Improv And Me

It was the opening night of a play, in which I’d taken over the lead role with 3 days to learn the show. I was alone on stage, the last moment of the show. Actor B rolls Actor A onstage in a wheelchair. Actor A is in a full body cast, except for the fingers on one hand, and he holds a mini chalk board. (I’d tried to blow him up with a grenade.) A and B roll to center stage. I look in their eyes and see panic. After a moment, the actor in the wheel chair takes a stub of chalk and scrawls something on the chalk board, then signals me to read it. I moved next to him and looked down. The message said “We forgot the grenade.” The grenade was the prop that was to end the whole play. B was supposed to take a grenade from his pocket, take out the pin, throw the grenade at me, get himself and A off stage, and I was supposed to get blown up as the stage goes black and explosions sound. Were these two playing some kind of opening night trick on me or had B actually forgotten the prop? Well, B wasn’t running offstage to procure the grenade, and A couldn’t do anything because he was completely wrapped up in gauze and unable to move, so ending the play was up to me. I looked into B’s eyes, then I sidled up next to A and looked into his eyes for a l-o-n-g moment, then I came out with one short line. The audience gasped, the lighting guy blacked out the lights, and THE AUDIENCE WENT NUTS WITH A STANDING OVATION. Improv!

In NYC, I did sketch comedy with the East Village group THE OTHER LEADING BRAND. We performed in a bar in the bottom of a church on St. Mark’s Place. Upstairs were Polish refugees, sleeping. It was current, wild and funny, with the occasional live rat. We were the East Village’s answer to SNL.

I was a regular on PLEASE STAND BY! – a 12-episode weekly TV show shot before a live audience in New York City. We did sketches, characters, comedy songs that we basically learned the night before and, of course, we relied on our improv training to keep going if anything unseen happened during the taping. Mike Colasuonno and Rick Crom were the creators and writers and Rick hosted. It was The Tonight Show, but shot below Houston St. in the studio of the Chinese news.

I saw a CHICAGO CITY LIMITS IMPROV show and, after a few classes, director George Todisco asked me to join their touring company and understudy the main stage cast. For 6 years I toured with CCL and did the main stage show, the corporate/industrial shows and taught improv. Took class from Del Close. Worked with Robin Williams onstage. Took part in creating the Spoon River Anthology improv format and invented the Irish Drinking Song (as seen on Whose Line Is It Anyway) in the car on our way to a show just outside NYC.

I co-created, wrote, was an anchor and man-on-the-street interviewer on the CHICAGO CITY LIMITS “news” show REEL NEWS. 


I took a class in how to do commercials taught by the incredible Joan See at her 3 of Us Studios. At the end of my first class, Joan asked me to start the improv program there and I taught at 3 of Us for 5 years and wrote the curriculum for the improv and on-camera commercial class. 3 of Us is now the NY Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. And I have more than 100 commercials to my credit.

When I moved to LA, I joined LA THEATRESPORTS, performing with them and teaching improv there for 6 years. And then came WROUGHT IRONY. Every Sunday, for 9 years, I was part of the resident improv company at The Laugh Factory and started every show by talking to the audience and improvising a song based on their suggestions.  

My improv experience really came in handy for my 100+ appearances in comedy bits on THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO. We’d rehearse at 3PM and go live at 5:30PM. Re: improv? You know you’ve got it when Jay shoots you a line, completely unwritten, and you say something that makes Jay laugh and the audience is with you all the way. Worked live on the stage and also did video bits that were included in the monolog.