The Sunday Interview: Ryan Austin

Ryan Austin is often described as the “most dapper man in Austin improv,” and it’s hard to disagree. But beyond his perfect Windsor knots and meticulously pressed slacks, Mr. Austin is a tireless improviser and organizer. Welcome to the second edition of The Sunday Interview

The Basics

Photo by Jon BoldenName:  Ryan Austin
Age:     26? Wait, no, yes, 26
City:   Round Rock
Number of Years Doing Improv:  2
Primary Web Presence:   Gmail


Who’s your improv hero?
Roy Danger. His personality and tendencies on stage resonate with me and is definitely the style I shoot for. On top of being solid he’s incredibly smart. It almost seems like he avoids it [being smart] as long as he can, opting to be playful instead, but eventually stepping forward to make not only logical sense out of the narrative, but thematic sense as well. I like that humility. The people and art seem to come first for Roy, rather than trying to force a narrative to happen.

I’ve also found myself learning a lot from him as a director. Watching him direct Maestro, you can tell that he’s genuinely following inspiration, either of the players or whatever is tickling him. I think he’s able to put all those logistics of directing a show on autopilot and let that inspiration lead. Plus, Roy’s instincts are so solid he has the ability to autopilot that logistical stuff.

Who’s your improv nemesis?
People who anchor their entire world view into improv in an unhealthy, co-dependent way. I think there’s a ton of improv tennants to apply to life that are super helpful. It helps shy people come out of their shell, gives you greater joy and experiences by saying yes; but I’ve been in situations where if I dropped someone’s offer for whatever reason, I wasn’t just dropping an offer, I was hurting their entire approach to life. Or they freak out when something doesn’t match up with their improv theory or just doesn’t go right. It’s made up, we’re not going to nail it perfectly, and I’m not going to catch 100% of the things you say. Even TJ and Dave say that after every show they could have listened better, and that’s pretty much all they do is listen to each other and be awesome. Improv is great and is where 90% of my free time goes, but if I had to walk away, I like to think that I could.

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?
Ludacris. I don’t know why but I have the strangest and strongest instinct that he and I would totally get along for whatever reason.

Who, if anyone, first encouraged you to try improv?
My best friend and I decided to try it together. I thought improv might help me write better comedy. He forwarded me the link of The Hideout’s free intro class, I got into improv storytelling and haven’t looked back.

Who’s the funniest famous person?
Groucho Marx

Who’s the funniest non-famous person?
My friend, Michael Richey. He’s a comedy genius. It’s his passion and he has one of those truly unique brands of humor. He’s currently developing it and refining it and out there just creating. Even if he does something I don’t understand or even find funny, I know that a lot of thought and care went into it and he put all of himself into the piece. (Read Michael’s blog here.)

The Art

Your most memorable improv experience in 30 words or less:
Greeting the audience after my first maestro and realizing this is where I belonged.

The hardest I’ve ever laughed at an improv performance was:
P-Graph’s Space Farce. It’ll never happen again and was the single most playful show I’ve ever seen.

Your biggest onstage improv pet peeve?

Your biggest offstage improv pet peeve?
People talking or poking or playing during a show rehearsal when the director is trying to talk. I realize it’s hard to turn off the “yes and,” but the director is talking and we’re not on stage. Time to be silent and pay attention.

Your most hated warm-up game is:
Sound ball. There’s variations on it I can get into. But just tossing a sound around, forget it.

The best way to get into character is:
For me it’s partly voice and partly to start talking and discover what comes out. I love surprising myself with who a character is.

The SECOND best way to edit a scene is:
Walking across the stage to wipe.

The best way to connect with the other person in the scene is:
Read them. It’s not enough to lock eyes, I have to try and read their expression or physicality. I’m terrible at this by the way, and it’s constantly that thing I keep trying to do but keep forgetting to do.

ryanaustin2The THIRD best way to make a scene funny is:
Find and play the game, pronto?

I don’t know, I don’t talk improv theory a whole lot. I still feel incredibly new, at least in terms of developing my own point of view on all this stuff. There’s still a ton of different philosophies I haven’t even explored yet, so I’m pretty much open to whatever. I have this Kelly Rowland music video I always email out whenever I’m involved in an email performance discussion. It’s called Down For Whatever and it’s really hot. If you ask me to play something or try a crazy format, I’ll probably respond with that video.

The Bidness

About how many improv courses have you taken (not counting one-off workshops)?
All six levels at the Hideout.

What festivals have you performed in outside of Austin?
The Improvaganza festival in Hawaii.

Have you personally spent more than $1,000 on improv related expenses in your lifetime (not counting gas)?
Yes, definitely. See above.

More than 5,000?

The Funniest Troupe Name You’ve Ever Heard (That Actually Exists):
Jorak and Jorak Do Movie.

The Future

Your 2013 improv goal:
Balance improv and life better.

Your lifetime improv goal:
Keep learning/getting better. Stay humble and search for people that I can compliment/encourage.

Your goal at your next show:
Read the other players better. Have a blast.

What is the one thing you’d like people to think when they think back on you as an improviser?
That I was talented and confident, but supremely encouraging. That I took it seriously enough without taking it too seriously. Those are two things aren’t they? Let’s go with talented/confident but encouraging.

The Hypothetical

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?

“I can’t do this Amy! This is nuts! Are you serious? No. No way. I’m not going to gouge a man’s eye out with a spoon! I’ll have to live with the fact that I hurt someone out of selfishness. Forget it. Not doing it. I’m leaving this party. Amy, you’re crazy. Del…where’d Del go? Whatever. Keith, you should know better. And Wayne, don’t try so hard. I’m out!”


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