We caught up with Sick Puppies’ very own, Ben Brouckaert in this week’s cast member Q&A. Learn a little bit more about the man, the myth (he’s totally not a myth) and the legend himself!
How did you find out about Sick Puppies Comedy?
Google, they were the first result for improv classes in the area. SEO works!
What got you involved and interested in improv?
Podcasts. When I was younger, I thought improv was only what you see on Whose Line, and I never found it particularly inspiring. But when I discovered podcasts like Comedy Bang Bang and improv4humans, I learned that there was a whole other kind of improv called long form, and I knew I had to try it.
Tell us about your first improv show ever. What was it like?
It was nerve-wracking and exciting and so much fun. I still remember playing an elderly surgeon who was shorter than the operating table, and watching Chris Wheeler plank on two chairs (it was when planking was still a thing).
What’s your favorite game/form of improv? Why?
Right now, it’s the Harold. I love the challenge of creating several separate worlds and trying to bring them together in some great Seinfeldian way by the end of the show.
What is the most rewarding experience you’ve had based on your life in comedy?
Getting to travel to perform. Improv brought me to New York for the first time in my life, and it was an amazing experience. Also, I’ve been recognized as a Sick Puppies cast member a few times in public; that’s a cool feeling as well. Sitting at the movies and hearing someone say “hey, we were at your show tonight! I told my kids we’re going to sit next to the Sick Puppies” was cool. I now have a security detail who will not allow anyone to talk to me or look me in the eyes.
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?
Just the other night I learned that I’m not totally sure what a trapezoid is. I looked it up, and I would give myself partial credit at best.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to new improvisers?
Listen! The most satisfying scenes I’ve done are the ones where my scene partner and I listen hard to each other’s ideas and we build something together that we never could have built on our own.
You can catch Ben with SPC’s very own, Miniature Giant this Saturday at 9:00 p.m. at Sick Puppies Comedy in Boca Raton, Florida. Get your tickets online at: http://bit.ly/BenB2018!
If you are a newer improviser and you’ve had more than one teacher, you have already gone home confused. Why is it that this teacher said that “Yes and…” is the only rule and this other teacher said that “No” is okay? Who is right?
Improv comedy is an art with a universal goal: laughter. Even that statement gets people riled up. “It’s not about jokes!” I agree with that. It’s not about jokes, but it is about laughter. You can’t categorize your theater or club as a place for comedy and get upset when your students want to learn how to be funny.
If the goal is laughter, then why are there so many methods to get there? Shouldn’t there just be one way? How can two players with opposing views develop a successful scene?
The reason that anyone can improvise with anyone, regardless of background, style or point of view is because it’s all nuance. Once we agree that improv is about impromptu scene work for laughs, the rest is all minutia.
Instructing improv feels a little bit like parenting. As a Dad, I have these kids and I’m teaching them how to be good people… but from my point of view. I didn’t grow up with a bunch of money, my parents are still married and even though I grew up going to church, my kids won’t have to. My life experiences helped define my method of parenting, but it’s obviously not the only way to parent. My definition of a good person is pretty much the same as anyone else on this planet:
- Doesn’t kill
- Doesn’t purposefully hurt others
- Is kind to others
- Is respectful of others
That kind of stuff. If you ask me how to become a good person, my answer may begin to differ from others:
- Ask others how you can help
- compliment people
- look for something likable in everyone you meet
Maybe other people might say
- go to church
- volunteer at a homeless shelter
- keep to yourself
Even though the answers above don’t contradict each other, they seem to be different. Different enough for you to believe that they might contradict each other. Asking others how you can help doesn’t contradict “keep to yourself”. You can be respectful of someone’s privacy, but still offer yourself to them so they know you are available.
In improv, it’s the same. The nuances seem to be massive differences, but from a 30,000 foot view, improv is just people on stage making it up as they go and developing funny scenes.
I would caution if you hear “the way I teach is the best way” or “that place is bad” or “that style is bad improv”. The art of improv is constantly changing. Audiences are getting more sophisticated, so the actors are too. Some markets prefer different types of humor, different formats and different actors. The most important thing to understand as a new improviser is that you will always be a student of improv no matter how successful you become. Your style of improv or the way you look at the craft needs to serve you and you alone. If you are proud of the work you are doing, then keep doing it. If you are struggling, listen to what others are doing.
At Sick Puppies Comedy, we believe that you can never go wrong if you have a strong emotional connection to your scene partner. If you are willing to invest an enormous amount of energy into the person on stage with you, you will rarely fail. Check in with your partner, listen to what they are saying, react to what they are doing and care more than you should. Of course, that’s just us.
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This was a fun episode. I got to have a chat with one of my favorite improvisers on the planet, Douglas Widick, a founding member of North Coast Improv, a Hip Hop Improv group. In my opinion, THE HIP HOP IMPROV group. He was so kind to let me ask about how he got to where he is.
Douglas Widick is a founding member of Hip-Hop Improv group, North Coast, which was named one of Timeout NY’s Top 10 Comedy Shows of 2014. Additionally, his Musical Sketch comedy group, Pop Roulette, is currently running their latest show, Amazing Earth, at the UCB Theatre. They were also named one of Comedy Central’s ‘2015 Comics to Watch’ landing them a video deal.
He recently concluded several runs at the UCB Theatre including The 2017 Tony Awards (UCB) and The Dead Dads Club (UCB), amd performs monthly with UCB Theater NY Maude Sketch Team Hot BIrd. Doug teaches an 8-week Hip-Hop Improv class, and was recently seen in the Off-Broadway musicals F#%king Up Everything and Blank! The Musical. You can catch his many comedy videos at http://www.Douglaswidick.com.
Douglas is an off-beat comedy whiz whose improv background and acting chops combine to make him a formidable comedic talent on stage and screen. Consistently adding heart to irreverence, and finding the funny in touching moments, Douglas adds a three-dimensional spin to every role he plays. Recently coming off a critically-acclaimed off-broadway run in Blank! The Musical at New World Stages, Douglas will make a vibrant addition to your upcoming production.
For what it’s worth, here are my improvisation preferences. I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree.
My favorite way to improvise is with one other person on the stage only. No gimmick, no game, no sweeping, no editing. No input (if you want my complete and total honesty). There’s something about two people carrying on for what could potentially be forever and discovering their relationship without an out. I love a good Harold or Nightmare or some shorter games too, but if you asked me to improvise one way, it would be a two person mono scene.
My approach to a scene starts slow. Really slow. I’m rarely the first person to speak and totally comfortable in silence. I prefer it actually. The tension created by two people in the same room without dialogue sits on my soul in a fun way. Maybe it’s a power trip. The audience is absolutely craving for you to say something. Anything. And typically my scene partner is feeling the anxiety too. When I started improvising a long time ago, I thought that the scene was better the more I talked. Coincidentally, I used to feel that way as a salesman. The two have helped each other work that out of me. Let the customer tell you how to sell them and let your scene partner tell you who you are.
I don’t have any preferences from my scene partners. Their habits and quirks and “go-tos” don’t matter to me. I’m just trying to find a character I can connect with and completely ignore their patterns… as much as I can. I trust there is a part of my brain that already knows all that shit and will serve it up to me when needed. I typically start from a defensive position if we’re going to use sports terminology. I’ll let someone else attack or initiate because I find that if my partner is able to provide the first few details of their world, I’m quite strong at building inside that world. Sometimes when I initiate a scene I can be too strong and overwhelming which immediately puts my partner on their heels. This is no way for a scene to start. I like my partner to feel confident and comfortable. I need to calm down when I’m leading the scene.
If you want to know my secret to a long scene (20+ minutes), I just have no interest in doing anything. At all. I don’t want to solve problems, I don’t want to go anywhere. All I want to do is be and exist. Similar to that of sitting in a room with your spouse or best friend with the TV on. I trust that something will happen, because something is always happening. As David Razowsky has taught me, “just by sitting and breathing, you’re doing a lot”. If this makes you less comfortable, think of it from the audience point of view. Or think of it from a “people watching” point of view. How many times have you been at the airport and watched people from a distance… for minutes at a time? What were they doing? Packing? Talking on the phone? Reading a book? It’s more interesting than you think.
I like to take breaks in scenes too. A 25 minute scene isn’t 25 straight minutes of talking. It’s certainly not 25 minutes about the same thing either. It’s going to start about one thing and if it’s successful will finish somewhere totally different. If you allow yourself time to breath and take a break, you can discover what your scene is all about. It’s hard to do if you don’t stop talking. At least it is for me.
I’d love to hear how you improvise. Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org, comment below or put a comment in facebook… let us know if we can publish it.
Superman is Action
Superman crashed into the public consciousness on April 18, 1938, in Action Comics #1, his crimson cape billowing behind him, his spit curl marking him as a piece of pure Americana.
As the 50’s radio serial would later say, he was:
Faster than a speeding bullet!
More powerful than a locomotive!
Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!
To put it simply, he could do anything. And he knew it.
That’s the attitude you have to adopt while you’re improvising.
Improv is Action
Improv requires two words. There are a ton of other things to get caught up in, but when you get right down to it, there are only two words that really matter:
When you’re improvising with someone, you always have to make sure to agree with them — agree with the reality they present to you.
For instance, I’ve decided you’re a moon janitor.
“But I don’t want to be a moon janitor. How am I supposed to breathe?” you say, panicking due to lack of oxygen.
Well, all I have to say is, that’s not the right attitude!
“But I’m going to die!” you insist, flailing your arms around, while being on the moon.
With that attitude you probably will.
“Fine then. I’m on the moon! And I have a space helmet! You happy now?
Yes I am.
Superman is Present
Superman doesn’t rest on his laurels. Have you ever seen a comic book where, instead of saving the world, he sits around telling everyone how great he is?
No. You probably haven’t, because that would make an incredibly lame comic book.
Interestingly enough, Superman’s creators had a similar mentality. They were in many ways inspired by pulp magazines, where output was king and quality less so.
They didn’t care what they had created. They cared about what they would create.
But Gerard Jones described Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, and their contemporaries better than I ever could:
“They forecast and helped shape geek culture. They laid the template for the modern concept of the entertainment franchise. They created the perfect packageable, marketable fantasy for the culture of consumer narcissism. They spawned artistic subcultures. All without quite knowing what they were doing. All by rushing frantically forward, trying to stay a step ahead of the wolves, snatching at the cultural scraps they found around them on the Lower East Side and in Glenville and the Bronx and shaping them into something that could be sold quick and cheap. All by banishing yesterday from conscious thought.”
– Gerard Jones’s Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book
Improv is Present
Every time you start improvising with someone — whether it be on a stage, in a class, in a workshop, or even in a one-on-one setting — your past doesn’t matter.
That hi-LAR-ious impression of your troupe leader you did two weeks ago?
That pizza-themed rap battle you did two months ago?
That recreation of West Side Story you and two other people pulled off — where everyone was simultaneously pretending to be a dinosaur?
Impressive, but ultimately unimportant.
Nostalgia is nice, but it’s no substitute for making the people around you laugh — right there, right then.
In Improv, you don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t have a plan. So all you can do is rush “frantically forward, trying to stay a step ahead of the wolves.”
Superman is Mutable
November 1992, Superman died.
November 1992, I was born.
I think so.
More to the point, four different people came into the fictional spotlight soon after Superman’s death, each claiming to be the world’s next Superman.
Each went about it in a completely different way.
First you had the guy in the upper lefthand corner, referred to as “The Last Son of Krypton.” He was like Superman because he was an alien, and he seemed to have Superman’s body/memories.
But on the other hand, he wore a visor and killed people. Oh, also: he was an ex-Superman villain claiming to be Superman because he thought that would make him cool or something.
So, not Superman.
Then you’ve got the guy in the upper righthand corner, referred to as “The Man of Steel.” He was actually super-cool, wearing a suit of armor and wielding a really large hammer, claiming to be “the spiritual successor” of Superman.
But he didn’t even claim to be Superman. He just wanted to help people.
So, not Superman.
Then you’ve got the guy on the bottom left, The Man of Tomorrow, who was half-man half-robot. He was all like, “I have amnesia but I’m totally Superman, just more metal-y. I can’t remember why ’cause amnesia.”
Actually, he was an astronaut who ended up being a super villain, and I guess he just wanted someone to love him or something.
So, not Superman.
Then you’ve got the guy on the bottom right, The Metropolis Kid, who had all of Superman’s powers, and a leather jacket (in case you forgot this was a comic book from the 90’s). He was all like, “I’m not Superman and I’m not a kid leave me alone, nerds.”
Actually, he was a clone of Superman, and ended up being called Superboy.
So, not Superman.
The point of all that is, these four entirely different people — who ended up having very different pasts, and very different futures — took one suggestion, “Be like Superman.”
But none of them were actually Superman. None of them were carbon copies. They each took the idea of Superman and spun it in a way that reflected their own quirks, histories, and values.
Improv is Mutable
In Improv, you’ll get the same suggestion over and over again. Especially when you’re in front of an audience — who may be seeing Improv for the first time — people’s suggestions are bound to start sounding similar.
But that doesn’t matter.
In fact, it can be fun.
Because if you give twenty different pairs of improvisers the same suggestion, you’ll get twenty different responses.
For instance, it’s pretty common for someone to say, “Siblings” when you ask for a relationship.
The gender of the improvisers alone will make a huge difference.
Is it two men playing brothers, two women playing sisters, two men playing sisters, two women playing brothers, etc.?
Do the siblings get along, or are they competitive?
What are their occupations?
Their world views?
The point is, no matter what suggestion you get, you can take it somewhere different.
Because in Improv, anything is possible.
That’s the beauty of it.