The Sunday Interview: Dave Buckman


Dave Buckman is Austin’s strongest link to Chicago improv, having lived and performed there with some of the greats back in the high times of the 1990s. He has famous friends and has learned from some of the giants in the improv world. Lucky for Austin, he brought his know-how down to Austin and set up camp at ColdTowne Theater where he still teaches and performs regularly, often with powerhouse troupe The Frank Mills. He’s also one-half of Rachel & Dave, his duo with his equally talented wife, Rachel Madorsky. As improv couples go, I like to think of them as the Kurt Russel and Goldie Hawn of our scene. Having taken a couple of Dave’s workshops, I can attest to his improv intuition. He’s able to identify an improviser’s shortcomings and strengths very quickly and suggest simple, tangible fixes. He makes improvisers better, period. And half of his last name is fantastic. The Sunday Interview is giddy to present…

Dave Buckman

The Basics

Age:  41

City:  Austin, Texas

Number of Years Doing Improv:  21

Primary Web Presence:


Who’s your improv hero? 
Too many to pick one.

Dudes: Bumper Carroll, Rich Talarico, Kevin Dorff, Horatio Sanz, Jordan Peele, Rush Howell, Scott Adsit, Neil Flynn, Jason Sudeikis, Rob Janas, Robin Williams, Howard Stern

Ladies: Steph Weir, Tina Fey, Laura Krafft, Jet Eveleth, Dani Sher, Susan Messing, Amy Poehler

Who’s your improv nemesis? Name names!

[Editor’s Note: This answer is unacceptable! I demand blood!]

You get to do an improv show with any human, alive or otherwise. Who would it be? And what type of show would you want to do with them?
Phil Hartman.  Whatever he would want to do.

Who, if anyone, first encouraged you to try improv?
Richard Marcucci, my Junior High Dean, High School Art Teacher and the first person to direct me in plays. He would ask me to improvise during play rehearsals in character. It was too easy to get laughs from everyone. I was hooked

Who’s the funniest famous person?
Right now? Louis CK

Who’s the funniest non-famous person?
Rachel Madorsky, consistently.

The Art

buckman collared hsYour most memorable improv experience:
I was a Vegas-style Elvis impersonating doing a quickie wedding at the end of an iO show with my iO troupe, Pontius Pilate. I got pimped into improvising a made-up Elvis style Vegas song with live piano accompaniment… which I knew a) would be the out to the show and b) had to be good. I winged it. Got a huge applause for the button and walked off stage like I was floating. John Lutz saw me in the hallway right afterward buzzing and he told me to hold on to that moment as long as I could. I still am holding onto it…and trying to get back to that. Like Jack drunkenly flying coach in the last season of LOST, just flying over where he thinks the island might be.

The hardest I’ve ever laughed at an improv performance was: 
Rich Talarico. In a Dasariski show. 1999. He said something so offensive (I cannot repeat it, he was a politician in the South in the 50’s, I’ll leave it at that) yet so emotionally honest as the character. It was a total shock to the audience and it worked because you believed the character would say something like that. It revealed an ugly layer on such a likeable and charming character. The balls on that guy are so impressive.

Your biggest onstage improv pet peeve?
Interrupting your scene partner.

Your biggest offstage improv pet peeve?
Not wanting to warm up or connect before a show.

The warm-up you love the most:
The Lotus flower

The warm-up you hate the most:
Bippety Bippety Bop…sorry, Cupholders, it’s terrible and mean-spirited.

The thing that experienced improvisers do that drives me nuts:
Stop learning or taking workshops or practicing.

A piece of common improv wisdom that I tend to disagree with is:
I don’t think there is an answer to this question. If there is no absolute truth in improv, how can any of the common wisdoms be simply wrong? That’s your hang-up, Andy.

[Editor’s note: First of all, it’s “Andrew” now. Second, I’d like to point out I have about 47 hang-ups that rank above this one. Third, while I disagree,  Buckman has about 10x the number of years in improv as me, so I’m going to believe him on this one! Hang-up #48.] 

Your “go to” move when you’re lost or confused in a scene is to:
Speak my character’s truth and connect to my scene partner

The best way to connect with the other person in the scene is:
Eye contact.

Frankmills 00b2013

The Frank Mills (Two couples and one Jastroch.)

The second best way to end a scene is:
“I know, because…”

You’re publishing a short manifesto entitled “My Personal Improv Philosophy.” What are the titles of the first three chapters of that book?
1. Listen
2. Agree
3. React

The Bidness

Approximately how many hours have you spent as a student in an improv class? Ballpark it.

What’s the coolest venue in which you’ve done a show?
Lowlands Festival, in Biddinghuizen, Netherlands, 2001, one of Europe’s oldest festivals. I did a sketch and improv show for 5,000 people in a giant tent.  I sang on-key and then went and watched Stone Temple Pilots from the side of their stage.

Got a good improv festival story?
My first improv festival was the Big Stinkin’ Fest in Austin Tex in 1997. The State got naked at the Paramount that year. It was my last show with my college troupe before I moved to Chicago. We played the Velveeta Room. Fred Willard was in the audience. We got through only three short-form games out of nine on the setlist. I was the director of the troupe and I was devastated. I was inconsolable the rest of the trip. It felt like I blew it…forever. Now, I produce the festival here.

[Which festival is he talking about, you ask? Why, it’s Out of Bounds, which is only four weeks away!]

Have you personally spent more than $1,000 on improv related expenses in your lifetime (not counting gas)?

More than 5,000?

The funniest troupe or show name you’ve heard:
Buckman-Turner-Overdrive.  In my honor at iO after I left for Boom Chicago.

The Future

Your goal at your next show:
Say yes.

Your 2013 improv goal: 
Be more vulnerable. Do more acting.

Your lifetime improv goal:
Don’t suck. Stay relevant.

What is the one thing you’d like people to think when they think back on you as an improviser?
They were entertained.

Analogies & Errata              

Have you dated an improviser? Have you married one?
Yes and yes.

r& d slap fight

Rachel & Dave (Dave is on the right.)

The worst thing that’s ever happened to me during a show was when:
I shot MLK Jr. in a scene during an improv set on the Second City Mainstage. I don’t want to talk about it.  I was a terrible improviser that year.

If I could offer one piece of advice to an improviser who’s considering dropping out of improv altogether, I’d tell them:
You’re not as bad as you think you are. Running away from your fear won’t fix anything.

If I could wear only one outfit in every improv show for the rest of my life it would be:
A black suit.

The difference between a good improviser and a bad improviser is:
Emotional empathy.

What’s the longest period of time you’ve gone without performing any improv since you began?
A few months when I was just directing for Second City.

I have an improv crush on:
I don’t get to see a lot of improv shows anymore…most of whom I know are through my classes.  Right now my favorites are:

Michael Joplin, Kathleen Johnson, Troy Miller, Mac Blake, Taylor Overstreet, Jericho Thorp, Drew Wesley, Meredith Newell Roberts, Matt Needles, Carlos LaRotta, Mia Iseman, Bradley Parrett… and as always Bob McNichol.

I really want Bradley and Bob to a do person show together.  They’ve never met…but it would be slowest dryest show ever.

[Editor’s Note: Please notice how Dave mentions my very own duo partner, Mia Iseman, but not me. This is heartbreaking. But I appreciate his honesty. And his list, which is a damn fine list.]

The Hypothetical

It’s a tale as old as time: Because of your rudeness to a homeless gypsy woman, she curses you. The curse, known in Romania as Klok dáng, presents an interesting dilemma for you…

You’re instantly blessed with perfect improvisational talent. Perfect. Everything you do in improvisation is the ideal. Every line is exactly what the scene needs at that moment. You’re funny when the audience needs funny, and you’re heartwarming when they’re feeling a bit cynical. Your physical movements redefine the discipline. Your spacework is so realistic that the more entranced members of the audience would swear you were holding an actual coffee mug. You are handsome but malleable and can play any status required of you. You can do all formats and genres. You’re infinitely watchable onstage, and yet you maintain humility and deference to the art form.

In other words, you are the best improviser the world will ever know.

With that talent comes some nice fringe benefits. You’re a bigger deal than Del Close and Keith Johnstone rolled into one. You’re the messiah of modern improv, and you get plenty of opportunities to perform. Everyone’s dying for your time and wisdom. They pay you enormous sums to fly all over the world doing whatever show you want, with whomever you want. Your influence and talent makes you rich, famous (but not too famous!), and well respected. Life is grand.

Except for one thing…

Every time you use the word “you” or “I” in an improv scene, somewhere in the world a baby koala explodes.

Now, there are plenty of koalas. They aren’t endangered or anything. You’re not going to drive them to extinction with your deathly powers. It’s just simply this: If you say “you” or “I” in a scene, a koala explodes.

Gatorade, who for some reason has decided to sponsor you, calls you up one day to finalize your plans for a new worldwide “Improv Guru” tour. Five million bucks, the finest hotels and travel in the world, and tens of thousands of fans cramming into theaters to watch you perform.

The Gatorade rep on the phone asks you, “So! We’re very excited to get you out there on the road. But first, we need to know if you have any conditions that would prevent you from starting this latest tour. Anything at all?”

What do you say?

You’re kidding right?  No one knows it’s me blowing up the koalas or resents me for it (besides the koalas)?  I can live with that. I also think I can get that down to one or two You’s and I’s a show to minimize the death toll.  I’d also donate a good chunk of that dough to some sort of Koala Preservation Hospital or plant a tree in Israel.  One or the other.

stage phoo

Buckman holding an object work baby koala.


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