David Escobedo Mega Improv Month – INTERVIEW – From LA To UK And The Improv Boost

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 about moving from America and joining the UK Improv Scene.

You are now living in the UK how did that occur?

Well, I was working for a city in Los Angeles. At one point the City Manager at the City of Bell and some council members got arrested for bribery.  That changed the chemistry in our city because our leadership started to get really nervous.  The whole infrastructure moved from a flat “open door” organization into a much more elite sort of system.  I literally remember their social media manager saying that they give more attention to social media accounts with 10,000 or more followers.  It went from being a fantastic place to work, to a miserable place.  The year after I left, all the employees wore Anti-Bullying buttons because certain managers were treating employees like crap. Can you imagine a building with 200+ employees wear “no bullying” buttons because of how the management was managing people?

So, my workplace was getting bad. At the same time, my wife was experiencing issues at her workplace – mainly to do with her body and repeating the same movements over and over again.  Her dream had always been to live in another country.  We didn’t have kids, we both (at the same time) were ready for changes in our careers!  

Initially, we looked into work visas but that was a catch 22.  You had to have a work place hire you, but places would only hire you if you had a work visa. So, I went back to school for my MA and she is doing her undergrad.  So, we are here on student visas. I think eventually we’ll move back to California but we have talked about moving to New Zealand for a little while. I don’t know! We’re sort of looking at the world and living in the moment and being the best people we are at the time.

How did you find your journey into the UK improv scene?

Oh Holly … (sits down, crosses legs, picks up tea) … what a good question …

My experience – and I just want to emphasize that this is through my perspective – is that the UK Improv Scene is like a step behind the United States. The global pandemic may be the great equalizer and now everybody is forced to reboot. In Los Angeles, the #MeToo movement was big in comedy (I think about 5 years prior to me moving to the UK). The #MeToo movement was good because it was bringing to light a lot of issues in the improv and stand-up community.  Make no mistake, there is still a lot of work to be done regarding women, womxn and non-binary representation in improv but it has been a good stop in the right direction. Improv companies like The Ruby LA sprouted up as a force for good, and toxic people have been fired from some companies.  An online group started where we all began discussing toxic and dangerous people in the community. It eventually closed because that sort of group is difficult to moderate, but some good came from it.

When I moved to the UK, in 2018, most groups hadn’t discussed boundaries or had a sexual harassment policy in place.  I totally encourage all groups do both. Even if you have a small team of 6 people, of friends, you should have a discussion about boundaries and ways to express them in the futures – because boundaries are organic. Some improv schools had never thought about it, and I Johnny Appleseeded my way through the UK telling everybody they should have one.  It’s better to have one and not need it, than need it and not have it. (and to those of you reading this, yes. Yes, your school or company or team should talk about emotional and physical boundaries. I don’t care how long you’ve been together or how close of friends you are – that just means it’s easier to start the conversation)

That is one specific.  But something I see is territorialism. You see that in LA too, but here it is leaders who are territorial because they want to retain their influence.  And I’ve seen some TERRIBLE leaders here – only a few of them are terrible at teaching AND leading.  There are people who banish or alienate people trying something new.   There are teachers who have an over inflated sense of influence in the art form.  And like my friend Chris Mead says, “There is nothing scarier than small men with small empires.”  They make decisions based out insecurity – they don’t want to lose their influence or their income.  They make decisions fuelled by insecurity and self-promotion, in an art form that preaches the opposite. All of these smaller improv companies that don’t network and reach out to each other. That has greatly changed during the global pandemic. People are networking. But I think we also need to be talking to each other about what bad leadership is – and many times it’s bad business practices.  I’ve had people tell me not to teach here because it’s “their city.”  I have literally received a message saying “My battle is to protect what I already have and keep working towards growing audience and participation bigger.”   That sort of stuff would discourage someone in their own community trying to start a new team, or someone who is less confident.  And we need to call that out.

I am reminded of the monologue from Ratatouille:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.”

We have to talk about the improv scene in Cheshire! Tell us a bit about it!

From my experience Chester hasn’t been able to grow its own scene because it’s been working uphill against resistance. There is an unawareness with improv. There is a great group here called the Improv Gym that is for older people that want to do improv, just for fun! I started doing a bi-weekly night on Mondays with Mischief Managed where we had improv jams for anybody who wanted to get some stage time, and we would invite a guest team to perform! That way the guest team could perform and jump into the improv jam if they wanted and get even more stage time.  But that had just started before the lockdown so it didn’t get a good chance to get going.

There is a LOT of improv talent – I would say improv GENIUS here in Chester.  There are a couple people I’ve worked with where you see their talent and you just want to pull them into improv shows.  

Tell us about the lessons and courses that you teach in Cheshire?

None. I was running an improv team and improv jams. I sometimes taught workshops or short courses.  I have a private group of local improv artists where I would share improv resources and sometimes run short courses. I tried to keep it as inexpensive as possible (or free) because I wanted to empower my community to be better.  A stronger community benefits me and everyone else in the community. I wanted to create more peers to do scenes with, rather than collect students. 

Tell us about The Improv Boost!

I’ll tell you what I intend but I don’t know how it is received. 

Back when I was in Los Angeles, it was hard to get stage time.  I remember I worked with one company where I made promotional videos, ran their social media, created merch for them, did graphic design and more.  It was hard for me to get stage time.

Then for another improv company… I submitted 4 different team ideas (including one for an International Team that I would pay for and organize) and submitted several times for a Cage Match. Only once did I get an email response.  They said I was “in the line up” and “should be contacted soon.”  Long story short … I never heard back.

At another improv company you could not get a space unless you were friends with the right people.  I mean, even getting space to rehearse cost about $50 for 2 hours (on the cheap end). 

So in order to get a space to perform you had to know somebody, or you had to sign up for a cage match and bring a GRIP of people to make the improv company money. We called them “bringer shows.”

At the same time, I just wanted to do improv.  It’s my background. I had discovered improv in a garage with my friends.  Now I was required to make others money before I could even practice in a reasonable space.  I know that struggle. I know what it’s like to just want to do improv, in the face of challenges that *seem* to stop you. I wanted to raise up those new voices. I wanted to raise up smaller and newer improv teams and companies.  Large scale improv companies had whole marketing departments… I didn’t need to help them. I didn’t need to help out large improv companies which had kept teams on their stage for years and used the same several improv performers over and over. This slowly choked out the innovation in improv.  There is that phrase “improv hasn’t had anything new since the Harold.”

And honestly, we’re in a time of something new.  We just thought “something new” would come on stage.  

Turns out “something new” was in the community.  It was about all of us talking to each other, off stage. “Something new” was about stepping away from former “improv celebrities” and finding support in one another. It was about not rallying around a brand or a bullet point on our acting resume.  

We were the “something new.”

And now are meeting in community groups and talking about boundaries – boundaries because former larger improv companies didn’t. They protected their brand more than they protected their students. 

How did it come around?

Really? Here is the true story.

I just thought to myself, “what is one talent I can give to the world for free?” I have found that when I give to improv without expectation of compensation, I get back so much more than I could have ever imagined. The Improv Boost is just that.

I hope in some way it still raises the voices of smaller improv companies or teams. I hope it lifts others up.

I think one of the ways it lifts others up is by creating safe spaces.  You don’t want to lift others up so you can throw them off a building.  You want to lift others up so that we can see that one thing that has always been true … we’re all humans. We’re all peers. That stage sometimes elevate a few people while it told others to sit.  That teaching position sometimes asked us to sit at the feet of the master who was totally underserving of that title.  We can lift each other up by creating healthy groups that hear one another.

I always think of one of the most insightful people I have met during the lockdown, Blue Cavell-Allette from Casually Dope Improv.  She said to me, “you don’t have to agree with me but you just have to hear me.”

She told me that if you value someone, you listen to them.  You don’t always have to agree with them, but you hear them.  And all those improv companies before didn’t hear people when they said there was systemic racism or that teachers were sexually harassing students. When I used their forms or their values to submit team ideas … and never hear back?  They never heard me.

I bet they’re listening now.

Who would be your dream guest to appear at one of your shows and why?

Dream guest, huh?  I don’t know. I don’t really have like a “celebrity worship” that I think others may have. I was in the entertainment industry and I’ve met a couple celebrities.  And they all have their flaws.  We all are human.

The celebrities I met that were SUPER nice were the ones that totally stick out.  Jerry O’ Connell was SO NICE. Martin Sheen was SO NICE.  Russel Brand was really nice.  James Corden was so nice. But I think worship these people because we think they could do something for us, for our career. Like “maybe they see me and want to cast me in their next project?”

The reality is, they are struggling to be more famous or to stay famous in their own regard.  They aren’t “finished.”  Fame and success are so fleeting.  Especially with social media, popularity can change overnight. They are just as stressed out as we are, just with different challenges.

I think … my dream guest would be … my mom.  Then I could see her. I miss her.  And my dad. Those two are my dream guests. So, I could hug them.  

OH! You know who my dream guests would be?  My mom and dad with chicken burritos from San Diego, like Alberto’s or Roberto’s.  MMmmm … and a margarita. Yes.  Dream guests.

If people want to find out more about you where can they find you on social media?

So. I’m going to be a daddy.  Yay!

Because of that, I’m starting to pull back in a little more for privacy. I want my tight social circle to be positive because I think I will need support over the next couple months. Also, something my friend Liam Webber told me is “you don’t need to explain your boundaries.”  I just need those boundaries right now.

But if you want to see my stuff you can catch me on the Improv Boost, Wretched Hive Comedy and when the lockdown is lifted, I’ll be bringing back Mischief Managed Improv. I also hope to bring back Likeable Improv, it’s a format I developed that I think can be really fun.

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