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.