The Congressional Impressionist
A balding 31 year old white guy’s guide to DCM 2014
Hi, welcome to my defunct blog. Remember that John McCain impression? 

Some traditions deserve being maintained, so here is my suggested battle plan for DCM 2014. You can’t see it all, you can’t do it all, so no disrespect intended to any shows I don’t include. 


Go to the press conference if you’ve never been, or if you want a seat in the Chelsea Theater for that first block of shows. The line starts earlier and earlier every year, and for me having a seat can make or break being able to enjoy a solid block of shows. Also the press conference is fascinating and usually turns into a free improv lecture most of the time. 

The Stepfathers at Midnight is going to be be an incredible show, but the only realistic way to get a seat for it is get on line early Friday, so no dice for me, but that is going to be one…hell of a show. 

You see, I have just started a new job where I accrue my freedom at the rate of 1/3 of a day every two weeks, so I can’t take the day off to get in line. That’s why I’ll probably start my festival at the 8:30 Fwand show. It will probably be full but not sold out, so your festival pass would get you in. Not a guarantee, but I think a safe bet. 

After that it’s off to UCB East. Hang out for a bit with the goal of getting in for the midnight block of shows, which are all pretty funny looking bit shows. I will make an embarrassing appearance in the shitshow that will be “Fratprov” (2003-2005 was a dark time in my life), and I’m really excited about seeing “Tom Waits Prov” - where everyone is Tom Waits. 

I’ll probably make it through at least a few of the FIVE Beyonce-themed shows, before going to the party space and what the hell am I talking about I’m a tired old man and will probably be heading up to crash at that point. Which is okay! Only the young and the coked up try to do a full DCM without getting at least a few hours of decent sleep, and I’m neither. 


If you’re an out of towner, use Saturday morning/early afternoon to do some New York…stuff. The city is as much a performer in the marathon as anyone else, so stroll around in Central Park. Walk across the Brooklyn bridge. Get a slice from Pizza Suprema on 31st and 8th. 

Don’t waste the day, though. The Saturday afternoon block at Chelsea leading up to the 6:30pm theatre cleaning is one of the sleeper blocks of the festival. If you’re not too late, you’ll probably be able to walk right into the theater and get a seat. 

The long-anticipated return of Ian Roberts’ Lazy Man to DCM, three back-to-back two-person sets with some big, big, big performers, all capped off by Ben Schwartz’s ridiculously named Snowpants. Folks, that’s a smoking lineup. 

Part of the reason you’ll be able to get into the theater easily ( you decide what that means) is a big chunk of the festival crowd will be wanting to get in for the actual “UCB” show at the UCB theater after the 6:30pm cleaning. It’s always hilarious, and if you’ve never seen it before, there’s nothing quite like hearing “Please welcome to the stage the UCB!” AT the UCB theater. At the same time, I don’t think I’m revealing any secrets here, it’s often not a “formal” improv show. It’s funny, and sure it’s improvised, but it’s not always scenes like you’re expecting, sweep edits and the like. That’s generally saved for the end-of-festival Assscats. It’s a factor to consider in planning your night. 

But since I’ll have seen that Saturday afternoon block, I’ll have to write off the Saturday night block at Chelsea, as great as the shows look. I’m going to skip over to the Beast and see if I can get in for the Two Man Movie. Probably a 50/50 shot at that. 

Whether I get in or not, then I’ll head on over to Urban Stages where some team named “Greg” is performing. It seemed strange to put a “bit show” that early in the schedule, but so be it. 

Then it’s party time. Yeah there’s lots of fun improv on Saturday night, but at that point I won’t want to wait in lines. 50/50 chance “Search History” doesn’t sell out, so might try to catch that before wrapping it up audience-member wise for the rest of the night. I just discovered Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey. It tastes like straight up maple syrup, so there will be that. 

Sidebar - My policy of “fuck lines” applies to the party space, too. The free keg beer line is for the college kids. Real drunks bring their own booze. 


Ah, Sunday. My favorite day of the marathon. In 2003, 2004, 2005 a stressful day, because I knew I’d have to fly back home to North Carolina. Now I love savoring the feeling home is a 30 minute subway ride away. 

For me, that last block of shows at the Chelsea theater is what it’s all about. People will have rocked out hard Saturday night/Sunday morning, so you’ll probably be able to snag a seat if you don’t wait too long. Make sure to bring something to drink, to be ready to “hunker down” and ride things out. 

The entire lineup is ridiculous. I’m excited about being able to FINALLY see a Strangers Wanted, but it all builds up to that Baby Wants Candy show. There’s NOTHING like the energy in that tiny, packed theater with that full band. All the BWC shows will be amazing at the other stages, but for my money if you’re not seeing them on the Chelsea stage at the tail end of the marathon, you’re not really seeing them.

But then it’s not over! Usually that’s the last or second to last show, but this year there are three more acts!

So I’ll ride out that block, be excreted from the theater, and then in a fantasy world see those Assscat shows. In reality, I don’t think there is much chance of getting in. They sold out in seconds, and not enough people will bail to justify waiting in line, especially if I’m committing to being at the Chelsea theater until Sunday evening. People will be getting on line way earlier than that to try for standby, I’m sure. 

After that probably a little more time at the party space, and the back to accruing my freedom at the rate of .3 days every two weeks. 

Have a great festival!

Okay let’s do an improv post - The cafeteria heightening exercise

I did this exercise in my 101 class with James Eason in the summer of 2004. I’ve not encountered it since and no one I asked seems familiar with it, but I think it’s great. It introduces the concept of heightening within a scene in a fun and simple way. Here it is…

Have a group of 6-7 students form a line. They’re all in a cafeteria. One by one, they’re going to come up to the ordering station and say what they’d like for lunch. Everyone is going to order a main dish, a side dish, and a drink. They are also going to order normal food items, but modified in a specific but realistic way. French fries with extra salt, a steak medium rare, coke with a straw, etc. 

The first person steps up and places their order. They slide their tray along, and the next person steps up behind them. Before the second person orders, the first person gives a bit of intentionally mundane but specific office scuttlebutt/gossip. “Did you hear the printers are out on the 3rd floor?” Then the first person walks off. 

The second person at the ordering station orders a different main dish, side dish and drink, but they’re asked to make those orders specific in the same way the first order was. Instead of french fries with extra salt, it might be grits with lots of butter. Instead of a medium rare steak, it might be a piece of tuna just barely seared. 

Then the second person slides their tray down, and before the third person orders, they give the version of the office scuttlebutt after it’s been slightly warped/amplified by people playing telephone. “Hey did you hear the printers in the whole damn building are out?”

And the pattern continues. Each order consists of different food, but is specific in the same way as the prior order, and actually more specific. If the “game” of the main dish is liking it rare, then by the 4th or 5th order we might be asking someone to rip the heart from the lady washing dishes in the back with a ceremonial Aztec stone so you can bite into the still beating organ. If the game of the side dish is you want something extra, satisfying but unhealthy, the 4th or 5th person might order the broccoli casserole with oxycontin all over it.

Similarly the office gossip gets more and more absurd, as office gossip often does. “Every pen in the office is out of ink. No one can write anything.” 

And by the last person, you’re often in total bizarro world, ordering abstract metaphysical and philosophical concepts for your side dish, and the office rumors are completely nutso bonkers…but the audience can follow the progression all the way through. 

Besides the mechanics and pacing of heightening, this exercise also does a great job illustrating the importance of specific choices in helping to more quickly facilitate a game in a scene. If the first order was “Chicken, rice and water” there would hardly anything specific or unusual enough to latch onto and heighten, besides maybe the depressingly sterile nature of the meal. 

But if you order the end piece of the meatloaf, the whipped yams, and the dr. pepper with no ice, then there’s something to play with. Similarly scenes with “the roommates” or “the co-workers” or “the people talking in an undefined space” don’t generate much to play with and heighten without really having to work hard. But with specific choices, specific people, you’re more likely to find something worth heightening and playing with. 

Give it a shot. And thanks James Eason!

In what is now a Thanksgiving tradition, I present for your enjoyment the funniest ad-libbed conversation in the history of television: Johnny Carson and Doc Severinson discussing their plans for the holiday. As Johnny says at the end, “It’s not going to get much funnier than that in five minutes.”


"We’re through the looking glass here, people."


"We’re through the looking glass here, people."

Michael Caine gives some acting tips that any improviser struggling with playing things real on stage should hear. Don’t show us an “improv comedy” drunk. Show us a real world drunk. (If I screwed up the embed code that part starts at 2:44, but the whole thing is fascinating).


A useful skill: to be able undermine your own character without having your character change his/her mind. To have your character lose without ever having admitted he/she is losing.

To say things like “Oh, really? *I’m* the unreasonable employee? Just because I practice my trumpet at my desk…

Great post. This is sort of like playing your own straight man?

When they’re really nailing it, I think South Park pulls off the idea of one usual thing and everything else being real better than anyone else. The best South Park episodes remind me of what great premise-based improv feels like. In this case the premise of “Dog whisperer for spoiled kids.” There’s one weird thing, everything else is exactly what you’d see in the real world with a few slight adjustments. 

The launch codes for Russia’s strategic nuclear missile forces are protected inside a locked safe, requiring its own separate codes, to prevent accidental launch. However if codes to open the safe don’t work, the plan is literally to just smash the fucking thing open with a sledgehammer.

1,041 plays






I hear Will Hines singing songs to my baby on internet radio most mornings and I finally recorded one of ‘em for all of us to enjoy.

Thanks, Will!!

Will sang this song to my daughter again this morning.
I’m not complaining.

Imagining this is Will Hines singing is one of the funniest things I’ve ever asked my brain to do. Thank you Birch.

I genuinely cannot stop laughing.

this is the strangest thing i have seen on tumblr

I don’t physically laugh at much when staring at my computer screen alone. I laughed at this. Hard. Can we please have an entire album of the actual Will Hines singing children’s songs?

Ok lets do an improv post - Game in a scene = Chorus in a song

I’m going to be a haughty asshole and talk about “game” like I understand it. Sorry.

The game in the scene is equivalent to the chorus in a song.

The chorus of a song is what the crowd gets excited about when you come back to it. You’re glad to hear it twice. You’re probably thrilled to hear it a third time.

When I use this analogy in class, I always use “Sympathy For The Devil” by the Rolling Stones as an example. The core of that song is the confrontation with the devil. Everyone gets excited when Mick Jagger belts out, “Pleased to meet you! I hope you guessed my name!”

But as great as that classic piece of rock poetry is, it’d be pretty dull if they just repeated that chorus over and over again for 5 minutes, right? “But whats puzzling you is just the nature of my game….Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name…” I’m already bored. You have to take a break, but still keep the audience’s engagement in the scene.

This is where you let the game rest and fill in the scene with all kinds of other great elements. Committed acting, visually badass object work, sub-games and other fun bits of business. This is where you talk about Anastasia screaming in pain, every cop being a criminal and how all sinners are saints. Or just a solo from Keith. The “woo-woos” are a sub-game.

A student once asked me for a comprehensive list of games possible in an improv scene. Fair question. How many types of choruses are there in a song? I guess you have various basic genres/archetypes, but it’s infinite. The saxophone solos in “Baker Street” are completely different than the chorus in “Sympathy” but it serves the same purposes - it’s the game of the song. It’s what I as a listener, consciously or not, want more of.

Game isn’t about filling in the blank. It’s not looking for a single correct response and being “wrong” if you don’t fill the blank in correctly. What’s the part of your scene/song YOU find rewarding to revisit?

I will probably (and fraudulently!) not be able to do any of this the next time I perform, but it sounds decent on paper and I think it’s helped some students in class, so here it is.

And here’s a killer version of “Sympathy For The Devil” to enjoy as a bonus to my self-aggrandizing advice.