I live in New York. I am a comedian, writer and actor. My day job is blogging for VH1.com. I write about the silly things celebrities and pop stars do, so you know...God's work.
You may have seen my writing on many other reputable websites (McSweeney's, The Huffington Post, Hello Giggles, xojane.com, The Hairpin, Splitsider, The FW, etc.). I also write crazy blogs about Game of Thrones, Magneto and Jeff Goldblum.
Life's weird, right?
This is part two of an inadvertent series. The more you answer questions, the more people ask them. I will create a tab on my page to link to all of these soon enough.
Oh my God, how the hell am I supposed to know what improv school is best for you? I don’t even know what improv school is best for me. Basically, check them all out and GO WITH YOUR GUT. Don’t go where your idols went. Hell, don’t necessarily go where your friends went. Go where you feel most comfortable in your own skin. Get a groove going, and when it stops working at one place, go to another. Learn all you can (and don’t be snobby about different groups or styles).
As for my personal feelings (and yeah…I might reveal some snobbishness here so bear with me)…
People have asked me before on the blog to breakdown the pros and cons and styles of the big three NYC improv theaters. I pretty much stand by a lot of what I outlined over a year ago. The UCB is still the big man on campus. I’ve heard them actually referred to by writers outside the scene as a “comedy mafia”. There was a moment earlier this year when I though the PIT was gaining a lot of traction on the UCB—due to the fact that the PIT had a new space that afforded more stage time to new people. However, the UCBeast opened and so far is doing really well with audiences. It’s brought new life into the UCB in the NYC scene.
That said, I like the PIT because of the fact that I do honestly believe it’s easier to break in there if you’re new. Also, the PIT’s most famous alums are Kristen Schaal, Kurt Braunohler and Ellie Kemper. You don’t look at their stuff and go, “Oh, yeah…their comedy is obviously from the PIT”. You look at them and say, “That’s what Kristen Schaal does.” I think you can more easily see the UCB training in UCB grads and for that matter, Groundlings training in Groundlings grads, and Second City training in Second City alums. I like that the PIT really wants its people to find their own voice.
The Magnet continues to produce some of the best improv performers anywhere, but they also continue to be in their own insulated nexus. If you really love experimenting with longform and just the artistry of improv, go to the Magnet.
If you want to be a great improviser and you aren’t interested in sketch or stand up at all, I would bluntly say, “Don’t go to New York. Go to Chicago.”
Don’t get me wrong, New York has some of the finest improvisers and improv instructors on the planet. But the best improvisers and improv instructors are currently in Chicago. That town respects improv because they produce the best improv. I studied for only a week at the Annoyance this summer (with Mick Napier, Susan Messing, Rebecca Sohn, Rich Sohn and Mark Sutton) and learned more in that week than I possibly did in eight years of Boston and New York improv. Okay, that’s a hyperbole, but you know what I’m getting at. Also, right now there are tremendous solo performers and teams at iO that…um…kind of blow 95% of NYC improv out of the water.
I’m going to offend a lot NYC improvisers by saying this, but in NYC (and I say this as someone who also hangs in the stand up scene and who writes and who hopscotches from theater to theater socially—so I’m culling this from a wide array of opinions), improv is seen more as a means to an end than as an actual art form. There are a few really great improvisers who are heart and soul improvisers and that’s all they’re into. Those guys and gals are usually the best (and usually came from..ahem…Chicago first). I mean, most improv people in NYC (unless they are at the Magnet) don’t go, “I saw TJ and Dave do this one set and it changed my life and I HAVE TO DO IMPROV.” Most people in the improv scene are in it because they want to be on SNL or like the guys in Human Giant or they just want to fuck around and be funny.
There is great improv in NYC (Death by Roo Roo, Stepfathers, Big Black Car, The Scene, Armando Diaz Experience), so just check it all out and pick what you like the most. Take classes. Jam with friends. Remember it’s supposed to be fun. You’re not going to get paid for doing improv, so make sure you do what you want to do with it.
That is my long-winded, complicated and possibly controversial opinion on that matter. It all boils down to “HOW THE FUCK SHOULD I KNOW? DO WHAT YOU WANT”.