23 Brain Hacks for Bulletproof Stage Presence

I’m fascinated by the effect of the spotlight on performers. Some of us shine, some of us choke. I perform terribly in auditions but really kill it in rehearsals. Why is that?

I recently read a book called Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most. It talks about how your brain shuts down when you’re in a situation where you desperately want or need to succeed. It also offers solutions on how to trick your brain so it doesn’t sabotage you when you need peak performance.

Tip #1: Think of pressure moments as a challenge or opportunity/fun.

Instead of feeling like your entire performance career is hanging on this one moment, try reframing the situation. You’re here to have fun. You’re here to show off. Can you do something in this performance that no one else is doing? Give yourself the freedom to take a big running cannonball into the pool. Approach your stage time with an attitude of, “Watch this!” instead of, “Please don’t hate me.”

Tip #2: This is one of many opportunities.

This is especially true of improvisation. Everyone throws up a clunker scene now and then. The trick is not letting that derail you for the next scene. As far as auditions go, you can have as many as you want. Getting an audition slot is pretty easy if you cast a wide enough net. Your next audition will never be your last audition (unless you quit). Every single famous person on the planet has been rejected. The difference is, they keep trying. Richard Nixon lost to JFK, dusted himself off and won the presidency eight years later. Nixon was so single-minded, he courted his eventual wife for two years before she agreed to date him. During that time, Nixon chauffeured her around on dates with other men. Seriously. His greatest talent seemed to be a refusal to give up.

Tip #3: Shrink the importance of pressure moments.

Your brain plays tricks on you when you tell yourself you’re in an important moment. The book says, “track sprinters have more false starts when told their time is important and will be recorded as opposed to being discarded and used for training purposes.” Whether you’re reciting lines for a play or running a race or doing your 4,000th improv scene, you’re bound to perform better if you’re not really thinking about anything. Let your brain and your body do what you’ve practiced. I can’t imagine anyone has ever solved a problem by being told to THINK HARDER. (There’s a reason UCB sells a hoodie that says, “Don’t Think” on the front.)

Tip #4: Focus on the mission.

The book words this strangely. What they really mean is, “Focus on the immediate task.” If you’re in an improv scene, you should be focused on the things that will make that scene better: listening, reacting, adding information, providing callbacks, object work, etc. If you’re in a scene thinking about whether this audition is going well, your focus is in the wrong place and you’re setting yourself up for failure. When you’re in the moment, be present. Don’t let your mind drift to the outcome.

Tip #5: Expect the unexpected.

If you’re walking into an audition, think about the worst thing that could happen. In my experience, the worst outcome is finding yourself paired with someone who’s totally awful. Before walking into an audition, think about how you would handle that. The best defense is to take care of yourself like The Annoyance Theatre suggests: give yourself a gift at the top of a scene, so even if your partner is a flailing spaz, you can wall yourself off from that craziness and regulate the scene. (The only thing worse than a drowning man is another man drowning while trying to save him. Don’t kill yourself trying to save someone hell-bent on self-destruction.)

Tip #6: Affirm your self-worth.

Researchers tested people who affirmed their self-worth before a task versus those who did not. The group that self-affirmed made fewer mistakes. The book suggests listing your values and recounting your positive traits before a pressure moment. Those will not change, regardless of the outcome of your performance. Your family will still love you. There are always more opportunities. Even if you totally crash and burn in an audition, you still have important relationships in life and goals you want to conquer.

Tip #7: Flash back to previous successes.

Tell yourself, “I’ve done it before, I can do it again.” If you’re an improviser at nearly any level, you’ve had at least one good scene. Think about the times you made people laugh or got high-fives from your classmates. Think about how you felt invincible at that moment. You are that same person. This next moment on stage could match or surpass everything that’s come before.

Tip #8: Be positive before and during high-pressure moments.

“Studies have shown that individuals’ feelings and moods respond to their actions.” Ever show up to an improv show feeling run-down and annoyed? How did that show go? How did your shows go when you arrived feeling excited to play? Give your brain a boost by thinking of all the fun you’re about to have. If you’re not having fun, why are you doing it?

Tip #9: Tune into your senses.

This is similar to Tip #4, but it’s also good acting advice. If you find your mind drifting, bring yourself back to the present by focusing on your five senses. What can you see? What can you smell? What can you touch? Worry exists when you let your mind drift to the future. Snap back to the present and deal with the future when your body arrives there.

Tip #10: Focus on what you can control.

The book talks about former MLB pitcher Greg Maddux. When asked to assess his performance after a game, he said, “73 out of 78.” That simply meant 73 of the 78 balls he pitched left his fingers as he wanted them to. Everything after that (including whether the batters made contact) was academic. You can’t control if your auditors are bored or cranky. You can’t control your scene partner. In fact, most of an audition is completely out of your control. So just do what you can do and let the results be what they will be.

Tip #11: Listen to (or sing) a favorite song.

This tip is more for people performing a muscle-memory task. The music distracts our brains well enough to let our bodies take over. This tip is not recommended for people trying to learn a new task. Think about how playing video games is easier when there’s music playing in the background. Tetris would probably be much harder without that iconic theme.

Tip #12: Use a holistic word/image “cue” to guide performance.

The book says golfers perform better when focusing on a word like “smooth” or “balanced.” What word might encompass how a good improv scene feels? “Playful?” “Joyful?” “Agree?” The book says a Chinese psychologist worked with two groups of women shooting basketballs. The group that was told to “shoot as if you’re trying to put a cookie into a cookie jar on a high shelf” made more shots after two weeks of practice. What unrelated activity does a good improv scene look like in your mind? Playing catch? Handing out Valentine’s Day cards?

Tip #13: Practice experiencing pressure.

This is perhaps more difficult for actors, since it’s hard to replicate performance pressure. The book suggests taking practice tests in less time than you’d normally be allowed. Other artificial handicaps can make performance easier when they’re removed. For an actor, this probably just means you should audition and perform a lot!

Tip #14: Squeeze a ball.

What? The book says athletes are less likely to choke when they squeezed a ball or clenched their left hand before competition. Apparently, the left hand squeeze primes the right hemisphere of the brain – the part associated with fluent, automatic and largely unconscious neural pathways controlling the skill. I’m not sure how this would apply in an improvisation situation, since it seems like you’d need both halves of the brain to be logical and process what’s coming your way. Somebody squeeze their left hand before an audition and get back to me on this one.

Tip #15: Write out your concerns about the high-pressure situation you are facing.

“Writing out your specific concerns before a high-pressure situation helps you to minimize distractive thinking, which eats up your working memory capacity.” You need a clear head to improvise well. Put those worries on the shelf by literally writing them down and leaving them off the stage.

Tip #16: Put away self-consciousness.

That alone is fantastic advice for performers. Being self-aware is key, being self-conscious is crippling. The book suggests videotaping yourself and being highly critical of your performance before you have to deliver it for real. The idea is that getting that criticism out of the way early leaves you less self-critical in the moment. That method seems more appropriate for people rehearsing a set task, rather than a fluid, improvisational scenario.

Tip #17: Meditate.

“Meditation training altered for the better the white matter that connects the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) to other structures in the brain. In other words, after meditation training, your ACC is able to regulate your thoughts, behaviors and emotions more effectively and thus help you respond more effectively in pressure moments.”

Tip #18: Create and practice a pre-routine.

Much like NBA players with their pre-free throw routines, the book suggests having something you always do before a pressure moment to signal to your body that it’s time to go to work.  The authors suggest the following…

  • The routine should be relatively short (3-5 minutes).
  • It should be done immediately prior to the high-pressure situation.
  • It should include a mental component – reviewing some positive thoughts.
  • It should include a physical component – deep breathing, stretching, striking a power pose, etc.
  • Part of the routine should deal with kinesthetic imagery – visualize yourself performing at your best.
  • Upon completion, say a mantra or use an anchor word or phrase that signals that you’re ready for showtime.

That seems like a lot to do right before a scene, but you could do that before a show or an audition. I remember seeing TJ & Dave doing the same physical warm-ups before each show at the old iO Theater on Clark Street. It wouldn’t surprise me if they ran through the rest of the list, whether consciously or not. Before shows with Whiskey Rebellion, I used to approach every member of the team individually, grab their shoulders, look them in the eye and say, “Spirit of the eagle, way of the hunter.” I have no idea if that made a difference, but I had a hell of a lot of fun in those shows.

Tip #19: Slow down your response.

Here’s where you’d encounter Jimmy Carrane’s “Art of Slow Comedy.” The idea is that slowing down reduces your arousal, which allows you to think more flexibly, creatively and attentively. Del Close used to advocate responding with your third idea, never your first. Remember that an improv scene is not a race. There are some performers like Craig Uhlir who have cultivated a high-energy, rapid-fire playing style. That’s not for everyone, and very difficult for beginners. Give yourself the space to think before responding. Time moves faster in your head than it does to the audience.

Tip #20: Regulate your breathing.

If you’re breathing weird, your body will start to freak out. If you watch beginning improvisers, some seem to forget to breathe on stage. Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman devised a breathing tactic he teaches to soldiers and police officers to use in intense combat situations.

  • Inhale through your nose, deeply, expanding your stomach for a count of four.
  • Hold that breath in for a count of four.
  • Slowly exhale through your mouth, completely, contracting your stomach for a count of four.
  • Hold the empty breath for a count of four.

The book recommends practicing this two minutes a night for a week.

Tip #21: Go first.

“Studies of World Cup soccer and the National Hockey League show that when shoot-outs determine the winner, the team (or player) that goes first has a strong statistical advantage.” This correlates with Susan Messing’s priceless advice: “The longer you wait, the more the jump rope becomes a big steel cable.” Jump in that first scene and it slays any jitters.

Tip #22: Communicate your feelings of being under pressure.

Not sure how this would apply in an audition situation, but maybe that’s where Facebook can come in handy. Posting something like, “Headed for an audition,” might result in some supportive comments from your friends. Of course, actors audition so much, that could get annoying. Remind yourself that every performer deals with jitters or nerves. Some even take drugs (legal, prescription or illegal) to cope. Being nervous is normal and you’re not alone if you feel shaky before an audition.

Final tip: Strike a power pose.

I’ve read about this in other books on the topic of pressure performance and choking. If you expand your body and raise your arms wide, your brain and body increase testosterone levels 20-25% and reduce cortisol 20-25%. (Cortisol is released in response to fear or stress by the adrenal glands as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism.) In job interviews, applicants who took a power pose beforehand were rated higher in confidence and presence. You only need to do it for two minutes to feel the effect.

Initiations: Lessons from Auditions

Today, I watched dozens of people audition to join the Under the Gun Theater ensemble.  I wrote down their initiations.  Take a look and consider how you’d react to these first lines.

“I just don’t understand why it’s so hard for you to stay out of my stuff.”

“And that is how you make an apple streudel.”

“Sometimes I wonder if OPI changes the color or changes the name to make more sales.”

“Guess who just submitted their application to Domino’s!”

“You know, people really underestimate the qualities of digging a hole.”

“Honey, I got your report card in the mail.”

“Jessica, fancy seeing you here.”

“Eggs benedict – the top item in the whole chain of breakfast items.”

“Not gonna lie.  I don’t remember how I got here.”

“Oh my God.  I don’t know what I’m gonna get from the concession stand.”

“I’m just… it’s too much.  These muffins are too much.  I can’t think of another flavor.”

“Thanks.  You know, most people won’t help me dig out my space because I have a smart car.”

“So what, you’re just gonna do the laundry?”

“I’m just a sucker for polka dot drapes.  I’ll be honest.”

“I don’t know if I’m comfortable selling my marble collection.”

“Aw, hey, Linda.”

“Listen, sweetheart, your mother is suffocating me right now.”

“Janet, if you want a smoothie, just ask for another smoothie.”

“Another flight canceled.”

“Apparently, people aren’t buying Big Macs anymore.  They’re going gluten-free.”

“Here is your water.”

“You’re a little obnoxious about your pies.”

“Your form has gotten so specific.”

“Okay.”  (Actor hugs the other actor.)

“I really have to go.”

“Hey, Stacy.  Super cool running into you at the mall.”

“Welcome to the campsite.”

“I hope it’s not delayed again.”

“The answer’s Tom Cruise.”

“I took it.  I was hungry.”

“Lizzie, you look fantastic.”

“You don’t have to get me a Father’s Day present.  I’m good.”

“Thanks for coming in.  Here at Pooch Day Care, we take our jobs seriously.  Your dog ran away.”

“Volcano looks like it’s going to blow.”

“Megan, come here.  (Actor hugs the other actor.)  Am I really fired?”

“You’re makin’ me nervous.”

“I’m still hungover from last night.”

“So, iceberg lettuce, right?”

(Actor hugs the other actor.)  “I’ve missed you.”

“Maggie, we’ve done it.  The orange grove looks amazing.”

“So I’ve started wearing less and going out more.”

“Young man, this library book is six months overdue.”

“I knew you were great at growing trees, but I never knew you could grow an elm like that.”

“I hear that this is where they keep the old skeletons.”

None of these is a great first line.  (I am partial to the one about digging holes, however.)  A few are woefully inadequate.  You do need to give some information in that first line, so a generic, “Hello,” doesn’t get much across.  But in reality, you could probably have a good scene with any of these lines.

An improv scene’s success usually hinges much more on the second line than the first.  It is your reaction that sets the stage for the scene to come.  Think of how Big Bird might react to any of these lines.  Now consider how Oscar the Grouch might react.  To quote Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  If you had any kind of emotional reaction to any of these initiations, the scene would be off and running.

The scenes that failed in these auditions usually suffered from one of three fatal flaws:

The initiator was not particularly invested in the initiation.  Nonchalant characters are hard for the audience to care about.  Consider, “So, iceberg lettuce, right?”  If you heard that spoken to you, what could you possibly intuit from those words?  Is this character happy/angry/sad/lonely?  The words themselves don’t matter, but the intent behind them does.  For more on this, read up on the genius TJ Jagodowski’s take on “heat” and “weight.”  A simple line can have tremendous weight if delivered properly.  The heat refers to the implied intimacy of the relationship.  As it was delivered in the audition, there was no weight and no heat to the relationship in that line.  The scene sputtered.

The initiator was indecisive.  These phrases popped up in the first lines of the scenes I watched: “I just don’t understand,” “I wonder,” “I don’t remember how I got here,” “I don’t know,” “I can’t think,” and, “I don’t know if I’m comfortable.”  These lines indicate subconscious fear on the part of the performer.  Yes, auditioning is nerve-wracking.  As an improviser, your scenes will be more successful if you’re declarative at the start.

Which is the better first line in these examples?

“I just don’t understand why it’s so hard for you to stay out of my stuff.”
or
“Stay out of my stuff!”

“I don’t know if I’m comfortable selling my marble collection.”
or
“If you want my marble collection, you can pry it from my cold, dead hands.”

This is what your teachers are saying when they tell you not to ask questions in a scene.  I think the “no questions” rule is awful, since real humans use questions frequently and you sound like a monster if you never ask questions in a scene.  But it’s the ambiguity and uncertainty of questions that really drags down a scene.  Wile E. Coyote doesn’t walk up to the Road Runner to ask, “Can I eat you?”  He just pounces.  Asking permission or seeking approval of your fellow human is a wonderful quality in life.  In improv, just make assumptions and take action.  The scene will go more smoothly.

The initiation was too functional.  Consider, “Oh my God.  I don’t know what I’m gonna get from the concession stand.”  Care to guess what the subsequent scene was about?  Yep.  Three minutes debating the merits of various candies.  To be fair, that opening line could work if you had a savvy scene partner.  Instead of making the second line about the stupid concessions, you could make it about the first character’s indecision.  For example, “You never had trouble picking candy before you got engaged, Carla.”  All of a sudden, the scene pivots away from what we don’t care about (the candy) to something we do care about (what’s bothering Carla).  I promise you, no one in the audience cares about the outcome of a fake decision you’re making on stage.  In fact, I’m sure the actor didn’t care about the outcome.  So why are you spending valuable stage time on that?

You’ll hear improv coaches say you should avoid talking about what you’re doing.  That’s because the details of baking a pie or fixing a flat tire are not entertaining.  But if you’re baking a pie while discussing your broken marriage, activities like breaking an egg suddenly take on a huge metaphorical weight.  If you’re fixing a flat tire on your way to propose marriage to the girl in the passenger seat, I’m going to be interested.  Make your activity a metaphor for something larger – ideally something emotional inside you or between you and your scene partner.

Oftentimes, functional scenes occur because people are playing “polite.”  We are taught we are supposed to “Yes And” our partner’s ideas.  You frequently get scenes like, “Let’s go bowling!”  “Okay.”  (Two improvisers bowl for three minutes, talking about what pins they knock down while they hate themselves for their choice and silently beg for the mercy-kill of a sweep edit.)  “Yes And,” does not mean you are a puppet who just has to do what you’re told.  When you hear, “Let’s go bowling,” all you need to respect is that your scene partner has a desire to bowl.  You could say virtually anything in response.  How could you help this initiation by adding context?  Here are some ideas.

“Damn, Ralph, you’re awfully calm considering you just administered a lethal injection.”

“Sir, I can’t let you go bowling.  This says your blood alcohol level is way over the limit.”

“Abraham, you are completely out of control on this Rumspringa.”

“Gonna try out the new prosthetic hand, eh, Bob?”

“So I guess I dressed up in Victoria’s Secret for nothing.”

“If you can unhook this IV, I’m down.”

“But Mr. President, you have the State of the Union tonight!”

If you encounter, “Let’s go bowling,” in an audition, it’s your job to make a choice about how that line affects you.  Hopefully, the first line is delivered in a way that helps that choice.  If not, fill in the blanks.  Who is this person to you?  Why might it be appropriate or inappropriate to go bowling?  How do YOU feel about bowling?  Responding with any of that information gives you so much more to build with.

You can have a great scene that begins with, “Hey,” as an initiation.  And it can be about the dumbest thing in the world.  But the characters need to care about something.  Consider this genius SNL sketch about a “fenced-in area.”  It is literally about a man who only cares about the small part of his back yard he put a fence around.  If he can care about that, you can find a way to care about something in your scene.

I’ll remind you of a quote from the late, great Roger Ebert – “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.”  The text of your sentences can be almost anything.  It’s the meaning behind them that really matters.  Your scene shouldn’t be about digging a hole or selecting brunch items or polka dot curtains.  But any of those scenes can be great if they reveal something about a character or a relationship.  Dig beyond the surface.  Find the gold.  Slay the audition.

Got a question?  E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com

Never Enough

At the 2016 Golden Globes, Jim Carrey stepped forward to present an award.  In his remarks, he joked that although he already has two Golden Globes, he dreams of a third because then he would be “enough.”

Funny thing about this artistic life, though.  It’s never enough.

When I was a college student, living in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I dreamed of living in Chicago and performing improv.  Now I live in Chicago and perform improv.  My dream has come true.  So why do I want more?

I’ve spent years hacking away through a forest of anonymity and only now am I starting to get some recognition on one of my projects.  Are three rave reviews from critics enough?  No.  Are 14,000 podcast downloads enough?  No.  Nearly two million people have seen my various online videos.  Enough?  No.  Right now, I have an Emmy statue sitting on my shelf.  Success, right?  Nope.  It’s for TV news, not for comedy.  Not enough.  (I’ve actually won two, but you need to pay for the statues.  Two Emmys: Also, not enough.)

I’ve been fortunate enough to make some money from my creative endeavors.  It’s not nearly enough to live on, but it’s something.  I have used my talent and my passion to make a couple hundred bucks in my lifetime.  Younger me would be over the moon.  The me of today wants to figure out how to make this a viable career.

Whether you’re just starting out in your hometown or starring in movies, there will always be a bigger fish in your pond.  There will always be bigger mountains to climb.  There will always be goals that taunt you, just out of reach.

What the hell is wrong with me?  Shouldn’t I be satisfied with these enormous achievements?  Can’t I take a moment to revel in what I have?  Or should I fling the door open for the Jealousy Monster to stomp in and plop himself on my couch?

Why is my brain wired to focus on what I don’t have instead of celebrating the abundance right in front of me?

My friend and accomplished actress/improviser/producer Karisa Bruin once loaned me a book by Eckhart Tolle.  It extolled the virtue of living in the present.  He argued that anxiety comes from putting your focus on the future and the things you can’t control.  Sadness comes from living in the past, focusing on the things you’ve lost or regrets you have.

When I think about my artistic journey, I do get anxious about the future.  Will I ever direct a feature film and claim that Oscar I covet?  I also get sad about the past, remembering how I got cut from iO three years ago or how I really crashed and burned in some auditions.

How does any of that help me right now?  It doesn’t.  Right now, I have some incredible things to be proud of.  If I look back at my artistic career, there’s a general upward trend, even if there have been gulfs of failure.  Today, right now, I have the ability to act.  I can write.  I can focus on my craft.  Under the Gun Theater has given me a place to perform as much as I want.  I’m producing a show that’s gotten attention beyond what I could have dreamed.

But the Improvised Shakespeare Company got a gushing review in the New York Times!

That doesn’t affect what I can do right now.

But two of my old ButchMAX teammates are on the Second City Touring Company!

That doesn’t affect what I can do right now.

But I have a friend who’s crushing it on the Second City etc stage!

That doesn’t affect what I can do right now.

But the Katydids have their own TV show on TV Land, and it’s getting great reviews!

That doesn’t affect what I can do right now.

But some of my old improv peers are on Saturday Night Live or writing for Late Night!

That doesn’t affect what I can do right now.

But!

Shut up.

But!

Shut up.

But!

What are you doing right now?  Are you working?  Are you improving?  That is all there is.

I guarantee you that all the incredible artists I just mentioned are thinking the same thing.  We all want more.  It’s never enough.  So stop wanting.  Start doing.  Your action is your salvation.  Rumination is ruination.  Get to work.

Improvise Like a Samurai

Imagine sitting down at a chessboard.  Your opponent hasn’t moved.  Neither have you.  You imagine all kinds of scenarios where you can win.  You hope he’ll leave his queen exposed so you can take her out with a knight.  You expect where you’ll sacrifice your pawns to lure a more important piece into a trap.  You think about all the ways you hope to take advantages of your opponent’s mistakes.  Then, your opponent actually makes a move.  Everything you’d been thinking of flies out the window.  You’ve got to erase your master plan and deal with the move your opponent made.  Every move you make could be drawing YOU into a trap.  Damn.

Mike Tyson once famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”  That’s been me for the majority of my improv career.  I usually wait to edit until I have a great idea for a scene.  Then everything derails the moment my teammate says something other than what I want them to say.  I’m a better writer than an improviser.  I should probably stick to writing sketches inspired by improv scenes I’ve witnessed.

I’ve been improvising with varying degrees of frequency for 15 years and it’s finally dawning on me that any struggles I’ve had are my own fault.  When I was younger, it was easier to blame other performers for “bad” initiations or refusing to follow the script that only I could see in my brain.  I spent so much mental energy constructing a sand castle before I walked on stage that I was unprepared for even the smallest wave to wipe it off the beach.

Longform improvisation requires you to be okay with chaos.  When you step onto the stage, it’s just like stepping onto a battlefield (or sitting in front of a chessboard).  It’s foolish to imagine a “victory” scenario until you see where the opening presents itself.  The beginning of a scene is just a chance to survey the situation.  Who are you?  Where are you?  Who is this other character to you?  This information is important to establish so that you, your scene partner and the audience can get on the same page.  The beginning of the scene is almost always vague.  Do what you can to narrow down the world without backing up a dump truck of exposition.  It’s okay that you don’t know everything right away.  Remind yourself of that.  Be okay with it.  It will be there for you to discover when the time is right.

Just as in chess or battle, you can’t play the game empty-handed.  You need game pieces or weapons (even if it’s just your fists).  When you enter the stage, give yourself a gift.  You don’t have to initiate verbally, but give yourself a mood or a physicality.  Every person on earth carries those things with them, regardless of relationship or title.  You can be a sad, hunched mom or a sad, hunched president or a sad, hunched firefighter or a sad, hunched vampire or a sad, hunched quarterback or a sad, hunched aerobics instructor.  No matter what your scene partner says, sad-and-hunched can work.  Even, “Bob, you seem happy today!” can work.  Bob (sadly): “I just won the lottery.  I’m bursting with happiness.”

As soon as you hit the stage, listen intently to everything your partner says.  Watch everything they do.  Those are clues to your relationship.  Those are the things you should be exploring and reacting to.  In my fifteen years of improv study, I’ve never seen anyone better at this than TJ Jagodowski.  I spent years watching him and trying (unsuccessfully) to replicate his style.  That’s because I was focusing on what he was saying.  What he says is often brilliantly funny and absurdly smart.  I just thought I had to stand around saying brilliant, absurdly smart stuff.  But that’s not what makes TJ great.  It’s that what he says is comic gold in relation to what was just said.  Any chess move can be dumb or great – it all depends on how the board looks based on what you and your opponent have done.  TJ pays such close attention to his scene partners that his words and actions fit the openings provided.  He doesn’t reach or push to create an opportunity.  He takes what’s in front of him.

Check out one of my favorite scenes from The Seven Samurai.

A samurai named Kyuzo has been challenged to a duel by a loudmouthed bully.  Kyuzo accepts and stands calmly as the bully attacks wildly.  Kyuzo wins by simply waiting for the right time to strike.  He doesn’t have to move a lot or make a big show to win.  He just needs an opening.

The Seven Samurai is also famous for a performance by Toshiro Mifune as Kikuchiyo, the hot-tempered wild warrior John Belushi would copy for his Samurai character on SNL.  Belushi once said, “You attack a scene like a bull.”  Yes, you can be the bull.  But you can also be a matador, like Kyuzo.

The genius of improvisation is revealed in reactions to situations, in finding the missing variable that completes an equation.  If I step on stage and say, “2+2=4.”  That’s not terribly entertaining.  If I step on stage and say, “Two,” and my scene partner says, “plus monkey,” I’d better not say, “Equals four.”  My plan for a 2+2 scene is out the window.  Two plus monkey does not equal four.  I can be pissed that my partner changed the equation, but why was I adding up an equation that didn’t even exist yet?  I’m looking to solve an equation where I only know half the numbers, so I should spend my time gathering information before pronouncing the result.

Likewise, I shouldn’t enter a scene and say, “Two plus seven divided by 18 plus the square root of 153.”  Build the equation with your scene partner patiently.  One turn at a time.  No need to overcomplicate the scene or exhaust yourself in battle with unnecessary movement.

All of this is to say that the thousands of dollars I spent on various improv schools taught me a lot about forms and object work and the idea of support, but they all did a terrible job of focusing on the only thing that will truly help you succeed: Listening.  Listen to the tone of voice your partner uses.  Listen to their body language.  Listen to where they stand and how they look at you.  And finally, listen to what they’re saying.  Only when you have listened can you respond correctly.  Otherwise, you’re just a sword-flailing idiot and a true improv samurai like Kyozu (or TJ) will cut you down with one stroke to a roar from the audience.

Got a question?  E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com

How to $ell Your $how

I just finished the first run of Porn Minus Porn at Chicago’s Under the Gun Theater.  We sold out (or came very close) on three of the four nights.  Here’s what I learned about promoting a show.

1. Get a sticky idea and an evocative title.

Why is your show different from all the others in your city?  How can you summarize it quickly so the idea comes alive in the audience’s mind?

It’s usually easiest if you take something that already exists and give it a new twist.  When Ridley Scott was pitching the movie “Alien,” he described it to studio executives as “Jaws on a spaceship.”  Easy to imagine, right?

James Cameron made an even simpler pitch for that movie’s sequel.  He walked into a room with studio bosses, wrote the word “Alien” on a chalkboard, then added an “S” on the end.  To top it off, he drew two vertical lines through the “S” to make it a dollar sign.  He got an immediate green light.

I think Porn Minus Porn worked because it’s an easy concept to understand: Cold readings of porn scripts without the sex.

Your show can succeed without a sticky idea, but it’s much, much harder.  A show like Improvised Shakespeare or Improvised Star Trek would be an easy sell to anyone who’s read Shakespeare or seen Star Trek.  It also helps that those groups are really funny.

Remember that most people will go out to see just one or two comedy shows a year.  How can you grab the attention of a random person on the street?

2. Artwork matters.

Children as young as 3 years old are capable of recognizing and identifying which logos go with which brands.  Your show deserves something eye-catching to stand out from the clutter.  Maybe you’re handy with Photoshop.  Maybe you’re an artist.  Maybe you’re a photographer.  If none of these apply to you, can you reach out to a friend?  Or if you have some money to spend, it might be worth hiring an artist.

In Chicago, I’m awfully fond of the work of Scott Williams.

If you saw these on a corkboard in a coffee shop, would you move in for a closer look?  I would.  Scott uses old images in a cool, playful way.  The show information is often secondary to the biggest images.  The retro look sets it apart from the slapdash Photoshop jobs of most show posters.

I was also very impressed by this work from Kat Jay.

Wow.  That’s legit original art.  The title of the show may not convey the full idea, but the poster sure does.  You immediately get a sense for what you’d see at the theater.

Here’s a pretty good one from Under the Gun.

If you’re a “Game of Thrones” fan, you immediately know this show is for you.  Good job piggybacking on a pre-existing idea.

Here’s an example of what not to do.

Apologies to the fine improvisers in this photo, but this is lazy.  The title of the show is barely legible and the montage of random Facebook photos doesn’t tell me anything about the show.  It’s the comedy show equivalent of the movie posters showing floating heads.

At a bare minimum, get your castmates in one place for a photo shoot.  Give a random stranger a reason to stop and look at your image online or on the street.

I have doubts that posters, fliers or postcards strewn about your city will actually result in an audience, but I could be wrong.  When I recently visited Seattle, I saw a show by these guys because I saw their poster of an Indiana Jones show taped to a lamppost.

3. Approach established media.

I’m not going to lie.  This is really hard.  It almost never works.  I’ve been a professional journalist since 2001 and I got tons of emails from people who want me to come to their shows.  The worst was having a theater blast me with a list of shows they were putting up.  Would McDonald’s roll out a new sandwich by sending journalists a full menu?

TV news stations have zero interest in your comedy show.  Zero.  Maybe on a very, very long shot, you could get on a low-rated morning show.  But the morning news audience is NOT the late night comedy audience.

Target blogs, magazines, newspapers or websites that actually cover entertainment options similar to your show.  Invite reviewers to come to see the show for free.  If you get a good write-up, look for quotes you can use in promotion.

I know we got a huge crowd for Porn Minus Porn’s opening night because we were listed twice in Chicago’s RedEye newspaper/website – once as a comedy alternative while Second City rebuilt after a fire, once as a highlighted “thing to do” that weekend.

You do stand a better chance of getting media coverage if there’s something “newsworthy” about your show.  Are you an improv team of cancer survivors or military vets?  You might merit a feature story.  Is the show about a local politician or something currently in the news?  A lot of journalists are overworked/lazy, so if you gift-wrap them a story and an angle, there’s more chance they’ll bite.

4. Work social media real hard.

Instagram.  Facebook.  Twitter.  Get on it.  Make sure your friends know when and where you’re playing.

Social media is a jungle these days.  Once again, you need to fight through the clutter.  I made Twitter and Facebook pages for Porn Minus Porn, although I think they had relatively small impact on the audience.

Facebook is a huge audience driver, but Facebook also sucks.  Because of their stupid algorithm, they don’t show everything to everyone.  They track your habits and try to only show you stuff you’ll “like.”  The majority of my show posts were only seen by about 10 people.  After that, Facebook buries it.  If those 10 didn’t like it, surely no one else will.  According to the site, your posts will only reach about 16% of your fans.  Thanks for nothing, Facebook.

That’s why it’s imperative to have your cast “like” everything posted about the show.  Their likes push it to more people.  If they can use the “share” button, your reach goes up exponentially.  You should also tag cast members in any show image, since that widens the net to include the cast members’ friends.

Twitter and Instagram don’t have that stupid algorithm, so everyone can see everything you post.  But they don’t have the same power in driving an audience to your show.  Guess you have to pay for a Facebook ad, huh?  (Sons of bitches…)

Facebook’s algorithm tends to favor photos over text posts, so keep that in mind.  They also tend to highlight videos uploaded directly to Facebook over those uploaded to YouTube and shared with a URL.  They are crafty and evil.

Also, know when to tweet and post to Facebook.  Some times of day are better than others if you’re looking for retweets and shares.  This infographic can help you set up your social media schedule.  Use Facebook’s “publish” button and sites like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to schedule posts in the future.  (Note that a post on Twitter is only useful for about three hours, so don’t feel guilty posting there several times a day.  Most people won’t scroll back far enough to get annoyed.)  Read this to get a better idea of how/when to post.

5. Think outside the box.

For Porn Minus Porn, I edited this video together and chucked it online.

I also recorded our live shows and turned them into podcasts that are drawing three times the audience of our live shows.

And I shamelessly used this blog to interview myself about the show.  I’m not proud of that, guys.  Sorry.

I went into my city’s page on Reddit and mentioned the show.

I posted on the Chicago Improv Network’s messageboard.

Did any of these efforts result in ticket sales?  I don’t know.  Bottom line, I wanted to use any means necessary to spread the word.  If you believe in your show, you have to do the same.

6. Ticket sites can help.

The leadership at Under the Gun decided to list some of our tickets through a site called Sosh.  I dislike the fact that they renamed my show and used a stock photo of two women I’ve never met in a theater I’ve never attended.  But some people did buy through them.  People could also buy tickets through Goldstar.  Sometimes those sites help draw an audience that might not ordinarily know about your theater.

Those external sites will also take a bite of your sales, so it’s a bit of a deal with the devil.

7. Ignore Steps 1-6.  Just be amazing.

Steve Martin’s advice to performers is to “be so good they can’t ignore you.”

In Chicago, that absolutely applies to the best comedy show you can see, TJ & Dave.  These two men are so ridiculously talented, they don’t need gimmicks or a show poster or Facebook blasts to sell out.  Hell, their show title is just their names.  But they’ve earned it by being better than everyone else.

My guess is, if you’re at that level, you’re not reading this blog.  Someday, I may be able to draw a crowd based on my name alone.  But I’m not there yet.  So I’ll keep repeating Steps 1-6 and pushing myself to get better.

In the meantime, I invite you to join me when Porn Minus Porn returns to Under the Gun.  (See what I did there?)

Got a question?  E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com

15 Steps to Building a Sketch Show

Building a sketch show is an art unto itself.  While there’s no bulletproof way to pull it together, this is how I’ve done it while directing five different shows in Chicago.

1. Find a director.

As much as you trust your own brilliance, you need another set of eyes watching the product.  Ask friends for recommendations.  If you really loved another performer’s sketch show, ask who directed that one.  Invite directors to come to your rehearsals to see if you like their style.  Pick someone you respect (and admire, if possible).  You need someone who can be honest without crushing your artistic spirit.

Protip: There are lots of terrible directors out there.  Find one who will dedicate themselves to your project.

If you’re in Chicago and need a director, I’m available. boilingpointimprov [at] gmail.com

2. Pick a deadline.

Without a deadline, you will write forever.  In my experience, it takes at least three months to knock out a decent sketch show.  Four months is better.  I’ve done it in one month, but that was an awful experience.

Secure the theater where you want to perform.  If you have to put money down to reserve a performance space, that’s even better.  Now you have to grind with a date in mind.

3. Write.  A lot.

Depending on your number of writers, you may only perform about 10 percent of the scenes you write.  Most of what you write will be derivative or simple.  That’s fine.

KC Redheart’s “Town Hall Meeting” (Directed, 2012)

The more you write, the more you’ll find yourself working in new territory.  Most of us write variations on the same scenes and themes.  Force yourself to try something new.  Don’t worry if your scenes are perfect on the first shot.  You’re looking primarily for the ideas.  You can always rewrite.

When writing, feel free to borrow/steal ideas you’ve seen elsewhere.  Of course, don’t just put up a word-for-word recreation of something you’ve seen on SNL or Inside Amy Schumer or Key & Peele.  Just consider why you find those sketches funny, deconstruct them and see if you can apply the same mechanisms to another situation or character.

Also be aware of time.  In screenplay format, one page of dialogue usually equates to one minute.  Most sketches feel really bloated beyond five pages.  Try to hit your premise as quickly as possible (by the end of the first page).  Don’t overstay your welcome.  If you have lots of great material, you can always do a callback with the same characters/premises later in the show.

4. Improvise.

Improvising tends to unlock the scenes your brain would never discover if left to its own devices.  One of my favorite tricks to build sketches this way is to use an exercise I learned at The Annoyance Theatre.  Gather your group and have each person write 10 adjectives (words like “big,” “hairy,” “quick,” or “blind”).  Then have them write 10 archetypes (like “fireman,” “vampire,” “car salesman,” and “priest”).  Cut or tear the paper so you have all the adjectives in one pile and all the archetypes in the other.  Select one paper from each.  That’s your character.  Now do a scene with it.  (You’re a hairy priest or a blind vampire or a big fireman.)  See what discoveries you make.

At Second City, I was taught that even a stereotype plus one interesting character trait can make something original.  A yokel, a jock and a politician are nothing new.  A philosopher yokel, a timid jock or a penny-pinching politician might be more interesting.

While you may choose to record your improvisation, the chances you would transcribe an improvised scene and use it verbatim are very slim.  You’re looking for the essence of the scene.  Boil it down to the fun idea and build a sketch around that.  Look for the kernel of truth or the interesting spin you can extrapolate.

5.  Do a sketch inventory.

After a few weeks (or months) of writing, you’ll have a stockpile of scenes.  Do you have multiple versions of the same kind of scene?  If so, stop writing those and consider selecting the best of the category for inclusion in your show.

SNL writers often say there are two kinds of sketches: Crazy World and Crazy Character.  In Crazy World, you usually have one sane character interacting in a world populated with goofballs.  (My favorite of these scenes is the Chorus of Fools, described in a previous post.)  In Crazy Character, it’s reversed; one crazy person interacting with a sane world.  (Matt Foley, Belushi’s Samurai, The Falconer and every character from former Groundlings Cheri Oteri, Chris Kattan, Molly Shannon and Kristen Wiig.)  They say writers prefer Crazy World sketches, while the performers prefer Crazy Character.  A good sketch show features some of each.

Taco Tuesdays’ “5 Girls, 1 Cup of Cheer” (Directed, 2014)

Do you have scenes of varying length?  Do you have any physical scenes?  Do you have any silent scenes?  Are you using music, video or other media in your show?  How can you add more variety?  Do you have full group scenes?  Monologues?  Are there moments built-in for improvisation?  Do you have blackouts?  Do you want to do a song?  A dance?  Callbacks are the easiest laughs you’ll ever get.  Are those in your show?

Be honest in your inventory.  It’s really easy to throw up a show of ten scenes with two people simply talking to one another.  Challenge yourself to go beyond that.  Ask yourself what moments the audience will remember a year later.  Ninety percent of the time, they won’t remember what you said.  They will remember physical scenes (often silent, but underscored by music).  They will remember unusual costume or props.  They will remember almost anything new or unique.  The words, unfortunately, will fade quickly in their memories.

I like to write the names of the sketches on index cards.  Include the cast size and time it takes to perform each scene.  Put them in groups accordingly.  Variety will help you and the crowd from getting restless during the show.

6. Write what you don’t have.

You may need to force yourself to do this, but it’s vital.  I guarantee there is some sort of hole in your show.  Often, we forget to include any scenes with genuine emotion.  Sometimes, we avoid sad scenes.  Maybe we’re too flippant on a topic that deserves some heft.  Not every scene has to be funny.  Remember, an audience can still love what you’re doing, even if they’re not laughing.

Consult that inventory and make sure you’ve got killer scenes representing lots of different experiences.  If the variety isn’t there, go back to your computer and write.

7. Set up a rough running order.

After Step 6, you’ll probably find you’ve just written some of your best material.  Look at your sketches and pick the best version of each type of scene.  Have six scenes of people standing and talking?  Pick one or two.  Find a balance between Crazy World and Crazy Character scenes.  Do you have some moments of pure weirdness and play?  Smart humor?  Dumb humor?  Varying cast sizes?

When I direct, I give each cast member five votes for the scenes they want.

Geek Show (Directed, 2012)

I’ll have them close their eyes and raise the number of fingers (votes) they wish to give to each scene as I read the titles.  If someone wants to allocate all five votes to one scene, that’s fine.  Most performers spread their votes over several scenes.  If a scene gets two votes or fewer, you can probably kick it aside.  You want the cast to be excited about their choices.

Once you’ve narrowed down your favorites, take the index cards and start putting them in order.  Consider cast balance and time for costume changes.  You don’t want one person in the first five scenes, then backstage for the rest of the show.  Each person should have a moment to shine every 3-4 scenes.  Work in short blackouts or energy bursts to keep the audience engaged.  Have a fun opener and closer.  (I usually direct my teams to wait until the end to create the first and last scenes.)

Now comes the tough part…

8. Kill your babies.

Now that your focus is on a smaller group of scenes, it’s time to get nasty.  How much can you cut out of each script?  What can you clarify?  Can you make something funnier, faster and smarter?  Look over each script and sharpen it until you can’t think of any other way to improve it.

As you start rehearsing, you’ll probably learn that you have too many scenes.  It’s time to dismiss a few.  There’s likely a scene you love, but it’s just not whole.  Your director may have to break the bad news: That scene is stillborn.

Get really vicious with your material.  Don’t put up anything you wouldn’t send out on an audition tape to represent you.

9. One last inventory.

At this point, you should have worked out an opener and closer.  Consider everything in your show.  Is there some way you can set up the audience to notice any recurring themes?  The first and last scenes are great places to highlight those.

Look at all your rewritten and edited material.  Is it still fun?  Do you hate it?  Is there something that’s still too long or unclear?  Now’s the time to finalize the running order and lock things in place.  It’s almost showtime.

10. Rehearse it hard.

So many teams breeze past this step and it results in a sloppy show.  Don’t do it.  Know your lines.  Know your blocking.  Practice with costumes and props!  (Who brings what where?  Who strikes it?  Can you make that costume change in time?  Which door provides your entrance/exit?  Are you just going to leave all those chairs on the stage from the last scene?)

You should have enough rehearsal time that by the time you perform, the physical business of props, costumes, entrances and exits are second nature.

Lady Parts (Directed, 2012)

Work on your acting.  Are you being truthful in your performance?  Lazy?  You must be able to perform this material as freshly as if you were living as that character the very first time they encountered the scene.

Tech rehearsals are almost always the weak link in the sketch show process.  Don’t make that mistake.  Have your director in the booth to go over the lighting and sound cues.  Tech guys are wonderful, but they’re juggling a lot in the booth, so it helps to have another set of eyes and ears.  It really sucks when the lights don’t go on or off when they’re supposed to.  You’ve got months of work at stake, so make sure it’s not derailed by sloppy tech rehearsal.

11. Find the fun.

By now, you are so far removed from the fun part of your creation, it may look like you’re going through the motions.  Remember, the audience has never seen this.  There’s a good chance they will never see you again.  Your reputation rides on every single show.  Do you want to be the kind of show they recommend to their friends?  You’ve got to bring the fun.

Specifically, you must find the music of the scene.  Every scene has a rhythm and energy that is more important than the words.  If you’re riding the rhythm and energy, the crowd will be with you.  If you forget them, it doesn’t matter how great your dialogue is.

In a perfect world, each sketch is now like a trail in the forest.  They’re well trod and you know where they go.  You can put your feet in the footprints left before.  But also allow yourself the chance to take a quick jump off the path if you want to chase a butterfly that appears during a live performance.  If you know your scenes well enough, you can play off something unusual you notice about your partner, then circle back with them to the path without losing the momentum of the scene.  Remain open to discovery at all times.

12.  Promote your show.

In 2015, why the hell do I know performers who aren’t on Twitter?  Social media is a godsend for performers.  Use it.  Instagram.  Facebook.  All of it.  Ring the dinner bell and make sure your friends know it’s important that they come.

It’s actually easy to promote these days.  When I put up my Second City Conservatory show in 2002, I had to create a Geocities website by hand-typing HTML code.  Its URL was about 200 characters long.  I even tried writing on sidewalks in chalk to bring people in.

Before he went on to Saturday Night Live, I remember Mike O’Brien wrote up individual emails to all the people he knew, asking them to come to a play he’d written.  It wasn’t a blast email to a ton of people.  He wrote one specifically with my name in it.  It worked.  I’ll respond to a friend’s email.  I’m less likely to pay attention to a Facebook event invitation.

Taco Tuesdays’ “To Infinity and Beyonce” (Directed, 2015)

Have a cool show title.  Get some eye-catching artwork.  Put up posters.  Post on message boards.  Leverage any media connections you have.  Make some promotional videos.  You can do that simply with your phone.

Promotion sucks and it’s a ton of busywork.  Your show will also fail without it.  What’s the last time you randomly stumbled into a theater and paid money to see something you’ve never heard of?

13.  Perform.

You’ve got a show you’re proud of.  You’ve got it memorized backward and forward.  You let everyone know about it.  Now, get up there and do it.

This is actually the easy part.  By now, you’ve done so much heavy lifting, you can just play with a clear mind.

Monitor that first show closely.  If something’s not working for you or the audience, consider killing it or fixing it.  Not all crowds respond the same, so you may get huge reactions to a sketch one night and tomb-like silence the next.  If two nights go by without any sort of reaction, you might want to consider making a course-correction.

14.  Thank people.

Another overlooked step, but it’s one that matters more than you know.  We get so wrapped up in celebrating our show with the friends in the audience who came, we neglect the people who really deserve the love.

Thank your director.  Thank your tech guy.  Thank each other.

On opening night of the last sketch show I directed, I gave each performer a white rose and a handwritten note, thanking them for all their hard work.

Remember that your shows will fade much faster than the impressions you leave on your colleagues.  Be kind, courteous, professional and gracious and you will find more opportunities awaiting you.

15.  Repeat.

The process of putting up a sketch show is so time-consuming, most teams never do it again.  Some teams “take a break” that never really ends.  It’s a shame.  You’ll only get better by doing this multiple times.

By all means, take a month or so to let your brains cool, do some traveling and reconnect with everyone you shunned while creating your old masterpiece.

Just know that your team will remain stagnant until you reboot the process.  Select a deadline and prepare for your next adventure, be it sketch, improv or something else.  The longer you wait, the harder it is to get back in the groove.

Got a question about building a sketch show?  Need a director?  E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com

Porn Minus Porn

On Saturday nights this September, a show I created returns to Chicago’s Under the Gun Theater.  It’s called “Porn Minus Porn.”  I give a group of actors a real porn movie script they’ve never seen before.  They have to read the lines, but there’s a twist.  I’ve removed the sex scenes.

“Porn Minus Porn” began as one of eight competitors in Under the Gun’s 2015 Tournament of Shows.  By popular vote over three performances, it was crowned the champion.

Here now, is an interview with the creator: me.

Boiling Point: Thank you for joining us.

Ben Bowman: My pleasure.

BP: Why should we see this show?

Bowman: It’s completely absurd.  The actors are reading along when they hit an idea that seems to come out of left field.  They have to overcome their surprise to finish saying the line while remaining in character.  They break.  A lot.

BP: Can you give us an example?

Bowman: In one of our shows, a bar employee walks up to the bar owner to tell him they’re out of rum.  The two go to the storage room where he tries to grab a box off a shelf and ends up smashing her in the face with his elbow.  He apologizes and she says that she likes that he’s clumsy.  Then they have sex.  Just out of the blue.  Reading it on the page, there’s no hint a sex scene is about to happen, but it does.  It has to.  It’s porn.

BP: How did you come up with this idea?

Bowman: I used to watch a TV show called Up All Night.  In the mid 1990s, the USA Network would show two really terrible movies back-to-back every Friday and Saturday night.  One was usually a bad horror movie where teens on Spring Break were stabbed.  The other was usually a soft core porn movie, like “Bikini Car Wash Company” or something.  When you’d watch these on basic cable, they couldn’t show the sex, so you’d see the bad dialogue leading up to the sex scene , then it would cut to a couple lying in bed together after the deed.  It was ridiculous.  This show brings you the same experience.

BP: Where do you get the scripts?

Bowman: I actually have to transcribe them.

BP: What?

Bowman: Believe it or not, the internet doesn’t seem to offer any adult film scripts for download.  So I have to watch these things and transcribe all the words.

BP: That must be time consuming.

Bowman: It takes about one hour of transcribing for every ten minutes of screen time.

BP: How do you select the films?

Bowman: It was tough in the beginning.  I didn’t know how long a script would be once you took out the sex scenes.  Eventually, I settled on the old Cinemax soft core series, “Life on Top.”  I’ve been using those scripts and the cast seems to like them.

BP: So you’ve been using multiple episodes?

Bowman: We present each episode in its entirety, but if you come back week after week, you’ll be able to follow the characters as they have new adventures.  The first show we ever performed, an erotic model named Bella had a huge crush on her photographer, Vincent.   He shot her down and slept with another model.  Bella was heartbroken.  The next week, Bella made no mention of Vincent and he didn’t appear.  The cast was asking me whether we’d see Vincent again.  Vincent does reappear, but much later in the series.  The people making the show seem very disinterested in episode-to-episode continuity.

BP: What can the audience expect at these shows?

Bowman: It’s a great time.  The dialogue is stupid.  There’s no way those words would lead to sex in the real world.  The actors are fighting to stifle laughter.  And we have an audience participation portion, too.  It’s just a night to celebrate silliness.

BP: Why only four shows?

Bowman: As I said before, this is really time-consuming.  If this run goes well, I could dedicate more time to it, and we could do it more regularly.  It all depends on the audience reaction.  It’s been overwhelmingly positive so far, but Under the Gun is a young theater in a city with tons of comedy theaters.  This is something unique, so I hope people come to see it and tell their friends.  It’s the perfect way to spend an hour in Wrigleyville.  It also makes a great date night.

BP: How do we get tickets?

Bowman: This link will do the trick.  It’s a bargain at $12 a seat.

BP: Is there a way to learn more about the show?

Bowman: Follow @MinusPorn on Twitter and like the show on Facebook.  I’m hoping to turn the live shows into a podcast to spread the word.

BP: Thank you!

Bowman: No problem.

Read more about the show in Newcity Stage, The Columbia Chronicle, Cusp Magazine and at Under the Gun Theater’s News Site.

You can see Porn Minus Porn at Under the Gun Theater (956 W Newport, 2nd Floor, Chicago, IL) on Saturdays.  Tickets are $12.