I was born in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn in 1966 where I lived until I was about 7. We then moved to Staten Island where I lived until I married my wife and moved to New Jersey.
I was about ten or eleven when Saturday Night Live was in its infancy, and it was the show to watch for my friends and I, provided we could stay up that late (which often didn’t happen). The episodes when Steve Martin hosted in particular were my favorites. Since this was before VCRs, I was forced to hold a cassette recorder up to the TV if I wanted a copy. That show, along with the rare Monty Python episodes I could catch on PBS planted the seeds of love for sketch comedy. Later on I also became a fan of SCTV. I’d say Steve Martin is my comedy hero, followed by Martin Short and more recently Stephen Colbert. My father was also a very funny man on a daily basis and was a big influence on my sense of humor. He even once did a stand-up routine on an amateur talent night at a resort we were staying at in the Poconos. He taught me the value of being daring, and how you only live once etc. which I try to remember as often as possible.
When my family and I made a trip out to Chicago to visit my wife’s relatives in 2002, I definitely wanted to catch a Second City show. I was aware of so many of the people that had gotten their start there, and the show we saw was really hilarious. As I watched I felt that being on stage making people laugh was something I thought I might be good at, and might really enjoy.
My first time at trying my hand at improv was in 2003. Second City’s website listed drop-in classes in New York City on the Upper West Side. There was a two-night combo class with Michael Gellman (whom I’ve since learned was a big deal in Chicago’s Second City). The first night was for beginners and the second night was for the advanced. On the first night It was a crowded room full of students and I didn’t get a chance to perform in the first half. During the break, I asked Michael how strict they were as to who could come to the advanced class and he said they were not picky and to just come. Then I finally got to perform my first scene ever after the break with two other people. I was nervous but I had been listening intently to whatever rules he had given beforehand and also to what my partners in the scene were saying. As soon as it was over he pointed at me and said loudly “You can definitelycome to the advanced class!”
After that I started taking regular classes at Second City. My instructors there were Matt Higgins, Jay Rhoderick, and Kevin Scott (of the Centralia troupe). Also Tom Carrozza (of Sunday Night Improv fame), and Kelly Haran. I made friendships with some of the other students and we started performing at the New York Comedy Club in the Grown-Ups Playground show, which was a drop-in improv show. We then formed our own troupe called Monkeys in the Atrium and started performing our own show at Ha! comedy club. Our biggest audience (and last show) was in front of about 200 people, which was an incredible experience. Second City stopped offering classes in New York, so I then started taking classes at Upright Citizens Brigade. There my teachers were Chris Gethard, and Mike Delaney. It was around this time that Tom Carrozza suggested I audition for Sunday Night Improv.
Although I passed the audition, it still took me a little while to feel that I was worthy of being in SNI, as so many of the people were really good and had a lot more experience than I had and I wanted to prove myself. But the turning point for me turned out to be a scene where I started using a British accent (thank you, Monty Python) and then did a finale duet with Rosemary Hyziak of our song “A Whore No More." It really made me feel like I belonged and built up my confidence a lot.
Another fun experience I had was being a promotional performer for the Broadway musical Spamalot. This required me, on the day the box office opened, to skip around Times Square wearing a can of spam costume while banging coconut halves together following a knight who was also skipping around. I actually got Eric Idle’s autograph from that.
I love performing improv because I love making people laugh, and even though most people who know me would actually characterize me as shy, I’m really quite a ham and love the attention. It’s also such a rush, especially when it goes well. I remember one time I was chosen for “Can You Sing This?” and the piano player was playing the intro and it was literally a second away from when I was supposed to start singing and I said to myself (panicking) “I have to make something up and start singing right NOW." It makes me feel so alive. I also love how improv is a team sport where each of us is supporting each other trying to make each other look good, rather than say stand-up, which is often a bunch of cutthroats. I also feel another important rule is playing to the top of your intelligence. Plus, in improv you get to use so many emotions that you normally don’t get to in real life. In Friendly’s restaurant they give you a box of three crayons to color with (go with me on this one) and that’s like the average number of emotions you generally use in life, whereas in improv it’s like having the big box of 64 with the sharpener and everything. Extreme anger, jealousy, murderous thoughts, etc. can all be played out.
I would love for this to lead to other things, but for now having a full-time job, a wife, and three teenage daughters keeps me pretty busy most of the time. The fact that I suck at auditioning doesn’t help either.
SEE KEN BROPSON IN SUNDAY NIGHT IMPROV, ON MARCH 23, 2014!