Monday, August 18, 2008

Meeting the press

First up: Did my first pre-fest interview today. Not just for the fest, but kind of a "state of the scene" chat for a larger article about improv in KC. 

I have mixed feelings about doing interviews. On one hand, I know I can answer any basic questions that come up—what troupes exist, where they came from, who influenced them—and point the reporter to the right people to talk to. On the other, I'm deathly afraid of offending someone. Did I leave someone or something out? Whose names should I provide when they ask for more folks to interview—and whose feelings will be hurt if they're not on the list? Can anything I say be interpreted as snarky or egomaniacal? Am I representing my troupe/event/art in a way that sounds coherent...seems at least vaguely insightful...and maybe won't make the people I play with go, "SERiously?"

Anyway, the whole thing made me think of  the very, very first article about improvisation in KC. Ward Triplett wrote it for the Star on April 24, 1992. Here's a sample: 
No one knows what the future holds for improvisational comedy in Kansas City, but at least four groups are willing to make it up as they go along. "Improv should be as big here as it is in Chicago, Minneapolis or Seattle, and that's something all four groups are going to have to work together to get," says Trish Berrong, a performer and publicist for Lighten Up! "This is a real exciting thing that could be happening in Kansas City. " ...

One of the members had his first improv experience with Laughing Stock, a 15-member group loosely based at UMKC that can count on crowds of 200 at its shows on alternating Saturdays at the Fine Arts Theatre in Mission.

A few others got started in ComedySportz, which is selling out four of its five weekly shows at the 8th Street Cafe Theatre in Lucas Place. ComedySportz is also where the three members of Out on a Limb met. That group now runs a regular Tuesday night show at Stanford's in Overland Park.

All four troupes are slowly exposing people weaned on stand-up to a form of comedy that launched the careers of most "Saturday Night Live" performers, as well as Robin Williams, George Wendt and Betty Thomas.

Brief one-person monologues and entire multiperson sketches are based on audience suggestions. If you want to see Bill Clinton learn how to smoke marijuana, or Elvis doing a culinary show, this is the place to go. Likewise to watch people jump around like Curious George or make up poems on the spot.
There was a fair amount of nastiness in the article. The Laughing Stock director accused another troupe of stealing material; we later found out he meant Lighten Up (turned out a sketch we did felt to him like it was too close to one of theirs we'd never actually seen). Clancy said he wished all of us well, but said we weren't the people he'd choose to socialize with. At the time, I think the guys in Lighten Up were some of the only improvisers in town who actually enjoyed seeing other groups...the vibe was so paranoid that lots of folks assumed you were at their shows to steal games, not watch an art form you loved. 

Fast forward to September 1997, and an article on Spontaneous Combustion:
"Kansas City hasn't been exposed to long-form that much,'' said Lighten Up co-founder Trish Berrong, who conceived of Spontaneous Combustion. ``The lights go up at the beginning and they go out 30 minutes later. Scenes morph. The laughs you get out of it may not be as quick, but they're richer. '' Berrong and other forward-looking improv performers would like to see long-form gain wider exposure on television, much the way stand-up comedy did in the 1980s.
"By the year 2000 I want this on Comedy Central or HBO,'' she said.
Yeah, whatever.

[Whiny, self-indulgent crap from original post deleted.]


  1. Years ago an article in the St. Paul paper quoted me as saying that I told the Chicago Improv Festival that "nobody in Minneapolis can keep up with me."

    Of course I never said anything like that to CIF and I was talking about how I felt when I started doing Drum Machine, which actually was before a lot of the interesting stuff started happening. But whenever anyone asked me about it, I just said, "Prove me wrong." You know. Because I'm an asshole.

    That whole article made me sound like a dick.

  2. It's funny...I can totally hear you saying (most of) those things, but in your voice, it doesn't make you sound like a dick. The article isn't nuanced enough to convey that goofy, self-aware/deprecating tone.

  3. But I like the "prove me wrong" thing a lot.

  4. I got a call just a little bit ago. Thanks for the recommend! It's the first interview I've done for a major metropolitan daily... and I have no idea what I said. I hope I was coherent, thoughtful, not self-indulgent, and provided a little insight. I think so, but it's all a blur.

    I re-read your blog just now with a completely different outlook. I feel your pain much more now.

  5. He was a nice guy to talk too. Though, like John, I don't remember anything we talked about.

  6. YAY! I can't wait to see this article. John, sounds like he's going out to shoot you guys tomorrow...?


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