It is Podcast Month which means that we will be bringing you all the fun shows you should be carrying around in your back pocket on a phone or a walkman. Today we speak to a podcast that is recorded in Rhode Island, it is an improv based podcast which gives you a peek into what is is like to be an improviser with interviews with some of the best in the industry. I caught up with the host Clayton Michaud to find out more about the show.
Hello Clayton, Can you tell us a little bit about the team behind Improv Town?
Improv Town is all me, Clayton Michaud. I have a guest that I’m interviewing, but other than that I’m responsible for everything else. Sometimes people will give me feedback about editing before I post the final version of an episode if I’m worried about the quality, but even then, I’m usually too impatient and post it before they even listen.
If I could have any sort of support staff, it would honestly just be someone to record the introductions to each episode. I don’t know why, but for some reason it ends up taking me longer to record a 60 second intro than it does to set up, record, edit, and master a 60 minute interview.
“It’s a great privilege to be an interviewer, because I get to ask about the things I want to know more about and these experts tell me everything they know for free…” – Clayton Michaud, Improv Town Podcast
What is the show all about?
Basically I just interview improvisers who I think are great about the specific skills I think they’re great at. It’s super inside baseball (is that an expression you guys use on that side of the pond?). Anyway, it’s usually an hour-long conversation about a pretty specific topic, but of course we go on lots of tangents. Sometimes I surprised how long the conversations go on for, given each episode’s fairly narrow scope.
Originally it was going to be mostly local improvisers, but I’ve gotten lucky enough to interview lots of great improvisers from around the world thanks to various improv fests and workshops.
How did the podcast come about?
I actually got into improv via podcasts – things like Improv4Humans with Matt Besser and Spontaneanation with Paul F. Tompkins. I had been to a few improv shows in the past and of course I had grown up watching Whose Line is it Anyway?, but it was really podcasts that got me super interested in the art form. Cut to a few years later, I had taken tons of classes, studied at Second City, was performing all the time but I still thought it would be cool to do an improv podcast but I always put it off because doing a podcast where you actually DO improv seemed like more of a coordination issue than I wanted to deal with, and probably still wasn’t confident enough about my improv skills to record them for posterity.
It occurred to me though that I knew a lot of great improvisers who each had some specific skill that I thought made them great, whether it was object work/physicality, or character work, etc., and that it would probably be pretty easy to do a podcast where I just interviewed those people about that skill. And so basically to make myself go through with it before I could chicken out or slack off, I just emailed all of those people, asking them if I could interview them. And then I figured once I did a few, it would be embarrassing to stop out of laziness. Then I got even lucky because the Ocean State Improv Fest was going on right when I was starting, so I got to interview great people like PGraph at that, so that helped it start off with a bang.
How do you decide what each of the episodes are about?
It depends entirely on who the guest is and what I want to learn from them. If it’s someone who has a lot of skills, I might ask them if there’s anything specific they’re interested in talking about but usually, like I said, there is something I wish I could do as well as them, and I’m trying to get them tell me all about it.
It’s a great privilege to be an interviewer, because I get to ask about the things I want to know more about and these experts tell me everything they know for free, whereas if I were to ask them the same questions at the bar after a show, I doubt I’d get the same level of in-depth information. Or even better, I just get to have conversations with people that I would otherwise never get to have conversations with because they’re legends, like Dave Razowsky for instance. That’s actually the only episode where I didn’t have any topic in mind, but I know he has the gift of gab and that everything that comes out of his mouth is brilliant so I wasn’t worried.
What sort of styles of improv do you explore on your show?
I’m down to explore anything, really. There are episodes about long-form narrative, with another episode just about improvised full-length murder mysteries. There’s an episode about musical improv where we talk about both short-form and long-form structures. There definitely tends to be more focus on long-form of all styles than short-form, but that hasn’t necessarily been intentional. And then there are episodes about off-stage improv topics, for example I did one with Tim Thibodeau who runs the Providence Improv Fest about starting and running improv festivals, there’s a recent episode specifically about teaching Improv 101, and then next week I’m interviewing the ladies from Wagehouse about starting your own improv theater.
What have been some of your favourite highlights of past podcasts?
Getting to interview Dave Razowksy was definitely one of my favourite moments, because I have admired him and listened to his podcast for years. He studied with Del and was the artistic director of Second City Hollywood for 11 years, and in my eyes, he’s basically the guru of improv. My conversation with PGraph was also super fun even though I was unaware of how big of a deal they were at the time. I really enjoyed my conversation with Tim Thibodeau that ended up lasting over two hours and had be broken into two episodes. It’s also exciting when I end up learning even more than I expected, which is what happened in my interview with Tim Mahoney about teaching Improv 101.
What are your aims for your podcast in 2018?
Basically just to get more listeners and put out more good episodes with awesome guests.
How do you decide who to have as a guest on each show?
When I first came up with the idea for the podcast, I wrote out a list of all the people I knew who I wanted to have on, so there’s that. Like I said, it’s basically just improvisers I think are great and who I think have something they can teach the listeners and me. I might also just be having a great conversation with someone about a specific improv topic and decide, hey, we should do an episode on this. As far as non-local guests, it’s usually a matter of who is at the festivals I happen to be at, or who is in the area doing a workshop. Then, assuming I’ve planned ahead enough, I ask them and they say ‘yes and’ because they are improvisers and improvisers are nice like that.
What make you different to other podcasts out there?
Probably the level of detail that we go into in our conversations, and how fun and casual all the conversation are. I think the episodes would still be enjoyable even if you weren’t into improv at all. Also, there are episodes about topics that I don’t think get covered in other podcasts about improv.
Who would be your dream guest to appear and why?
Miles Stroth because he is my favorite improv theorist. It would have been a tie between Miles and Dave Razowksy, but Dave was nice enough to let me interview him when I took a workshop with him in Boston. Runners up would be Charna Halpern, Ian Roberts, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh, Susan Messing, Rachel Mason, Paul F. Tompkins, Brian O’Connell…plus lots of others.
What other podcasts are you a fan of and why?
I find that lately I’ve been enjoying podcasts about improv more than improv podcasts. My favorites are ADD Comedy with David Razowsky, Improv Obsession, and the One Night Only Podcast with Miles Stroth. The Meat Improv is a good one actually does improv. I also really like Brains On, which is a science podcast for kids…
Are there any plans or have there been any live versions of your show?
Not to date. I tend not to like live podcast episodes because the quality is always super poor. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do one, but I’m in no rush to.
What advice would you give for people thinking about starting a podcast?
First, there’s no reason not to. There is literally no down side. The worst that can happen is you waste your time.
As far as practical advice, start with something you know is manageable. Buy a decent microphone. Don’t waste money on software (I use audacity, which is free and does everything I need). Check the levels before you start recording.
You are based in Rhode Island – what is the improv scene like there?
It’s surprisingly great for such a small state. Where I live, there are four improv theaters all within half an hour or so. The Providence Improv Guild and Wagehouse both do “Chicago style” long-form, then the Contemporary Theater Company in Wakefield does Johnstonian stuff, so they do short-form formats like Maestro and Theatersports, but then they also do full-length improvised plays, and then the Bit Players do Whose Line? style short-form in Newport. We also have the Providence Improv Fest in October and the Ocean State Improv Festival in late June/early July every year.
For anyone who wants to do Improv in Rhode Island where can they train?
If you want to train in the Del Close tradition (UCB, iO) then you can take classes at the Providence Improv Guild, or at Wagehouse in Pawtucket. If you prefer the Keith Johnstone tradition (Loose Moose, Impro) or just want to do more short-form, you can take classes at the Contemporary Theater Company down in Wakefield.
If people want to find out more about you or your show where can they find you on social media?
Check out our facebook page at facebook.com/improvtownpodcast. I love hearing from listeners, so don’t hesitate to message me.
I am also on Twitter @improvtown
In three words why should people listen to your show?
Funny, insightful conversations.