Improv auditions are interesting. I’ve now auditioned for house/Harold teams at iO Chicago, iO West, The Annoyance, The Playground and for Rogue. Two nights ago, I added UCB LA to the list. 512 people auditioning. Less than 5 percent get in. Seems about right.
A couple thoughts about this audition:
1) The auditors were extremely supportive. Cheers when you entered the room. A warm greeting. A quick explanation of the process. And off we went. Genuine laughs throughout. Cheers at the end to escort us out and high fives from the folks coordinating the auditions and manning the doors. Great atmosphere for a high pressure audition. Completely different than other auditions where it feels like you’re heading into a walk in freezer.
2) The auditioning group was extremely supportive. Top to bottom, this was one of the best groups I’ve had the privilege to audition with. The four first beats were all solid. Good initiations. Good responses. The second beats had some nice tag outs and support moves to bring everything together. I found myself starting to watch from the back line.
3) The warm ups were loose. Sometimes, the warm ups feel like a magic trick to distract you from the impending pressure cooker, but I genuinely felt like the warms ups were fun and, more importantly, far from perfect, which created a playful atmosphere that followed us into the room.
4) Veterans auditioned. Rachel Mason, the one from UCB NY, was in my group. She performed a one woman improvised show at UCB Sunset the night before. Frank Caeti auditioned. He’s a long time improviser and has directed several sketch shows. I think that speaks to UCB LA’s influence. People want to be part of that community. People want to be on their Harold teams. People want to perform for packed rooms.
All in all, I’m pleased with my audition. I kept it simple. I maintained my point of view. I made physical contact. I know there were some things I would have done differently. Some more physicality. A bit more philosophy to highlight why my character did what he did. More spatiality. But those are nit picky. I also kicked off the audition by providing my 60 second monologue about a major milestone birthday that got a lot of laughs. That’s why I do improv – I love making people laugh. And I’m a damn good storyteller.
I’ll let you know if I make callbacks.
Here’s the second part of my interview with UCB LA’s Jake Regal.
How has improv changed?
When I was first taking classes, the philosophy was a very much a writer’s philosophy. It seemed solely about the game – finding the unusual thing, playing the move. It was very mathematical. Almost too mathematical. Never as bad as detractors made it out to be, but you knew the cheat/short cut system to isolate funny. I think the theater has increasingly incorporated more acting technique and human response to its improv.
Tell me about coaching. What do you love about it? What’s your philosophy?
I love seeing how a team changes over time and I’m happy to have been a part of it. I can shape a young team in a positive way. Philosophically, I’m trying to stop the evil improv in the comedy community – uncommitted improv performed for other improvisers and joke telling for each other. I consider my duty to teach people not to do that. My goal is to get people to commit to the reality of the universes they’re creating.
Who were/are your mentors?
Chad Carter. I had him for three classes and he coached my practice group for a year and a half. He always said, “Keep being funny until you can’t be funny anymore.” He was great at getting the game play side of improv working.
Eugene Cordero. He worked the humanity side of improv – play more like a person on stage vs. robot moves. He always pushed emotional moves.
Will Hines. He was critical to the development of Cardinal Redbird and created a very specific insanity that has meshed with the team.
What makes a good improviser?
- Willingness to not be funny. The most important thing in my opinion is a willingness to not be funny. That is the breakthrough between 301 and 401 students – they learn/start to tell the jokes at the right time. The transition to good improviser is to exist in their space, create a baseline reality and the ability to just be there is invaluable.
- Actor or human being skills. Be more present, active and be a better listener. I love seeing two human beings on stage.
- Perseverance. It will take you time. It is as much about willing to stick it out as it is about talent. Improv will be there for those it’s worth it to. If you legitimately enjoy it, it will be there for you.
We’re chest deep in Harold auditions. Any tips?
- Set reasonable expectations. Don’t put your entire life’s purpose on getting on a team. There’s 20 spots or fewer and 100s of people auditioning.
- Have fun. Don’t focus on making a team. Be enthusiastic about the attempt.
- Commit. Don’t play for laughs. Most people auditioning lose commitment. You will impress the auditors if you’re a committed human being listening and reacting in your scenes and responding honestly. If you’re playing the game, great.
I wrote a bunch of blog posts about Harold auditions.
Any advice for those pursuing an improv career?
It’s a lot of work. I made a Harold team and played on Harold night. Then our team blew up and I got kicked off. I told myself, “I will not stop to get back on Harold night!” I had four years of depression. I took classes and worked incredibly hard. You have to figure out to yourself if it’s worth it.
There is no correct way to do it. Every method has proved correct and incorrect.
Team chemistry is a fickle beast. Getting put on a team doesn’t necessarily translate to team chemistry. Form your own team. Play with people you enjoy playing with.
Remember – improv is fun above all other things. It’s not about how to do things. It’s a celebration of this stupid thing we’re doing. That will eliminate stress of having to be somewhere as an improviser.
The people that perform at UCB love improv, even after they “make it.” Improv isn’t necessarily the means to the end.
Don’t expect riches. I was fortunate to book a national commercial every year, but I was basically poor. I didn’t spend money. It wasn’t until very recently that I began to live like a human being.
Personally, I love it. I’m a huge egoist. I love people laughing. I get to play with other people and that’s where I get a lot of fun. Art in general comes up in improv. I love those moments of unexpected honesty. They happen in music and movies. Truth permeates and that can happen a lot in improv. That’s why the commitment is so important. Be a person on stage. The unexpected honesty – I find those the most gratifying moments.
Do the Long Hard Improv Jam. I started hosting it for the same reason as the 3 on 3 tournament.
Back then, the Jam was a train wreck. People would steam roll other people out of scenes. I felt so uncomfortable. I knew I needed to keep doing it until I was comfortable. I had to keep going back until I gained confidence.
Now the Jam is much more patient. It’s still more wild than the average improv show because you don’t know the people or why they might make certain moves and they’re aggressive, but it trains your confidence muscle.
To connect with Jake, follow him on twitter or email here if you’re looking for a coach.
twitter – @jakeregal
If you want to enlist Jake as a coach – [email protected]
If you’ve ever caught a Harold show at UCB, you’ve likely seen Cardinal Redbird. And if you’ve ever had a practice group, you’ve likely heard the name Jake Regal suggested as a coach. Jake plays with Cardinal Redbird. And he’s one of the best improv coaches I’ve had in LA. He’s efficient with time, specific with notes, and malleable with exercises.
I sat down with Jake to learn more about his story.
How did you get started in improv?
I was always interested in acting. We did improv exercises in drama class in middle school and I enjoyed them. We had the Improv Olympics (not to be confused with iO), which was a series of short form games. One of those was a debate game and I quoted SNL while I was debating Sarah. I called her an ignorant slut from the infamous Weekend Update sketch and almost got in trouble for it.
I went to college at UC Santa Cruz. I had huge academic apathy. I stopped doing work to determine where I wanted to go to school. I just applied sight unseen to Santa Cruz and was accepted.
There was an improv team called Humor Force V, UCSC’s oldest improv troupe. HFV specializes in performing long-form improv comedy, and while the members have changed over the years, the creed stays the same:
I auditioned for it on a whim as a first year student. I did well, but didn’t get on team. I auditioned my sophomore year and did worse. That felt like shit. I took UCB classes in the summers as a way to get better at auditioning for Humor Force 5. It took me four years to get on Humor Force V.
I really started pursuing improv earnestly when I graduated college. I started UCB 301 when I graduated.
Interestingly enough, my father was an improv comedian with Chicago City Limits in the 80s. It was a happy coincidence. It’s interesting. I went to see my dad do a reunion show in the 90’s and he was played with the new cast. I recently found the playbill. The names of the new cast included Sean Conroy, Paul Scheer, Eddie Pepitone, Andy Sucunda, and Andy Daley.
Tell me about your first Harold team.
In February 2009 I joined my first Harold team – Lincoln’s Bedroom. Even though we were eight very talented improvisers, it was one of the least successful Harold teams in LA history. Not a joke. We just didn’t have the perfect chemistry as an ensemble.
I joined Cardinal Redbird in October 2013.
What makes Cardinal Redbird unique?
We’ve always been strangely on the same page. We started doing bits early like we were on a team for a year, but we barely knew each other. We were a Frankenstein team, put together with a whole bunch of different people, but we instantly clicked. We had that going for us early. Interestingly enough, for the first six to eight months though, we struggled to find and play the game in our first beats because of our organic opening, but our second and third beats were always solid. We were technical, but finding the game steadily improved without losing the fun energy. I’d like to think we’re solid all around these days!
What do you love about improv?
My favorite teams are not necessarily the most technically adept. There are some great teams at UCB who do improv so well, but my teams are the ones truly enjoying themselves. The ones being inclusive and sharing experience with the audience. Teams like Flap Jackson, Last Day of School and Bangarang! Cardinal Redbird is following in those footsteps.
There’s a period of time when you’re doing improv and you transition from in your head to second nature. Can you talk about that?
It’s not like it clicks one day. You keep improving in ways you didn’t think you would. I don’t think I was a really good improviser until my first Harold team. I was in my head for the first year trying to figure out what do I need for this scene.
I played in the 3 on 3 tournament. Toni Charline, Jason Sheridan and I made it to semifinals by beating a well-known team. We were 301 students and they were the god team to me. I thought they were so funny. It was huge for my confidence. I thought, “Maybe I’m funny too.” We were no names before that tournament.
It’s a constant plateau, then progress, and then plateau again. You don’t have the perspective because it’s incremental progress.
I recently hosted the 3 on 3 tournament because it was an opportunity to give back to up and coming improvisers today.
How has improv changed?
When I was first taking classes, the philosophy was a writer’s philosophy. It was about the game – finding the unusual thing, playing the move. It was very mathematical. Almost too mathematical. Never as bad as detractors make it out to be, but you knew the cheat/short cut system to isolate funny. I think the theater has incorporated more acting and human response to improv. I love seeing two human beings on stage.
Ever see a show that changed how you improvised?
Yes. I saw Jason Mantzoukas (The League) do a one-person completely silent monoscene for a cagematch. The suggestion was hermit. He was so slow and patient. You could see he was dialing a girl’s number and hanging up when she answered. At the end, he reached into a space dresser and there was an audible gasp from the audience because they knew he had a gun. He put the gun up to his head and they pulled the lights. I vividly remember that show. He had the best reactions and that was a breakthrough moment. That’s when I really learned that lesson – let a facial expressions be a line – show don’t tell basically.
Now that continues on. I do a two-person show with Laura Chinn. They are really patient monoscenes. Total opposite of Cardinal Redbird and I love them equally. I get to be insane and then I get to act the shit out of scenes with Laura.
Stay tuned for Part Two of my interview with Jake next week.