This week’s Sunday Interview is with Megan Simon, improv teacher at The New Movement Theater and musical comedy group Spice Rack. It’s an interview full of gems, but it starts with a lie. Megan claims to be 21. Impossible! Her name has been in the Austin improv ether for way too long, and she’s far too prolific, to be a mere 21. Or perhaps this is me, longing for my own lost youth. Perhaps I’m projecting. Leave me here. Go have your fun…
Number of years involved in improv:
6 if I’m being generous, 3.5 if I’m being realistic
Web presence (if any):
So, how did you come to be involved with improv in the first place? Where have you studied and performed?
I’ve always been a theater geek, but I didn’t love drama. My dad suggested that I take an improv camp at Zach Scott when I was 15. It was a short form class taught by Shana Merlin, and I fell in love. I’ve studied at The New Movement, Zach Scott, and at Second City in a 2 week teen intensive. I have performed at The New Movement (Austin and New Orleans), Coldtowne, Dallas Comedy House, The Hideout, The Institution, Second City, and Upright Citizens Brigade. I’ve also performed in some unfortunate bar situations…
What makes you laugh? What kind of humor really gets you howling? Feel free to cite examples.
The things I think are funny are usually absurd and based on silly premises.
One of my favorite improv scenes of all time involved a kid who brought home a shark as a pet.
Mom says, “Ok, fine you can keep the shark, but you’ve gotta feed him. What do sharks even eat?”
Kid says, “Other sharks.”
Hilarity! This is still one of the funniest premises to me because the problem is a shark and to maintain it, you need more sharks which was the problem in the first place!! Also, improv scenes are the least funny to explain to someone.
Flight of the Conchords is another one of the funniest things in the world to me. Good musical comedy is tough to beat in my books.
Is it “improv comedy” or “improv theater”? What’s the difference, if any?
I think there’s a big difference between calling it comedy and theater.
Theater encompasses all styles, such as comedy, drama, kabuki, I dunno… other stuff? By saying it’s improv comedy, the audience knows what to expect.
Hopefully they’ll laugh at an improv comedy show. Improv theater feels more like a play. Sure it can be funny, but it can also be thought-provoking and something that’ll bring a grown man to tears. I pretty much only do improv comedy. If I make someone cry at my improv show, I apologize and give them their money back. You know?? I guess what I mean is improv theater and improv comedy both exist, so they should be labelled separately (but equally).
What’s the dream, Megan? Where is all this comedy and improv work leading?
The dream is to be on some sort of screen. I’d love to act in films, but I’d also love to do television. I’ve always wanted to be an actor, so if someone’s paying me to do that, then I’ll feel accomplished. I’d kill for Zooey Deschanel’s career path. Give me all your quirky indie movies!
When you were a child of, say, 10, what did you genuinely believe you’d be doing at this age?
Back then, I thought you were supposed to have all your fun at 16, and then when you’re 21, you go to college and get married. So I thought I’d be a boring married graduate!
Who’s the funniest person you personally know?
Vanessa Gonzalez. Hands down.
She is so talented—like, everything she touches turns into the funniest thing. I’ve known her since I’ve been at The New Movement, and she’s probably responsible for everything I do onstage. She’s a brilliant writer and improviser, and also the type of person you’d want to get stuck in a Bit City conversation with at an OOB after party.
Who’s the funniest person you don’t personally know?
Probably Kristen Wiig. Best character work. Best physicality. Love her.
When you’re teaching an Improv Level 1 class, what’s the VERY FIRST LESSON you want to give your students?
Listen, ya goofs!!!
Don’t just hear your partner. Listen to what they said. Only then are you able to ask yourself those split second questions like: What does this mean to me? What does this say about our relationship? How does that make my character feel?
Asking yourself “What do we know to be true?” is another thing I’m huge on right now, because if you know the established truths of the scene, you can move it along in a smart way. But also: you don’t know what is true in a scene if you haven’t been paying attention, so listen!
What’s the difference in your mind between a “good” improviser and a “not so good” improviser?
I think a good improviser is always listening, even when he/she is not on stage. He/she makes choices based on the true things that have previously been established and is affected by them. A not-so-good improviser, to me, plays from a place of fear. They don’t trust their partner or group, so they make choices that they think will “save” scenes that in their opinion are failing.
Tell us about The New Movement Theater. What is TNM’s improv philosophy? What makes TNM different than and similar to other improv theaters around this wonderful country?
TNM believes that everything you need in a scene you can find in your scene partner.
All of our shows are comedy shows, so our improv is high energy, pattern heavy, and focused on making the choices that heighten the game of the scene.
Our community is ultra-supportive. Chris Trew and Tami Nelson are all about giving students the power. Students get into like 99% of shows for free, they can pitch their own shows and form their own troupes, they can play in weekly jams, and stage time is something every student in the conservatory can expect if they want it. I’ve found that it’s a place where you get what you give, and you can be as active as you want here.
I think we’re similar to other theaters in focusing on game and making our scene partner look like a rockstar. We’re different in that we’re so accessible to our students and performing is so dang easy.
And scene work starts Day One.
Oh, and we don’t usually get suggestions!
What’s one non-Austin improv/sketch troupe that people should Google immediately?
Claymore! They’re an improv/sketch troupe from Chicago, and they’re GREAT. They performed at TNM during last year’s OOB, and they were such a joy to watch and get to know.
Anything you’d like to plug?
Come see me every Saturday in The Megaphone Show at TNM! A local celeb/mover-shaker comes and tells stories, then we do improv off of those stories! $5, 10:30pm, BYOB. 616 Lavaca. Etc.
What’s something you know that many people don’t?
At one point in time, I owned 50 dresses!