This interview is long overdue. Brad Hawkins has been a staple in the Austin improv community for nigh almost six years. He performs, directs, hosts, and does an impeccable German accent. But more than his tireless commitment to this art, what stands out is Brad's kindness. He's just a wildly chipper motherfucker.
Years doing improv: Going on six
Troupes/shows you're in:
- Franz & Dave
- The Black Vault
- Tall Tales of the High Seas
- Director of Trust No One and You Can’t Stay Here.
Web presence: A blog I haven't updated in years, and of course Facebook.
Why do you improvise?
When I write, I constantly second-guess myself, go back and revise, constantly, and never progress. Improv gives me a way to tell stories without that kind of safety net. There's no editing. There's no time for doubt. There's only the moment, and doing. It's the most difficult thing I've ever done, but that's why it's important to me.
Tell us about Franz & Dave, the show in which you and Ceej Allen play Franz Kafka and David Lynch, respectively. What was the genesis of that show? What's it like improvising within the same character every show?
We play the same characters to an extent -- the framing of every show is Kafka and Lynch, but as those characters weave their stories, we have the opportunity to play a variety of characters.
I feel that being Franz & Dave give us grounding, a home base to return to. But really, the reason we do it is that Franz & Dave are us. The wigs and costumes and accents are just permission to be our weirdest selves.
And that's how the troupe came about; Ceej and I met, and recognized a kinship in the off-kilter way we saw things, and wanted to do a project together, so we chose the most surreal thing we could think of. Franz Kafka making a movie with David Lynch.
"Dating in the improv community." Discuss.
I’m not one of those people who dismisses the idea because there’s a risk of awkwardness; that’s true of any community. That said, you have to at least be a mature adult and understand that you might find yourselves in Fancy Pants long after you’re in their pants, so be cool.
But this is a self-selecting community, that tends to attract interesting, smart, and funny people. So so of course the urge to find the interesting, smart, funny person you want to spend your life (or whatever) with therein is pretty strong.
Who's the funniest person you personally know?
Andreas Fabis. He seldom goes for gags. He just plays with an incredibly childlike approach, a grown-ass man who’s never been told that grown-ass men don’t do this. Everything’s play. That’s what I think an improviser should be.
What's the hardest you've ever laughed?
The hardest I ever laughed was at a page in a Far Side collection -- they had collected a few instances wherein the Far Side's captions got switched with whatever other one-panel strip was running next to it in some paper or other.
In this case, the Far Side had received a nonsensical caption from Dennis the Menace -- but Dennis, ah Dennis, he was gazing lovingly up at his mother and saying "I see your little, petrified skull, labeled and resting on a shelf somewhere." I laughed for at least five minutes straight, could not stop, and thought it was likely that that was how I was going to die. I must have been sixteen or seventeen.
You've been improvising a long time. How do you stay engaged, how do you keep it fresh and interesting?
Having an awful memory helps. Recently a friend, seeing that I was blue about not doing very much improv, sat me down and made me look at my calendar — and it turned out I’d been doing a show every couple weeks. I had just forgotten. That can’t help but keep things fresh. Mixing it up between performing and directing is good, too.
What's something that newer improvisers can do right now, tonight, to have more successful scenes?
Assuming you read this on a Sunday, go to a jam, like the Rubber Room at the Institution. Get up on stage and watch your scene, the one you started, go to absolute shit as other people pile on with their idea of whatever will be funny at the moment. And learn to love it.
Jill Bernard says that you should treat whomever you're onstage with as the greatest improviser in the world. Learn to do that and you'll stop fighting for control of a scene and you'll be able to be more in the moment. That's something I'm learning, slowly.
What's your worst improv habit?
META. For fuck's sake, meta. Commenting on the scene instead of inhabiting it. It comes from fear. Kill it. Kill it with fire.
What's one of your strongest improv skills?
I do great monologues, and I think my characters are generally pretty strong.
You've directed improv. Do you want to do more of that? Why or why not?
Absolutely. I love it. There's a narcissistic thrill involved in getting your vision up on stage. Guiding it, shaping it, being responsible for it. It’s like a child, but cheaper.
But beyond that, you get so much insight into the way other people play when you’re watching it like it’s your job. I’ve cribbed so much from amazing players that I’ve directed, whether in Maestros, the Derby, or my mainstage shows. Greatest workshops ever, and I didn’t have to pay them a dime.
If you could cast your "dream improv troupe" from any people, living or dead, and you have to pick four other people --- who do you pick?
I’ll choose people I don’t usually work with: Jill Bernard, Dave Buckman, Michael Joplin, and the late Robin Williams.
What's something that most people don't know about you?
That’s becoming a tough question to answer, as I tend to put pretty much everything out there.
Maybe that I studied art in college. Photography mainly. Never made it a career, as I was significantly worse than many of my peers, a situation which has not improved since my entry into this community.
Anything you want to plug?
I’m in a project Andy Crouch is directing that I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to talk about, but let’s just say it’s about a bunch of people fighting over a very uncomfortable chair.