Without a doubt, improv comedy has taken over my life.
I am now in a place where I am actively “doing improv” seven days a week, each day, for at least two hours a day.
Most of this is due to an intensive improv class I’m taking over at the Magnet, a place I’ve written about before, with a bunch of really great people who are very talented and enthusiastic and whose openness and offers of friendship feel all the more suspicious due to the sudden-ness of our bonds.
“We must always be open and suspicious”. Our second week teacher, the slightly-mulleted Russ Armstrong told us, pacing near the stage before a scene in which we were supposed to be natural. “Open, so that we are listening to what our partner says and suspicious, so we are able to find meaning.”
He was referring to the scene, but as I’ve said here before, I apply improv philosophy to my life and it’s hard not to, again, when you’re doing it seven days a week.
Is the girl who emails me, but who is constantly unavailable, trying to draw me in or repel me? Am I supposed to follow her, pursue her, or take a hint?
Is my boss firing me when he says my availability doesn’t work for him for the next couple weeks, or is he just trying to be honest?
As improvisers in a scene, we make a choice and we don’t second guess ourselves. We trust in our partners and know whatever we are inferring from them is what they are implying to us and that they agree to the truth of that when it’s stated.
But in life, on a film set, next to your parents, staring at the girl across the room from you in class; you fear that these people do not see the same truth you do, you fear being shunned or shut down.
There’s no teacher yelling scene in real-life, no “back-line” to edit.
You’re just stuck with the choice and the consequences, which accounts for some of, at least my, emotional paralysis.
But on the other hand, there’s that phrase that’s central to improv, that “Yes and…”, a central concept which denotes agreement in a scene, the idea that we support the other person in their reality.
“You are all funny people.” funny-teacher Will Hines told our Saturday class in his non-emotive constant-deadpan. “But in the beginning, we’re not looking for funny. We’re looking simply to agree with each other. We’re looking at each other and building a story together, agreeing on the details and the world.”
This may also seem improv-exclusive, but I’ve noticed in my life.
The dynamic is action-validation.
It’s seen for granted in a parents’ love or approval. In someone knowing what gift to get you for your birthday, in your parents letting you take a class or study something silly.
In a young lady letting you rub your head on her belly and laughing and wanting to kiss you afterwards.
Knowing that someone takes what you give them, what’s personal about you and values it, that you agree on a reality.
Such things exists not just in scenes but in all relationships and, by contrast, when I find myself most upset is when I feel that I don’t understand reality, that I’m crazy, that I’ve made a move so poorly informed or unreal that it reveals my total ignorance of what the accepted reality might be.
This shock could come when I didn’t get in to Stuyvesant after feeling like tough-shit, or when a girl’s soft objections fade as I stop before kissing her on a subway ride back from Brooklyn.
“All pain comes from denial of acceptance.” said another improv teacher, David Razowsky, who I try frequently to beat now in iPhone Scrabble.
When I look at my life, my pain or my character, my relationship with that “yes, and” that acceptance or denial of reality, those moments of breakthrough and happiness, it makes sense that I’ve found myself thrown into improv so frequently: It’s a medium where people are bound-obligated to accept me. Where at least, for a scene, they won’t turn me away.
But as you learn to be a stronger improviser, as I throw myself more under the wheels of it all, though this current pace won’t last, you learn to make stronger choices in life. To show some confidence. To try for the result you want and deal with the fallout later.
As Jonny-Jon-Jon told me, after a surprise appearance coming to see one of my shows: “You don’t take enough high-chance risks, man. Sure, it could be awful. But how will you know unless you try?”
I don’t know if I’ll find that confidence. It’s one things to have in a scene where to goal is to agree on a reality and another to find it in a life that’s experienced rejection.
But yesterday, after yet another date fell through, a woman on the street stopped me and said: “Hey, you’re Nick the Foodie.”
And I said “Yeah, what’s your name?”
“What are you doing here?” She asked me.
“Karaoke, just practicing.” I told her.
“Why, wanna come?”
“Now?” She asked perplexed.
“Yeah, now.” I replied.
“Sure.” She said and we walked.
And we spent the next few hours together, talking, discovering our reality.
And it was as easy as that.
Robert Martin Malone, pictured above, is often a character in this blog.
He was also a character in the first season of a web-series I wrote based on this blog called, fittingly, “Feitelogram Film Blog”.
In that series, he was, hearkening back to my days of watching the Power Rangers TV Show, a “Zordon“-like figure called “Virtual Rob” who would appear to me via G-Chat to hear me out for advice on my misadventures and to offer me virtual advice.
The joke was, back then, that even though Rob (or Rob-beardo, Ro-beardo, Beardo, what have you) was one of my better friends, I’d rarely see him due to his strange habits of dancing somewhere in Brooklyn or staying in to watch marathon episodes of Cheers or “edit”, a state which I always imagined to be more hanging around making beard-jokes with his roommates Blake (who was labeled a “Goob” by one of the commenters of my previous post) and occasional/part-time effeminate cartoon-villain Andrew Parrish.
But Rob has his own life and I’m happy to hang with him when he’s around to experience his beard-y foibles.
The other night, Rob staged a screening for a bunch of his friends (me included), of his latest feature film, made with fellow miscreant Zach Weintraub, which is called “Fresh Starts For Stale People”. The film, a gonzo road-movie/post-college coming-of-age tale strikes upon themes of discovering America, dealing with new-found fiscal responsibility, the perils/pleasures of moving to Los Angeles and the influences of late 80s action films on the human psyche.
While I can’t show the film (Rob is currently prepping it to try to apply to Fantastic Fest, which if I have ANY clout due to this weird pseudo-celebrity, I would like to extend in asking them to unequivocally accept this film), I can show the voyeuristically-taped talkback Rob had with us after the film.
Now, I must warn you, I haven’t SEEN this; I’ve just lived it.
But my quasi-roommate John Beamer told me it was, quote, “pretty fucked up” and I’ve also heard it’s “like 36 minutes”.
That said, if you are, for some strange reason, a “Feitel Fan” and want to check out my one-to-two comments, they’re there as well as the semi-coherent ramblings of some post-film students.
Why do I post this?
I don’t know.
I guess I just feel or felt after the last post, that for all the characterization of my friends that are on this blog, their exaggeration, their twisted or invented comments, their general pissed-off-ed-ness toward me, it might be nice to introduce some reality, some sense of what “The Real Schlub Life of New York City” looks like.
God that was an awful joke, even for me.
Anyway, here it is, with Rob and all of us, in our glory.
I had my first non-class improv show the other night and it was actually pretty funny.
But it was almost upstaged by some home-made french-fries.
I had never been to “The Creek and The Cave” in Long Island City, though I had heard tale that it was a near legendary haven for both fledgling practitioners of New York City comedy and a pretty decent burrito joint.
My crew from my intensive class who I was performing with had tried (inadvertantly?) to ditch me on the 7 train, but I had found them only for I to ditch them to grab a bite at this place I heard was somewhat legendary, as good comedy and good food rarely go together.
True, there were a couple of places on MacDougal St in Greenwich Village. The Comedy Cellar, New York’s premier “street cred” venue, was founded by an Israeli who was looking for something to do with the basement of his Israeli restaurant, the Olive Vine Cafe.
C.B.’s, where my friend and much more successful/hard-working comedian Zac Amico works, is in the basement of a not-half-bad Italian joint and they even give artisinal pizza to the starving stand-ups at their open mikes, if you stay till the end.
But anyway, The Creek and the Cave was known not just for hosting indie teams’ improv shows, but also for having excellent and inexpensive food and I deinied myself my usual 8-8:30 dinner for a pop at that 9-o’clock mexican/improv fix.
I ended up forswearing the burrito because the sandwiches were cheaper and came with home-cut fries, which always appeal to me. As I tweeted recently, it’s also nice to have a side or a counter-point to a meal: chips with a spicy egg-sandwich, a side-salad with a Better Being Highline, some mac and cheese or roasted Brussel Sprouts with some BBQ Chicken.
Or just some nice big-ass fries.
The ‘Wich I found was under the 10-buck credit card limit and my only complaint was that, for a pulled chicken sandwich, it should have come covered in BBQ sauce rather than the useful but not entirely welcome mayo it was squirted with. I saw how it was necessary to flavor-up the tender, but on the bland-side pulled chicken, but it did violate one of cardinal tenets of “being careful, mixing mayo and cheese”.
What it lacked though in that one area, it made up for greatly in value and portion size. The home-made fries were huge, golden, fresh, cooked-to-order. They layered the plate, leaving no empty space underneath.
The sandwich came with fresh tomato and lettuce and some welcome REAL cheddar, which were protected from the mayo by the lettuce, smartly.
It was quick and scarfable, with or without beer, though I felt I might have done it more justice if I had given it more time.
But, alas, I had an improv show to do, where I had to masturbate using a fishing rod and play a part-time improvising scuba-instructor.
Even in eating, we must find balance.
THE CREEK AND THE CAVE
Pulled Chicken Sandwich w/Lettuce, Tomato, Mayo and Home-Cut Fries- $7.95 (w/o tax)
Vernon Avenue bet 50th and 51st Aves, L.I.C., NY.
7 to Vernon-Jackson Aves.