The Sunday Interview: Jordan T. Maxwell

Jordan T. Maxwell—and the T. is important—is one of those people you want to make your friend. He’s a tireless, devoted improviser, actor, singer, director, writer, etc. His geek cred is unassailable. He knows something about almost everything, it seems, and even though doesn’t understand all the comic book references, it wishes it did, because Jordan’s joy is infectious.

Mr. Maxwell just completed directing the mainstage show at The Hideout Theatre Strange Worlds, a love letter to pulp heroes. This summer Jordan is directing Macbeth and starring in Much Ado About Nothing as part of the Hideout Theatre’s Fakespeare run. And if you think he looks familiar, it might be because he starred in Hulu’s first original series, Battleground. Soak up the improv goodness, friends. This is a big get…

The Basics

jordan2Name: Jordan T. Maxwell

Age: 32

City: Austin, TX

Number of Years Doing Improv: 15

Primary Web Presence:


Who’s your improv hero?
Todd Stashwick.  The man is a fearless improvisor with tremendous theatrical presence, Doubtful Guests are one of my all-time favorite troupes (and a huge inspiration for Indigo Shift (one of Jordan’s troupes)), he works steadily and has appeared in some of my favorite shows, and he writes a comic book!

Who’s your improv nemesis? 
Myself, when I get grumpy or negative onstage or feel like I’m “better” or “above” a certain suggestion or scene or show. Because that’s when I lose the joy and sense of play and become an improvisor I don’t want to share the stage with.

You can play an improv scene with any human. Who do you pick?
Nathan Fillion. I feel like we’d have very compatible sensibilities onstage, that combination of wanting to do grounded serious work, make total dorky asses of ourselves for the amusement of others, and become utterly amazing superheroes, all at once, just because we CAN!  And, of course, break into song.

Who first encouraged you to try improv? 
My high school theatre teacher was this tiny British madwoman named Beryl Knifton.  She used improv for a lot of warm up games in class and rehearsal to help us get comfortable performing onstage and acting more naturally with one another.  But it was Jeremy Lamb (now Sweetlamb) who first planted the seed of “oh…we can do this nonsense in front of PEOPLE!” and the first who gave me a stage and a family to do it with when he formed Well Hung Jury.

Who’s the funniest famous person?  
Jack Lemmon.

Who’s the funniest non-famous person? 
Mike D’Alonzo (only because he’s not famous YET!).

The Art

Your most memorable improv experience in 30 words or less:  
The final Well Hung Jury show. Amazing performance with my brothers and sisters. Heartfelt goodbyes and tributes. Staying up late and getting drunk together. My “graduation” night as an improvisor.

jordan1The hardest I’ve ever laughed at an improv performance was: 
Probably Parallelogramophonograph. Probably last year’s Out of Bounds. Probably Roy wooing himself onstage.  I know I always wind up hurting myself from laughing so hard when I watch them, so I have to be careful about how often I do or else I’ll do permanent and irreparable organ and tissue damage.

Your biggest onstage improv pet peeve? 
Mugging, trying too hard to be funny, especially if the scene’s trying to build to something else.  It just feels like such a desperation move, and diminishes everything else that improv can do.  Pulls me right out of a show, whether I’m onstage or in the audience.

Your biggest offstage improv pet peeve? 
Lack of professionalism and discipline. I know for some people this is a weekend hobby or something to blow off steam after work or class or whatever, but for some of us it’s a passion and even a profession. And if you can’t respect that, then at least respect the fact that people are paying money to come and watch you perform. You owe it to them as much as to your fellow players.

Your most hated warm-up game is: 
I actually have a horrible memory for games.  I remember them when we start playing them, and I can recall some of the better known ones, but I have the hardest time remembering the vast majority of them out of context.  Oh, no, wait…that one where you have to meow to the tune of “Memory” from Cats.  I hate that song and that show so much.  So fuck that game.  Is that even a game?  There are no rules or objectives.  That’s not a game.  It’s a task, a chore.  Fuck that chore.  To sum up, I don’t know.

The best way to get into character is: 
Ground it in yourself, in your own emotional reality.  Whatever else you layer on, voice, gesture, physicality, start with yourself and build outward.  The character might be a fiction suit you’re wearing, but you still have to weave the threads from yourself.

The second best way to edit a scene is: 
Break character and get all meta and post-modern discussing the scene until you find something else that inspires you to start another scene.  I’m not even kidding.  As long as the troupe and the format allow for it, I love that kind of stuff.

The best way to connect with the other person in the scene is: 
Eye contact, first and foremost, plus some kind of tactile contact. A handshake, a hug, a pat on the back. Just that little bit of sharing your energies goes a long way.

The third best way to make a scene funny is: 
The same as the first and second.  Don’t.  Double down and commit to just making the SCENE, and you’ll discover whether it’s funny or not along the way.  The audience will probably laugh either way.  They laugh when it’s funny, they laugh when the tension breaks, they laugh when you do something utterly amazing because you’re doing it without a script or a net.  So if your goal is to make them laugh, you don’t need to be funny.  You just need to BE.

The Business

Jordan on the set of the Hulu original show, Battleground

Jordan on the set of the Hulu original show, Battleground

About how many improv courses have you taken? 
I studied with JD Walsh at Ultimate Improv (now The Improv Space) in Los Angeles after I moved there in 2006. I want to say it was a three level curriculum, but I honestly don’t remember. I had not taken any improv classes before, and have not taken any since.  And watching the joy of new improv students or ones who finish at one school and immediately want to jump into studying at another…I kind of regret not having that as a part of my training.  I had been performing for almost a decade at that point, and I probably learned as much in that year as I had in all the years before.  It was like JD had taken all of my knowledge from experience, and just knocked it all into place in its proper context. Also, I think not taking classes is a big part of why I seem to be unable to TEACH improv.

What festivals have you performed in outside of Austin? 
I was a producer for both years at Out of Bounds West in Los Angeles, but only performed in the second with 710 Split. Well Hung Jury did our Shakespeare format at a festival up in Dallas (I had just dyed my hair dark and got to play the villain, so that worked out).  The Jury actually played a lot of festivals, but by cruel fate the rest were always when I had an exam or was in a play so Dallas was the only one I ever went to.  Live Nude Improv got invited to play at the Philadelphia Improv Festival last year and that was an absolute blast.  And Strange Worlds is heading up to NYC for the New York Unscripted Improvised Theatre Festival at the end of the month and we’re all hugely excited for that!

Have you personally spent more than $1,000 on improv related expenses?
Oh, easily.  Airfare alone over the years would add up to that.

More than $5,000? 
Hmm…I haven’t kept receipts, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.  And if you include my theatre degree in among the expenses, then well above and beyond that!

The Funniest Troupe Name You’ve Ever Heard (That Actually Exists):  
Nerdvana.  They’re also two of the funniest (and smartest) guys on the planet.

The Future

Your 2013 improv goal: 
To direct my first improv show, and I’ve done that with Strange Worlds.  So from here, I guess just to book a lot more shows with Indigo Shift and The Awkwards.

Your lifetime improv goal: 
To be doing improv all my lifetime, and to always be a little bit terrified of it.  Also, being on TV would be pretty cool.

Your goal at your next show:  
I don’t know…I’ll make something up.

What is the one thing you’d like people to think when they think back on you as an improviser? 
That I was passionate about improv, and that it showed when I was onstage.

The Hypothetical

You’re invited to a private cocktail party. When you arrive, it’s just you, Del Close, Keith Johnstone, Wayne Brady, Amy Poehler, and Hall of Fame Quarterback Joe Montana in attendance. The party is nice. You drink a couple of glasses of wine while you chat with the distinguished guests.

At the end of the night, Amy announces that, after conferring with the other improvisers in the room (aka, everyone except Joe Montana), they would like not only to form a troupe with you, but they’d like to use their collective resources to promote it on a worldwide tour, which would happen every year. With these heavyweights at your disposal, you stand to earn more than $500,000 per year for simply doing improv shows with four fantastic improv minds. You’d perform at the most extravagant theaters in the world—the Sydney Opera House, the Tokyo Technodrome, that place in China that looks like a bird nest (the “Bird Nest,” I believe it is), and Radio City Music Hall—along with a bevvy of famous, smaller venues like CBGBs. In other words, they want to make you rich doing what you love to do.

“The only stipulation,” Amy says, “is that you must gouge out one of Joe Montana’s eyeballs in the next thirty minutes using only this wooden spoon.” And then Amy Poehler pulls out a wooden spoon.

Montana will be strapped down. There’s no chance of him fighting back. You’re perfectly safe. All you have to do is gouge out one of Joe Montana’s eyeballs and you can live a dream life forever. He’s even signed a document swearing not to sue or seek criminal charges. You’ll get off scott free.

Amy turns to you, the wooden spoon in her hand, and asks, “So?”

What do you say to her?

“So…here’s my pitch for a Parks and Rec/Battleground crossover!  Tell me what you think…”

1 Comment

  1. Kevin Miller (@happywaffle) on May 27, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    1. Beryl Knifton is pretty much the best name in the history of names.
    2. I have told the story a dozen times about Roy looking down the aisle (at himself) and exclaiming “What vision of loveliness is this?!” I just giggled typing that. A classic moment. And they were opening for Beer Shark Mice! One of the better shows I’ve ever been to, all around.

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