Earlier this month, Olivia Gunn, of Portland Monthly Magazine, contacted us for an interview. We’re so excited to be featured in November’s issue (check us out on page 14!), and I thought I’d publish the full transcript of the interview here. Read on to find out why we’re here, and peek behind the curtain of how we do what we do.
A: We like it. That’s the basic answer. We knew we wanted to start a theater, and that we wanted to do ComedySportz. We were performing with ComedySportz Portland, and before that ComedySportz Sacramento. Knowing we wanted our theater to be a part of the global ComedySportz community automatically ruled out 29 cities across the US because we wouldn’t want to be in competition with other CSz venues. So then we started looking at the cities themselves and if we’d like living there. Phoenix, AZ was crossed off pretty quickly, as was Raleigh, NC.
My mom recently moved back to the East Coast (she’s in New York City), so being near family was a benefit, and when we started researching the existing market, we saw a lot of potential. Portland, Oregon, where we moved from, has 8 brick & mortar improv theaters. We’re the second in the state after Improv Acadia. Yes, there are less people here, but on a per capita basis we have a larger market. But those are the numbers.
When we visited here the first time we fell in love with the city and didn’t want to look anywhere else. I think for me it reminds me of the best parts of where I grew up- the coastal fogginess of just outside of San Francisco with the community feel of Gold Country in California.
Q: Are you finding Mainers have a similar humor?
A: That’s actually one of the things we were testing on that first visit here, in March of 2017. How would people in restaurants, banks, etc. responded to us just making jokes. As improvisers and as people we rely a lot on “bits” to help identify people we can trust. ie, if I say something outlandish and ridiculous, will they look at me like I’m crazy or jump on the bandwagon? And I’ve found that Mainers jump on the bandwagon.
We constantly are on the lookout for people that we think have the right personality to do the type of shows that we do. I’m finding that here, the percentage of people that have that is much higher, maybe 85% compared to 15% of people in Oregon. People are more outgoing here — they’re not afraid to be a little out there.
Plus I think ComedySportz is a very accessible format. That’s our main show, the one we perform twice a week. It’s improv comedy played as a sport, which means people are encouraged to root for their favorite team as well as shout out suggestions. During every show our focus is on making sure the audience has fun. That’s what makes it fun for us.
Q: One of your goals is to build community, how are you doing it through improv?
A: Number one we’re giving people a place to laugh. That might not sound like it’s that important, but with our shows, you’re rooting for different teams but it’s not something that divides you. When we’re up there, we play to win but don’t care if we lose. That’s really important, because you can see that as performers we can reach across the field and help our teammates. Even though we’re on two separate teams, we’re not divided. And that’s the kind of thing that brings people together. We also don’t allow suggestions about religion or politics during our 7pm ComedySportz shows, so it really is comedy that is for everyone.
Especially with being part of ComedySportz, we feel that we’re joining the global community. Every year ComedySportz Worldwide gets together and has a week-long championship where we learn from each other and get to visit with the friends you made in previous years. It was kind of fun finding out that people on our team actually used to teach people who are now on teams in other cities.
For us too, a big part of it is the local community. We have people on our team now who also are part of groups all over the state- from Running with Scissors in Portland to The Focus Group in Bangor to Stranger than Fiction. I think our community is not just the people on our team though, it’s all the people who come to our theater.
We had to cancel a show last week at the last minute, but we still had people hanging out, enjoying each other’s company and socializing. Before every match we tell each other, “got your back,” and it’s something that we really mean. If people need help, we’re there.
Right before we moved here a close friend of ours from ComedySportz Portland passed away suddenly. You really saw everyone at the theater come together to be a shoulder for each other. It really is like a family in many ways.
Q: What is an example of something taught in the classes?
A: If you’ve heard even a little about improv, you’ve probably heard about the concept of “Yes, And.” It’s based on the idea of accepting other people’s ideas as the gifts that they are and then building upon them to create whole stories. It’s a core belief about improv, not only so much so that it’s been parodied on multiple TV shows, but I’ve actually known people who live by the idea so much that they get it tattooed on themselves. And Yes, And is definitely something we teach, but I think even more fundamentally to what we do is listening and not being afraid.
A lot of the time in life we get so focused on our own ideas and wanting to be heard that we forget to listen to others. We spend a lot of time in our classes just re-learning how to listen to everything a person is saying (or not saying). It’s amazing how much more connected to people you feel when you do that.
We also teach people that it’s ok to make mistakes. Improv is all about having the courage to just get up and do, it’s not really about being clever. I know that for me, I’m a person who is often a bit of a perfectionist, so it’s always a good reminder that it’s ok to fail. Being willing to take those risks helps you make connections with other people.