Welcome to the first of another regular series on YesAndrew.com: In Praise Of. Each Friday I will post a sort of “love letter” from one improviser to another. This is inspired by the annual Love Letter exchange at the Austin Improv Thanksgiving Potluck. Life is short, kiddos, and it’s easy to forget how much we adore those around us, to take them as granted.
While I’m kicking it off with a note to one of my favorite ladies, from now on I want YOU to be the writers. Send your “In Praise Of” letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t be shy. Tell those you love that you love ‘em and why.
by Andrew Buck
First of all, it’s pronounced “Ize-men.” I learned this only after having been in a troupe with her for several weeks. Before that, I thought it was “Iceman,” which is—let’s face it—infinitely cooler. But her last name is her only letdown. Everything else about Ms. Mia Thelonious Iseman* is top notch.
Together, Mia and I constitute the improv duo MANDINKA. And every time we finish a show I think to myself how lucky I am to have paired up with the funniest lady improviser in town.** And I say “funniest” because she can do a little bit of everything. She can toss her body around the stage with abandon; she can drop just the perfect witticism at just the perfect moment; she can play gigantic and absurd characters just as effortlessly as a very down-to-earth human females. She plays men, she does accents, she will leap up on a chair if she needs to. While I tend to stay pretty still and focus on making fart puns, she’s all over the stage, supporting and smiling and intoxicating the audience.
And audiences love Mia. But that’s mostly because she’s so lovable offstage. But more on that in a minute. First, I want to share with you some facts you may not know about The Iceman:
- She graduated from NYU with a degree in Math. MATH!
- She teaches geometry to poor, underserved kids at a charter school.
- She organizes these hugely complicated treasure hunts for her fellow teachers around the city—for no reason other than she wants to give them a good time.
- She is—and Paul Normandin will back me up on this—one of the best Ultimate Frisbee players in the country. She recently “retired” from the sport after helping lead the Austin team to 3rd at the National Championships.
- She has a big family, and her dad reminds me of Jimmy Buffet.
- Her boyfriend looks like Ryan Gosling at Burning Man.
We first met when were cast in an improv troupe after attending an Improv Mixer in January of 2012. That troupe—which featured Sunday Interview guest Teresa York—became the Seven Eight Sevens (a name I came up with, tut tut). It was the first time either of us were in a troupe, and we did a few truly excellent shows together. I loved everyone in that troupe, but Mia and I seemed to appreciate each other’s ballsiness onstage and slightly blue sense of humor. Plus, we both did accents.
So when the Seven Eight Sevens disbanded (only to re-form with new members, yay!) Mia and I turned to each other and said, “Wanna form another troupe?” We did, indeed. And we set out to find other people to bring into our loving bosom.
And this is where our story gets a little embarrassing: We didn’t know how to “add” people to an improv troupe, and neither of us had been around long enough to have a bunch of people to just ask. So the teacher in Mia, and the Excel wiz in me, reared their highly organized heads and we began planning. I attended Student Showcases at the Hideout to scout new talent. We posted announcements on the Austin Improv Forums that we were hosting our own “improv casting party” at her house. We held two of those “parties.” People came. We played. We had fun. And despite encountering a bunch of fantastic talent, and an aborted attempted to bring a couple of people into the troupe, we decided to just leave it as a duo.
We still laugh about how formally we tried to expand our group. I mean, who the hell were we to “cast” a troupe? Ugh.
But thank goodness none of those silly attempts worked out, because I couldn’t be more thrilled with MANDINKA. We do, if I may so, damn fine improv. And except for one show for an audience of five at Salvage Vanguard early on we haven’t had a bad show yet.
I credit much of that to Mia. She and I share some of the same strengths and weaknesses as improvisers, and we take the troupe very seriously. In fact, it’s Mia who often gets me to focus and connect before our shows, when maybe all I want to do is hop around and smoke cigarettes. Her commitment to improv makes me feel less goofy for being so obsessed with it. And her French accent is really coming along.
And so a few months ago, when I decided to try to form another show—Past Lives, a show about reincarnation—I knew I wanted Mia in it. We added the superb Ryan Austin and Aaron Saenz and have done, so far, three kick-ass shows and are working to refine this very tricky format. In rehearsals, it’s often Mia who has great suggestions for how to beef up our show, and she always—always—is in a good mood.
And maybe that’s why I love her so much. Because she’s unflappable. If I taught ungrateful demons secants and theorems all day I’d be a fucking nightmare to be around. I’d be mopey and grumpy and exhausted. Not her. Not Iceman. Iceman always shows up ready to go. She may complain about something one of her students did, but it’s always a funny story told with a gigantic smile. Life is, I think, something that Mia often observes from a slightly detached position, refusing to take things too seriously or let moments be ruined by being in a pissy mood. I have a lot to learn from her.
At least twice a month someone asks me if Mia and I are dating—because we’re often found together. I tell them no, no, but she is my improv mistress. And if I have my way, MANDINKA will be around for a long, long time. It’s my primary improv commitment and it’s because Mia is the other 50%.
Iceman, you can be my wingman anytime.
* — Mia’s middle name isn’t Thelonious. It’s probably something like “Ann” or “Catherine.”
** — She will murder me for this, as she’s constantly reminding me of a long list of female improvisers who “are way better than” her.