YBY ep 235: Joe Bill on being globally connected through improv
This week on Yes But Why, we talk to world renowned performer and improv teacher, Joe Bill.
Joe Bill has been a performer and teacher at iO Chicago for more than 30 years; he was one of the co-founders of Annoyance Theater; and, he was an Artistic Associate for The Chicago Improv Festival for the entirety of its existence. He has been an Internationally Touring Teacher, Performer and director for more than 20 years and acts as an Artistic Adviser for a number of Improvisation and Comedy Theaters all over the world. He has taught at pretty much every major improv/impro Festival in the U.S. & Canada in the last 30 years.
In our conversation, we talk about where we find inspiration and Joe shares an anecdote from his childhood about his musician cousin, Katherine. He talks about going on tour for a year with Up With People and what an amazing experience that was.
We talk about family drama and the need to escape. We talk about the community of misfits in Chicago where Joe finally found his artistic home.
We chat about Joe’s love of traveling the world to discuss improv. Joe shares sage advice for teachers hoping to tour like he does. We talk about connecting with your students and caring deeply about the service you are providing.
Joe’s a funny guy and we have quite a few laughs (including a couple dark covid jokes…too soon?)
Support Joe Bill by hiring him to teach you! You can also check out his podcast, Not Therapy that he cohosts with YBY past guest, Balasree Viswanathan.
Yes But Why Podcast is a proud member of the HC Universal Network family of podcasts. Visit us at HCUniversalNetwork.com to join in on the fun.
This episode of Yes But Why podcast is sponsored by audible – get your FREE audiobook download and your 30 day free trial at http://www.audibletrial.com/YESBUTWHY.
This episode of Yes But Why is also sponsored by PodcastCadet.com. Swing on by PodcastCadet.com to get help for all your podcasting needs! Go to PodcastCadet.com and put in offer code YBY20 to get 20% off your first consultation!
(production notes: recorded phone call with Rodecaster on 10/14/2020)
TRANSCRIPT by Otter.ai
Hello, Yes But Why listeners, this is your host, Amy Jordan. Welcome to episode 235 of Yes But Why Podcast, my chat with world renowned performer and improv teacher, Joe Bill. But first, a bit about our sponsors. This episode of Yes But Why podcast is sponsored by audible. You can get your FREE audiobook download and your 30 day free trial at audibletrial.com/YESBUTWHY. Audible is available for your iPhone, Android, or Kindle. Download your free audiobook today at audibletrial.com/YESBUTWHY. This episode of Yes But Why is also sponsored by PodcastCadet.com. Podcast Cadet is dedicated to helping you build your podcast. We will connect you to the resources you’ll need to get better and better with each and every episode. Swing on by PodcastCadet.com to get help for all your podcasting needs! Let us know you heard about us from Yes But Why and you’ll get 20% off the workshop or service you buy! This week on Yes But Why, we talk to Joe Bill, Internationally Touring Teacher, Performer and director of Improv. In our conversation, we talk about finding inspiration and connecting with students. We chat about Joe’s love of traveling the world to discuss improv and Joe shares sage advice for teachers hoping to tour like he does. Support Joe Bill by checking out his podcast, Not Therapy! I now present to you – yes but why ep 235: Joe Bill on being globally connected through improv Enjoy! I’m Amy Jordan. And this is Yes But Why Podcast.yeah.
I’m not sure that I’ve told this story much before. I may have mentioned it. But I have a cousin. So of all my cousins on my mom’s and dad’s side. I’m the second oldest, my oldest cousin, Catherine is I think about she’s like eight to 10 years older than me. And she is a she was like my hero because she could play guitar. She was kind of like outward. She’s like an Outward Bound camp flannel, lesbian. And she could play guitar and do all of our low Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant. And so I was aware that there were lesbians before I was aware that they were that there were gay men and I loved lesbians as a child. And she was so like, cool, and like, drove a jeep. And like, she was like a, you know, like a crossover country rock star who could like tie knots. And all of this. And her senior year in high school. She played Dolly and Hello Dolly and the high school play. And so I got to see my cousin who’s this amazing Bush, like rough bad as possible, dressed up in like sequins and diamonds and glam. And like had this beautiful singing voice. And it was it was almost like she was a drag queen version of herself. And I remember, I don’t I remember that I didn’t even think I could breathe watching almost that entire performance. Because she was so spectacular. She was so beautiful. She was so skilled. She was so funny. And I don’t know if you know the musical Hello, Dolly. But it’s there’s not a lot of substance there instead of a one note. But that was the first time I thought oh man, I’m related to her. I wonder if I could be like her some day. This would be really, really, that would be really cool if I could do something like that. And so that’s the first time I really remember thinking, Man, I want to do this,
Does Catherine know about how you feel.
She does. Yeah, she’s we we were always very, very close. You even though we wouldn’t see each other that much. Her mother was my godmother. And it was she might you know, it’s like a lot of Catholic families. In the 60s and 70s, when I like I kind of, like she knew that I knew that she was gay, but we didn’t talk about it so much, but she just knew that I loved her. And I knew she loved me. And I, and I kind of always, like, I remember, like, wanting her to like, talk about it more, but I didn’t really care. Because usually she’d have a guitar and was gonna sing something else. But then yeah, and then my second marriage was down in Texas near you. And I asked her if she would stand up and be one of my grimmspeed before me and she said, that’s just a bit much our family’s not like this. So I’m kind of I’m kind of she, she had her wife live on an island in Puget Sound in Washington State. And, and, you know, we talk we’ll get on the phone, I’ll get a random call from her, I’ll call her randomly, like, once every three to five years. And we, and it’s just like, she knows that she knows that she, I’ve told her a number of times, she’s my inspiration. She’s the reason I’m an actor. And she’s the and she’ll also mostly have none of it, and you know, wants me to be, you know, proud of my own initiative. She’s a very kind of humble, quiet private person who kind of tends to her own world and is very, like, kind of earthy. She lost her hearing, like see, she you know, she’s got really bad hearing now. And she’s had a really kind of a rough road, but her wife super cool. And, and yeah, so they’re just, they’re living the life out on an island in Puget Sound, which is, it’s beautiful country out there. So, yeah,
it’s nice to have inspiration within your family, you know, that you can go to like family events, and they help spur you along to be more of who you are creatively.
For sure, because I think even if I, as I think of all my cousins on either side, like cat, it’s Catherine and I were the two or the two artists. And so and that she was so kind of like private in a way or whatever. I mean, I’m also kind of a loner and do my own thing. But in a way she modeled for me at an early age. That it was okay to just kind of do my thing. And, you know, it’s okay to not want to be a part of all this.
Yeah. Yeah, you know, worry about like the audience, and that all that reaction, you can just create what you need to create. And then just be
Yeah, and I think like, a lot of kids that are an improv now are considering comedy, you know, like, I found myself growing up having, you know, playing roles to kind of keep the attention off of me. So I wouldn’t get in trouble. Because the thing I have mentioned, which is really fundamental to my story, is that, that I was just one of those kids that I was born into a family and I felt like I don’t belong in this family, and I need to escape this prison. And so I learned that it was better to entertain and make people laugh than to maybe speak my truth or to call bullshit on stuff. And so, you know, that helped me be an improviser and adapted to life situations and adapt to different scenarios. At a very, very early age.
Yeah. Are you always at all your family events doing? bits for people? Was it like, did it like start at a funeral? I’ve certainly done a lot of family bits at funerals for people. People will look to me for that sometimes.
Yeah, funerals are a weird. funerals are a weird one. Because my family’s my family’s very Catholic, and I’m an atheist, and, and it’s, I don’t you know, I kind of stand to the side when my father died a few years back, and they did the, they did like the express lane capital, like, let’s, let’s open up this casket, everybody can march by for an hour, then we’ll have a mass and let’s get them in the ground type day. Yeah. And so in that context, like, I’m not going to stand in a receiving line at the beginning, you know, at the front of church, and my father and I had kind of made peace with each other. And I like, we had just just accepted that, like, he could be him and I can be me, and neither one of us really had any interest in changing the other one’s mind about anything. So I’m not I wasn’t gonna stand there and endorse the Catholic Church by receiving people in that context. And I felt fine about that. But I did like because I’m the oldest of five kids. They would often have dinner parties. And as a kid, since I’m the oldest of five, I would be the director for like the, there was a, like a low radiator that had like one of those metal panels on top of them right next to the dining room table. And that was our stage. And so we went to songs, like little songs and dances after dinner before dessert there. And then by the, by the time I was 12, I was taught to be the bartender. Oh, yeah, parents parties. And so. And that was the first kind of taste of an E. I was a bartender, they have a tip cup, and I can make tips as a 12 year old mixing drinks for people.
So yeah, been there. Yeah. I don’t discount
that as part of my actors education.
You’re sure especially as the evening wanes, and they start getting a little weird. And you’re like, Oh, okay. Oh, galeri. Here’s a drink for you. Oh, chock full your saucy love. Actually, daughter. I don’t want him to die.
Yeah, I mean, my dad was very much you know, hit aunt Marion with a little bit more uncle Billy’s had enough for him a week or one he would drop it and give me little advice. And like, he would kind of teach me to read the room a little bit and you know, help calibrate have helped calibrate how much people were drinking. And yeah, I was raised. Also, you know, my father was a New Yorker from like a family of very functional upstanding alcoholics who treated alcohol as a reward. And then my mother was more kind of like, you know, like country people that, you know, that made good. And then some stayed on the drug and alcohol path and some of them rose above that, but everybody drank. And we had we had uncles that could stop by at any hour of the morning or night with a six pack and Hey, who’s to zap What’s going on? That’s the Yeah, I’m part Indiana hillbilly in part New York functional alcoholic? I guess that’s, that’s part of my DNA.
Sure. Sure. Yeah. I’m from Boston. And you’ve mentioned both Irish and Catholic, which is part of my upbringing as well. So I get it. Don’t you worry. When I turned 16 they told me they were very excited because now I could be the DD.
Good designated driver. Yeah.
I don’t think they had those yet. See, when I was 16, it was 1978. Yeah, so I don’t think designated drivers came until the 80s or so. Yeah. Do you remember cars that had like a combination on the door for a job and that were a sobriety test? No. So you’d have like a little strip of numbers and then and there’d be like five squares and then each square would be have a diagonal diagonal line across it so there’d be zero and one and then two and three and four and five all the way down to eight nine. So there you could program into your car, a five digit number a different digit number that you had to push on your car door in order for your car key to work to get in the car and I just like was a thing that I mean I was from a pretty party a neighborhood but I just remember being a teenager like witnessing how so many people were excited to have this and then like if you couldn’t get the car door open in three tries then you’re calling a cab or something. And like what type of car manufacturer are tapped into alcohol like America and made this a made this like the make or break feature on if I’m gonna buy this car or not?
It’s so crazy cuz like it sounds like a great idea. It’s surprising that it’s not around I mean, I guess you know, you can get your children to press the buttons if you’d like and it’s that’s gonna be fine as opposed to the only ones that I was aware of where like the legitimate like breathalyzer attachment on the side of your car that I’ve seen
Yeah, I’ve heard of those. But you know, in a way like from a manufacturing or marketing perspective, like What message does it send that hey, look, we know everybody drinks and drive but just in case you’re not sure how much drink is too much drink before you drive here’s a little something that we’re gonna throw in at no extra cost.
Yeah, now I you advertising it makes me understand now why it didn’t last. People like Why? Especially So again, I mentioned I’m from Boston, the whole crowd and be like, he tried to tell me what to do. What are you trying to say? What do you get yourself an opinion? Like oh boy, oh boy. Oh, no.
What are you from Boston proper. Are you from like out west. Where we’re about I
mean, I’m from the suburb of Dedham outside of Boston. So like, yeah, it’s suburban, for sure. But there’s definitely some. There’s definitely a lot more sort of like anger and intensity that I that’s inside of me that I don’t realize until you know, something happens. And I’m like, oh, oops, I guess that’s happening that anger inside.
See, I’m very familiar with Boston. That’s a Yeah, the, that’s the Irish in Boston are just some, let’s just use the word. Interesting, some of the most interesting Irish in America because literally, you can be punching each other in the face. One minute, the next minute, you’re crying in each other’s arms and grabbing a drink and telling each other that you love each other. Yeah. And it’s so you know, it’s such a stereotype. That’s gross. But I’ve seen it more than five times where people go from brawlin to like, I load images.
Sometimes. So why are you? Why are you busting my balls?
And then they’d be like, but I love you, brother.
Love you, bro. Love you. Come on. Let’s go to Central Square. Let’s go to Central Square closed down the bar.
Down the bar right now. It’s happening as we speak. So wait, where you’re not from New York. So you mentioned that you’re some of your family’s from New York. That’s not where you grew up?
No, I grew up in Indianapolis. Grew up in in Indianapolis, Indiana, and I went to Indiana University and yeah, it’s um,
so when you are escaping your family. As you mentioned, you You didn’t feel like you, you know belonged with them. What would you do to get out? What What did Indianapolis have for you, you know, teen Joe to like, figure out what your life was gonna be like?
Well, I think it was by escapes, were music, theater and sports. And so I was I was a very good basketball player, and I was mediocre at everything else. But I was, you know, serviceable. I was a serviceable athlete and other areas. And so at least, and I was very much my father was a gift out of the house type of guy, like, go do something, go, you know, go be busy. And so that part was welcome. You know, maybe he knew I didn’t belong there either. And he’s hoping I’d find something was mine. But, but yeah, I found, you know, theater and music were always a place of comfort for me. And then in playing basketball, it was, I was my dad coached us in all sports, and my high school was my high school is like 80% black and my grade school was, you know, 60% or something. So I was, you know, I had a lot of black friends and I played because I was a good basketball player, I would, you know, I would go play basketball and I just aspired to be a black kid for half of my youth. I just wanted to be like, do you know rod Temperton? Do you know this reference? No, I do not. So there was a band called heat wave Do you know heat wave I can pull out a little bit. So heat wave does always in forever and Boogie Nights and ain’t no half step. And then they have a they have an album called central heat in an album called too hot to handle. But rod Temperton was the white keyboard player and songwriter for heat waves, who also wrote thriller for Michael Jackson. And my kind of my first I want to be like him was I wanted to be rod Temperton. So like, I wanted to be the white guy and a black band. Okay. And so and so that was an escape. And for me, and I felt very, like I was unique. I was, you know, I was kind of just like, there was only like, a handful of the white guys that that would, you know, hang out and play ball and that, you know, we’re cool enough to hang with people and I and that’s where my mother also had like a lot of mental illness problems. And, and for me the example of what strong women and strong mothers were, were mostly black women. And I just like I always wish like, I always wish I was secretly not my mother’s child. And I was just secretly like an albino black. And so a lot of my my escapist fantasy as a child was pretending that I was somebody that I was not are part of a culture that was hidden from me. I was I was not done with Catholicism. Like from the earliest age, something was something was not right. And when I learned the word hypocrisy, I think I was it’s sixth or seventh grade. And I was like tearful because I felt like there was a conspiracy to keep that word away from me, because it would validate like a suspicion that I had. So I was very I just noticed that the way that people walked around and the rituals that people were into masked, some, you know, evil that was really going on, and people weren’t enough that, like, I didn’t have any of these words, but I just felt I felt most at home, either in theater or choir or down at Target and park at 38 meridian playing basketball. So those were my escapes.
Did you have a good theater community of people that were showing you like adults that weren’t living? Sort of a, you know, a life of hypocrisy? None?
Yes. Well, the my high school, the high school I graduated from I was I was kind of made to go to a Jesuit prep school, my freshman here.
I was I got caught smoking weed with one of the senior basketball players in his car by the JV basketball coach. So luckily, that ended my stint there and they let me transfer to the public school where I wanted to go in the first place. And the public school that was my public school was the Magnet School for the Arts, or became the Magnet School for the Arts in Indianapolis called broad ripple High School, which is now since closed down. Also, where David Letterman went to high schools, and that, that was another in both sports, sports theater and music theater was a little bit more white. But music was definitely like mixed black and white and sports was mixed black and white. So it was like, culturally, I got a chance to learn, like different flavors of like Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists. And then I learned like the Protestant white kids are different from the Catholic like white kids were different from the Jewish white kids. And, and then we also had like little Asian communities and broader pool village. And so like, I was always, like, from a from, from my earliest memory, I was just fascinated by other cultures. In fact, my seventh and eighth grade basketball team, there was a our point guard was Peter Kang, who was Korean, our number two guard, our small curb, whatever to guard was David Tang, who has Chinese. Our center was David Brooks, who was black I was the power forward who is Irish kind of like my friend Bernie, who is like, white trash, kind of Protestant. He, whatever his mother could read your or, and, you know, kept her money and under the floorboards under a bed. That was our starting lineup. So it was this. You know, it was, I think, because I was from the family I was from that maybe it fueled my thirst to be a part of other cultures or different cultures. And then that, you know, I if you cut forward to like, when I was 19 years old, I traveled in a route called up which people don’t talk about this that much. But do you know what up with people is? Have you ever heard of them?
Yeah, it sounds familiar. Tell me about it.
So back then it was 8182 there was a god, I think it’s five different groups of about 125 people, each in the group. There’s people and you do songs and dances and you know, you, you travel for a year, a half a year in the states a half a year abroad. You’re your own tech crew, lighting crews stage crew you learn to like, you know, hang lights and put up trusses and you know, assemble a stage run cables for lights, run cables for sound, you know, it’s it’s a and and this group spun out of sort of a Christian, he grew up in the 60s. And they wanted to become just kind of a hippie, like build bridges of communication through people of different cultures, through song and dance and living with host families. And that was that was like the manifestation of all of this curiosity around me in Indiana, Indianapolis of the diversity that was there now. I’m on the road with 100 other people from 20 something different countries. And, and we’re doing shows, and our our abroad year are abroad half year was in the Caribbean and Venezuela. Yeah. And so I was I was, I was in Venezuela, we would play like baseball stadiums and Bowl rings and stuff. Singing the Songs The Simpsons makes fun of people. Sometimes you’ll see shows where there’s a halftime halftime performance of the Super Bowl and they call the group Hurray for everything. That’s a very fair parody of what up with people. And we did the halftime of soup I performed at the halftime the Super Bowl 16 in Pontiac, Michigan between the Bengals of the 40 Niners. So that was a
wow, how many years? Did you travel with them? Just the one?
Yeah, just the ones.
Because you were like done with it? Or because they were like strict policy of like, one year and your own?
No, you had to pay a tuition to travel. And that’s another you know, that’s a another whole strand of stories. But I had, it was after my freshman year in college, and my first semester I had gotten like a 3.2 GPA. And then I and I pledged a fraternity that I moved into the fraternity my second semester, and I went down to like a 1.4 GPA. Sure. And so then my dad went batshit and you know, said, you’re gonna stay at home in Indianapolis, and I’m going to teach you how to work and I’m going to blah, blah, blah, you know, the whole nightmare Midwest scenario, where my father was going to oversee my getting a clue about life. And yeah, and then, so I was working for this paint crew. I was kind of like, I had a bucket of like mineral spirits and a wire brush. And there was these two convicts who would like paint the gutters, as you know, paint gutters and outdoor paint, and I would like have to like, like, use the mineral spirits of the wire brush to clean up the drips on the pavement. Then they taught me how to clean and chicken wire gutters and patch gutters and it’s in the sun and I’m pasty and Irish, as we’ve talked about before, I hate the sun. I was miserable. And after about six weeks of that I come home sunburn one day, just hating life and these dudes to work with. They were just awful. The money was good, though. And my mother was reading the paper. She said hey up with peoples in town and you should go audition. And I said what, where? When how what? And so I went and interviewed and I and there really wasn’t an audition I had like put all my high school credentials down. I was in an improv group. I was like the kid in an improv group. There was a bunch of TV and radio engineers. And yeah, and then they and I got accepted. And then my mother who was not allowed to be an actor, and in college, my mother was the one thing she really did was like, she’s she supported me and like kind of vicariously lived her acting dream through what I did. She I think at that time, it was like $5,000 to travel for a year. And my father’s like, fine, you know if he can raise $5,000 and you know, four weeks before the tourists tour starts working on this banker, then he can go and my mother convinced my grand grandfather to pony up the money. So my grandfather postponing up the money and I got to go for that one year. But I had to come home two or three weeks early, because then my father said, okay, you can go back to Indiana University. And then he implemented this system, which is kind of smart, where for every a that I would get in the semester, he would pay for that many credit hours the following semester. Now Ace, Ace down two B’s, he would pay for that many credit hours b minus two c minus then he would split that amount of credit hours and then anything lower than a C minus i had to pay that paid money for that many credit hours if I wanted to go back to school Bloomington. And then we started by me paying for the credit hours that I owed him first. So that helped keep my grades up a little bit.
Wow, did it help you like budget money too?
- Okay. Good to know. I was like, is this a helpful skill? Should I be doing this? No, I should not. Okay, I’m not gonna do
No, I still don’t. I say I mean, no pressure. My Yeah, my budgeting money is no to this day I get I get anxiety around like money taxes, budgeting spreadsheets, you know, anything, it’s only been really during the pandemic where it’s like, I’ve had to pull everything back and and say, I’ve lost so much work like so many of us just say, okay, what’s the minimum amount? You know, that I need to just survive and then Luckily, I just I don’t live a big extravagant life. I’ve got my place. It’s a really good deal I’ve been I’ve been running the same place for 15 years. So you know, it’s a it’s amazing the things you
learn when things kind of hit the nail Enough to Yeah, absolutely.
But I mean, I went from like in March like I’m not gonna do improv online. I’m not gonna teach improv online to like, joke. July I guess it’s like I could teach improv. I need to teach improv online.
Yeah, I mean, yeah, I, the new normal of like, how to, all I say is just forgive everything you are gonna do. Whatever you do, you had to do it. It’s fine. It’s all right. Yeah. Whatever thing that you thought you’d never do, and now you’re doing it. Don’t be that. Don’t be mad. Just like, be cool. Sit. If you don’t, if you hate it so much, you want to change it when the world kind of adjusts again, go ahead. For right now this might be the way you gotta do it. You know what I mean? stuff stuff. Yep. Hey, so I want to jump forward. I want to ask you. So we’ve talked a lot about I love this up with people experience that you got, then you went back to college. One thing that you’ve mentioned a few times is that you’ve enjoyed the diversity that you’ve experienced. But I also know that you spent a lot of time in Chicago. Tell me how diverse your theater experience was there. And, you know, I don’t mean I’m not being like, I don’t think it’s diverse. I just mean, like, you did this. And this is something that’s important to you. Do you did you find that Chicago was a haven you were looking for that had all sorts of different people that you got to meet and learn from, like, what did Chicago bring to that part of your interest for life?
Well, I think like a lot of us, I came to Chicago to study at second city. And to study with Dell at i o and, and Indiana. In Indiana. That’s where I met Mark Sutton and Mick Napier and faith solloway and Eric Wendelin, uh, you know, our half of our college improv group ended up moving to Chicago and then becoming part of the faction of people that founded the annoyance. And so I was the first one to move up from our improv group. And I met Dell and that was like a mind blowing that like, open me up to like the intellectuals, either side, or justification of, you know, psychedelic drugs and all that. So that was psychologically diverse. And college was the first place where I really, I really discovered for real racism, and it shocked the hell out of me. And then I realized, Oh, the culture I grew up in, or my, you know, my travels and up with people my experience in the black community as a kid, like, none of that mattered. When I moved to Chicago, I was just, you know, I look like Richie Cunningham. And so, you know, but I still would gravitate. You know, I would just, I would, I, I like to gravitate towards more diverse people. I also started I did when I moved here, I got interested in stand up. Because I realized that I did escape for prison, I landed in Second City, and then, you know, I, there was a whole there were issues that I had, that I that I knew I was fucked up in a way, but I didn’t know how or why. And I thought, well, if I do stand up, I can at least get people to pay me money for talk to talk about how I am, rather than me seeing a therapist, and then learning like sketch comedy at second city and learning how to like frame dysfunction. It’s like so you know, into, like, socially relevant sketches was like a piece of that learning. So just in terms of like diversity of race and a diversity of gender, you know, we’re talking 85 so there, there was a you know, that was pretty much just like finding myself and then by that time, everybody came up to Chicago and we were doing splatter theatre and coed prison slots. I’m kind of in the for runners of annoyance. You know, it became apparent that our crowd was diverse. I mean, even in college, if I go back to college, the diversity thing stayed because there was like Mark Sutton and I were like, kind of the two straight ish white guys who were telecom majors. And then half of our group was like gay or bi or open or curious or like whatever. And when people would come to see our shows, one of the things that was notable is we would sell out our shows and the crowd that you saw there, ranged from drag queens from the theater department or fraternity guys to business school guys, to fine arts golf, people. Like there was a bar full of People watching a comedy show and these people would never be in the sidebar if it weren’t for us. And I found that that also carried into the beginnings of the annoyance. And I think, because annoyance was, you know, before we fully kind of integrated in with Second City and I Oh, we were kind of the gay weirdo, you know, theater full of misfits, and a lot of us had had, you know, had had just various issues. And it’s just like, Great. Let’s make a musical out of it.
Yeah. Yeah, that’s how I’ve often imagined those shows that I’ve read about, you know, with annoying, talk to other people about if only just and I mean that in the most positive way. Because when I was in New York in my mid 20s, you know, my crowd was also a crowd of misfits who did like weird shows where like, I tell people about them, and they’re like, Eg You did what? And I’m like, it was great at the time. Like, it was great, you know, and all the guys it was fine. You know, and, and when when I heard about the annoyance shows, and all the wild names and the crazy plotlines, and I was like, Oh, yeah, no, this is if I were in Chicago, that’d be where the crowd i’d tend towards the the wild, insane push the envelope kind of crowd. So I love the group of misfits for sure.
Yeah, and I think because organically we were, we were part. We were multi versed in our sexual orientation, and very accepting and like an exploratory, let’s just say, in a way, we that kind of made us the first diverse improv Theatre in Chicago, for sure. It’s also interesting that in the wake of the pandemic, with i O, closing its doors in Second City being up for sale, and who the hell knows what’s going to happen to Second City, that the annoyance is still kind of hanging on and hadn’t suffered? Or hadn’t existed as a non diverse theatre so much as the others, I think speaks to, you know, something about it survival. There, of course, there’s still, you know, this is a big issue that we’re gonna be dealing with for the rest of my life. But
yeah, yeah, for sure. And certainly within the improv community, because I feel like it was. It was like a wild and diverse scenario as it started. And then it became a little whitewashed. And then, and now it’s sort of trying to break back out, right, but but, you know, the unfortunate part is that diversity often only finds its way to groups that would consider themselves, quote, open to misfits. And I say that even as a group, even as a person who also had that kind of situation. You know, when I was doing comedy and whatnot, I’d go to these, like fancy clubs to do shows and be like, Who are these people and like, I want to go back to my place where half the people are in costume and like, weird, excessive makeup, and that one old man just sits there naked. And everyone’s like, He’s fine. And I’m like, okay, like, I’m not gonna argue with them. But you know, I love I love that, that sort of crowd coming together. And, and, and so it’s, it’s nice to know that like, it felt like you guys were finding a home for a lot of people who needed it, yourself included. And that, you know, even in the harsher times, like now, that you know, that community aspect is holding people together. Sometimes I think the community aspect of improv is the only thing that’s keeping it stronger than a lot of the other arts. I mean, you know, you can play your instruments alone in your house if you’d like but like the global improv community, has become so much more connected. Since it became ubiquitous to be on zoom. And it’s like so many people like that, like, you’re right now doing a podcast with Bala, you know, from improv comedy, Bangalore, and it’s like, what, you know what I mean? Like I chatted with her, we chatted and became friends. And, you know, I got connected but it was only because after COVID started, there were these jams and shows and I was watching on Facebook one day, and I was like, What is this amazing Oh, my God. You know, but the fact that it’s like, you know, you’re connected to her and like, all these people all over the whole world, like, I don’t know, improv has found a way to really bring people together right now, in a way that I don’t know that a lot of other things have theaters. have shut down or done whatever. I don’t know how much community building they’re really doing. You know, but, but like just the people improvisers are keeping those fires burning, you know?
Sorry. Sorry. Yeah, it’s not a it’s not a cup of coffee. Just leftover pasta. Is that too dark? Is it too soon too soon? Oh, we’re still in it. Yeah, I’m also i’m also high risk because I had a lung surgery when I was younger, and I had pneumonia right after my lung surgery. So
extra dark. So your joke is like super, just a little dark.
I’m so I’m so aware of it, that there are certain people and I lie like I lie more on the anxiety spectrum than on depression. And I also think, just side note, it’s really great that mental health is being talked about more these days. And so yeah, so I have complex PTSD with hyper vigilant anxiety. And my hyper vigilant anxiety has been as a member of a club, that of people that at least five times a day, we say something like, Oh, great, now I’ve got the coconut. Because there’s some little twitch or my I got a runny nose or a cough or something, you know, or like somebody somebody coughs near me or whatever. There’s just like, the the hyper vigilance that exists in my body, from, you know, various trauma in my life. Like, I’m just kind of trying, I’m not waiting to get COVID I’m just trying to forget that I’m waiting to get COVID. So that’s part of my brain too.
When you’re okay, right now,
laughing not COVID related. And to your point, the nature of improvisation lends itself to connecting with strangers more, because we’re used to meeting and working without a script. And for sure, if the pin demmick is one of those things that hopefully only happens once in a lifetime. Though I’ve had conversations recently where people say it’s more coming.
I’m not kidding. Yeah, like, let around me.
Yeah, well, I mean, it’s forcing. It was time for change to happen and evolution to happen in the world. And I, you know, I’m in my late 50s. Now, so I still love performing. But I think that you know, and more inclusive, a more inclusive reality, improv improvisation has needed to happen for a long time. And so this is giving everybody a chance to take a hard pause and to participate in different conversations. Especially it’s given, like everything that’s going on in our country in the world. And I think people are thinking more about like, we’re what’s my role, and what can I do and this and so I think, I think I still have some performing days ahead of me, but I mean, I really, really love teaching and I think I’m a good teacher of teachers. And so, you know, I want to play and I want to play and then teach other play with and teach other teachers who don’t look like me. And so we’re Bhalla is concerned or Bala I sometimes I Indiana, I don’t say Bhalla, but we’re Bala’s concern. We we met doing a show doing a Maestro at the hideout. And she she, I can’t remember if it was during this winter fight saw her subsequently. But she did like a solo thing. And her like she was very smart. And she could play an honest moment on zoom. And it she was the first one I saw on zoom that had an acting moment that I believed and i and i had completely discounted any possible acting, being on zoom, that would be remotely believable. And just like a lot of people are doing, you know, there’s jams all over the world, and anybody can sit in any jam in any country, if you’re willing to get up at a weird hour. There’s more people than ever that are communicating with each other. And for me, this is just a continuation are sort of like the next logical chapters in the book of my interest in, you know, being globally connected. And I was really, really sad and pissed off that, you know, I’ve been touring internationally for the last 12 years. And I had five of my six tours canceled this year. And I had a nice pity party for about three months about it. But I realized that all of the touring I’ve done in the past 12 years had me be in relationships that still exist. And so it just meant I already had people to reach out to and most people, you know, that are my age or closer to my age, we’re kind of in the same boat, like, what do we do? When a lot of younger people who are you know, these 20 somethings, it’s like, okay, pandemic, let’s do some, you know, let’s do some games online. Because I didn’t know that I needed grieving time when I was in my 20s. And neither did they, hey. But I mean, I just needed to grieve for two or three months before I just realized I’m already connected to all these people. What are we all doing? And then after about a month of just zoom calls and connecting with people that I’ve met in all of these different countries, you know, then kind of the second or third wave of what can we do online started as I started to do, you know, stuff myself. So in a way, I found my way back to what I discovered, even as a child, which is like, I’m interested in different cultures, I’m interested in being connected to people who don’t look like me. And you know, and it’s going to get us through I mean, I think we got six or eight, six or eight more months of this stuff. I almost posted on Facebook today, given given our leadership, I say that on COVID. And take the over. Is that dark? Is that too dark? Are you a gambler?
No, I, I get what you mean, I’m not a gambler. But I get what you mean. And also like, no, it’s not too dark. It’s absolutely it is. It is 100%. Seven months in dark is what? what the situation is. So it’s not it’s not you, it’s the world is just happening is right, it’s gonna come out in three weeks, in three weeks. So be like, that’s not even kinda dark. You know what I mean? Like, it’ll change?
Yeah, three weeks, it’ll we will full blown be be right into the second or third wave depends on, you know, how you’re scoring at home. But I mean, it’s, I mean, even having friends and other country, like, the best information I’ve gotten is from people that I know, in different countries and talking to them not from watching any of our news, same. And it’s because it’s just I mean,
yeah, you know, I find out not only what’s going on with them, but also then what they see is going on with us. And then also like, like, I read some article that was like, Africa’s got this figured out, we should learn from them. And then I interviewed an artist from Africa. And I was like, so you guys got to figure it out. And she was like, Hell, no, we don’t nobody wear masks. And I was like, no, they’re exactly the same as what we are. And stupid news is like a man, they got to figure it out. It’s like, No, you know, so everywhere is lying. And it’s weird. And it’s working, or it’s not working, but will never really know until it’s over. Like I was like, man, I can’t wait for 10 years from now to like, really find out what happened.
Yeah, I mean, there’s, to me, the places that have had the quote unquote, success stories. The government’s have really taken contact tracing seriously. And so even people that have gone back in theaters, there’s barcodes that they you know, you’re you’re sitting in a science seat, everybody’s everybody is registered in terms of where you’re sitting and the performance. There’s apps that exists in different countries that are tracing apps. So if you come up and you’ve had a fever, that app is tied to your barcode or your whatever that thing is that you scan code, that that code then is kept track of every place that you’ve been that you’ve checked into a bar or restaurant or theater or concert, anything. And then they have, they can keep track of everybody who sat in proximity to you, who was your server, who was a bartender that night, who were the performers that night, and right on the app, they get information get tested right now and people get tested. And so on the on the one hand, it’s really big brother, but on the other hand, it’s it’s enabled people to you know, get back to some semblance of this. And they have, they have procedures in place that they can go to and do better with, you know, when another when another wave comes through, they can shut down real quick. They’ve got you know, now maybe they only lose three weeks instead of like three months trying to figure out what to do or be in denial about it or press test their freedom or whatever, but it’s like, but at least there’s some people that are back to performing. And even in Canada, there’s some people that are back. I just talking to a friend Friend in Edmonton and they can perform, they can do improv shows, but they’re just not allowed to sing. How crazy is that?
specific thing, but okay, whenever.
Because if you say louder, you’re going to project and then that’s going to put more droplets into the air. Right? Yeah. And of course, and you know, and they go, yeah, okay, so we won’t say, but we can still do a show. Great. Yeah, I’m sorry. So it’s about him prompted I get off track.
Just okay. I just want to get you back and ask you one last question, because we are right at the edge of your end time. So I want to be able to ask you one final question and then say, Adios, love you long time, and then we’ll move forward.
Do me. Okay, thanks.
So we’ve talked about how you have been, you mentioned that you toured internationally for 12 years now. You’re touring, and you are teaching workshops. And you’re going around, you’ve mentioned you don’t just teach improv, you teach improv teachers, right. So as I’m gonna ask you for advice, not only for my audience, you guys are listening. Right? But also, for me, because it sounds like a great job that as soon as the world picks up again, I’d like to have but like, how do you become a touring improv teacher and like, keep it going,
you know, you talk to somebody in another place, and get them to agree to come let you come into AAA, then you buy a ticket, you go there. And then if there’s another place that’s close to there, then you buy another ticket, you go there, and then you come home, and then you’ve done a tour. And then you get, and then you keep doing it by, you know, hopefully being good. And being, you know, remembering that you’re, this is a service industry. And when no matter where in the world we go, we’re, we’re there to give and to be of service, we’re not there to prove anything or get anything. And and yeah, and then as even as teachers, like I posted, some somebody posted a quote that I reposted. But teachers are just students who have discovered that teaching is the next stage of their learning.
And it’s so so true. And I can also say that, like learn, I also teach and play in French. And so my French is my French is atrocious though I’ve spoken atrocious French for many years. And I think that, for me, it’s important to not get comfortable and not play from a place of like having to prove something. And I think it’s also you know, the other thing is, I’m an I’m an actor, you know, I’m an actor who does comedy, I’m not a comedian who tries to act. And so I think there’s around the world, I think American comedy and I’m making air quotes with my fingers, even though you can’t see it. Our comedy here does not translate to a lot of places in the world. But acting is everywhere. And, and in the intersection of acting and improvisation lies a subset of the improv community that is very open to learning and trading ideas and taking turns leading and taking turns following. And it took me You know, it be all my life to learn how to tour. And so I don’t know that I have, you know, any other I don’t, I don’t have any solid nugget of advice, but like in everything that I’ve just said, there might be some clues that resonate with people. And I think the other thing is, you know, be yourself like, Don’t try to be anybody else. And that’s a lot of times when I when I interview interviews, people are like, what’s your advice for improvisers and it’s and I say the number one most damaging habit you can be you can have as an improviser, is comparing yourself to other people. So just be yourself. Be you know, have friends that you have fun with, be happy for them when they succeed outside of your relationship. But be yourself and know that you’re enough and know that, you know if if you remember that this is a service industry, and there’s always learning and growth to be had. And you’re always willing to be 100% invested and then treat walking on stage or even being in a Zoom Room. That’s a privilege then probably some good stuff will happen. They’re
good. Awesome. No, that was wonderful advice deeply resonated with the the idea of being connected both for myself and anybody else who’s like, yeah, I want to do that, right now is just a great time to connect with people online and make friends so that when you know, the world opens up again, you’ll have this like group of people that you know, and trust. And you can say, Hey, can I come visit? And they will shortly say Yes, please.
Joe, thank you so much for being on the podcast, for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me about you know, your journey and and all of this. I feel like we’ve gotten to a great point about, you know, connecting with the community and saying yes to, you know, meeting new people and, you know, moving forward being the best
present. Yeah, thank you, Amy. Yes, it’s great. It’s been Gosh, it’s probably been 10 years since I’ve seen you so here we are connecting like doing what we say is important and it feels really good. So I really appreciate the invite to be on the on the podcast and best of luck to you and I really look forward to getting back down to Austin when things get back to normal one of these days.
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