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.