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Posts tagged improv couples

Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus are inseparable, both onstage and off. They’re Second City alumni, founding members of the National Theatre of the World, and creators of a new sketch revue, Baram & Snieckus: You And Me Both. We asked them about their unique brand of chemistry.

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P&C: How and when did you meet?

Matt: I was just coming back from a west coast swing with the Second City Touring Company. In fact I had to leave the tour early because my mother had passed away. And at the same time, I found out that the rest of the Touring Company had been let go and replaced. And when I came back to work, I saw Naomi’s headshot on our touring manager’s desk and I was intrigued to find out who the new firecracker was. Because I knew everyone else but I didn’t know her.

Naomi: Right, because I crashed the auditions. I happened to be in town visiting friends. So you wouldn’t know me. And we ran into each other outside of Second City.

Matt: And you had told me that your-

Naomi: My grandmother passed away that morning.

Matt: And so there was an immediate um…

Naomi: Connection.

Matt: Right. And I told her I was going to get a coffee, did she want one?

Naomi: And I thought that was lovely. I don’t know why I was so moved.

Matt: Had anyone else asked you?

Naomi: Nobody else has ever asked me if I wanted coffee before that.

Matt: In your life?

Naomi: Nope.

Matt: There you go. And so there we were in front of Second City with our coffees. Both of us dealing with so much. Naomi having just moved to Toronto from Vancouver. Her grandmother just passed away. And there I was, all of my friends had just been let go and I was about to meet my new company, and my mother had just passed away.

Naomi: Little did we know, we were about to start this new chapter together. A partnership that would take us to where we are today. Baram and Snieckus.

P&C: When did you know you liked each other?

Matt: Well we started doing Main-stage and we discovered our chemistry together. We started to create more and more together until it became annoying to others in the company I’m sure.

Naomi: We began to build up this stockpile of relationship material. If there was a relationship scene at Second City from 2003 – 2006, chances are, we were in it. If someone else wanted to do a couple scene, we would come and say, no!

Matt: Yes, we would come and we would threaten them. Relationship premises was our turf.

Naomi: We slowly realized that we had gone through the entire evolution of a relationship together in the sketches we were developing.

Matt: That’s right. There was the First Date Couple, Couple Running Out Of Gas, Proposal Couple, Sleeping Together Couple,  Anniversary Couple, Dominatrix Couple. We even did a sketch where we played two dogs falling in love.

Naomi: And we would spend all that time creating together. And performing together on stage. And so in a way, the audience knew that we were in love before we did.

Matt: It was a complicated time beyond belief because we were both in committed relationships. We both loved our partners deeply but we also couldn’t ignore how special our relationship was becoming. It was literally the best of times and the worst of times.

P&C: Wow. So, what’s the funniest moment you’ve had onstage together?

Matt: For me, I think it’s hard to think of the funniest moment we’ve had because we are so invested in the moments and it’s hard to step back and really enjoy them. But that being said, we also record a great deal of what we improvise for the purposes of developing our ideas further. And I can remove myself enough from the moment then and really enjoy the stuff we’re doing. And the stuff Naomi has done has made me lose it on many occasions.

There’s this one sketch that’s in the current show called “Make A Wish” where Naomi’s character is attempting to stop me from wishing aloud because it won’t come true if it’s wished aloud. And she demonstrates how to wish without speaking and it makes me howl every time.

Naomi: We used to do this show called The Carnegie Hall Show and Matt had just proposed to me the night before. And we had agreed that we weren’t going to tell anyone until we got married. I think it was Matt that insisted that. And then we were doing the intro bits and Matt says, “Uh… I proposed to her last night.” So we told our audience before we told many of our friends.

Matt: It’s weird that way. You just get so used to the audience being there for you that you end up feeling comfortable sharing everything with them.

Naomi: I’m not sure you had told your brother yet.

Matt: Still haven’t.

Naomi: Anytime you have a mustache onstage, I can’t help but laugh.

Matt: You too.

P&C: You perform together a lot. How has improv helped (or hindered) your relationship?

Naomi: We get to play a lot together. And be together more often than other couples do. Because we have this company together. Also it doesn’t surprise me that I would fall in love with an improviser. Because when you are first in love you say yes to everything. You want that person to look good. You say yes to all of their ideas. You laugh at them.

Matt: It’s not until you really feel comfortable with someone when you can really filter in the “no”s and the “you’re on your own”s and the “I’m not going to go along with that”s.

Naomi: But you still make me feel like the funniest woman in the world.

Matt: We laugh at each other a lot. And Naomi is an easy laugh.

Naomi: Are you calling me a laugh slut?

Matt: I’m saying you give good laugh.

Naomi: Thanks.

P&C: What impact has improv had on your careers?

Naomi: I would say that because I’m an improviser and because my husband is one too, my comedy muscles are always limber. Which is good for auditions, hosting, gigs, and son on. I don’t have to gear up my funny bones to get ready all the time.

Matt: I agree and there are many gigs that require you to punch up scripts on the fly.

Naomi: We’re always punching each other up.

Matt: That sounds violent.

Naomi: It’s how we do.

Matt: You don’t talk like that.

Naomi: Word.

Matt: Also we create our own work through improvisation. So it has not only been a tool for writing and collaboration but it’s also been the main focus for us for that last several years with The National Theatre of The World. Impromptu Splendor, The Carnegie Hall Show, and The Script Tease Project are all improvised premises.

P&C: What inspired your new sketch show?

Naomi: Well, Theatre Passe Muraille asked if we wanted to be a part of their Guest Company Series. And not ones to turn things down, we jumped at the chance. To have a space offered to you like that is a real gift.

Matt: And there’s no greater gift for an artist than a deadline. We basically made ourselves find the time to write and rehearse this.

Naomi: And we spent months thinking of what kind of show we wanted to do. We came up with a half a dozen improv formats we wanted to try.

Matt: But then we also realized that over the years, we’ve created so much work that evaporates into the ether. Because it’s improvisation and unrepeatable.

Naomi: So he had the idea that we build up our sketch catalogue.

Matt: And we’re always writing based on improvisations that we do in front of audiences. Based on suggestions. And recording them. And so we decided to take those kernels and flesh then out.

Naomi: And that’s when Kurt Smeaton, our director, came on the scene. He helped us flesh some things out and helped distill our sketch list down to a cool ten or so.

Matt: I mean the type of stuff he, Scotty, and Jim have been doing with Falcon Powder has inspired us for sure.

Naomi: And we have enough material for a couple of shows.

Matt: But one at a time.

Naomi: That’s right.

Matt: We hope Baram & Snieckus: You And Me Both is the first of many.

Naomi: What are some future titles we were thinking of?

Matt: Heels over Head?

Naomi: And there was the “Reunion Tour” idea.

Matt: Right after we break up and get back together.

Naomi: They’re Still Alive!

Matt: That should be a fun one.

Naomi: I hope we’re both alive.

Matt: You and Me Both.

Paul and Christy are Second City alumni whose comedic skills cut like a knife. He’s one third of improvised sci-fi comedy podcast Illusionoid, and she’s the star of countless stage and screen productions. We asked them how they landed their favourite role, as man and wife.

Photo © Paul Bates

Photo © Paul Bates

P&C: How and when did you meet?

Paul: I’m not sure when Christy and I first met. But the first time I can remember us talking is when she was in Second City’s Touring Company and I was directing her for a corporate show. I am not above using my status for my own gain.

Christy: It was Second City (2000?), the first time I remember seeing Paul was after I got hired for the Touring Co. and snuck in to watch the Mainstage show. There was Paul Bates as Stephen Hawking and I thought to myself “Who’s that funny guy?” I don’t remember him directing me…I must have blocked that out of my memory for some reason. Bates, we need to talk about that!

P&C: When did you first know you liked the other person?

Paul: The moment I laid eyes on her, across the upstairs bar at 56 Blue Jays Way.

Christy: First of all, Paul’s answer made me melt. I actually knew I liked him that same moment I first saw him on stage. It’s a bit odd to think that a guy pretending to be Hawking is hot.

P&C: Were you ever (or are you now) on the same team? What’s it like performing together?

Paul: We’re on the same team when we discipline our child (corporal punishment) but I can’t recall being on a Theatresports team with Christy.

Christy: I love playing with Paul; it doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. Especially now that he snuck a baby into our lives. Now shows are a little bit more of “divide and conquer.” It’s hard enough doing a show for free, but to pay $15/hour to do a show is even harder.

P&C: What’s the best, worst, or funniest moment you’ve had on stage – either together, or with the other person watching?

Paul: The worst: Christy tried to pretend to hit me in the nuts. But instead hit me in the nuts very, very hard. To her dismay we still conceived. (Christy: I forgot about that. It was a pretty funny moment, for me.)

The best/funniest moments I’ve had with my wife is performing The Soaps, the improvised soap opera she produced. The best one we did is the one that took place in the War of 1812.

Christy: I think some of the best moments were when I filled in for Aurora on the Second City Mainstage show for a week. It was really that week that gave us more time together and made us realize there was more to the attraction than just crushes. To be able to play with someone on stage and having them make you laugh really ups the connection factor.

Honestly, Paul makes me laugh every time I watch him and perform with him. It reminds me of why I fell in love with in the first place (not a hilarious answer, but true). When Paul is in the audience watching, I get a little nervous, but I also know he always has my back. Which is the best.

P&C: Has improv helped your relationship?

Paul: We listen. We say yes. We support each other. Counselling has helped too.

Christy: The skills of Improv are definitely tools for a good relationship. Also knowing what the other person is going through when they have a bad show is a huge help. We come from different ‘schools’ of improv. I’m Keith Johnstone based, he’s….I actually haven’t figured that out yet. Let’s just say, I’ve taught him a lot.

P&C: What impact has improvisation had on your careers?

Paul: Second City gave me my start and continues to give me new and exciting opportunities. I am forever grateful.

Christy: Improv is such an important and overlooked skill in the acting world. My background in improv has booked me commercials, a gig on Broadway, a show in the West End, and has given me a confidence on stage when the wheels fall off during a ‘proper play’…so much so that I kind of live for the wheels to fall off. It’s also shown me that the best warm-up for a show is a drink or two. In a way, Improv is my career.

Chris and Laura are staples of the comedy community. Chris shot and directed How To Spot An Improviser, and Laura is one half of hilarious sketch duo, Two Weird Ladies, among many other things. We got all real talk on their relationship.

Photo © Laura Salvas

Photo © Laura Salvas

P&C: How and when did you meet?

Chris: Laura claims it was at a party of a mutual friend. I have no recollection of this.

Laura: That’s because it was 2:30 am on New Year’s Day and Chris was drunk. Though it’s good to know I failed to make any sort of lasting impression.

The first time I noticed Chris was at a Vanguard improv show at The Supermarket. I thought he was really funny so I tucked his existence away in my mind. Then I tried to talk to him at the party he doesn’t remember. To be fair, the conversation was very boring.

Chris: One of my earliest memories of hanging out with Laura is the Del Close Marathon in New York the summer of 2010. At the end-of-festival dance party, we took a photo with one of our friends. We look like we’re having the time of our lives, and that we kidnapped him against his will. It’s one of my favourite photos and part of my earliest memories with Laura.

Laura: We hung out at DCM in 2010 and again in 2011, but the first time we really got to know each other was during the 2011 Toronto Improv Festival. We’d both gone to see shows alone, and although we knew lots of people at Comedy Bar, we were both pretty socially awkward and ended up just talking to each other all night.

A week later we were back at Comedy Bar for Halloween. I was dressed as Zombie Princess Di and Chris was dressed as some comic book character called Axe Cop that I’d never heard of in my life. Despite my tasteless costume and abundant zombie makeup, we got drunk and made out. Yadda, yadda, yadda – we’re getting married in November. I’ll really have to work on this story before we have kids. So they respect us and stuff.  

Chris: They can respect Laura all they want. I’m planning on being the embarrassing dad.

P&C: When did you first know you liked the other person?

Chris: I stage-liked Laura when I saw the remount of her Second City Conservatory show, Citizen Vain. I thought she was hilarious.

I started to like-like her at the Del Close Marathon in 2011. (Notice a trend?) Four of us were discussing Seinfeld, and which characters we were most like. She was Elaine, and I was George. I was a little distraught, as only in Jason Alexander’s fan fiction would Elaine ever fall for George. Luckily over the course of the festival we got to get to know each other more.

I wouldn’t make a move until months later when I ran into her at Comedy Bar. After a long discussion I came up with the brilliant flirting line, “I don’t want to date comedians.” Somehow we got together. (Booze.)

Laura: I found Chris appealing from the moment I saw him on stage as part of his Vanguard show. Mostly because he was funny and I really liked the way he improvised. But also he was attractive and was dressed in a weird skater/slacker/I-do-improv-and-have-no-money style that I particularly liked.

But I felt we really hit it off at DCM. Finding out Chris loves Seinfeld and relates most to George Costanza was sadly a big plus for me, as I am somewhat of a female Larry David.

Chris was just as excited as I was to spend hours in FAO Schwartz looking at toys, and together we came up with the plot to a sequel to the movie Big, called Little, starring Colin Hanks. A love for Seinfeld, affinity for Lego, and abnormally detailed knowledge of a 1980s Tom Hanks classic. What was not to like?

Photo © Laura Salvas

Photo © Laura Salvas

P&C: Have you ever performed together?

Chris: We were never on the same improv team, but we did write and perform in a sketch revue together. We’re both Type A (okay, I’m more of an A minus) so we got stuff done. She is a crazy talented comedy writer, so she brought out the best in me.

Laura: We were both part of a short-run improv show where we improvised episodes of Degrassi Junior High. Man – we really need to bring that show back. It was so much fun. I played pregnant Spike and Chris played Mr. Raditch.

Other than that, we’ve done a few one-off shows together, co-wrote a news joke podcast, and worked together writing and acting in an anti-Ford municipal election sketch show.

It’s great working with someone who shares your crazy work ethic and obsession with detail (even if it’s maybe because they’re a little scared of how Type A you are). I remember I initially said I didn’t want to be that couple who does improv together. Now I actually want to start an improv duo with Chris called “That Couple Who.” I should remember to ask him about that…

Chris: Laura, remember to ask me about that.

P&C: What’s the best, worst, or funniest moment you’ve had improvising together?

Chris: In a workshop we were given the task of improvising as each other on a date. For some couples this could be an effective means to truncate a relationship. We certainly fell into the trap of pointing out each other’s flaws: she talked about superheroes and checked her phone a lot, while I took the entire scene to decide what to order. I also made note to correct the grammar of the menu.

While the people watching thought they were seeing a couple air their grievances, we were, in a way, retelling the night where I realized I loved her. I’d come back from the washroom at Fran’s Restaurant to find Laura correcting their menu with a green pen. They had a fascination with unnecessary apostrophes. It was at that moment I knew it was love. (I’m fairly certain she thought I would bail immediately.)

Laura: Not improv, but the worst for me was the one time Chris saw me do stand-up. I used to be a pretty decent stand-up, but I didn’t love it the way I love sketch and improv so I retired. A couple years later, after I started dating Chris, on a whim I did stand-up once, using new material I’d written the night before. Untested material, mostly about travelling to a crowd who either had never travelled or thought I wasn’t funny.

So the only time Chris saw me do stand-up I really fell flat. It haunts me. It’s like skipping Wayne’s World and Austin Powers and going straight to The Love Guru; you’re never going to believe that Mike Myers was once funny.

P&C: How has improv helped your relationship?

Chris: We’re in the final stages of planning our wedding. We have to keep reminding each other that we can’t just choose the funniest thing, that our wedding should also be sentimental.

Laura: If it weren’t for improv, we never would have met, never would have continued to meet and never would have yes-and-ed our Halloween drink consumption to get to the point where we were drunk enough to make a move.

Since then, I’ve realized how important it is to have someone who understands the desire to dedicate your time doing something you love for free. We both understand when the other person has stretches of time when they’re never home, we both understand the importance of going to each other’s shows and supporting each other, we both understand that there’s no “end goal” in doing improv – we both plan and hope to do it for as long as we are able.

People who aren’t passionate about an art form, playing a sport, etc, often don’t understand these things. Plus, our relationship has been fun.

P&C: What impact has improv had on your careers?

Chris: I was in a toxic seven-year relationship with a nation-wide book chain. In my interview with my current employer, my boss doubted my ability to take rejection well. I’d be doing sales if I got the job, and it’s not a job for everyone. I told him, “I auditioned for Second City Conservatory for five years until I got in, I think I can handle rejection.” He replied, “You’re hired.”

Laura: If we’re talking about my day job, not going to lie – improv has probably mostly hurt my career. While it has helped my people skills to a certain degree, it also means I say things without thinking and can be an unprofessional piece of trash who sometimes crosses the line without meaning to.

Recently before entering a meeting with a high-level exec, my boss had to pull me aside and warn me not to do anything dumb. Essentially all I can do is be myself and hope the people who matter like my sense of humour. And of course being involved in the arts makes it hard to sit at a desk being all non-creative and stuff. Improv is about creating, exploring new ideas and being innovative, but sometimes the corporate world is not open to change and just wants to go by the book, which I find challenging.

Outside of the office, improv has helped me immensely in auditions and other forms of comedy. Recently during my solo play, the power went out halfway through the show. Alone on stage in the dark, I’ve never been more grateful for my improv skills.

That said, making $40 on a play you spend hundreds of hours writing, producing and acting in hardly counts as a career. During the day I sit at a desk reading legal contracts and writing professionally-worded emails, then trying not to say anything that will get me fired when I’m in meetings with VPs. But I am slowly taking the steps I need to to become a writer for television, and once that dream comes true my improv skills will help me immensely.

Harper Halloween

(Chris wins for scariest costume as Stephen Harper. And did we mention the Comedy Bar Halloween show is right around the corner?)

A bunch of really cool, really funny people met through improv. We asked some of our favourite couples how they hooked up.

Photo © Kenway Yu

Photo © Kenway Yu

P&C: How and when did you meet?

Laura: Josh and I first met in a weekend musical improv workshop. I recognized him from Impatient Theatre Company, but he was a later generation than me, and I wasn’t really in that segment of the scene anymore.

Josh: Laura wrote an article for my blog after the improv workshop. I remember seeing her sing and being like – Whoa! Who is this person I’ve never met before? What a voice! I could tell she was captivated by me, but I played it cool.

P&C: When did you first know you liked the other person?

Laura: When we first met at the workshop, he was dating someone else, and I was aiming to seduce the instructor. We didn’t really think much of each other until the Comedy Bar Halloween party of 2011. He was dressed as Gazpacho the genie, and I was a slutty sandwich board for Occupy Sesame Street.

When I kissed him that night, and his breath stunk of garlic from all the gazpacho he’d been eating, I really didn’t think it was going anywhere. We’re getting married next year.

Josh: Laura was instantly taken by my confidence and sex appeal at the Comedy Bar Halloween party. It was clear she was smitten, and I decided to give her a chance. The next few months were a whirlwind romance.

P&C: What’s it like performing together?

Laura: We first performed together as a duo called Lil Zazzers. He wanted to name our child that, so I used the name for our improv duo to ensure that name was used for something else.

We also performed together on a team called Crazy Horse at SoCap. Josh and I often improvise scenes, songs, and characters privately to each other, so performing together is really just being our private selves in front of people. Our sense of play generally focuses on finding creative ways to annoy each other. Like my clown: Cramps, the menstruating clown.

Josh: When we have twins, they will both be named “Lil Zazzers” and will be a Vaudevillian comedy duo. Think gold lamé, canes, a top hat, pencil moustaches, etc.

P&C: How has improv helped your relationship?

Laura: We always listen to each other, say yes to each other’s ideas, and generally avoid judging each other, so that is wonderful. I think that listening all the way to the end of the other person’s sentence before formulating a response is a great skill for relationships and life in general, and one that I still work on.

And then of course there are the endless bits, voices, etc. Also, if one of us has a bad set, it’s great that the other can offer constructive feedback and not just be totally embarrassed. Josh has also coached me, and he is a fantastic coach!

Josh: What Laura said.

P&C: In what way has improv influenced your career?

Laura: I work now as a music teacher, and I’ll be teaching a class on performance skills for musicians this year to kids. It’s all improv based, because improv is a great way to help any type of performer come out of his or her shell.

Josh : I work at the University of Guelph. I use improv in my training and coaching to build rapport with my staff and help them get comfortable with their work.

P&C: What’s the best, worst, or most memorable show you’ve done together?

Laura: My favourite show was a jam at Unit 102 a few years ago with some other people. The suggestion we got was “bigotry,” which is pretty heavy for a random jam. We were with a great group of people, and we really threw it to the wall.

Scenes included the Museum of Racism featuring Star Trek, a billionaire Chinese businessman becoming a soap opera director, Aunt Jemima taking questions at her Ted Talk, and 100-year-old Rosa Parks demanding a seat on a crowded bus. I don’t know if we moved mountains that day, but we certainly threw the audience’s shitty suggestion back in their face. I was proud of us!

(Hot tip: Comedy Bar‘s Halloween party is just around the corner.)