This week’s Sunday Interview (posted on a Monday!) is with the one-and-only Kevin Rodrigo Miller. Kevin is a stalwart of the Austin improv community, having started improvising more than a decade ago. He took a lengthy sabbatical in the middle–to focus on giving the best damned Ghost Tours of Austin–but he’s been back for a few years now, and he’s returned with a venegance. On top of being in or at nearly every show in town, Kevin posts every theater’s schedule every damn day as part of the “Hey, Austin Improv Community, Whatchya Doin’ Tonight?” group on Facebook. It’s an invaluable service to anyone looking to plan their improv evening. But he’s also a tireless improv student, instructor at Merlin Works, and all-around stand-up fella. The Sunday Interview is thrilled to finally present…
Name: Kevin Miller
City: Austin, TX
Number of Years Doing Improv: 12.5
Primary Web Presence: facebook.com/happywaffle
Who’s your improv hero?
Jessica Arjet, Roy Janik, and Kareem Badr. They’re all fantastic improvisers, to put it mildly; but they earned hero status by saving the Hideout Theatre and—against all odds—turning it into a thriving hub for the improv community. It’s one of my very favorite places on earth, even with as much time as I spend at the other great theaters in town.
Who’s your improv nemesis?
Myself. Always. I forget who originated the quote, but one of my favorite lines about improv is: “Your head is the worst seat in the house.”
You can play an improv scene with any human, living or dead. Who?
A scene with the corpse of Del Close would be quite an opportunity. Serious answer: I’d just as soon play with a non-improviser as anybody. If you stuck me onstage with TJ Jagodowski I’d be so star-struck that I’d just let him drive the story. Gimme that audience volunteer and let’s rock.
Who, if anyone, first encouraged you to try improv?
Andy Crouch and Shana Merlin, both college friends of mine. It’s bizarre and awesome that all three of us are still so heavily involved in the community after so much time.
Who’s the funniest famous person?
Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess.
Who’s the funniest non-famous person?
Your most memorable improv experience in 30 words or less:
2004. Performing Start Trekkin’ in front of a couple thousand Trekkies at the official Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas. I’ve played and seen a hundred better shows, but it’ll always be hard to top that experience.
The hardest I’ve ever laughed at an improv performance was:
It’s a 50-way tie for first place, but off the top of my head, I can’t remember laughing harder than I did when Improv for Evil performed “Time Hobo” at OOB in 2010.
Your biggest onstage improv pet peeve?
The unnamed-awesome-thing scene start:
A: “Wow, look at this!”
B: “Wow, I’ve never SEEN one of these before!”
Your biggest offstage improv pet peeve?
If you dare insinuate that one form of improv comedy is “better” than any other, I will stab you in the thigh with this here fork I’m holding. It’s endlessly fascinating to me how many different ways there are to make me belly laugh—even ways that contradict each other.
Your most hated warm-up game is:
Song Spot, aka Hot Spot. I’ll do it, but I’ll be secretly grumpy about it. As a side note, I see that I am the third Andrew Buck interviewee to identify this game. Can we kill it?
The best way to get into character is:
Find out how they stand, sit, and walk.
The second best way to edit a scene is:
Start a parallel scene on the other side of the stage at just the right moment. It’s more elegant than wiping.
The best way to connect with the other person in the scene is:
Eye contact and touch. (Answer is uncreative, but true nonetheless.)
The third best way to make a scene funny is:
Just for the record, the first-best and second-best ways to make a scene funny are to be obvious and to react. Third-best is to offer side support that complements the onstage action like strawberries to champagne, or onions to brisket.
[Editor’s note: As a connoisseur of barbecue, I cannot endorse Kevin’s notion that raw onions are the best complement to brisket. The best complement to brisket is more brisket.]
About how many improv courses have you taken (not counting one-off workshops)?
Not that many, actually. Levels 1 through 3 at the Hideout, and Level 2 (so far) at ColdTowne. Plus the ones I’ve taught with Merlin Works.
What festivals have you performed in outside of Austin?
My troupe ¡ZARZAMORA! loves to travel. Literally a third of our shows are outside of Austin. I’ve played in Dallas, Houston, Providence, and now Tampere, Finland. Oklahoma City and Albuquerque are coming later this year.
Have you personally spent more than $1,000 on improv related expenses in your lifetime
The answer’s probably yes for buying tickets alone. Stupid Out of Bounds, being all funny and makin’ me buy badges.
More than $5,000?
I think the trip to Finland just pushed it over the top. (I’m typing this on the plane ride home.)
The Funniest Troupe Name You’ve Ever Heard (That Actually Exists):
I giggled when I saw a troupe called “Never Pickles” in last year’s OOB program. I’m easy to please, apparently.
Your 2013 improv goal:
1. Become more comfortable (and less “in my head”) as an improv instructor.
2. Do more improv with my girlfriend.
3. Find my next show/troupe project (maybe same as #2).
4. Work on my phobia of musical improv.
Your lifetime improv goal:
Improv might be the love of my life, but I still think of it as “just” a hobby—I don’t have any ambition to be a big famous improviser. I can name you 50 imps off the top of my head who deserve that more than me. Rather, I’d just like to keep doing it, and keep getting better, and eventually become the crazy old man that shambles around the community and occasionally wanders onstage. David Lampe, in other words.
Your goal at your next show:
Make personal, character-based connections while not being afraid of the absurd.
What is the one thing you’d like people to think when they think back on you as an improviser?
“He was effortless.” (This will never actually be the case, not even close. But I want to project relaxed confidence and comfort onstage, which hopefully makes my partner comfortable as well.)
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?
“Can we at least make him some chicken soup?”
(Must be familiar with this to get the joke.)