The Sunday Interview: Lance Gilstrap

Only two significant pieces of media are published on Sundays in America: The most difficult crossword puzzle in the New York Times and, once again, The Sunday Interview on YesAndrew.com. 

Last summer, I published about 15 interviews with improvisers from all over—all of them thoughtful and eloquent improvisers, and one of them a guy who played a barista in an episode of Frasier a decade ago.

This summer, we’ll try to do a new round of Sunday Interviews each week. And the 2014 round of interviews commences with the esteemed…

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Lance Gilstrap

Age:  37

Number of years doing improv:
Seven years

How do you play the bills?
Coaching, Teaching, Acting, anything, why? You have a lead?

Web Presence (if any):
@regularkarate though I rarely post these days.

What’s the thumbnail version of how you came to be involved with improv in the first place?
I was doing stand-up at the time. Coldtowne Theater had just opened up and I figured Improv might help me with my stage presence so a fellow stand-up, Nick Ramirez and I agreed that if one of us took classes, the other one would.

Do you remember anything from your very first improv class (as a student)?
The only thing I remember was how supportive Tami Nelson was. She made me feel like there was something special about the way I did improv. Now I realize she just made everyone feel like that, but it worked.

Would you consider yourself a “comedy geek”? What are some of your seminal comedy influences or memories?

photo by Lauren Logan

Lance is dressed here as an American polcie stripper. (Photo by Lauren Logan)

I would definitely consider myself a “comedy geek”. I grew up on Kids in the Hall and SNL and fell in love with Mr. Show when it aired.

As far as memories go, when I was looking through my email to confirm when I started doing improv, I came across an old picture that reminded me of South By Southwest ‘09. Somehow Coldtowne convinced Andy Kindler and Mark Maron to play at the theater some early evening and there were like five people in the audience … they were both really cool to everyone. It was like hanging out with them and then just getting some free comedy at the end.

You do sketch comedy too. Why sketch? How do you compare improv and sketch, generally?
“Why sketch?”

Sounds like a trap. I’ve been interested in sketch since before I even knew that improv was more than Whose Line. I like crafting funny. I like digging deep into something that I find funny and pushing it as far as I can and being able to repeat it or try it again.

Improv and sketch are two different kinds of magic that I love very much. Sketch magic is maybe weaker, but much more controllable and therefore sometimes more lethal. Improv magic is often stronger, but far more unwieldy and impossible to fully understand.

You’re a member of Midnight Society—a popular troupe with a weekly show at ColdTowne Theater. Tell us about that troupe—its genesis, its routine, its vision for the future, etc.
Midnight Society was put together by Coldtowne Theater almost seven years ago. We were all students with different levels of experience and after an audition, the faculty threw us all into a troupe. For whatever incredible reason, we all really clicked with one another. We started with, I think nine people and now we’ve been whittled down to five (and only three of us are original members), but it’s always been driven by commitment and friendship.

Even after almost seven years, we still try to rehearse once a week and try to have those rehearsals coached. After rehearsal, we all go out for drinks and/or general hanging out. It almost never feels like obligation.

As far as our plans for the future, we want to be the best that we can and keep getting better. We meet a couple times a year and give each other real notes. Not from a place of judgement, but as a way to all be on the same page. Then we talk about the direction we want to head into and what we want to work on. We all really care about the troupe and while we all have different troupes we dabble in outside of this one, we all agree that Midnight Society will always be our number one.

What makes a good improv director?
The most important thing for me is that they actually “Get” you. I’ve had coaches that are just trying to give notes on how they would do a show not about how we should approach getting the results we want.

Outside of that, obviously being able to focus on one thing at a time and communicate what that one thing you’re working on is. Cody Dearing has been coaching Midnight Society for a while now and he’s everything I love in a coach.

What advice would you give someone who just finished Level 1, but were waffling on whether to continue on to Level 2?
I didn’t know it until way after level 2, but improv changed my life for the better. It’s done that for SO MANY PEOPLE. Don’t you want to at least find out if it will change your life? I dare you to continue and have it NOT change your life.

What’s one of the hardest laughs you’ve ever had?
I laugh so hard all the time because I’m surrounded by the funniest people in the world. I get those really deep laughs that hurt your stomach and make your eyes tear up at least once a month when I used to get that maybe once a year.

One time, years ago, I was at the Dirty South Improv festival in North Carolina with Midnight Society and Nick Ramirez and I were watching a show that mashed up all the big-timers that were in town… I don’t even remember who all was in that show, but Dave Buckman played with them. I don’t remember a thing about the content of the scenes, but I remember how funny it was and I remember feeling so cool that the funniest person on stage taught at Coldtowne.

I laughed for a really long time and then there was a scene that wasn’t as funny for maybe two minutes… I was catching my breath and then Dave Buckman walked into the scene and Nick clapped his hands together and said to himself, really enthusiastically “All Right, HERE WE GO!” and I lost my shit.

I don’t know that that’s the FUNNIEST example, but it was a turning point where I realized how funny my friends were and how awesome improv was.

The fuck you lookin' at?

The fuck you lookin’ at?

Who is your favorite improviser?
This is a questions like “What’s your favorite movie?”. It’s impossible to pick one so while it’s super tempting to say “My favorite improviser is always me in ten years”, I’ll just cheat and pick two: Neil Casey and Anthony Atamanuik. Those guys blow me away every time I see them together.

The first chapter of your Improv Instruction Manual would be titled:
“This Needs to be Fun”

What is the Austin style of improv? Does such a thing exist?
I don’t think so and that’s part of what makes Austin cool, right?

Do you have any improv pet peeves—things that when you see them onstage they make you cringe inside? Or is there any common improv wisdom or axiom that you disagree with?
I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again… anything to do with those goddamned chairs. Use the chairs… I do it all the time… but don’t make a scene start out of scooting them around. Don’t talk about how there’s not enough chairs. Don’t make a scene ABOUT the chairs! There’s a mostly blank stage which you can turn into ANYTHING and all you can talk about is the ONE THING THAT’S ALREADY THERE!?

Clean AND reverent!

Clean AND reverent!

What’s the improv dream? Where is it headed?
I have no idea what the improv dream is. I guess my dream for improv will be that it will always be as challenging and inspiring as it is for me now.

Anything you want to plug?
Austin Sketch Fest! May 20-25 at ColdTowne Theater.

Come see My Mans (Chicago, tix).

Come see Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction!

Come see a ton of acts from UCB! Come see all the great sketch acts from Austin that you keep meaning to support!

What’s one thing that you know what nobody else knows?
I eat Brussels sprouts more often than any other food, and it’s because my parents never tried to make me eat them when I was a kid.

4 Comments

  1. John Ratliff on May 12, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Contrary to popular belief, it’s the Saturday NYT crossword puzzle that’s the most difficult of the week. Sunday’s is bigger but much easier. You’re welcome.

  2. Andrew on May 12, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    Thanks for the clarification, John. Having a mind that doesn’t operate in a “crossword-friendly” manner, I don’t actually do them often at all.

    • John Ratliff on May 13, 2014 at 9:57 pm

      It is esoteric knowledge that you are now in possession of.

  3. […] – Lance Gilstrap, as interviewed by of Andrew Buck of Yes And(rew) […]

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