The Hugeness of Austin Improv on KUT

I got to be interviewed by the fabulous Julie Moody at KUT as a part of her piece on the resurgence of improv in Austin.  You can listen to the piece here:

We recorded a bonus session of me giving Julie a little intro improv session. You can listen to that here:

Here’s the improv class piece:

Shana Merlin has a lot to smile about these days. Photo courtesy of Shana Merlin.

There are several places in Austin now that offers classes on how to basically think fast on your feet.

Of course, you also have to have a good stage presence and be funny. Shana Merlin is a seasoned improv performer and runs her own school. She tried to teach me a thing or two about improv, and you can hear it by clicking the sound button. And, yes I plan to keep my day job for now.

I’ve pasted in the slightly different written of the full piece here:

Austin already had a thriving improv comedy scene. Then Hurricane Katrina blew some more good humor our way.

Hurricane Katrina brought talent from New Orleans to town, but Austin was known nationally for its improv scene long before the storm. It even played host for what some say is the first ever major improv gathering, the now defunct, “Big Stinkin Improv Festival.” But five years ago, Michael Jastroch found Austin a welcoming refuge for the skill set that Katrina’s wrath couldn’t wash away.

“We were performing every week in New Orleans and it was great a wonderful experience,” Jastroch said. “We were performing for like 5 drunk people at the bar, and we came to Austin and the first weekend was the “Out of Bounds Improv Festival,” and we kind of wrangled a spot, playing the hurricane card.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. Jastroch and his crew found a welcoming community of improv, sketch and stand up comedians here. They found there was enough support to open Coldtowne Theater four years ago. A venue that offers audiences a chance to see both national and local performers on stage. Current events, pop culture, and even a local public radio station fund drive can become fodder for material. Chris Trew is another New Orleans transplant. He co-founded the Coldtowne Theater with Jastroch, then branched out on his own to create “The New Movement.” A theater space that offers shows and classes. Trew’s also been busy creating a pilot for a new series on Comedy Central.

“This weekend is the world premiere at comicon the big comic book, crazy nerd convention in San Diego, that’s the world premiere,” Trew said.

It’s called “The House that Drips Blood on Alex.” Trew describes it as a sketch comedy horror show.

“It stars Tommy Wiseau, who is the cult film director writer man who made “The Room” highly known as the best worst movies.”

It’s too soon to tell whether the show will find a home on Comedy Central. But Kelly Leonard says he’s not surprised to hear about all the talent in Austin these days. Leonard is the executive vice president of “The Second City” in Chicago, the pioneers of improv and sketch comedy. Think John Belushi,Bill Murray and Catherine O’Hara to name just a few of their famous alumni.

“I know Austin is a great music town and one that has really given rise to great alternative bands, and that’s important because that means you have an audience, and quite frankly, a media that pays attention to stuff before it becomes famous and for most towns won’t give two cents for,” Leonard said.

Shana Merlin has been doing improv in Austin for several years now and even runs her own improv school. She says there’s yet another reason why Austin’s improv scene keeps getting bigger and better.

“Chicago, which is one of the improv meccas in the United States has it’s kind of Chicago style of improv, and New York has the upright citizen brigade, and California has its own style but for Austin I started calling it rehab for improvisers, so there’s a lot of wonderful experienced improvisers who are done struggling and dealing with the big city and be here to do their art,” said Merlin.

And just about every night of the week, there is improv Austin audiences can experience. Tonight there’s an improv storytelling show at Progress Coffee. And then Saturday night, Improv legend Miles Stroth comes to town from Chicago to join the cast of the Coldtowne theater for two performances. And there’s the “Out of Bounds Improv Festival,” starting August 31st, featuring many local and national improv and stand-up acts.

— Julie Moody

About Shana Merlin

Merlin Works is the brainchild of Shana Merlin: improviser, teacher, and performer. Since 1996, she’s been leading classes that stretch people’s imaginations, push them out of their comfort zones, and make them laugh out loud for hours at a time.

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