Posts tagged S&P Comedy

Improv teams come and go, but every so often one beats the odds and stays together for six months, a year, or longer. And the longer you stick together, the more you can heighten and explore what makes your team unique, both onstage and off.

Toronto’s Standards & Practices have been together since 2007. Over the years, they’ve developed their own style of performing. And as they’ve evolved, so has their image. We thought we’d share some, to inspire how you think about your own team.

In the beginning, S&P had 10 members. At some point Tom Vest took it upon himself to develop a graphic look and feel for the team, including fake merch (and possibly our favourite promo video ever):

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When Tom left, the group had whittled down to Matt, Cameron, Kevin and Isaac. They began using random images of foursomes to represent themselves on social media.

Spot the Isaac.

More recently, Kevin Whalen has steered the team’s image in an ever-more-imaginative direction where, like an S&P show, anything is possible.



When you’re committed to a team, you can have a lot of fun with how you perform, dress, write about, and present yourselves. Here are some more ideas to try:

• Get a professional photographer to take some team pictures. Bring a couple of changes of clothes, or even costumes.

• Make promo videos. They can be themed to tie in with your show, an ongoing series, or just funny one-offs. Use live action, finger puppets, stop motion, parody…whatever. It might be a 30-second gibberish scene with subtitles that you film on your iPhone. Experiment and see where it leads you.

• Don’t just write a straightforward description of your upcoming show; let your inner David Sedaris (or Steve Martin, or Hunter S. Thompson) loose. Here’s a sample S&P description:

Standards & Practices take you on a groovy trip through the silky smooth Dream Highway on the road to Laidbackville U.S.A. – RIGHTBEFOREWEFUCKYOURBRAINS – tonight – 9 pm – Comedy Bar.

Honestly, who could resist an invitation like that?

• Choose a theme song that reflects your team’s vibe, gets you in the mood to improvise, or just means something to you. TJ and Dave always come out to Commie Drives A Nova by The Ike Reilly Assassination. S&P shows start with the first few bars of Carmina Burana in total darkness, then the lights come up as they kick in to an upbeat song like Move Your Feet to blast the cobwebs from everyone’s minds.

Now, maybe you’re more Improvised Shakespeare than crazed comic superheroes, and that’s cool. Whatever your flava, just make sure you celebrate it.

So you have to write a bio for your festival submission/Facebook page/fringe show. Now what?

Most performer bios are straight, earnest write-ups with a laundry list of every show the person’s ever done.


Unless you work for Second City, where bios read like a playbill from Smallville High (“Jimmy Jones is thrilled to be in his third Mainstage revue…“), this is a chance to let your comedy skills shine.

A snappy, well-written profile will make you stand out, so spend a few minutes and make it fun. Below are three great examples. First up, a solo bio for the improvised show, Throne of Games:

Kevin Whalen “Petyr Baelish”

Kevin Whalen is delighted to reprise his role as “Lord Baelish” in Throne of Games. When not playing a self-centered, two-faced pimp, Kevin can be found eating nachos. During pre and post nacho eating, Kevin is probably teaching comedy at the The Second City Training Centre or perhaps performing sketch with The Second City Touring Company. If none of the above applies, you might find him improvising with the comedy troupe S&P or at home deciding which plaid shirt accurately reflects his mood today.


It starts off like a typical bio, then takes a left turn into funny. The self-deprecating tone is a refreshing change from the usual platitudes, and gives an insight into Kevin’s personality. Now let’s look at a team bio:

Standards & Practices

(Cameron Algie, Matt Folliott, Isaac Kessler and Kevin Whalen) BIG BANG. Four gods of improv explode onto the stage and create a new world. A world without rules, limitations or laughterlessness. Using their training from Annoyance, UCB, iO, ITC, Second City and Bad Dog, they organically follow the ideas using extreme characters, heart-wrenching emotional commitment, and wild physicality until there’s order to the chaos. And a new world is born: Awesomeland.

Photomontage © Tom Vest

(Standards & Practices sold separately)

In just a few sentences, Standards & Practices have painted a vivid picture of who they are. And hey, there’s Kevin Whalen again. (What can we say? Dude’s funny.) Note the use of active, playful language that accurately reflects their unique style of improv. For a team bio, you probably don’t need to go into a ton of detail. Just give the reader a taste of what you’re all about in a paragraph or so.

Achtung, baby: S&P’s chutzpah is balanced with brevity. Plus, they consistently deliver the goods. Unless you can do the same, don’t overpromise with a blurb that’s more hubris than humorous.

Now maybe you’re thinking, “That’s all great, but I need to present myself in a professional manner. What if some Big Talent Agent or other really important person reads it?”

As someone who writes copy for a living, I urge you to think of your bio as an ad for yourself. And we all know what happens to boring ads.

It doesn’t matter who you’re trying to impress. Which bio do you think they’ll remember: the one that lists every show you’ve done since you were seven, or the pithy paragraph that made them chuckle? You’re in the entertainment business. Take the opportunity to engage your audience before they set eyes on you.

Now let’s look at that rarest of things, a successful working comedian’s bio:

Anthony Atamanuik 

Anthony Atamanuik has been writing, performing, and producing comedy for over ten years. In 1997 he moved to Los Angeles after graduating with a BS in Film Theory from Emerson College. While living in LA Anthony worked for Jim Henson Interactive, Mr. Show, and sadly, Suzanne Somers. He moved to New York in 2000 and started training and performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in 2002. Anthony has trained with Matt Walsh, Matt Besser, Owen Burke, Billy Merritt, Kevin Mullaney, Seth Morris and others. He performed with various Harold Teams including Creep, and performed with the acclaimed Instant Cinema. Anthony is currently performing with critically acclaimed and award-winning weekend team Death by Roo Roo on Saturday nights. He is also a regular performer in ASSSSCAT 3000 on Sunday night. Anthony also performs his one-man variety show, The Tony and Johnny Show, Tuesday nights at 9:30 pm, and every Wednesday he makes movie magic with Neil W. Casey in the Two Man Movie. He has played various roles in Adult Swim’s Fat Guy Stuck In Internet. He has also appeared on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, The Caroline Rhea Show, The Reggie Watts Live At Central Park Comedy Central Special, and in a very special DVD extra on Todd Barry’s Comedy Central special. For the last 7 seasons, Anthony can be seen on NBC’s 30 Rock, playing a very expressive staff writer who doesn’t speak.

Notice how all three examples have something in the opening and closing that elicits a smile. Even, in fact especially when there’s a lot of info, you want to reward the reader for wading through it.

A lot of bios are written in the third person. It’s more formal, but can come across as pretentious if you’re not careful. (Read some solopreneur websites and you’ll see what we mean.) Whether you write in the first or third person, just avoid coming across as, well, a douchebag. Even though his work is “acclaimed” and “award-winning,” Atamanuik sounds confident but humble.

Update: Since this post was written five years ago, Atamanuik has gone on to land his own series on Comedy Central, The President Show. His brilliant impersonation and improv skills aside, we like to think a kickass bio helped.

For more inspiration, check out Seth Godin’s post on why resumes are redundant in the digital age.

Better yet, buy his life-changing, career-building book, Linchpin.It’s what motivated us to start this blog, and Cameron to ditch a job in advertising for his true passion, helping people overcome anxiety through play. (You can read his story here.)

In just one month, Big City Improv Festival will blast off at Toronto’s Comedy Bar. Check out the stellar line-up headlined by Jet Eveleth and Paul Brittain. For more information, click below.

Matt Folliott is an actor/improviser/comedian, and member of Standards & Practices. He’s performed in festivals across North America, including DCM, CIF, VIIF, Out Of Bounds, Improvaganza, and Mprov. He even has a couple of souvenir tattoos – but that’s another post.

Inspired by Amy Shostak’s 12 Tips for Festival Organizers, I decided to write a post from the other perspective: that of the festival performer.

I’ve had the pleasure and honour of attending some of the best comedy festivals in North America. There’s nothing like a well-run festival. The energy is electric, the performers feel welcomed and supported, and everyone leaves saying the same thing: “I’ll come back!”

These are just a few tips to help make your festival experience even more enjoyable and worthwhile.

1. Have a game plan. Plan your trip. Plan your trip! PLAN YOUR TRIP! Most festivals will have activities planned for their guests, and that’s awesome, but it never hurts to have your own agenda. Take advantage of your time like a member of the illuminati takes advantage of our ignorance. Also, if you’re heading to the States, have a game plan of what you’re telling Customs. They don’t like performers crossing the border, so make sure you have another reason for entering. You don’t want your trip ruined before it even begins; ruin it with drugs, alcohol and sex with strange people, not poor planning. Key Word: Research

2. Smile, be friendly and engaging. Let’s be honest. Only ten percent of improvisers get paid for festivals, so get that out of your head right away. You ain’t doing this for the money! You’re there to meet fellow performers, create friendships and make professional connections. Always be thinking, “I’m so LA,” and force yourself out of that shell, Franklin! Meet people, you won’t regret it. Key Word: Shmooze

3. If you have the option, stay with your fellow performers in hotels or on their couches. Bonding is key at any festival, so if you get the chance to live or crash with other performers, do it. That’s also were all the fun happens; you know, when you’re hanging out with ten or so other funny people with nothing else to do but crack jokes and be silly all while you’re being fuelled by beer and bad food. Also, being billeted can really lower the cost of your trip, so look into it already! Key Word: Bonding

4. Be on time. For your call times, for festival workshops, for planned activities, for everything. No one likes a Late Larry or a Tardy Tamara. People get that you might be running behind, you were probably up late partying, but try your hardest to be on time. Festival organizers have put in work to get you there and set things up for you, so show some love back and show up. Key Word: Punctual

5. Don’t be a comedy snob. If you’re asked to do mixer shows or short form improv or to judge theatre sports, say yes! Maybe you don’t like mixer sets because they can be clusterfucks, or maybe you don’t like shows sprung on you without notice. Well, get over it pal. Being asked to do other shows at a festival is a compliment, as well as an opportunity to make new friends and admirers. Take the chance to try new things, and challenge yourself to find the fun in things you haven’t enjoyed in the past. Key Word: Try

6. Kill your shows! It’s easier said than done, but you’ve got to impress. Think of the song Lose Yourself by Eminem; that’s the type of attitude you have to have before every show. Now stop thinking about the song Lose Yourself by Eminem, and never revisit that thought again. Just remember you’re there to do what you already do at home, so don’t stress. Remember, you’re awesome! So stop shitting bricks and have fun. Believe me, audiences in other cities want to see you succeed. So take a deep breath and go out there and show them what you’re made of: star light and cosmic dust. Key Word: Play Hard

7. Meet your audience. After your show is the perfect time to say hello to the local crowd that came out to support you. Let them know you appreciate them coming, and get to know your potential fans. Plus, you never know what hilarity will ensue when you meet the people. Next thing you know you’re in the back of a van with a guy named Rainwater, hitting a four-foot bong and getting a back rub from a limber cat. What? It could happen at a festival, man. Put on your politician hat and get out there, shake hands and kiss babies, and then kiss the mothers of those babies to see if they have fathers. If not move in for the kill. Key Word: Approachable

8. Sleep. Just do it. If you go too hard you’ll burn out partying or exploring your new surroundings or getting super high with Rainwater the Albino Shaman from the strip mall. Sleep is needed at these festivals to keep your head in the game and your stick on the ice. Key Word: Nap

9. Take Workshops. Most festivals offer workshops, usually with instructors you may never have the opportunity to work with again. Did you hear me? You might never see these people again, so what you are waiting for? Take a workshop already! Anyhooter, workshops and classes are always less expensive for festival performers, and are sometimes free if you’re lucky. Plus you’ll get to meet other improvisers and have the chance to refresh your skills. If you’re really lucky, you might put a brand new tool in that old leather belt of yours, grandpa. So what are you waiting for? Sign up for that workshop! Key Word: Register

10. See shows! Festival shows are inspiring and motivating. So many of the most memorable shows I’ve seen have been at festivals or on the road. So get that performer’s pass  and watch a show. Watch a bunch of shows. Watch some shows, then watch some more. You catch the drift. Key Word: Watch

11. Meet festival volunteers and administrative staff. This one gets overlooked sometimes, and it’s a damn shame because those people volunteering to rip tickets at the door or those lovely humans sitting in the office are the life blood of festivals. Without people like them, nothing would get done. After all, we’re artists. We think with our hearts not our heads. We need these kind, caring, lovers of comedy to make sure dopes like us know where we are supposed to be and where to point the jokes. Their service is invaluable. God speed tiny dancers, you are the wind beneath our wings. Key Word: Volunteers

12. Communication. This is a two-way street and is super important if you are to enjoy yourself in your comedic travels. Ask questions, ask for help, and keep the lines open with festival organizers and fellow performers. I mean how are you going to know if you don’t ask? Key Word: Ask

Well that about covers it I think. Maybe you have a few of your own that you would have added in. You know what? Keep it to yourself, no one likes a know-it-all. Happy travels fellow comedy nerds!

Photo © James Binnie