It is nearing the end of 2018 and what we like to do here on The Phoenix Remix is celebrate the world of improv and what a year it has been! There has been so many great acts and shows this year and it has been really hard to decide who to interview for our mini awards that we hold at the end of the year. So on the run up to new year we will have a couple of exclusive interviews with some of the best acts that we have had the privilege of seeing or listening to this year.
When I thought about this award there was only one name that came to mind, he has moved to the UK in recent months but in that time his name has become a household and even been ‘on tour!’ If you do not know the name already then let me introduce you to The New Kid On The Improv Block – David Escobedo
Hello David you have won the award for New Kid on the Improv Block how do you feel?
I think any award is really defined by the people who receive it. Any company can title any award and put any words behind it – but once you see the scope of recipients you understand the true value of the award. Did the recipients buy the award (like the Hollywood Walk of Fame)? Or did they network to get there like a popularity contest (like the Oscars)? How do I feel? I hope that I contribute to the credibility of everyone who has received the NKOTIB award before me, and everyone who will receive after me. I hope I have the right stuff and I hope that you will see me years later hangin tough.
(Editors Note: I felt I had to add the music videos due to all the puns! It would not be right otherwise!!)
You have recently moved from LA – how did that come about?
It’s been my wife’s dream to live in another country. And if we were going to do it, now was the best time. We didn’t have kids, we both were at a spot in our careers where we ready for something new, and we also didn’t have huge responsibilities to keep us in Los Angeles. Also, my wife had never gotten her undergrad. So a portion of this decision was to support my wife in her career and dreams. We were considering Germany, New Zealand and England as places to move to.
We completely loved the scholastic programs at the University of Chester. She is pursuing one of her passions which is travel, by going for a degree in Travel/Tourism. I loved the self-motivated nature of the UoC MA Drama program and I knew I wanted to do something improv related. My teachers, Dr. Julian Waite and Dr. Brian Desmond, are extremely supportive in my improv projects and my Harry Potter inspired improv workshops, Mischief Managed Improv.
One of the biggest deal breakers in moving … I had to bring my cats. We rescued them from NKLA (No Kill, Los Angeles) which is a great animal rescue organization in Los Angeles. They are brothers and I’m glad we could rescue them together. So wherever we moved, one of my deal breakers was: if we couldn’t bring our cats/afford to bring them, then I wasn’t moving there. But it all worked out. Our cats, Pride and Sydney are now ExPat cats.
What other Improv troupes are you a fan of and why?
I haven’t seen a ton in England. Mainly because the city of Chester doesn’t have any, and I’ve only been here for 2 months. So between moving my whole life overseas and the reading/requirements for my MA Program I haven’t been able to see improv abroad. But I just booked this small December tour that will take me to MissImp in Nottingham, Fat Penguin in Birmingham, Liverpool Improv Comedy in Liverpool, and The Same Faces in Leicester. This means within a couple weeks I’ll be able to see a nice slice of shows in England.
As far as before my move I am a big fan of Lucy – which just disbanded a couple months ago. They had some TREMENDOUS improv talent on there, Amey Goerlich, Jay Sukow, Sam E. Mark, Joey Greer … and more. I loved how they took their time in scenes. Some would begin in silence and they would just play with confidence. Something will happen.
If you do the core: specifics, you are an expert, and accept everything … a mistake will happen. 100% of the time. 110% of the time. Because nobody is an expert in everything and if you use specifics not only will you now know the specifics but you will run out of them. And Lucy was great at this. Small mistakes were capitalized on and became pivotal to the show.
I remember seeing a show of theirs at UCB in Hollywood. The scene was at a winery, and Jay Sukow as playing a really wine tasting and trying to sell wine. Jay offered wine to Amey Goerlich and out of sheer instinct of being offered something she held her hands out. You could see her withdraw them for a half second because she didn’t mean to (she should’ve gotten a glass) but Jay saw this mistake as a gift and the whole bit was now about being at realistic wine tasting, but you have to drink it with your hands. OMG! HILARIOUS. The important part was the realism set up the absurdity. Another important element was that Amey didn’t introduce a “clever bit.” It was just a mistake. The whole team was confident and knew they would get there.
Another team I love is Improv Famous – but this is an easy slam dunk. It’s basically a rotating cast of people in Los Angeles that are famous in improv (Craig Cackowski, Jay Sukow, Bill Chott, David Razowsky, Jamie Moyer, Amanda Blake Davis, etc.) and they do an Armando. Basically, it’s an All-Star improv team.
To mention a few other improv teams I like back in Los Angeles:
The Show That Shall Not Be Named – a Harry Potter Team that does some great sets at Revolution Theatre.
Funny People Society – a comedy club that does some great experimental improv in Fullerton. Run by a great, great guy, Shane Geller.
Opening Night – OMG, one of the best improv shows I’ve ever seen. They improvise musicals, and they used to be regular performers at iO West but it’s gone now.
Quartet – with Bob Dasse, Craig Cackowski, Jean Villepique and Jack McBrayer. Sometimes their cast changed. But they were great at being calm at first and setting up realistic worlds/characters and something will happen. There will be a pivot point or character and the whole world would evolve because of that.
Air Force Fun – a cast with diverse styles, but their ensemble work is extraordinary.
How did you get into improv?
I began doing improv in 1995. I had an incredible drama teacher in High School, who I have kept in contact with to this day, where she used a lot of improv to teach drama (listening, presence, voice, etc). After high school I just said to my drama friends “hey, I really enjoy this. Let’s keep doing this!” So we would meet in my parent’s garage and do improv short form. Which lead to us doing shows at a local coffee house for fun.
One thing lead to another and that team, The ORPHANS, ran for 13 years. We performed all over California. And at this time, in the late 90’s, there was not a lot of improv. Especially where I was. There was only “Who’s Line Is It Anyways?” and that was on at 1:00AM on Tuesdays. I had to research games and take random workshops. I had to not only learn improv, but teach others as I was learning. We invented a lot of games so we had to understand why a gimmick/scene worked so that we could evolve that into another game. I didn’t understand till later, that doing this is a tremendous amount of analysis.
What are your plans for 2019?
I would like to start touring my Harry Potter Improv Team, which doesn’t exist at this moment. It’s just a workshop. I would also like to invite a couple improv teams out to Chester to perform and so I can film them for social media. My improv team in Los Angeles, The Wretched Hive Improv, would get like 17,000 views for the improv shows I would produce online through Boost Improv would get 10,000 views. I would like to have them out to give them visibility but also bring more improv awareness to Chester. The more we support each other the bigger audience there will be next time.
I also want to begin running some improv short form workshops. I think it’s so popular and people really enjoy it. I also want to guest as an improv performer on some long form teams in England.
You are a big name on social media – tell us about your ventures and how did they all come about?
Thank you. I appreciate the nod, and it’s been a lot of work. I wasn’t really big into social media until I met Tom Hall. Tom Hall is a social media magnet. He has over 570K followers on Twitter and is just a giant. We met in person (I didn’t know what he did) and we talked.
It’s funny because he has been my mentor for years, and he says that I’m not the first person he’s mentored but I’m the first person who actually did what he recommended. It’s funny. You can give people these tips and tell them the steps (and it is work) and they may do it for a month or a couple weeks, but then they stop. People just want to be instantly famous.
Most people don’t realize that a “viral video/image” doesn’t get instantly famous because it’s clever. Something goes viral because some big influencer picked it up, and THEIR hard work in having followers is what pays off. Going viral is about knowing influencers or getting their attention. Not about just creating content. Most companies hire “social media managers” that just create content but don’t know anything about building a community or following. I’m planning on doing some online social media workshops coming up in March. Maybe people would be interested in that?
How do you manage to receive so many followers?
I think people are looking for the “Silver Bullet.” Or that one step they can do once to make it happen. It’s not that way. It’s a bunch of tips over the course of time. Many times I’m leveraging a network I’ve established or working daily on something, while other people sleep.
Each platform has a different chemistry. Like my mentor Tom Hall told me, “pick one social media platform and understand that.” So I picked Twitter and worked on it for about 2 years. In the last year I’ve picked up Facebook, and I’m just starting to toy with Instagram. The tough thing is that each social media is organic. They are all different one another and they are always changing – Twitter changed its word count, Facebook added stories to compete with Instagram, periscope was absorbed by Twitter, snapchat was HUGE but is dissolving.
There is no “one answer” because the landscape changes all the time. I will say one thing that will help? Be a part of the conversation. So many improv teams just post events about their shows and that’s it. You need to share posts from other improv teams (YES! Improv teams are not competing with one another. Improv teams are competing with Netflix, and staying inside during cold weather. A high tide raises all boats!) and other similar artists and comment on their posts and LIKE them. Converse, and support other teams.
We are all one improv team it’s called “HUMANITY.” And the more we support each other, the more interest/education there will be about improv for everybody.
Tell us all about how 2018 has been for you?
Wow. Trump, moving, my job in Los Angeles, going for my MA … soft pass.
What has been some of your highlights of the shows you have been a part of this year?
– OMG. I have to mention my Star Wars Improv Team. The last show I did. I did a scene edit, and when someone from the last team exiting stage they tripped and said “shit.” I knew I wanted to be in a forest, but I come from “don’t ignore anything and say yes to everything.” So I quickly remarked “the Profanity Forest feels unsettled tonight…” And it was AWESOME. It got a good laugh, and then the backline would hauntingly whisper out profanity as if the forest was speaking in these ghostlike tones.
I also had the TREMENDOUS honor of performing with Improv Famous. Which was just a dazzling moment in my career. I’m also looking forward to this improv tour of England!
Also, earlier this year I was able to share the stage at Hoopla with some INCREDIBLE improv talent from around the world. I feel truly blessed. I think my scene with Katy Schutter was a career highlight for me this year.
I have really enjoyed meeting some improv leaders in the UK like Tom You, Emma Bird, Liam Webber, Neil Curran and Ben Hall. I can’t wait to share the stage with them.