Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Geeking Out with...Jason Shotts

by Pam Victor

[“Geeking Out with…” is a series of interviews with well-known, highly experienced improvisers. It’s a chance to talk about stuff that might interest hardcore, improv dorkwads like Pam. The series can be found in full frontal geek out version on the blog My Nephew is a PoodleFor behind-the-scenes action, ‘like’ the “Geeking Out with…” Facebook page.]

Once in a blue moon, performers get to meet their improv soul mates. Some improvisers wait years. Some of us are still waiting, always looking, forever hoping. And some wind up cudgeled with the lucky stick and get to share the stage every week with their missing piece. Jason Shotts is one of the fortunate few. (I hope you are too.) If you’ve seen DUMMY at iO Chicago, the show Jason Shotts performs with improv soul mate and real-life love Colleen Doyle, you know what it looks like to see performers bend and sway around each other as they seemingly effortlessly weave together shared discoveries in a show that awes, inspires, and entertains. DUMMY was christened “must-see improv” in 2012 by the Chicago Tribune, who went on to croon that Colleen Doyle and Jason Shotts “have that all-important ability to create believable characters in an instant and they displayed what appeared to be a simultaneous (if unspoken) acknowledgment of the direction their narrative should take …”

During his decade-long tenure at iO Chicago, Jason most recently also played with Smokin’ Hot Dad, and he has been a member of several iO teams, such as Henrietta Pussycat, Armando Diaz, Otis, Willie Nelson Slept Here, Cougars, Felt, Brad Renfro, Mayhem, Chesterfield, and Dr. Shotts and Big Rig. Jason also is a valued teacher at iO, receiving in 2011 The Del Close Award for Excellence in Teaching. (Jason notes that he knows that awards mean next to nothing and you should never take them seriously, but he still thinks that one is pretty cool.)

Recently, Jason revealed that he and Colleen Doyle are leaving their beloved Chicago, and there is no doubt that the Chicago improv community mourns yet another big loss to their ranks. But their loss is Los Angeles’ gain, as West Coast audiences now get regular doses of the improv delights served up by DUMMY.

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PAM VICTOR: I pretty much always start with this question - on account of the fact that I'm a secret romantic ...

When did you first fall in love with improvisation?

Jason Shotts and Gary 


JASON SHOTTS: It was back in the fall of 1997. I had just moved to Chicago in August of that year. One member of my circle was working at the Cheesecake Factory with John Lutz. She would go to iO and watch him perform, and one night she took me with her.

I had never seen improv up until that point, and I thought the show was really fun.

PAM: So Lutz is to blame. That was 4Square?

JASON: It wasn't 4Square. I saw two Harolds, and I'm thinking he was on Valhalla at the time. And that night, my friend poked me during the show and pointed backward at a man with a long white beard and she whispered to me, "That's Del Close."

I had no idea what she was talking about.

PAM: Oh wow.

JASON: But I REALLY fell in love with The Jam at iO. The Jam blew my mind.

PAM: It was a short form jam? Where you could come up from the audience?

JASON: Yeah, sort of. Let me back up a little.

PAM: Okee doke. Back up as far as you want. I’m happy to hear it all!

JASON: My roommate and I started going to iO a lot. Friday night and nothing to do? He and I would go to iO. We'd watch pretty much anything, but The Jam slowly started becoming our favorite. Yes, it was short form games and audience members jumping up onstage, but they also preplanned bits and sketches. Weird stuff. Craig Uhlir and Jim Carlson hosted it back then. The show was always different, and we loved how chaotic it was. We'd lose it and come back over and over. I never got onstage; I just loved watching it.

One night, Lutz was there and when he got up out of his chair to do something, the crowd started chanting "LUTZ, LUTZ, LUTZ!" and when he got up onstage, he killed. That night was the first time I realized that improv was something you could be GOOD at and not just ... people onstage screwing around. That kind of melted my face.
John Lutz and Scott Adsit
[Copyright John H. Abbott,
Photographer for CIF]


PAM: LOL. Awesome. I am a big Lutz fan. I love both 2Square (with Peter Grosz) and Scott and John (with Scott Adsit). So so so good.

But you still didn't think at that point that you wanted to try it out for yourself?

JASON: I just watched for four years. Never took a class, never got onstage. Friends always pushed me to take a class, but I was so scared of it. But after four years in Chicago living like a weird vagabond, I signed up for Level A at Second City.

PAM: Four years! Why Second City? Why not iO where you first were drawn in?

JASON: I had another friend who was taking classes at Second City and I think she recommended not starting at iO. I think she put me under the impression that iO would be too advanced for me. She was right. iO would've been too intimidating for me. I had ZERO performance experience and Second City’s beginning classes were perfect for me.

Plus, I didn't imagine I'd ever be an improviser, but I thought I should probably take a class just to see what it would be like. At the time, I was temping, bartending ... I drove a trolley for about a year and a half. I really didn't have any direction, and I guess I was looking for something to stick.

PAM: Interesting. So you had no theater or performance interest up until that point?

JASON: None.

PAM: Woah. And did you have an interest in comedy before that? I mean, aside from a "Haha! John Belushi is funny on TV" sort of interest? (I may have just dated myself. Sorry.)

JASON: You're not dating yourself! I’m no spring chicken.

PAM: Well, I’m a fall chicken.

JASON: I was painfully shy growing up. I didn't have a lot of friends and always felt like an outcast. But I remember the first time I made a classroom laugh at something I said, and it felt AMAZING. The other kids smiled at me and I think that changed me.
Jason Shotts at iO Chicago in Wrigleyville

I love comedy movies. Ghostbusters. Monty Python. Eddie Murphy anything.

PAM: Did you have Eddie Murphy's first album? The one called Eddie Murphy?

JASON: I didn't have albums. I remember seeing his standup on HBO as a kid, Eddie Murphy Raw.

PAM: Right. I think Raw was his second one. I had that first album memorized. We listened to it obsessively in college.

JASON: Ha!

PAM: I still can recite most of it. Except I try not to do it in public because I sound too racist.

JASON: Right? It's really hard to recite anything from Chris Rock without sounding ... terrible. Right?

PAM: Yup. Exactly.

That first album is online (on Spotify), I think. You should listen to the part about when he puts aftershave on his dick. Very funny. And the talking car. And the part about the Pope mobile. And ... well … anyway

JASON: That's something I wish I had more of, comedy albums. Maybe that's how I'll handle getting old? I'll just listen to old standup albums at the library.
If there are still libraries.

PAM: Floating library in space maybe. But they laser beam the album directly into your brain.

JASON: I was just talking about downloading knowledge into our brains like The Matrix.

PAM: Though I don't think we'll have brains by then. Just nerve endings that momentarily process information from the Internet.

Anyway, you were in college - a fan of good comedy and ginormous hamburger jokes - but still not even close to trying out for a play or anything?

JASON: Nope. I was so shy. But I had an interest in filmmaking. I wanted to be Steven Spielberg and make movies. I’d be behind the camera.

PAM: Were you able to overcome the shy boy?

JASON: Yeah, by the time I got to high school, I was a bit of an ass. Sarcastic. Cutting. That carried through into college. The shy boy faded back. He still makes appearances though.

PAM: How were those first classes at Second City for you?

JASON: The first classes were great! I was lucky to have Andy Cobb for Level B, who was great. He's definitely a major influence on the way I teach improv.

PAM: In what ways did he influence you?

JASON: Well, he was so energetic and FUN. When we'd do scenes, Andy would crouch down on the stage in between the two improvisers and look up at you. He seemed to really care about us. I didn't have any confidence in my abilities, but he built me up. He was the teacher that made me think, "Could I be good at this? Could I really be an improviser?"

After he taught our class, I heard he quit teaching. Months later, I bumped into him at a bar and I said to him, "Andy, I heard you quit teaching! You were definitely my favorite teacher at Second City. Why did you quit?"

He said, "I quit because I felt like a fraud. I don't think you can teach improv. Improv is something you learn to do onstage, and no one learns improv in a classroom. I felt dirty taking money for that."

It kind of blew my mind.

PAM: That’s crazy. Do you believe he was correct?

JASON: Yes and no. I don't think you learn to improvise in classroom, but I think improv classes serve a purpose. His take just made me sharpen up what I focus on in a classroom. If we just let improvisers get reps in a class, they don't learn anything. So ... let's not do that.

Instead, let's focus on fundamentals and understanding concepts. Then I encourage students to go PERFORM, which is where they're going to learn anyway.

PAM: Yeah, I guess it was explained to me that the classroom is where you strengthen particular muscles. Then you let it go when you get onstage and that’s when you learn in a whole different way.

What is your aim as a teacher? What do you hope students take away from your classes?

JASON: I think it's my job to help improvisers with the moment they get offstage after a show, that first moment when you get in the green room. My aim as a teacher is to get improvisers to NOT say, "Well, that sucked and I have no idea why!" They should know why a show (or their scene) ended up good or bad. They need to be able to analyze what just happened and learn something from it. They shouldn't feel victimized by a bad improv show. Shows should be a learning experience. And classes should provide students an understanding of improv, so that improv doesn't feel like a invisible leprechaun they're chasing after.

Improv can feel magical, but it's not magic. It's a conversation. It's easy!

That's my other aim as a teacher. I believe it all boils down to human defense mechanisms. We get in front of an audience (or a classroom), and we feel anxiety. Fear. And the body takes over. We get defensive. We can't help it! We've evolved to do this! And now the scene is dog shit. And we panic because no one is laughing. And that panic leads to more defensiveness. And now I'm not listening to my scene partner. And I don't know what to do. And I say, "Fuck you, Larry! And that's not a chair, it's an AIDS MACHINE!"

And now? Improv is the worst, hardest thing in the world. And it just doesn't have to be. It's easy!

PAM: LOL.

JASON: And I tell my students from day one, "I'm not going to be telling you what's good improv vs. bad improv. I'm going to point out what's easy vs. hard."

PAM: Continue with this line, please. Because when I hear big dogs like you say that it's easy, I think some people might interpret that as, "It's so easy my granny could do it." But I suspect that's not exactly what you mean. Do you mean that it's ease-full?

JASON: I think anyone can improvise. Of course, I think some people have an easier time with it than others. Some of us are more defensive than others. If you stick with improv long enough, you'll have no choice but to start dropping some (if not all) of your defenses.

Improv wasn't easy for me for a long time. Why? Why was it so hard? Because I made it hard. It wasn't that my scene partners were doing terrible work; it was me being defensive. I argued. I tore scene partners apart. I backed away from what they said. I said no.

And what took me a long time to realize, as a teacher, is that when these things happen in a class I can't look at the student making his scenes hard and say to myself, "Wow, this kid is an asshole." I see a human being acting defensive. I've been there. I've made it hard. I get it. Can I help them make it easy?

You can watch any bad improv scene and see the parts where it gets hard. A line is missed because the partner isn't listening. Are they a bad person for that? No, they're a human being. An improviser wrinkles their nose at something their partner said. Is that bad? No, it's hard. You can actually just nod instead of wrinkling your nose and POOF!, you're suddenly yes-anding your scene partner and the two of you are having fun onstage.

My favorite moment as an improv teacher is the moment when a great scene has just ended and one of the people onstage looks puzzled. They furrow their brow. The scene was great and they look weirded out. And I'll ask them, "What's wrong?" And they say back to me, "It can't be that easy, can it?"

PAM: LOL.

JASON: Which is not to say I nail every scene I do now. I don't. I fuck this up all the time. But I can always look back at it and say, "Here's where I fucked that up. Here's where it got hard." Duh.

PAM: While I was writing the book with TJ and Dave, we had this same debate as well. (TJ says it's easy too...) I find it very multi-dimensional because I don’t see it as an easy-hard continuum. It's a different dimension of easy, one you can't chase ...

I mean, lying down is easy, right? You just lie down. Babies do it right out of the womb. But I don’t see improvisation as that kind of easy.

JASON: I reference TJ a lot in my classes.

PAM: Yeah, I reference TJ in my brain all the time. He's insidious. (In a good way.)

Maybe this isn't how you see it, but I see it as a Buddhist-type of "easy." Easy but also hard. An easy that can take a lifetime of practice to approach.

JASON: I tell my students to watch TJ’s body language when he's onstage. He does this thing I call the "TJ Bounce" when someone is talking to him. His whole body is listening and he's physically bouncing his head and shoulders. He's finding a way into what you're talking about.

When I was a student, he was the guy I watched the most because he made it look so easy and I had to figure out what was doing. He bounces!

PAM:  Aw, shit. All I need to do is bounce!

JASON: Try it! It helps! It turns down the defenses!

PAM: I'm seeing them on Saturday. I'll watch for The Bounce. (I bounce when I'm overly excited to be onstage. It's not helpful. I'm doing it wrong, clearly.)

JASON: I push body language a lot in my classes. Arms, body positioning, etc. I push my students to smile more, too. It pushes the agreement. It makes the scenes easy!

PAM: That's a good one. I’m stealing that one for the class I'm teaching tomorrow.

JASON: I believe that if I were to take any improv student and put them somewhere where they're anxious (e.g., a party where they show up early and they don't know anyone at the party), they're going to use the same defense mechanism they use onstage. Getting aggressive, passive, managing, acting silly, etc. We can't help it! But if you can identify your mechanisms, you can work on them.

PAM: Interesting. By awareness, you can make your self-defenses less powerful.

JASON: Correct!

PAM: I’m in this strange stage right now, where I’m not taking many classes anymore because, after over a decade of study, I’m feeling like there are too many voices in my head to hear over my own voice. (This is partially a result of something TJ said to me about the downside of too much training.) How did you go about developing your own unique comic voice?

JASON: Hmm. I don't think I have a comic voice. I just try (TRY!) to treat my scene partners like they're a fun person to be around ... then I do what I'd do in real life if the improv scene's scenario was happening to us.

PAM: I think "comic voice" isn't the right phrase ... hang on, let me try again ...
It's not “voice” as in what I use onstage; I mean “voice” as in what is in my head. My guiding light as an improviser. I have a lot of philosophies in my head after studying so many places and talking to so many big brains in improvisation. I guess what I'm trying to ask is how you developed your own approach to improvisation?

JASON: Teaching. Teaching for eight years forces you to be more analytical of improv. The student's improv and MY OWN improv.

PAM: That is useful! Thank you.

You, in particular Jason, seem to be paying attention to what is going on in a scene in a very multi-leveled way. You seem to be listening, of course, to what is happening in the scene, but – correct me if I’m wrong here – you also seem to be paying attention to the show as a whole. Is that something you’re consciously doing?

JASON: I try (TRY)!

Colleen and I try hard to figure out (without thinking about it too hard) what we WANT. What's her character after? What's mine after? "Colleen's character wants to feel romanced. And she loves lilies. Maybe we can end the show with her answering the doorbell and it's a flower delivery? And the flowers are from the office mate she was talking to in the first scene. But they're roses." And then you put that in your pocket, and if that's a scenario that we can use later, let's use it. If not, I gotta toss that out.

With DUMMY shows, I push the both of us to have ideas as to where the show is going. If Colleen has an idea and I have an idea, one of those ideas will probably end the show. Having ideas like that help me relax. And the more relaxed I feel? The less anxiety I have! Less defense mechanisms!!!
iO Bathroom Selfie with "Dummy"
Colleen Doyle, Sarah Dell'Amico, and Jason Shotts
[Photo credit: Sarah Dell'Amico]

PAM: Cool. So you really are consciously looking at the show with an “overhead eye”? (I'm pretty sure that's a term I stole from TJ.)

JASON: I TRY to. I was on a phenomenal Harold team back in the day, Otis. Shelly Gossman was on the team and she would always talk about shows with an overhead eye. She could see the whole thing. And that KILLED me. I was so jealous of that. We'd run first beats she always seemed to have a great idea about where she thought it was going.

The analogy (SO MANY ANALOGIES!) I use for this with improv students is that improv shows are like a fast-moving train. When you do your first improv show, you're standing three feet from the train. It's gigantic and scary, and it's moving so fast you can't see anything. But the next train is five feet away. Less scary. After a couple of years, the train is a hundred yards from you. After ten years? That train is a mile away. And you can see the whole thing from the engine to the caboose. And it's not scary at all.

And that's why it takes time to learn to improvise! You gotta step back from that train!

PAM: And now I'm singing a Grateful Dead song. Thank you, train analogy.

JASON: HA!

PAM: And now you're singing it. You're welcome.

JASON: By the way, "overhead eye" is quoting you and not Shelly.  :) 

PAM: Quoting me probably quoting TJ, not quoting Shelly. Got it.

In our little chat together, Colleen mentioned that you both share the goal of “burning up” everything that’s been discovered in a scene. Can you break that down that process for me please?

JASON: Yeah, I'd say it's really fun to remember the little things talked about at the beginning of a show and try to find a way to bring them back later in a more important way. The show builds the importance, and when we recall the little things (and they're more important now) it can be a dazzling thing for an audience. And for us! We're like "Oh yeeeaaaahhh ... I mentioned wanting a new cooler for camping trips at the beginning of the show and now Colleen's bringing out a wrapped gift ... it's gotta be the cooler. Sweet.” And we both know it. But I won't open it for another ten minutes and let the audience go, "Oh yeah ... the COOLER!"

We'll always drop stuff, but afterward we like to talk about the little things and then go, "Shit, we could've made the squirrel you mentioned you're new pet at the end. We could've flash-forwarded to you a year later with the squirrel. DAMMIT!"

That's why analyzing the shows a little bit sharpens up those things. You start looking for those things together.

PAM: And here I am left wondering if there is a dead squirrel in the cooler …

JASON: HA! Right?

PAM: Tell about the philosophy behind DUMMY. I’d like to know what went into its creation – why you chose to do a two-person, multi-character, freeform structure – and how its continues to evolve.

JASON: Well, I don't think it's a philosophy thing. We started as a fun "Why not?" thing, and it just started to click. We'd get offstage and say, "Damn, that was good!" After a while we got really comfortable onstage. Too comfortable. The shows were so laid back they wouldn't be about anything. It was just Colleen and me babbling. So we gave ourselves goals. We kinda said, "Let's focus on this …  Let's focus on a want in the early part of the show. Let's try one long scene. Let's do it all in one location." Things like that.

We were doing a show at Chemically Imbalanced Comedy one night during a run, and these two sisters showed up and sat in the front row. The theater was BYOB at the time, and I noticed them right away because they brought a box of wine and two wine glasses. The theater probably had ten other people in it (which was normal for us back then).

Anyway, we're doing this show as two co-workers at the post office. I'm an older guy, and we’re friends. And I'm trying to give her love advice. She deserves better than the guy she's seeing. He doesn't treat her right. She's defending her boyfriend.

The second half of the show is Colleen's character and me, now playing the boyfriend. I'm trying to play him as honestly as possible. He's a shit, but he's also not an 80s movie caricature. I say something mean and then follow it up with something sweet. Push and pull. Colleen's character is dealing with all this inner conflict. Should she go? Should she stay? So fun. Not really that funny, but very honest.

There's a silent moment. Colleen's character doesn't know what to do. It's quiet. Just then, I hear one sister turn to the other and whisper (just loud enough that we can all hear her), "Ugh. She's never going to leave him."

And that was probably my favorite DUMMY moment of all time. It was one of those magical little improv moments where it felt like we were improvising a play, and these two sisters were eating up every word of it. SO FUN!

PAM: Love it. That's like the time I was tying a mucous bow tie around my neck during a short form show and the audience all said, "EWWWW!" And I'm thinking, "WTF? It's AIR, bitches. I'm just touching air, not snot."

Ok. Maybe it's nothing like that...

JASON: It's very similar! Some nights, they believe!

PAM: A generous response from a gallant gentleman. Thank you.

Congratulations about your impending move to L.A., Jason! I am not at all surprised that you two are moving out there - it seems like a natural next step for you both. Though I'm sure Chicago is heartbroken to lose you. What brought that about? Is there a specific project that is bringing you out there?

JASON: No, nothing specific. I've lived here for 17 years now. 17!! And I've lived in the Midwest my whole life. It's time for something new. We've got agents that have been great, and we've had little meetings in L.A. and introduced ourselves and talked about potential things ... nothing concrete.

It feels like the Chicago comedy scene is in a state of flux right now. And that's great! But in talking about a move, it seemed like the right time to do it.
Plus? I'm kind of done with Midwest winters. I've had my fill.

PAM: I hear that. Seriously.
Dummy

Will you be doing DUMMY out there? And teaching?

JASON: I think so. We've already got a few shows scheduled at iO West in October. We'll see how that goes. We'd like to keep performing weekly, if possible.

Teaching is tougher. We're hoping to pick up a class or two, but it's tricky. And you don't want to be the Chicago assholes that show up and say, "We're here! Where are my STUDENTS?!??!" But I'm sure we'll be coaching and teaching wherever we can.

PAM: I hope so. I'd like to send my L.A. friends your way.

Last question before I reluctantly let you go ... What’s your L.A. dream, Jason? If I get lucky enough to interview you in five years, what accomplishment would you be so f'n excited about telling me?

JASON: Honestly, I've worked day jobs in Chicago from day one. Offices, offices, offices. And last April, I finally quit!

My dream? It’s that five years from now I'm making a living writing or performing, and I'll never need to work in another office again as long as I live. That would be a dream come true!

Colleen and I have started writing together, and I think if we could sell a pilot or two or five, that would be phenomenal. But avoiding any sort of 9-to-5 would be the best!

PAM: That's the dream we all have, right? To get paid to do comedy full time.

I've been enjoying your videos. Truly funny stuff. I'd love to see more of that.



JASON: Yeah, we'd love to make more! If anyone out there wants to put the money up, we'd LOVE TO!!! ;-)

PAM: Ha! Anybody who wants to produce some DUMMY videos, just email me and my people will put you in touch with Jason's people

JASON: Yes, please!

PAM: Well, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, sir! This conversation has been delightfully entertaining and enlightening. Honestly.

JASON: Thank YOU! This has been fun! I’m honored you asked.

PAM: The honor is all mine. 

Oh, and also this ... from me, to  you:


*

If you’re in Los Angeles, you lucky souls can see DUMMY’s first show on October 16th at 8pm at iO West. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this show!


Read "Geeking Out with...Colleen Doyle"
in which she says
"To put it in an artsy fartsy way, 
I’m more confident that improv is a tool to show the truth. 
And that truth may not be comedic."


And "like" the "Geeking Out with..." FACEBOOK PAGE please.



Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show in Western Massachusetts. Pam performs "Geeking Out with: The TALK SHOW," a live version of this series, at comedy festivals throughout the land. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle." Currently, Pam is co-writing "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. If you want to stay abreast of all the geek out action, like the “Geeking Out with…” Facebook page! And get all her nonsense at www.pamvictor.com. 















Thursday, September 25, 2014

Essay: The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment (#9: First World Experiment)

by Pam Victor

[The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment is my one-year challenge to make a living through creative pursuits. Read all the updates here.]

I am lucky to be in the position of doing this experiment. Financially, it is a luxury to be able to try to make a living through mostly creative pursuits. Many, many people don't have this option. "There's this whole other group of people — could be you or me — (who are) o
ne failed transmission away from going over the cliff to poverty," said Nancy Rosso, executive director of the Livingston County United Way, according to the Livingstone Daily from my home state of Michigan. I joked about working at Taco Bell in a couple posts ago, but a lot of people who work in fast food restaurants are barely staying afloat financially. That's no joke.

Lately, I've been sitting with the fact that I have this luxury to explore a creative life and work that I love. I've been wrestling with the conflicting feelings of determination to make a living doing what I love and shame of being in this position, which I'm trying to transform to compassion for those who can't afford to even consider such an endeavor. Work they love? They can't even make a living doing work they don't hate. Earlier this summer, The Huffington Post did a series about Americans who work hard but still struggle to make ends meet. Here's one short story:
Vanessa Powell, 29, works full time in a Goodwill warehouse in Seattle for $9.25 an hour. She holds a bachelor's degree in English and a master's in business administration. But with her fiancĂ© out of work, she's just grateful to have a job, even though she occasionally feels it's "beneath" her. Even with the job, however, it's sometimes hard for them to get enough to eat . "I mean, yeah, it's dirty work and often demeaning work, but at least it's work," she said.

I am lucky. I have my husband's income to fall back on should this experiment crash and burn. Though he was not taking a paycheck for half of last  year, we're still doing okay. That said, my foray back into the world of paid work is well timed, particularly given the fact that we're looking ahead at seven years (!!) of nearly unfathomable college tuition bills (and during one of those lean years, we'll be paying two college tuitions...we'll cross that scary bridge when we come to it). Nevertheless, we have plenty of food. We shop at Whole Foods on occasion. We take one nice vacation a year. Our home is warm in the winter. Yep, I am lucky. No doubt about it.

Doing what we love is a luxury that many cannot afford. Making a living in creative fields is a risky gamble in America. Pursuing a career in comedy is an against-all-odds financial endeavor. Yes, I feel guilty about the "First World problem" aspect of this experiment. But I also feel frustrated and despondent and sort of angry that an artist has to struggle to break the poverty line in America. And if an artist has to struggle, imagine what an improviser has to do.

Scratch that.

What an improviser GETS TO do.

*
* * *

Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show in western Massachusetts. Pam performs  "Geeking Out with: The TALK SHOW," a live version of the written Geeking Out with... interview series, at comedy festivals throughout the land. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle." Currently, Pam is co-writing "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. If you want to stay abreast (yes, I said breast) of all her nonsense, go to www.pamvictor.com

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Essay: The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment (#8: On the Radio)

by Pam Victor

[The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment is my one-year challenge to make a living through creative pursuits. Read all the updates here.]



Today's update is for your earhole pleasures. (I hope.)
Monte Belmonte of 93.9 The River 
interviewed me about 
The "Can I Make a Living Doing What a Love" Experiment! 


By the way, this is what Monte looks like in real life.
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Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show in western Massachusetts. Pam performs a "Geeking Out with: The TALK SHOW," a live version of the written Geeking Out with... interview series, at comedy festivals throughout the land. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle." Currently, Pam is co-writing "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. If you want to stay abreast (yes, I said breast) of all her nonsense, go to www.pamvictor.com

Friday, September 19, 2014

Essay: The Incredulous Years

By Pam Victor

As of exactly noon on this brisk, sunny day, I officially am the parent of a 16 year old and an 18 year old. That is astounding to me. It occurs to me that I’ve been feeling astounded all year long, as we’ve approached these milestones of high school and graduation and college. I suspect I’ll look back on these as the "Incredulous Years," the time when I was slack-jawed and humbled that the time somehow whizzed by at a snail's pace. All those obscenely long, sometimes lonely, often poopy days - when I felt like I belly-crawled through the obstacle course of cooking and cleaning and re-cleaning and care-taking and soothing and crying and earaches and projectile vomiting and snuggles and picture books and losing my patience and regaining my patience and losing it again and the long ritual of winding down to the finish line of bedtime - all those interminable days seemed to have lined up, one after another, to turn into long months and shorter years and a decade that went by in a blink.

I am genuinely incredulous as I look at my grown-on-the-outside children, and I wonder who is taking care of the babies and toddlers and preschoolers and little kidlets that used to live in our house? Who are these tall
Mother's Day 2014
humans who I look up, both physically and, more and more often, mentally? How did they ever fit in my body? Where they curled up like ferns that unfurled slowly over the last 16 and 18 years? I hope the babies my children once were are okay. I hope I didn’t them screw  up too badly. I hope I can make it through my daughter’s geometry homework tonight.

I can't get my mind around my children - hell, lately, I can't even get my arms around them...they are on the run to one place or another or too busy texting their friends or too strong for me to tackle. But I am grateful and humbled to be at this place in life. And most of all, I am incredulous. Absolutely and profoundly incredulous that we are here today. Absolutely and profoundly and GRATEFULLY incredulous when I look at my 5’9” daughter, all legs and gorgeous hair and bright eyes with all that she always has to say. Incredulous that my son no longer sleeps in our house. Incredulous when I look in the mirror at the silver in my hair. How the fuck did that happen? How is it that my baby is in high school while I am not? Incredulous when I fondly rub the baby soft hair clinging stubbornly to the top of my husband’s head, bidding it a final farewell. (Turns out, age is all about hair. Who knew?) Incredulous when I see the family-friend kids who used to dance naked after dinner in a funny noise-maker parade (which always included a hot pink shopping cart, for some reason), and those kids are now almost adults. And I look at the other parents of those replaced kids, and we just shake our heads with our mouths open, laughing in disbelief.

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Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show in western Massachusetts. Pam performs a "Geeking Out with: The TALK SHOW," a live version of the written Geeking Out with... interview series, at comedy festivals throughout the land. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle." Currently, Pam is co-writing "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. If you want to stay abreast (yes, I said breast) of all her nonsense, go to www.pamvictor.com