Twenty five years is a long time for anyone well, the Tennessee based improv troupe Einstein Simplified, have reach a huge landmark as a team and are celebrating this quarter of a century of being together as a troupe. I caught up with Frank Murphy of the team to find out how they plan to celebrate such a landmark on August the 24th at Scruffy City Hall!
Hello tell us all about who you all are and a little bit about yourselves?
In addition to founding member Paul Simmons, the current Einstein Simplified line-up includes Frank Murphy (joined in 2002), Dave Fennell (joined in 2005), Greg Huff (joined in 2005), Aaron Littleton (joined in 2010), and Jessica Brackeen (joined in 2019).
We all have day jobs. Paul is a computer programmer, Dave is an auto mechanic, Greg is a commercial video producer, Aaron does IT for a utility company, Jessica works at a school for the deaf, and I (Frank) am a radio and TV host.
Speaking for myself, I am surprised that so few of my friends and colleagues in broadcasting try improv. I think of improv as the “secret sauce” that makes it possible for me to do my radio job and my three or four side-hustles.
How did the show come about?
About a year ago we started talking about doing something special for the troupe’s 25th anniversary. We decided to have two shows on a Saturday night and to invite former members to perform with us. We had done something special for the troupe’s 10th anniversary, which was in 2004, before all but two of our current members had joined.
As we started planning, filmmaker John Hudgens decided to record a documentary about comedy improv, using the lead-up to our 25th anniversary as the thread to tell the story. You can watch some videos he’s posted
How did your troupe form?
Einstein Simplified was founded in August, 1994 after several funny people took an improv class from David Alley, artist-in-residence and faculty member at the University of Tennessee. One of the original members, Paul Simmons, is still a member of the troupe and has been designated as its chairperson.
Tell us a little bit about the shows that are happening this week?
Einstein Simplified will celebrate its 25th anniversary with two special shows at Scruffy City Hall on Saturday, August 24. Showtimes are 7:00 and 9:00 p.m. The 7:00 p.m. show will mostly consist of guest appearances by former troupe members.
City, county, state and federal officials will commemorate Einstein Simplified’s 25th anniversary with proclamations to be presented on-stage at the start of the 7:00 p.m. show on Saturday, August 24.
25 years as a troupe congratulations!!!! What have been some of your highlights?
Having a show every week (with a very few exceptions) is a highlight itself. We’re proud of our involvement in every year of the annual Gatlinburg Improv Fest. We’ve had memorable “road gigs” at a drug rehab facility and at an Elks Lodge.
What’s the secret to staying together for so long?
I think most of us in the troupe feel like we “need” to do improv and we’re reluctant to miss a show. When you see the performance as a gift rather than an obligation, it’s pretty easy to stick together and get over the typical disagreements that plague every rock band, church choir, etc.
Tell us about the comedy scene in Tennessee?
Knoxville is in East Tennessee. During the nearby annual Gatlinburg Improv Fest, we get to meet and watch troupes from Nashville, Greeneville, Murfreesboro, and Knoxville.
The traditional stand-up comedy club that was in Knoxville closed about five years ago. However, there is a comedy show somewhere around town every night of the week. There are several open mics and several local promoters who bring in regional talent. Some of the bigger names will show up at the Bijou Theatre or the Tennessee Theatre.
The University of Tennessee has two student improv groups, one long-form and one short-form. Some of the local high schools have improv groups.
What improv styles do you think are most underrated?
I think “Whose Line” propelled short-form comedy improv to fame but the style I see at festivals is mostly UCB-inspired long form. Einstein Simplified has more in common with “Whose Line” and “ComedySportz” than with long-form. I looked into applying for the Del Close Marathon a couple of years ago but they weren’t accepting submissions from short form groups. Despite the enormous success of “Whose Line,” I think the swinging pendulum currently underrates short form.
What’s your most memorable character that you have created in stage?
That’s a hard question because I usually forget each scene pretty quickly in order to switch to a new game and new character in the same show.
I especially like guessing games that are a variation on “Party Quirks.” I had a fun time playing an imbecile monarch trying to guess what the members of his “King’s Court” wanted from him. My wife reminded me of a time I played a weird vampire in a guessing game called “Hitchhiker.”
In 25 years what has been your favourite suggestion you have got from the audience?
Sometimes adults try to hard to give us outrageous or dirty suggestions, not realizing we’ve heard them before. When we ask a bunch of adults to suggest an animal, we often get aardvark, three-toed sloth, koala, etc. A bunch of kids will give you animals you’ve never had to improvise before. They might say chihuahua, squirrel, or stegosaurus. One of my favorite suggestions in “Performance Art” was “onion.” I went off for several minutes on the nastiness of raw onions but the deliciousness of cooked onions.
What advice would you give for people thinking about starting an improv troupe themselves?
Assuming you have already taken a class and read some books about improv, find your tribe and start performing. You don’t have to buy a theater or make any money. Just perform at any venue that will have you. If you love it, keep doing it.
What is the best thing about a night at your show for the audience?
Admission is free, although we do pass a tip jar at the end. We have a lot of regulars and semi-regulars in the audience each week. Some of the most amazing compliments come from tourists and business travelers who wander in after seeing our sandwich board out front or seeing a listing online. We’ve had people from much bigger cities say they were thrilled at how our show exceeded their expectations.
I also love that local folks with an interest in the performing arts will come see us on their night off. Troupe members have gotten gigs in comedic videos for MoonPie and Pilot Flying J because employees of their ad agencies have come to our shows.
If people want to find out more about you, where can they follow you on social media?
And Finally in three words – Why should people come and see the show?
Listen! Accept! Support!
QUICK FIRE ROUND
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
One time a deejay who called himself George McFly invited some co-workers over to his home in Los Angeles. He scrounged around for something to offer us and eventually gave us Doritos as he cooked a rabbit on the outdoor grill. I think I ate its leg. We stopped at a restaurant on the way home.
If you could trade lives with anyone for a day, who would it be and why?
This is a tough question. I thought about picking an historical figure but I don’t want to give up indoor plumbing for a day. I also thought about picking an insanely wealthy person and then giving the other me a steady retirement income. I have always struggled with hypothetical questions.
What would your autobiography be called?
Because of the titles of some radio shows I’ve done, I would call it “The Diary of …and Frank.” (Too soon?)
What is the most delightful word you can think of?
The honest answer is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho but I should probably say something safer like Back to the Future.
Who is your comedy hero and why?
The radio duo “Bob and Ray” because of their deadpan style and their mockery of broadcasting styles.
What is your favorite movie quote?
“Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops.” from Arsenic and Old Lace
If you could be any flavour of ice cream what would it be and why?
As a kid I would have said Rocky Road but now I would say Salted Caramel. My biggest fear would be that I would be unable to resist the temptation to eat my arms off.
Currently watching on Netflix?
I like Netflix but two of my favorite current series are on Amazon Prime: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Mozart in the Jungle