Soter Books

Tom Soter's new book, You Should Get a Cat is ON SALE NOW! Here's what KIRKUS REVIEWS said about the book available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Tom:

"Nearly everyone will find something of interest in this volume, a compilation that’s as diverse and surprising as life on a New York City block." 

Tom Carrozza

 

FROM CHICAGO WITH LAUGHS
 
By ED FLICKINGER

He’s the man with the big eyes and the slightly off-the-wall characters. He’s the co-host of the talk show (I'm Tom, I'm Tom, and it's) Tom for Movies, plays the doctor called Flickinger, and appeared as the sorcerer who rode a Macy’s escalator in the middle of what purported to be a Shakespeare play.

He is Tom Carrozza, an improv veteran well-known to audiences at the Sunday Night Improv Comedy Jam. “There are a million different ways to do improv,” he said recently. “Everyone has his own slant on it and I think mine is unique. I like to emphasize emotions and psychology over logic and predictability.”

Carrozza came to New York City in 1978 from the city where modern improv was created, Chicago. He had studied at the Second City improv company when he was 17, appearing in a children’s show, and then decided to come to the Big Apple when he failed to be accepted at the colleges of his choice.

GEORGE FRANCOIS

George Francois was one of the best pianists at Sunday Night Improv, and he and I worked together for years. I first met him at an audition we were holding for piano players; he was one of three who tried out for the jam. Although he had done jazz improvisations, he had never done a comedy improv show but seemed unconcerned. When he played, I saw why. It was magic. He brought a skill and passion to the playing that moved me, and which led my father – who attended almost every one of our weekly shows during the last decade of his life – to assert that "George is terrific! The best you ever had." He – and most audience members who heard him – were immediately blown away by the ten-minute mini-concert George would offer before the show. Mixing classical music with Broadway show tunes, he would play with an intensity rarely seen at a comedy show. He was a quick study, too: at his request, I gave him audio tapes of soundtrack music (he was unfamiliar with a lot of pop culture) and he effortlessly added them to his repdetoire. He was also eager to learn about improv, and – to the great delight of my students (and of me), he attended my Monday night improv classes, playing underscore for the scenes. We all benefitted from having him there, and he said that he learned a lot, too: "You can play too much," he said to me once. "Many times, you can do more  by playing less."

BEN BOECKER

I was born on Long Island during the best-year-ever: 1990, and I grew up in two towns— Malverne and Plainview— of course, not simultaneously.  Malverne first, then Plainview after.  I first got involved in Improv when I went to acting classes at the Cultural Arts Playhouse on Long Island, where we did lots of fun improv games like freeze and whatnot, and my teacher spat water at us! 

My biggest acting influences are those people whom I watch the most, probably Jerry Seinfeld and Tina Fey, particularly, but I try to branch out to the Muppets and Johnny Depp as much as possible.  I love performing because it gives me a rush of adrenaline that I can only otherwise get from balancing precariously on the edge of a cliff, and that is neither easy or safe to do on a regular basis. 

IMPROV RESUME

1990: Born, and started singing.

1993: Trained performance muscles in first family Lip-Synch Competition

2002: Improv and Acting Classes at CAP center

2004- 2008: Trained in Improv through various shows on Long Island and with friends who created Laugh Laugh Revolution at our high school

2010: Trained at DSI Comedy in NC

2012-2014: Music-Directing for Theater and writing lots of theater songs at the BMI Workshop, a form of personal musical improve!

2014: Started Performing Improv Piano at SNI, and taking classes at UCB

Amy Wilkinson

Born: London, UK 1982 and grew up there

Got involved in improv from a friend who I met at a Scene Study class at HB studio

Role models: Chevy Chase and Steve Martin (I love their idiotic sense of humor)

What I get out of performing: I love being part of a random group of people on stage which can both make me laugh as well as make other people laugh

Improv résumé: member of Wednesday Night Funny Improv troupe from 2008-2012; member of Sunday Night Improv September 2013-present

SEE AMY WILKINSON AT SUNDAY NIGHT IMPROV ON APRIL 24 AT 6 P.M.!

My teacher at Wednesday Night Funny was Tony Ballard

At Sunday Night Improv, I get a chance to laugh at myself and perform in an informal setting. It has gotten way more fun since the addition of the comfy leather sofa!

Most challenging improv moment: when I had to sing a Jap-pop ballad

Most rewarding improv work: the 'Cinderella' scene that was done in a practice session with Wednesday Night Funny

I haven't done any work in tv/film/theater

Improv is a creative outlet that helps me develop my quick-thinking skills

I was introduced to Sunday Night Improv by the lovely Krissy Garber, and have thoroughly enjoyed working with such a talented, down to earth group of improvisers!

IAN PRIOR

I was born in Boston, England ("the original" is how I describe it to Americans) on Christmas Day 1954. I grew up in a small town near Scarborough, of the fair fame. I started performing sketch comedy in the UK when I was 18. After coming to the states, I did sketch work and tried my hand at stand-up.

I was rather English in those days and knew I needed to loosen up. So I tarted taking improv at Chicago City Limits in 1981. Got totally hooked, as we all do. My teachers were the usual suspects from the early days of CCL: the late George Todisco, Carol Schindler, LInda Gelman, Paul Zuckerman, Bill McLaughlin, Chris Oyen. Also, Del Close and others whom I now forget. I actually met my now ex-wife in the CCL classes.

I joined the CCL touring company in 1982 or '83. I also performed at the "Improv Jam," run first by Joey Novick and then the wonderful Jane Brucker, throughout the mid-1980s, mostly at Folk City in the Village. I began hosting the Jam in the late 1980s and ran it until 1993. The improv impresario Tom Soter became the host of the Jam shortly after that. I also performed, now and again, with the brilliant crew at the First Amendment, as well as with a couple of other groups. I taught corporate improv class and workshops for quite a few years in the late 1990s, which was a lot of fun.

CHRIS GRIGGS

A few years ago, Kelsey Grammer produced a television show called World Cup Comedy, and I was selected to represent New York. That was cool because it was a series of actual shows, and I was picked from around 250 improvisers in the city. It was exciting, but challenging, since all the auditions were in front of a live audience.

Performing improv feeds into other outlets of mine such as stand-up and acting. I've been able to meet and get to know amazing people. Improvisers are usually very cool, quick-minded, and fun to be around. They also usually more team-oriented than some performance artists so that's fun as well. Improv has helped me learn to be in the present more and learn to say yes to life and people more. I've also, I think, learned to be more accepting of others. You learn to embrace what's special and interesting about people when you improvise and I like to think that has had an influence with my regular life.

I was born in Memphis and grew up on a farm just outside the city. I worked in advertising and got into improv originally just because it looked fun and would help me at work. You have to think on your feet a lot in the advertising industry.  Then it evolved as I actively started acting and working as a stand-up.

Actingwise, I've always been a fan of Mickey Rourke, Russel Crowe, and the usuals (De Niro, Pacino, Nicholson).  From a pure comedic acting standpoint, I love to watch Paul Rudd, that guy can do it all in terms of playing a straight man or knocking it out of the park. 

CAMILLE THEOBALD

I was born in Salt Lake City, August 30th 1989. I grew up just right outside of Salt Lake in an area called Murray then at 14 moved to Bayfield, Colorado.  

My first improv class was in 2009 while attending The American Musical and Dramatic Academy. The teacher was this frizzy haired, plump, woman who only wore purple. It wasn't a great first impression I remember often thinking "This is nothing like Who's Line Is It Anyway, Isn't improv supposed to be funny?" I've always been a goofball but for some reason comedy hadn't crossed my mind as a possible route for my career, I was stuck on dancing and singing. I graduated later that year and started doing small shows and cabarets, that's when I discovered that for me funny songs were easier to perform and generally easier to sing. From that moment on I started experimenting with comedy in all forms, sketch, stand up, comedic songs, and soon dropped dancing and musical theatre all together. Stand up was awesome but I felt too stuck in a monologue of jokes, just the slightest distraction threw me off, so I signed up for an improv class at Upright Citizen's Brigade in 2010. That is when fell in love with improv.

Improv Book

“The really good idea is always traceable back quite a long way, often to a not-very-good idea that was only slightly better, which somebody misunderstood in such a way that they then said something that was really rather interesting, which was picked up by somebody else who combined it with an earlier idea, which most people had forgotten, all of which was reshaped by somebody else, and so on...the starting point of the building process can be a bad idea…”  – John Cleese

It seems like I've been improvising my whole life. I don't mean living my life as improv – there would be nothing special in that since life is a big improv and we are all the players – I mean doing improv for the theater.

I first encountered theatrical improv when I was 11 or 12. My father and mother had guests over, and my father thought it would be fun to improvise a murder mystery involving all our guests. They were game and so, without telling them anything except that they would be suspects in a murder investigation. After that, I spent 1968 to 1971 improvising radio-style shows on audiotape and from 1971-1974, improvising movies on Super-8 film.

Todd Cowdery

See Todd Cowdery at Sunday Night Improv on SUNDAY, FEB 15 at 7 PM

I was born in Whittier, California. When? A few hours after the contractions started. I grew up in Durham, North Carolina, however.

I wanted to be an actor sometime in elementary school and continued pursuing it through high school, college, and after college. In the midst of my acting education were various improv workshops, acting classes with improv games, and two- to three-person scenes along the way. Then in my mid-twenties I left acting, and pursued other interests. Around 1999 or 2000, I rediscovered improv and just got caught by the transfomational power of it. I've been doing a lot of improv ever since.

My role models?  Oh man, there are a several. I'm grateful to have worked with some really great improvisers over the past 10 years that have influenced me a ton.  My biggest media influences for comedy were Danny Kaye, Sid Caesar, and the Sid Caesar Comedy Hour cast, Bob and Ray, and Ernie Kovacs. I also used to listen to Firesign Theatre, the Goon Show and Beyond the Fringe.

Rosemary Hyziak

 

"Money in the Bank." That's what improviser Matthew Ostrom of the Chainsaw Boys dubbed Rosemary Hyziak after she had, in his words, "saved my ass" in countless scenes. Others have had the same experience. "She's the most reliable improviser I know," says Tom Soter, the producer and emcee of Sunday Night Improv. "She takes her time helping to create a scene and builds on what you give her. "She is remarkable."

Who is Rosemary Hyziak? Here, in her own words, is her story:

I was born in Buffalo, NY. I remember one of my first creative performance impulses was to insist I be a Spanish Senorita for Halloween.  I wanted to do a flamenco dance in a flouncy dress.  I was enrolled in dancing school, but when I went to visit the dance studio with my grandmother, I saw the teacher correcting the student's posture with a long white stick.  The teacher would tap the student's legs.  For some reason I thought the teacher would beat me with the stick, so I refused to go to my first class.  A creative avenue closed.

Harvey Chipkin

       Born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and grew up there.

  • My wife pulled flyer off a store window for improv classes.
  • Influences were Deb Maclean, director of Lunatic Fringe in NJ; Mr. Tom Soter; Carl Kissin; for musical improv the great pianist Frank Spitznagel and teachers Michael Martin and Kirk D’Amato.
  • What I get out of performing is an opportunity to lose any inhibitions and make people laugh. Most of all, it’s fun.
  • Resume:

2001 – started taking classes with Lunatic Fringe

2002 – started taking classes with Soter

2003 – began studying with Second City

2005-08 – studied at UCB

2011 to present – studied musical improv at Magnet Theater

2011 (?) to present – regular appearances with SNI

So many teachers: Soter, Kissin, Tom Carrozza, Armando Diaz, Anthony King (UCB) – many more

RANDY KLEIN

WHERE WERE YOU BORN?  Jersey City, New Jersey

WHEN?  A long time ago.

WHERE DID YOU GROW UP? Fort Lee, NJ

HOW'D YOU FIRST GET INVOLVED IN IMPROV?  I have always been an improvising pianist. I’ve played in jazz ensembles and free improvising music situations most of my life. I was also the pianist at the Comic Strip from 1979-1982. It was there that I learned how to button a joke and honed my timing skills. Timing is everything! The stand-ups were always improvising skits and asking me to make up background music to their imaginative worlds that they created. Playing improv as a jazz player to playing improv for comics wasn’t that much of a stretch. Mostly, it was a matter of listening and focusing intently on the moment and not stepping on the joke. My ability to understand what “funny is” also helped. 

WHO WERE YOUR ACTING/IMPROV INFLUENCES, ROLE MODELS?  Jerry Lewis and Steve Martin are two of my favorite funny people. Their ability to be funny and be subtle about it, along hearing everything as if it was set to music has always been a big influence. This music is everywhere and anytime approach is how I approach playing for improv.

WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF PERFORMING? A fat pay check! And, performing gives me the chance to keep my musical timing mechanism sharp. If I don’t play in an improv setting for too long, my timing gets rusty…it goes south!

ALAN BRAUNSTEIN

I was born in The Bronx, New York in 1953. I grew up there and have lived in New York for most of my life, currently in the burbs wondering why I moved.

I got involved with improv through taking classes at Chicago City Limits in the late '70s. The director of the original company, George Todisco was a huge influence on me, as were all of those original cast members, especially the brilliant Carol Schindler. I was asked to perform with the first touring company and did some New York shows as well.  

Soon after, I met my next major influence, Tom Soter, in a CCL class. He asked me to be part of his cable TV comedy show, Videosyncracies, where I learned much from Tom about how to keep my creative "engine" humming and contributed both as an actor and writer. Several years later, I took classes with Michael Rock and performed in association with Michael Gelman of Second City.

Ian Koranek

WHO WERE YOUR ACTING/IMPROV INFLUENCES, ROLE MODELS?  Like a lot of people my age, I used to love to watch “Whose Line is it Anyway?” which came on the air when I was 14. Colin Mochrie, Wayne Brady, and Ryan Stiles were the main guys on that show and I thought they were all brilliant. I also grew up watching Saturday Night Live and knowing that Chris Farley, Mike Myers, Phil Hartman, Will Ferrell, and Amy Poehler all started out with either Second City or The Groundlings certainly piqued my interest in improv. I watched a ton of Robin Williams and Jim Carrey movies and knowing how notorious they both are with ad libbing helped to plant the seed in me.

Ken Bropson

    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.

Cara Dolan

WHO WERE YOUR ACTING/IMPROV INFLUENCES, ROLE MODELS?  As a kid, I loved Carol Burnett. The first show I watched religiously was the Carol Burnett Show, and I even lobbied to name my dog after her. Then in second grade, my teacher sent home a note with my report card that said "Cara is like having a 7 year old Gilda Radner in my class." I'm not sure she meant it as a compliment but I still think it's one of the best things anyone has ever said about me!

ROB FRAIL

I remember when I first met Rob. It was – as he never tired of reminding me – at the last class I taught at the Homegrown Theater on November 25, 2001. I don’t remember much about that first meeting, but Rob did. He had a memory for details that would have been impressive if it hadn’t been so irritating. Weeks – or even months – after he had done a scene in my improv class, he would recall a character or a moment that I had long since forgotten and eagerly reincorporate that character into the storyline, even though it may have been forced or inappropriate. That didn’t matter to Rob. Nothing succeeded like success, and if it had worked before it would work again.

Rob was fascinated by improvisation, and he brought his highly technical mind (I understood he worked as a computer programmer) to the free-flowing, spontaneous world of improv. He diligently learned everything I taught in my class, and then, like a scientist testing a theorem, he would go about methodically applying my “theories” (or rules) into a scene.  Sometimes he created very funny characters or scenes; other times, he would fall flat. On occasion, he would create brilliance.

First Amendment Redux

On Sunday, August 11, at 7 P.M., former members of the First Amendment improv troupe, will reunite under the auspices of Tom Soter. In the early 1980s, when New York improv was young, there were two main troupes in the city: First Amendment and Chicago City Limits. CCL is still around, but First Amendment lives on only on its web page and in the spirit of its still active improvisers. Here, then, is a rare chance to see some of the improv elite, live on stage. Here's a look at the participants, culled from previously printed stories:

Joe Mulligan: “It’s fun when improv takes off on its own, when you reach that magic moment when it all just takes off, when you take that lumbering big old Wright Brothers plane down the road, and it just takes off. It’s wonderful when it achieves its own reality and sense of purpose. You can’t plan those moments. They just happen.”

Joe Perce: “I’ve spent over 26 years doing improvisational comedy, with such groups as The First Amendment, Chicago City Limits, Comedy Mind Spill, Comedy Olympics and producing and directing my own comedy troop, Assorted Nuts.” (Joe was voted the BEST "Improvisational Comic of the Year" by BACKSTAGE.)

The Floozies vs The Boys

On Bastille Day, July 14, three members of the all-women's group, The Heartless Floozies, will face off with the four male members of The Chainsaw Boys at Sunday Night Improv in the greatest face-off since King Kong met Godzilla (or maybe since Abbott met Costello). Here's a look at some of the thoughts of the participants, culled from previously printed stories:

Mike Bencivenga

My MOST CHALLENGING IMPROV MOMENT is easy. The Chainsaw Boys were onstage at The Improv Asylum in Boston. The theater was in the semi-round and had a bar. To insure that their patrons could enjoy the show without running out of libation the bar sold buckets of beer. I believe there were four beers to a bucket. So our group is onstage in the middle of doing our long form when a drunken women (who'd finished her bucket and needed the restroom) staggered out of her seat and walked right up to me in the middle of the stage. I tried to treat her with the all the respect an intoxicated person who walks into your show deserves. But she didn't appreciate it. She was pretty belligerent (not to mention bleary-eyed) so I gently handed her off to one of the ushers who escorted her back to the bar. I'm proud to say the troupe rallied and got a lot of laughs out of the situation. We finished the show with a gospel song with the title (suggested by the audience) of "Don't Walk on the Stage." It all has to be seen to be believed. I hope to post the whole nasty episode on youtube very soon. Look for it under "The Chainsaw Boys and a Drunk."

20 Years of SNI

On Sunday, May 19, Sunday Night Improv will mark 20 years of more-or-less continuous performances with a star-studded show, featuring Larry Bell, Ian Prior, JessAnn Smith, Peggy Geraghty, Tom Carrozza, Chris Griggs, Ken Bropson, and Tom Soter. Also on the bill will be surprise guest stars and a specially made film, 20 Years of Comedy at Sunday Night Improv. In the spirit of that celebration, for our profile this month, we present a collection of comments from past performers of the month. 

Larry Bell “When I’m working with someone good in a scene, I’m not working. I’m just living through the moment. The most important things to me are having a solid scene and having a good time.”

Chris Griggs "Performing improv feeds into other outlets of mine such as stand-up and acting. I've been able to meet and get to know amazing people. Improvisers are usually very cool, quick-minded, and fun to be around. They also usually more team-oriented than some performance artists so that's fun as well. Improv has helped me learn to be in the present more and learn to say yes to life and people more. I've also, I think, learned to be more accepting of others. You learn to embrace what's special and interesting about people when you improvise and I like to think that has had an influence with my regular life."

KATHARINA ("KAT") ROTHE

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN IMPROV?

I was born in Hamburg, Germany many years ago ... and I actually started to improv that very day ... Basically, having left the security of the womb and finding ourselves seriously dependent upon communicating with other people in order to survive - and quoting Tom - "There is not a moment in life that we don’t improvise." Put more existentially, the human condition is the unspoken creator of improv.

WHO WERE YOUR ACTING/IMPROV INFLUENCES, ROLE MODELS? 

Well, actresses I love are Diane Keaton, Isabelle Huppert, Meryl Streep.

Personally, I have been influenced by Jessica Brands and Martina Kock in Bremen, Germany.

WHO WERE YOUR TEACHERS?   

I feel I should start with the most recent one, Tom Soter, since all of the other names are probably unknown in this country. But here they are: Jana Köckeritz, Frank Stuckenbrock, Roland Huus, Holger Möller.

WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF PERFORMING? 

What I love most is responding on the spot to other people’s ideas and ways of interacting. Being a psychologist, I do that all the time – but on stage the advantage is that I can use free association without the restrictions towards actually acting on impulses.

DETAIL, CHRONOLOGICALLY, YOUR IMPROV RESUME/CAREER?

JENNIFER JAMES DAVIES

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN IMPROV?

I was born in Cleveland Ohio at a young age. As I grew, I got bigger and eventually ended up in College. It was there that I discovered my college improv troupe, MC Comedy. The MC stands for Malone College, probably because that is the name of the college I attended. Years went by and I stopped growing, but only in size. I moved to NYC about a year and a half ago and started studying and performing Improv at The PIT, which stands for The People's Improv Theatre. Probably because that is the name of the theatre.

 

WHO WERE YOUR ACTING/IMPROV INFLUENCES, ROLE MODELS? 

My dad was my very first acting influence. He had been an actor and musician in his hay-day, but was always still "performing" here and there and around the house. My brother was also very influencial in my path to improv. He didn't even know it. He just made fun of everything. He was always great with impressions and roasting... well, everything. Sarcasm and dry humor runs very deep in my family, so we had daily improv shows that were so authentic that looking back, I now realize it was actually our lives. Outside of the home, I have always been inspired by the likes of Who's Line is it Anyway?, Saturday Night Live, and Mad TV.

DOUG NERVIK

 

"Neurology has determined that Doug lost 90 percent of the left side of his brain, with no hope for recovery. He looked forward to a poor quality of life in a nursing home, which he has always expressed that he would not want. It was a difficult decision for us, but was done in love and mercy. It was a family decision, decision to let Doug pass on to his next adventure." – statement from the Nervik famiy, October 2012

I don't remember when I first met Doug Nervik. He always seemed to be there, tinkling on his piano, smoothly singing clever improvised songs with an ease that he also brought to old standards and to the opening game he would frequently employ at my weekly Sunday Night Improv jam sessions.

"Hello, everyone," he would say in that upbeat way he had, "we're going to play a game right now. I play a TV theme song, and you call out the name."

JOE MULLIGAN

Joe Mulligan is a very funny fellow. A well-known face at the Sunday Night Improv comedy jams in the 1990s, Mulligan returns to the jam on September 9. He is also a staple on the stand-up comedy circuit where he has become famous for including a guitar in his act, improvising songs based on audience suggestions.  Recently, we sat down with Mulligan at his palatial estate in midtown Manhattan to talk with him about his career as a comedian, improviser, and musician.

How did you get involved in improvisation?

         I saw an ad in Backstage in 1983 or so. I had just finished an equity showcase,  a show called the Pahokie Beach, in which I played a lifeguard who was a bass player on the side. And I remember it because I broke my finger on stage. There’s a photo of me staring at my hand in dismay.

         I was looking for the next thing to do and saw [improv troupe] the First Amendment performing. Something struck me. I loved the way they pulled stuff out of thin air. So, I went to auditions. Barbara [Contardi, the company director] told me I was good but not ready. But I really wanted to do it, so she took me on. I went to workshops and worked lights for the show. That was invaluable in understanding the structure of a scene.

Why did you get involved in acting to begin with?

TOM SOTER

Choose one: Tom Soter (1) is seen every week as the host of the satirical Weak Previews movie review show, reviewing movies that were never made; (2) has been an improv teacher since 1987; (3) has been an editor at Habitat magazine, since 1982; (4) is the author of two books, Bond and Beyond: 007 and Other Special Agents and Investigating Couples: An Analysis of The Thin Man, The Avengers, and The X-Files ; (5) is six-foot-seven and built like Hulk Hogan.

If you chose No. 5, then you obviously have never seen Sunday Night Improv, the long-running comedy jam at the Soter/Lee Blackbox Theater of which Soter is the producer, emcee, and most regular performer. As for Choices 1-4, they're all true ? which means that Tom Soter leads a very busy life.

The five-foot-nine, spectacled comic was born on October 23, 1956 in New York City. He began improvising 12 years later when he and his friends and family made audio tape "radio shows" without scripts (the first was called The Lethal Camera; later programs included Planet of the Nuns and West that Wasn't.) He soon began appearing in improvised Super-8 action movies, created by pal ChristianDoherty (the most bizarre was You Made Me Hate Myself). By 1981, he was producing a cable TV access comedy show called Videosyncracies. 

PEGGY GERAGHTY

I was born in Lakewood New Jersey and moved to NYC after I graduated from college to attend drama school.  My acting/improv/comedy role models are too numerous to list completely but my pantheon would include Carol Burnett, Mel Brooks, the original casts of SCTV and SNL, The Pythons, Christopher Guest, French and Saunders and Tracey Ullman. 

I got started in improv because I had taken a break from acting and was feeling kind of rusty.  I wanted to do something to limber up.  I decided that improv would be a perfect way to shake off the dust creatively.   I began taking classes and I was pretty immediately taken with the fun, spontaneity and of course the laughter.

What I love most about performing improv is the playful collaboration between the performers and the audience.  I also love how sometimes a malapropism or a mistaken identity or some other unintentional gaffe can be as funny if not funnier than something that happens intentionally.    

I began performing in 2007 with Kim Schultz’s Happy Hour and became part of her house team Hi Robot.  We performed at Stand-Up New York, HA! Comedy club, Ochi’s Lounge at Comix and did Test Drive at The Magnet.  I am currently performing with the Hi Robot splinter team, Tri-Robot and we have performed at, The Broadway Comedy Club, The PIT, Artistic New Directions and The Wild Project.

HAYLEY RAPHAEL

WHO WERE YOUR ACTING/IMPROV INFLUENCES, ROLE MODELS? I have a strong background in musical theater, so I would say Bernadette Peters is one of my biggest theatrical influences. Not only is she a great song n dance gal, but also a great comedienne. I love the truth and honesty that Mark Rylance, former artistic director of Shakepeare's Globe brings to his work. In terms of improv, I of course need to pay homage to Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, as I feel they helped redefine women's roles in comedy.  I love the strong and specific character choices of NY improvisors Bob Kulhan, and Natasha Rothwell.

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN IMPROV? I was born here in NYC and spent my formative years in Westchester. When I was a sophomore in high school I started taking improv classes and was a theater major in college, so it was part of my training.

WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF PERFORMING?  I love the rush that comes w not knowing what is going to happen on stage, creating a piece of work out of a simple suggestion, and the support that goes with working as a team. It also makes me a better listener off stage.

ALEXANDER BERKOWITZ

I was born in Los Angeles, I moved to Eureka California when my dad wanted to start a radio station in Humboldt County and that’s basically where I grew up.

My largest role models are Groucho Marx, John Lennon, Albert Einstein, and Captain Katherine Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager. Groucho through his quick wit and fun personality, John through his music, Einstein for his intelligence and also because he looks a lot like my dad, and Captain Janeway for her unwillingness to break her code of conduct in the face of the Borg, Species 8472, and being light years away from home.

I loved performing since I was in kindergarten where I got to play radio raccoon the raccoon DJ.

I first got involved in improv last year at my school where Judith Searcy taught me. My improv resume is pretty short. I started last year in NYCDA where I was taught the basics from Judith Searcy, I then started taking the Sunday classes with Tom Soter at SNI, after that I was allowed to do the shows, and this year I founded my own improv troupe with my friend Chris London called the Unemployed Actor’s Guild. We recently performed our first show at the PIT. I have also been taking the Carol Schindler classes which have helped out a great deal. I love doing Sunday Night Improv, I think I learned more from being in SNI then I did from my class at school, not to mention it’s a lot of fun. 

NANCY LOMBARDO

WHO WERE YOUR ACTING/IMPROV INFLUENCES, ROLE MODELS? Character voices  June Foray, comedy  Gracie Allen, smothers brothers, music Tom Leaher, Role model Lilly Tomlin

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN IMPROV? Yonkers NY,  My whole life was improvisation. I was on my own at 18 putting myself through college so when ever anyone asked can you play this or that. I'd say  "Nobody does (fill in blank) like I do" and take the job whether I was qualified  or not. That lead to acting jobs and  radio commercials.  Because nobody does voices like I do. 

WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF PERFORMING?  Money! Hahah. The satisfaction of entertaining and sharing my joy of it with audience.

DETAIL, CHRONOLOGICALLY, YOUR IMPROV RESUME/CAREER? In short, performing improvisation in college, then part of a traveling stage show for low income areas. Then coming to New York and auditioning for the First Amendment Theater company as an act, which soon evolved into Strictly Improv a show that ran for  I think 13-14 years where I worked with the most talented group people  I will ever know. Everyone a stand  out including my long time comedy springboard, Tom Carrozza.

WHO WERE YOUR TEACHERS?  One stand out Shaw Robinson and the school of life.

CAROL SCHINDLER

WHO WERE YOUR ACTING/IMPROV INFLUENCES, ROLE MODELS?

As a kid I loved all of the comedians and comics on TV.  I loved Lucy, and Carol Burnett, The three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Sid Caesar, and Ernie Kovacs. 

I saw improvisation for the first time when I moved to Chicago and saw Second City.  In that cast were Shelly Long and Jim Belushi. I loved it and began taking classes at Second City with Del Close.

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN IMPROV?  

I was born in Kenosha Wisconsin.

While taking classes at Second City, I joined Chicago City Limits, which was just forming under the leadership of George Todisco.  George was a phenomenal improviser and visionary.   He was also a good friend and I miss him.


WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF PERFORMING?

Doing improvisation is like creating magic.  (At least when it is done well.)   It demands that one is present and when one is, the words flow and the magic appears.  At Chicago City Limits we were able to achieve what I call “group mind”.  We were able at times to work as one.  It was amazing and it was for those moments that I loved to perform.  Working at the height of one’s intelligence and creativity is what any art form is all about and that is the gift I received from performing.


DETAIL, CHRONOLOGICALLY, YOUR IMPROV RESUME/CAREER?

Let’s just say I’ve been doing this for a long time. J

WHO WERE YOUR TEACHERS?  

Del Close
George Todisco
Paul Sills

Harvey Chipkin

WHO WERE YOUR ACTING/IMPROV INFLUENCES, ROLE MODELS?  

 I came to improv pretty late in life – I didn’t even know it existed until my first class. But I became obsessed with it immediately. After a year with my first teacher in New Jersey, Deb Maclean, director of Lunatic Fringe, I took my first classes in New York with Tom Soter – both still improv mainstays.

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN IMPROV?   

 I was born on the Lower East Side, but discovered improv in New Jersey when my wife Janet pulled a flyer off a store window for classes I was terrified but within three months I was in a class show. And, God help her,  Janet has seen just about every show I’ve been in for the last 11 years.

WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF PERFORMING?  

Laughs, sometimes. There is also a therapeutic element – and an addictive element.

DETAIL, CHRONOLOGICALLY, YOUR IMPROV RESUME/CAREER? 

I’ve been with Lunatic Fringe since 2003, performing almost every month.. Otherwise I’ve studied at Second City, Upright Citizens Brigade and Magnet Theater. I’ve also done some corporate improv. And I do SNI regularly.

 WHO WERE YOUR TEACHERS?  

Aside from Deb and Tom , I’ve ’had a lot of teachers – including Armando Diaz, founder of Magnet theater; and I once had Zach Woods as a substitute at UCB. He now has a starring role on The Office.

WHAT DO YOU GET FROM DOING SUNDAY NIGHT IMPROV? IS IT FUN?  

JEFF CUMBERLIN

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Cedar Rapids, Iowa

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN IMPROV? I guess it all started in grade school as self-defense. I was rather short, chubby, and a bit of a smart Alec towards some of the older kids. I was never a person who believed in violence. I didn’t know how to fight, so I resorted to making them laugh. And it worked. I was always an energetic person. So early in high school it was suggested that I use some of that in speech, specifically improv. I did, and found it incredibly fun. From there I continued to college and learned the more formal method of improv. Still to this day I am learning and performing as much as I can.

WHO WERE YOUR ACTING/IMPROV INFLUENCES, ROLE MODELS? I led a rather sheltered life growing up specially in the ways of improv. I had the typical celebrity favorites of course, but really the people who really influenced me were the ones I grew up with. I’d say my biggest role models were my father who taught me to take a risk and dare to go beyond the norm. My high school choir teacher who taught me what it is to be passionate about something, and to chase it.

DETAIL, CHRONOLOGICALLY, YOUR IMPROV RESUME/CAREER? I started in high school through Speech. In college, I was part of the first improv group on campus, which is still going strong today. I later moved to New York and am currently performing regularly at the National Comedy Theater, and of course Sunday Night Improv.

WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF PERFORMING? Laughter at its purist form. They say it’s the best medicine, and I agree.

TIM WEISS

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Reading, PA (Home of the Reading Railroad on the Monopoly board!)

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN IMPROV? I was doing stand-up in the '80s and started taking improv classes to help me ad lib and respond to hecklers. 

WHO WERE YOUR ACTING/IMPROV INFLUENCES, ROLE MODELS? Growing up, I was a big fan of Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason, and Jerry Lewis (yes, I’m old).  And the cast of the Carol Burnett show.  All of them were my influences for characters and sketch comedy.  And later Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, SNL, and SCTV.

Also, as a kid my brother and I and the neighborhood kids used to do a lot of games that required using our imaginations and creating characters/stories/ad libbing.  Our favorite was a game called “Statues” where someone would spin you around and you would freeze in that position.  Then a “customer” would turn you on and you had to perform on the spot based on your pose.

DETAIL, CHRONOLOGICALLY, YOUR IMPROV RESUME/CAREER?  I started taking classes at First Amendment in the '80s, and then Bob Greenberg (who I met there) introduced me to Katha Feffer.  I took her classes for about a year and then was cast as a regular member of her group, For Play.  I performed with For Play for a few years, then Some Assembly Required for about a year.  I then fell out of it until recently getting the itch back, and started dropping in on Carl Kissin’s classes about two years ago.  Carl introduced me to Tom Soter, who started putting me in Sunday Night Improv shows.

MIRIAM SIROTA

I was born in Alpine New Jersey, a small suburb of New York City.  Frankly, I think I came out of the womb improvising.  My grandmother used to say that I’d get up and entertain a whole room as a child, making up stories, playing characters.  There are just some things you are born with, things that are central to your identity, the ways in which you express yourself in this world; for me, that is improv. 

I’d often go off script in school plays.  But the first formal improv I was introduced to was at Chicago City Limits.  Maybe I was 15….a friend’s parents drove us into the city to see the show…when I saw it, I knew this was my calling.  I took classes there and learned the basics of short form and improvised music.. Later, when I got to college, I studied with Tom Soter.  He was my greatest teacher because he taught me the skills and opened me up to find my artistic voice. I know that sounds sooooooooooo dramatic. But hey, theater is dramatic.  

LEAH GABRIEL

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN IMPROV?   Melbourne, Australia.  My high school didn't have a theatre department, but thanks to a drama teacher in 9th grade we had a Theatresports tournament, my team were called Repossessed and we made it to the state finals!  I remember my teammate's Dad was drunk in the back row and yelled embarrassing things throughout the show.  The host made sure our team came in last.

WHO WERE YOUR ACTING/IMPROV INFLUENCES, ROLE MODELS?  Many wonderful improvisers in Melbourne, but most of all Patti Stiles - International Queen of Improv.  www.pattistilesimpro.com

WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF PERFORMING?  Free drinks...sometimes.

DETAIL, CHRONOLOGICALLY, YOUR IMPROV RESUME/CAREER?  Five years with Impro Melbourne. www.impromelbourne.com.au

WHO WERE YOUR TEACHERS?  Patti Stiles, Keith Johnstone.

WHAT DO YOU GET FROM DOING SUNDAY NIGHT IMPROV? IS IT FUN?  Yes! It's always fun playing with someone I've met only five minutes earlier.

DESCRIBE YOUR MOST CHALLENGING IMPROV MOMENT?   When I have to provide a hilarious blow line to end a scene - epic fail every time.

DAVID MARX

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? I was born in Madison, Wisconsin on Easter Sunday in the mid 1970s.  I grew up in Madison until the age of 13 then moved to Phoenix, AZ.

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN IMPROV? A friend was taking classes with Kim Schultz Improv, and it sounded like so much fun.  After being envious for several months, I realized I could take classes, too.

WHO WERE YOUR ACTING/IMPROV INFLUENCES, ROLE MODELS? When I go see Improv, I go see Baby Wants Candy, the Improvised Shakespeare Company, and TJ and Dave.

WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF PERFORMING? Always a rush.  And a ton of satisfaction from those magical moments of building something with my scene partners.  And once I got a Tom Carrozza CD.

DARLA DELAYNE

I was born in Beaumont, Texas, on January 1 (yeah, that's all you're gonna get), and grew up in Humble, northeast of Houston).The first show I did in New York was a guided improv. There I  met my sweet friend, Rhonda Jensen, who invited me to the Sunday Night Improv class and show she was performing in.

In general, in performing improv, I get to use all of me. I use my intellect and creativity, body, and by connecting with other performers and the audience, my soul. It's such a complete experience.

My improv resume: Happy Hour- 45th St Theatre; Sunday Night Improv; Morning Cup - web series; Game Night- web series.

My teachers: Tom Soter; Carol Schindler; Carl Kissin

What I get from doing SUNDAY NIGHT IMPROV? Being in a jam with no prior rehearsal, it's such a pure improv experience. Sometimes you don't know the people in the cast or the games. It's such a "workout" having to stay so in the moment and I get to work with some amazing people. As a relative newbie to the form, I've gotten to be in the cast with some of the most seasoned and talented improvers. Due to the nature of the show I feel like I've improved and become so much more confident so much faster than I would have. 

JESSANN SMITH

I was born in Tacoma, Washington in the 80s and grew up in Bremerton and Yelm (If these names mean nothing, just know they are within an hour or so of Seattle). I went to the University of Montana in Missoula (BA in Vocal Performance) and was the youngest graduate in over 40 years! I moved to NYC in 2004 to sing, act, dance, and most recently, improvise. 

In March of 2010, I was taking a commercial class and I asked the castingdirector, “What can I do to set myself apart? I feel like my type is a dime a dozen in this business!” She said, “Well, you’re kind of funny, take an improv class.” Wow, little did I know what I was getting myself into. I started studying at the PIT (People's Improv Theater) right away, got completely hooked, and just (as in, this month) finished my Level 4 class.  Our final class show is May 8 at 8pm, come check it out!

I have also studied at the Magnet Theater with Mark Grenier and Armando Diaz, and my teachers at the PIT were Tom Ridgely, Joe Schiappa, Nate Starkey, Scott Eckert, and Larry Rosen & Noel Katz (musical improv).  They have all been so awesome, giving me different points of view and a strong foundation for Long Form technique. I started playing with Tom Soter and Sunday Night Improv in March and have been having an absolute blast! I love that Tom provides the opportunity to play with real pros from all over town, stretching our short form and musical improv muscles.

MIKE BENCIVENGA

When I turned forty, I realized I had spent the twenty years since college using my talents to make other people look good. Along the way folks kept telling me that I was funny and that I should be the one up onstage. So I thought, "Why not?" I tried stand-up and hated it. I ran into the same problem of remembering and repeating material. Improv proved to be the happiest place for an undisciplined ham like me. No blocking to remember and the only mistake you can make is to block or deny what is going on with your scene partner. Besides being great fun it's a great study in cooperation. You have to agree with what's offered and, as a result, can find yourself saying and doing (and being) things you'd otherwise never have imagined.

My hometown is Lynbrook, New York which is located on the south shore of Long Island. I was born on July 27th, 1956, the same year Rock & Roll burst on the scene. By all reports my arrival was much quieter. I'm the youngest of five kids. My Dad was a cop and my Mom had her hands full raising us. When her hands got emptier she became a real estate broker. We all grew up in a house on Lyon Place where my Mother still lives today. 

KRISSY GARBER

I was born in London and grew up in Hong Kong. It's where I got my charming accent!

I first got involved in improv when a couple of friends wanted to audition for Sunday Night Improv and  dragged me along! Once I was at the auditions, I couldn't believe how fun and freeing it was, and it reminded me of the acting training I'd gotten at school at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre. 

I get a massive adrenaline rush from performing and love the need to think quickly on my feet (because normally I am forced to think on my hands).

My improv resume starts and ends with Sunday Night Improv, mainly because it's the best improv group around and once I made it here, there was no need to bottom-feed. Acting wise, my resume is a little more extensive. I got started on the stages of Hong Kong being Anne of Green Gables, went to acting conservatory in New York City, did a couple of plays here (Alan Ball's Five Women Wearing the Same Dress and Joelle Arqueros' Sex, Relationships and Sometimes Love), as well as a couple of commercials and films, most recently Christian Doherty's The Place, to be released in 2011.

My improv teachers are Clive Anderson, from watching way too much Whose Line is it Anyway? and Tom Soter!

What I get from Sunday Night Improv is the feeling that I'm super awkward.  And I have a lot of fun! Those two things often work hand in hand.

Leo Jenicek

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? On the 4th planet, of a distant, dying star WHEN? Time has folded and shifted since then, but I can drink and vote legally. WHERE GREW UP? Lots of different places. I was raised by carney folk. HOW'D YOU FIRST GET INVOLVED IN IMPROV? I needed to be able to think on my feet,  to avoid a beating from Fagin. WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF PERFORMING? The temporary feeling of self-worth that only laughter and applause give me. DETAIL, CHRONOLOGICALLY, YOUR IMPROV RESUME/CAREER? I’ve been an improviser since birth.  Later,  I was asked to join the Chainsawboys. WHO WERE YOUR TEACHERS? Sir Beswick Figglestick,  Madame Dul La Touserant,  Master Sun Shan, who later  became my deadliest foe. Also Tom Soter. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM DOING SUNDAY NIGHT IMPROV?  A big fat check! Wait, we don’t get paid? Man… Then the joy of performing with a shifting group if funny people. I guess. DESCRIBE YOUR MOST CHALLENGING IMPROV MOMENT? Performing Shakespeare.  It seems most directors want you to stick to the text. YOUR MOST REWARDING IMPROV WORK?After a really great show, I was given a goose that laid golden eggs. Just chocolate wrapped in foil, but still pretty cool. DONE ANY WORK IN TV? FILMS? SCRIPTED THEATER? I was in the BBC's longest-running series, Down The Copperwhithe. Five whole episodes! Then there was my one-man show, Chuck Todd Talks Filthy. WHERE DO YOU HOPE TO GO WITH THIS?

Kelly Stevenson

My childhood was slightly abnormal but incredible. I was born and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida. I grew up in show business...not the usual show business but professional ice skating shows. My mom and step-dad decided to start their own company and produce professional ice skating shows. Thus, Rosstyn Ice Shows and Rink Designs was born.  My summers were spent performing in the shows at various state fairs, theme parks, and corporate events.   Along the way, I learned some pretty amazing things: skating choreography,  costume design, and all about the entertainment business from the ground up and in all sorts of  angles.  I would say this is how I decided that show biz is the ONLY way of life for me.   If my parents can do it so can I.  Their shows become bigger and better every year, which has been truly inspiring to me to start with a dream and follow it through.

Kurt Fitzpatrick

 

I was born in Philadelphia sometime in the 1970s. I grew up in South Jersey. I first got involved in improv when I started taking classes at HB Studios. I had a teacher there named Rasa Allen Kazlas, who was pretty strict, and I needed that at the time. I was very broad and silly as a performer, and she hammered some skills into me. She was also supportive as a teacher, and enjoyed seeing people's work, including my own. My influences were people who took control of their work, like Woody Allen, although I don't think I have much in common with Woody Allen. I was very much influenced by watching SCTV and Saturday Night Live as a kid, and always enjoyed creating my own characters.

Christopher Hoyle

 

NO JUDGMENTS

By BEN CARTWRIGHT

Christopher Hoyle seems measured and in control on stage – yet he can be remarkably impulsive. Like the time he got six people to jump off a metaphorical cliff with him. It was 1985 and the New York Improv Squad had just lost its performing gig. Standing on the street after hearing the news, Hoyle, a founding member of the troupe, said, “Why don’t we just perform right here?”

The rest of the group scoffed at the idea – it was dark, it was cold, it was dangerous – but Hoyle began anyway. Strumming on his guitar, he began taking suggestions from passersby. “We should back him up,” said Tom Soter, another squad member. They did – and to everyone’s great amazement, except, perhaps, Hoyle’s – a small crowd had formed. By evening’s end, the group had collected over $100 in contributions from passersby. “That’s what I love about improvisation,” says Hoyle, a regular performer at the Sunday Night Improv comedy jam at 236 West 78th Street. “You can do anything if you try.”

Brooke, Hevner & Laybourne

 

On April 25th, three of the members of the all-women's improv group, The Heartless Floozies, will reunite for an evening of fun at the SUNDAY NIGHT IMPROV jam. They all used to be regulars at SNI, and here are their stories, as reprinted from vintage issues of The WINGNUT GAZETTE:

SUZANNE HEVNER 

            Suzanne Hevner loves when things go awry. She remembers her senior year in college, when she was doing the showHow the Other Half Loves. The gimmick in the play was that two people used the same set simultaneously, pretending that they were in two completely separate apartments. They would walk around the space performing their scenes, never acknowledging that the other person was there. An unscripted accident occurred during one performance when Hevner’s co-star knocked over a pitcher of water in Hevner’s area, resulting in a pool of water.

Larry Bell

 

A PIECE OF
CAKE

By SINJIN SMYTHE

It was a dramatic moment. With only a few minutes left in the second night of the 1994 New York Improv Festival, the annual improv competition, out strode Larry Bell, captain of the second-place team improvisation group Bright Lights Big Witty. They had been neck-and-neck with two other troupes, and the question was, Could they win? A bold choice was needed. After taking a suggestion from the audience, Bell, announced with gusto, “Ladies and gentlemen, we now present, The Three-Minute Musical!” And then, in a flash, the four members of Bright Lights – Bell, Allison Castillo, Beth Littleford, and Denny Siegel - presented an entire musical, with a beginning, middle, and end, a romance, a couple of songs, and plot complications – in just three minutes. The crowd went wild.

Karl Tiedemann

 “JERRY MADE ME DO IT”

By JOHN DRAKE

He is the debonair debater in a talk show discussing the pros and cons of spaghetti. He is the pratfalling nerd, blithely drinking a concoction by the hunchbacked doorman Brad in the creeky old castle. He is also a stern husband, frantic guest, and tap-dancing villain. But above all else, he is Karl Tiedemann. And he is funny.

Carole Bugge

“I’D RATHER BE
WRITING...”

By JOHN DRAKE

Carole Bugge would rather scratch an itch than live with it. “People become improvisers because they have an itch that has not been scratched as an actor,” she says. “What’s great about improv is that it’s the perfect marriage of performing and writing.”