Performer Profiles


TIM WEISS

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Reading, PA (Home of the Reading Railroad on the Monopoly board!)

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN IMPROV? I was doing stand-up in the ’80s and started taking improv classes to help me ad lib and respond to hecklers. 

WHO WERE YOUR ACTING/IMPROV INFLUENCES, ROLE MODELS? Growing up, I was a big fan of Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason, and Jerry Lewis (yes, I’m old).  And the cast of the Carol Burnett show.  All of them were my influences for characters and sketch comedy.  And later Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, SNL, and SCTV.

Also, as a kid my brother and I and the neighborhood kids used to do a lot of games that required using our imaginations and creating characters/stories/ad libbing.  Our favorite was a game called “Statues” where someone would spin you around and you would freeze in that position.  Then a “customer” would turn you on and you had to perform on the spot based on your pose.

DETAIL, CHRONOLOGICALLY, YOUR IMPROV RESUME/CAREER?  I started taking classes at First Amendment in the ’80s, and then Bob Greenberg (who I met there) introduced me to Katha Feffer.  I took her classes for about a year and then was cast as a regular member of her group, For Play.  I performed with For Play for a few years, then Some Assembly Required for about a year.  I then fell out of it until recently getting the itch back, and started dropping in on Carl Kissin’s classes about two years ago.  Carl introduced me to Tom Soter, who started putting me in Sunday Night Improv shows.

GEORGE FRANCOIS

George Francois is the longtime pianist at Sunday Night Improv. I first met him at an audition we were holding for piano-players, and he was one of three who tried out for the jam. Although he had done jazz improvitsations, he had never done a comedy improv show but seemed unconcerned. When he played, KI saw why. It was magic. He brought a skill and passion to the playing that moved me, and which led my father – who attended almost every one of our weekly shows during the last decade of his life – to assert that “George is terrific! The best you ever had.” He – and most audience members who heard him – were immediately blown away by the ten-minute mini-concert George would offer before the show. Mixing classical music with Broadway show tunes, he would play with an intensity rarely seen at a comedy show. He was a quick study, too: at his request, I gave him audio tapes of soundtrack music (he was unfamiliar with a lot of pop culture) and he effortlessly added them to his repdetoire. He was also eager to learn about improv, and – to the great delight of my students (and of me), he attended my Monday night improv classes, playing underscore for the scenes. We all benefitted from having him there, and he said that he learned a lot, too: “You can play too much,” he said to me once. “Many times, you can do more  by playing less.”

MIRIAM SIROTA

I was born in Alpine New Jersey, a small suburb of New York City.  Frankly, I think I came out of the womb improvising.  My grandmother used to say that I’d get up and entertain a whole room as a child, making up stories, playing characters.  There are just some things you are born with, things that are central to your identity, the ways in which you express yourself in this world; for me, that is improv. 

I’d often go off script in school plays.  But the first formal improv I was introduced to was at Chicago City Limits.  Maybe I was 15….a friend’s parents drove us into the city to see the show…when I saw it, I knew this was my calling.  I took classes there and learned the basics of short form and improvised music.. Later, when I got to college, I studied with Tom Soter.  He was my greatest teacher because he taught me the skills and opened me up to find my artistic voice. I know that sounds sooooooooooo dramatic. But hey, theater is dramatic.  

TOM SOTER

Choose one: Tom Soter (1) is seen every week as the host of the satirical Weak Previews movie review show, reviewing movies that were never made; (2) has been an improv teacher since 1987; (3) has been an editor at Habitat magazine, since 1982; (4) is the author of two books, Bond and Beyond: 007 and Other Special Agents and Investigating Couples: An Analysis of The Thin Man, The Avengers, and The X-Files ; (5) is six-foot-seven and built like Hulk Hogan.

If you chose No. 5, then you obviously have never seen Sunday Night Improv, the long-running comedy jam at the Soter/Lee Blackbox Theater of which Soter is the producer, emcee, and most regular performer. As for Choices 1-4, they’re all true ? which means that Tom Soter leads a very busy life.

The five-foot-nine, spectacled comic was born on October 23, 1956 in New York City. He began improvising 12 years later when he and his friends and family made audio tape “radio shows” without scripts (the first was called The Lethal Camera; later programs included Planet of the Nuns and West that Wasn’t.) He soon began appearing in improvised Super-8 action movies, created by pal ChristianDoherty (the most bizarre was You Made Me Hate Myself). By 1981, he was producing a cable TV access comedy show called Videosyncracies. 

LEAH GABRIEL

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN IMPROV?   Melbourne, Australia.  My high school didn’t have a theatre department, but thanks to a drama teacher in 9th grade we had a Theatresports tournament, my team were called Repossessed and we made it to the state finals!  I remember my teammate’s Dad was drunk in the back row and yelled embarrassing things throughout the show.  The host made sure our team came in last.

WHO WERE YOUR ACTING/IMPROV INFLUENCES, ROLE MODELS?  Many wonderful improvisers in Melbourne, but most of all Patti Stiles – International Queen of Improv.  www.pattistilesimpro.com

WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF PERFORMING?  Free drinks…sometimes.

DETAIL, CHRONOLOGICALLY, YOUR IMPROV RESUME/CAREER?  Five years with Impro Melbourne. www.impromelbourne.com.au

WHO WERE YOUR TEACHERS?  Patti Stiles, Keith Johnstone.

WHAT DO YOU GET FROM DOING SUNDAY NIGHT IMPROV? IS IT FUN?  Yes! It’s always fun playing with someone I’ve met only five minutes earlier.

DESCRIBE YOUR MOST CHALLENGING IMPROV MOMENT?   When I have to provide a hilarious blow line to end a scene – epic fail every time.

DAVID MARX

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? I was born in Madison, Wisconsin on Easter Sunday in the mid 1970s.  I grew up in Madison until the age of 13 then moved to Phoenix, AZ.

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN IMPROV? A friend was taking classes with Kim Schultz Improv, and it sounded like so much fun.  After being envious for several months, I realized I could take classes, too.

WHO WERE YOUR ACTING/IMPROV INFLUENCES, ROLE MODELS? When I go see Improv, I go see Baby Wants Candy, the Improvised Shakespeare Company, and TJ and Dave.

WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF PERFORMING? Always a rush.  And a ton of satisfaction from those magical moments of building something with my scene partners.  And once I got a Tom Carrozza CD.

DARLA DELAYNE

I was born in Beaumont, Texas, on January 1 (yeah, that’s all you’re gonna get), and grew up in Humble, northeast of Houston).The first show I did in New York was a guided improv. There I  met my sweet friend, Rhonda Jensen, who invited me to the Sunday Night Improv class and show she was performing in.

In general, in performing improv, I get to use all of me. I use my intellect and creativity, body, and by connecting with other performers and the audience, my soul. It’s such a complete experience.

My improv resume: Happy Hour- 45th St Theatre; Sunday Night Improv; Morning Cup – web series; Game Night– web series.

My teachers: Tom Soter; Carol Schindler; Carl Kissin

What I get from doing SUNDAY NIGHT IMPROV? Being in a jam with no prior rehearsal, it’s such a pure improv experience. Sometimes you don’t know the people in the cast or the games. It’s such a “workout” having to stay so in the moment and I get to work with some amazing people. As a relative newbie to the form, I’ve gotten to be in the cast with some of the most seasoned and talented improvers. Due to the nature of the show I feel like I’ve improved and become so much more confident so much faster than I would have. 

JESSANN SMITH

I was born in Tacoma, Washington in the 80s and grew up in Bremerton and Yelm (If these names mean nothing, just know they are within an hour or so of Seattle). I went to the University of Montana in Missoula (BA in Vocal Performance) and was the youngest graduate in over 40 years! I moved to NYC in 2004 to sing, act, dance, and most recently, improvise. 

In March of 2010, I was taking a commercial class and I asked the castingdirector, “What can I do to set myself apart? I feel like my type is a dime a dozen in this business!” She said, “Well, you’re kind of funny, take an improv class.” Wow, little did I know what I was getting myself into. I started studying at the PIT (People’s Improv Theater) right away, got completely hooked, and just (as in, this month) finished my Level 4 class.  Our final class show is May 8 at 8pm, come check it out!

I have also studied at the Magnet Theater with Mark Grenier and Armando Diaz, and my teachers at the PIT were Tom Ridgely, Joe Schiappa, Nate Starkey, Scott Eckert, and Larry Rosen & Noel Katz (musical improv).  They have all been so awesome, giving me different points of view and a strong foundation for Long Form technique. I started playing with Tom Soter and Sunday Night Improv in March and have been having an absolute blast! I love that Tom provides the opportunity to play with real pros from all over town, stretching our short form and musical improv muscles.

ALAN BRAUNSTEIN

I was born in The Bronx, New York in 1953. I grew up there and have lived in New York for most of my life, currently in the burbs wondering why I moved.

I got involved with improv through taking classes at Chicago City Limits in the late ’70s. The director of the original company, George Todisco was a huge influence on me, as were all of those original cast members, especially the brilliant Carol Schindler. I was asked to perform with the first touring company and did some New York shows as well.  

Soon after, I met my next major influence, Tom Soter, in a CCL class. He asked me to be part of his cable TV comedy show, Videosyncracies, where I learned much from Tom about how to keep my creative “engine” humming and contributed both as an actor and writer. Several years later, I took classes with Michael Rock and performed in association with Michael Gelman of Second City.

MIKE BENCIVENGA

When I turned forty, I realized I had spent the twenty years since college using my talents to make other people look good. Along the way folks kept telling me that I was funny and that I should be the one up onstage. So I thought, “Why not?” I tried stand-up and hated it. I ran into the same problem of remembering and repeating material. Improv proved to be the happiest place for an undisciplined ham like me. No blocking to remember and the only mistake you can make is to block or deny what is going on with your scene partner. Besides being great fun it’s a great study in cooperation. You have to agree with what’s offered and, as a result, can find yourself saying and doing (and being) things you’d otherwise never have imagined.

My hometown is Lynbrook, New York which is located on the south shore of Long Island. I was born on July 27th, 1956, the same year Rock & Roll burst on the scene. By all reports my arrival was much quieter. I’m the youngest of five kids. My Dad was a cop and my Mom had her hands full raising us. When her hands got emptier she became a real estate broker. We all grew up in a house on Lyon Place where my Mother still lives today. 

IAN PRIOR

I was born in Boston, England (“the original” is how I describe it to Americans) on Christmas Day 1954. I grew up in a small town near Scarborough, of the fair fame. I started performing sketch comedy in the UK when I was 18. After coming to the states, I did sketch work and tried my hand at stand-up.

I was rather English in those days and knew I needed to loosen up. So I tarted taking improv at Chicago City Limits in 1981. Got totally hooked, as we all do. My teachers were the usual suspects from the early days of CCL: the late George Todisco, Carol Schindler, LInda Gelman, Paul Zuckerman, Bill McLaughlin, Chris Oyen. Also, Del Close and others whom I now forget. I actually met my now ex-wife in the CCL classes.

I joined the CCL touring company in 1982 or ’83. I also performed at the “Improv Jam,” run first by Joey Novick and then the wonderful Jane Brucker, throughout the mid-1980s, mostly at Folk City in the Village. I began hosting the Jam in the late 1980s and ran it until 1992. The improv impresario Tom Soter became the host of the Jam shortly after that. I also performed, now and again, with with brilliant crew at First Amendment, as well as with a couple of other groups. I taught corporate improv classes and workshops for quite a few years in the late 1990s, which was a lot of fun.

KRISSY GARBER

I was born in London and grew up in Hong Kong. It’s where I got my charming accent!

I first got involved in improv when a couple of friends wanted to audition for Sunday Night Improv and  dragged me along! Once I was at the auditions, I couldn’t believe how fun and freeing it was, and it reminded me of the acting training I’d gotten at school at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre. 

I get a massive adrenaline rush from performing and love the need to think quickly on my feet (because normally I am forced to think on my hands).

My improv resume starts and ends with Sunday Night Improv, mainly because it’s the best improv group around and once I made it here, there was no need to bottom-feed. Acting wise, my resume is a little more extensive. I got started on the stages of Hong Kong being Anne of Green Gables, went to acting conservatory in New York City, did a couple of plays here (Alan Ball’s Five Women Wearing the Same Dress and Joelle Arqueros’ Sex, Relationships and Sometimes Love), as well as a couple of commercials and films, most recently Christian Doherty’s The Place, to be released in 2011.

My improv teachers are Clive Anderson, from watching way too much Whose Line is it Anyway? and Tom Soter!

What I get from Sunday Night Improv is the feeling that I’m super awkward.  And I have a lot of fun! Those two things often work hand in hand.

Leo Jenicek

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? On the 4th planet, of a distant, dying star WHEN? Time has folded and shifted since then, but I can drink and vote legally. WHERE GREW UP? Lots of different places. I was raised by carney folk. HOW’D YOU FIRST GET INVOLVED IN IMPROV? I needed to be able to think on my feet,  to avoid a beating from Fagin. WHAT DO YOU GET OUT OF PERFORMING? The temporary feeling of self-worth that only laughter and applause give me. DETAIL, CHRONOLOGICALLY, YOUR IMPROV RESUME/CAREER? I’ve been an improviser since birth.  Later,  I was asked to join the Chainsawboys. WHO WERE YOUR TEACHERS? Sir Beswick Figglestick,  Madame Dul La Touserant,  Master Sun Shan, who later  became my deadliest foe. Also Tom Soter. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM DOING SUNDAY NIGHT IMPROV?  A big fat check! Wait, we don’t get paid? Man… Then the joy of performing with a shifting group if funny people. I guess. DESCRIBE YOUR MOST CHALLENGING IMPROV MOMENT? Performing Shakespeare.  It seems most directors want you to stick to the text. YOUR MOST REWARDING IMPROV WORK?After a really great show, I was given a goose that laid golden eggs. Just chocolate wrapped in foil, but still pretty cool. DONE ANY WORK IN TV? FILMS? SCRIPTED THEATER? I was in the BBC’s longest-running series, Down The Copperwhithe. Five whole episodes! Then there was my one-man show, Chuck Todd Talks Filthy. WHERE DO YOU HOPE TO GO WITH THIS?

Kelly Stevenson

My childhood was slightly abnormal but incredible. I was born and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida. I grew up in show business…not the usual show business but professional ice skating shows. My mom and step-dad decided to start their own company and produce professional ice skating shows. Thus, Rosstyn Ice Shows and Rink Designs was born.  My summers were spent performing in the shows at various state fairs, theme parks, and corporate events.   Along the way, I learned some pretty amazing things: skating choreography,  costume design, and all about the entertainment business from the ground up and in all sorts of  angles.  I would say this is how I decided that show biz is the ONLY way of life for me.   If my parents can do it so can I.  Their shows become bigger and better every year, which has been truly inspiring to me to start with a dream and follow it through.

Ken Bropson

    I was born in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn in 1966 where I lived until I was about 7. We then moved to Staten Island where I lived until I married my wife and moved to New Jersey.

    I was about ten or eleven when Saturday Night Live was in its infancy, and it was the show to watch for my friends and I, provided we could stay up that late (which often didn’t happen).  The episodes when Steve Martin hosted in particular were my favorites.  Since this was before VCRs, I was forced to hold a cassette recorder up to the TV if I wanted a copy. That show, along with the rare Monty Python episodes I could catch on PBS planted the seeds of love for sketch comedy. Later on I also became a fan of SCTV.  I’d say Steve Martin is my comedy hero, followed by Martin Short and more recently Stephen Colbert. My father was also a very funny man on a daily basis and was a big influence on my sense of humor. He even once did a stand-up routine on an amateur talent night at a resort we were staying at in the Poconos. He taught me the value of being daring, and how you only live once etc. which I try to remember as often as possible.

CHRIS GRIGGS

A few years ago, Kelsey Grammer produced a television show called World Cup Comedy, and I was selected to represent New York. That was cool because it was a series of actual shows, and I was picked from around 250 improvisers in the city. It was exciting, but challenging, since all the auditions were in front of a live audience.

Performing improv feeds into other outlets of mine such as stand-up and acting. I’ve been able to meet and get to know amazing people. Improvisers are usually very cool, quick-minded, and fun to be around. They also usually more team-oriented than some performance artists so that’s fun as well. Improv has helped me learn to be in the present more and learn to say yes to life and people more. I’ve also, I think, learned to be more accepting of others. You learn to embrace what’s special and interesting about people when you improvise and I like to think that has had an influence with my regular life.

I was born in Memphis and grew up on a farm just outside the city. I worked in advertising and got into improv originally just because it looked fun and would help me at work. You have to think on your feet a lot in the advertising industry.  Then it evolved as I actively started acting and working as a stand-up.

Actingwise, I’ve always been a fan of Mickey Rourke, Russel Crowe, and the usuals (De Niro, Pacino, Nicholson).  From a pure comedic acting standpoint, I love to watch Paul Rudd, that guy can do it all in terms of playing a straight man or knocking it out of the park. 

Todd Cowdery

I was born in Whittier, California. When? A few hours after the contractions started. I grew up in Durham, North Carolina, however.

I wanted to be an actor sometime in elementary school and continued pursuing it through high school, college, and after college. In the midst of my acting education were various improv workshops, acting classes with improv games, and two- to three-person scenes along the way. Then in my mid-twenties I left acting, and pursued other interests. Around 1999 or 2000, I rediscovered improv and just got caught by the transfomational power of it. I’ve been doing a lot of improv ever since.

My role models?  Oh man, there are a several. I’m grateful to have worked with some really great improvisers over the past 10 years that have influenced me a ton.  My biggest media influences for comedy were Danny Kaye, Sid Caesar, and the Sid Caesar Comedy Hour cast, Bob and Ray, and Ernie Kovacs. I also used to listen to Firesign Theatre, the Goon Show and Beyond the Fringe.

Rosemary Hyziak

“Money in the Bank.” That’s what improviser Matthew Ostrom of the Chainsaw Boys dubbed Rosemary Hyziak after she had, in his words, “saved my ass” in countless scenes. Others have had the same experience. “She’s the most reliable improviser I know,” says Tom Soter, the producer and emcee of Sunday Night Improv. “She takes her time helping to create a scene and builds on what you give her. “She is remarkable.”

Who is Rosemary Hyziak? Here, in her own words, is her story:

I was born in Buffalo, NY. I remember one of my first creative performance impulses was to insist I be a Spanish Senorita for Halloween.  I wanted to do a flamenco dance in a flouncy dress.  I was enrolled in dancing school, but when I went to visit the dance studio with my grandmother, I saw the teacher correcting the student’s posture with a long white stick.  The teacher would tap the student’s legs.  For some reason I thought the teacher would beat me with the stick, so I refused to go to my first class.  A creative avenue closed.

Kurt Fitzpatrick

I was born in Philadelphia sometime in the 1970s. I grew up in South Jersey. I first got involved in improv when I started taking classes at HB Studios. I had a teacher there named Rasa Allen Kazlas, who was pretty strict, and I needed that at the time. I was very broad and silly as a performer, and she hammered some skills into me. She was also supportive as a teacher, and enjoyed seeing people’s work, including my own. My influences were people who took control of their work, like Woody Allen, although I don’t think I have much in common with Woody Allen. I was very much influenced by watching SCTV and Saturday Night Live as a kid, and always enjoyed creating my own characters.

Christopher Hoyle

NO JUDGMENTS

By BEN CARTWRIGHT

Christopher Hoyle seems measured and in control on stage – yet he can be remarkably impulsive. Like the time he got six people to jump off a metaphorical cliff with him. It was 1985 and the New York Improv Squad had just lost its performing gig. Standing on the street after hearing the news, Hoyle, a founding member of the troupe, said, “Why don’t we just perform right here?”

The rest of the group scoffed at the idea – it was dark, it was cold, it was dangerous – but Hoyle began anyway. Strumming on his guitar, he began taking suggestions from passersby. “We should back him up,” said Tom Soter, another squad member. They did – and to everyone’s great amazement, except, perhaps, Hoyle’s – a small crowd had formed. By evening’s end, the group had collected over $100 in contributions from passersby. “That’s what I love about improvisation,” says Hoyle, a regular performer at the Sunday Night Improv comedy jam at 236 West 78th Street. “You can do anything if you try.”

Brooke, Hevner & Laybourne

On April 25th, three of the members of the all-women’s improv group, The Heartless Floozies, will reunite for an evening of fun at the SUNDAY NIGHT IMPROV jam. They all used to be regulars at SNI, and here are their stories, as reprinted from vintage issues of The WINGNUT GAZETTE:

SUZANNE HEVNER 

            Suzanne Hevner loves when things go awry. She remembers her senior year in college, when she was doing the showHow the Other Half Loves. The gimmick in the play was that two people used the same set simultaneously, pretending that they were in two completely separate apartments. They would walk around the space performing their scenes, never acknowledging that the other person was there. An unscripted accident occurred during one performance when Hevner’s co-star knocked over a pitcher of water in Hevner’s area, resulting in a pool of water.

Larry Bell

A PIECE OF
CAKE

By SINJIN SMYTHE

It was a dramatic moment. With only a few minutes left in the second night of the 1994 New York Improv Festival, the annual improv competition, out strode Larry Bell, captain of the second-place team improvisation group Bright Lights Big Witty. They had been neck-and-neck with two other troupes, and the question was, Could they win? A bold choice was needed. After taking a suggestion from the audience, Bell, announced with gusto, “Ladies and gentlemen, we now present, The Three-Minute Musical!” And then, in a flash, the four members of Bright Lights – Bell, Allison Castillo, Beth Littleford, and Denny Siegel – presented an entire musical, with a beginning, middle, and end, a romance, a couple of songs, and plot complications – in just three minutes. The crowd went wild.

Karl Tiedemann

 “JERRY MADE ME DO IT”

By JOHN DRAKE

He is the debonair debater in a talk show discussing the pros and cons of spaghetti. He is the pratfalling nerd, blithely drinking a concoction by the hunchbacked doorman Brad in the creeky old castle. He is also a stern husband, frantic guest, and tap-dancing villain. But above all else, he is Karl Tiedemann. And he is funny.

Tom Carrozza

FROM CHICAGO WITH LAUGHS
 
By ED FLICKINGER

He’s the man with the big eyes and the slightly off-the-wall characters. He’s the co-host of the talk show (I’m Tom, I’m Tom, and it’s) Tom for Movies, plays the doctor called Flickinger, and appeared as the sorcerer who rode a Macy’s escalator in the middle of what purported to be a Shakespeare play.

He is Tom Carrozza, an improv veteran well-known to audiences at the Sunday Night Improv Comedy Jam. “There are a million different ways to do improv,” he said recently. “Everyone has his own slant on it and I think mine is unique. I like to emphasize emotions and psychology over logic and predictability.”

Carrozza came to New York City in 1978 from the city where modern improv was created, Chicago. He had studied at the Second City improv company when he was 17, appearing in a children’s show, and then decided to come to the Big Apple when he failed to be accepted at the colleges of his choice.

Carole Bugge

“I’D RATHER BE
WRITING…”

By JOHN DRAKE

Carole Bugge would rather scratch an itch than live with it. “People become improvisers because they have an itch that has not been scratched as an actor,” she says. “What’s great about improv is that it’s the perfect marriage of performing and writing.”