This month we are very excited to be able to sit down with David Escobedo of The Improv Boost to talk everything about the comedy art form! Over the next few weeks we will talk about everything from performance to writing impro books! Today we talk about how David started in Improv, inspirations and unusual suggestions.
Hello David tell us about yourself?
Hi, nice to meet you (you the person reading this). I’m David. I’m from San Diego, but did some acting in Los Angeles. I lived there for 14+ years and improv classes at IO, Second City, Westside Comedy, Spectacles, and a few other places. I was on the TV Shows ER, Crossing Jordan, Roswell … but at a time when imdb was run by agents, so I couldn’t put my own credits on there. So, I don’t which episodes I’m on.
In Rosewell, I played a special agent that broke into the auditorium AND someone sitting in the auditorium that the special agents break into. Some of my biggest influences in improv are Jay Sukow, Liz Allen, Michelle Gilliam, Vanessa Anton, and Paul Vaillancourt just to name a few. Liam Webber, Maggie Nolan and David Elliott to name a couple more.
I now live in the UK going for my PhD in Drama and I’m studying improv. I also own two cats, one of which has markings on his face which trigger facial recognition, so sometimes I take pictures of him with snapchat filters.
Tell us who you are and three random facts about yourself!
Sweet baby Jesus, I think just did that. Three random facts: I’m 5’11. My favorite on Star Trek the Next Generation is Data. I used to be really good at badminton.
How did you get into improv?
I watched one of my friends in a play, and I was like “I can do that.” So, I took Drama in high school. My teacher, Monica Ianessa, taught us acting through improv. I enjoyed it so much I would invite people over to my house to JUST do the improv exercises … it sort of took off from there. We became a team, the ORPHANS. The team ran for 13+ years and we performed at the LA Comedy Store and several bars around Southern California that are now closed. I started when I was 18, so I was performing in bars when I wasn’t old enough to drink. It builds these muscles of how to deal with drunk hecklers, and although I want to protect people from that bad environment, at the same time it really builds some powerful improv skills.
How long have you been improvising?
YEESH. About 28 years? Not only performing but coaching. When we were doing improv in my garage, I was guiding them and explaining the games – not knowing I was.
What inspired you to start improv?
I just thought it was fun. I think that’s why a lot of us stay. We think it’s fun and we get to meet good people. Politics and “making money” cause us to make poor decisions in improv.
What was some of the first improv teams you were a part of?
I started my first improv team when I was 18. That was the ORPHANS. I also started a street performance team called the Squatters. That was incredible We broke into a Christmas Day Parade. We protested “nothing” and replaced popular protest slogans with the word “nothing.” We made signs that said “Down With Nothing” and “Keep Nothing Out Of Our Schools.” I also remember in college, I was directing two improv teams. A teacher there decided to start their own improv team. He wanted to “go to lunch” so I went and it was very nice, because he wanted to let me know he wasn’t trying to step on my toes. I told him I didn’t think so and I wanted to be a part of his team!
I went to one rehearsal, and I was laughing and supporting and having fun – I was excited that I could just show up and not have to direct anything! He wasn’t asking for my advice or thoughts on anything, but I didn’t care. I could just be a player. About ¾’s of the way through the rehearsal he asked that we all take a break … and then he asked to talk to me outside. I thought maybe he was going to ask me for some advice on short form games I knew. So, we went outside. I told him how much fun I was having. He started asking me these open-ended questions that sounded really dramatic. Like in reality they seemed extreme, but if it were a Netflix Special it would sound more realistic. He asked me things like “So… how are … you doing?” And I would say, “I’m having a great time. I love the cast.” Then he would go “no no no no … how are … YOU doing?” And I was like “I’m good. I’m loving that I’m just a cast member.” Then he would say with a really straight face, “How is this whole thing going for you?” I didn’t understand what he was asking. At one point he did this overly dramatic move and like took a couple steps away and collected himself. Then he came back and started all over again.
By this time we had been at break for a while. I asked him, “I don’t know what you’re asking me.” He said that he wanted me to trust him. He asked if I trusted him. I said I did, then he started over again and this time my answers were more analytical like a student. “I’m doing fine. I’m actually doing really well because it was fun.” He kept going and I eventually said, “I’m really confused what do you want from me?”
I’m not making this up, he wiped his face, and YELLED into my face “BLIND TRUST!”
I was scared because he was a teacher, it was the first rehearsal and it was going fine. It was going good, in fact. And he for some reason felt like I wasn’t trusting him as a leader. And he felt like the best way to get trust was to separate me from everyone else an yell at me so I would trust him. Here is one of the weird things, the whole behaviour was like you would see in a dramatic TV show. There were dramatic pauses, and like “soulful look into my eyes” moments, and breathy delivery. It was so STRANGE.
That was one of those experiences where I didn’t go back and I didn’t communicate to the leader. I just stopped going. I was pretty intimidated because he was a teacher at the university (an MA student, but they commonly taught classes) and the interaction was so angry … and angry when the rehearsal was so fun. It didn’t match. We were all having a good time. He singled me out and yelled “BLIND TRUST” at me. He wanted me to follow him like a cult leader … but not work to earn any of that trust. He just felt entitled to it.
“We are not in competition with each other. We are in competition with Netflix, going to pub, or just staying home on a chilly night“David Escobedo
What are some of your earliest memories of your early improv performances?
Fun. Really. Because we just performed at coffee shops around Southern California. We aimed for their empty nights (Tuesday/Wednesdays) but some would request we do weekends! AND … at the time, none of us wanted to do that because we all had our own weekend plans with parties and stuff. Lol, looking back on it … I didn’t know how well we had it.
Tell us about some unusual suggestions that you have had?
I don’t recall any really unusual suggestions. I think even if a suggestion is wonky, that is a cool gift.
With Mind MELT we used to get two suggestions. And that was kind of weird. We would all start slowly, and eventually honor one … then halfway through the show we would sort of FORCE the second one in there. Which was funny. I think that was kind of weird. But I loved the team so much, it was really funny to have someone come on stage and be like “your hat is in the shape of a banana.” Sometimes I was that person. It was like “we need to through this in there.” And it became that X-Factor to a scene. The X-Factor is not “out of nowhere” the audience gave it to us. So the audience felt like they threw a monkey wrench into the machine and watched us scramble a second time. It was fun.
But not really a tough suggestion.
What is the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you about improv?
We are not in competition with each other. We are in competition with Netflix, going to pub, or just staying home on a chilly night. Improv companies will view each other as competition – and that can damage the improv ecosystem. The city benefits when there are multiple companies who do different styles that share teachers, students and audiences. In cities of 20,000 people companies will sometimes believe they are fighting over the same 30 people. The challenge is not to fight over the small numbers that exist, but work together to draw in more people so that we can all grow.
What other improv groups are you a fan of and why?
OMG, how much time do you have?
TINY STORIES IMPROV: not only are their shows dynamic, but each individual member is not only golden, but they all do so much work outside of the team to build healthy improv communities. I like a show, but I love a team!
IMPROV COMEDY BANGALORE: Although, this is more of a community than a team they have a Facebook Group Page that I love. There is so much intelligence and creativity in this community.
GLOSSOP IMPROV: This is a new company run by two POWERHOUSES in improv, Jess and Sekki. Jess has been doing some *fan-frickin-tastic* stuff with “Unseen Conditions” in improv. She is brining awareness to those issues. And Sekki is SOOOOOO talented with music, her ability to listen and she is just SO clever. They are focused on that odd grey line between “building a healthy community” but at the same time “protecting that healthy community.” Sometimes that takes tough conversations. Sometimes that is telling people no to habits or behaviour. They are doing it, and are a role model to others.
IMPROV MKE: This is an improv company run by Michelle Gilliam, and it’s absolutely *nuts* how in one year her company has become one of the most recognizable brands around the world. It was born out of Michelle not being recognized and also pushed out of her former improv community. It is such a lesson to us. If there is an existing improv community that you don’t fit into, create your own! She spent all that energy trying to fit in with her former theatre, and the second she turned it around and invested in her self … she is doing courses with Will Hines and guesting in panels with performers around the world. If those opportunities had arisen in her old theatre, the owners would have taken it. But now she is developing an international brand. This sense of “belonging” is good – sometimes addictive – but we shouldn’t let our feeling of “belonging” be the thing that keeps us back. Michelle is an example of just how high you can fly, when you believe in yourself.
MARK TURPIN AND PAT BURKHART: They are starting a duo. I haven’t seen it yet. But I CANNOT WAIT to see it! (at the time I’m writing this, I haven’t seen it yet) I love these guys. And if they have guests I *want* to be on that show. And we should get Siddharth and Jon Nguyen on there.
PICK UP GAME IMPROV or PUG: This team has some of the most brilliant improv I have ever seen. Their ability to see the game in the first few seconds of a scene and how the whole group jumps on that is literally some of the best I have ever seen. I highly recommend catching one of their shows. When this is all over and they’re doing improv in person – it will be insanely good.
There are ton more groups, Do the Right Scene, Soundscapes, Stealing the Show, Broken Chair Improv, Not All Men Improv … there are so many. I’m a fan of improv.
“Some of my biggest influences in improv are Jay Sukow, Liz Allen, Michelle Gilliam, Vanessa Anton, and Paul Vaillancourt just to name a few. Liam Webber, Maggie Nolan and David Elliott to name a couple more.“David Escobedo
Who are some Improvisers that you find inspiring and why?
This one question could be a full article itself.
I will give you sort of an overview and then some specifics. In this new age of online improv it takes less financial investment to be competitive with established improv companies. All you need is a quality improv connection, Zoom (or some online meeting software) and social media (or some way to promote). This means people who have been limited by gatekeeping before now have an ability to create their own community. In a bad perspective, it means people with a prior toxic history can try to rebrand themselves to an audience that is unaware of their previous toxic behavior. In a positive way though, it has levelled out the playing field. There is so much new improv, and new voices coming out that had previously been discouraged by gate keeping and the bottleneck of stage time. In fact, many of those “house teams” that had camped out in the 8:00PM Friday Night time slot … have never performed during the lockdown. We’re seeing people too entrenched in their previous genre that they aren’t willing to try something new.
But the people willing to take a risk, to take a chance … are building some FANTASTIC connections in the world.
BRENNA JUDKINS: OMG, she and Elisabeth Sofley do this sort of “Two People Just Talking” style show that is so raw and so funny. I love the authenticity of it. They’re both moms with tattoos that have no filter. And I’m here for it.
JON NGUYEN: 24/7, all day, every day. Homeboy can work with anybody. He is so versatile, and he was just meant for “improv greatness.” He is patient and understanding in place where I am not. He is brilliant in the scope of improv education. And I think one thing I really like about him is that with all these virtues … he is humble as hell. More. I need more Jon Nguyen.
JAY SUKOW: One of the best Improv Teachers I have ever had. And just a golden human being.
MICHELLE GILLIAM: She has been inspiring me a lot lately. Not only as talent on screen but also as a leader in the community. She has this very “abundant” way of viewing improv projects – and they have always lead to better decisions.
SIDDHARTH VENKATESH: Siddharth has a genius mind when it comes to collaboration and connection. He is not only making great connections but he making great spaces. I love the group he has created – Improv Comedy Bangalore Community. I love it. It has discussion, vulnerability and supports the community.
There are a TON more .. Laxmi Priya is brilliant. Every time she speaks I’m like “yes!” I also love working with Audra Goffney. She is SO funny. Such a natural leader.
I think one thing I notice about people I really gravitate towards is that I can be both silly and serious with them. It’s not just about cracking jokes, we can talk about boundaries and really heartfelt things. I need that depth in my friendship. And I REALLY appreciate it when it’s there.