Get to know the one and only, Nick Henriquez in this week’s Cast Member Q&A!
How did you find out about Sick Puppies Comedy?
I was taking a stand-up class when one of the other students mentioned Sick Puppies, which had just opened. It was too far for him to drive, but he recommended it to me. Shortly after, I joined in with the first class group Sick Puppies ever had.
What got you involved and interested in improv?
I’d watched tons of Whose Line, but it was improvised podcasts that really locked it in for me. I remember discovering them near the end of college and actually burning them onto CDs to listen to in the car. This was before I got an iPhone and the adapter that would broadcast your audio to the radio like a Mr. Microphone. So glad there’s bluetooth now.
Tell us about your first improv show ever. What was it like?
I wish I could remember details. It was a big group of students and we had a lot of fun. We wore matching t-shirts, so that right there tells you I still had a lot to learn.
What’s your favorite game/form of improv? Why?
I enjoy a long-form narrative. I like the humor and creativity involved in creating new situations to move our characters into and the feeling of accomplishment of having told a story.
What is the most rewarding experience you’ve had based on your life in comedy?
I love the sense of community among performers and how approachable everyone is, and I love meeting other performers from around the country and world at festivals. You can meet people with so many varied backgrounds.
Newer improvisers might be surprised by how much you continue to learn from improv, no matter how long you’ve been doing it. What’s something you recently learned, or that you’re currently working on?
I love learning a new form and then seeing all the ways there are to twist it and make it your own. There’s never enough time for all of them! I still have a parallel universes form I came up with that I’ve only been able to scratch the surface on, but I know there’s incredible depths to reach.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to new improvisers?
Besides the basics, find the thing you’re good at (big characters, bringing energy, spotting connections, etc.) and become the master of that realm. Love and enjoy it, find different twists on it, innovate, thrill and surprise everyone. Then start branching out on improving your weaker areas. Don’t try to do everything at once. See the photo of me putting this into practice at a recent DCM (Del Close Marathon), playing the unflappable worker unaffected by the craziness going on around him.
You can catch Nick with SPC’s musical improv team, Shallow Howl this Saturday at 9:00 p.m. at Sick Puppies Comedy in Boca Raton, Florida. Get your tickets online at: http://bit.ly/NickH2018!
This isn’t meant to be funny, or even uplifting in any sort of meaningful way. This is just me getting thoughts and feelings out of my head, and onto, I guess digital paper. Improv changes lives. I think it has changed the course of a lot of people’s lives. I think that artists adrift in a sea of the unknowable abyss seek improv training to help them figure out a way to make order out of the chaos that they have created from their lives.
At least that’s how I came to it. I had decided to start doing standup comedy in 2012, and Tony Rivera, whom I had started befriending by going to his open mic, started taking Sick Puppies improv classes. He had no end of compliments to grant to the troupe, and the art-form. I had been curious about improv for a very long time, and I thought that it would be a good skill-set to add to my toolbox. It took me a little while to warm up to the idea of trusting my instincts, and trusting my cast mates.
I was in a very dark place in my life when I started taking improv classes. Truth be told I have been in a dark place in my life, well, through the entirety of my adult life. I have always suffered with depression and crippling insecurity. I was nearly a recluse before I started my journey into getting on stage every night and trying to get people to laugh at the terrible position in which I had placed myself.
Once I attached myself to this improv troupe I slowly started coming to realize that there were other people out there who were willing to look past my particular shortcomings. One of these people in particular looked directly through the façade I keep up and looked directly at the ME underneath. He did something that no one had done for me in a very long time, he listened.
That’s what improv is about. Listen. The performance isn’t about you or me, the performance is about us, and the audience. Casey Casperson listened to me, and then let me listen to him. I don’t know what he had to gain from listening to me. I believe he was simply being human, and he could feel the pain and anger that I radiated. He wasn’t willing to just accept that I was the person I was presenting myself to be. He sensed that there was something more underneath that tar-coated exterior, and he was going to coax it out.
I also can’t say that he had some premeditated plan of action that would cause me to pupate, and emerge in some grand presentation of exodus. He just knew that there was a reason that I had chosen to follow this path, and I seemed to be taking it seriously. He also fostered an environment where everyone who took the class, would be taught by empathetic, and giving teachers, and I would be in a class full of people whom I would learn to trust, and befriend.
A lot of these things are somewhat ephemeral. There is no way to pick and choose each person who decides to come take an elective acting class. The other members of my classes weren’t necessarily professional entertainers, and each had their own motivations for taking the classes. I am still not a professional, though I hope I’m on that path now.
The truth is that you can only get out of an experience what you are willing to put into it. I had come to a point where I didn’t have anything that I cared about losing anymore, and I came to it with some subliminal wish to find a thing that I wanted to hold onto. When I started taking improv classes I was an angry, dark, miserable person. By the time that I had completed the five levels of classes offered by The Sick Puppies nine months later I was a much more capable, much more content, much smaller (by volume, I lost a lot of weight during this time) person.
I hadn’t really made an effort to be successful at anything to that point in my life. I think that I was always frightened by the prospect of success, and the unknown. I had created a bubble around myself. That bubble, while not comfortable per se, was familiar. And the familiar is always preferable to the unsure. There is a lesson in improv that the unsure is where elation resides. When I refuse to accept opportunities that are sent my way I’m hurting myself, but I’m also hurting the person who is offering me those opportunities.
The single, most important rule of doing improvisation is “Yes, and…” We ask for a piece of input, and then that piece of input becomes inspiration for the scene we are about to create together. What I say is true for my scene partner(s), and what they say is true for me. The surest way to stall progress is to deny their offered gifts of reality.
Improv has changed my life because I finally realized that I can say yes. “Can you host this show?” Well my first instinct is to say no, yes, I can host your show. “Can you help me with this project?” Well, I’m frightened of that because I have never done anything like it before. Yes, let’s see where this project leads. The lesson I’ve learned is that if it fails, the worst thing is that the audience doesn’t laugh at the end of your scene. If we succeed, we have entertained a group of people, and given ourselves a sense of worth, and fulfillment that is difficult to attain in any other way.
I am not saying that improv is a panacea by any stretch of the imagination. We are all flawed individuals, and we all have to determine our own level of commitment to everything we do. I have a sneaking suspicion that we all have a secret ambition. What I am trying to say is that when we start accepting the things that we can’t change our path through life will be met with a lot more conciliatory behavior, and a whole lot less conflict and struggle.
Try it one day. Try saying yes to something that you are unsure about. Try looking someone in the eye and accepting what’s underneath their exterior without judging them by the pretense they project. You’ll never get entirely comfortable with it, but eventually you will just do it by second nature, and you’ll notice that good things spontaneously start occurring in your life. Go ahead, try it. I dare you.
Think back on every point in your entire life.
Well, not every point. I don’t have all day, for pete’s sake.
But the highlights. Think back on the most interesting times of your life, and ask yourself this. What made them interesting? Why were they so different from the other times in your life?
I already shared one of mine with you all.* And I guess I’m just wondering, what makes our most interesting moments so interesting? Are you glad you had them? What caused them?
This is a bit of an “open, free-for-all, share your thoughts with me in the comments ’cause I’m curious” sort of thing, and I guess it’s also a response to a couple of the posts Casey Casperson has made on this blog.**
On a somewhat personal level, I used to be a very routine-oriented individual, but then as I got older I kind of threw that to the wind, in order to have as much fun and as many interesting experiences as possible. In a lot of ways I liked the freedom–and that freedom really did let me have a lot of one-off life experiences, but the lack of structure got kind of stressful after a while, you know?
What needed to get done got done, but after a while I wondered if it came at the expense of my inner peace. Still, I’ll admit that most of the days were different, and that kind of made them interesting in their own way.
So yeah, I’m thinking in generalities, but I’m also wondering. How interesting is your life? Do you like the routine you’re in? Is it interesting?
Can routines be interesting?
Tell me in the comments below, because I want to know you. I want to feel your words caressing my brain, making me a better person.
Sorry. No homo.
I mean, I’m a little homo. But you know what I mean.
** I’m thinking specifically about his post about dealing with depression by charting/recording it, and also his post about forming New Year’s Resolutions.
My father had died about a week ago. That’s why I’d been sitting there, then, re-taking a history test that I’d missed while going through the mourning process.
The scantron part was done, so now I was furiously scribbling in the little blue book. You know those little blue books they make you use to write essays? The worst. They were always too small, and I always smeared ink everywhere, and I always had to ask for a second blue book because my handwriting was too big and I was too much of a diva to properly write in-between the lines.
Anyway, I was creaming this test. The little blue eraser on my little blue erasable pen was seeing no action as the ink spilled out. I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote.
There was a knock at the door.
My history teacher, an excitable man with very cool facial hair, rushed out of his seat, opening the door.
My drama teacher, a not-so-excitable woman with no noticeable facial hair, was standing there. She said she needed to see me. My history teacher said she had to wait until after the test.
“Ohmygod,” I thought, “Am I going to have to wear a dress tonight?”
To give that some context, I’d been part of a school play called The Servant of Two Masters. It was a farce, and I’d had a bit-part as a servant (not THE servant, mind you) whose greatest moment was probably getting killed in an accidental stabbing. I assure you it was a HILArious moment. But I’d given it up because my father’s death had taken place a week before the play started, and I simply couldn’t be there for the vital, grueling tech rehearsals.
That said, I’d also been an understudy. And I’d heard through the grapevine that a rather small rather petite Cuban girl had been sick. She played a major character, and I hoped they knew better than to try sticking me in that dress. To give you the visual, I’m skinny, but I’m also 6′. This girl couldn’t have been taller than 5’5″. A guy like me in a dress like that was bound to cause the sort of wardrobe malfunction only Janet Jackson could be proud of.
All these thoughts spun through my head as I raced through my last two essays. I yelled, “DONE!” practically threw my test at him, and bounded through the halls, as I rushed to the theater. I wasn’t even running–I was leaping. So it took no time at all to get there.
The good news was that I didn’t have to replace the Cuban girl. She was maybe a little ill, but nothing too bad.
The bad news was that the lead character of the play (THE servant) had been kicked off campus, and he was NOT allowed to come back.
The play was in two hours.
I was his understudy, but didn’t know any of his lines.
In my defense, understudies for high school plays aren’t usually expected to memorize all of the lead’s lines. That’s for professionals who get paid for that sort of stuff. Also I had a lot of acne. Also I was a dumb kid. I don’t know, choose whichever excuse you want.
The point is, I didn’t know my lines, and everyone accepted that.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t really just pick up a script and perform the play, either. The Servant of Two Masters adopted characters and ideas from an Italian form of theater known as Commedia dell’Arte, a comedic form that took archetypal characters (the clown, the doctor, the lovers, etc.) and improvised with them.
To honor the tradition, we had improvised in the rehearsal process, inserting our own gags into an already ridiculous play. In truth, half the script was nearly worthless, since we’d changed so much.
Still, I had a choice right then and there: did I want to go on the stage and potentially embarrass myself in front of maybe a hundred people? My theater teacher knew everything that had happened recently, and told me I absolutely didn’t have to.
But I’d already made up my mind.
The next two hours were a blur, chaos at its best and worst. The director and a couple cast members dutifully started sticking little slips of paper into the script, which denoted where the play’s content had been changed. Meanwhile I ran around, trying to figure out what the play was even about (being a minor character in a play does NOT require knowing what the play is about, fyi). I threw on a costume and slathered on some makeup. Before I knew it I was onstage.
Ten pages in, and I was COMPLETELY lost. Someone had skipped to a line they had half a page ahead, and then they’d jumped back, and I’m pretty sure I missed my first line?
There was a pause. I KNEW I was supposed to say something. I vaguely remembered that my character flirted with that sick Cuban girl’s character right around now, but couldn’t find the line itself.
So I walked up to her and said, “Sometimes, when I gaze into your eyes, it’s like there’s a Cuban Missile Crisis. In my pants.”*
What can I say? I was nervous, and she was Cuban.
Anyway, half the audience hooted and hollered with joy. The other half was less than thrilled. But, uh, too late.
I got off the stage, and sometime later was supposed to get back on it. But the thing about a backstage is that it’s DARK. And I had no idea what line was the cue for me to get back onstage. So I messed up.
I walked onstage too early, blushed, and retreated.
Ohgod ohgod ohgod.
The two actors onstage continued talking. Then, there was something of a pause. I was pretty sure this time really was my cue, so I entered again.
I was wrong again.
But this time I knew i couldn’t just back out again. That would be too embarrassing. I had to own it.
“Uh, hey,” I said, moving farther onto the stage, talking to the two guys who were having a dialogue, “You two touching Pixie Sticks yet?” I looked out at the audience, “Sorry. Spoiler Alert. Uh, yeah. Just tell me when you guys are done.”
I ran backstage again, and didn’t come out til they called for me.
I started getting the hang of the pell-mell that this play had become. I figured out the jumps in the script quicker, and things just began to flow more smoothly. Still, my hands were shaking. Another fifteen to twenty pages in, and I dropped my script. The carefully-placed slips of paper my friends and director had placed fell everywhere.
Still feel kind of bad about that.
Things took a turn for the worse. I managed to improv my way through most of it, but then we got to the climax of the play, its most famous scene, where the servant of two masters serves food to his two masters (the play’s plot was pretty straightforward).
Well, that’s what was SUPPOSED to happen.
I was supposed to go back-and-forth in a frenzied manner from my first master to my second, serving everything from appetizers to desserts. Instead I served one master everything, not taking anything away, stacking plate after plate, confused and unsure what my lines were. After a time, I stacked a bowl of ‘pea soup’ (green applesauce, which had been sitting backstage for a week) on the top of this massive tower of plates, only for them all to topple onto the actor.
He was fine, and made some comment about me not being a very good servant. Which, I’ll admit, was a fair observation.
Confused, I made jokes about a piece of lettuce. I laughed, nervously. I laughed alone.
Finally, a voice from on high (my director, talking into a microphone in the sound/lighting booth) spoke to me, through the speakers in the theater: “Turn to the top of Page 72. Top of Page 72.”
I turned to the top of the page. It was the ending line of the scene.
My bliss, my saving, the answer to all my not-so-deistic prayers.
We finished the rest of the play without too much more incident. At curtain call, I realized that I’d just gone through one of the best moments of my life.
On the one hand, so many mistakes had been made that day, and almost all of them were mine. On the other hand, we’d had fun, laughed them off, and gone on to create a unique theatrical experience. I’d enjoyed Improvisational comedy before then, but that’s when I grew to really love it.
Later that night, mom and I were in the living room. I was laying down on the sofa, with my eyes closed.
“It’s been a weird ten days,” I said.
“Yeah, it has.”
“I- I think I’m going to die tonight.”
“What?” she asked.
“I feel it. I think this is the hardest I’ve ever laughed in my entire life. And it came so soon after dad’s death. And I just don’t know where anything could go from here. This is it. The most emotion I could ever feel. After this, it’s over.”
“It’s been a weird ten days,” she told me kissing me on the forehead, “Get some sleep.”
I did. Felt better the next day.
In the end I don’t really know what this story means. Those ten days–starting with my dad’s death in the morning and ending with the night of that performance of Servant of Two Masters–were perhaps the ten most emotional days of my life. It’s been around five years since then, and I can tell you I was wrong, that night. There were a lot of places to go from there: a lot of emotions to be felt, events to behold, and Improv scenes to perform. I’ll have to tell you all about it, some other time in some other posts.
At the most basic level, I suppose the story’s all about how Improv got me through a very dark time in my life: I was still sad about my father, but everything seemed better now after I’d gone onstage and learned to laugh again.
I also suppose it’s about how I ended up Improving through everything else in my life, realizing that nothing’s more fun than losing your script and fumbling around. (Remember to thank all the people who help you out, though. Without my director I would have been TOAST.)
Or maybe it’s about the persistence required to stick to something til it ends.
Or maybe it’s about the strangeness of beginnings, endings and everything in-between.
Maybe it means whatever you want it to mean. Happy now?
*You might recognize that line, which we used for the 12 Historical Pick-up Lines article!