I rarely use this to just blog. I’m going to just blog now, so you can all just ignore this if it’s not to your liking.
Warning. Contents under pressure.
Q&A With Vinny Valdivia
I first met Vinny Valdivia over a little year ago through Zach Ward. Vinny was and still is in charge of booking the Pork stand-up show at DSI theatre and he booked me and a friend to perform there without knowing much about us other than that we had performed at the NC Comedy Arts Festival. From the minute we got there Vinny made sure we were taken care of and even invited to us a going away party after the show was over. Super nice dude.
I got to see him perform at Charleston Comedy Festival a few months later when he performed with his group Bonecracker. What intrigued me was that Vinny didn’t play to type, he didn’t play for laughs, he played what the scene needed: victim, princess, gym coach, it didn’t matter, he was all in. Super good improviser.
Needless to say I was really happy that he took time from his busy schedule of helping to make sure the new DSI Theatre’s coming together and also being a resident instructor at said theatre to answer some of my question.
1. How did you get started with improv?
In 2008 I saw the UCB team Death By Roo and half way through their show I knew I had to do what they were doing. At the time I lived in Raleigh so I looked up improv classes in the area and started right away. Fast forward two years, I wanted to take more classes so I started classes at DSI in 2010.
2. Rather than regularly play to type, bigger guy = bully, jock, etc you tend to allow yourself to play low status and even victim from time to time. Is that a conscious decision on your part or just something that comes naturally?
3. What do you get from improv that you might not have gotten when you performed with a band?
4. Who are some comedy heroes of yours?
5. What’s something that pushes you as a performer?
6. How would you define your method as an improviser?
8. When get the prompt from the audience how do you take it in, ie idea for a scene, a character’s physicality, reflect on a past moment, etc.?
Also, if you want to find out more about helping DSI Theatre finish their new theatre’s construction you can go here. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/zachward/dsi-comedy-on-franklin-street
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Laura Grey and Jordan Klepper are the duo behind “Engaged,” the latest short from UCB Comedy. They perform improv and sketch comedy, they write, they act—they basically do everything. We had the chance to catch up with Laura and Jordan to learn more about the project.
When did you guys…
We’re doing a project where we ask people: what’s your UCB? We talked to Will Hines about Monkeydick, the early days of the UCBT, teaching, the Stepfathers, and a bunch of other stuff.
LW: How’d you find UCB?
WH: I found it because I was taking an improv class at Chicago City Limits in 1997, 1998, and 1999. I was just doing it for fun, to have something fun to do besides my day job.
The UCB arrived in New York in ’96, and started doing classes in ’98. In May of ’98 I was taking a class at Chicago City Limits, and the students there said, “hey, there’s a new place in town called the UCB, and it’s really cool, and we should go watch one of the shows.” This was really early in UCB time. I’d never heard of them. I don’t think their show had started yet on Comedy Central. So the class agreed to go see a show. The UCB was doing shows at Solo Arts on West 17th Street. They just rented space on the fifth floor—it was basically like doing a show at Under St. Marks or something, but they were renting it three or four nights a week.
(Drysdale, left, with Susan Messing)
“Why is our ego so fucking fragile, that something that happens to someone else, has anything to do with us at all?”
Rebecca Drysdale, a brilliant improviser and a writer on Key & Peele, posted a missive on the eve of what she calls the “Harold Moon”—basically, when the Upright Citizens Brigade theaters on both coasts choose the two or three improvisers out of 500 to join house teams, called Harold teams, that have weekly performance slots. It’s a blissful time when normally sane and rational people lose their fucking minds because somebody else gets the opportunity to do fake-surgery on stage in front of 12 people. And THEY can’t! They were not cast! When there was no ladder rung to reach for, suddenly one appeared, and they didn’t reach it!
Drysdale, who was never on a Harold team herself, essentially says there is no one achievement that will magically thrust a comedy career upon you. There is no one road to success, and placing emphasis on Harold auditions—or on industry showcase, being asked to be on a podcast, whatever—is just adding undue stress to what’s already the vaguest and most anxiety-ridden profession out there. It’s all about perspective, man, and the dangling Harold team carrot brings out the ferocious sides of people.
“Decide whether you are going to be a person who wants to be genuinely happy when good things happen to the people that you love…or not,” she writes. “If you are one of those people, someone who can have backs instead of watching your own, someone who can support the people around you on and offstage, those people who do get cast, nominated and signed will bring you with them. Those touchdowns count for the whole team, so be on it.”
Drysdale encourages people to remember there’s a reason they got involved with the arts in the first place. It wasn’t about achieving arbitrary or strictly financial goals, but creative ones first and foremost. She also acknowledges the push-pull of wanting to get on stage a lot so you can get better, and relying on Harold teams for automatic, hassle-free guaranteed performance slots.
The thing that struck me the most is that odd cart-before-the-horse conundrum she describes, because even though it’s clearly the byproduct of an imperfect system, and probably doomed to be problematic in one form or another for a while, there’s actually a solution. A solution so horrifying—because it involves WORK—I dare only speak its name after a colon: self-production.
I’m performing on November 8th at Atomacon in North Charleston, SC. It will be the first con I’ve ever performed at and I am super stoked! There’ll be costumes and fanfiction writers and sci fi references and that’s just my set. I really look forward to seeing what the fest brings with it and being a part of it! Boom!
I need to start off by saying that I’m a big fan of The Creeper. My first introduction to him was actually in a collection of The Best Joker Stories Ever Told that I received from an aunt. The idea of a joker-like superhero who didn’t look or act like a hero was really interesting to me.
He was never a hit character though and there wasn’t much with him in it, save the occasional guest spot and the Ditko originals or Dennis O’Neil’s backups, so it was hard for me to find out much about him. Later in college I found a short lived series that had come out in the late 90’s written by Len Kaminski, which I thought was fantastic, though admittedly a little slow.
The take on the character was somewhat unique in that we find out that Jack and the Creeper’s origin may have all been a hallucination on his part and that the Creeper may have been a part of him all along and the experiment simply brought it out of him. Neither could co-exist without the other. Like I said, an interesting idea, and it made for some cool stories, though it seems eerily similar to what Kaminsky had been trying to do with his short lived run on Venom as well.
Afterwards Steve Niles, creator of 30 Days of Darkness, got his chance to write The Creeper. Unfortunately, a full series was shortened to a six issue limited series and Niles was tasked with combining every Creeper origin story ever told so as to make sense for new readers. This led to a not very good series and the Creeper being dormant for a few more years until The Outsiders was rebooted yet again with Peter Tomasi on board.
The concept was that Batman had left Gotham, but had assembled a strike team in his place to take on the heavy hitters, with each member representing an aspect of Batman. Much of it was the original Outsiders line-up save The Creeper and a new Owl-Man. It started off strong and then…well, it seemed like Tomasi got tied up in Green Lantern and The Mighty because the story seemed to take a nosedive after the second issue. He was eventually replaced by Dan Didio who really didn’t do any better, plus he had to figure out yet another Creeper origin story that Giffen had written which revolved around the Creeper being of demonic heritage. Again, not a bad idea, but just not executed well.
That brings us to now. The Creeper is given yet another new origin story, this time as an oni who was slain by Katana’s sword. Her sword is broken and his spirit rests in Jack Ryder’s corpse. Its not a bad concept, but its not handled well. The Creeper is now a villain, which just kind of goes along with the status quo of evil looking dude has to be a villain, and he’s not particularly funny or even entertaining. He’s just sort of there and he does cruel things an then Ryder wakes up and moans about it.
I understand, its just my opinion, but I would love to see The Creeper handled with some sort of gravitas, with care. Maybe the DC universe is too confining. Maybe a Vertigo series would serve him better. I know there was one done a few years back set in France with two sisters at the heart of the story. Perhaps its time to look at that again.
"What’s the matter? Never taken a shortcut before?"
Lissa Treiman is awesome