Episode 8 – Delaying the Inevitable – Improv Insights

I talk shop today. I just performed in a show at the National Comedy Theater in San Diego (nationalcomedy.com). I talk about the joy it is to have men play men and women play women on stage. The cross-gender shtick is getting old.

I also talk about how getting to the point of the conflict and making strong active choices makes for better scene work on stage.

Tomorrow…something a little more serious.

National Comedy Theater Hits 5000 Shows on March 18

Milestones come quickly at National Comedy Theatre in San Diego. I recently started my 15th year. Now the theater itself reaches its 5,000th show. I’ve been in 25% percent of them. Although, I won’t be at the event, why not join the fun.

Memories of National Comedy Theater – 15 Years of NCT

What do I remember from performing over 1,200 shows? Not much. I’m lucky to remember anything after the show is done. I think that if you’re making up a show on the spot, you’re constantly living in the moment and a little bit into the future. You don’t have time to remember the immediate past.

After 15 years, I remember one scene. It involved my favorite game, Blind Line, where 8 lines from movies, songs, pop culture are solicited from the audience, while the performers are outside. The players come in and perform a scene. Every-so-often a player picks up a line from the audience, reads it aloud and immediately justifies it into the scene.

One this particular night, I’m performing with fellow castmates, Zach Stone and David Armstrong. I start the scene with David and my first line is “Dude, your sister last night was amazing.” I’m establishing high school friends as the relationship.

I reach down to pick up a line and the dreadful “Luke, I am your father” is uttered from my lips. Yep, I just started an incest scene. David and I are frozen at this moment, which is where you never want to be in an improv scene. The audience is laughing at us because they want to see how the hell we’re going to get out of this mess. Seeing that David and I are stuck, Zach brilliantly wipes the scene and creates a therapy session with David’s character to talk about the horrible things going on with his family.

Seeing that David and I are stuck, Zach brilliantly wipes the scene and creates a therapy session with David’s character to talk about the horrible things going on with his family. Still feeling a little uncomfortable about the subject matter, we continue the scene with a great deal of apprehension. Zach’s therapist character is trying in vain to make light of the situation until Zach reaches for the line “Now, the Chamber of Secrets has been open.” The audience roars with laughter.

I take this moment to wipe the scene again, and I’m on stage with David portraying his character’s mother. I state the father is in jail and now this family can begin the healing process. Seeing that there’s one line left on the ground, I reach for it saying, I have one thing I need to say. It is at this moment that the audience starts to giggle and the other players, not in the scene, start snickering. Basically, they’re in on the joke, except me.

I reach down to pick up the line and say, “I have one thing to say…I kissed a girl and I liked it.” And Scene. The audience is in hysterics and the show is halted for what seemed like an eternity. Zach, David and I look at one another in confused amazement.

OK, you had to be there.

Other NCT Memories

  • My first official show was January 19, 2002, at 7:30.
  • When I started, I was one of three Asians in the cast. Today, I am the only Asian in the cast.
  • I performed one night wearing racquetball goggles because I had just had Lasik surgery on my eyes and could not risk getting poked in the eye.
  • For four months straight, I reffed/hosted one show a night while the Gary and Dorian were in Iraq performing as part of the USO. I was so pissed off at the end, I literally demanded that I not ref for an entire month.
  • Politics are the only subject, we as players can rationally talk about in the green room.
  • I caught the worst head cold of my life after playing the game Oxygen Deprivation and then immediately going outside in the cold to guess for 5 things.
  • Speaking of 5 things, I got 5-out-of-5 a total of who-the-hell-cares times.
  • Speaking again of 5 things, I was a part of Casey Gardner’s famous 30-out-of-5 streak and Renee Kohn’s 0-out-of-5 night.
  • I get browned bagged more now, then I did in the beginning.
  • I have a nut joke and a circumcision joke at part of my end game schtick.
  • This is debated, but I’m pretty sure it was me who came up with the “this isn’t Florida” joke.
  • I uttered the line “who thinks the blue team will explode in the second half, like a WMD in Iraq.” Man, did I take a beating for that.
  • My wife cleaned massive amounts of poo off the bathroom walls before half-time.
  • I threw up twice after games and farted once on stage.
  • I saw someone quit the show, during the show.
  • I totally suck at the Unrated show and HARD.

Why National Comedy Theater? – 15 Years of NCT

My journey to NCT started about 8 years into my improv career. While doing research on my Master’s Degree in 2001, I stumbled across the show Whose Line Is It Anyway? I discovered improv comedy and I eventually started taking classes with my first teacher, Pat Dade (who teaches now at Stella Adler in Hollywood). I moved on to South Coast Repertory learning from Greg Atkins and after spending hundreds of dollars on classes, I joined my first team, Just Us Improv in Orange County.

Soon after getting married, I realized I needed to up my game. I had to join a troupe that matched my personal philosophy of improv–good scene work being one. On vacation, my wife and I stumbled across NCT San Diego, which starred many members of the same improv show we saw in Santa Barbara. In 2001, NCT held auditions on a Sunday Morning and it was time. I auditioned. And to be completely honest, I knew I nailed it. Later that night, I got a call from owner Gary Kramer with the good news. He, in fact, knew my teacher Pat Dade from Washington DC.

Now, I was making two trips to San Diego every week for rehearsal and shows. I met my good friend Dorian Lenz, who runs NCT Phoenix. I also met my producing partner, Loren Kling. We are now working on the second season of 5 Important Things Podcast. I wish I could mention everyone but the list is huge and I’m going to forget someone.

Luckily for me, the owner and a few of the performers were commuting to San Diego from Los Angeles. I got to hitch a ride and got to know Gary and the operation better. I know it was these trips that help me get on stage as first in my class. In fact, I was not prepared to perform my first time in January 2002. It was surprised on me by Gary and gang while we were getting dinner at Phil’s BBQ.

I did it and fifteen years later, I still cherish being on stage with an ever changing cast. I don’t remember much about the show, other than I played a redneck at one point.

Why NCT? Sure the years have not passed without controversy. There was also the three years, that I tried and failed in reproducing the show in Orange County. But after fifteen years, I’m on a team where were all on the same page. We agree on how scenes are built and we have healthy discussions of what’s funny, what works and a leader, we respect to make the final decision. Having been in many troupes, this is the most important factor that has kept me in improv all these years.

Why NCT? Ultimately, it’s the one who pays the bills…the audience. There’s nothing more intoxicating that hearing 100 people laugh at you. There’s this debate in Improv Comedy. Who is improv for? Yourself or the Audience. To me, there’s only one answer…the audience. I have but one gift to give to the world and its laughter.

This Saturday, I will step on the same stage, I stepped on 15 years ago (sans the green carpet). I will perform the same show, I performed in 15 years ago. I will step on that stage with 15 years of experience and with all humility know that I’m still learning what it takes to make people laugh.

Tickets are running out. Purchase your tickets now.

Performing the Same Show over 1,200 Times – 15 Years of NCT

Improvisers are notorious for getting bored quickly. That’s why there are so many different variations of the same games. I guess it’s the closest thing to asking an actor what it’s like to perform the same role in the same show for 15 years.

The fact of the matter is, I love this show. Each night with I step on the stage, I know I’m on stage with a professional. I know when I throw an idea out, my partner will run with it and I know when someone throws out an idea, I can run wild with it.

Over the last 15 years, the cast at NCT has changed with the exception of Gary Kramer, the owner, and David George, the last remaining original player. Gary has managed to create the longest running live show in San Diego history. It regularly sells out and the improv classes continue to be popular. It’s an honor for me to have been a small part of this.

Regarding Dave George, I will always remember him beating me in the first NCT poker tournament. For the record, I lost because of a string bet he made, which reveal the strength of my hand and I am NOT bitter about it.

I’ve also made lifelong friends including Dorian Lenz and Loren Kling, who joined the team at the same audition as me. Dorian is now the owner of NCT in Phoenix and Loren is my producing partner. We created a staged game show and podcast together.

Anyways, the Main Stage show in San Diego is a cute little show that you, your friends and family will enjoy. Thanks to Gary’s leadership (and I know how thankless being a leader of an improv troupe can be), the show remains funny, appropriate for all ages and serves as the comedic benchmark for the now football-less city of San Diego.

Join me this Saturday, January 21 for two amazing shows at 7:30 and 9:45 p.m. Tickets will be hard to get later this week. Purchase NCT tickets here.

You Are Invited to an Improv Milestone – My NCT 15th Anniversary Show

This Saturday, January 21rd at 7:30 pm and 9:45 pm, I will be celebrating my 15th anniversary performing at the National Comedy Theater in San Diego and I would love to invite you to see this special show. While I don’t know the exact number of shows, I do know that I’ve been in well over 1,200 shows.

Granted, I took a three-year hiatus to try my luck running Secret City in Fullerton, but I will always cherish my time at NCT. It was the first time that I could perform improv comedy the way I wanted too. I never argued with the owner Gary Kramer or director Matt McDonald over how to perform improv, play games and produce the show. I was free to develop my talents as a comedian and I learned valuable lessons in teamwork.

Please make your way to San Diego this weekend. The 7:30 show is already 50% sold.

If you can make it to the shows, here is what will happen in these two special shows:

  1. I will be in both the 7:30 and 9:45 pm shows.
  2. I will perform with a team of the best improvisers that only San Diego could produce, including: Chris Daily, Gary Kramer, Gordy Fitzgerald, Greg Rojciewicz, Melissa Brody and Patrick Jeter.
  3. You will witness some of the best comedic scenes and sketches made up completely on the spot.
  4. You will head immediately to Urgent Care after the show because you laughed too hard.
  5. No mention whatsoever of this milestone will stated in the show at all. I get it. It’s not about me. Improv is about the team and the art created as a team.

Still Doing Improv In San Diego

Believe it or not, I’m still performing improv comedy. You can see me monthly at National Comedy Theater in San Diego and occasionally at ImprovCity in Costa Mesa. I’ll be performing this Saturday in San Diego at 7:30 pm and 9:45 pm.

Creating Sketch from Improv – My Day with Kevin McDonald

I’m super late in posting this. Last summer I took a weekend trip to my friends, Dorian and Krissy Lenz, improv theater in Phoenix-National Comedy Theater. I visit about once a year. Last year, I had the privilege of visiting the weekend Kevin McDonald from the Kids in the Hall was leading a workshop.

We learned the tricks of the trade as many of the Kids in the Hall sketches started as improvisations, often bad improvisations. At the beginning of the workshop, we broke up into groups of four and quickly performed an improvisation.

I’ve learned that improvisers can be incredibly judgmental people. I am certainly on that list. Almost immediately upon entering the classroom, I began separating the good improvisers and the bad ones. I’m so horrible. Fortunately, humility got the best of me, and I let fate decide my team. My team consisted of myself, a main stage performer and two novices.

We banged out a good improv based on the suggestion of Hunchback. Once our basic improv was set in stone, we were given three opportunities to refine it as a sketch and perform it in front of Kevin and the other classmates.

One thing I learned is to stop telling people how I would do it. Sure, I’d make a suggestion but ultimately the individual performer has to be comfortable with his/her performance and I’m just meddling if I expect more.

That night, all of us performed the sketches, and our hunchback sketch was the last sketch of the night. Check out the video and if you’re ever in Phoenix and want to see some amazing comedy, check out National Comedy Theater in Mesa.