The Sunday Improv Interview: Carlos LaRotta

Carlos LaRotta (pronounced “Car-los La-Rotta”) wants you to come watch an improv show. To get you to come, he’ll do all sorts of things: he’ll make a kick-ass poster, he’ll make up a batch of freebie margaritas for you, he’ll ping you on Facebook, etc. But mostly, he’ll perform his ass off and he’ll make you laugh. Carlos LaRotta is a proud addition to ColdTowne’s proud tradition of hard-working comedic maniacs. I’m confident that when our alien overlords visit ColdTowne in 2054, they’ll find Carlos absolutely killing it onstage. 

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Carlos LaRotta sometimes, but rarely, wears fancy pullovers.

 

Carlos LaRotta

Age: 30 + some change

Years doing improv: 3.5 years + some change

Web presence: Holler at me on Facebook

Troupes/shows currently involved in:
• Movie Riot (Fridays at 7:00 pm)
• The USA
• Skutch
• Whalehouse
• Lovely Horse


 

Carlos, what’s the best thing about improv?
The best thing about improv is when you make people laugh by being smart and being in tune with other smart people and those smart people are your friends and you love them.

Who’s the funniest human who’s lived?
I have a feeling it’s Neil Casey, but I don’t know for sure. He’s definitely my favorite comedy performer whom I don’t know personally (though I have met him and I took a workshop with him).

Um, who else? Many of The Simpsons writers are probably the funniest humans. Man, all my troupemates are the funniest people I know. My mom’s hilarious.

I have a hard time with questions like these. I don’t even know what my favorite movie or band is, soooo…

You seem to be onstage a lot. How often are you performing per month? Do you, or have you, ever felt “improv burn out” creeping up?
Currently, I perform at the very least four times a month – but that’s because I’m very fortunate to have a weekly show. Though, more realistically (and not including improv jams) I probably perform more like seven times a month.

I admit, I do perform a lot – but that’s only because I’m bat-shit crazy about improv.

As far as getting “improv burn out” – I don’t. Not yet anyway. I still feel it’s a privilege to get on that stage every time I get on it. Like everyone else, I do have my moments where I feel I suck, but then I always remember that in a couple weeks I’ll get full of myself again after an awesome show, so it all evens out.

You and I played the Poblano brothers — a couple of douchebag spring breakers from Myrtle Beach — in a BBQ-inspired improv show last year, Braised in Texas. What do you make of that, of performing pre-set characters in an improv show?
That was a very fun show/set of characters. Since then I’ve been in, I think, three or four other shows with preset characters. I think as a show producer, I can see how it’d be really fun to create a world and then populate that world with improvisers playing pre-set characters and that definitely has its place on this planet.

Though, as a performer, I have felt it to be a little creatively awkward for me – as I love me some good ol’ fashioned Chicago-style long form improv comedy, and I guess I consider myself a very game-y improviser. I like to be able to switch up point of view or status without being tethered to a costume or personality or gender, etc.

So, like, say in Braised in Texas, that was a lot of fun because we got to do both. We had our Poblano Bros characters throughout the bulk of the show, but Erika (the director) also gave us a twenty minute chunk in the middle to montage-improvise as whatever characters we fancied. That balance she created was amazing. Damn I miss that show, it was so good.

Carlos winning an award in character. (Or IS he???)

Carlos winning an award in character. (Or IS he???)

What’s the hardest you’ve ever laughed?
On a very sweaty Friday night last summer, I ended up at Barbarella (a dance club in downtown Austin) with some comedy friends. I remember it was after a particularly fun Movie Riot show, so we had some good drinks and were in a jolly mood.

It was 80’s Night and the dance floor was jam packed. If you’ve never been, just imagine one of those movies where there’s a club scene with a huge dance area and someone gets stabbed on the dance floor and no one really notices and they keep on dancin’ – it’s just that suuuuper packed.

Anyway, since we weren’t really able to dance all that much due to the lack of space, Kirk and I started swaying side to side by pivoting at the hips, and mashing our shoulders into whoever was next to us, like we were human metronomes. This made us laugh a bit.

But then, suddenly, one of us (don’t remember who) said “Let’s go!” and we both went off into the dance floor to do our metronome dance, walking sideways shoulder to shoulder with our arms pressed flat against our sides, sorta Oompa-loompa-ing our way through the dance floor, in tune to some 80’s beat, and just bulldozing our way through the crowd.

It was like improv magic – it wasn’t discussed, we just did it. We kept straight faces the whole time, except to say “Oompa-Oompa-Oompa” over and over while we did that. We went in a complete circle around the dance floor twice, pissing off many many people. But again, it was so packed that when they tried to shove us back, we were already gone, and all they could probably see was us swaying side to side and mouthing out “Oompa!”

At some point Eli Eidson joined us for our second go-round and anyway, after we eventually stopped and thought about what we had just done, I laughed the hardest I’ve maybe ever laughed. This isn’t even one of those “ya had to be there moments” – just hit me up next time you see me in person and I’ll demonstrate the dance-walk we did. You’ll see.

You’re married to a non-improviser. What does she think of that thing you go do a few nights per week? Has improv made you a better husband in any noticeable ways?
Hmm, well, Shannon loves me, I know that. But I don’t know that she loves improv. She’s seen me do it a few times, of course, but really, since we have a kiddo, it’s rare that both of us are out on the town on the same night – and if we are, it probably ain’t gonna be improv we’re watching.

But I think she likes that it makes me happy and allows me to have a place to get out some of my creative yearnins (in other words, me doing improv somewhere else probably means less annoying character work and “new voices I’m working on” at home). I’m not sure if improv has made me a better husband, but it has made me a better lover. Jk that’s gross, sorry.

I think if anything, it just makes me a happier person and you know, happiness is important from time to time.

If you wrote a book about improv, what would be the titles of the first three chapters?
1. You’re not funny.
2. LISTEN WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND REACT HONESTLY
3. OK, now you’re funny, keep listening tho

Am I wrong in thinking that you get a big kick out of pop culture and nostalgia? Are you a heavy consumer of media?
I think maybe I do get a kick out of pop culture and nostalgia, yes. Especially nostalgia. I’m a very sentimental person prone to intense bouts of nostalgic pangs. But with that, I do also enjoy that stuff somewhat ironically as well.

One of Carlos' many, many poster designs.

One of Carlos’ many, many poster designs.

Lately I’ve found myself really into (the idea of) these young twenty-somethings who are nostalgic about watching Pokemon, like, ten years ago. In other words: Tumblr? I don’t know, I’m getting old. But yeah, I guess I’m a pretty heavy consumer of media, especially when it comes to internet comedy. If it’s funny and recent and dumb, I’ve prolly seen it.

Who’s an underrated performer or troupe in Austin?
You know, that’s hard to say. I think anyone I would say is “underrated” would really just mean that I think they’re “underseen” and I know that’s not a word because my spellcheck put a red dotted line underneath it. Most of those UNDERSEEN people are students I’ve met in the last year, so that sorta comes with the territory.

There’s some old school ballers like Lubu Roberts and Lisa Jackson I’d love to see perform more (with me preferably). Tre Fuentes should perform more.

For example, Cody Dearing is one of my troupemates in Skutch. We play a show or two every few months but really, currently Cody doesn’t perform all that much outside of those few Skutch shows. And while I’d like to see him perform way more since he’s seriously one of the sharpest minds in Austin improv, I’d never say he’s underrated. We all know Cody is better than us.

You perform with your troupe Movie Riot every Friday night. Tell us what sets this show format apart from others. Why should folks come see your show?
Nerdy answer: the movie format is a very cool and dynamic format that sorta straddles differing philosophies and/or styles of play in improv. It has a Harold built into it and starts out very premise-based, but then kinda slips into the realm of organic improv for a bit, while also being all wrapped up in this narrative framework.

Movie Riot (every Friday @ 7:00 pm at ColdTowne Theater)

Movie Riot (every Friday @ 7:00 pm at ColdTowne Theater)

 

I think as an audience member it can be extremely satisfying: you’re getting your neat story with a beginning, middle, and end, but since it relies heavily on scene painting, you’re also never getting those “scenes in a white void” – things like backgrounds and camera angles and soundtrack are being described to you in detail (and often times in a very meta fashion – as in, Movie Riot argues over details on stage), taking you along this ride in real time. It’s like watching a movie and its “making of” documentary at the same time.

However, Movie Riot differs slightly – and somewhat unintentionally – from the original Del Close version of the format, as well as UCB’s version. There (as I see it anyway) they have a bigger emphasis on camera angles, with less emphasis on finishing the narrative. It’s a lot more visually accurate. Movie Riot is a bit flip-flopped. We have a little less emphasis on visuals, putting a lot more importance into completing the story arc. In fact, we were once coached by some UCB staff and they told us not to worry about finishing the movie. And I don’t know why, but we didn’t listen.

I’d say that’s our main (and unspoken) goal in each show: to finish the damn movie, and in under 40 minutes.

So what this means is that we’ve adopted a super high energy style of play that very often times breaks, nay, shatters the fourth wall. It really is fun.

Ya know, to be honest, maybe that actually has always been our number one goal: have fun. Experiment, explore, sure – but first and foremost, have fun. I know a lot of troupes and improvisers say that, but we fucking mean it. Kyle Sweeney has ripped a pair of pants clean off his body on stage, Josh Krilov broke a tooth I think, Kirk Johnson and Lance Gilstrap have definitely injured themselves, and I’ve nearly passed out from exhaustion on many occasions. Fun!

What’s the improv dream — where is this all leading, anyway?
I guess my dream, like many others, is to be paid to be funny — through writing, acting, or directing. It used to be that I just wanted to make movies and thought improv might help me with that. Now, I wanna get on the other side of the camera and be funny for the good people if they’ll allow it.

What’s cool is that even if I fail, improv is there and still free to do, so I can still do that to feed the monster inside and have a grand ol’ time.

Anything you’d like to plug?
In general, go see more shows at ColdTowne and The New Movement.

Specifically, Movie Riot is on Fridays at 7:00 pm at ColdTowne. Keep an eye out for a thing called Beauty Wife, to be hitting shelves sometime next year.

What’s one thing most people don’t know?
I’m descended from Italian pirates who came to South America seeking treasures and, I’m assuming, native ladies. Also, I don’t really like playing games (in a literal sense, not in an “overlydramatic friend on facebook” way). Don’t like boardgames, never liked drinking games, not too huge on video games (I do like a few, I’m not completely insane).

The USA!

The USA!

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