Neil Casey Advanced Study Harold Notes Week Final

April 27, 2012

It’s been a rough week or two for me.

I’ll leave it at that for now.

Anyway, my Neil Casey Advanced Study Harold Class is now over. I got a lot out of it, I feel like, getting better at drawing premises from openings, really finding the emotional commitment in my harolds that I struggled to find before, learning how to respect the other people in my class and deal with my own expectations of myself. It was all difficult, but in the end, like many things in life, I grew.

As I’ve said here before, the point of writing down these notes and putting them on the internet was that Neil is a performer who is very highly respected, within the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and beyond, who does not teach classes often anymore (he said he would not teach another class here until at least August), whose philosophy I admire and so I thought I could (with Neil’s permission) share.

If I were to take the one thing that I got from this class, it would be to take things personally in scenes. Be real and in the moment and react as you would in life if this was important to you. Doing so will lead you to the sort of emotional commitment that will lend itself to interesting scenes and games that will not be cliched because they will be filtered through the lens of your experience.

That said, that’s my extrapolation.

So here, for the last time, are the notes from our last class. Hastily scrawled, certainly incomplete, almost definitely inaccurate. Use them for what you will.

And thank you to my classmates and especially to Neil, for the experience and the notes.


This week try to put it all together:

What we are shooting for is to do truthful high commitment invocations which lead us into truthful emotionally committed scenes and fun games. Commitment is the name of the game.

For second beats, follow the fun. You can follow tangents as damage control, but only do it if it’s the more fun thing, otherwise let’s reinvest in one or both of these characters or go analogous if we earn it.

On Anxiety And “Pressure”: all of us are very concerned about how well we do in our performance or on stage, but it leads to second-guessing and selfish play, you may steam-roll over someone’s ideas or invent. The trick is genuinely to make your scene partner look good and make their ideas look like genius. If you take yourself out of the equation and are really doing that, which is hard to do, then you’ll be doing the best work of your life, even if the thing you did was something your scene partner set up. Then the credit you get is funny, because you’ll be getting credit for other people’s moves, them yours. Because the stitching behind the tapestry you’re showing everyone is everybody helping each other, everyone owns the laughs.

There’s no way to teach that or to make people do that, but if you do that your anxiety will be taken care of.

Warmup: character telephone, match in the moment, not call and response and then match, pass it on.

You want to make sure if your behavior is interesting or funny, we want the philosophy behind it to pass the bullshit test. Just like anytime you’re talking to someone and they are blowing smoke up your ass, is like a weak justification on stage.

The why behind the why- you can always justify something on a surface level, the worst example of which is “because you’re crazy”, But if you give the why behind the why, we get to a playable attitude.

For instance “I like paper because paper is awesome” vs. “I believe in physical things, everything is too impermanent”.

What’s the thing behind “It’s not you, it’s me”. The reason why that’s so cliched is because even if it might be true it doesn’t reveal a deeper philosophy or reason.

When you cease to do what you love or be who you are, that’s one step towards selling out. Object monologue warmup (tossing around a mimed object and telling a truthful story about it) gets you towards remembering truth.

If you’re gifted as sleeping in dog shit, find something that you remember that’s important as opposed to “I like the smell of shit” but if I can convince you that I’m the guy that likes that for an interesting reason (“because I want to get back to animalistic nature”) then we are there.

Do a Harold with invocation then do an  “I believe” Harold. Both characters in a scene should say at some point I believe____. Shouldn’t be inelegant because that is often what game is, a point of view or reaction. Every character that’s a good character can say that

Take big swings for thou art. An invocation gone wrong is when people leaned on silly voice or phrasing. Of course you can rephrase what you already said but if we’re not saying anything new we’re not using it for what it’s good for.

Make sure we’re not playing too glib, even if we are having funny philosophies, make sure to acknowledge reality/the other side even still

When you’ve got a simpler game from the opening, don’t ignore it in favor of other games we’ve played before.

Be careful of treating something that might be close to an improv cliche (candy for drugs, for instance), we can play it, but then we need to treat it even more seriously/personally.

You can’t be resting in thou arts, we should feel like we are increasing our speed and our momentum, not just casually rephrasing things. Take the idea from the mundane to the sublime, take it there with the delivery and the content. When you get to the big ideas, we find things we can play in our piece.

Doing three line scenes where we get “who what where” out is clunky and should not necessarily be how we start scenes, but it’s to make you miss those things when they are going in to your scenework.

I always say to earlier level students that audiences are so happy to hear what they are looking at that they will forgive clunkiness.

In that way, even a clunky explanation is better than a meaningless pattern.

It’s not a rule that we always connect the scenes in the first third beat. Never play for the blackout at the end of your pieces.

The trick of this class is step out and mean business immediately, be emotionally committed and real and then play what’s actually fun, not what you thought would be. Once we’ve got our game, push it and don’t let it die.



Finding The Balance

April 17, 2012

This is the video store which I grew up with, well, at least the second or the third.
Previous video stores like Evergreen and Hudson Street Video went out of business in their cavernous depths throughout my West Village upbringing, sings of the changing times even before Netflix, the gentrification of my neighborhood, the transition from VHS to DVD which already then was too much for some places it seems to overcome, the eventual rise of the neighborhood boutiques that would take over the place of my upbringing turning it into yet another mall for tourists, a transmogrification of Bleecker Street from “quaint” to the fetish-izing of that word, just another route to the meat-packing district, the acceptance that the neighborhood I knew is gone in a way.
People have similar complaints about 42nd Street describing its grit, real-ness, it’s trouble pre the early 90s revitalization of it into its current “Disney-fied” incarnation, the place of “bright lights, big city”, but I feel like that must be different as the West Village I knew, transvestite prostitutes or no, was never in need of a “fix”. In all honesty, looking back, we could have still used the video stores.
But this was the last one, World of Video, the place I tried unsuccessfully to maintain a membership at through my film school education and after, which I failed miserably at because I, like so many of the past generation of Americans before me, am epically terrible at returning DVDs, the same reason I no longer take books out from the library (other than the functional illiteracy that comes out of emerging from a world of a structured education).
Going in there, it was full of the type of misanthropes I envied in my youth and feared in the wake of my film school education, people working at a video store, failures of a type in my eyes. Clinging to a past with no foreseeable future, bitter for the sake of what left not to be about.
As I looked over my last entry, I saw (unsurprisingly) how close I feel to the last time I wrote, just in an inverted fashion. As opposed to last week, where I looked back on a week of accomplishments , I look back on this week with the difficulties I’ve faced and as opposed to feeling conquered, I find myself through the looking glass, not worrying, at least initially, about how bad I feel, but how much it’s alright to be ok.
That might sound confusing, I should probably explain. On Friday, I went to a party, got drunk off a flask of Evan Williams I got to avoid the keg provided (finding “alternatives” still a part of my dietary lifestyle) and did what people in such a place are apt to do, I tried drunkenly flirting with people, got upset over stupid things and eventually just got sad walking home (though not crying sad). I felt bad in the moment, but fine the next day, when I had lunch with my family talking about difficult stuff, I took it with grace, being even more “okay” than they were, using my yoga practice for self-kindness and then kindness to others. Saturday, I bombed a show I really cared about, Sunday, I struggled heavily in class and through a sketch show. The only place I could be, I told myself, was where I was, where I am. That is my mantra. We can only be where we are, be in the moment, pay attention, give our all and then forgive ourselves for our shortcomings.
I did a private session with one of my yoga instructors, Sarah Bell, last Friday because I always felt like I was doing things wrong in my practice or at least not as well as I could be. I looked at my downward facing dog, the simple upside-down v-shaped inversion that you see a lot in people who practice yoga and in all of my practice I could never straighten my legs, always bent. I told Sarah my concern and showed her my pose and she asked me, after a moment:
“Alright, would you mind clueing me into what you think is wrong with your downward facing dog?”
“Well,” I replied. “I can never straighten my legs. So I feel like I must be doing something wrong.”
“You’ve been practicing yoga for 6-7 months now. How old are you?”
“24.” I replied.
“24.” She repeated back. “So for 22 of those years you’ve stored tension in your legs and I’ve seen your progress and you’ve improved so much, in what, those 6 or 7 months. Look at yourself in a year, look at yourself in 10 years. Look when others are getting lower back issues. For now, look at yourself with kindness and be proud and be okay.”
And I felt GREAT coming out of that, I felt so happy, just as I felt when after another romantically-blah evening out my friends took me aside to point out how impressed they were.
“Dude,” my friend (who wishes I would refer to him as “my extremely funny friend”) Sebastian told me, looking seriously. “You were just being yourself and goofy. Usually you’re so aggressive, no middle ground, but you were really being chill tonight. Just letting it come to you.”
And it was such a nice gift. Just feeling like I could see myself in my practice, like others could see me. That even in failure, I could notice my improvement, regain balance, see the world and not get bitter.
This morning I was cut from a sketch group I was asked to join, a major accomplishment and opportunity. I had the feeling the cut was coming and voiced that opinion to friends and my roommate Teddy, who didn’t think so, but didn’t deny it either. I did feel terrible as I did this morning, heading to therapy, a process I described to my therapist as the feeling when you get close to your house when needing to use the bathroom: your bowels get tense, your body telling you “Run!” as the discipline with which you held yourself disappears so close to the finish line, as you rush to take an “emotional dump”. My therapist, a less crude person, likened it to getting sick after a big project.
I let out my feelings there in therapy, voiced my concerns, tried to be aware, but my therapist wondered if I was too analytical still. What is the boundary between detachment and self-kindness, what is long enough to be in your emotions?
These are the same questions (as I’ve pointed out repeatedly) that I think we face in improv. There are no “right” moves, but there are moves feel right in the moment, things that are good or bad, ways we learn to trust ourselves and our choices, not second guess ourselves, be more in the moment and less insular. They are things I struggle with, as we all do. But I can only make the choices I can make, which is not for a lack of responsibility (which I think could be alternately called “self-awareness”). So how does one be okay with not being okay?
I feel like that’s what my blog is all about.
I don’t offer an answer. I already was cut from the sketch group I was in. Lots of great things are happening too in my attitude, in the way I look in the world, in the stupid ways that people look or react to me, or even in the opportunities I’m given.
I can think about reasons. I can think about the “whys”. I do in my life try to be mindful and reflective.
But it’s difficult to look critically at self-kindness and be kind when looking at self-criticism, to take the note, make the move, known when to be aggressive with a girl or a job or a group, know when to hang back and wait. A great many people are happy and a great many are not.
It’s confusing this life.
It helps, you know, to talk about it.

I don’t much have to say about this except that it was a fun party.
On Saturday, my friends dragged me out to Astoria to my friend Will Quinn’s birthday party at his last-stop apartment shared with a bevy of other comedians from Virginia. It was a “Game of Thrones”-themed party renamed “A Game of Wills” replete with grapes, a cape and some dude holding a foam-core version of Thor’s hammer the Mjolnir, because a more appropriate Game of Thrones reference was not forthcoming.
I, surprisingly to the nerd that I once was/still am, have never seen A Game of Thrones, probably a vestigial grudge left over from when I used to play at the RPG/collectible-card-game store Neutral Ground, where the people who played the Game of Thrones CCG (Collectible Card Game) were even weirder and lamer than the people who played Magic or the incredibly ghetto kids who played “Yu-Gi-
Oh!” an anime-based CCG that somehow tied into a hyper-sexual ancient Egypt.
Anyway, I just showed up in a plaid shirt and got real messed up and silly. Eventually, my friends making fun of me suggested I fight the other kid in our other group of friends (a Fordham contingent), a kid named Adam Twitchell who usually did not party and so was being real goofy out-of-his-mind, while I just sat outside on the patio in a lawn chair, enjoying the late-spring breeze in my anti-social tendencies. What began as me grabbing the foam-core Mjolnir and just randomly hitting Adam eventually devolved into us slow dancing to “I’ll Make Love To You” by Boyz II Men in order to make up for the aggression.
Like I said, this all is a small thing, but I feel like usually on a Saturday Night I’d be out seeing or doing improv shows or at nearby bars talking about improv or thinking about it or even just walking, heading home, as I do so often now.
So, it was nice to just get out to the outer boroughs, drink something and be silly in a crowd of similarly aged people also not knowing what they were doing with their lives, peppered by occasional personal conversations and some extensive chair sitting.
Adam, I’m sure this will be a treasured memory for you, for all time.

I’ll make this as brief as possible.
This was a very embarrassing moment for me.
Hanging out with some of my very funny improviser/writer friends in the improv ghetto around 30th-26th Sts bet 6-8th avenues (further if you count rehearsal spaces), everyone seems obsessed with the new Panera.
It’s a throwback to people’s suburban existences. It offers ample seating and bathrooms for an area low on those things. It’s relatively cheap, people bring things to your table, no tip necessary. It can be difficult to spend even 10 dollars there.
Still, it always looked goddam awful to me and I would usually bring in my balled-up Faicco’s sandwich when my friends would go.
This time though, I bit the bullet and ordered a “Thai Chopped Chicken Salad” just hoping it would not be awful fake meat like Au Bon Pain.
It was not fake meat. It was relatively low-calorie. It was very filling.
But man was it average.
I guess guys, if you need something to eat.
Or if you find yourself in a desperate situation.
You make the best of it.
But it’s like when you walk in to Chili’s and you hear about things being “fire-roasted” and stuff, you can at least somewhat imagine that people are doing those things in a Chili’s, even though they are obviously not.
But definitely not in a Beige-clad place like Panera.
It did have real chicken, peppers, edamame and some nut sauce though.
And maybe, for some people that’s enough.
What has my life become?
Thai Chopped Chicken Salad (w/ “fire-roasted” edamame, red peppers, lettuce, peanut sauce, etc…)- $8.29
7th Avenue bet. 28th and 29th Sts.
1 to 28th St.

Neil Casey Advanced Study Harold Notes Day Five

April 4, 2012

Ah man, I killed it this class and this show.

Coming off last week where Neil was sick and everybody was so depressed about him not liking us that they wanted to form a practice group just out of desperation, it was nice to have a week where I felt good about my performance.

But a note about that, even before.

My friend (and excellent improviser) Jed Teres recently re-posted an article he read about a frustrated writer working in publishing. (EDIT: realize not all of you may be able to see this link, so here is a picture of the page) He talked about how much the writer hated his job seeing these shitty manuscripts in his pile and how it eventually gave him writer’s block too just being in that place of anger. He only was able to get through when he was able to realize that there was no reason to be angry at these people and that in fact he was externalizing his own insecurity on to them.

In improv and in life, we judge other people harshly because we are very hard on ourselves. As long as we do the work and are trying and we see others do the same, there is no reason for harsh judgement (probably even not then).

So regardless that I felt awesome after this show or that Neil praised the fuck out of me, I should get to that place where I’m happy having a shit-class, maybe not immediately, maybe not even the next day, but I’m happy for that place to grow from. I don’t go and blame my fellow improvisers or blame myself, I show kindness to all involved. I thank myself and others for doing practice in this body at this time.

When that day comes I will know that I am a better improviser and probably a better person, in that power to be ok and learn.

Anyway, here are the notes for week five, as always, abridged, incomplete, often incorrect, abbreviated, scrawled hastily.

Use them for what they are worth.

I’ve also bolded a few things this week, looking over them.



Today we are working on the idea of who gives a shit while we are improvising and digging for “because” in our scenes.

You can phone in a game you’ve done before and get away with it but why?

The good stuff is when we are not just playing a funny/not funny pattern in a vacuum (you’re the guy who loves buttons, but who cares?)

The question is how do we avoid the instinct to play empty patterns

Answer: always bring things back to emotional core or philosophy of a character.

Maybe guy loves buttons because he loves campaign buttons, middle school political involvement

Way we get from boring to interesting is by getting to personal involvement

Which gives me the right as a director to ask who gives a shit during your sets if we get into those pointless conversations

Because we don’t want to see people juggling robotic concepts between us, it fails as theater, a bad bit, no heart or meaning.

We play patterns that could pass for game but instead end up being nothing.

We will play Harolds today where everything has to be justified

Chicago calls us jokey and we call them based solely on performance and there are truths and fallacies in both. They place faster than even us now and we have some shows that play slowly.

But I will miss Let’s Have A Ball. It’s nice to do two person scenes, really dig in to the relationships and know no one will walk through the door.

I think 4 is perfect size for an improv group. Twoprov you need a lot of balls, group mind. The things that nice about improv is surrendering to group mind by checking your baggage, but in two-prov the amount of effect that any little thing has on you will be brought to the show.

I only feel two-prov that I am comfortable with is someone I’ve worked with for 5 years (i.e: Ryan Karels)

How do you play with honor when this is the only time you get to perform? How do you play nobly when you know this is the one time you’re in something in a month? How does the selfish bastard not come out when you’re putting in cash?

Answer: It’s like being in a relationship or a family, you’ve got to be willing to just play support of that’s what the group needs.

I don’t think that our whole system of getting together and being the sum of our parts  works well with most two prov.

8 person thing is artificial, based on class size, but works. I still think 4 is perfect number.

Neil Casey- “Indie foursomes. I endorse them. Let’s see more of them on our stage them. Blog that.”

I do twoprov with people I don’t know for bar sets but it would be easier rolling with another person.

In your improv, you’re always going to fall short of the ideal, get easy/cheap laughs, you just have to do the work and keep trying 

Its when people settle into it that’s hard. It’s that you never stop the effort. It’s impossible to do the perfect thing, but it’s when people are satisfied with that, that it’s disappointing.

I totally reject improv as therapy or melodrama

But what we do does mean you have to tap into memories/emotions

Because if you be fake or impression then it will ring false

As actors or performers we have to be willing to remember instead of invent

A good improviser has to be able to pull from emotion, we develop an intolerance for people who do weak civilian bits as part of their personality

A lot of people get away of being full of shit but when you put that on stage it rings extremely false

Rather than playing a left brain pattern or an imitation of another scene, invest with the emotion of a memory, imbueing it with that, will give it that voice that you have that no one else could give.

I remember buttons as running for president because that’s what I have.

It’s not therapy, that’s bs, but being as much of yourself to the table. If you’re being broken up with, remember the last time you got dumped or whatever.

True-story invocation- you imagine whatever is closest to you about this object

Improv is not therapy, but how you play believably is recall things that are true to us

Those scenes where impenetrable characters argue about nonsense, I want to avoid

If a kid is being annoying, react emotionally. Everyone has their breaking point. Sometimes, our instincts are to be nice to play it real, but if a line is asking for anger or annoyance, play it truthfully, show the emotion you might suppress in real life.

We want our character to play realistically while we want to be funny.

The template I always want to avoid, is when we are in one of those scenes when we are discussing nonsense as if it was something, acknowledge it is nothing.

Don’t treat something as important when it is not.

Your philosophy doesn’t have to be great as a justification, just what you can get

I don’t care until you drill down until something that interests and what interests me is the truth

When you have a strong emotional choice that doesn’t make sense, the game will be rooted in how you make it make sense.

When you find yourself in a scene when things don’t make sense, keep asking yourself why and you’re more apt to get to something.

Don’t let people stand out there running out of lyrics in hot-spot, same thing in Harolds.

How we express ourselves via specifics is an interesting pattern/game. It’s not robots and zombies, it’s slice of life. People constantly express their real emotions through proxies. People can’t be honest so they talk about money, where to eat, et cetera

How many times do I say I want something to care about? A dead dog?

I’ve never had anyone told me I have a small dick or saying that they are getting fat, because people in relationships are much more cruel to each other.

There’s a Louis CK video where he’s talking about George Carlin saying I did the same act for 15 years and it sucked because it was his little observations but then he started throwing them out every year and if you do that your cute observations go away and eventually all you have are your balls, things that are attached/true to us. 

We get to be that special class of people that gets to replicate a reality most people don’t have: talking about real emotions that are true.

Del- the smallest emotional discovery is better than the best invented idea

When you start bringing up things that are true real, people respond

Bill Hicks- If you get on stage then you have supply and demand covered, but I’d you’re trying to be something else then you’re trying to be a commodity, if you’re yourself no one else can give me that. 

If my game is that I’m apathetic it’s incumbent on the backline to give you more and more to be increasingly apathetic about.

Lessening the strangeness of other people’s behavior, while giving the same emotional reaction can be a good second beat

Why Grandma’s Ashes is so good if someone initiates a second beat dumbly we all get on board to support someone’s ideas

I hate to watch shitty scenes where is whiny people complaining about nothing.

I’d rather see a scene about an abusive domineering relationship than another scene about bickering talking about nothing.

One of my favorite things about improv are the moments when we earn making up nonsense. Be sure to seize them.


I won’t share the group notes because I try to leave personal notes out of here but I did a very silly run of scenes about a guy who wanted a piggyback ride very seriously and Neil pointed to it as being great because it was a super-dumb (but real ala R. Crumb) idea played with super emotional-commitment. He also talked about the important of emotional commitment in the Invocation as an opening to bring that same level of emotional commitment to our Harolds. I’m sure we will keep working on that.

One last note from the end of our Harolds, from Neil:


I have one souvenir, for you.

Michael Delaney- Connections, Callbacks at the end of a Harold: It’s all dessert. You can have a great meal without them. Don’t force them if they don’t come naturally or aren’t earned. I’d rather see new scenes or unconnected third beats than false connections.

For second beats, clear simple game should move you, don’t out-clever yourself!

You’re all clever enough to do analogous, but why do it unless necessary, there’s no greater glory in them.

Neil Casey Advanced Study Harold Notes Day Four

March 29, 2012

Ugh, guys, this was a rough one.

Not a lot of notes here. Neil was sick and we did two fairly terrible Harolds at the top of class where we had to do each others second beats. These Harolds caused Neil to sigh so much that someone actually is trying to start up a practice group called “So Neil Doesn’t Sigh At Us”.

We then did an exercise drilling second-beats, doing three different second beats off a source scene.

For my personal struggles, I did a tag-out in the Harold where my move was either not understood or unclear, which hasnt happened to me in a long time and which caused Neil to note me hard.

I was even stiff in the second beats, not initiating any of them and basically letting my partner define and contextual games.

I even had a freak out on stage as a put-upon mom during a bad group game that drew concerned looks.

I’m feeling really good today after writing the last blog post, so I won’t beat myself up too much, but man. Geez.

Anyway, here are the notes. Hastily scrawled. Mostly inaccurate. Use them as you will.



Today, take a break from commitment and focus on game
Drill second beats. So that you focus on game in second beats, as opposed to plot or fun character patterns that ucan just get you by.
When you are doing an interview opening, if they are being honest, be on their side

Everyone loves to initiate scenes with dead dogs no one cares about, but people don’t care enough to sell it.
How would you really react to grief/tragedy, let’s see it.
If you make a move and a person doesn’t react the way you want them too, do it harder or roll with it, don’t freeze.
Don’t play characters who are morons, play to the top of your intelligence means play characters who are at least as smart as you. Otherwise, if we’re playing dumb people who are emotionally impenetrable, commenting on the situation without being invested, we’re just going to be doing bad improv.
What’s the emotional reality of this scene? Act like you would or justify it.
If you’re in a scene and nothings going on, decide what is going on. Don’t be too willing to let things drop.
If you touch on something dark, commit to it, don’t back away. We can all see it when you apologize for your choices.
It’s constantly going to happen that the two of us are going to be in two different dimensions in scenes. It’s what we do that matters.
If you make a move that I don’t understand I will make you explain it to me and if you don’t then I will label it explicitly, just to make sure we know where we are/who we are/whats going on.
The most important thing is playing relatable characters on stage. I don’t care how funny it is if it’s bullshit.
I’ve seen this become a thing of college-educated white people doing funny voices on stage and it makes me ashamed to feel this is what I spent my life on.
Heightening stakes to crazy places in second beats can seem forced or too big as opposed to putting a fine point on what was funny in the first beat.
I want to see you working all the time.
It’s perfectly fine to have flawed first beats, but you have to be smart and forward with what you bring from the first beats.
We do second beats so we can do the perfect version of our first beat, it’s why we teach the Harold.
In the best case, it allows you to pick up what the audience loved after a respite.
But, in the more common case, you’re getting a second chance to attack that game in a way we didn’t before.
A lot of time our instincts are to make a lateral moves or mad-lib it, it’s not something we do for the hell of it, it’s for a second chance.
Try and sum up the headline of what was funny about your first beat.
The way you sum it up is unique to you, there’s wrong if it doesn’t sum it up but your sense of humor defines that.

Feel The Burn

March 28, 2012

I talk a lot about yoga nowadays, which I still believe firmly makes me into some sort of douchebag but that said:

Often times in my life, it feels like improv, yoga, dating, living, just walking around on the street, is all just a journey towards self-acceptance and the accompanying tension and struggle of that journey.

Put in a different way, by the great improviser David Razowsky (among others), denial is the source of all suffering.

The way we want to be or imagine ourselves versus seeing clearly where we are and are surrounding, being present in the moment, is the tension of existence.

And it’s painful and difficult to notice how aware you are, how present you are, and to try to make yourself more so.

Some of us are tighter than others, I can’t even do a decent downward-facing-dog because my hamstrings are too tight or are decent chair pose, because Frank thinks I’m too weak and my teacher thinks I might have too much tension.

Or, to pull backwards, It can be difficult for me to be confident in improvised scenes because I’m often not confident in life and my choices, it can be difficult for me to “be in the moment” listening to people and absorbing what they have to say (in scenes, life, dating) because it’s not a skill I’ve always used, it’s a “tight” muscle.

All of this is fine, we all have our limitations as humans, our own stretching to do. But not being present, wanting to be somewhere else, being desperate, judging or hating ourselves, is a slippery slope to despair.

And all of this is too vague. Some examples:

This past weekend, I auditioned for Harold teams over at the UCB. Those of you who know me know it is sometimes a place of stress for me (I still get rejected for even classes there all the time, take that reality-star pseudo-fame). I had decided long ago that the Magnet was the place that I loved and getting to work with Christina Gausas in her classes and shows, learning her style. Harold teams weren’t a priority for me, heck I didn’t even like Harold Night for the most part (Neither did they apparently, since they broke up most of the teams while I was writing this). But, the thought is you’d be crazy not to audition, at least to get the experience. The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre has a lot of exposure and can be a good place to perform and there is much to be learned from any performance opportunity. I decided I would be fine with the auditions, because I didn’t want it, unlike some people in the comedy community, for whom getting on a team there is the be-all end-all next-step for them in their ascendance to greatness. I told myself I was ok.

But I wasn’t. As the audition came up, I got gradually more stressed. I wasn’t too stressed before the audition and even going in felt like I did fairly well. But after the audition as I talked to friends and they seemed overjoyed, I felt overwhelmed by failure. Even if we didn’t know who made teams, I wasn’t as good as them. Who was I here? Why did I care so much when I told myself I didn’t care, when I didn’t even love all of UCB, this stressful place for me? The truth, as my father told me over a turkey burger before the audition, was “that you do care so you should just stop lying to yourself about it”.

And what I realized, walking back down along lower 6th avenue to write this blog post, was that I did care because I wanted their approval BUT even more than that (explain the explanation!) I wanted their approval because still in me there is so much that isn’t ok with myself, so much that isn’t self-confident, that wants someone to tell him that he is great and that everything will be ok.

And what’s more than this and this is the most difficult thing to say of all:


Ultimately, do I want to be an insecure person? No! I would like to be less of one, at least. I have girls constantly telling me how much they hate “weakness” or “men with no balls”, just for instance. But we all have our own places we are tight, our own places to stretch, our own progress that can be made from where we are. If I have a core of insecurity and I know that, guess what?! It’s the fist, million-time-th-better-step to being less insecure! Just knowing where you are and then stretching from that place, trying on more confidence, little by little. Doing the work and being satisfied.

At the end of my Neil Casey Advanced Study class yesterday I had a terrible class where I couldn’t make choices, another player on stage didn’t understand my move and we sat in the shit we had collectively taken on stage and I just performed generally poorly. And yet I knew I had done the work so I tried to feel good, I knew I had identified weaknesses and stretched them.

When we are practicing yoga, or working out or running or whatever physical activity we do to strengthen our bodies, we know we do well because our bodies literally thank us through releasing endorphins telling us that we are helping them, physically MAKING us feel great! But when we work our minds, our souls, there is no accompanying flow of endorphins, no hints to make us be okay with the stretch, the tear, the weakness we have endured, so insted of thanking ourselves, I judge myself and make myself feel bad, or I can.

I walked out of a rehearsal for the show I have that I was cast in that Christina Gausas is directing that I am SO honored to be a part of, that meshes with my values and background and how I love to play and knew I was worse than the other people there, knew I had fucked up repeatedly in rehearsal, knew that only in the very last moment of rehearsal did I begin to grasp myself and my skills and have a breakthrough. I moved already from a place of weakness to a place of strength in such a small time. As my yoga teacher, Chrissy Carter says, do not think of the body you are not in right now or wish you had, thank yourself for the practice you are doing in this body at this time.

But as I walk out, I am consumed with worries. Will I not be good enough and be dismissed from the show? Am I being too weak in scenes, in that struggle to be in the present? What about my habits and quirks that I try to suppress, picking my nose, or scratching my scalp or just my insane gestures from the audience (a fun sight for those of you who know me to behold). It is a struggle to not judge one’s self for one’s mental work because WE CARE. I care! We all care about our lives and our passions and so it is difficult to see them as practice. It’s good to be emotionally invested in things, to feel things. My friend Jon Bander said last night in rehearsal that “it is so wonderful to see people feel things on stage, because frequently as stand-up or sketch comedians, we are not allowed to feel something on stage, only comment”.

But I also have to recognize that note that Ashley Ward gave me over a year ago that, “you are where you need to be”.

I didn’t get on a Harold Team at UCB. I didn’t even get a callback.

I didn’t have a good class with Neil Casey and impress him, so I could get petted and stroked and told how brilliant I am.

I wasn’t up to snuff in my rehearsal with Christina, whom I admire and adore, and it breaks my heart.

But today, I feel happy and I feel fine.

Because wherever I am in my life, I’m doing the work. As my friend Sebastian told me as we were walking down the street, quoting another great improviser and teacher of mine, Michael Delaney: “If you want to do this, see that you are working the hardest out of all of your friends.”

Because today, I look at myself, I see where I am in the present moment, I forgive myself, I love myself and know there is nowhere else that I could be.

Whatever happens, I do not control. I don’t control what others think of me, whether I am cast or not, admired or not, nothing.

Only if I am in the moment, the present and I’m okay with my own weakness.

Which I guess, you could call, a kind of strength.

Oh yoga.

What the fuck have you done to me?


My friend Frank, who is now the big brother/probably partial-dad (his pops is in his early 60s) of one Charles Orio, tells me I obsess too much about my weight.

This is true.

When I went into my therapist’s office, I described a night of regret where I got drunk ate two “Kooky Brownies” (Brownies that had a chocolate chip cookie top to them), bought too many drinks and let other people buy me some and woke up 3 pounds heavier.

(I also saw Kiss*Punch*Poem that night, an improv show inspired by and involving poets, which I highly recommend, as it currently is I think the only show that elevates improv to art in New York City that is running right now.)

My response, which calmed her down, was that I just ate normally that day. Had some nuts and coffee for breakfast, chicken salad for lunch, a Fu Man Chew from Better Being Underground (aka my secret sandwich shop) for dinner and this taco for a late-night snack.

My couch-crashing roommate Teddy and I were walking down Greenwich Avenue on the sort of long-stroll from the Magnet back down to Soho we occasionally get to indulge in on a nice night when we noticed a lone taqueria standing open on the late-night street.

We went in to discover it was “Taco Happy Hour” at Oaxaca as exemplified by an open tall-boy of Modelo Especial at the counter and a dude who was willing to talk about why he was not willing to join the co-op in Park Slope.

The taco itself though was fragrant and delicious, mounds of picked onions, spicy salsa verde and a light sprinkling of cotilla cheese on two light corn tortillas with some chewy, salty chicken for an umami core. At 2 bucks, it made me more okay that the taco truck wasn’t out on a weeknight over on 6th Ave.

Teddy and I headed home after he even talked about applying there for a job and our conversation was complete.

The next day I weighed less, I told my therapist.

And all was right in the world.

Until I woke up 2 pounds heavier, this morning.



Pollo Taco- $2.00 (5-7pm or after 10pm)

Greenwich Ave. bet. 6th and 7th Avenues.

123L to 14th St-7th Ave. ACEBDFM to West 4th St.

Neil Casey Advanced Study Harold Notes Day Three

March 21, 2012


I killed it in this class.

What a day.

I got up and did improv at 2:30-5:30, learned the opening for the show during that time, had a really fun set of the Bat (a harold done in the dark) and did an Invocation (Neil’s favorite opening and mine) in the dark too and then had a show for that class at 6:30 which, while I always feel like I could be better, felt great about. Then I had rehearsal afterwards. Now, soon, sleep.

Most of the notes from today are about Neil’s take on openings including his version of the invocation as well as some stuff about playing it real and not being “cute” or jokey which those of you who followed my 401 notes will remember as his pet peeves.

Neil had no negative notes for me after the show even called one of my moves “a stroke of brilliance”.

I feel exhausted and like a million fuckin’ bucks.

So here as always are my hastily written, definitely incomplete, probably somewhat inaccurate notes taken from class with Neil Casey.

Enjoy and take his invocation workshop if he ever teaches it again. I’ve learned it four different ways and any way I’ve done it, it’s always been fun.


Any opening has a lot of pros and cons, but if you’re not using it what it’s good for it’s worthless.

I think “the interview” opening has a lot of cons, but it’s the best way to get an audience on board with a long-form.

Will Hines’s Philosophy- In our upper levels when we have so much of a handle with our technique, how do we foster a sense of cooperation without singling people out?

Neil- Im going to make my case that the Invocation is best opening, lots of pros, negligible cons. Shows you how good the show is.

Interview- cons, the person can be a dud, can bullshit, be boring.

Good thing is that it is a good training wheels for an unsophisticated audience. It works as a way to show how you got your info and how were being funny of it.

You heard the story. Now here it is funnier, same as an Armando. Not reenact ing, not noble but not bad.

Pattern Game(three loop)-

Pros- group mind, a million suggestions, shows your work to the audience.

Cons- boring, fails theatrically, trained audiences deal with it


P- perspective, getting into physicality, interesting to watch, getting on the same page as humans

C- no ideas or repetitive ideas, vague or no labels, lot of time not a lot of ideas

Organic opening could be anything

(pattern, movement, could do anything)

Scene Painting

P- gets you ideas, entertaining, not as many ideas

C- people don’t like when we don’t use scenes we’ve created


P- like pattern game but locked in to character

C- slightly more interesting but not constricting


P- entertaining, theatrical, variable rate of return

C- pressure on one person, no group mind

Scene Deconstruction

P- scenic so helpful

C- if the scene is bad its bad

Openings are overrated, people look for perfect ones when they should just do better scenes, gel better as players and you’ll be be better as a team.


Fun to watch, we’re speaking in a weird way, more intense.

Second, commitment. Youve got to be committed, if you’re teamwork is bad or trying to be funny it comes out there

Third, come up with great ideas, not as many as PG, but we’re talking about an object, human reactions, behaviors, when we get up higher we talk about philosophies at its height. Quality ideas, demonstrates your commitment to the show, pure group mind were all getting on the same page AND it’s literal witchcraft.

Here’s my skeleton of invocation-

You are creating object on ground or in air

One specific thing, yes and every choice, building on top of each others ideas. Can’t be purple if its already red. You can dive into details like scene painting. You talk about the history and then we heighten it. One thing right in front of us, right here.

Id rather you heighten someone else’s idea than you’re own, just like a pattern game. Build on other people’s ideas rather than push your own, unless something really resonates with you.

tennis ball to truth warmup- big idea based on true sounding story

When our conclusions come close to self-help maxima, we’re hitting high, but we’re not getting real enough

What is it to be punctual, for instance? The idea that you don’t want to hurt other people? That if people are late then society ends? Not eat right, “why eat right”. To not support agribusiness? What are we really talking about? When you are reducing to a cliche or platitude think about what you are talking about instead of the shorthand

Take something tangible as a suggestion (can’t invoke courage or friendship)

It is- description of particular object, physical object, don’t get carried away with scene paint. Only things immediately touching it. Close shot photo of it as guideline. Make it “the kind of thing”

You are- based on what bike it is, assuming persona of person/character, the relation to you. The more you can make it matter/give a shit, the better. Don’t be someone not intimate to it. Everyone be different characters. Don’t worry about consistently of stories, objects have long lives.

Thou art- summarize those stories, the big ways those things relate to people, a big thing (passion, lost innocence, pure pleasure).

I am- one word, biggest things

You can build the object or not if you want to do something physical

Don’t try to speak above your intelligence, speak naturally. Lose the flowery voice people sometimes do in Thou Art.

Thou-art stage could be seen as titles of scenes.

The same thing as pattern game, it’s not bad to talk about pop culture but it shouldn’t be the whole thing. Pop culture references are not three dimensional

With the It Is stage or at any point, of you stumble on something dark or terrible, explore it. It’s going to be funnier to see you sad later than if you’re not being true. Allow yourself to get in to a funny second beat of it in the actual Harold. It’s not funny unless you have the same emotional commitment as something found that’s dark and awful.

Be careful for being too funny. You can know its funny, but we can’t know it. Try for dark or emotional or what it’s really like.

The invocation gives you an opportunity for heavy commitment at the top of the show that you can maintain throughout the show.

No one wants to watch the people on stage be funny or think they are funny.

Don’t make the invocation be jokes, make things that actually matter.

The worst thing that has infected our scene here are people who think that they are funny taking this stage.

Let’s get laughs from being truthful as opposed to mastering the sitcom cadence of when to laugh, a silly voice or demeanor. You coming in as officer shit pants isn’t going to be why you devoted your life to this. You can get so far being funny, but you can’t do the stuff that makes your jaw drop if you’re not playing the characters and just puppeteering thing.

Nobody thinks you’re cute on stage. College improv yes. But you’re not cute and funny because you’re grown ups on stage. You can get laughs by being silly, but let it not be the trend.

I don’t think any audience wants to see you be cute or precious but they want to see you be good

The sad thing is it does fly, because people get laughs get on teams but then that becomes the paradigm. Meaning someone gets on a team who is “funny” and then we laugh at them because they are on a team and then they are considered funny and then they are. Which’ll kill us.

I’d rather you err on the side of melodrama, playing the characters who care too much about scenes, rather than characters who are aware of how funny they are.

This is everybody right now, the whole scene, you’re all funny enough that you could get on a team right now and students would laugh but that doesn’t matter because you saw something great which is why you got into improv but you will not create something great if you can’t play truthfully.

Commit and be more vulnerable or be such a great puppet master that you can’t see the strings, which may end up being the same thing.

The point of the invocation is not necessarily to grab game but also tone, people want to see things that hit from the opening hit in the piece.

Walk-ons are great when helping a game but not as a left turn.

You can get away with a goofball group game if you’re doing good grounded scenes, in fact it can be a nice break.

e.g.: You can have the coke if you ran a mile today.

What we hear in our openings should resonate into our shows.

You can take from “it is” as well. You can do a shitty invocation and have a fine pattern game out of it.

The point of the invocation is to find strong character choices, play the sort of person who believes the things they say about that object.

Pre-packaged justifications based on strong things we’ve built off the opening.

Me doing something weird is ok but only becomes funny once we justify.

When you say “I’m not letting go” be the person who is not letting go. Infuse as much emotion as you can.

Initiate what was fun in the second beat at the expense of every thing else. Some parts of a scene will be better than others, initiate what was fun, what people laughed at, what you enjoyed.

The whole trick is playing grounded while an exemplifying a crazy characteristic, without us all seeing its really funny, betraying that you know what you are doing.

I know that you’re funny enough to make these moves but don’t make them do broadly that I see the man behind the curtain and I see him congratulate himself.

Compliment yourself and others offstage.

My overall note, play good games, get there faster. But you did find funny things organically so that’s great.

Find commitment in the invocation, bring emotional commitment to your scenes from that and find games quickly and you’ll be doing the best improv out there, guys.

Status Update

March 15, 2012

Why am I so resentful of other peoples’ happiness?

This is a question that used to have an easy answer, but now it seems more difficult to examine as I go on.

Looking back at myself and how I have changed in the last two, four, six years, the easy answer to why I resented other people for their happiness was that I was miserable.

Even more than being miserable though, I was in denial of being miserable.

Going back to high school, the experience of opening up to people, of sitting in stupid cinder-block dorm-rooms discussing stupid political things and not getting booed out, of sitting in quad-like courtyards, of making movies and writing things and just beginning to find my voice and gain some respect–it was all such a rush.

I have gabbed and bloviated on here many times about how miserable my high school experience was, a sentiment that almost seems cliche to express nowadays (for me or otherwise), but also just how enclosed.

I was an introvert, a person who kept to myself, I’d wear my same leather jacket every day, my same crappy polo. I’d take tentative, painful steps outside of myself calling up friends, maybe trying to have a conversation with someone and the negative outcome of all the already self-worthlessness (and, by compliment, defensive hatred of others) and my inability to connect would others would only reinforce the notion that I was unlikeable, unloveable, that only I could exist with me in a cloistered setting, talking to myself, patting myself on the back.

“It’s alright.” I would tell myself dissociatively, a voice in my head, stepping outside my emotion. “I am here for you, Nick. I love you. I think you’re good and cool.”

And then that voice would pat me on the back as I’d reach my arm over on the long walk uphill toward the 95th St R train onto my black leather jacket and pat myself literally. At least there was that something in me, taking care of me.

It’s sad to admit looking back at it because it was a sad time. That dissociative voice, something I am sure other people have but which people are loathe to admit (schizophrenia, might be the stigma or diagnosis) followed me for a long time as some sort of way of containing myself or handling my depression. The idea that one is so isolated, so unwilling to lean on others or ask for help, or even able to necessarily, that they have to invent something outside themselves to even exist, to deserve to exist. Rough.

But it’s a good context to look at college in, a place where I still was very unhappy in large parts of my life, even while I was opening up, discovering and experiencing greater happiness than I had ever felt, or what felt like it.

After all, how could I be miserable sitting in a dorm room at 19 with a 40 of Colt 45 (It seemed cooler than the ubiquitous Olde English forties everyone was drinking) in my hands getting drunk in a room full of people who found me interesting and engaging, when 2 years earlier I had only myself for consolation/conversation.

I would cry going home to my dorm freshman year when I realized people were happy to see me, when people wanted to hang out, cry on my pillow at night that I had friends, I would ask people if they were “sure that they wanted to hang out with me” trying to make sure that I wasn’t imposing, taking tentative steps into the social world, beating myself up terribly, hating myself when I made a social mistake when I alienated someone, a bad cue or social move, alienating someone or losing a friend was like losing a toe, I’d never be the same again because I’d probably never have another one.

It was the same philosophy I had about growing my hair, fearing that if I cut my hair from it’s then super-long state, I might never have it again.

Looking at that progression to now, the amazing thing wasn’t my transformation into a fuller, realler more socially able person, a more realized person, but that for the time of that transformation, from coming out into the world of the living, through that pain and self-hatred and intense judgement, I culled small successes and called myself happy.

At the camp I taught at in rural Vermont, there was a blind woman who was also an assistant counselor (whom I would later try to hit on, unsuccessfully) who told me that when she opened her eyes in front a bright light source, especially if she was a little tipsy, she could see light: spots, floating in front of her face. She wasn’t born without vision but it had degraded rapidly as a very young child and she thought she might one day get her sight back, she was intent on it. To her, the small campfire we sat in front of on the camping trip where we were supposed to learn how to lead a camping trip (I later ordered pizza on the camping trip I led), was magic because it was light, something she could see. It was a transcendent experience for her but one she recognized as fleeting.

For me, I looked at those fleeting moments of happiness between the poor dating choices, intense internal/external creative pressure and incredible social adjustment and labeled myself as the happiest I’d ever been in my life, because that is what I knew my life to be.

But somewhere in me, that voice knew otherwise and I knew that because it continued to exist all throughout those college days and afterwards, walking me home on drunk sad nights where I never found the opportunity to make out with that girl in the back of Larry Lawrence, through around 50 film festival rejections including my own school’s, through realizing I now hated the place, the film school, which I had so immersed myself in, which I had so loved, in the wake of a terrible accident. Through uncontrollable rage at issues famlial and personal. Through all of that anger and sadness at others, myself.

I called myself happy throughout those times and projected my hatred at the falsehood of that, the denial of my suffering on to others.

My popular poem at the summer arts camp I attended: “I hate couples”.

There’s a reason, I’ve been attracted to some of my friend’s girlfriends throughout college, stupidly (other than their attractiveness) and it’s that somewhere I wanted their happiness, I resented them for it, I wanted whatever it seemed like they had for myself.

And even when I had a solid relationship and romantic fulfillment (still astonishing to me based on who I was), I was working at a movie theater dealing with the fallout of my film school dreams, clinging desperately to that happiness while utterly miserable, replying to questions like how are you with a smile, but a litany of complaints ending in that I still loved my girlfriend, so things were ok.

That struggle to be okay! To be not a burden! To continue one’s tenuous acceptance into the world!

As I’ve said many times before, I’m happier now (isn’t that crazy to say?) With the help of years of therapy, some yoga, some improv, a vacation, loving parents, weight loss and a good, though somewhat rotating cast of friends, people come up to me and tell me how much I’ve changed. There are the obvious things, like frequenting the salad bar at Whole Foods that I used to rail against as satanic and against the spirit of New York, and the less obvious things like the way I saw a girl who turned me down to date me at a bar the other night and was just cool and flirty and not even self-conscious. I made that interaction easy because I didn’t take the sight of seeing her as some sort of reflection of the inadequacy of myself. In the small things like that, I see improvement.

But in other parts of my world, when I see a couple I know talking in that unironic but very nerdy way about each other, when I feel like I’ve disappointed my friends or teachers or people who believe in me, when I see guys I don’t like get opportunities or ladies I don’t like (probably because they’ve rejected me) popping up as “in a relationship” or talking about how great their boyfriends are, something in me still pops up despite progress despite reason, despite, for spite of much of me, just to hate them, to feel resentful.

To just feel like well if I can’t be full and happy, then fuck you.

In this past week, I had a web series go online that I am proud of my performance in that people complimented me on that I didn’t even know, made by my good friend Charles Rogers. I had two shows and two rehearsals I felt great about and got great notes and great compliments, again unsolicited, even from people who weren’t my friends or close to me, telling me how much I’ve improved or changed, not to mention the “you’re so skinny” stuff. Just the fact that I have an ongoing bit with a friend of mine where I try to make out with her is good news.

The other night I tried dipping a friend out of the blue and she cried out happily grinning when only three or four years ago that same move would have elicited a “this is not funny, put me down” from almost anyone I tried that on (at least, in my mind). I’m becoming more of “a man”.

But well, I still get upset over that pop-up.

Which I guess just means, there’s still somewhere else for me to go.


One of the benefits of my essential unemployment and light schedule (other than the fact that I can do ANYTHING, or as my dad would put it “How much are you writing?”) is that I get to take long walks.

I’ll have parts of my day I won’t have a commitment for 6-9 hours in the middle of it.

To loop back to the previous segment, this might have paralyzed the old Nick since it would make him remember the feeling of being trapped, friendless inside his parents’ apartment, or make him confront his unhappiness about his life.

But now, I just fill it with blogging and walks to get food.

So, when I saw that Freddy “King of Falafel and Shawarma” was opening up a non-Queens-based cart for his 2010 double-Vendy award coup of a cart, I decided to just walk there all the way from my house.

My unemployment meant that I no longer had the monthly unlimited MetroCard I was used to, but it just was more of an excuse for me to be more of the walker I always was.

Up Thompson St, Through Washington Square Park, Up University Place and the shops, cut diagonal across Union Square Park past the new playground and then up, up, up the hill of Park Ave, down the cavern of Grand Central and back up through the escalators of the Metlife Building with their Snoopy mascot back through all the way to 53rd St.

Now, I will mention, I was heavily bribed.

While I am fairly sure Freddy, a big swarthy dude, does not watch Bravo or is aware of that world, he was very happy to see enthusiastic customers on his first day out in Manhattan and he kept giving me falafel balls as samples to eat. I think I had like three of them unsolicited before I even ate my meal.

The goal was to NOT have something fattening and terrible so I thought I would get a salad.

But instead what I received in addition to my falafel balls were 5 more spread out with a heaping of fresh chicken shawarma, lebanese pickles, pickled turnips, red onion, hot sauce and two different type of white sauces all over some iceberg lettuce and maybe some tomato.

They even gave me some pita chips which, god, dipping in to that mess, were so, frickin, delicious.

It’s a dangerous thing to put yourself on any part of 53rd St if you’re a halal cart owner as the legendary halal cart, The Halal Guys makes their home on 53rd and 6th (also 7th) and to sit yourself there is to invite comparison to the masters who attract block-long lines on a nightly basis.

But Freddy the King in a way is not trying to compete, offering more add ons, a greater emphasis on falafel (mostly neglected by THG which stick to pure Meat/Rice/Salad/Sauce mostly) and daytime clientele. This is a world, I think, where they can coexist and both be great.

I walked back the 3 miles to my house, making it 6 total for the day, but I knew I had still gone wrong when I ate that Turkey Burger later that night, with three kinds of fries.

Ah well, sometimes, you gotta live.



Chicken Shawafel Platter w/lebanese pickles, pickled turnips, red onion, tahina and more: $7.00

NW Corner of 53rd St and Park Ave. (weekdays/daytime only)

EM6 to 53rd St/Lexington Ave, NQR45 to 59th St-Lexington Ave.