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.
“So I went to HB Studios,” he said, “and I studied everything but improv: movement, speech, all the usual acting things.”
Nonetheless, improv must have been in his blood because less than a year later he found himself at First Amendment, an improv group being formed by Barbara Cantarti. He had answered an ad in Backstage and although his improv experience was small, he must have impressed someone because he soon began appearing stage regularly on stage with Bruce Willis, John Leguizamo, Nancy Lombardo, Lucy Avery-Brooke, Jane Brucker, John Fulweiler, Kathy Kinney, and others. “You learned so much there really just because you were on stage so much. It was really a trial by fire because we were doing several shows a week. They just threw you on.”
“In the ‘80s, there were two big improv groups to be reckoned with,” recalls Tom Soter, the producer of Sunday Night Improv. “Chicago City Limits and First Amendment. First Amendment did pretty off-the-wall stuff. Carrozza was among the brightest lights of the group.”
Things began changing for Carrozza when he took part in the Fringe Festival in Scotland with the First Amendment. “I became interested in sketch material because of what I saw there,” he said. Soon after that, he helped co-found Mental Furniture, a sketch group, and then authored three plays, Plucked from the Wreckage, The Inevitable, and Always Never.
The playwriting experience led him to form his own production company called Elevision, “as if to lift one’s vision,” he is quick to add, “including my own!” Elevision’s first production was Area 51: The Musical, which will ran for 16 performances at the Sanford Meisner Theater. Carrozza starred in an all-singing, all-dancing story of a scientist who finds love and enlightenment when he is randomly chosen to be Employee of the Day. But the real star of the show were the 18 new songs written by Noel Katz, a regular pianist at the Sunday Night Improv jam. “Each tune is a spine-tingling masterpiece,” says an insider.”
More recently, he has issued a CD of four songs (seen above), which he sings and were co-written with others: “Plan B,” “Infinite Patience,” “It’s October, Too” (with piano accompaniment by SNI’s Jess Stewart), and “What’s that Smell?” He also hosted the cable TV talk show, People Are Idiots, and appeared in a documentary on improvisation.
His first love is still improv, which he performs regularly at the Sunday Night Improv comedy jam. “There are more and more improvisers every day and the jam is the best place to stay connected, to meet people, and to stay sharp. Improv is one of those things you’re doing anyway in day-to-day life, so getting good at it is a great challenge. Improv is like lightning.”