Matt Besser is one of the co-founders of the UCB Theater in NYC, former protege of improv guru Del Close, and host of the best improv podcast in the world, Improv4Humans. He’s a writer, comedian, and actor who’s appeared in countless TV shows. His latest offering is “The 6 Most Important Sets in the History of Stand Up” — which is only $1.99 on iTunes and is a fantastic showcase for Matt’s quick wit and bold characters. He also did a series of web videos about improv classes that are superb.
The Sunday Interview is thrilled to present Mr. Matt Besser…
Name: Matt Besser
Number of Years Doing Improv: 23
Primary Web Presence: www.mattbesser.com
Who’s your improv hero?
Who’s your improv nemesis?
You get to do an improv show with any human, alive or otherwise. Who would it be? Johnny Rotten
And what type of show would you want to do with them?
Who, if anyone, first encouraged you to try improv?
Who’s the funniest famous person?
Who’s the funniest non-famous person?
Your most memorable improv experience in 30 words or less:
The Family was doing a show where we had a scene build out into the audience. We kind of pimped a random audience member into singing a song as part of that scene, and she sang great, and we pulled her into the stage and kept going with it. It seemed staged it worked so well.
The hardest I’ve ever laughed at an improv performance was:
When The Family was hired to improvise for a Xmas party. We were doing a scene and went over to the buffet table to incorporate into the scene us eating the awesome layout of food. We ate and laughed and “improvised” and the audience did not.
Your biggest onstage improv pet peeve?
Undercutting the reality of the scene for a quick laugh
Your biggest offstage improv pet peeve?
Saying another form of improv isn’t pure just because you can’t do it well.
The warm-up you hate the most:
Anything where you have to hug
The thing that experienced improvisers do that drives you nuts:
Comment on the lack of chairs in the court room or the classroom or wherever, and that detracts from finding the true game of the scene.
A piece of common improv wisdom that you tend to disagree with is:
I disagree with people who teach that “the game” is only a small, optional part of improvising a scene.
Your “go to” move when you’re lost or confused in a scene is to:
Listen and see what clues my partner is giving me to the game
Your “go to” character or character trait:
My Hogan’s Heroes Nazi voice
The best way to connect with the other person in the scene is:
The second best way to connect with them is:
I said listen!
You’re publishing a short manifesto entitled “My Personal Improv Philosophy.” What are the titles of the first three chapters of that book?
We really are publishing a manifesto and it comes out this summer. The first three chapters are…
1. What is Base Reality?
2. How to Create a Base Reality
3. The Game of the Scene
[Editor Note: I’m thrilled to hear that Matt and the UCB crew are publishing an improv book because there is a dearth of them available, and we need a new paradigm. I’ll be sure to announce this book upon its release and review it here.]
What’s the coolest venue in which you’ve done a show?
Got a good improv festival story?
Yes, you can ask me at DCM15 this year. Not for print.
What’s the biggest mistake improv theaters routinely make?
Thinking touring companies make money.
The funniest troupe or show name you’ve heard:
Your 2013 improv goal:
Make improv4humans the best podcast in the universe. Really, what I hope to get most out of this interview is to get fellow improvisers to give the podcast a listen. It’s pretty much like Asssscat, and it’s free on iTunes, Soundcloud, or directly at Earwold.com.
That’s my plug.
Your lifetime improv goal:
Make fully improvised show for TV that actually sticks around.
What is the one thing you’d like people to think when they think back on your as an improviser?
That guy had a ton of triple doubles.
Analogies & Errata
If my personal style of improvisation were a _______________ it’d be ______________:
Example: If my improv were a superhero it would be The Hulk.
-Breakfast cereal: The Hulk breakfast cereal
-TV show: Nowhere Man
-Baked good: Totally baked real good
-College class: I’m like college in the summer, no class* *Bill Cosby Fat Albert joke
-Piece of technology: Texas Instruments calculator, am I right Austin?!!
-Geographic feature: The Abyss
-Song: Butthole Surfers – “The Annoying Song”
The worst thing that’s ever happened to me during a show was when:
A guy threw a chair at me for making fun of the Pope.
If you could offer one piece of advice to an improviser who’s considering dropping out of improv altogether, you’d tell them:
“See ya later!” Why force someone to be something they aren’t having fun at?
If you could wear only one outfit in every improv show for the rest of your life it would be:
Jeans and tshirt.
The difference between a good improviser and a bad improviser is:
What’s the longest period of time you’ve gone without performing any improv since you began?
Not sure. Couple of months when I first moved to LA.
I have an improv crush on:
[Editor’s Note: My mom doesn’t understand this.]
It’s a tale as old as time: Because of your rudeness to a homeless gypsy woman, she curses you. The curse, known in Romania as Klok dáng, presents an interesting dilemma for you…
You’re instantly blessed with perfect improvisational talent. Perfect. Everything you do in improvisation is the ideal. Every line is exactly what the scene needs at that moment. You’re funny when the audience needs funny, and you’re heartwarming when they’re feeling a bit cynical. Your physical movements redefine the discipline. Your spacework is so realistic that the more entranced members of the audience would swear you were holding an actual coffee mug. You are handsome but malleable and can play any status required of you. You can do all formats and genres. You’re infinitely watchable onstage, and yet you maintain humility and deference to the art form.
In other words, you are the best improviser the world will ever know.
With that talent comes some nice fringe benefits. You’re a bigger deal than Del Close and Keith Johnstone rolled into one. You’re the messiah of modern improv, and you get plenty of opportunities to perform. Everyone’s dying for your time and wisdom. They pay you enormous sums to fly all over the world doing whatever show you want, with whomever you want. Your influence and talent makes you rich, famous (but not too famous!), and well respected. Life is grand.
Except for one thing…
Every time you use the word “you” or “I” in an improv scene, somewhere in the world a koala explodes.
Now, there are plenty of koalas. They aren’t endangered or anything. You’re not going to drive them to extinction with your deathly powers. It’s just simply this: If you say “you” or “I” in a scene, a koala explodes.
Gatorade, who for some reason has decided to sponsor you, calls you up one day to finalize your plans for a new worldwide “Improv Guru” tour. Five million bucks, the finest hotels and travel in the world, and tens of thousands of fans cramming into theaters to watch you perform.
The Gatorade rep on the phone asks you, “So! We’re very excited to get you out there on the road. But first, we need to know if you have any conditions that would prevent you from starting this latest tour. Anything at all?”
What do you say?
“Hey, this genie is trying to trap me into playing a short form improv game where I can’t say “you” or “I”, and I don’t do short form. so can I just get a few bottles of Gatorade and get out of here?”