Tag Archives: Improv

Remembering Del…

Del Close died 17 years ago today, March 4, 1999, less than 24 hours after his farewell party.

He taught us a better way of life through improvisation, he showed us how to die, and he certainly knew how to edit.

There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t think of something Del said or did, or that I don’t share something with my students.

Just last weekend, after they did a scene about a living person at his own wake, I had to tell my PythonProv class that Del had done it first. Coincidentally, they will be on stage tonight at the Chris Farley Cabaret at the iO, doing work that I taught them to do because Del taught me to do it first.

If you’re an improviser and were lucky enough to know Del, tell someone a Del story. If you didn’t, then find someone who knew Del and ask them. (And if you can’t do either, then I would opportunistically suggest you look through a copy of The Funniest One in the Room.)

If Del was still here, he would be very happy–though probably not surprised–at the way that long form improvisation has continued to grow, and very proud of the way that Charna and so many others have carried on his work.

#delclose #iochicago #improvimage


More Python Classes

Graham Colonel

I’m sorry I’ve been posting less often lately (most of my posts seem to begin this way), but, among other things, I’ve been devoting a lot of my formerly free time to my Python classes at the iO Chicago. And it’s been a blast. To paraphrase something that Graham Chapman once told me, “I don’t let them know how much fun I’m having or they won’t want to pay me.”
Both sessions are winding up; my writing class, The Python Process, will be wrapping up with a staged reading on February 21 at 7 pm at the Chris Farley Theatre at the iO. This group has been turning out some incredibly funny material, week after week, and the audience is going to have a great time. My improv class, PythonProv, will be performing beginning at 7 pm February 26 in the same space, and this one will be just as funny.
Improvising in the style of @montypython is not the easiest thing in the world, and we may be the first group that’s made a serious attempt at it. And it’s going so well that we’re not going to let it drop after this session ends. And that’s why we’re going to continue on to a second level of PythonProv with the same group.
So why am I telling you all this if you aren’t in the group? Because we’re launching another session of PythonProv Level One classes beginning on Sunday, February 28. I don’t want to tell you how we do it, but I’ll give you one hint: while doing a long form improvisation, we chip away at everything that doesn’t look like #montypython. And it’s working!
If you’re interested, contact the iO Chicago. If you like Monty Python and improvising, you’re going to have a blast.

Good news, Cleese news…

The bad news is when your phone rings right in the middle of your Python Process class at the iO Chicago.

The good news is when it’s John Cleese calling, and he offers to talk to your students on speakerphone.

He answered questions about writing, and delighted and inspired the whole group. All classes should be like this. Thanks, John!


Del’s Rolling Stone debut…

If you read my Del Close biography The Funniest One in the Room, you probably know that this is the 50th anniversary of Lysergic a Go Go, which preceded the first Acid Test by one week.

Del Book cover

The former was a happening organized by Del and Hugh Romney (later Wavy Gravy), and it’s finally being recognized by the historians. Well, okay, Rolling Stone, but still, this was nice to see. sic/news/acid-tests-turn-50-wavy-gravy-merry-prankster-ken-babbs-look-back-20151130

This was very likely the first psychedelic light show; Del liked to say that he invented them, and there’s no reason to think that he didn’t. BTW, many years ago, he gave me the lantern that he used for the light shows, and somewhere or another, I still have it…



It could have been a disastrous afternoon.

I was going to be teaching the very first PythonProv workshop at the iO Chicago, at the intersection of Monty Python and improvisation. I’m sure I was more nervous than my students. After all, how do you teach someone to improvise in the style of Monty Python?

I had a few reasons for optimism. If you can improvise Shakespeare, surely you can improvise Monty Python, and Improvised Shakespeare is one of the iO’s most successful shows. And, all modesty aside, I don’t know anyone who knows more about Monty Python and improvisation. (The glorious results of a misspent youth.)

But then, even the Pythons don’t improvise. They are meticulous writers, but the only improvisation they do is in the writing room.

So I had to wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew, promising these students I could teach them how to improvise in the style of Monty Python.

And as I headed to the theatre this morning, I further realized that these students were part of the iO’s annual summer intensive, so I would be facing students from all across the country who had never improvised together before.

But when they started to arrive, I realized that I was wrong. True, they had never improvised together. But they were not from around the country. They were from around the world. So in addition to students from Pittsburgh and San Diego and Savannah, there were also students from England and Norway and Australia and Scotland. One of my students helped start the first improv group in Bulgaria!

But then we got down to it. It reminded me of one of my early classes with my pal Del Close. Del didn’t always know how things were going to work, but with the Baron’s Barracudas and his other students as his lab rats, he managed to figure it out. And, more often than not, he was right.

This time, I had a whole group of international lab rats to help me find our way through the process. We didn’t succeed with every scene, but more often than not, we managed to figure it out and learn how to keep improving. Even the students who weren’t as familiar with Monty Python were happy with the techniques they learned that could be applied to their more mainstream improvisation.

And by the end of the three hours, they were doing some excellent work, and I was starting to see the pathway to developing real PythonProv for performance.

And so, PythonProv is a thing, and not a disaster. Keep watching for more–I’ll be scheduling some full-length 8-week classes soon with the iO Chicago.

This is the beginning.

For those of you who have been asking what some of my incredibly talented classes have been up to: well, this is what some of my incredibly talented classes have been up to.

Yes, the next step for my Python Process class at the iO Chicago appears to be videos, specifically, writing sketches and then recording them. My class is called Sketch to Video, and signup is about to begin. Get ready…

If you’re in the Chicago area, and love sketch comedy, your options used to be limited. Very limited. Like, say, Second City and the occasional group that had found an empty stage to play on. That’s changed over the years. Now, the newest theatre has opened their second revue, and you do not want to miss it.


It’s called Undressed, by the same people who brought you Trap¬†at The Mission Theatre, which is part of the iO Chicago theatre complex. I really enjoyed Trap. Undressed is even better. The seven-person ensemble has now been working together nearly nine months, and it shows. They have become very comfortable working with each other, and with their directors, David Pasquesi and TJ Jagodowski. Full disclosure: I have been lucky enough to know TJ for several years, and David for several decades. But even if I hadn’t, I’d still be recommending this show. So go. Now.You’re welcome.
#io #improv

What I’ve been doing…

Sorry I’ve been so frightening busy that I haven’t had time to post lately, so here’s a catch-up on a couple of fun things.

Python class shoot 1I spent last Sunday with a gaggle of my Python Process students at the iO Chicago, filming one of the sketches written during the last session. I’ll be posting the link here as soon as we get it edited. From left to right in the photo, it was written by Iris Kohler (with Justin Sikes), and features Sarah Wisterman, Vickie Eisenstein, and Matthew Ephraim, with camerawork by Adam Kurschat. This is the kind of silliness we’ve been up to in the class, and I can’t wait to show it to you, and tell you why we filmed it! BTW, sorry about all the moss in the writing room…

tj and dave book cover

And last night, I was proud to host a panel celebrating the book release of a terrific volume by David Pasquesi and TJ Jagodowski, with Pam Victor. Improvisation at the Speed of Life tells how they do the incredible improvisation they do every week, for years, and years, and years. Personally, I think their secret is mental telepathy, but they’re so good it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying this because I’ve known Dave since his first improvisation class with Del Close (I haven;’t known TJ nearly as long–it just feels that way). Great guys, great book. Order it. You will not regret it.

Del and Amy

…Here’s an oddity–I had forgotten this even existed. In 1995, Del Close, Amy Poehler, and Matt Dwyer shot a pilot written by Tom Gianis and Adam McKay (whatever happened to him, anyway?). Like most pilots, it didn’t go anywhere, but it’s nice to see just a little bit more of Del…