And on the seventh day, the blog rested. Here is the first in a weekly feature, The Sunday Interview. You’ll hear from improvisers in their own words.
There’s no better way to kick it off than with Mr. Michael Jastroch (pronounced Jas-troh), co-owner of ColdTowne Theater in Austin.
Name: Michael Jastroch
City: Austin, Texas
Number of Years Doing Improv: 10
Primary Web Presence: ColdTowneTheater.com
Who’s your improv hero?
Craig Cackowski, because of his playful intelligence. He’s one of the funniest people on the planet, but watching him you get the feeling of unconditional acceptance, trust and support. The kind of warmth that makes him built for the work.
Also, I’d say that no improviser exists in a vaccuum and to call any single improviser your hero kind of misses the point. My improv heroes are mostly ensembles, for that reason. TJ and Dave (naturally), Dasariski, Death By Roo Roo are all easily my top three all time, though there are tons of amazing groups that have blown my mind over the years.
Who’s your improv nemesis?
Everyone is a magic unicorn capable of brilliance. That said, and I would never name names, but anyone whose stage acting and presentational skills overwhelm the honesty, integrity and reality of the scene. I get it. You can act and are a kick ass mime. But you’re boring the shit out of me with your high school theater bullshit.
You can play an improv scene with any human (living or dead; and if you select “dead” it implies that the scene would be played when that person was, in fact, alive) who would you want to play a scene with?
My college dorm mates and I used to spend entire evenings pretending we were a weird, dysfunctional family and get into these huge, evening long fights at the top of our lungs, much to the chagrin of our neighbors, I’m sure. We were doing long form improv, but we didn’t know it. None of them ever really did improv, but man I would kill to do a show with them, because we were all so in sync.
Two of them visited me in Austin and begged me to try out some improv. We actually did an hour-long monoscene at ColdTowne, but it was during an afternoon with no audience. It was pretty great, but they didn’t want to do a show.
Also, Abraham Lincoln.
Who, if anyone, first encouraged you to try improv?
I was the editor of my college humor publication, and several of the underclassmen were taking classes at an obscure little theater called the UCB. I was like, “I don’t want to do improv, thanks nerd.” They finally dragged me to a show three weeks before I left New York for New Orleans and my mind was BLOWN. Like, here is everything I ever wanted to do ever.
Had I not been an asshole, gone to see a show sooner, I likely wouldn’t have moved to New Orleans and subsequently moved to Austin. I’d also either be famous or bitter and dejected.
Who’s the funniest famous person?
Paul F. Tompkins. John Hodgeman.
Who’s the funniest non-famous person?
Matthew Callan. Curtis Luciani.
Your most memorable improv experience in 30 words or less:
Dasariski’s 2006 Out of Bounds Performance changed the game for Austin Improv by showing what was possible. 11 Towels Through a Security Window.
The hardest I’ve ever laughed at an improv performance was:
Death By Roo Roo, NCCAF in 2007.
Your biggest onstage improv pet peeve?
Getting shot down or ignored or steamrolled. The appropriate response to that is to support trust and be generous. Unfortunately, that triggers some weird mommy issues for me and I immediately shut down.
Your most hated warm-up game is:
They’re all great. I hate people who whine about warm-ups they don’t like. As in, man, if you’re in that headspace before you get on stage, what are you going to be like in a scene?
The best way to get into character is:
Everyone is different, but due to the quirks of my anxiety ridden brain, small changes in voice and physicality help me connect to this new person whose skin I’m going to be inhabiting.
The SECOND best way to edit a scene is:
The best way to edit a scene is with confidence and intent. The second best way, and also the worst way, is to edit tepidly.
Also, clap edits are dumb.
The best way to connect with the other person in the scene is:
Eye contact. Assume that you already knew the information that just came out of their mouth.
The THIRD best way to make a scene funny is:
Be Honest is the first, second, third best way to make a scene funny. Fourth is pirate voice.
About how many improv courses have you taken (not counting one-off workshops)?
I did 5 levels at La Nuit Theater in New Orleans. A UCB intensive. And countless, coutnless workshops. Stand outs that effected the way I perform include classes with Mick Napier, Susan Messing, and Miles Stroth.
What festivals have you performed in outside of Austin?
Phoenix Improv Fest, NCCAF, DC Comedy Festival, Del Close Marathon, Twin Cities Improv Fest, Chicago Improv Fest, OKC Improv Festival, New Orleans Improv Festival, Dallas Comedy Fest, Tuscan Improv Festival, Toronto improv Festival and more that are probably escaping me.
Have you personally spent more than $1,000 on improv related expenses in your lifetime (not counting gas)?
More than 5,000?
Probably, but the good news is it’s all a write off.
The Funniest Troupe Name You’ve Ever Heard (That Actually Exists):
Shrimp SKAmpi and the SKAlars.
Your 2013 improv goal:
I’d like to have a troupe that’s into the idea of touring. I’ve got a good local reputation as a teacher. I’d love to create some opportunities for myself to teach outside of Austin. I love being on the road and I don’t do it nearly enough.
Your lifetime improv goal:
Be free. Be playful. Be funny. In that order.
Your goal at your next show:
To open up and not be judgmental of my choices, or the choices of my scene partners. I’m my own worst enemy on stage that way.
What is the one thing you’d like people to think when they think back on your work as an improviser?
That I was playful, supportive and smart.
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?
As my erstwhile improv partner, Justin York, is fond of reminding me, Joe Montana is responsible for the Saints not making the playoffs in the early 1990s/late 1980s. So I’d probably say, “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem saints.” And then I’d awkwardly gouge his eyes out.
Everyone has a price for their morals. And I think you just found my price.
If it was murder, rape, both his eyeballs or extended torture, I don’t think there’s any amount of money that will cause me to do that, because I’m not a bad person. But it’s just one eyeball and at most 30 minutes of misery. He had a good run. Now it’s my turn.