Big Fork Theatre co-founders Jim Reynolds and Chris Martin sit down and chat about comedy, improv classes and 2017.
Jim: Hey Chris, how ya doing?
Chris: Good, how are you?
Pretty good it's a new year - how was your break from comedy and Big Fork?
It was nice, you need to have a break or you get burnt out.
Yeah definitely! It was a big year, 2016.
It was a big year for Big Fork and for me personally.
Oh yeah - what was your favourite thing creatively in 2016?
It would have to be taking my first comedy show to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Adelaide Fringe Festival with my girlfriend Taylor, who is also a Big Fork co-founder. People really loved the show, we got a lot of compliments - it was a blast! Also, a great learning experience.
And does this show have a name?
Oh right! It was called BangNation, it was a sketch comedy show.
Some people reading might have seen a preview of that.
Yes! We did a trial at Visions Gallery just before the Adelaide Fringe. I think most people liked it that night (laughs).
Are you doing another show this year?
Taylor and I are in the process of writing it at the moment, but it's called Undercover Festival Cops and we are playing at Tasma Terrace during the 2017 MICF. It's going to be an insane ride, so you should definitely check it out. We are also performing another show with David Massingham and Michael Griffin.
Friends of Big Fork Theatre.
Good friends and very talented comedians! That show is called Sex Nation and it's going to be crazy fun too, we are performing that at Number 12. You should check that out too, in fact just see all the shows I'm in (laughs). But back to your original question - yes the break was nice. I crunched the numbers the other day and I performed in something like 157 comedy shows last year (laughs).
(laughs) That's way too many shows! Are you going to try and better it this year?
Well if you want to progress you got to, the break was nice but it's time to get back into it. I'm excited to see what happens in Big Fork Theatre this year too!
Yes! We have so much planned already - shows, jams and of course we started classes last year which is very exciting, and we have more classes coming in 2017. But let's take it back for a second - how long have you been improvising?
This will be the start of my 6th year.
Nice! Did you start with anyone?
Nope! I was all by myself.
(laughs) Was there a point when you were like improv is for me?
Yeah when was that? I remember doing my level 1 grad show with ImproMafia and it was terrible - we didn't listen or clear the stage, it was just a mess. Everyone else did great but my team sucked. I actually left the show that night thinking, "well comedy isn't for me" (laughs). Then I went overseas for a while to Europe and on my return one of my level 1 friends, Tanya, wanted me to do the level 2 class with her. I was a bit hesitant but I went and watched some of their weekly shows and eventually I signed up. I had so much fun and then the level 2 graduation was a blast. In fact, Taylor was in the first show I watched on my return from Europe.
Ahhhh so in a way Taylor sort of inspired you to get back into comedy.
Not really (laughs), I was going to do it anyway...
So let's take a step back even further - what do you do for work?
I'm a cardiac scientist.
So what is that?
I did a Bachelor degree is science and then a Masters of clinical science and ended up in a hospital running tests on people's hearts.
Crazy - didn't you want to be a doctor at some point?
I did for some reason (laughs), who knows why. But I was very serious about it for a long time, but I went on a holiday with some of my best friends in 2008 to Europe and that really opened up the possibilities that you can do in life - after that I was like screw being a doctor.
Didn't you get accepted into medicine at some point?
No, I got an interview and it was during this I decided I didn't want to be a doctor.
(laughs) Did you say that to them during the interview?
Nah, I kept that to myself but I failed the interview so it all worked out (laughs).
They asked me questions that no human that wasn't a doctor could answer.
There was one where you are in the middle of nowhere with someone who has passed out, you are in their car and miles from help - what do you do? I was like how the hell should I know? Make sure they're not dead. They asked me do you stay with the person or go for help? Well you tell me, I'm not a doctor! They expect you to know doctor things before you're even a doctor, I'm glad I avoided that debacle (laughs).
I don't know if there are many other scientists that improvise. There's a lot of arts people and lawyers and I would've thought they would be the wackiest performers but you are almost certainly the wackiest improviser on stage.
(laughs) I don't think that has anything to do with my education. I just love crazy absurd comedy - it's my favourite and improv gives me the freedom to perform like that.
You're obviously very involved with comedy, probably the most involved person I know running Big Fork with us and doing stand up 3 times a week - what to you is funny?
I love when you think you know where a joke is going and suddenly it goes in a different direction. I'm also a sucker for a good funny story from someone's life - I love a good story!
So honesty and surprise it sounds like.
I also love people like Sam Simmons that are just bizarre. I generally don't care for shows that have some sort of overall message like murder is bad or you should give money to poor people. I don't care for that, just tell stories or jokes and make me laugh.
So we mentioned before Big Fork has classes - what would you say to someone who wants to get good at improv?
Oh there's many skills that combine together to make a good improviser - listening, yes and, character work, plus there's rules man (laughs)
When I watch you on stage it seems like you're a natural at this.
(laughs) That's sweet. I'm very comfortable now but I wasn't always like that, I did classes, workshops and did a lot of performing - and loved every minute of it. I feel like I've always been sort of a natural performer, but that doesn't mean being good at improvising by any means. I'm definitely not the most skillful improviser but I seem to be charming enough on stage to get away with it (laughs).
(laughs) I think charm is underrated - like if you can be charming and play likable characters that goes a long way towards winning over an audience.
For sure! Many people put down things like listening and yes anding as the most important aspects of improv, but the truth is that audience is the most important part of any improv show or any comedy show. Because if they're having fun, you're having fun and the show's going to be good.
Yes, you definitely want them to like you. You could be doing technically sound improv but if the audience isn't getting it then it kinda falls to pieces.
I've seen improvisers listening and yes anding many times and it's just been shit (laughs), you know because it wasn't like... funny. I've been there many times myself (laughs).
How do you think improv classes help?
Improv classes teach you the essential skills required to make comedic scenes up on the spot. They teach you listening skills, story building skills, team work skills. People improvise everyday without knowing it - having a conversation with work colleague is improvising, improv classes help people utilise these skills in certain situations.
Plus they are good with developing confidence.
Hell yeah! I know people who started improv just because they are shy or have a public speaking roll at work and they used improv to help their situation - and it's so good to see how much they have flourished with improv training.
Big Fork Theatre has two classes coming up in 2017 - a level 1 class and a level 2 class. What would you say to people who are thinking about signing up but need a little extra motivation?
Do it! Improv is the best thing I've ever done! I started improv myself because I had terrible stage fright and I wanted to do stand up comedy. But I was like, I need to get over my fear before doing stand up so I did an improv class - it was a confidence thing for me too. I loved improv so much that I forgot about trying stand up for 4 years (laughs) and when I eventually did try it I was ready. Because of my training the fear had gone. I've made so many friends, I met my partner, and I have a skill that can help me pursue a career in comedy. You don't need any experience, you learn everything needed in the classes - so take a risk and do it!
What do you look forward to in 2017?
Seeing the Big Fork Theatre community grow even bigger. Obviously the festival shows and just performing comedy. I'm looking forward to getting back to jamming on Tuesdays and also performing with team montage - they are a great bunch and we have so much fun together. I can't wait!
Do you have a favourite person to perform with?
I love performing with Taylor, I guess that's important (laughs). Performing with people like Rosa, Cameron and yourself is always a pleasure as we all have a good rapport and that comes out on stage. There are so many people it would be impossible for me to mention everyone - let's just say Vance (laughs).
He's a lot of fun.
Yes he is.
Well thanks Chris for chatting today. Let's get into 2017.
No worries Jim. Let's.
If you are interested in signing up to one of Big Fork Theatre's improvisational comedy classes in 2017, check out Big Fork Theatre's website or Facebook page.