Okay, I have to admit something: Josh Gill is a bit of a mystery to me. I mean, I’ve met him a number of times and always thoroughly enjoyed talking to him (he’s a damn smart cookie). He’s been improvising in Austin twice as long as me, and he knows everyone, but he and I seem rarely to be in the same theater at the same time. In fact, I probably know him best via the posts of his wife, Lisa Jackson, on Facebook. (And according to those posts, Josh is the smartest, sexiest, most perfect man the universe has ever created.)
Together, Josh and Lisa constitute Galactic. But he’s also a member of two other powerhouse troupes, Dervish and Oh, Science! When not improvising, Josh is an avid writer. And YesAndrew.com is especially thrilled to have Josh as our subject for this week’s Sunday Interview because he answers so frankly and, frankly, uniquely. This is a fascinating read, folks. Dig in to…
City: Austin, TX
Years Doing Improv: 4
Primary Web Presence: Facebook
Who’s your improv hero?
This is really hard. I’m not one of those improvisors who loves to take workshops—the exact opposite. And I’m not someone who goes to festivals to see improv. If I’m in another city, I want to enjoy that city, not sit in a dark theater. For that reason, I really haven’t seen a ton of improvisers outside of Austin.
I know that I wouldn’t be improvising right now if it weren’t for Lisa Jackson and Arthur Simone, and I also know that I was doing something remarkably similar to this with my friends as we sat around our house with illegal smiles in college. We would play together, taking on characters, playing them all night. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time, that it had a name; but I do now. So I guess I’d have to include all those people: Jason, Greg, Bjorn, Andy, and Drew, my college roommates in this list as well.
You can play in an improv show with any human, living or dead. Who? And what type of show would you do with them?
Kurt Vonnegut. He’s hilarious, and so dry. I think he would be an amazing straight man.
Who’s your improv nemesis?
You know who you are.
Who, if anyone, first encouraged you to try improv?
Arthur Simone. When I moved in with Arthur, right after I moved to Austin, I started going to see shows at his theater. I was pretty enthralled, and I thought I would take a sketch class because of my creative writing background from college. But he pinged me at work one day saying that they had a spot open in a Level One they were trying to fill, and I could intern to cut the tuition in half. I decided to go ahead and jump in, and now I have no urge whatsoever to do sketch. Improv is so pure (not to knock anyone who loves sketch). There are some awesome sketch troupes in Austin doing wonderful work, but I just figured out that it’s not for me.
Who’s the funniest famous person?
Dave Chappelle or Louis CK
Who’s the funniest non-famous person?
Patrick F. McManus (he’s sort of famous, but not really.)
Your most memorable improv experience (in 30 words or fewer):
Seeing Lisa Jackson for the first time on a Ratliff & Jackson poster when I was coming to watch a show at Coldtowne before I was taking classes.
The hardest you’ve ever laughed at an improv performance was when:
I know there have been times when I was laughing uncontrollably at improv, but I’ll be damned if I can remember any of them. I know that early on, I was seeing Midnight Society pretty regularly, sometimes doing tech for them as an intern. It was very fresh for me then, and I was just learning some of the tricks. I think I was in awe of those guys for a while.
Your biggest onstage improv pet peeve:
Blocking, yelling, and manhandling.
Your biggest offstage improv pet peeve:
Overanalyzing a show right after it’s over. I need time to think about things. I can do a short debrief, but I don’t want to sit in the greenroom for 30 minutes picking every piece apart.
The warm-up game your loathe:
The warm-up game you adore:
Books! And Transformation Circle.
One of the most valuable improv lessons you received was:
I took classes at The Hideout. In the first class of Level One the theme of the day was “Be Obvious”. I come back to that over and over as I improvise. It is so fundamental to what we do.
Your “go to” move when you’re lost or confused in a scene is:
Usually it’s something along the lines of repeating the last thing my scene partner said.
Your “go to” character or character trait is:
The best way to connect with your scene partner:
Sitting down across from them, and focussing on each other.
The best way to end a scene is:
A short, sharp line that elicits a laugh. Ten words or less.
You’re publishing a manifesto of your personal improv philosophy. What are the titles of the first three chapters?
2) LISTEN TO THE WORDS THAT ARE COMING OUT OF MY MOUTH!
3) BE HONEST
How many hours have you spent as a student in improv classes and workshops?
Less than 300 hours.
What is the coolest venue in which you’ve performed?
The Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater with the Honeypot. It’s the closest I’ve come to doing improv at some sort of well-known improv landmark.
Got a juicy improv festival story?
I did Del Close my first year in less than 36 hours. I arrived in New York at about 1 AM Saturday morning, played my show Saturday afternoon, and was back on a plane at 6 AM Sunday morning. I’d just gotten a new job, that started the following Monday, so I couldn’t spend any extra time, but I really wanted to do the festival as it was my first. I don’t think there’s any juice there, but it was a whirlwind.
Have you spent more than $1,000 on improv-related expenses?
Absolutely. Many times over.
More than $5,000?
Probably, including plane tickets.
What’s your long-term goal as an improviser?
To quit if it ever stops being fun and starts being work.
What’s the one thing you’d like people to think when they look back on your time as an improviser?
You could see him listening.
If your improv style was a ___________ it would be ___________.
Breakfast Cereal: Cocoa Puffs (I just really like Cocoa Puffs. I don’t actually know if my improv is like Cocoa Puffs.)
TV Show: You Can’t Do That On Television
Baked Good: Yellow Cake with Blue Icing
College Course: Eastern European History
Piece of Technology: Cotton Gin
Geographic Feature: Painted Desert
Song: Fumbling Towards Ecstasy / Posession (Sarah McLachlan)
[Editor’s Note: I have to admit to loving this song in high school. It was the second time in my life I thought, amazingly enough looking back at it, that I would meet a super famous singer and that she would fall in love with me. I thought it was inevitable that the world would one day know the smooth adult alternative tunes of Mrs. Sarah McLachlan-Buck. (The first time was Mrs. Amy Grant-Buck.)]
The worst thing that ever happened to you during a show was:
I was doing an edit in a Harold, hopping like a bunny across the stage. Right at the far edge of the stage, when I was almost done, my right foot turned, and my ankle bone came down on the stage and I fell in front of the audience. Damn thing hurt for months afterwards.
What piece of advice would you offer to an improviser considering giving up improv altogether?
If you aren’t having fun, quit. If you are, stick around. Even if you don’t think you are good. None of us are getting rich off of this. You don’t have anything to prove, so enjoy yourself.
If you could wear only one outfit for every improv show forever, what would it be?
[Editor’s Note: I don’t think Josh is being cheeky. I think he means it:
The difference between a good improviser and bad improviser is:
The ability to focus on other people.
The longest you’ve ever gone without performing improv:
Who’s your improv crush?
Right now, it’s Michael Joplin. That dude is a machine.