience

Who are you performing for? Is it hardcore improv nerds, or comedy lovers in general?

Is it a monthly show with a built-in fan base, or are you trying to get fresh blood (and votes) for Cage Match?

Just like advertisers, you need to define your target audience. “Anyone with five bucks” is not a demographic.

Before you invite all 2,031 of your “friends,” ask yourself if Aunt Myrna, the guy you went to junior kindergarten with, and those eight ‘bots would really come.

Quality Is Job One

A friend of mine saw a show recently, and was pleasantly surprised by how much he enjoyed it. “There’s so much bad improv out there,” he confided.


Anyone can have an off night, but when you don’t commit to doing your best, it reflects badly on all the awesome sets other improvisers are committed to.

Have you and your team rehearsed? Are you familiar with the format you’ll be playing?

Learning stuff on the fly with strangers may be fine if you’re a pro, but for many people, familiarity with the cast and structure are key to a good show. Just because they’re called make-’em-ups doesn’t mean people want to pay to watch you figure shit out on stage.

Be professional. Book a rehearsal (or several, depending on the scale of the show). If it’s a one-off (a fundraiser, for instance) or a jam-type situation, at the very least try to get there an hour beforehand, so you can meet and bond with your cast mates.

Quantity Is Job Two

There’s a delicate balance between not promoting your show enough, and promoting it too much.

Don’t create a Facebook event a month in advance, and promote it every day until the show.

Do promote judiciously. If everyone on the team has the same circle of friends, you don’t need all seven of you to mention it in your status.

Don’t post the wrong time, date, or venue. (You’d be surprised how often this happens.)

Comedy Is Visual

Even a well-written e-vite can get lost in celebrity gossip and kitten videos. One way to break through the clutter is an eye-catching poster.

Your poster should reflect the show and/or team’s character. You can use it online, as well as print copies to put up in bars, theatres, and coffee shops.

Keep the messaging simple; it’s a poster, not a blog. The name of the show, date, time, and place are fine. Include a website if you have one (but only if it’s up to date).

Again, keep your audience in mind. Don’t assume everyone who sees your poster will understand what you’re selling. Before you joined the improv community, would you know what the fuck a “Harold Night” was?

Unless your show is strictly for other improvisers, you need to spell things out a little. It can still be a tease though, like this awesome example:

Image © Scott Williams,

Image © Scott Williams,

At the other end of the logic spectrum, fans of Standards & Practices love their boundary-pushing style. Kevin Whalen creates promo posters that reflect the team’s surreal sensibility.

Image © Kevin Whalen/Standards & Practices

Image © Kevin Whalen/Standards & Practices

Rob Norman and Adam Cawley are to Toronto’s improv scene what James Franco and Seth Rogen are to…uh…each other. This stunning artwork captures the duo’s brooding bromance and colourful imaginations perfectly.

R&N Cawls Orig

Image © Marshall Lorenzo

One of our favourite campaigns was for Ghost Jail Theatre. They produced a memorable series of posters created by overlaying shots of two different improvisers, usually a male and female. The effect was haunting, intriguing, and completely different than everything else in the community.

The next season, they created hybrid images of three players. The slightly off-kilter results stopped passersby in their tracks. (The posters were so popular, they were stolen within hours of being put up.)

Image © Katie Bowes

Image © Katie Bowes

This poster’s understated, Mad Men cool is the perfect foil for the Bacchanalian beer-swilling orgy that is Mantown. If you’ve seen the show before, the contrast is hilarious. And if you’re a newb, the image is enough to pique anyone’s interest.

Mantown Current

Image © Kurt Firla

Cross Promote

Doing another gig close to the date of your show? Ask the MC if they can mention it when they intro you. Better yet, direct people to your Facebook event page. (You don’t really expect them to remember show details after five beers and some Jägerbombs, do you?)

Set It In Motion

If you really wanna go all out, why not make a video? Kevin Whalen and Matt Folliott created this stop-motion short for Sex with Jeremy, a showcase for teams Sex T-Rex and The Jeremy Birrell Show:

Now go forth, break legs and blow minds!

Improv is filled with moments of brilliance. But once in a while something so unexpected and special happens, everyone in the room feels it.

It happened at Rob Norman’s book launch this past week. Ralph MacLeod and Becky Johnson had never met. But when they stepped out to do a scene together, the result was pure magic.

For those who missed it (or want to relive it), what follows is a master class in “Yes, and.”

(intro music)

Ralph: Hi, Becky.

Becky: Hello.

Ralph: I don’t think we’ve ever really met.

Becky: Hello, I’m Becky.

Ralph: I’m Ralph. It’s a pleasure to meet you.

Becky: Good to meet you. (to audience) I’m currently experiencing very severe abdominal cramps and I need, as a suggestion, a reason why a woman would stay seated?

Audience Member: Midol!

Audience Member: That heavy flow day that always occurs, like the second or third day!


Becky: We’re having a lady-share moment. What was that? “A really good book,” or “I have a stain on my pants”? (to Ralph) Do you prefer one of those?

Ralph: Nope. All right…uh…wow. I can’t follow that up with anything. (to audience) Why would you be in a particularly good mood? What would bring you joy?

Audience Member: Chocolate!

Ralph: Some chocolate. All right.

Becky: I’m going to take “a good book.”

(Becky mimes reading, Ralph enters the scene)

Ralph: Honey, I’m back from the…

Becky: Just a…

Ralph: …Shoppers. (pause) Are you mad at me?

Becky: What? No. No, I’m just reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I wanted to get smarter. More informed. Are you mad at me? Are we fighting?

Ralph:  No, no, no. Well I went to the drug store for something

Becky: What was it?

Ralph: Oh! Chocolates.

Becky: Did we fight last night?

Ralph: To be honest I can’t remember.


Ralph: We have a child?

Becky: Yes, we have a child! Timothy!

Ralph: You had a child with me?

Becky: Yes, yes! We had a child. You remember him: he was ten feet tall and hyperactive… (pause) WE MURDERED HIM!

Ralph: We said we would never speak about it.

Becky: He was a blight on the family and we killed him. Not speaking about it is one thing, but forgetting is a whole different issue entirely.

Ralph: Well, I am busy at work… The fourth quarter reports are due, I’m stressed beyond belief.

Becky: And I’ve developed a drug addiction that I haven’t…told you…about… (pause) I’ve developed a drug addiction.

Ralph: It’s quite all right. I’m sure I’ll forget it in a moment.

Becky: Did you?

Ralph: What?

Becky: Huh?

Ralph: Oh look, it’s Spring!

Becky: Ohhh – chocolates!

Ralph: The seasons changed and I didn’t even notice.

Becky: I bought you these.

Ralph: You are so thoughtful.

Becky: Why would I buy you chocolates? Have we been fighting? Oh, are you all right?

Ralph: (eats) Oh, it’s nougat. Why don’t they stop putting nougat in these things?

Becky: I love nougat. That’s the kind of chocolates you should be buying for me.

Ralph: Oh my God, it’s Summer! The seasons pass so fast.

Becky: They do. I have a question for you.

Ralph: Yes?

Becky: What does the name “Timothy” mean when I say it to you?

Ralph: It was my father’s middle name.

Becky: If we have a child, we should call him Timothy!

Ralph: I love you so much. You’re the best.

Becky: Are we going to do it? Are we going to have children?

Ralph: Let me check…

Becky: All right, let me check…

Ralph: According to the calendar it’s my time of the month.

Becky: And according to the encyclopaedia, “Aardvark,” I guess.

Ralph: Somebody broke into our house and left chocolates!

Becky: Well why don’t you try one and see if they’re poisoned?

Ralph: (eats) Mmm, cherry.

Becky: I love cherry!

Ralph. Me too. I don’t think it’s a real cherry, I think it’s a fake cherry.

Becky: That’s what I like about it. I have found reality to be so unfulfilling.

Ralph: People get too caught up in “Who did this?” and “Who did that?” and “Who murdered their son?”

Becky: Oh, speaking of which, I just remembered something: our bathtub is full of blood.

Ralph: And there’s all this extra meat in the freezer.

Becky: I’d better call my sister. I’ll have her over for dinner. (dials phone)

Ralph: It must be Thanksgiving, because it’s Fall.

Becky: (dials phone) Hello, Janice? I murdered my son… I’ll call you back. Now what was I saying?

Ralph: I don’t know. It’s very peculiar.

Becky: Chocolates!

Ralph: Yes!

Becky: Oh honey, I love you.

Ralph: I love you so much.

Becky: With Christmas just around the corner, it’s my favourite time of year.

Ralph: It is. I can’t wait to stuff the turkey with you.

Becky: Like, put me inside the turkey?

Ralph: No, it’s a metaphor. I want to have a baby.

Becky: What was your father’s middle name?

Ralph: Timothy.

Becky: Let’s call him that.

Ralph: Shall we?

Becky: I love you.

Ralph: I love you too.

(outro music)

Screen shot 2014-10-30 at 10.41.28 PM

Photos © Oavkille Improv Theatre Company / Bad Dog Theatre Company

There’s nothing quite like the high you get coming off of a great set. But while improvisers get to bask in the spotlight, some of their funniest moments wouldn’t exist without the skill and support of a very special person: the Tech Guy (or Gal).

To the audience they’re invisible, but make no mistake: he or she can make or break your show.

“Pulling the lights on an improv scene is hard,” says Rob Norman. “You have to have a supreme confidence to know when it’s over. To find the biggest laugh of the scene. Sometimes 30 seconds in. Sometimes waiting for 17 minutes.

But also there’s an egolessness about it. It’s not about adding sound effects. Or playing ‘funny’ songs from the booth. You are highlighting success and distracting from failure.

When tech is done right, no one sees your invisible hand. But you have to be completely confident in your job. So egoless that no one knows you’re adding essential elements to what’s happening onstage.”

It’s not easy to sit in a dark, cramped booth, changing lights and cueing songs at a second’s notice. But what about when tech goes wrong? We’ve all seen shows that suffered from poor technical choices. Things like…

• playing, shall we say, idiosyncratic music before a show (emo, nu-metal), instead of stuff that will pump up the crowd

* pulling lights way too early (like, 10 minutes in to a 25-minute Harold)

• not pulling lights, long after a show has died a slow, awkward, squirm-inducing (did we mention slow?) death

Learning how to tech a show takes time, and the only way to learn is on the job.

On the flip side, there are some are very talented light and sound technicians. In Toronto we’re fortunate to have folks like Darryl Pring, Gord Oxley, and Josh Murray toiling behind the scenes to make performers look good. And perhaps no one is more respected, even revered, than Mark Andrada.

Photo © David Leyes

Photo © David Leyes

Like Robocop or Steve Austin, Mark operates on an almost other-worldly level. To find out how he does it, we asked the community. If you want to know what qualities make a great technician, read on.

“[Mark] is a very skilled clown and improviser, so he gets it. He gets the timing of a joke or blowline, he gets where a scene starts and therefore where it should end. He can anticipate what’s about to happen and lend to it with a lighting change or music or even over the microphone. And if you don’t want him involved you can ask him to stay out and he’s not offended, unless he decides to jump in and fuck with you anyway.” – Gary Rideout Jr

“He is often the best improviser in the room – and that’s behind the tech booth. I’ve seen his tech choices save scenes and make them better, and I’ve been there when his choices are the scene. He is insanely quick with improvised tech cues, and they are always on point.” – Matt Folliott

“The shows Mark techs are alive. There’s this feeling of security when he’s in the booth. I trust him immensely. But also there’s this feeling of danger which I love, because he’s good enough to fuck with you and heighten what’s going on, so again, it’s like there’s an all-seeing, omnipotent being watching over the show and pushing you to play better. Oh, and he also appreciates and respects good theatre. So he knows how to push the boundaries of what’s possible.” – Isaac Kessler

“Mark Andrada puts a huge amount of effort into making sure Mantown is the best [show] it can be every month. We throw a lot at him and he’s never complained, been frustrated or unreliable.

Just this last Mantown, we had a pre-recorded insult that was supposed to show up in our second audience interaction game. We assumed the audience was going to have a hard time reading a joke we had written down and we could play the recorded “T-T-Today junior” from Billy Madison. However, Rob Baker got a little confused while explaining a game in the first half of the show and instantly Mark Andrada played the insult and it was perfectly timed and unexpected. The audience blew up with laughter and Rob Baker blushed, as he does.” – Adam Cawley

And there you have it. A great tech person listens, watches, pushes, and plays, shaping and heightening what’s happening, and lifting the performers, the audience, and the show.

It’s a demanding and often thankless task, so let’s show them some appreciation. For all those who do it, week after week, in Montreal, Vancouver, New York, Chicago, LA, London, and beyond, this one’s for you…

Detroit may be known more for Impalas than improv, but that’s changing fast thanks to Chris Moody. The 2014 Detroit Improv Festival takes place August 3-10, with 200 improvisers from across North America putting on 20 performances and 15 workshops. We spoke with Chris about the festival, rubbing shoulders with improv royalty, and the importance of giving back.

Photo © Heather Sejnowski

Photo © Heather Sejnowski

P&C: Tell us how you came to be involved with the festival, and why?

CM: Well I am a transplant; I grew up in Philadelphia and moved out here about 10 years ago. I started doing improv because I wound up going with my wife to see a show at Go Comedy! Improv Theater when it first opened up. It was a New Year’s Eve show and I [saw] that there were classes.

It just happened that both my wife and I were laid off at the same time, so I was looking for something to take my mind off of job hunting, and improv turned out to be the cure.

My day job is planning trade shows. I’m an Operations Manager, so getting things together, working on timelines and putting an event together was kind of what I’d been doing pretty much my entire professional life.

I approached the owners at Go Comedy! and asked them if they ever wanted to produce a festival, just let me know, and it turned out to be that year. We started four years ago, and each year we try to do something different to bring the best improv from around North America to our community.

P&C: And looking at your guests it looks like you’re doing an amazing job, especially for a festival as relatively new as yours.

CM: We’re extremely fortunate with a lot of incredible improvisers who have gone on to film, television, stage careers returning to the city to perform in the festival.

Keegan-Michael Key obviously, his meteoric rise through Key and Peele, got his start here in Detroit at a theatre that he helped open called the Planet Ant Theater, the longest-running theater that does improv in Detroit.

Tim Robinson knows the guys at Go Comedy, so we had a real good base of improvisers from around the country that helped us produce our first couple of festivals, and from there, through friends of friends we’ve been able to add on and increase the talent.

P&C: This year you’re bringing Fred Willard on opening night for a special screening of Best in Show.

CM: Yeah, we’ve always wanted to do something to attract theatre-goers to improv, because like many other cities, not many people really know what improv is. Some people think it’s stand-up comedy, Whose Line Is It Anyway? is a good resource and a good introduction, but we really wanted to introduce the locals to long form improvisation. And we felt by bringing this improvised film to a large theatre – it seats 1,600 people – we think that might be able to attract new audience members.

P&C: That’s a fantastic idea. Cameron and I know it can be like pulling teeth to get people who aren’t familiar to come see improv. Even my family was convinced it was stand-up with hecklers and they didn’t wanna go near it. Using an improvised film is a fantastically creative way to get new people involved.

CM: We were able to get Fred Willard through some Detroit connections. The Detroit Creativity Project is a non-profit that started teaching improv in the Detroit public schools, complimentary because of school budgetary cuts.

It was started by a gentleman named Marc Evan Jackson who’s a member of The 313 with Keegan. He started his project with the help of many other Detroit improvisers, and had a fundraiser in LA and Fred Willard participated in that. He was introduced to many of the Detroit improvisers in LA, and was kind enough to come out and do a Q&A for opening night, and he’s actually going to perform long form improv with his improv troupe, the MoHos.

P&C: That’s very cool. We just saw him on Andy Daly’s new show, Review.

CM: Yeah, he’s everywhere.

P&C: What have been your favourite performers or shows over the last four years?

CM: Well personally, my favourite thing about the festival has been the appearance by TJ and Dave last year. They came out and did two shows during the festival and they’re my all-time favourites. We had TJ come out the past couple of years, and last year we were able to get both TJ and Dave to Detroit. It was both sold-out performances and I marked it on my calendar not to miss those shows.

P&C: Oh yeah, I envy people who can see them regularly, in Chicago or New York.

Photo © Heather Sejnowski

Photo © Heather Sejnowski

P&C: Who are some of the other guests you’re bringing to the festival this year?

CM: Well we’d been trying to get John Glaser to come back to Detroit for the festival. He grew up in Southfield, Michigan which is about 10 minutes from Detroit, and he has agreed to come out. He asked if a couple of other performers he regularly performs with could come out as well, so Kevin Dorff will come out, Tim Robinson will be joining him, as well as Mike O’Brien from Saturday Night Live. So the four of them are gonna perform together and we’re extremely excited about that.

P&C: Amazing.

CM: Susan Messing has been to our festival each year, and each year she performs with a different person. This year she’s going to perform with Norm Holly, who is head of the Second City Conservatory. He is from Michigan, right outside of Detroit, so it’s a bit of a welcome home for him as well.

And then Colleen Doyle and Jason Shotts, who are two of my favourite performers out in Chicago, will be performing their show DUMMY.

P&C: The festival runs for eight days. That’s long!

CM: We increased the amount of days because of the festival starting on the Sunday night at the Redford Theater for Best in Show. We also wanted to highlight the Planet Ant Theater on Monday, which is their improv night. And Tuesday and Wednesday night we’re going to do a couple of local shows downtown at the Boll Family YMCA Theater.

Tuesday night’s show will be the Detroit Neutrino Project, the improvised film. And Wednesday night we’re going to have a showcase and fundraiser for the Detroit Creativity Project where students and alumni come back and perform, and a few others shows as well. Natasha Boomer is going to come out with Wheel of Improv that evening, which we’re incredibly excited about.

P&C: Oh, very cool.

CM: And then ThursdayFriday and Saturday night we move to Ferndale, Michigan where we have shows at the Go Comedy! Improv Theater, the Rust Belt, the Ringwald Theatre, and we’re going to do a family-friendly show on Saturday at the new ComedySportz Detroit.

P&C: That’s a very full schedule.

CM: It is, and it’s nice because all of the theaters – especially the ones in Ferndale – are just a couple of blocks from each other. So you can go from show to show. You catch the beginning of one show, you can catch the end of another show very easily; it’s very attendee-friendly and performer-friendly.

P&C: That’s terrific. Can you tell us a little about the workshops you’ll be offering?

CM: Sure. Depending on when everybody comes in, we have workshops on FridaySaturday and Sunday. Sometimes if a performer can only come on theTuesday or Wednesday we’ll do another workshop during the week for some of our local improvisers, but our main workshops take place during the day.

The nice thing about our workshops is, not only do you get a two-and-a-half hour workshop, you also get a free meal, whether it be dinner if it’s a night workshop or lunch at our BBQ on Saturday or Sunday.

P&C: Nice. Now, switching gears for a moment, because you’re relatively close to Toronto you’ve had a number of Canadians attend the festival. Do you notice any difference between US and Canadian performers’ styles?

CM: Not so much styles. I travel up to Toronto quite a bit, so I’ve got to know a lot of the improvisers in the area fairly well over the past four years. From Mantown to 2-Man No-Show, Ghost Girls, We’re From Here, Darcy & Bingley, Jess Grant’s solo, POMP… They’re so strong and so character-based, it’s a nice complement to our festival line-up. You can tell they’ve been working together for quite some time and they’re among the most unique and elite improvisers that I’ve ever seen.

Photo © Heather Sejnowski

Photo © Heather Sejnowski

P&C: I think it’s great for Canadians that you have such a rich offering of performers that a lot of us may not get a chance to see very easily or very often, so it’s nice that you also enjoy what Toronto has to offer.

OK, last but not least, DIF is a non-profit. Can you give us a bit of background on that?

CM: The festival is run by the Detroit Improv Collective Inc. It’s a 501(c)(3) non-profit that produces workshops and other events, including fundraisers which we do throughout the course of the year.

Over the past couple years we’ve partnered with Gilda’s Club of Metro Detroit, to help produce the festival; they’re actively involved. We do monthly workshops at Gilda’s Club, and we help out whenever possible.

We have a fundraiser coming up on May 20th for Gilda’s Club and the festival; we’re gonna feature some of our amazing local troupes and Joe Bill from Chicago is going to be in town and participate in the fundraiser. Gilda’s Club means a lot to me both personally and professionally. We’ve tried to do whatever we can to support them.

P&C: That’s fantastic. Well, thanks for your time Chris, and break a leg in August!

For more details, visit: Festival Submissions are open until June 8.

There’s a scene in 500 Days of Summer where we see a split screen of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character’s expectations, versus reality.

That’s how I felt the first year I produced The October 21st Greater Toronto Improv Festival.

For those who don’t know, the O21GTIF is a one-day festival. In other words, a show. A regular show. Except in my mind.

You wanna talk expectations?

I shit you not, I pictured (and believed) I’d need a velvet rope to control the crowds in the alley fighting to get in. I emailed the teams involved to warn them that they probably wouldn’t get seats to see the other teams perform. AND, and this is true, I fought with people at the venue because I wanted to knock down a wall to make more room for seating. I was, as they say, batshit crazy.

The show was stacked with amazing performers and more than anything I wanted the world to see them. I wanted the whole goddamn world to be there and experience the joy and love of improv and spread that love around the world.

The night of the event about 25 people showed up.

I was devastated. Where were the crowds? Where were the news cameras? Where were the ghosts of my grandparents proudly doing a slow clap? Where was the whole world?

To make matters worse, my team was the opening act. I struggled through the set with a broken heart and mind, handed over hosting duties to my teammate Isaac, and collapsed onto one of the many empty seats in the audience. Defeated.

Two things I learned that night:

1) It’s much worse in your mind than it actually is.

I remember going to the bar after, and the other performers were laughing and having a good time and talking about how fun the show was. Outside my devastated mind, a great show had happened. Wish I’d been there (mentally) to see it.

2) Know the difference between expectations and reality.

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, and dreaming big. Just know that desperately wanting something to happen doesn’t guarantee it’ll happen. 500 “going” on facebook doesn’t quite translate to 500 actually showing up. Or 50.

This last year I took my own advice and went in with no expectations, and fucking loved it. So much fun. I was more relaxed and open to whatever, and enjoyed the shit out of it. And not surprisingly, when you’re not smacking of desperation for people to show up, more people show up.

I recommend everyone try and produce their own show at least once. You’ll grow as a performer, and as a person. And I guarantee you’ll appreciate producers a hell of a lot more.