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:

  1. Friendship
  2. Pizza
  3. Improv

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.