Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Ithamar Enriquez was born and raised in El Paso, Texas.  After graduating with a degree in Music Theatre from Arizona State, Ithamar moved to Chicago to pursue his career in improvisation and sketch comedy.  In Chicago, Ithamar performed and wrote five shows with the Second City ETC and Main Stage companies including such shows as From Fear to Eternity, Immaculate Deception, and Between Barack and a Hard Place.  Since moving to Los Angeles, Ithamar has continued to perform and teach at the Second Training Center.  You can catch Ithamar every week in one of his favorite improv shows of all time, Delicious Moments (with Brian Shortall).  Ithamar has appeared in commercials for McDonald's, FedEx, Volkswagen, and Edge Shaving Cream.  TV credits: "The Office", "How I Met Your Mother", "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "Law and Order: LA".  Film credits: The Promotion, Baby on Board, and Gifted Hands.

Tell us about your experience training with Second City.  Who were your favorite coaches?

When people ask me about my overall Chicago experience, and a lot of it is because of the Second City Training Center, I always tell people that I sort of consider it my grad school.  I moved to Chicago right after college.  I spent about eight years in Chicago, and basically most of what I know now in my adult life about comedy and how it works is just my experience at Second City.  I had done improv and sketch in college, but there was never really any direction, because it just was a bunch of college students, and we were all directing ourselves, so it was kind of like the inmates were loose.  Second City was the first time that I actually got that very focused point of view, very focused direction of how this works, and how to use improvisation to write.  It made me a much more cognizant writer.  I never even considered myself a writer until I started utilizing these tools.  I had never taught in Chicago.  I've only taught out here.  The ones whose advice or tools that keep popping up in my head are Michael Gellman.  I find myself saying a lot of the same things he said to us.  Those are the ones that stuck with me.  Those are the ones that made sense, and that were right.  Norm Holly is another great teacher in Chicago.  He taught me the way to take an idea and a premise and find what the funny of it is, and then work around that way.  I've used a lot of that now that I've been directing and teaching myself.  It feels cool to do what he did back then.  You'd bring in an idea for a scene, and he would just give you a few adjustments, and right away, it was like, "Wow!  How did he do that?  That's amazing!"  And thankfully I experienced that, because now, on the other side of that, I'm able to do the same thing with my own ideas, and the ideas that I'm directing with students.

What have you learned about improv through teaching it, that you couldn't necessarily learn onstage?

The nice thing about teaching is that you have that bird's-eye view.  Onstage, we're always taught not to edit ourselves, and to be in the moment, to be in character, and to be present in the moment.  So because of that, you're not able to have a clear vision of what the scene looks like on the outside.  As a teacher, that's all you do.  I start seeing things that, as I'm coaching and guiding students, sometimes I'll be like, "Oh, man, I do that a lot."  And then I'm able to say, "This is how to fix it."  And then you're able to go back home later and be like, "Now I can fix that whenever I improvise,"  but I feel like I'm constantly having to remind myself of what I taught my students.  I always tell my students, "Back to basics.  Back to basics.  It's listening, and taking your time, and just saying what's natural next.  Don't force it."  I love those moments when I'm able to remind students of that in class because then, for my next show, I always make it a point to be like, "I have to follow that now.  I have to be sure that, when I get onstage, I'm taking my time, I'm listening, I'm breathing, and I'm relaxing, and I'm just reacting to what's given to me."

Did you start out with an idea of what you wanted Delicious Moments to be, or did it evolve into what it is now?

Delicious Moments, which I do with Brian Shortall, was sort of organic.  The only thing that we really planned was was, when I moved out here, Brian asked me, "Do you want to do a two-person improv show?"  And I was like, "Sure!"  So we had no plans of what that show was.  It just so happens that the two of us have known each other for a very long time.  He was in the first touring company that I was in in Chicago, so I've known him for seven or eight years, around there.  So we just got onstage, and we started talking to the audience, and because we share the same sense of humor, and the same comic sensibility, that translated to what it is onstage. It's so funny, because a lot of people who are fans of the show, and who watch the show will come and ask us, "What is it?  What is that show?"  And most of the time, and we're not trying to be smart-asses, we'll answer, "We don't know ourselves.  We just kind of do it."  And that's really what it is.  We trust each other so much that we're willing to go wherever the other person goes, which is, if you've seen the show, either of us can go crazy, you know?  It gets crazy.  So thankfully, it's just finding someone who has almost exactly the same sense of humor.  What's great about it is that we're very alike in that sense, but we're also extremely different, which is I think why it's so much fun for us.  

Do you remember your first improv show, and how you felt about it?

That was in college.  We were doing short-form games.  I don't even know if I remember it.  I was probably really nervous.  I don't even really remember it.  I remember the first time I did a set at Second City.  That was the most nervous I've ever been onstage.  They brought me on at the end of the set as an understudy for the touring company, and I was like, "I'm doing an improv set on the Main Stage."  I was so nervous.  But that nervous energy propelled me to do this crazy character who was speaking in non sequitir, which is, you know, that can be pretty easy.  I guess it's not a totally complex character to play.  But for whatever reason, that night, it felt great, and the audience laughing a lot and I was on cloud nine after that set.  I was so excited, I probably didn't fall asleep for another six hours after that, I was so excited.  Yeah, it was really exciting.

What is your favorite memory of being around the Second City?

With my college group at ASU, Arizona State, we went to the first Chicago improv festival.  While we were there, we did a lot of workshops that were taking place at the Second City.  During the day, three of us snuck away from the rest of our group and walked into the Main Stage, because I was like, "I want to see the Main Stage."  It was during the day.  They were probably cleaning.  Nothing was going on.  And we were just looking at it, with all this history, and I remember thinking, "I'm going to walk backstage."  And we totally felt like bank robbers.  It was very spy-like.  My friend took a picture of me standing backstage, and this was back in college. I kept that photo, and my first show on the Main Stage, I remembered that photo, and it was the first thing I put up in my changing area the first time I performed on the Main Stage.  I was very proud of that moment.  Here I am as a college kid, hoping that it would happen, taking this photo, and now that I was about to fulfill this dream of performing on the Main Stage, I still had that photo.  That was a very nice moment.

How do you feel that your Second City training helps you in other writing and acting jobs?

I think it makes you more confident with comedy.  You leave having a really good sense of how comedy works, and how different types of scenes work. I would never have considered myself a writer or a director if I had never done Second City.  Up until then, I just considered myself an improviser, but because of the way Second City works, where you're improvising to write material, you become the performer, the writer, and in a sense, the director.  And now, I've been directing a lot of the grad shows here at Second City, and I've found that I really, really love it.  The only thing I'm drawing on is my own experience as an actor.  And again, that bird's-eye view, and knowing what types of scenes I was in, how they were directed, how to make it look onstage...  Overall, it's just made me more confident in my ability in comedy, which is a great tool to have.  Not to say that I'm done learning, because I am not done learning.  Hopefully, I'll never be done learning.  But definitely, it gave me a very strong sense of my voice, my point of view, knowing that you can literally draw upon what's happening to you on any given day to come up with material for the stage.  

Is there something you do to keep your improv skills sharp?

I perform about twice a week.  Besides that, just any acting stuff that comes along, whether it's class or an audition or hopefully, you know, it's nice when it's a gig.  I think the only way to keep that improv muscle going without actually being in class improvising is just to make yourself completely aware of everything around you.  Especially nowadays, it's so easy to get buried in your iPod, and look down on the street and just walk around.  I feel like the best material is from you just seeing what's happening around you.  

What do you think are some attributes of a strong improviser?

Someone who's very versatile.  Let's say you're in the middle of a long-form improv show.  Someone who can do any type of scene.  Someone who can jump in and do a grounded two-person honest scene, and who can, two scenes later, jump in and do a quick physical blackout with no dialogue.  I always tell students, and I always hope for myself, that there's always a balance of it all.  I don't only want to be a physical performer.  I don't only want to be a talker.  I don't only want to be the grounded, realistic character.  I want to be able to do it all, because once you start tipping toward one side too much, I think that's when you're not as strong as you can be.  Someone who's patient, and I gotta say, both offstage and onstage, it's something I think is overlooked, both in improv and the acting world in general, just someone who's nice.  That's the thing.  You want to play with people you have fun with.  And unfortunately, there have been times when we've had to perform with people that we don't necessarily like too much, and that takes away some of the trust, and it takes away some of the fun.  Just play with people who you like.  And thankfully, for me right now, the two shows that I do weekly at Second City, I'm playing with guys that I really, really enjoy playing with, with Delicious Moments and with Tres.  It's people that I've known for a long time, and I'm very thankful and lucky that I'm able to do that every week.

Who are some performers or troupes that you enjoy watching, and why?

Any chance, although I don't see them as much as I'd like to, any time I get to see Dasariski, I think they're really, really great.   I think that the three of them complement each other so well, and I think that all three of them - obviously, Bob Dassie, Craig Cackowski, and Rich Talarico - are the type of performer I was mentioning before.  They can be thrown into any type of scene, any type of character, and they'll do great.  They're a lot of fun.  Also, I really enjoy watching Two Beer Queer.  Those ladies, besides them being friends who I adore, they have so much fun on stage.  It just makes for really, really, really fun shows.  Those are two very different shows, Dasariski and Two Beer Queer, but I think that it's that balance that I was talking about.  They balance out both spectrums of that.  And again, playing in Tres and Delicious Moments, I'm able to play with these guys who, yes, I love playing with them, but the hard part about playing with them is that I sometimes - most of the time - will just laugh out loud.  Because sometimes I can't separate the fact that I'm just playing with these guys.  It's like when you're a kid and you're playing with someone, you just start laughing because you're enjoying yourself, and just to make it clear, Brian Shortall, Brad Morris, Peter Grosz, and Frank Caeti, all four of those guys, they don't even have to say anything, and I'll just start laughing.  I love that, and I love watching them, too, and being able to be a part of that, as well.

What advice can you give to new improvisers?

I would say, obviously whatever classes you can take, take those classes.  But I think more valuable than any class is you want to go and watch and do as many shows as you possibly can, regardless of how many people are in the audience.  Most of my first improv shows in Chicago were always at some bar doing an open mic, and we were on at like 2 a.m. on a Wednesday.  At first I'm like, "Oh, this sucks."  And you're only performing for the other groups, but I can't tell you how valuable those shows were to me, because you have to do it.  You can read about it, and you can study it forever, but that doesn't mean crap if you aren't actually on your feet doing it.  Seeing shows, too, and not just improv shows.  Seeing scripted shows, seeing theatre, seeing musicals, seeing performance art.  Again, this art form is all about everything that we can bring to the table.  So as great as it is to watch improv shows, and it is a lot of fun, I would say go out and see plays.  See sketch shows.  Essentially, with improv, we're teaching how to tell a story.  The more that you watch stuff that's scripted, whether it's a movie or television or on stage, the more you get comfortable with how a story works, that's just as valuable as an improv show.  I always tell students, if you want this to be your world, you have to dive in and make it your entire world.  Sometimes I'll ask students, "Do you know about Laurel & Hardy?  Do you know about Johnny Carson?  Do you know about Sid Caesar?  Do you know about Carol Burnett?"  And sometimes I get blank stares, and it's like, you have to go and rent a Marx Brothers movie right now.  You have to.  If you're serious about comedy, you have to surround yourself with this world.  I still do it.  I'm not going to say I'm the biggest comedy nerd, because I'm sure a lot of people who will read this will be very upset with that, but I am a huge comedy nerd, because I love it so much.  So I will read every book on comedy and I will watch every movie on comedy, no matter how old or how new.  I will anything I can to just watch and listen to comedy, because it's my world.  So if you're serious about this, you've got to jump in and make it your everything.  Make it your everything.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Kiff Vanden Heuvel is an alumnus of The Second City Detroit and Cleveland stages, as well as a teacher and director in Detroit, Cleveland, and Chicago, where he directed writing class shows, The Outreach and Diversity show Superbad Delegates and The National Touring Company among many other things. Kiff is also an accomplished actor outside of the Second City, having performed at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago and at The Pittsburgh City Theatre in the world premiere of Adam Rapp's play Gompers. Kiff has appears in hundreds of national and regional commercials, most notably as the spokesman for Denny's, and as the voice of US Cellular, Advance Auto Parts, and performing in the eagerly anticipated "Star Wars: The Old Republic" video game. Kiff is an avid movie collector, video game player, and when he's not at Second City, he's updating his website at  Kiff can be seen in The Best of Second City, which plays Sunday nights at 8pm at The Second City Hollywood.

Please tell us about your experience with Second City.  Were there any favorite teachers or directors you particularly learned from?

I started at Second City in 1998 as an understudy to the touring company in Second City Detroit.  One of the guys who hired me was Rich Goteri.  He was one of my first directors at Second City.  He was very instrumental in a lot of my style of play.  It's funny, when Marc Warzecha was in the touring company, I was his understudy, or one of them.  When he was on the main stage, I understudied him as well.  I directed the touring company at Second City Detroit, I directed the TourCo in Chicago, I performed with the main stage cast of Second City in Detroit and wrote three revues there, two revues for the Second City in Cleveland.  So I've been working for the company since, yeah, that long.  Some of the guys who have been instrumental, or great leaders or directors... Ron West was a terrific director.  I worked with him on a couple of occasions, both in Detroit and in Cleveland.  I assitant directed for Dave Razowsky.  Working with him was a thrill.  I learned a lot from him.  Martin de Maat was really instrumental.  He came and taught a couple workshops in Detroit, and when I went to teach in Cleveland, he was a really positive influence, and I learned a lot from Martin, too.  And, truthfully, I learn daily from my students.  I really do.  We make discoveries together, and they've been a substantial part of my Second City work life.

What do you find you can learn from teaching improv that you can't learn from doing it onstage?

You make discoveries that are hard to make otherwise.  You get up and play Freeze with a bunch of folks, and you might make some moves that are silly in the moment, or crazy or whatever, but when you're in the moment, you're not thinking a lot.  I find, myself, when I'm in the moment, to be kind of living and existing.  When you're working in a class setting, you have the freedom to take the time to analyze and to explore, and say, not so much "what would happen if we did it differently," but "what motivated that choice" or "what did you learn from that choice?" A lot of times you come off the back line, you make a choice, and then you let it go, which is how it should be, but you don't carry anything, necessarily, from it.  I feel like every time I coach or direct or teach a class, I feel like we get the opportunity to try to understand it better, and that understanding leads to more dynamic improvisation.

Tell us a little bit about your first improv show.  How did you feel about it?

I was an undergrad at Calvin College.  We started a group after we graduated.  We did one show that year, and we had practiced a bunch of times.  We did a bunch of short-form games.  It was a real, straight-up, game set.  We played Freeze, and we played Foreign Dubbing and all that other kind of stuff, and just getting the response from the audience based on what we were making up was intoxicating, and I've kind of never looked back.  Most of my college career I spent pursuing improv.

How have your improv skills improved since you first started?

After playing for a long time, not really understanding that there were rules, learning the rules of improvisation.  Kind of like with marriage, a good marriage is freedom.  That might seem like it's a statement that's in contrast with itself, but I've really discovered that strong boundaries give you freedom to explore within that world.  I feel like the rules of improvisation provide you that same freedom, to kind of go wherever.  I was talking to a student today, actually, about past improvisation experiences, and some of my favorites were actually... there was this little club that we played in, in Cleveland after Second City Cleveland closed called Bassa Vita.  The four of us were on the main stage together in Cleveland, and then we stayed together, the four guys, we stayed together and played.  We found a form together, and just having a complete and total trust in each other, complete and total freedom to not worry about a brand, and just kind of jack around and see what would come out, was really thrilling.  I wouldn't say it was all great, but it was really a wonderful exploratory process.  I think for every improvisor, you get to a point where you have to work within a restriction and then remove that restriction and explore, and see where you develop as an artist.  And that's what that period was.  I think coming back to Second City after that time was really invigorating.  I learned a lot from that sort of time in the wilderness, if that makes any sense.

How has your Second City training helped you in other acting jobs, and in life in general?

It's made me a better listener.  It's made me more prepared.  It's taken away a lot of anxiety.  Doing eight shows a week, getting in front of two or three thousand people a week, whatever stage fright you have goes away.  Also, corporate events, where you may have to perform for one giant ballroom filled with people who are uptight and have to listen to speakers all day, who are so grateful for your little sketch, it's a really strange sort of place to be.  I feel like I've learned a lot of empathy for an audience, and being a director, helping me see, when I get self-indulgent as an actor, I have to think of myself as a director and an audience member.  Because as a director, I'm an audience member first, and I'm sitting out there in the dark, watching and then reacting to it, and figuring out how we can craft things, and how we can keep the audience, or whether we lose them, and that kind of stuff.  It's really made me aware of a lot of stuff.  It's ruined a lot of movies for me.  But on the whole, it's helped me become a better communicator, a better husband, and a better father.  You know, I'm forty-two years old and I play.  With a five-year-old daughter, that's the world.  So, yeah, it's pretty awesome.

What would you say are the attributes of a strong improvisor?

Honesty.  Listening.  Fearlessness.  Someone who's selfless.  Someone whose primary focus is to support and build rather than get laughs.  And joy.  Someone who's just got an explosive, energetic, wonderful, excited personality.  Not to say people who are downers aren't funny or great improvisors, either, but at the same time I feel like there's force and energy that emerges from that sort of place.  It's infectious, and when the audience connects to that, it's magic.

Is there a certain performer or group that you admire, and why?

A couple.  I got to see TJ and Dave in Chicago a couple of times.  They're wonderful, because they really take their time, and they really listen to each other, and they're just really intuitive improvisors.  They're really fun to watch.  And they're nice cats, too, which is helpful.  There was an ensemble at Second City in Detroit that I was involved in.  Our touring company was really, really strong.  Marc [Warzecha]'s cast for the show "19th Nervous Breakdown" that Dave Razowsky directed was marvelous.  They were really inspiring to watch.  That was Antoine McKay, Keegan-Michael Key, Cheri Lynne, Kirk Hanley, Marc Warzecha, and Maribeth Monroe.  They were wonderful.  It was a great, great show.  Really, really fun.  I love "Promisekeepers, Losers Weepers."  It was a Chicago show, a main stage show that I really, really dig.  There's a lot of fantastic groups.  I feel more like, now, I don't hold as many groups up so much.  I like the freedom to create it to be whatever it is.  It's funny, I've got heroes in different arts, but particularly in improv, I've kind of backed away from that and been more, "Let's see what we can do.  Let's be our own heroes."

What do you do to keep your skills sharp?

I formed a group called "Detroit Sandwich".  We play once a month with the LA Comedy Festival 365, and the discipline with that is, there's a core group of us, Keith Reay, Diona Reasonover, myself, and Cheri, my wife, but I'm trying to bring in guests to play with different people with different styles, and play, going into the batting cage, putting a couple tokens in, and saying, "Throw me fastballs and curveballs."  And learning how to "Yes, And" people with different backgrounds and different experience, and that part of it has been really exciting.  It's made me feel much stronger and a lot more confident.  It certainly helps my commercial work as well as my voice-over work.  Making choices, I feel like that's really, at the end of the day, the most important part of improv, in terms of taking it to another place.  And if you give yourself the same stuff every time, you start to make the same kind of choices, and you get stale.  So I think it's important to just keep playing, and mixing it up.  Keep stirring the pot, and see what comes out. 

What advice can you give to people who may be new to improvisation?

Improvise.  Just do it.  Find opportunities, and create opportunities.  Stay busy.  The more hours you log doing it, the better you're going to get.  Don't expect anything to be handed to you.  Look for how you can apply improv.  Improvisation is a wonderful art form for itself, but I feel like The Second City has prepared me for life beyond it.  It's like college.  If you love college, you want to stay in college, and you'll wither and die in college.  It's the same thing with Second City.  You've got to go through it and do it, and then move on.  I've stayed around the company, but I've been able to do so many different things within it, and I have a life outside it.  The amount of time I spend here is primarily teaching, because I love to pass on my knowledge and my passion for the art form.  I feel like for young improvisors, get a group of friends together, find a space, and just play.  Do it whether you have an audience or not.  Who gives a shit if they're watching?  Make mistakes, break the rules, find out why the rules work.  Discover why "Yes, And" is a necessity.  That would be my advice.

What's your favorite memory of being around The Second City?

It's completely unrelated to doing sketch.  There was an *NSYNC concert.  It was either *NSYNC or Britney Spears, taking place at Comerica Park, which is right across the street from where Second City was on Woodward and Montcalm in Detroit.  Jeff Fritz had a character that he had made that was a very effeminate boy, and I had a retarded character.  And the bit was that I put on a Detroit Tigers baseball cap, and a dress shirt and tie, and a pair of Bermuda shorts and black shoes, and a ball mitt. Fritz had a Britney Spears backpack, and he tied his shirt in a knot around his waist.  Before our show, we went out into the street as people were flooding past to go to the park, and Fritz was trying to buy two scalped tickets for us to go to the Britney Spears concert, and I'm playing this character who's clearly lied to about going to see the Tigers game.  It was a really elaborate sketch that we had set up.  The best part about the whole thing was standing in the middle of fuckin' Woodward in Detroit, asking, "Where is the Tigers game?" to my friend who is trying to buy Britney Spears tickets, looking over at the theater and seeing the rest of our ensemble, screaming, just hollering, like it was the most absurd, horrifying thing.  We really took it to the street, and it was a really crazy moment.  And it had such a full life to it.  That was what made it really fun.  The other was at Second City Cleveland.  The Dixie Chicks had a concert at Gund Arena and they cancelled for some reason.  But everyone was there, so they were all pouring into the street.  Well, I had a Chevy S10 pickup.  So this was literally fifteen minutes before the show started.  We grabbed a bullhorn, Cody and Randall, both performers, jumped in the back of the pickup, and I jumped in the front and drove down Prospect, yelling to the audience that was leaving the Dixie Chicks concert, that if they brought their Dixie Chicks ticket stub in, they'd get half off at The Second City.  And we made it back with three minutes before curtain.  But we got seventeen people.  And it was kind of the most guerrilla thing.  Oddly enough, neither of those things were really performances onstage, but to me, it was about the people I worked with, and the connection we made through the art form that blossomed and redefined performance, in a way.  So those are the two things that stick out.  And falling in love with my wife, getting married, and doing sketch comedy together, because we met at The Second City in Detroit in the touring company.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Marc Warzecha is originally from Detroit, MI and now lives in Los Angeles where he appeared on "MADtv" and "Reno 911!" He has worked with The Second City as an actor, writer, and director, most recently co-writing and directing Can You Be More Pacific? at the Laguna Playhouse. Other recent SC directing credits include SCC's An Evening with Martin Short; BarackStars at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, DC; The Art of Satire, a collaboration with The Economist Magazine; Pratfall of Civilization (The Second City ETC - Joseph Jefferson nominee: "Best Director"); War! Now in it's 4th Smash Year! (Second City Chicago Mainstage- Joseph Jefferson nominee: Best Director, Best Revue, Best Ensemble); and Second City resident shows in Las Vegas and Michigan. Marc served as writer/director for last year's political satire Kwame a River: The Chronicles of Detroit's Hip Hop Mayor, a 2009 Wilde Award nominee for "Best New Script" and its follow-up show Kwame a River 2: The Wrath of Conyers. Marc's work as a satirist has been featured on ABC's Nightline, Newsweek, and in the Washington Post. He has also been a guest on CNN's Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer and NPR's All Things Considered. Marc, along with filmmaker Joel Veenstra, produces the improv documentary series "Improv Legends" which can be found at and on YouTube. Marc also directed "The Best of Second City", which plays Sunday nights at The Second City Hollywood.

Tell us about your experience with Second City. Were there any favorite coaches or teachers that you particularly learned from?

I worked for Second City for a long time. I started in multiple capacities. There used to be a Second City Detroit, and I started there in the late nineties, and I've worked for Second City ever since as an actor, a director, and a writer in Second City Detroit, in Vegas, in Chicago, and now here in Los Angeles. In that amount of time, I've luckily gotten to work with a lot of incredible , unbelievably talented performers and directors. We had great directors in our Detroit shows. Ron West was a great director, Michael Gellman, Dave Razowsky, and Dexter Bullard. I got to learn something different from all those guys, and was directed by Mick Napier in Vegas. You take something away from each person, you learn something different from each person, and I'm grateful to have worked for so many great people.

Can you tell us one of your favorite memories from being around Second City?

Oh, God! [Laughs] It's so hard to think of just one! You know, I think tonight was a lot of fun. This is the first time we've opened a best of Second City show at this location in Hollywood and we've got a fantastic cast, so I think it's been a special night. This theater has existed here for a long time, but this is a new show that we're doing where we get to bring some of our favorite material from The Second City in Chicago and Toronto and perform it here for Los Angeles audiences with Los Angeles actors. So it was really kind of a historical night tonight. Tonight's kind of fun and cool.

Tell us about your first improv show, and how you felt about it.

I was a student at Second City originally, and going through a program very similar to what our Training Center is like now here. I remember loving it, of course, and I also remember being very nervous, too, the first time you're performing in front of an audience. I remember that I mumbled a lot, and put my hands in front of my mouth when I was talking. When I went back and watched the tape of the show, I was like, "I can't do that anymore!" I just lacked basic stage presence, I remember that. But I guess I learned a little bit over time.

How have your improv skills grown since you first started?

Well, you know, I direct now. I rarely improvise anymore. I direct and write and produce. So usually, I'm really rusty when I improvise. [Laughs]

What can you learn when you teach or direct that you can't necessarily learn from being onstage?

It's a completely different job. On opening night, more than any other night, is when I really realize the difference between an actor and a director. For the actor, your whole process builds up to opening night, and the reward is getting to go out there and perform it for the packed house, to get up on stage and do it. For the director on opening night on a new show, you're done. You can't do anything at all. You're finished with your part of the process. So it's a completely different feeling. And honestly, tonight, I stayed and watched the whole show, but I haven't always stayed and watched the full opening nights of shows, because sometimes you're just too nervous, and wander in and out of the theater.

How do you think training at The Second City prepares you for other acting jobs, and life in general?

I think the basic rules of improvisation translate into all art forms and all forms of creativity. They have a lot of business applications as well. One core founding principle of improvisation is a philosophy called "Yes, And." When you're improvising with somebody else, they say something, you say yes to it, and you build upon it. That sensibility of "yes-anding" one another loosens you up creatively and allows you to really have a free flow with creative partners, generate new ideas easily, brainstorm well with others, and work in groups well. I think that all those skills that stem from that core idea of "Yes, And" have applications throughout all art forms, and some business applications, too.

What are some attributes of a strong improvisor?

I think they've got to be energetic. I think they've got to be playful. I think they've got to approach the stage with a sense of playfulness, a sense of joy, and a willingness to support their partners.

Is there a performer or group that you admire, and why?

Sure. There are so many people here that I've really loved, and really love watching on stage. A lot of our great alumni from our stages in Chicago and Toronto perform here in improv shows. These are folks who have been doing improv for 15 or 20 years, and they're absolute masters. I think our "best of" cast tonight is a great, hungry, fun, playful, energetic cast. I've really enjoyed watching them throughout this process.

What advice would you give to people who are new to improvisation?

I would say to go easy on yourself. Be gentle to yourself, and try to have fun. I think the biggest problem that people have when they first start improvising is they feel like they want to knock it all out, and just kill it from the first class. It's not that type of art form. Painters don't paint a masterpiece the first time they ever sit down and put a paintbrush to a canvas. It takes a while. It's a process. It's a creative process. The more loose and easy you can be with yourself, and the more you realize that this is something that takes a long time to get good at, the better off you are.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


As a performer, Frank Caeti toured for The Second City in the National Touring Company for over two years and had the pleasure of traveling to some incredible places including a USO tour for the troops in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Germany. He performed in the resident company in Las Vegas, and wrote two revues for Chicago's e.t.c. stage. Frank graduated from the Second City Conservatory in 1997 and has taught for SC since 2001. He spent two seasons as a ensemble member on the FOX show MADtv. Other tv/film credits include: Reno 911, NCIS, TV Guide Channel Best of, The Lakehouse, Stranger than Fiction, Bad Meat, and over two dozen commercials. He is a founding member of the musical long form Whose Chorus Line is it Anyway? and The Hot Karl. Other theater/improv credits include: ComedySportz Chicago, ImprovOlympic, Bills and Caeti, The Armando Show, iO West, Reverie (2009 Just for Laughs Montreal), Live Bait Theater, Chicago Dramatist's Workshop. In Los Angeles he performs regularly with FrankenMatt and Tres at Second City, Only in LA at UCB, and The Armando Show at iO West. You can see him perform with Matt Craig in American Imperil, Friday nights at 8pm at Second City Hollywood.

Tell us about your experience on MADtv and how your Second City training helped you on the job.

Oh, it helped immensely. Who I am as a performer, and my opinions, my point of view and voice as a writer and performer was shaped entirely at Second City. Translating that to television was a learning experience because it's quite a different medium with a lot of different people to appease or please. But I feel like it prepared me 100%. Obviously, there's a learning curve because there is a difference. There was a big difference in the point of view of the show, and how you fit in in that regard. My training as a student in the training center and then the training I got being a touring company member, and resident company member, was invaluable to that. And frankly, I probably wouldn't have gotten that job if I didn't work for Second City.

Tell us about your very first improv show, and how you felt about it.

It was probably in college. My college didn't have a college improv group, so we put one together. It was when improv was getting bigger, and a lot of college groups were starting. So, I'm going to call that my first improv show, because that's the one I remember. We got it at a local theater in my college town, and I think it went pretty well. We were very enthusiastic. We were doing short form. We had a very, very friendly crowd, but it probably wasn't, in the spectrum of my work, the best work I had done. But it was absolutely fun and enthusiastic, so I feel like it was a success. There were many after those that were absolute failures. And you learn from those and grow. You almost learn more from the ones that suck than the ones that go really well. I always feel like at Second City, we're more apt to go across the street and talk in the bar about the show that went terribly than the one that went really well. If it went really well, we're like, "Yeah, it was a good show." The other one's like, "Oh my God, it was so bad!" So, yeah, it wasn't that bad. I have a fond memory of that first time out.

Can you tell us something that you do now to keep your improv skills sharp?

Just do it as much as possible. I mean, it never has paid the bills, so it's purely for the love of the game. You have to do it. Repetition is a big part of it. I now can be very selective where I do it and who I do it with. I'm very fortunate to have several opportunities to perform in different theaters and stuff, so that's very cool. But I like to do it as much as I can. I don't know if I could do it seven days a week at this point, because I have a family and a life. There was a time when I first got my job at MAD, when I first moved to Los Angeles, where I was so focused on the job that I wasn't improvising, and it had been the longest sustained period that I wasn't improvising since I had become an improvisor. I was very unhappy, because you don't get to control your ideas as much when you're working for a television show as opposed to improv - it's so free. I just try to do it as much as I can. So I consistently do ten shows a month, which probably averages to two or three a week, somewhere around there, which is great. So I kinda feel sharp. Sometimes more than that, sometimes less, but right around there.

Can you give some advice for people who are just starting out in sketch and improv?

Choose a different career. [Laughs] No, no, I would never... I was inspired to do it, I saw it at the Second City, specifically in Chicago, and said, "That's what I want to do. That's it." I'd say you absolutely have to train. Absolutely get as much stage time as you can. Be a wonderful person to work with, with a good attitude. The improvisational world is very welcoming and giving, but sometimes it can seem isolating as well, so make sure you're doing your best and doing your hardest work. But also, the business in general is probably a little bit more difficult than the improv world is, because the improv world is naturally collaborative. It's a pretty nice place to live in. Everybody roots for each other, and that's really a great place to be.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Matthew Craig is a professional improvisor, actor, writer, and director. An alum of The Second City in Chicago, having performed in their Resident Company for over three years on both their Mainstage and their ETC theaters, he spent several years traveling the world with their touring company and has worked for their corporate training division as a writer/performer/instructor/director for over twelve years. His career began at Washington University in St. Louis with the troupe Mama's Pot Roast, and additional theater credits include UCB, the Annoyance, iOWest, Disney Cruise Lines, and Brave New Workshop. Most recently, he works for Norwegian Cruise Lines writing and directing sketch comedy that is performed all over the world, is a current faculty member of the Training Center of iO West in Los Angeles, and performs regularly in his two-man show FrankenMatt and the improv group Mr. Johnson in L.A. and beyond. Check your local listings. Some recent television credits include "The Office" and "According to Jim." He lives in Studio City with his lovely wife Rebecca and his beautiful daughter Phoebe. You can see him perform with Frank Caeti in American Imperil, Friday nights at 8pm at Second City Hollywood.

Tell us about your experience writing for Saturday Night Live, and how your Second City training helped you on the job.

Working at Second City allows you to have an opportunity to create topical scenes from a night-to-night basis where you get to try out new material and get used to dropping in new ideas, changing context of scenes, et cetera, et cetera, so it's all about scene structure and building scenes on the fly, and SNL is clearly a show where they create an entire sketch comedy show week to week to week. You know, I learned how to write primarily through improvisation, and I learned how to improvise, for the most part, from several different theaters in Chicago, and certainly Second City, and working for Second City allows you to kind of hone that craft. So when I'm writing, I write in the same way that I improvise, which is to kind of improvise in my head, alone, as opposed to improvising with others on a stage. And so, through that, you're able to create a writing packet of scenes that kind of reflect your own individual opinion, and from that writing packet, you get hired for a show.

Tell us about your first improv show, and how you felt about it.

I was a bio chem double-major in college and I went to Washington University and I joined an improv group because I wanted something to allow me to have free time and play time outside of my studies, and so my first show was probably a short-form show in Chicago, this was specifically improv, and it's liberating, you know? It the freedom of having this ability to be able to just kind of play in an intellectual and a creative way on stage and create something. Wow, that was a long time ago. But I can easily say that behind my marriage and the birth of my daughter that I think some of my happiest moments have been improvising on stage.

Can you tell us something that you do even today to keep your improv and sketch-writing skills sharp?

You know, I think experience in general is a good thing. I think that I keep getting better, and I say that as humbly as possible, because I had a greater perspective and an understanding of points of view and attitudes from where different people are coming. I have a tendency to be kind of a newspaper dude. I read a lot of newspapers, and to be current on news I enjoy entertainment, movies... You know, Frank and I complement each other in a lot of ways, but the truth of the matter is that I have a pretty good, vast knowledge of a lot of different stuff and reading newspapers and staying on top of stuff is a good way to kind of stay in the vein of thinking fresh and trying out new ideas. Sometimes I date myself when I get onstage, or with some of the stuff that I do, but I literally think... I have two rules, which is always try to play at the top of your intelligence, but a bigger rule to me than that is to have as much fun as possible. The concept of having fun is taking those risks and going out on a limb and trying out ideas, even if you're not always 100% sure of them. New ideas, for me, come from just staying current, and that's across the board. In sports, in entertainment, in politics, and in religion. Whatever's going on, if you have at least a fundamental idea about what it is, you can utilize it toward a greater meaning.

Could you give some advice to people who might just be starting out in improv?

Yeah. Don't be too hard on yourself. You know, I teach a lot of improv, and people get really... It's two-fold. It's either don't be too hard on yourself, or don't try and master it overnight. Again, a lot of it is just having fun, and being in the moment, and being truthful to that moment, and so my advice is go out, have fun, meet people, get ingratiated with the community in a way that allows you to kind of find a supportive environment where you get to kind of play around with each other, and that's the main idea that I always feel like I try to impart on my new students. I've been doing improv for almost twenty years now, and I haven't mastered every aspect of it, and I think, to a certain extent, that's the idea behind it. It will grow with you, and how you want to do it, and it's a real ethereal art form. So I would just say, try to take as many risks as possible, and play at the height of your intelligence, but also, don't beat yourself up over it. You know, I know lots of great improvisors that have off nights, and my feeling about an off night is, it means that a better one is around the corner, and if you succeeded 100% of the time, there would be no engaging challenge to it, and that's one of the things that's fun about it, so keep at it. That's my advice. Keep at it.

Monday, January 23, 2012


We recently interviewed George Caleodis of Second City This Week. George Pete Caleodis was born and raised in Steubenville, Ohio, and attended The Ohio State University, earning a Master of Science degree in Mathematics. He is a main-stage alum of The (short-lived) Second City, Cleveland, and currently serves as an instructor of improv/sketch writing/musical improv at The Second City training center in Los Angeles, as well as musical director at iO West. In addition to his televesion credits, which include appearing on Starz Network's "Party Down", and HBO's "Big Love", George has spent much of the last 15 years as a radio DJ and stand-up comic - opening for the likes of Kathleen Madigan, Frank Caliendo, and The Righteous Brothers. He especially enjoys teaching workshops on teambuilding, communications skills, and creativity through improv for corporate clients like Nationwide Insurance, Victoria's Secret, and Columbus State Community College. Second City This Week plays every Saturday night at 8pm at Second City Hollywood.

Tell us about Second City This Week, your role in it, and your experience with it.

Second City This Week is a topical one-hour sketch show. It's the week's news done as a sketch revue. So it's sort of a hybrid of "Saturday Night Live" and "The Daily Show". It's done in sort of a traditional old-school style, it's got flavors of "The Carol Burnett Show" in it, but it's done in the classic Second City style. Everything's very grounded. Not to say it doesn't get silly, but it all starts off very grounded, and it's based on emotional truth, rather than wacky sorts of premises. I am the producer, meaning I got the ball rolling, but the sustaining work requires hundreds, even thousands of man-hours every week. We've got about twenty-five cast members, we've got about two hundred writers from across the country, and we've got, of course, all of the support staff here at Second City Hollywood, and of course our director and managing editor, Ron West, who, most weeks, directs the show and puts the show together. So I'm sort of the goalie of the show - my job is to keep everything in play as much as possible.

You're an alumnus of Second City Cleveland. Can you tell us a bit about your experience with Second City?

I had a great time in Cleveland. I went to the conservatory there. I was part of the first conservatory class in Cleveland. I went on to teach, and then I auditioned for the mainstage, and I was one of the fortunate folks to be in that first mainstage cast of The Second City Cleveland. I did that stint for about a year, and then the Second City Cleveland was around for about another year before, sadly, they shut down. But it was a ball, I mean, it was great fun. It was exactly what Cleveland needed. It was exactly what Ohio needed. It was exactly what improv needed, and it was a great thing, I think, for Second City to have done, which was to get out there in the Midwest at the same time that, you know... Drew Carey had fully taken off at that point, but at the time he was doing that, Second City was also making parallel inroads outside of Chicago. It was a great time, it was a great time to be in Cleveland, it was a great time to be with Second City. I had a ball. I still look back on those days fondly.

Tell us about your first improv show and how you felt about it.

My first improv show was accompanying a group called Midwest Comedy Tool and Die in Columbus, Ohio at a biker bar in the less-desirable section of town. I was just a keyboard accompanist at that point. And that's actually how I got here. I was pre-med at the time. I was on the road to med school, and I was a big fan of this improv comedy, and I was also an aspiring musician, and one day I stapling up flyers looking for a rhythm section because I had lost my bass player and drummer, and I saw that MCTD was looking for musicians, and I auditioned and got the gig. So my first improv show was just playing keyboards accompanying short-form. And man, the first laugh I got... it's the strongest narcotic in the world. I mean, I'd be a doctor today if it wasn't for that first laugh at that hole-in-the-wall biker bar in Columbus, Ohio.

Is there a certain performer or troupe that you admire, and why do you admire them?

Everyone's supposed to say Carlin, 'cause he's like... and I do, I admire Carlin. I grew up listening to those classics. Not classics, but like, eighties classics. I'm a child of the eighties. So I grew up listening to Steve Martin, Cheech & Chong, even Cosby and The Smothers Brothers. Bob & Doug McKenzie, you know what I mean? I had The Great White North on vinyl. So those eighties comics, right before the time when you could turn on your television and watch stand-up comedy, and sketch comedy back then was "The Carol Burnett Show", "Saturday Night Live", The Mighty Carson Art Players, those kinds of things. So if you really wanted to see what was going on in comedy, you had to leave your house. You had to go to a club. And that was the last of that era. And that's when I grew up, so the people in that era are the ones that were my biggest influences.

What do you do to keep your improv and sketch skills sharp?

Teaching. You learn more in a week of teaching than you learn in years of performing. So I teach here for Second City Hollywood. I also do some teaching at some of the other theaters in town. And I play in as many shows as I can, and of course I perform with Second City This Week and I do improv as much as possible. But being with students of all levels, conservatory right down to beginners, advanced master classes, all the way down to people doing it for the fist time. Teaching has taught me more than I could ever hope to have learned otherwise.

Can you give some advice to people who may just be starting out in improv?

Just do it. You don't need anyone's permission. You know what I mean? Just do it. Make it happen. Don't wait for somebody to tell you it's okay. Put together a troupe, and go perform somewhere. Call your friends, and play in somebody's basement. There are lots of systems and institutions like Second City which are great places to come and learn, but ultimately, it's up to you to make it for yourself. So come to Second City, take classes, experience the art form in other theaters and other places, but when it comes down to it, you're in charge of what you do. So if you want to do this work, do this work.

How do you feel your improv training has helped you in other acting jobs, and life in general?

I'd be dead right now if it weren't for improv. I was wound so tightly growing up, and even in college. If I hadn't discovered improv, I would have had a heart attack and died by now. It's got a spiritual component to it that is invaluable. More directly, it applies to any type of acting work you do. Acting is all about being in the moment, committing to the moment, and experiencing the truth of that moment. Right? And improv teaches you how to do that in spades. It might be focused in a comedic direction, or it might be focused in some other direction, but ultimately the core of what improv is, it is acting, and it is just living, and just being a human being. Improvising is being a human being, so learning more about it means learning more about what it is to be here and why we're here.

Monday, December 5, 2011


This week, we feature an interview with Ron West, the Director and Managing Editor of Second City This Week. Ron West has been with The Second City for a long time. He has directed shows in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Los Angeles. He was a consultant to "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" and appeared on "Third Rock From the Sun". His play The People vs. Friar Laurence is available from Samuel French. He throws right and bats right & left. You can see Second City This Week Saturdays at 8pm in the Second City Hollywood Theater.

Please share your experience studying sketch/improv.

That's too long of a story with no beginning and no end. I had an improv group in college, as is required of all undergraduate students. I studied improv informally for a about a year and a half in Chicago. My loud voice made me eminently qualified for sketch and improv because sometimes you have to shout over loud bar patrons. I am still learning now, and I've always learned more from when it went badly than from when it went well.

Were there any coaches or teachers you particularly learned from?

My primary teachers were Don DePollo, Michael Gellman, Rick Thomas, and Del Close. I learned a lot from Bernie Sahlins, too, though I don't think I ever took a class from him. I'm not sure who first said, "Say yes and make statements when improvising," but a lot of times all I do is go through the script and take out "no" and the questions.

Do you have some memorable Second City moments?

Yes. A few times I've improvised or watched an improvisation and said, "Well, that was very good," we rehearsed it for an hour the next day and then had a sketch we were able to repeat 6 nights a week for a year. A few times I've seen something that was terrible but rethinking it made it a fun, repeatable sketch. And one time we didn't have any material and God sent a lightning bolt and created a scene and I cried with joy.

Tell us about your first improv/sketch show. How did you feel about it?

It was the funniest show ever. Everything went perfectly. People confined to wheelchairs were healed. The second show was not as good.

How do you feel your improv/sketch work has grown since you started?

It has gotten taller.

How do you think improv and sketch compare?

In improv you have to follower the follower. In sketch, at least one of you has to be able to type.

What are some of the exciting aspects of each one?

In improv, it is usually best if you work slowly. You get a lot of laughs off you and the audience making discoveries at the same time. In sketches, it is usually best if you talk loud and fast and worry about the art later. I think sometimes people see sketches and then try to emulate sketches in their improv. The best improvs and best sketches have the fewest jokes.

How do you feel your improv/sketch training helps you in other acting jobs, or just life in general?

Improv and sketch teach you to make instant choices. And when the producer or director says, "Make another choice," the improviser can do so easily. Improv has not helped me in my life in general because whenever anyone asks, "Can you give me $5?" I agree to do so and so I am broke.

What do you think are the most important attributes of a strong improvisor?

Able improvisers listen instead of talking so much. They make their scene partners look good. Their scenes have some kind of physical center and it doesn't seem like they are merely trying to shout as many jokes as possible.

Is there a certain performer or group that you really admire? What do you admire about them?

Maybe you've heard of this group called Monty Python's Flying Circus. I admire that they became rich.

Is there something that you do even now to keep your improv/sketch skills sharp?

I always wear a sport jacket or suit on stage.

Do you have some advice for people who may just be starting their improv/sketch training?

Tell the truth.