In Austin improv, Emma Holder is as certain as the North star. She’s been performing around town for years, and she always seems to have a new project on the burner. I’m honored to say that my very first troupe, The Seven Eight Sevens, included Emma, who was the wily veteran who kept us in line. But these days, she’s got bigger fish to fry, including producing the pilot of her TV show, Local Celebrity, and continuing to invent new formats for her troupe Big Beautiful Warlock. This woman is a work horse and a damn fine, damn dependable improviser. Oh, and she’s funny as hell. Check it:
Years doing improv:
I have a blog about Melrose Place (the original series, of course): goingbacktomelrose.wordpress.com
What’s the Readers Digest version of your improv journey? Where did you study, where have you been, how’d you get here, etc.?
I’ve done theater my whole life, but it wasn’t until I moved to Austin and started taking classes at ColdTowne that I realized improv was an art form and not just an actor’s tool. I had always seen myself as a serious actress. I had no idea I was funny. Looking back, I was a total ham, but I had this image of myself as a very serious artist and person. Even as a little kid, my favorite movies were Fried Green Tomatoes and Beaches because (SPOILER ALERT!) I thought someone had to die at the end for a movie to be great.
Improv triggered a real sea change in my life. I allowed myself to own my sense of humor and be proud of it, and I also learned to calm down and not take everything so seriously (a lesson I will always continue to learn).
You have seen more improv than most folks. Can you enjoy improv, as an audience member? Do you ever get lost in a show anymore, or are you too experienced to suspend your disbelief? What’s it like being a “fan” of improv nowadays?
I still love going to shows. I’m sure it’s different from when I knew nothing about improv. I can get in my head about other peoples shows if I’m in a bad mood. (Would I have been able to make that move? How do I compare to these people???) … but I still find lots of joy in watching it and probably laugh even more because of my experience.
Seeing the process as you watch a show makes it even richer and more joyful because you feel like you’re in on it.
One of my instant impressions of you is that you have a real fondness for an earlier time. Maybe the 1990s, maybe the 80s, maybe earlier. But you have a throwback quality. Am I imagining that?
Ha! I had a friend in college who always said I was from another era. The specific era always changed, though. I have fainted a couple of times, maybe I am Victorian?
I’ve also had a healthy obsession with the Kennedy family since I was a little kid. I really love cultural history. I think that’s part of what attracted me to theater in the first place. You can experience other times and places and people. Even though it’s not real, you can try on other lives.
So the short answer is, I think so. I am fascinated with the past. I would not want to live in any other time period though, because I am a woman and I love the internet and life is hard enough.
Tell us about your television pilot!
Okay! It’s called Local Celebrity and it is about a struggling actress (me!) who gets a recurring role as a spokes-character for a local chain of fried chicken restaurants. It pays most of her bills and makes her semi-famous in a small part of Texas, but the job is terrible and she has to do all of these insane things for it.
It’s really about being a little bit older but still chasing this insane dream. Like me, she simultaneously questions herself and believes that this is the only thing she can do and that she needs to keep doing it. It’s basically my life, super heightened and with a fast food twist.
We are running a Kickstarter right now and are filming in August. Kerri Lendo is directing it, Christine Giordano is producing it, and I wrote it. A lot of awesome Austin improvisers are acting in it too: Michael Jastroch, Jericho Thorp, Ashley Nugent, Byron Brown and Arthur Simone.
What is something that will make someone a better improviser right away?
Make eye contact with your scene partner. Breathe. Have an opinion.
Try doing a “two peas in a pod” or mirroring scene. They are so much fun and people tend to shy away from them. (I need to do all of these things too!)
What would be the titles of the first three chapters if you wrote an improv book?
1. Get over yourself (and hating on yourself)!
2. Get over everyone else!
3. Have an opinion!
You’ve mentioned wanting to make the move to L.A. What’s the artistic dream as of today?
I have wanted to live in L.A. since I was a kid. The reasons have changed but it still feels like something I need to do. I love Austin and will miss it and the people here way too much, but I need to do it. I want to try it out for a few years, knowing that Austin will still be here and will always be a place where I can be happy and have a great artistic community.
My specific reasons for Los Angeles are simple, I really want to take classes at UCB, IO West, and Groundlings. I want to get together a legit writing packet and just try to push myself career wise, and L.A. is the place for me to do that right now.
What’s the hardest you’ve ever laughed?
Just last weekend I was in a hammock with my friend Cortnie and we were listening to 90s jams very quietly on my phone and I could not stop laughing. I almost choked. I couldn’t stop giggling, and then Cortnie couldn’t stop laughing at me laughing.
Another time my friend Francis and I invented a fake diet called the hot sauce diet. You just put hot sauce on everything you eat because the peppers speed up your metabolism. It was so dumb, but we laughed so hard. We were walking somewhere when we came up with it and I had to take a break and sit down on the side walk like a crazy person. I didn’t pee my pants but it was close. We were not on drugs.
I laugh the hardest at the dumbest stuff.
Who’s your favorite non-Austin improviser?
Oh man! There are so many.
I recently saw Suzi Barret for the first time and fell in love. She has the best stage presence. Zach Woods is up there too. Craig Cackowski as well. Switchboard (Rebecca Sohn, Jean Villepique, Debra Downing), TJ and Dave are probably my favorite shows I’ve ever seen. Jill Bernard! I had the pleasure of playing with her for 43 hours straight and that woman is insanely talented and giving.
I want to list about 30 more people but I will cut myself off.
Which improv skill do you most want to improve?
Getting out of my head. That one will always be there. Sticking to my character work. I’ve been getting lazy in that area recently and it has been bothering me.
Talk to us about Big Beautiful Warlock. What does that troupe represent to you?
Big Beautiful Warlock (BBW) are my improv family! We have been performing together for years at this point, so we are pretty comfortable. I love that we all like to do silly stuff and try new things.
Our new show is called Exotica—which is a half improvised, half planned bit show that takes place in a tacky, 1960s-style fake tropical resort in Duluth, Minnesota.It’s so niche and bizarre but it’s really funny and perfect for us. It is an incredibly supportive group and we follow that support to weird places and it is delightful.
Anything you want to plug?
-The Local Celebrity Kickstarter! Please help us make our show if you can:
–Big Beautiful Warlock’s new show, Exotica, is this Tuesday (July 22) at 8:30pm at ColdTowne.
-Plus, improv online: BBW in Space every Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. (Central) on www.e-mprov.com
What’s something that most people don’t know?
When I was nine, we had a pet raccoon (just for a summer). Her mama had been killed, so we were rehabilitating her until she was big enough to live on her own. My sister and I named her Sadie (after Bette Midler’s character in Big Business) and she was cute for about two weeks before she became a wild animal. It was terrifying.
I just realized I referenced Bette Midler movies twice in this interview.