Deny the Mistake

I love mistakes, especially if they’re done right.

That’s the most pretentious sentence I’ve ever written, but it’s so true. Some of the best improv that I’ve ever seen has featured brilliant mistakes. And, no, they weren’t Jimmy Fallon-esque scene breaking—though that can be funny for different, less satisfying reasons. They were honest mistakes that improvisers made because we’re doing this crap off the top of our heads.

I first learned this in marching band. Marching band formations are incredibly precise—so precise that, if you get out of step, you can ruin the whole thing. Or so you think.

Here’s the thing, guys. While you’re busy on the field overanalyzing which foot you should be stepping off with while playing “My Sharona” on the tuba, the audience isn’t looking at you. It’s looking at the big picture. If you don’t land at the mark you’ve rehearsed over and over again, I guarantee you that only nerds will notice it. Most people aren’t nerds. Most people are watching squiggles and shapes on the football field, and they’re just enjoying it. That’s kind of a big thing to realize.

Let’s bring it back to improv. You’re making this stuff up off the top of your head. Automatically, you have the audience’s attention—especially that guy who’s CONVINCED that you practiced this. (“You rehearse improv? How can you rehearse something that’s made up?”) People are watching to be entertained and engaged, and they don’t care how.

And then, inevitably, you mess up. Go home, you’re bad at comedy, we’re keeping your last check, you should have been a doctor.

No, my friends, the world is not over. You will rise again. Because—and this is the best part—you are a fucking genius.

I once saw Cook County Social Club, who performed at iO Chicago back in the day (now they’re in LA). They were a rapid fire troupe of five dudes doing the quickest, most reflexive, tightest improv I’ve ever seen. Anyways, a scene was happening and one of the players kept stumbling over this line he was trying to eke out. And I quote: “Was he the man who, uh…” Instead of ignoring the gaffe or stopping everything cold, the rest of the team incorporated this stumble into a game. They brought the stumble back as part of a game show, as part of a speech therapy clinic, and a billion other things. It was this brilliant, tiny magical moment of improv that couldn’t have happened unless this particular player had messed up.

All from the sentence of, “Was he the man who, uh…” That’s it. That trivial mistake sustained five to ten minutes of stage time.

Now, I’m not saying you have to be Cook County Social Club. You shouldn’t be. I am saying that you have to be as confident as them when you mess up. Much like an out-of-step saxophone player, you need to turn into the mistake instead of away from it. They could have completely ignored this flub and moved on. Instead, they made the mistake an integral part of the work. Like a great artist that makes every single brush stroke count, so too did CCSC craft brilliant improv that night. They would not be deterred from performing a perfect show, and even though they messed up bad, they did it.

Everything you do on that stage is correct. If you forget a character’s name, you’d better keep forgetting it because your character has a bad memory. If you stumble on stage, barring an actual medical emergency, you’d better keep that stumble as part of your character.

Improv is live. Improv is happening in the now. There’s no chance for revisions. These tiny things we call mistakes are gifts that can make the spontaneous feel even more spontaneous. Besides, the audience doesn’t care; they just want to be entertained. And if you’re comfortable with yourself and your scene partner, then they’ll never even know. They think that everything you’re doing is correct.

And so should you.

Improv Wins Schedule

Here’s what’s coming up in Austin. Get your tickets now–we tend to sell out!

Set/Re-set w/Eric & Katie

Comedians do sets of jokes suited for a traditional comedy club. Then, with a little help from the audience and hosts, they’ll re-tell their best jokes with an absurd twist.

The New Movement Downtown
616 Lavaca
Austin, TX 78701

Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 9:30 PM – Sunday, March 15, 2015 at 10:30 PM (CDT)
Get tickets

Bad Example

Every damn Saturday, the geniuses behind Bad Example will present a brand new hour of sharp, over-the-top sketches for your viewing pleasure. It’s a big undertaking that’s never been attempted in Austin (or pretty much anywhere else), & the only other sketch group to do something like this so consistently is Saturday Night Live. Expect big things here.

$7 online/$10 at the door. These shows have known to sell out, and it’s cheaper to buy early, so buy them now!
Presented by an exciting collection of sketch minds, Bad Example is written & performed by Cody Cartagena, Roxy Castillo, Micheal Foulk, Vanessa Marie Gonzalez, Stephanie Pace, Kelsey Rodgers, & Jeff Whitaker.

The New Movement Downtown
616 Lavaca
Austin, TX 78701

Saturday, November 22, 2014 at 9:00 PM – Saturday, February 28, 2015 at 10:00 PM (CST)
Get tickets

The Neighborhood

Amy Jordan would like to welcome you to The Neighborhood where sketch comedy lives. Come see TNM Austin’s longest-running sketch show every 2nd & 3rd Friday of the month! The Neighborhood is one giant sketch show hosted and curated by TNM faculty, staff, & students.
Doors open 30 minutes before showtime, so come say hi!

The New Movement Downtown
616 Lavaca
Austin, TX 78701

Friday, December 12, 2014 at 8:00 PM (CST)
Get tickets

Kevin McDonald’s Sketch Show

Kevin McDonald is part of Kids in the Hall, one of the most influential sketch groups in the past 20 years. You’ve seen him in tons of TV shows and films, and now he’s come to TNM’s Improv Wins Conference to impart his comedic wisdom to the next generation of sketch comedians. This show will feature all the best sketches to come out of Kevin’s workshop. Expect the biggest of big things here.

The New Movement Downtown
616 Lavaca
Austin, TX 78701

Friday, January 23, 2015 from 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM (CST)
Get tickets

Level 1 Improv w/Megan Simon

Jan 28 – Mar 18, Wednesdays @ 6-8p
Cost: $200 (class is 8 weeks & class size capped at 12)
Email TNMATX@gmail.com for more info.

The New Movement Downtown
616 Lavaca
Austin, TX 78701

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM (CST)
Register here

Disposable Income Freak Show

Step right up, step right up to this sketch comedy spectacle featuring millennial “bros” and “basic chicks”!!!

Marvel at these circus folk who utter phrases like, “BOOM!” & “Work Hard, Play Hard,” and gasp at such oddities as “The Human Sunday Funday,” “The Rock Bottom Music Festival Junkie,” & “The Death-Defying Passive Aggressive Statement Maker!”

This traveling Disposable Income Freak Show will pass though Austin on the last Friday of every month, so get your tickets before they’re gone…BOOM!

The New Movement Downtown
616 Lavaca
Austin, TX 78701

Friday, January 30, 2015 at 8:00 PM – Friday, June 26, 2015 at 9:00 PM (CST)
Get tickets

Classified: I’m a Monster

In the 1960’s, the tiny town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, was rocked by a sudden appearance of the legendary Mothman. Many of the Mothman tales were locked away or excessively changed by those wanting a cheap thrill on Halloween. Now, the only official biographer of urban legends, Dr. Nelson Stern, is finally unveiling his wide collection of interviews, clips, & videos so the world can fully understand the Mothman. Proving that even disgusting, horrid, dusty yet somehow slimy creatures can live out a normal life. Well…as normal as it can be.

Written & Performed by Ariel Greenspoon
This show runs every Friday @ 9pm in February, if we can keep the monsters under control long enough.

The New Movement Downtown
616 Lavaca
Austin, TX 78701

Friday, February 6, 2015 at 9:00 PM – Friday, February 27, 2015 at 10:00 PM (CST)
Get tickets

Plugged: Never Ending Comedy Contest

Six comics compete. Three judges decide. Who will win? TNM is proud to present the sell-out show The Never Ending Comedy Contest, where each month, Lane Krarup brings to stage an amazing line up of local and traveling comics, to compete with their best stand up set for a chance to win a fabulous prize.

Three veteran spit-fire stand up comics act as on stage judges to decide each show’s winner, with hilarious commentary between sets. This month, the six comics will be split up into two teams, and judge each other’s sets, with the audience deciding the ultimate winner!

Not to miss – at the end of every show, Krarup and regular guest Pat Sirois freestyle rap about whatever the audience calls out! This event will sell out. Purchase tickets in advance at the link below. Once sold out there will be about 10- 15 tickets left at the front door before the show. Hosted by Lane Krarup.

The New Movement Downtown
616 Lavaca St
Austin, TX 78701

Friday, February 6, 2015 from 10:30 PM to 11:30 PM (CST)
Get tickets

Plugged: Stoned vs Drunk vs Sober

1 Stage, 3 States of Conciousness, 0 Fucks Given. Choose vicely.

Stoned vs Drunk vs Sober is a standup comedy competition featuring three teams of comics that try to answer the question, What if comics got “stoned, drunk, or stayed sober then gave it their best as they perform on the edge? Coming to a city near you very soon!

Twitter.com/SvDvSComedy
Hosts: Rob Gagnon and Lisa Friedrich

The New Movement Downtown
616 Lavaca
Austin, TX 78701

Friday, February 20, 2015 from 10:30 PM to 11:30 PM (CST)
Get tickets

Do512 Presents: Part II (Competitive Movie Sequel Pitching)

The only thing better than a good sequel is a bad sequel. The first of its kind, this show is a competition to write sequels to movies that don’t need it (which is arguably every sequel). This 3-round competition includes a prepared pitch, a pitch written on the spot by audience suggestion, and finally a surprise impromptu pitch, all culminating in a grand champion.

The New Movement Downtown
616 Lavaca
Austin, TX 78701

Saturday, March 14, 2015 at 7:30 PM – Saturday, December 12, 2015 at 8:30 PM (CDT)
Get tickets

Jamie Kilstein Hates Standup!

Oh shit! Jamie Kilstein’s coming back to TNM, which is always a big, fun deal!

“Watching Jamie reminds me of why I got into comedy. It is like watching a combination of George Carlin and Bill Hicks.” – Janeane Garofalo

Jamie has been seen on Conan, MSNBC’s Up with Chris, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Showtime’s The Green Room, CNN’s The Joy Behar Show, The Paramount Comedy Channel in the UK, The BBC, The Comedy Channel in Australia, HBO Canada, and Showtime Comedy in the Middle East.

He Co-Hosts Citizen Radio which has been praised by Janeane Garofalo, Noam Chomsky, Robin Williams and him and his co-host were named by The Nation Magazine as top “media heroes.” Most importantly, Glenn Beck has called him a “doofus” and “goofball” and Jonah Goldberg refuses to fight him.

Jamie was invited to The Montreal Comedy Festival, in 2007 and 2008 and brought his one man show there in 2010 after debuting it at UCB. He was a Timeout Chicago, Sydney, New York and London’s Critics Pick. He has played the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House. Before that he lived out of his car and dropped out of high school. Take that, life!

He co-hosts Citizen Radio with Allison Kilkenny (The Nation), which is dedicated to covering the stories that the mainstream, corporate media ignores. He has had the privilege of interviewing such distinct intellectuals as Rachel Maddow, Bad Religion, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Matt Taibbi, Jeremy Scahill, Rise Against, Robin Williams, Janeane Garofalo, Moby, Sarah Silverman, Naomi Klein, Amy Goodman, Regina Spektor and more.

This year Simon and Schuster published his first book #Newsfail.
wearecitizenradio.com

The New Movement Downtown
616 Lavaca
Austin, TX 78701

Saturday, May 2, 2015 from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM (CDT)
Get tickets

Interview: Amy Jordan of The New Movement & The Improv Wins Conference

This weekend is the Improv Wins Conference and Festival in Austin. From this Thursday through Sunday (Jan. 22-25), improvisers from around the world converge on The New Movement Theater to take workshops, perform a ton, and network with their peers. 

AustinImprov.com interviewed Amy Jordan, the director of education for The New Movement (TNM) and one of the main organizers of Improv Wins. She’s got plenty of great insights into TNM’s unique improv philosophy and this one-of-a-kind improv event. 

For more info on Improv Wins—and to buy tickets or sign up for their many wonderful workshops—visit improvwins.com.

Amy Jordan - The New Movement
Amy Jordan – The New Movement

Hi, Amy! Many improvisers think there are basically two schools of improv—the Del Close style and the Keith Johnstone style. One emphasizes finding the funny thing and exploring it, while the other emphasizes being very present and telling a story. I get the impression that TNM offers a third, different approach. True?

How would you most succinctly describe how TNM’s improv philosophy is different from traditional approaches?

I feel like TNM combines both philosophies in a way. The idea of “living in the moment” is a big part of our style. And we certainly do not shy away from game. I just don’t think either one of those things are the driving force behind our efforts.

TNM believes that everything you need in a scene is right there in front of you. You can see the world beginning to bloom when you first lay eyes on your scene partner. In the first few moments of every scene, the improvisers are slowly, carefully building a world together.

We use the word “STUMBLE” to indicate this idea of discovering what is already happening between you and your scene partner, rather than inventing a story.

With each move an improviser makes, he/she is finding out more about the world they’re in and every movement and every phrase they use adds to the whole picture.

And because this process of finding the moment is so delicate, we really push the idea of being kind to each other and creating a safe space. We think that’s the best way to inspire the truest form of creativity.

And then to become the badasses that we all are, we at TNM exercise our improv muscles with focused and specific reps to develop the habits of Samurai phrasing, finding the Why, and contrast instead of conflict. (For more on what all that means, come take classes at TNM!)

I’ve seen a number of TNM shows, and I don’t believe any of them ever started with the improvisers taking a suggestion from the audience. How does not taking suggestions fit into the TNM approach?

We don’t take suggestions, which is different from a lot of improv schools, yes. We believe in training the improv brain to build from nothing. Plus, we think suggestions can limit what options you have to build your scene.

We trust our students to come up with ideas on their own without a suggestion and with practice, this gets easier and easier. If we provide a suggestion, it’s like we are giving our students a safety net and they don’t need one.

A philosophy inherent to every level of improv at TNM is UBH – Ultimate Back Having. This means that when you are in a scene, your job is to take care of your scene partner. During classes, we build trust between students and with that bond, they are able to be each other’s safety net during each scene.

How did you personally get involved in improv? Where did you study?

I performed some improv in college but it was mostly short form. My way into TNM was through stand-up. I had been a stand-up comic in NYC for a few years and I took a vacation to Austin one year to visit friends and happened to go to a comedy show that featured Chris Trew.

He and I became friends on Facebook and as soon as I moved to town, I started learning long form improv under the tutelage of Chris & Tami.

Since then, I have had great opportunities to take workshops from great improvisers like Joe Bill and Matt Donnelly and Tim Paul and I have to say, it was exactly the artform I was looking for. I like the team effort of improv so much better than stand-up.

And I just love teaching so completely. It warms my heart every time I get to do it!

Improv Wins is the name of your conference (Jan. 22-25, Austin) as well as the name of the improv book written by TNM founders Chris Trew and Tami Nelson. What does “Improv Wins” mean?

I can tell you what “Improv Wins” means to me: I think of the phrase like when people say they are winning at life. To me, “Improv Wins” is about how improv makes your life better every time you participate in it. Every time you put yourself out there and try to do some improv, you are winning. That’s how I use it.

But I think it’s open-ended. It can be, for you, what you need it to be, just like improv.

Also, just thinking about it now because you asked, part of me feels like “Improv Wins” is about trying to make the art form more palatable to a larger audience. I mean, how many times have you heard comedy people make fun of improv?

Well, if we show them how amazing improv is and how formative it can be to a creative community well then “improv wins,” you know?

Improv Wins2015_small

Why is it the Improv Wins Conference and Festival? That’s an interesting word to associate with improv, “conference.”

Improv Wins is an educational conference as well as a festival of shows. There will be shows featuring our visiting talent on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of this weekend and that’s amazing, but for me, the best part is the workshops. I am TNM Austin’s Conservatory Director so for me, education is the most important!

We have workshops all day on Friday, Saturday and Sunday this weekend.

We have Kevin McDonald (Kids In the Hall) to teach his improv-to-sketch workshop on Friday, and then the attendees showcase their work that night at 7:30 p.m.—with Kevin McDonald acting with them!

On Saturday and Sunday, we have workshops all day – we have some really great teachers in this year!

We have a four-hour master classes with Kevin Mullaney of Under the Gun theater in Chicago and Alex Gross from Philly Improv Theater.

Plus, there will be a master class on rocking a weekly sketch comedy show, a master class on comedy video production, and many more workshops taught by visiting improvisers from Pittsburgh and Houston—as well as TNM Austin and TNM New Orleans faculty members.

We have workshops on improv, on sketch, and even a lunchtime lecture on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. about how to break into the TV business.

For the full line-up, visit the website.

Why should an improviser attend Improv Wins? Can non-TNM improvisers attend?
Anyone and everyone should attend Improv Wins!

It is a wonderful experience doing a full weekend of improv workshops. So many breakthroughs. So many moments of clarity. It is a true joy to watch and experience us all geek out over this art form that we love. And I love all the discussions we have, exploring the comedy world and working to make ourselves better performers within it.

There are workshops available for beginners as well as experienced performers. Please spread the word to everyone you know. This is a really affordable chance to get better onstage and to meet the other hungry performers in this town.

TNM offers plenty of stage time to TNM students. What responsibility does an improv school/theater have to create opportunities for its students?

We are all about giving students the power.

Our students invest in TNM by spending their time and money taking our classes and in turn, a large chunk of our weekly programming is dedicated to providing stage time to them.

All of our students are free to form troupes and pitch shows; they can play in TNM’s weekly student improv jam, Student Union (or in our monthly sketch open mic, The Lab); and, we give all of our Austin performers a chance to perform at our theater in New Orleans as well.

I think the responsibility of a theater is to empower their students to create their own projects. This is all about creativity, after all. So I want my students to find what makes them happy.

So we give them opportunities to try stuff out and then every couple months, we have a town hall meeting where hungry performers can come and develop their new ideas and pitch new show ideas.

At TNM, you can be as active as you want. You get out of the theater what you put into it.

What do you most love about improv?

I love that the more open you are—to the process, to your partner, to your own creative ideas—the better you are as an improviser.

It’s very different from the harsh realities of the real world to have kindness and support be the anchors, but they are. In such a kind environment, people are free to be who they are without judgment. That’s the kind of world I want to live in, so that’s what I bring to improv.

What’s the hardest you’ve ever laughed?

Gosh, I don’t know. I laugh often. I really enjoy the people around me when I am teaching them or coaching them or performing alongside them. I am lucky enough to have seen really amazing performances in my tenure at TNM and in my years as a stand-up in NYC in the early 2000s.

So I laugh a lot. (Plus, I can’t remember lots of hilarious events I’ve witnessed; I have a true Etch-a-Sketch of a brain.)

One of my most recent faves was an ad lib at the end of a sketch scene. There was a scene that had all the holidays as characters, and they all wanted to hang out with Christmas instead of Thanksgiving.

At the end of the scene, all of the partygoers have left and Thanksgiving is all alone. I played “All By Myself” to punctuate the moment, and as I brought the lights down, the guy playing Thanksgiving got up and did an improvised speech about how it was hard to be the one holiday that no one cares about.

It was amazing and hysterically funny. We added it to the show right then and there.

“Want to Know,” a novella written by the Austin improv community

Here’s my Christmas gift to the Austin improv community. It requires a little explanation, though.

Screen Shot 2014-12-24 at 1.24.06 PM

Back before Facebook assimilated everybody, the forums at austinimprov.com were how the AIC connected and communicated. This included everything from Maestro signups to discussions on improv theory to total silliness. And, like any Internet forum, it had the occasional post by spambots, which were often almost random collections of words.

One fateful day—April 24th, 2012—a spambot made a post that sounded vaguely like the beginning of a story. Peter Rogers quickly added a few lines to complete the scene. Brad Hawkins added another chapter. And just like that, the members of the AIC were yes-anding themselves into an entire Western saga. That’s right: it’s an improvised book.

Earlier this year, a few of us published the final chapters. And I recently dusted it off and undertook the task of editing it all together, making minor changes that helped the story flow better. (Not much, though. It’s 95% as written by my fellow improvisers.)

The story is just under 20,000 words, about 80 printed pages. Should be a quick read for your holiday break. You can download the Kindle and E-book versions below. Or you can view the original, untarnished “want to know” forum thread here.

Hope you enjoy it. Happy holidays to all of us, from all of us.

Keeping the Hot Spot Hot

Let me ask you a question. Be honest.

When you’re at the movies, all snuggled up with that special someone, seeing “The Expendables 9,” which part of the movie is your favorite: the part where they blow stuff up? Or the part where they talk about blowing stuff up?

Chances are you like the part where the stuff blows up. Let me blow your mind, though: it’s not just because explosions are cool—it’s because they’re action.

“Yeah, dummy, it’s an action movie,” you yell at the page before you. “What a waste of time.” WAIT!

See, people like to see action. More basically, people like to see things happen. And the reason the explosion is more engaging in a narrative sense is because it’s a big event, and because—unless you’re Michael Bay—it probably drives the plot forward.

Let’s take it back to improv. People are there to be entertained, and it’s up to you to entertain them. So how, exactly, do you do that in the best way possible?

You keep the Hot Spot hot.

The Hot Spot is the audience’s focus. Imagine a physical place on the stage that actually transmogrifies into something tangible, so long as the audience is looking at it. All of their hopes and dreams of being entertained exist in this one part of the stage, and it’s up to you to make their dreams come true.

The best and easiest way to keep your audience engaged? DO SOMETHING.

Anything. Everything. Do things.

I can’t tell you how many improv scenes I have seen where the players do nothing. The audience is waiting for the story to unfold. The longer you take in making a decision, the more their attention wanders, and the worse your show is.

Okay, back to explosions. It’s very difficult to create explosions in improv. It’s much easier to talk to another person, but the conversation has to be propulsive. Like the explosion, it has to move.

A great way to make your scenes move is by imbuing them with purpose. Give your characters a goal when they walk onstage. Also, whether you succeed or fail, have them try to accomplish their goal as soon as possible. Urgency breeds quick decision-making, which means more things are happening, which entices the audience to keep up.

That’s not to say that you have to rush every single thing in a scene. One of my very favorite improv scenes was about summer romances; we were told to make some kind of emotional connection. It was slow. It was calculated. It was also incredibly fun to play.

I couldn’t joke my way out of this scene. I could inject some levity, but I couldn’t just have the Moon Knights bombard the stage. What kept the Hot Spot hot were the subtleties: body language, facial expressions, the way a certain word was said, the tone of the scene as a whole. And because it was so slow and quiet, people were waiting for the next beat. Each line propelled the scene a tiny bit forward and revealed just a little bit more. It might be my favorite thing I’ve ever done.

Improv starts sucking when a person doesn’t trust himself enough to make any decision. You could go make a sandwich. The audience doesn’t care; they just want to see something.

I know it’s hard to trust yourself. I have self-esteem so low, some people would say I have low self-esteem. But, since you’ve made the decision to be an improviser, that means you have the upper hand on the audience. You can do anything you want and they will like it. The only thing they won’t like is doing nothing, which is not a choice. It’s dumb and I hate it.

You’re brilliant. You’re a master. You are funny and smart and amazing. Let them see it. Make a decision to make the best turkey sandwich on the planet. Just do it!


Interested in writing a piece for austinimprov.com? Email Kevin Miller at improv@happywaffle.com.

MITCH Week: Calling All Austin Improvisers

(M) Merlin Works
(I) The Institution
(T) The New Movement
(C) ColdTowne
(H) The Hideout Theatre

In any given week there are DOZENS of shows happening at the five big theaters/training centers, not to mention troupes producing shows at the University of Texas and other various venues around town.

Odds are you’ve been meaning to check out one of those shows at one of those places that you don’t normally play or see shows. Well, the second week in September is your chance!

We’re encouraging everyone in the community to go out and see at least ONE show at a theater that they don’t usually see shows at. And you can either play it safe and buy/reserve your ticket ahead of time, or you can gamble and just show up – all of the theaters have agreed to adopt an improvisers-see-shows-for-free-if-it’s-not-sold-out-at-showtime policy for the week of September 14-21.

 

Sunday, September 14

2:00 pm – Flying Theater Machine (@ The Hideout Theatre)
The Hideout presents the Flying Theater Machine every Sunday afternoon – improvisers act silly, kids laugh out loud and parents enjoy themselves as a new and unique story unfolds every week based on the kids’ suggestions. Who knows what will happen? Come find out! It’s story time for the imaginative and adventurous! This show is a blast for the entire family, but especially for ages four to ten.

6:30 pm – Free Improv Jam Night (@ Merlin Works at ZACH Theatre)
Come by the Kleberg Lobby at the ZACH Theatre for some drinks and snacks while the Merlin Works instructors lead guests through some fun, short-form warm up games. Then stick around for the Second Sunday Comedy Showcase at 8pm.

8:00 pm – Improv at ZACH (@ Merlin Works at ZACH Theatre)
See improv all-stars of Austin, the Known Wizards, headline this improv comedy showcase with spontaneous scenes, hilarious games, surprisingly good songs, and fantastic stories all made up on the spot based on audience input. You say it, we play it–like magic! Every show features a student showcase, guest troupe and the Known Wizards.

8:00 pm – The Rubber Room (@ The Institution Theater)
Does getting on stage drive you mad? Is this idea of jumping in front of a crowd of people with no idea what you’ll say an insane idea? Would you find it crazy to join seasoned professionals at creating characters and making up stories on the spot? Is this the kind of crazy you find irresistible or are you looking for new outlets for the many voices in your head? Then check into The Rubber Room every Sunday at The Institution Theater. The Rubber Room begins with a no-pressure jam session where anyone can join in the fun and is led by one of The Institution’s own teachers. A simple theme will guide each week’s jam, and the teacher will ensure everyone who wants to will have a time to play in a safe, welcoming environment. After the jam, stay for a 30-minute show put on by The Faculty, consisting of The Institution’s teachers. Then, stick around for The Institution Lottery, where you and up to three other people can join members of The Institution faculty on stage. You’d be crazy to miss this.

8:00 pm – Pass the Mic (@ The New Movement)
The New Movement presents awesome stand-up with a twist of experimentation. Some of Austin’s best comics showcase their latest before joining each other onstage to riff off audience suggestions. No telling what direction the show will take. Hosted by Joe Faina. Pass the Mic is now EVERY DAMN SUNDAY, Y’ALL. Bring your smart phone and your flawlessness.

8:00 pm – The Weekender (@ The Hideout Theatre)
Every Sunday the Hideout presents showcases of up-and-coming student performers followed by the most experienced troupes in town. Get blown away by the raw, joyful energy of new improvisers and then relax into the confident comedy of Austin’s most seasoned players. This week’s line-up is a Level Four showcase, a Level Seven showcase and an experienced improv troupe.

8:30 pm – Oh, Science! (@ ColdTowne Theater)
A night out can be tough: Expensive dinner. Expensive drinks. Expensive show. Expensive parking. Emotionally-expensive street harassment by cantankerous 6th street hooligans. Well, ColdTowne Theater wants to make the evening a little easier on you. Every Sunday night ColdTowne house troupe Oh, Science! offers a cheap improv comedy show. So bring your date, bring your friends, bring your crazy uncle Fred, and join us this Sunday (and every Sunday) for some end-of-week shenanigans.

9:30 pm – My Worst Best Friend (@ The New Movement)
The New Movement presents a stand-up comedy game show based on Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life. Audience members team up to support stand-ups as they perform their best jokes and engage in comedic challenges inspired by Groucho Marx’s classic game show You Bet Your Life. In the end, one audience member will win a very funny new best friend

Monday, September 15

8:00 pm – Snafu Improv (@ The University of Texas)
Join us for a never seen-again comedy made up on the spot. SNAFU Improv is UT’s longform improv troupe and rely on audience suggestions to make our show! We reside in RLM 4.102 off Dean Keeton and Speedway and our shows run from 8-9PM. Invite your friends and we’ll see you there!

8:30 pm – Monday Night Mash (@ ColdTowne Theater)
Monday nights, we mash-up three of Austin’s best improv comedy groups to perform for your pleasure. $5 gets you in and it’s always BYOB! This week features Bear Derby (Coldtowne Conservatory production presenting the “Small Universe” format), The Relatives (You’re relatives aren’t crazy. We are.) and Wink Planet (the industry leader in humor technology, stringing together humorous words, accents, gestures and faces in arrangements never before seen on a stage!).

9:00 pm – Sam Harter’s Comedy Challenge (@ The New Movement)
The New Movement presents on-the-spot comedy challenges! See Austin’s greatest improvisational stand-up’s make anything funny on the damn spot as they compete in surprise comedy challenges – from ‘Unknown Stand-Up Topics’ to ‘The Random Movie Voiceover Challenge’ to ‘Taking Suggestions from Sam’s Mom.’ Will they survive? Will any of us?

9:00 pm – Austin Comedy Hour (@ Spiderhouse Ballroom)
The New Movement presents a monthly stand-up comedy showcase of Austin’s best comics. Join hosts Lisa Friedrich and Rob Gagnon every third Monday at the Spider House Ballroom.

10:00 pm – Schtick! (@ ColdTowne Theater)
ColdTowne Theater presents open mic stand-up. The best and the worst of Austin stand-up comics gather every Monday to work out their newest material. Expect to discover a new favorite comic you’ve never seen before, expect horrible trainwrecks, expect magic! Best part of all, still BYOB and NO COVER. Show starts at 10PM finishes about midnight. If you’re interested in performing, email SchtickMe@gmail.com by Monday at noon.

Tuesday, September 16

8:30 pm – You Are Cordially Invited… (@ ColdTowne Theater)
You are cordially invited to attend a wedding at ColdTowne. Sign the guest book, grab a drink, and catch all the love, drama, and characters as a fly on the wall of the various rooms on this very special day.

10:00 pm – Tuesday Night Jam (@ ColdTowne Theater)
Every Tuesday night at ColdTowne is an open improv jam – come meet people, hang out, and get some reps in so your improv muscles look sick and ripped. We will all warm up together, and give a super brief rundown of what we’ll be doing in case it’s anyone’s first time. Then we will number off into groups and run short sets for each other. After everyone has gone we’ll take a brief break, and then divide into new groups to go again (and again?). Spread the word! Anyone is welcome to attend.

9:00 pm – Austin Improv Happy Hour (@ Violet Crown Social Club)
Stop boring your muggle friends with improv shop talk! Come shoot the shit with like-minded improvisers from Austin’s massive improv scene. Make some new friends, generate a new drunkenly brilliant show idea, meet that cute new guy or girl. This is a Happy Hour! Improvisers and friends of improv welcome! Come after your show, rehearsal or class! The Violet Crown is cheap drinks and a pleasant atmosphere for shooting the shit and talking shop.

Wednesday, September 17

8:00 pm – Opposites (@ The New Movement)
Patrick and Mark are dear friends, but their contrary personalities make it difficult for them to tolerate each other for very long. The only way they can express their true feelings to each other is by hiding behind improvised characters and situations that they create as the comedy duo Opposites.
Join Opposites Patrick and Mark every Wednesday night as they tolerate each other long enough to explore contrary points of view through the use of multiple story lines, swapped characters and colliding narratives.

8:30 pm – Miller & Purselley (@ ColdTowne Theater)
Miller and Purselley is a two man improv group who explore the narratives of everyday life, concentrating on the intricacies and nuance of grounded characters and the truth of those lives in the moment. They seek the story that’s already happening on stage and with the audience and follow it. Two Actors. Real Characters. One Story.

9:30 pm – Good Fight (@ The New Movement)
Wednesdays, right? They’re kind of the worst. Let Good Fight save your week by joining us at The New Movement every Wednesday night at 9:30 for free beer and free laughs with their unique brand of fast, high-energy, no-rules improv comedy. Come check out these spitfires as they set out to conquer Wednesdays for the good of all mankind. Good Fight is Tre Fuentes, David Howe, Courtney Sevener, and Jeff Whitaker.

10:00 pm – CageMatch (@ ColdTowne Theater)
Combining the time-honored American traditions of democracy and comedy, CageMatch is a competitive improv comedy show where the audience decides who advances in an eight week tournament. The winner gets to add their named to the hallowed CageMatch Championship Barbed Wire 2×4 – aka the Chump Chucker. The loser gets to live to see another day, maybe. Three troupes enter, one troupe leaves every Wednesday night at 10 PM.

Thursday, September 18

6:30 pm – Improv Zero (@ The New Movement)
Interested in taking a class with the New Movement? Want to test drive it first? Well, Improv Zero is your ticket! In this FREE weekly class, we walk you through some exercises and bullet points of what comprises an improv education with our conservatory. We go over the basics of what makes improv awesome and why we are awesome teachers of improv. So grab a few friends and come out any Thursday at 6:30p for a FREE IMPROV CLASS (and stick around for lots of fun shows afterwards)!

7:30 pm – Student Union (@ The New Movement)
Every Thursday the students take over the New Movement! Led by the TNM Student Council, this improv jam is open to all levels of TNM students and alumni. Show up at 7:15, put your name in the mix, and we’ll put you in a group to perform a short show in front of an actual audience!

8:00 pm – The Threefer (@ The Hideout Theatre)
This is Austin’s original improv variety show! Every Thursday three WILDLY DIFFERENT groups from theaters all over town converge at the Hideout for one surprisingly affordable three-shows-for-the-price-of-one entertainment extravaganza. This is where improvisers come to show off their moves and to watch each other tear up the stage.

8:30 pm – Light’s Up! (@ The New Movement)
Lights Up! is a weekly improv show that features the New Movement’s hottest house groups who are on the rise! These are the newest, baddest, freshest troupes coming out of our conservatory to date. Every week, we highlight a different troupe and every season has a different host troupe! Come see comedy the way it was meant to be seen…on Thursday nights at 8:30p! And stay for the insane craziness of TNM’s Block Party afterwards!

8:30 pm – The USA Presents: The F*ckin Media, Man (@ ColdTowne Theater)
This is the greatest country in the entire world. Everybody knows that. But there is one thing that would have you believe otherwise… The F*cking Media, Man. The USA (an improv team as great as the country for which it’s named) will teach the media a thing or too. They’ll take stories and current events and turn them into mind blowing comedy. Come take this country back from the LAME STREAM with the most patriotic comedy team in the world. USA! USA! USA! Carlos LaRotta, Kirk Johnson, Will Cleveland, and Chris Mckeever are some of Austin’s funniest, fastest, and (when they want to be) smartest improvisers. Come witness them use their honesty and common sense to take on The F*ckin Media, Man.

9:30 pm – Block Party (@ The New Movement)
Check out the New Movement’s anything-goes open mic that happens every Thursday at 9:30pm. This show is hosted by Terance McDavid and Yousef Roach and features standup, sketch, and performance art (maybe!). Whatver you want to do, come do it and see what happens. To get some stage time on Block Party please tweet to Terance McDavid @Tmcd02 or email TNMBlockPartyAustin@gmail.com!

10:00 pm – The Mission (@ ColdTowne Theater)
The Mission is a playful project in storytelling at ColdTowne Theater. Centered around a monthly theme autobiographical storytellers are interspersed with performances in other storytelling mediums to create a unique and eclectic show.

10:00 pm – The Free Fringe (@ The Hideout Theatre)
After a few drinks at the bar, improvisers are prone to saying things like “Wouldn’t it be crazy if…?” or “I just had the most insane idea for a show…” Every Thursday night the Free Fringe is where those dreams go to live gloriously on the stage for one night only. Every week is dramatically different – improvisers tied up with ropes, 50 performers onstage, blindfolded actors, improvising dogs, the list goes on. THE FREE FRINGE IS FREE. Reserve your tickets in advance to guarantee yourself a seat.

Friday, September 19

7:00 pm – Gigglepants (@ The University of Texas)
Gigglepants is UT’s only short-form improv comedy troupe. Every show, we create new, never-seen-practiced-done-before comedy, all based off of your suggestions. And we do it all for free!

7:00 pm – Movie Riot (@ ColdTowne Theater)
ColdTowne presents a live comedy double header event. Two teams of comedy juggernauts take the ColdTowne Theater stage to create brand new never-before-seen movies live on stage. From a given song title or lyric, the performers will lovingly craft complete improvised films, all made up on the spot. But the fun doesn’t end there. Add in free margaritas, popcorn, and movie candies and you’ve got a recipe for a killer cinema-inspired live comedy event.

7:30 pm – 2×4 (@ The Hideout Theatre)
Peanut Butter and Jelly. Bangers and Mash. Moose and Squirrel. Some of the best things in life come in 2s. That is the principle on which our brand spankin’ new 2×4 showcase is built. Each week four (yes four!) two-person teams of improvisers will do their best to show you that less is more. Come see some of the finest talent in town in a whole new way.

8:00 pm – Crash Every Party (@ The Institution Theater)
iScream Sandwich is inviting you to improv and cocktails with the cool kids. Pillow fight at the slumber party in the other room, shake your groove thing at the Dance Party down the hall, trade barbs at the Political Party, or go for 7 Minutes in Heaven. iScream Sandwich invites you to attend as many parties as are spread out throughout The Institution Theater in that one night nestled between two energetic sets of improv. Every week will feature different celebrations throughout the building hosted by improv mavens, iScream Sandwich and a different special guest troupe, with each showcasing their hilarious audience-inspired comedy to close and open the night, respectively. Attendees will also get a photo booth, the magic of Andrew Johnston and free iScream Sandwich cocktails. This week’s guest troupe is BOSS.

8:00 pm – The Big Bash (@ The Hideout Theatre)
The Big Bash‘s all-star lineup of performers will kick off your weekend with games, scenes and an improvised movie in the genre of your choosing. This show combines the very best parts of the Hideout’s award-winning shows and improv comedians. The Big Bash is a guaranteed hilarious date night, company outing, bachelorette party and more. Join our spectacular, all-star cast year-round for top notch improv comedy.

8:30 pm – Bad Boys (@ ColdTowne Theater)
Bad Boys have garnered acclaim as one of the best improv comedy ensembles working in Austin, playing to sold out houses across the city and inspiring audience reviews such as “everyone in the ‘Bad Boys’ troupe wears glasses. They were also hilarious,” and “I mean, they’re weird, sure, but it’s funny.” They perform in a way that is both fierce and highly intelligent, like velociraptors.

9:00 pm – Water Park: Musical Improv (@ The New Movement)
The New Movement brings you the only comedy troupe in Texas that sings, dances and plays their own instruments. They all changed the game. Only one is still doing it. Water Park. Every Friday in September at 9pm at The New Movement.

10:00 pm – Late Night Time Machine (@ The Institution Theater)
Late Night Time Machine with Teddy Hancox is a time-travelling talk show from the questionably tasteless age of 1968, complete with guests flown in from anywhere across the history of mankind. From Socrates, Sigmund Freud and Shirley Temple, to Bindi Irwin, Justin Bieber and Paula Deen, no personality is too large or clash too great for hard-drinking, hard-smoking, hard-womaning host Teddy Hancox. Each episode will feature new guests and new mind-blowing adventures, unbelievable backstage interactions, and live commercials from an era of American history best left unremembered.

10:00 pm – Live at ColdTowne (@ ColdTowne Theater)
It is a well-known fact that Austin is one of the best cities to see stand-up comedy. Over the last five years, the Texas comedy scene has blown up. And ColdTowne Theater has been right in the center of that explosion every Friday night with Live at ColdTowne. You may recognize many of the comics who perform at Live at ColdTowne from Comedy Central, HBO, The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and more! After seven years, Live at Coldtowne is one of the oldest regular stand up showcases in town! This show sells out, so get your tickets in advance or show up early. The show consists of a mix of 10 performers ranging from first time open-micers to seasoned pros. Every week features a different headliner who will perform a 15-20 minute set. To sign up or see this week’s headliner, visit: http://liveatcoldtowne.com!

10:00 pm – Pgraph Presents (@ The Hideout Theatre)
Parallelogramophonograph (Kareem Badr, Kaci Beeler, Roy Janik, and Valerie Ward) has been performing together for over 8 years and 500 shows (and counting!). They specialize in improvising full-length plays, ranging from delightful and frenzied to dark and sinister. PGraph has toured internationally and performed at the most prestigious improv festivals in the world as well as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Their love for theatre and a hive-mind-like ensemble combine to produce some of the most unique improvised plays you’ll ever see. Each week, Parallelogramophonograph will split the bill with one of their favorite troupes in town.

10:30 pm – Plugged: The Real @ChrisTrew Show  (@ The New Movement)
The Real @ChrisTrew Show is a little bit of everything and the opposite of nothing. It’s comedy curated by a guy who was called “highly offensive” by Howard Stern on America’s Got Talent who was probably joking. He also finished dead last in an Austin-American Statesman Most Eligible Bachelor poll like, 5 years ago and he hasn’t stopped bringing it up. Do not fall for the fake Chris Trew, please.

Saturday, September 20

10:00 am – What’s the Story, Steve? (@ ColdTowne Theater)
What’s the Story Steve? is improvised, interactive story theater for kids. Featuring Steve, the improvising poodle, these shows invite audience members to help our cast create original, high-energy stories. Great for all ages, audience members are welcome to participate or just sit back and enjoy the show.

4:15 pm – Free Class (@ The Hideout Theatre)
Curious about classes at the Hideout Theatre, but not quite ready to commit to six weeks and $189? Come check out a FREE sample of our classes. We’ll give you a low-pressure taste of the games, exercises and basic philosophies that we teach in our Level One classes. Free classes are every first Wednesday and third Saturday of the month.

6:00 pm – Maestro RAW (@ The Hideout Theatre)
The Hideout Theatre presents a chance to view the rising stars of the Hideout as they battling it out in a RAW version of our signature show Maestro. Twelve Hideout students and up-and-coming improvisers from around town compete in games and scenes based on audience suggestions. Only one improviser will survive to the end and be crowned Maestro. Come cheer on your favorites and soon-to-be favorites.

8:00 pm – Risen (@ The Institution Theater)
The Institution Theater presents RISEN: Improv Inspired by World War Z. Each week, an acclaimed Austin actor will perform an edited selection from World War Z by Max Brooks, sharing a their first­hand account of the zombie apocalypse. Each monologue will be from a different part of the world and a different level of outbreak. The improv cast will then do a full length narrative based on the monologue they just heard. This will take us anywhere from China to Antarctica, island post war economy to the Paris underground, through the panic of the outbreak to the front lines of the Z War and back again. Each week a new world, a new story, a new tale of survival or decimation.

8:00 pm – Film Trivia Throwdown! (@ The New Movement)
Two teams prove their movie knowledge in an hour-long movie trivia game show with challenges like charades, on-the-spot poetry writing, jeopardy style quiz rounds, and more! FREE prizes! BYOB! What could be better? Hosted by G-Su Paek, Eva Shivers and Karen Early!

8:00 pm – Reform School for Wayward Girls (@ The Hideout Theatre)
The Hideout Theatre presents a brand new improvised show set in a 1970s all-girls reform school. Some of Austin’s best female improvisors are underage and under lock and key in this fun, sexy, and smart new improvised show set in a 1970s all-girls reform school. Do BAD GIRLS really have more fun? Of course they do! Come witness the most delinquent girls in the history of socially-conscious theatre reveal their secrets and sins with riveting consequences. And of course, no 1970s reformatory school would be complete without its stern headmasters, ineffectual teachers, lecherous lunch ladies, and local bad boy heart-throbs waiting cooly outside St. Agatha’s pristine gates.

8:30 pm – It’s Saturday Night! (@ ColdTowne Theater)
Drawing from almost 40 years of comedy history, cultural icons, and social commentary the cast of “It’s Saturday Night!” will perform new and unique sketches each week, as well as give the audience a peek at the improvised behind-the-scenes antics of the cast and crew as they struggle to put together live TV. Inspired by shows like “30 Rock,” “The Larry Sanders Show,” and “The Muppet Show” the Not Ready for Any Time Players will combine sketch and improv into live comedy performance unlike anything else in Austin.

9:00 m – Bad Example (@ The New Movement)
TNM’s amazing sketch show is back! Every Saturday the geniuses behind Bad Example will present a brand new hour of comedy for your viewing pleasure. It’s a big undertaking, and it’s going to be awesome. Presented by an exciting collection of sketch minds, Bad Example is written and performed by Cody Cartagena, Roxy Castillo, Micheal Foulk, Vanessa Marie Gonzalez, Ariel Greenspoon, & Jeff Whitaker.

10:00 pm – Mouthing Off: Stand-Up or Shut Up (@ The Institution Theater)
Boring weekend? Not anymore… Regina Soto returns to The Institution Theater stage as host of this stand-up showdown. Each week, “Mouthing Off: Stand-Up or Shut Up” will invite comedians from around Austin to bring their unique blend of hilarious and entertaining antics to center stage. Armed only with a microphone and their wit, these comedians will have to Stand-up or Shut up. Leading up to the show be sure to check out The Institution Theater’s Facebook page for that week’s lineups.

10:00 pm – The Frank Mills and Midnight Society (@ ColdTowne Theater)
ColdTowne Theater comedy powerhouses Midnight Society and The Frank Mills come together every Saturday night to perform smart, character-driven and absurdest comedy. The Frank Mills are all graduates of iO Chicago and have performed and taught at Second City, Boom! Chicago (Amsterdam), the Annoyance Theater and more! In 2005, they founded the educational arm of the ColdTowne Conservatory alongside Coldtowne and continue to train ColdTowne’s improv talent. They are multiple B. Iden Payne, Frontera Fest Best of Fest Winners and Austin Chronicle Best of Austin winners. Midnight Society is regularly sighted as one of the funniest improv troupes in Austin. Graduates of the ColdTowne Conservatory, Midnight Society’s members have accrued multiple B. Iden Payne award nominations and have toured across the country performing improv at festivals from New York to Phoenix. If you’re new to improv or ColdTowne Theater, this show is the best place to start.

10:00 pm – Maestro (@ The Hideout Theatre)
Every Saturday the Hideout presents twelve of Austin’s virtuoso improv comedians for a night of games and scenes based on audience suggestions — but only one of them will make it to the end of the show and be crowned MAESTRO for the week and awarded the coveted Canadian five-dollar bill. Austin’s longest running improv show, Maestro is guaranteed hilarious.

10:30 pm – The Megaphone Show (@ The New Movement)
The New Movement’s longest running show is every Saturday night! At each Megaphone Show we invite a special guest/local celebrity/fun-person-about-town up on stage to share a few of their favorite true stories. We take details of these stories to inspire fast, smart improv comedy. Come see why this has quickly become our most popular show.

11:15 pm – Play by Play (@ ColdTowne Theater)
Will Cleveland and Chris McKeever provide color commentary over Improv sets with Austin’s best improvisers.

11:45 pm – Port-a-Potty Make-Out Booth (@ The New Movement)
Tired of clean sketch comedy? Sick of spending your Friday nights in church basements, watching the local youth group perform skits about the dangers of not wearing a seat belt and improper hygiene? Have you ever wondered what would happen if an elite team of unsafe motorists and unwashed perverts produced a sketch comedy show just for you? Well, tough titties. Just kidding, idiot! TNM proudly presents Port-a-Potty Make-Out Booth, Austin’s dirtiest, raunchiest sketch show… ever!

Sunday, September 21

2:00 pm – Flying Theater Machine (@ The Hideout Theatre)
The Hideout presents the Flying Theater Machine every Sunday afternoon – improvisers act silly, kids laugh out loud and parents enjoy themselves as a new and unique story unfolds every week based on the kids’ suggestions. Who knows what will happen? Come find out! It’s story time for the imaginative and adventurous! This show is a blast for the entire family, but especially for ages four to ten.

3:00 pm – Merlin Works Mixer (@ Merlin Works at ZACH Theatre)
Beat the heat with some hilarious improv! Come mix, mingle, and laugh like crazy at the FREE Merlin Works Improv Mixer – a low-pressure jam where you can meet, mingle, practice and play with talented improvisers from all over town. The Mixer is a great place for beginners to rehearse and perform and for experienced improvisers to promote their coaching skills. With our home at the Kleberg Stage at ZACH, it’s also a great chance to share the joy of improv with the Greater Austin community. And, as always, it’s FREE! Anyone can come to play or just come to watch– so come on!

8:00 pm – The Rubber Room (@ The Institution Theater)
Does getting on stage drive you mad? Is this idea of jumping in front of a crowd of people with no idea what you’ll say an insane idea? Would you find it crazy to join seasoned professionals at creating characters and making up stories on the spot? Is this the kind of crazy you find irresistible or are you looking for new outlets for the many voices in your head? Then check into The Rubber Room every Sunday at The Institution Theater. The Rubber Room begins with a no-pressure jam session where anyone can join in the fun and is led by one of The Institution’s own teachers. A simple theme will guide each week’s jam, and the teacher will ensure everyone who wants to will have a time to play in a safe, welcoming environment. After the jam, stay for a 30-minute show put on by The Faculty, consisting of The Institution’s teachers. Then, stick around for The Institution Lottery, where you and up to three other people can join members of The Institution faculty on stage. You’d be crazy to miss this.

8:00 pm – Pass the Mic (@ The New Movement)
The New Movement presents awesome stand-up with a twist of experimentation. Some of Austin’s best comics showcase their latest before joining each other onstage to riff off audience suggestions. No telling what direction the show will take. Hosted by Joe Faina. Pass the Mic is now EVERY DAMN SUNDAY, Y’ALL. Bring your smart phone and your flawlessness.

8:00 pm – The Weekender (@ The Hideout Theatre)
Every Sunday the Hideout presents showcases of up-and-coming student performers followed by the most experienced troupes in town. Get blown away by the raw, joyful energy of new improvisers and then relax into the confident comedy of Austin’s most seasoned players. This week’s line-up is a Level Two showcase, a Level Seven showcase and an experienced troupe.

8:30 pm – Oh, Science! (@ ColdTowne Theater)
A night out can be tough: Expensive dinner. Expensive drinks. Expensive show. Expensive parking. Emotionally-expensive street harassment by cantankerous 6th street hooligans. Well, ColdTowne Theater wants to make the evening a little easier on you. Every Sunday night ColdTowne house troupe Oh, Science! offers a cheap improv comedy show. So bring your date, bring your friends, bring your crazy uncle Fred, and join us this Sunday (and every Sunday) for some end-of-week shenanigans.

9:30 pm – Set/ Re-Set (@ The New Movement)
The New Movement presents comedians doing sets of jokes suited for a traditional comedy club, and then with a little help from the audience and hosts, they’ll re-tell their best jokes with an absurd twist. Hosted by Eric Nagurney.

Improv & the Confidence Gap

I am not a feminist scholar. But I care about equality for the women in my life and the women of the world. So in that sense, I’m probably a feminist. Right?

I’m also a woman who’s chosen a career in the male-dominated field of information technology (IT). And my hobbies—comedy, sports, beers—leave me hangin’ with the bros often. I’ve been called “baby” and “sweetie” by men who can clearly see that I am a grown, salty woman. My ass has been grabbed, pinched, and slapped by strangers. I’ve been told I owe men sexual favors because they bought me a drink. My boobs have been the subject of jokes. I’ve been asked why I think I can keep up with the boys.

I may not have the academic standing or the vocabulary of the feminist scholar, but I’ve lived nearly 35 years as a woman. I get it.

Did you catch that? I just spent 3 paragraphs justifying why my opinions about being a woman are valid.

And that is the fucking problem.

The fact that I felt compelled to explain why it’s OK for me to have an opinion in “the woman discussion” is the reason the discussion needs to happen in the first place. And wow, is it a discussion!!! My Facebook newsfeed and Twitter is dominated by the discussion in the forms of the Confidence Gap, Leaning In, the Impostor Syndrome, and most recently #YesAllWomen. And all of the hateful backlash clutters my timeline, too.

Before these latest stories and campaigns appeared, I was already spending a ton of time thinking about what it’s like being a woman. But the well-deserved popularity of this discussion has me thinking a lot more about how my confidence as a woman is so different now than it was five years ago. So I’ve had to ask myself:

What did I do that made me start feeling good about being me?

The short answer is: Improv.

The long answer is, well, improv. My whole life I’ve been boisterous and opinionated as long as I felt “safe” with the people around me. But put me behind a podium or a microphone and I’d panic. Sweaty palms, cracking voice, flushed skin, shaking hands, blood rushing in my ears—all embarrassing physiological manifestations of fear.

My brother got married in 2009 and asked me to officiate the wedding. I gladly said yes, excited to write the words for an amazing ceremony. But the day of the wedding I broke out into full-body hives because I was afraid the way I spoke would ruin my brother’s big day. At work I’d have to spend many hours preparing to just open my mouth and deliver presentations to colleagues or clients.

I knew my happiness and success were being debilitated by a fear of speaking, using my voice. I understood the problem and I needed a solution. A boyfriend who’d been taking improv classes recommended I give it a try.

Stand-up comedy? On an improv site? When it's Cassidy, you betchya.
Stand-up comedy? On an improv site? When it’s Cassidy, you betchya.

In 2010, I signed up for a Level 1 improv class at The Hideout Theater. The first night of class I stood against the side of the room, a living, breathing wallflower. I remember being so horrified by the teacher. How was I supposed to play games with people when we hadn’t even introduced ourselves to one another!? I said about 15 words in a three-hour class. I met my friend Gloria in that class, and she told me months later that I looked so petrified the first day that she thought I’d never come back.

She was almost right. I thought about not going back. It was so terrifying. But it was also exhilarating and freeing. So I went to class for the second week. Then the third. I took it one week at a time. By the sixth (and final Level 1) class I was feeling more comfortable with trusting my gut, taking risks, and speaking up. And when I’d brush my teeth in the morning, I felt like the person staring back from the mirror was more vibrant, happier, and sure of who she was. My reflection began to look more and more like the person who existed underneath all those layers of fear and panic.

Improv wasn’t giving me a voice, it was helping me unearth the voice I already had—the voice that was suffocated by years of living in a society that told girls like me to follow the rules, sit quietly, and look pretty.

Before I knew it, I’d signed up for Level 2. Even more terrifying. Even more freeing. And at about this time, my newfound confidence started leaking into other areas of my life.

At work, for example.

Around the time Level 2 started, I was eyeing a new position at my company—a position I wanted, a huge promotion, something I’d kick butt at. But I hadn’t pursued this new position because I didn’t know how to take such a huge step forward. I was worried that my colleagues would think I was incompetent or under-qualified, or worse, that they would be mad at me for leaving my old team behind.

So I employed my recently acquired impov skills: I trusted my gut, focused in, took some risks, and was assertive in my opinions. I was scared, as pursuing this job could fuel intra-office politics and burn some professional bridges. But I stopped fantasizing about the job and took specific actions to get the job. And the most amazing thing happened:

I got the job. I got exactly what I wanted.

I was only 31 and had just landed my dream job. Did I get that job because of improv? Hell no. I got that job because I’m awesome.

But improv helped me accept and act on the fact that I’m awesome.

You know what else improv helped me accept? That I’m funny. Nah, fuck that, I’m downright hilarious. Once I acknowledged that I am awesome and hilarious I found myself compelled to be on stage more. I felt like I had to share my experiences because I was finally at a place where I could. Audiences were soon treated to funny stories about my amazing and comical life, and I was proud to show them the perspective a strong, female voice can bring to the stage. Then I decided that I’m so fucking hilarious that I should spin that off into trying stand-up.

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Cassidy illustrating part of her general kick-assery.

I have wanted to be a comedian since I realized I could make my family laugh at the dinner table. I spent years of my childhood with my eyes glued to The Tracey Ullman Show and Saturday Night Live. Bill Cosby was my hero, and not just because I loved Pudding Pops. During summer vacation, when I’d live with my grandparents for several weeks, my PaPa would let me stay up late so we could eat ice cream and watch Johnny Carson together. In high school, I’d write jokes in the margins of my notebooks, then scratch over them so no one could see them. This was a practice that carried into college.

When I became a high school science teacher I carefully crafted the delivery of clever science puns for my students. In 2007 I started reading books about stand-up. I started keeping a notebook just for jokes. I stopped scratching them out, but I never, not ever for one second, believed that a scared girl like me could ever stand behind a microphone and tell my jokes to strangers. Now I tell my jokes every chance I get.

In four years I’ve gone from an awesomely hilarious and terrified wallflower to an awesomely hilarious and terrified badass. Yeah, I’m still terrified. Every time I go on stage—be it to tell a story, do some improv, or try a new joke. Now, I stare that terror down and say “Fuck you, dude. I’m doing this anyway.” Because even with as far as I’ve come in the last four years, I know I have so much more bad-assery inside me, just itching to conquer this world. I’m awesome now, but I can still be more awesome.

The best part of all this is that people have started saying things to me like “We always knew you were awesome and hilarious, we’re so glad you’ve finally to started to see that in yourself.” (And, no, I’m not quoting my parents there.) The people who say these things are those with whom collaborate.

Quoting my parents is more along the lines of “Cassidy, keep telling that dick joke. It’s a good one. We’re so proud of you!”

I’m proud of me, too. For taking the first class that started me on a path of improvising, then storytelling, then stand-up. A path that’s culminated in the confidence to stop sitting down and watching and start standing up and doing.

This has applied in every aspect of my life. For example, I spent many days last summer using my voice to stand up for women’s rights. Who knew that my voice, combined with the voices of many others who were also inside the Texas Senate chamber during Wendy Davis’ historic filibuster, could breathe new hope into Texas politics?

This May marks my four-year anniversary in improv. But it’s also the anniversary of finding my voice. Improv has helped me learn to trust my instincts, to risk articulating the swarm of thoughts in my brain, and to commit to it all without wavering.

So I’m going to start this essay over. With confidence. Like the badass we all know I am:

Being a woman is tough. Thank you, Improv, for helping me see that I’m more than tough enough to handle it.


 Interested in writing a piece for austinimprov.com? Email Andrew Buck at andybuck@gmail.

 

 

3 Ways to Amplify Your Improv

I’ve been watching and performing a lot of improv lately, and I’ve noticed some naughty trends emerging—both in my own play and in others. I think much of our improv education is about repetition—reminding ourselves, time and again, of the fundamentals, so that we don’t drift too far from them.

So here are some reminders:

#1 – Commit 

The difference between good improv and not-so-good improv seems to boil down to the same thing over and over: commitment.

Committed improv is never bad. 

OK yes sure, it might not be paradigm-shifting, mind-blowing Mega Art every time. But it’s never terrible. Because watching adult humans giving 100% of themselves to a moment, to create something out of nothing, and to do it only because they are together … that’s some sort of magic. And magic isn’t bad.

THAT’S WHY THEY CALL IT “MAGIC”!

goonies-chunk
The best commitment in 1980s American film.

Look, we could—and we surely will—dive into a separate conversation about what “commitment” means in this context. But for now, suffice it to say: We aren’t committing enough.

It’s hard to commit, because it’s hard to be vulnerable in front of strangers. It’s hard to act well. It’s hard to suspend disbelief + listen to your partners + cheat out + keep track of names + do object work + pause for laughs + et cetera. It’s hard to commit.

But we have to try. Because not to try is to disrespect the art form and, way more importantly, your fellow players. To undercut your scene/character/story by refusing to commit to the reality of the scene is to yank the audience out of their reverie, to smack them across the cheek and shout, “You dumb p.o.s., we’re not REALLY on a pirate ship! We’re only pretending! And you believe us! You fool!”

Don’t be a jerk. Commit.

#2 – Stay on the Sideline

Now that I’ve implored us all to commit, let me implore us all to stay on the sidelines more often. Make like Buster Bluth and stay just out of frame:

giphy
You can always tell a Milford man!

To put it bluntly and center justified:

Usually, the best way for you to support a scene is not to enter it.

I’m not talking about improv jams, which are supposed to be frenetic improv bacchanals (though even those could stand some muffling).

Here’s an example: Maestro, the beloved short-form weekly show at The Hideout, features about a dozen improvisers. It’s gamey, and it moves fast, and there’s a lot of audience feedback. And before each show, the two directors will often implore the improvisers to “support each other.”

(They’ll often follow this up with the warning that they will “let you know” if your support isn’t welcome. A few weeks ago, two characters were going to do a scene about their dead mother. I was on the sidelines, not in this scene, but I decided it would be helpful to have a dead body to reference. So I stepped out onto the stage and fell to the ground, just as the lights came up and the scene began. That’s when one of the directors said, “No thank you, Number Four” (I was Number Four). Which meant I looked like a huge idiot in front of the audience and, thus, a bit more hesitant to support in the future.)

Anyway.

Now and then, Maestro turns into a “support orgy,” with anyone and everyone seeming to come into any scene—playing waitresses, playing neighbors, playing furniture, whatever. The scenes become cluttered. The audience gets lost. The whole thing just kind of explodes into meaninglessness.

A two-person scene is vastly different than a three-person scene. 

In fact, I’d argue that the difference is greater than any subsequent addition of players, e.g., two-to-three people is far more extreme a shift than three-to-four or seven-to-eight, etc.

This is a tricky business, of course. Because yes, sometimes a scene could really use some sort of support. But it doesn’t need your help nearly as often as you think it does. (What it needs, if anything, is more commitment.)

And there are some inherent disadvantages to coming into a scene, which you must overcome by virtue of your excellent support. For starters, if two characters are talking and a third character enters, the audience stops paying attention to the first two people, and they look to this new character entering. Energy shifts. Balance tips. Things get missed. Everything changes.

What I think I’m witnessing is ego. Our egos tell us, “Oh snap! Woudn’t it be awesome if you walked on as a Russian janitor right now? THIS SCENE NEEDS A RUSSIAN JANITOR!!!” And on you go, and the audience scratches its head. “What the hell is happening in this scene?”

#3 – Talk Louder

There’s not much to say about this one, but I’ll try.

ColdTowne Theater is pretty small. It seats about 50 folks in a tight proximity. On sold-out nights, the room is electric, and the front rowers rest their feet on the edge of the stage. But even in ColdTowne—even when it’s only half-full—I’m yearning to hear the players.

SPEAK UP!

Do it for your country!
Can Obama hear you? If not, you’re speaking too softly. (Or in a different state.)

You think you’re in a smallish space and don’t need to talk loud? You’re wrong.

Because it’s not just enough for you to be hearable, you need to be heard

Be more Broadway about your improv. Put a little Bob Fosse into your performance. Give us the improv equivalent of jazz hands. Project your voice. Cheat out to the audience. Because nobody gives a crap how subtle or clever you are if they can’t hear you. It’s the very first thing you should concern yourself with when you speak in an improv scene: being heard.

And just when you think you’re being too loud, be a little louder. Trust me. Austin is full of church mice improvisers. Volume is an audience’s dearest friend.

Kevin Miller of “History Under the Influence”

dinEvery Thursday in May, the headlining show at The Hideout Theatre is History Under the Influence. The premise of this show is simple enough: a narrator, played formidably by Austin improv veteran Mr. Kevin Miller, spends the afternoon getting drunk on whisky and beer, and then he describes a historical event or two. A team of improvisers, all of them stone cold sober, then act out Mr. Miller’s inebriated story.

history-Under-the-INfluence-677x1024

It should be noted here that Mr. Miller is not an expert on history. He works for Apple. But he is imaginative and he is drunk—and what else does a show called History Under the Influence need than that?

I recently sat down with the drunken Mr. Miller to discuss his show and some of his views on history. Here is that interview:


Thank you for meeting me, Mr. Miller.

Hi!

So what sparked your interest in history?

I’m like history.

Hmm?

I like history.

Ah. And why is that?

It’s about people, and things that happen to people, and places where happen.

But why an improvised Drunk History show?

Other people like history. Or drinks. Both. It’s for everybody. And improv! It’s for everybody!

Is there anything people show know before they come?

We go on third. So the first people will not be drunk probably. And the cast isn’t drunk. I got all the drunk. It’s fun.

And you walk us through a historical event?

Yeah.

Is it accurate?

Is your mom accurate?



Yes it’s accurate. Well last week I got the date of the Louisiana Purchase right. And there were Indians and white people were racist to them, so that’s accurate. Other stuff we make up cause it’s improv and that’s it.

Do you have a favorite period in history you’d like the shows to cover?

Dinosaurs.

…Any others?

Chinese Wall. Great Wall of China, I mean. But that would probably be racist. Last week was racist too. History is pretty racist now that I’m talkin about it. So maybe a happy story. Peasants and the pole that you go around with the flaps. Maypole!

Your knowledge of history is clearly encyclopedic. Do you consider yourself an authority on history?

I was a liberal arts major so yes. History. Anthropology. Trivia. Science. Bourbon.

Science?

Science of people. I dunno, I know about history!

But, have you… 

*looks around for unopened beer*

…done any historical research for the show?

Hmm?

Have you looked into history for the show?

History. I love it.

Right, but did you do any…

*leaves room*

Mr. Miller?

*returns with beer*

Mr. Miller, did you do any research for the show?

I like beer. Beer. Yes I looked up history research. Like stories. Five bucks. The show is five bucks. In May. Thursdays in May the show is five bucks.

Right.

I’m gonna go this is the wrong beer.

What does the wrong beer mean?

*leaves*


 

History Under the Influence plays every Thursday in May at The Hideout Theatre in downtown Austin. Click here for more info and tickets.