I was in college. I had just been introduced to performing improv earlier that year – it is the first acting class you have to take at WMU. A friend of mine was starting an improv troupe on campus. Well, truth be told he was defecting from an improv troup on campus and starting another. Evidently the other troupe, Suspicious Pudding, was having some problems internally. I never really got the down-low. At any rate, we started our own troupe, Shallow Insight. Some day I’m going to write a compendium of improv troupe/group names. I imagine it will start with Aardvark Express and end with The Zip Zap Zoppers. At the time we thought we were pretty clever. Ok, I still think that.
I had watched the UK version of Whose Line is it Anyway so I was familiar with improv in that regard. My favorite, as I’m sure it is for many a Whose Line fan, was Colin Mochrie. I’ve never been a nut, just a fan. Even my passion for Star Trek: The Next Generation doesn’t bleed through into my everyday life. I wasn’t crazy obsessed, but I enjoyed (and still do) Colin’s style as he always makes me laugh. I did something I rarely do, something I’ve never done for any of the cast of ST:TNG. I wrote Colin a letter. I mentioned that I was a college student in love with improv and asked if he had any pointers for someone who wanted to make a go of it in that realm. I assumed it would be intercepted by his agent or some such, but I dropped it in the mail and waited.
Fast-forward a year and some months later. I don’t know the exact length of time, but it’s always seemed like a year – it was at least long enough for me to forget that I had sent any such letter to begin with. It was then that I got an envelope in the mail from Canada. I could not, for the life of me, figure out who I knew in Canada. I thought about it all the way from the mailbox, up two flights of stairs, to my ground floor apartment. (the building was built into a hill). When I opened the envelope one solitary paper fell out. It was an autographed photo of Colin which read “Best Wishes, Stephan”. I bought a frame for it.
Fast-forward some eighteen or so years later. Kayla, my girlfriend, is also a Whose Line fan, though she geeks out a bit more than me. She’s on a quest to meet all of the performers. She bought us tickets to see Colin and Brad in Lakeland, FL. and to prepare for the adventure we watched the DVD of their show, which I recommend. Lakeland is a city between Orlando and Tampa that exists, I think, because it is between Orlando and Tampa. Up until my visit there, I had assumed its only claim to fame was a Publix that had been used in the filming of Edward Scissor Hands. I was mistaken. They also have a giant performing arts center that is attached to a basketball arena of some kind. The night we attended the performance, there were some sort of basketball finals going on. It wasn’t hard to tell who was attending which event and both cursed the other as we attempted to park.
The performance was nothing short of amazing. If you get a chance to see Colin and Brad live, you should. I imagine the rest of the crew is equally as talented live so go and see them as well. Or find some live improv wherever you may be, here in Chicago, Cook County Social Club is the group to see. (Though for entirely different reasons thanColin and Brad. It’s amazing how deep the art of improv is.) Kayla wanted to wait for Brad and Colin, so we skulked about the back doors of the theatre for while. We were about to give up when they emerged. I’m not sure how jet lagged they were but I do know they had done two performances that day and I’m familiar with how much an improv set can take out of you. They both looked exhausted and, if I’m not mistaken, they both sighed a little when they noticed that there were two more fans who wanted to meet them. Kayla just smiled and shook their hands, I did the talking. This wasn’t because I wasn’t allowing Kayla to speak, but rather because she was a little dumbstruck by finally meeting them. I said something to the effect of “We just wanted to shake your hands and tell you how great you did” and I mentioned a mentor of ours who was a friend of theirs. They eased a bit when they heard our mutual acquaintance’s name. For some reason the only other thing I could think to say was “Lakeland, huh?” To which, I’m fairly certain, they both replied “Yeah.” I think I sounded like an ass, though that wasn’t my intent. They did a hell of show and I have the greatest respect for both of them.
Someday I might try and get another autographed picture of Colin. One with my name spelled correctly. (I’m content to have one with my name on it, though that may have been added by his agency as well). Until then, the one I have will hang near my computer and remind me that, however unlikely, with enough talent you can earn a living doing the thing you love.
Stephen Kadwell (an improvisor, asked to write a guest piece for our Improv Issue) is currently studying at the Second City conservatory as well as iO in Chicago. He performs with a yet to be named group and is a creative consultant for “Mommy” a two man sketch comedy team. He has a BA in Theatre from Western Michigan University and an M.Div from Asbury Theological Seminary in Orlando Florida. Improv and comedy are two of his passions. He accepts donations.