Born and raised with his two brothers in New York City, Tom Soter is a writer, editor, and improv teacher. He has written for Entertainment Weekly, Diversion, Backstage, The New York Observer, Empire, and many other magazines and newspapers. He was the managing editor of Firehouse magazine from 1978 to 1981, and he was the editor of Habitat from 1982 until 2019, when he retired from full-time work at the magazine.
He has produced many books, including Stolen Memories (2019), This Story of Yours(2018), Woman in Heels (2017), You Should Get a Cat (2016), Driving Me Crazy (2015), Disappearing Act (2013), Overheard on a Bus (2014), Bond and Beyond: 007 and Other Special Agents (1992); Investigating Couples: A Critical Analysis of The Thin Man, The Avengers, and The X-Files (2001); Some Thoughts and Some Photos (2010), a memoir; and Bedbugs, Biondi, and Me (2014), a collections of essays on real estate.
He has also published A Doctor and a Plumber in a Rowboat, a book on improvisation, co-authored with Carol Schindler; The Whole Catastrophe, his father’s memoirs (edited and with additional material written by Tom), The Nick and Tom Pajama Story (editor), Memoirs of a Wandering Warthog (editor), and Look at Them Now, a collection of short stories written by Alan Saly, Tom Sinclair, Christian Doherty, and Soter.
In 2005, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He currently produces and performs in the Sunday Night Improv comedy jam, which he has run since 1993, and he has been teaching improv since 1987. He lives in New York City.
Tom Soter, Producer/emcee/performer (N.Y. Improv Squad)
Tom Soter teaches his Sunday Night Improv class
Tom and his brothers
Sunday Night Improv, an improv jam full of diverse performers from different groups, is hosted by the veteran improviser, filmmaker, and author Tom Soter.
You studied writing in college, how did that lead you to improv?
I was working at a job with my girlfriend and she was involved in a cable access show. Cable access was a really big thing in the ’80s. You could get on TV just like you can do on the internet now. The show was called Public Abscess, it was a terrible name and a terrible show. She wrote sketches for it and she asked me if I would help her with one. So I wrote one and then I appeared on the show a couple of times after that.
After that my girlfriend and I decided we wanted to improve our writing. I went to stand up comedy classes and I didn’t like those, then I went to sketch-writing classes and I didn’t like those, then we went to see an improv show at Chicago City Limits on 42nd Street. I was blown away by it. I learned a lot there, then in 1984 I started performing with the New York Improv Squad. There was a bunch of us in class that would meet and practice at night and on weekends in a studio and we decided to perform.
Yeah, we enjoyed it. We were a very tight knit group for about two years. It was a good relationship. I did a documentary on the group called The Return of the New York Improv Squad. I learned more from performing on the street than I did any class. The crowd will only stay there if you’re good, we’d do anything to keep them there.
Do you prefer teaching or improvising?
I think I get more out of teaching, actually. When teaching you’re working toward a goal to make people more comfortable performing. I get a lot of charge out of it. I often go into class tired but leave really energized. It amazes me what people can do in the right environment.
Interview by Camille Theobald