Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Writing The TJ & Dave Book (#4): The Moments

by Pam Victor

["Writing The TJ & Dave Book" is the series plucked from the journal I kept while writing "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ & Dave Book" with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. You should buy the book here. (I mean, if you want to.) 
You can see the whole behind-the-book blog series here for free.]



The Moments: Journal Entries from Early 2013

“Anyone like ‘The Moment’ for a possible book title?” That was TJ asking on a text thread between the three of us. (Be still my heart. Would there be a time when this was a ho-hum occurrence? I hoped not but feared so.)

I didn’t say this out loud (and by “out loud,” I mean in the text,) but if I have to be perfectly honest, the title “The Moment” brought up immediate images of Debra Winger in a ‘80s Lifetime movie in which she falls in love with Robert Redford on a sailboat to a Celine Dion song, and then dies. But when it comes down to it, this ain’t my book. So I texted back, “I’ll put it on the list of possible titles.”

We continue to exchange few more texts in which we discussed our first rejection from a literary agent (“Our first rejection!” I wrote, “I’ll put it in our scrapbook!”) And then David texted, “TJ. I do.” 

And then David added, “Oh god, that was for The Moment suggestion. I hope you don’t think that I meant … But I would that too. I mean do.”

“Awwww! That is definitely going in the scrapbook!” I girlied out all over their text thread.

Another TJ and Dave moment to an audience of one. Me. One lucky motherfucker. If the whole book thing ended tomorrow – and I half-expected it would just because Dorothy doesn’t get to stay in Oz forever – at least I would have moments like that.


* * *

In a whispered hush with my BFF Laura, I shared my nagging worry that in writing this book, I will be the catalyst of the demise of TJ & Dave. I suspected that one of the reasons they resist introspection and glory stems from a fear that such belly button gazing and over-analysis would harm the show. 

Perhaps TJ & Dave is perfect because it remains unexamined by them? What if their protracted introspection kills the magic of TJ and Dave?! I can just hear what people would say in the dark corners of improv theaters and classrooms, the fable that would be handed down along with things Del Close may or may not have said, “TJ and Dave were the best…until…” And then in a barely audible whisper, “…the book…” 

I would be the person who killed TJ & Dave! I would be persona non grata in the improv world, forevermore to be referred to as “she who shall not be named.” WHAT IF I KILL THE MAGIC OF TJ & DAVE?!


* * *

A friend who does Tarot card readings offered me one to allay my fears about stepping into the unknown with this book. The last card that came up, the “outcome card,” was a fireworks of celebration. I didn’t want to talk about the reading with anyone, fearful of tempting fate. All I could do was look towards the next meeting …


***

TJ, David, and I were having a phone meeting about the book, again going over titles. One of David's favorites was "This Shit is So Fucking Easy." Through slightly gritted teeth, I told him that 95% of the people who would hopefully hold the book in their hands actually don't find the shit very easy. I know I don't. 


He said, "That's just because people want to think it's hard, so it is hard." 

I'm pretty sure he was yanking my chain. (He likes to be ornery.) However, perhaps there is some truth there? If a chapter ends up being called, "This Shit is So Fucking Easy," you'll know where it comes from.


***

In my effort to absorb as much TJ and Dave as possible during this data-collection phase of the book, I found myself wandering over to YouTube and watching a couple Sonic commercials. However in geeking out over a bunch of damn Sonic commercials - WTF, Pam??? -  I wondered if I possibly crossed a line of decency and propriety.

Please don't look at me. I'm disgusting.


***
I watched the commentary version of “Trust Us, This is All Made Up.” Probably the fifth or sixth time I’ve seen the show, though first time I’d watched the commentary. I found it delightful and insightful, and I laughed a lot when TJ signed off at the end with, “Thanks for watching, dorks.” He was talking to me! 

(I know this for a fact mainly because I’m probably the only person who watched the whole commentary.)

(Oh? You watched it too? That’s great, you fucking dork.) 


* * *

Jonesin’ for more TJ and Dave ammunition for the book, I shot off an email to David asking if he could get me some DVDs of their iO shows. His response was, “How many do you need? All I need is an address.”

A year ago, this interaction would have blown my mind clear off my shoulders.

Yeah, David Pasquesi personally is delivering TJ and Dave shows to me. I feel like I’m going to be struck down with lightning just for writing that sentence.

Follow up: I slowly savored the shows, parsed out over several months. Each show is different and brilliant in its own way. Some are fast and hilarious. Some are slow and immensely skillful. But, holy fuck, they are all … yeah … my challenge will be finding the words to describe their brilliance for the book beyond the words “holy fuck.” 


* * *

Last night, I had a dream that they made the TJ & Dave show into a movie. 

As a puppet show.
***

One day, David and I were talking on the phone going over material for the first chapter. He was at a hotel while on location for a TV show. He stopped mid-sentence and said with delight, “Oh. TJ is on TV right now.”

All I could think was, “What is the new world I am in?”



***

Zip Zap Zop. I was talking to TJ and David about that game. I had this strange fantasy to make a video of them playing Zip Zap Zop. (TJ sagely warned me to back off from that idea if I wanted David to ever speak to me again.)

“South of the equator, they play Zop Zap Zip,” I quipped during the meeting. “You know," I added when they didn't laugh. "The Australian drain theory?” After a contemplative pause, I added, “I heard somewhere that it’s a fallacy that the water goes down the drain in the opposite direction.” 

Dave said, “Yeah I heard that somewhere too.”

Me, genuinely trying to wrack my brain, “Huh. I can’t remember where I heard it though. It was a good fact.” 

Dave replied, “Probably a couple guys who didn’t know what they were talking about.”

And it was at that moment that I realized I had been quoting as fact something I’d heard in a web series. A web series called Graveyard. Starring Christian Stolte and … blerg … David Pasquesi. 

You can watch that episode here. And please by all means, go ahead and tell me if in three weeks you don’t remember it as coming from a science book.  

God. I’m such an idiot.




* * *

The hardest part about working with two of the smartest and funniest improvisers in the world is that I never get to be the smartest or the funniest in the room with them.

Don’t tell TJ and Dave I said that though.

One day during a meeting, I actually blurted out, "You know, I really am very smart!" (How can you tell when someone is not smart? They are the person who has to say out loud that they are smart.)

It's exceedingly frustrating what an idiot I act like around them. (Fuck you, nervous energy. Go away.) It's like the more I act like a stupid idiot, the more they see me that way. And the more they see me as a stupid idiot, the stupider I feel. And the stupider I feel, the stupider I act. Gah! I am better educated than both of them. Hello, Smith College, cum laude! Plus a Master's degree! (How can you tell if someone is not smart? They have to tell you about their academic degrees.) Everywhere else in the world, I am seen as a fairly intelligent, insightful, well respected human. And then I get into a meeting with these two ...

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If you're interested in reading more of my slurry, check out

Or perhaps you'd like to read interviews with great minds in improvisation in the Geeking Out with... series here?
Like maybe  Geeking Out with...The Harold (What Makes a Harold a Harold?)

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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 writes (and performs) the Geeking Out with... interview series. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle."   TJ Jagodowski,  David Pasquesi, and Pam are the co-authors of the newly released "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book." Currently, Pam teaches  "The Zen of Improv Comedy" and "Mindfulness Through Laughter" in Western Massachusetts.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Zen of Improv: Improviser's Mind Beginner's Mind

by Pam Victor

[The Zen of Improv is a series of articles about  the mind-expanding, groovy side of improvisation and other hippy shit. 


For a long time, I was confused about the amount of modesty I encountered when talking to my improv heroes. I expected them to sit high on the thrones I put them on, laugh haughtily, and expound confidently in a deep baritone, “This is the way I improvise and you should too.” Instead, I encounter profound humility almost everywhere I turn, most of all from our most admired improvisers. (With one notable exception, which I’ll happily dish the dirt about if you ever have the opportunity to buy me a margarita or slice of pie.) 

In the improv mecca of Chicago, I find this humble nature the most striking of all. For instance, improv goddess Susan Messing said to me, “I think my joy is that I haven't been kicked offstage yet ... and that people I play with would agree to play with me.” Susan Messing has said some pretty eyebrow-raising thing - bless her heart - but that someone of her stature would say something like that shocked the hell out of me.

And when I geeked out with TJ Jagdowski of TJ & Dave, we had this exchange

PAM: After all this time, do you feel sometimes that you suck? 
TJ:  Yeah. Oh, God yeah. 
PAM [incredulous]: Shut. Up. 
TJ: No, I won’t shut up. 
PAM [laughing]: That’s it! Shut up! We’re done. 
TJ: Yeah. Oh, yeah. And a lot of people that I think are really good would maybe be at a point in their craft where they don’t suck anymore. And I know they feel like they suck. Dave feels like he sucks sometimes … You never get passed blowing it. 
PAM: I think you’re perception of not achieving is probably different than mine or the audiences. 
TJ: No, this is objective sucking... 
PAM: I’ve seen you perform a lot since I’ve been [in Chicago]- 
TJ: I haven’t sucked in front of you? 
PAM: You haven’t sucked in front of me. 
TJ: Well, I’m on a good streak. 
PAM: Could happen at any minute. 
TJ: Any time. I reserve the right for that to end at any time …
While writing Improvisation at the Speed of Life with TJ and Dave, I quickly discovered that a good way of getting their hackles up was to call them masters of improvisation. “We are not masters and we never will be,” David told me firmly. 

At first I thought this modesty might be good ol’ Midwestern “Aw, shucks” charm. But then I started wondering if their mindset wasn’t a Great Lakes aberration but rather a necessary component of improvising skillfully for decades on end. That’s when I started to see improvisation as a practice rather than a final product. We’re always practicing, never mastering. Always beginning, never taking home the trophy.

What is this apparent humility so common in great improvisers? 

First of all, not all improvisers see it as humility. In Improvisation at the Speed of Life, we discuss that it’s not necessarily a humble quality but rather a basic requirement of improvisation. TJ Jagodowski says, “They tell you from the beginning that your partner is the bigger thing. That the show is the bigger thing. That the moment is the bigger thing … I don’t know if humility is the word for it. But service is inherent.”

Secondly, improvising well is nothing we can ever take for granted. The very nature of improvisation requires that every time we take the stage, anything can happen, including major "objective sucking." The shit-show is inevitable, and, in my experience, the best way to attract the shit-show is by thinking I’m immune to it. And the most experienced improvisers carry the most scars of moments that fall flat, stone cold audiences, and shows that felt like performing in a vat of mud. Maybe it’s the roll-of-the-dice element and inherent service of improvisation that prompt our most talented and experienced performers to maintain the Zen concept of “beginner’s mind?” Ironically, this mindset may be just the thing that makes them great performers. 

You only have to venture as far as the prologue of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind where Shunryu Suzuki writes, “For a while you will keep your beginner’s mind, but if you continue to practice one, two, three years or more, although you may improve some, you are liable to lose the limitless meaning of original mind … This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few."


As I understand it, "beginner's mind" is about staying open to new ideas, taking risks, living in a state of not-knowing, being curious, eager, and ready. With a beginner’s mind, everything is new and interesting and accepted. Think of when you started driving. Every moment was mindful. Every movement was conscious. Personally, I couldn’t even listen to the radio at first because the act of driving itself took all my concentration. A beginner is on high alert, trying to see everything, absorb everything, and improve constantly. And these days? Most often, I pull into my destination without one clear memory of the entire drive. Terrifying but true. And probably not the best way to perform as a driver. If you see me on the road, steer clear.

I’ve been wondering lately how the idea of beginner’s mind translates directly to the stage? For starters, I replaced “zazen” with “improv” when I read this:
The most important thing is to forget all gaining ideas, all dualistic ideas. In other words, just practice zazen in a certain posture. Do not think about anything. Just remain on your cushion without expecting anything. Then eventually you will resume your own true nature. That is to say, your own true nature resumes itself.”
― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice
I translate that to: Just remain in the scene without expecting anything in order to discover our most honest reactions. A lot of times, the more practice we have, the farther away we get from the honest curiosity and openness of our beginner’s mind. I remember a conversation I had with TJ once about how to figure out what was a truly honest response in a scene, and I mentioned using my “improviser instincts.” He castigated me, saying that if I’ve had so many improv classes that I had forgotten my natural, honest human instincts and react only according to my improviser training, then I’ve taken too many improv classes.  (Note: I scaled back on the workshops and classes immediately.)

But you know what I’m talking about when I say "improviser instincts," right? We’ve been through so many scenes that we can classify them and play them out automatically – “Oh, he’s playing the guy in the office who sees everything in superhero terms. All I have to do is put myself in jeopardy, so he can have something to save. ‘Ah! I’m being swallowed up by the copier! Help me!’” After a while onstage, heightening and pattern-playing become muscle memory, and we stop seeing the limitless possibilities of the scene. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.” Maybe that’s what worries those stellar improvisers so much? 

Habit – of raising stakes, playing patterns, establishing the who/what/where, or whatever - turns off the beginner’s mind. In the unfortunately titled Breathe, You are Alive! Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “But our habit energy is so strong. That is why we need each other in order to stop and establish ourselves in the present moment ... Every time the runaway horse of habit energy shows its head, pushing us on, we breathe in and out and say, ‘My dear friend, I know you, the habit energy of running.’ We smile to it, and it is not able to push us any more. It will go away ... We don’t have to fight. All we have to do is recognize it and smile to it.”

But to be perfectly frank, sometimes I don’t feel like doing all that breathing in-breathing out mumbo-jumbo. I don’t want to have to sit crisscross-applesauce on a cushion to get my improv on, but I’d still like to get the benefits of "beginner’s mind." So I guess I have to recognize my habits and tell them to fuck off smile at them? Onstage that could mean being curious about where the scene is going rather than mapping it out in my head according to an “arc” or by “following the funny.” Quieting myself and really listening to the scene taking place already rather than sliding into the well-worn path. Taking risks because I don’t know where they will lead rather than following some formula of “How to Improvise.” In order to improvise into the multitude of unknown places that scene could go, I need to let go of those improviser instincts and that habit energy and instead shine the light on my human instincts. The beginner’s mind says, “I don’t know what’s going to happen! Yay!” and “I wonder what is going to happen next?” and, most importantly, “I have to pay attention to my scene partners to discover what’s going to happen next,” which all seem like a much more fun way to play anyway. And definitely would make me a more fun person to play with in the long run.

Every time I get onstage is an opportunity to practice “beginner’s mind.”

Lucky beginning improvisers, they can skip that practice and just be.



“Everything is perfect and there is always room for improvement.”
– Shunryu Suzuki
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If you are interested in exploring some more Zen of Improv pieces, 
check out 

Or how about some of these "Geeking Out with..." interviews?



Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show in Western Massachusetts. Pam writes (and performs) the Geeking Out with... interview series. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle."   TJ Jagodowski,  David Pasquesi, and Pam are the co-a "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book,"  due out Spring, 2015. Currently, Pam teaches  "The Zen of Improv Comedy" and "Mindfulness Through Laughter" in Western Massachusetts.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Writing The TJ & Dave Book (#3): In Which I Am More Elaine Benes Than Julia Louis-Dreyfus

by Pam Victor

["Writing The TJ & Dave Book" is the series plucked from the journal I kept while writing "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ & Dave Book" with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. You should buy the book here. (I mean, if you want to.) 
You can see the whole behind-the-book blog series here for free.]


“Pam. We would love to discuss the idea of a book with you.”

After I received that text from David Pasquesi, I spent the next two hours trying to remember how to breathe. But lest you think we three hopped merrily from David Pasquesi’s text to hunkering down happily in a cozy cabin on a Lake Michigan for a writers' retreat à trois, I should mention that a few months of hand-wringing, waiting, worrying, ruminating, brainstorming (on my part) and the rare text (on their part) took place before we were collectively ready to actually sit down and start writing the book at a cozy lakeside writers' retreat. (I should also mention that we never met by any lake for anything resembling a writers' retreat, cozy or otherwise. But it's a nice thought, isn't it?) 

The date I received that first watershed text was October 24, 2012, two weeks after my pie-in-the-sky initial book pitch, and I had long since given up on hearing a reply. The whole idea of writing about book with TJ and Dave was a pipe dream that seemed all crack pipe and too much dream. 

And yet, there it was on my screen: “Pam. We would love to discuss the idea of a book with you.” The period after my name killed me. I felt honored that he made my name a whole sentence – as if I was subject and predicate all in one word. 

I almost instantly started back-pedaling my dreams. Like saying “moustache” over and over and over until it lost all meaning, my repeated reading of the text lead me to believe his reply was noncommittal and open to interpretation. “Pam. We would love to discuss the idea of a book with you.” Sure, at first blush it seemed like he wanted to, well, discuss the idea of the book with me, but what if he had been called away from his phone mid-text? “Pam. [The period took on an ominous tone.] We would love to discuss the idea of a book with you … but we would also love to swill champagne out of the cavernous belly buttons of Italian models every night. Please. Get real, bitch. [Super serious forever period intended.]

What did it mean??? Moustache, moustache, moustache, moustache. I had no fucking idea what  pamwewouldlovetodiscusstheideaofabookwithyou even meant. Nevertheless, I responded with a suggestion for a virtual meeting. 

Weeks went by. 

No response. 

“They are busy!” insisted my husband. 

“They came to their senses,” I thought. 

Feigning patience and nonchalance (I am the least patient and nonchalant person on the east coast,) I sent a few follow-up emails over the course of several weeks. But I had learned the hard way that three unanswered emails was the maximum, and anything more could be cause for a restraining order. 

One day, while I bemoaned the apparent death of both my TJ &  Dave pipe and dream to my dear friend and iO Summer Intensive teammate Stuart, he brilliantly suggested I send them (unsolicited) an outline of the book I had in mind. "Make it real," suggested Stuart. It would be a huge undertaking, perhaps in vain, but I know a whisper from an angel when I hear it. And I knew the book I wanted to read. So I spent a good portion of my winter holiday drafting the outline of an entire book, preceded by a “why I’m the gal for the job” treatise. The subject line of the email read, "An Exercise of Faith," one of my proposed book titles, taken from David’s Geeking Out with… interview.


Expecting nothing, I received the glimmer of something almost immediately. Again, from David. “Thanks, Pam. Looks like a good beginning.”

My heart leapt and crashed simultaneously. He liked it, maybe, but there were about a wadzillion ways my evil brain could interpret that response:

“Looks like a good beginning to your own little go-nowhere book. Write it and publish it on your little go-nowhere blog. Ciao.”

“Looks like a good beginning of a boringass disseration, you loser.”

“Looks like a good beginning to the rest of our lives together. I love you! Let’s write a book!” (I never really thought that one, but I want you to think I’m not as pessimistic/Jewish as I really am.)

Without allowing myself time to over-analyze (See? I’m not that Jewish!), I responded with improvisation's magic words: “Yes and…?”

David Pasquesi wrote back immediately, “We need to figure out how to proceed.”

Again, I suggested a meeting of some sort.

Nothing.

A week went by.

Nothing.

Oh well. It was worth a shot.

Proceeding merrily on my way with other more realistic, Earth-bound improv writing projects, on January 4, 2013 – about three months after my initial pitch - I wrote David requesting a short quote about his experience filming Close Quarters, an improvised film I was writing about for my Geeking Out with… interview series. After his response to my movie-related question, he added, “Also, TJ and I both want to move forward with you and a book. Lets set up a call or something.” 

And that’s when I forgot to breathe again. Blink, blink. Stare. Re-read. “TJ and I both want to move forward with you and a book. TJ and I both want to move forward with you and a book. TJ and I both want to move forward with you and a book.” A heart-leaping, not at all ambiguous mantra thrummed through me. The little flame of hope grew warm enough to flush my cheeks. 

David Pasquesi suggested a meeting for the following Monday, three short days away. I agreed. (Duh.) I spent the weekend putting together a to-do list for what it would take to get the TJ and Dave book from our heads to the page. I traded emails with my neighbor and colleague John Elder Robison, author of the bestseller Look Me in the Eye, and he gave me a rundown of the publishing world in five easy, straightforward paragraphs. (Heaven bless the Aspies.) I also ordered a book entitled The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published on account of the fact that, despite having my own publishing fluke a few years earlier, I hardly knew a thing about the publishing world. (Shhh, don’t tell TJ and Dave.)

We met by phone on Monday afternoon at 3pm Chicago time. We talked for two hours. (Yes, two hours, people!) There were a few moments during the call when they were joking around together, and I left my body to bask in the impossible fantasy come true of being an audience of one for TJ and Dave’s real life show. And I promise you that every time one of them laughed at something I said, my soul ballooned out blissfully for a brief, gleeful moment.


"Vice President Joe Biden jokes with Julia Louis-Dreyfus"
Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson
 
The call wrapped up. As we were starting to say goodbye, TJ said, “Dave, I just have to talk to you about one thing.” Uncertain if I was dismissed or not, I silently stayed on the line as I typed up notes of our meeting. Their private conversation moved on to Dave’s upcoming spot on Veep, a show starring one of my favorite television comedians, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Minutes went by as I waited for them to acknowledge my presence ... until finally it became horrifyingly clear that they were not acknowledging my presence because they were entirely unaware of my presence. Holy great goddess of awkwardness, I had been eavesdropping on TJ and Dave by mistake! Was I about to fuck up in three endless minutes what it took me three endless months to accomplish? I could hang up, but what if they heard the click or whatever. (Do phones still click?!?! I have no idea, but what if they do?) I hid my face in my hands as I realized I HAD to say something. 

“Um, this is awkward but …” I suddenly stammered into the duo of now gaping silence. “I didn’t know if I was supposed to hang up or not … and … well … um … I’ll hang up now … oh … um … by the way … Julie Louis-Dreyfus is great…” I petered off.

As I hung up for real, I could hear their laughter, but mercifully I couldn’t hear what they said next.


*
The next installment of "Writing The TJ & Dave Book" is called 
"The Moments"

If you're interested in reading more of my slurry, check out

Or perhaps you'd like to read interviews with great minds in improvisation in the Geeking Out with... series here?
Like the one where David Pasquesi says, 
"Improvisation is itself an exercise in faith. In faith of improvisation. That if I do the next tiny thing, all will be fine."

*



Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show in Western Massachusetts. Pam writes (and performs) the Geeking Out with... interview series. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle."   TJ Jagodowski,  David Pasquesi, and Pam are the co-a "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book,"  due out Spring, 2015. Currently, Pam teaches  "The Zen of Improv Comedy" and "Mindfulness Through Laughter" in Western Massachusetts.



Thursday, March 12, 2015

Writing The TJ & Dave Book (#2): In Which They Said "Yes And ..."

by Pam Victor

["Writing The TJ & Dave Book" is the series plucked from the journal I kept while writing "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ & Dave Book" with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. You should buy the book here. (I mean, if you want to.) 
You can see the whole behind-the-book blog series here for free.]


When last we left off, there were only two people on earth who weren’t wondering how the hell I ended up writing a book with TJ and Dave. And they were TJ and Dave. Actually, to be perfectly honest, even they were (are?) probably wondering too …

I won't be coy. I'll just come right out and say it. The answer is: I asked.

One of the great many blessings of being a woman of a certain age and an experienced improviser is that I’ve stop giving so much of a shit about risking spectacular and glorious failure - or even just being told no. 

“No” was what I heard the first time I tried to see TJ & Dave in person on April 13, 2012, which happened to be about six months before that conversation with Cute SNL Dude. Through some happenstance of luck and fate (plus the fact that TJ grew up thirty minutes south of where I live in the wilds of Western Mass.), I found out that TJ and Dave were doing a fundraiser show nearby for an organization TJ’s mom was involved in. My improv heroes were going to be playing in my backyard! But the barely-publicized show sold out - mostly to TJ’s family and family-friends - before I even knew the tickets were on sale. I was devastated, but determined. So I set off for the show, sans ticket, wholly prepared to beg, borrow, or steal my way in. (My back-up plan was to scale a wall and shimmy in the bathroom window.) 

Fortunately, all I had to do was whine a little. “You don’t understand,” I told the poor lady at the door. “I love improvisation soooo much, and these guys are my absolute favorite. This is like seeing The Beatles for me. The Beatles.” A kind soul standing by the door took pity on me
Yes, I'm that dork who keeps her tickets.
No, this isn't a vision board.
(Ok, maybe it is a little bit of a vision board.)
and my sad excuse for a life, and sold me her extra ticket. A little over an hour later, the lights came back up and I was a goner with an unflagging improv-boner for TJ & Dave.


After the show, I followed the crowd as it snaked by TJ and Dave themselves (OMG!!!) who stood near the door of the club. TJ, the hometown boy made good, was mobbed by fans and family. But Dave was a little more available. He happened to look up as I walked by. We made eye contact. He didn’t seem like he would chop me up into little pieces and feed them to his goldfish, so I screwed up my courage and approached him. I’m sure I gushed revoltingly and talked too fast and too much, because that’s what I do when I’m nervous. (And sometimes just when I’m breathing.) And then I told him that I write the “Geeking Out with…” interview series, and would he maybe consider perhaps sitting down to a possible interview with me one day whenever it’s convenient please, sir? That time, I got a yes.

Improvisers, man. You gotta love ‘em.

As luck would have it, I didn’t offend David with my insipid questions. The interviews went well enough, I suppose, because TJ Jagodowski himself (!!!) sent me a message through Facebook saying that he enjoyed the articles. (I can assure you that receiving that message was pretty much the most exciting thing that happened to me in maybe forever.) Because it doesn’t hurt to ask, I asked TJ if he’d be willing to sit down with me for an interview. Because he’s an improviser, he eventually said yes. But never would I have dreamed that I would soon find myself sitting in TJ’s Chicago living room, asking him every question I could come up with about improvisation for three blissful hours of quiet terror.

A month or so later, as I prepared to post the final installment of the last interview with TJ on my blog, I found that I wasn’t ready to stop being in their heads. And I told them so, pretty much in those words. I wrote to them: 
“Dearest Mr. Pasquesi and Mr. Jagodowski, 

With TJ’s “Geeking Out with…” article coming on the heels of David’s, I’ve had the rare and wonderful opportunity to spend many, many hours transcribing, reading and re-reading, editing and reflecting upon your words. I must say it’s with a bit of a heavy heart that I end my visit into your heads. Not only has it been a great pleasure and honor, but also I’ve learned a tremendous amount about improvisation on a practical, theoretical and even spiritual level. (I hope that wasn’t too precious for you, but it’s true so tough titties.) So, again, thank you. 

You both have so much knowledge to offer the improvisation world. In fact, someone just emailed me today to let me know he’s using our interviews as a textbook in his classes. Which gave me an idea ... Should you ever decide to write a book, I hope you will consider me as a collaborator ... I think a “TJ and Dave” book would be a slam dunk because you have a niche audience to whom you regularly perform, a built-in, large fan base, and, most of all, a plethora of unique perspectives and theories to share. If I can help in anyway to bring your approach to improvisation into the hands of eager, evolving improvisers, it would be my great honor to do so. If, in the end, the only role I play is buy the book, I will do that too. With pleasure. 
Thanks again, kind gentlemen. I look forward to the next show.
Fondly, 
Pam
Looking back, it was an okay thank you note – though I think I jumped the shark with “plethora.” (Plus ... "Dearest?!?!" WTF, Pam?) But, hey, what did I have to lose? I hit send. 

And then I forgot about it because ... c’mon, you guys ... let’s get real. 

Two weeks later, one day before my 46th birthday, I checked my phone to find this note from (Holy shit!) David Pasquesi: 
“Pam. We would love to discuss the idea of a book with you.” 

When I re-checked my phone, the note was still there. I showed it to my husband, and he saw it too. You guys, I GOT A TEXT FROM DAVID PASQUESI! If it had ended there, I would have been perfectly happy.

Despite the fact that he practically professed his undying love for me (okay, so I might be extrapolating a bit … but he did say “love,” so you do the math,) it would be months before we would have that discussion as I spent the winter of 2012 trying to muster enough baseless confidence to convince TJ and David to let me help them
Taking the next first steps.
(Yes, I'm the dork who saves
life-changing texts.
I'm only sorry I couldn't put it on
my vision board.)
write their book. (See that second life-changing text over there? That was after David sent me a document with some ideas they'd jotted down. I didn't hear from them for weeks afterwards.) Somehow I fooled them, and by the shortest days in the season when we began to fear the snow would never melt, TJ, David, and I started to write. By the time the flowers finally opened their faces to the sun, we were firmly dug into the writing process. Even so, I spent a lot (A LOT! Like at least some portion of every single fucking day) of that spring thinking the fellows would come to their senses and fire me at any minute, but I kept doing the work every single fucking day on the off-chance that they didn't. And finally in the late summer, as the apples started to look like proper apples rather than teeny tiny mini dollhouse apples on the trees outside my window, I relaxed fully into the work, figuring that I had written too much for them to can my sorry ass at that point. By the time the first snows fell again at the end of 2013, I started to believe that maybe, just maybe, I might not be the worst person in the world for the job. By the time we were working on the last bits of writing the first draft, I took a moment as the sun set too early every winter day to feel grateful for all the wisdom and orneriness and laughter and faith TJ and David have honored me with.


So how did I end up writing a book with TJ and Dave? Luck. Fortitude. Talent. I forgot that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I let myself wish for it to happen. 

But really, I just asked. 

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The next installment of this series:
In Which I Am More Elaine Benes Than Julia Louis-Dreyfus

If you're interested in reading more of my slurry, check out

Or perhaps you'd like to read interviews with great minds in improvisation in the Geeking Out with... series here?

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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 writes (and performs) the Geeking Out with... interview series. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle."   TJ Jagodowski,  David Pasquesi, and Pam are the co-a "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book,"  due out Spring, 2015. Currently, Pam teaches  "The Zen of Improv Comedy" and "Mindfulness Through Laughter" in Western Massachusetts.