Lessons from the Masters, Volume 3: Mick Napier

Mick Napier is generally considered one of the best directorial minds in Chicago.  Second City often turns to him to run their shows.  The highest compliment I can pay him is that he knows what he’s talking about.

If you have not done so already, pick up a copy of his book, “Improvise.”  It’s $14, and most likely worth more than all those $250 classes you’re taking.

Mick recently sent out an e-mail to people affiliated with The Annoyance Theater.  I’ve blatantly copied and pasted it here because this information is worth sharing…

Next week is Second City’s general auditions. Over 500 people will be auditioning in 4 days. I will run a great many of these auditions, along with my friend Matthew Hovde. It’s one of the scariest auditions in the world, and it got me thinking about people I’ve known, and what it really takes to make it in comedy in the United States through this particular journey… improvisation. I think I know a couple of things. I thought I’d share some thoughts about what to DO in this often confusing world… This is real, not joke…

It doesn’t matter which school of improvisation you go into first or at the same time or whatever. There are sound reasons for any order or any degree of simultaneity.

Don’t be seduced by being on a team. It seems like it’s enough and you are going along just fine. It’s not really enough, and it’s not a mark of evolution, it just seems like it is.

Character work isn’t bad, particularly if you want to do sketch comedy. Don’t listen to false affirmation that character work or broader acting has a lack of integrity, it is just different. And that’s just true. Character range is a skill set that is not attained by continuously denouncing character range. It’s not something you can magically turn on at, say, a Second City audition. Believe you me.

Write. For absolutely no fucking reason, write.  Make it o.k. with yourself that you admit that you would want to be on the mainstage or on a house team or in an Annoyance show or on television or SNL. It really is o.k. Just don’t be an asshole about it. You won’t be, anyway. It really is o.k.

Do solo work. Find a way to feature yourself.

One person shows are fucking boring. Find a reason they’re not. Do that.

Don’t wait for stuff. It not only drains your power, but actually has you be perceived as less powerful. You will have plenty of time to wait with great stakes for absolutely nothing when you move to Los Angeles. DO things here. Get a group. Create videos, write even more.

Here’s two boring things: Headshots. Resumes. And don’t lie. This has happened: “We put this guy (someone holds up headshot) in the ‘yes’ pile. Anybody remember him? No? O.K.” (headshot goes in ‘maybe’ or ‘no’ pile) Because his headshot didn’t look like him, and his photo ironically worked against him. Look like your headshot, that is what they are for. Look like your headshot. Don’t lie on your resume. Man, you will get caught and you will look like an asshole. And even if you don’t get caught, you are that kind of person.

Talent is everything. Just kidding. How you are to work with is as important. Your character shows up everywhere. Whether you are at S.C. or Playground or Ale House or a class or Corcoran’s or I.O. or Skybox or Annoyance or in the middle of the ocean:

a. everything counts.
b. everyone hears about everything.
c. everyone talks about everyone all the time.

Your behavior could affect whether you work here or there for the bad or the good.

Take a break occasionally. From it all. For perspective, sanity, life. You and what you bring to the stage will benefit from your actual life experience. My own life has been a series of wonderful hobbies.

Study acting. You won’t, but you ought to. You won’t because you think you are SO fucking funny, and don’t need it. But you do. You really do. I tell people that, and they say “yeah, yeah, but what do I need to DO to get an edge?” I say it. No one does it. It’s such an easy edge.

Twelve, just like the 12 points of the Scout Law.
Oh well, all of this is true. So there. And that, is as simple, as that.

-Mick Napier, Founder and Artistic Director

Rarely do you get such straight talk from someone in “the business.”  Take this to the bank.

Mick also wrote this chronicle of directing the influential 1996 Second City show, “Paradigm Lost.”  (Click the date links at the top to navigate.  Mick has removed the fully functional post from his site.)  It’s well worth your time, especially this entry on “How to Be a Perfect Actor.”

In early 2010, I had Mick as a teacher.  He totally mind-f***ed me.  I mean that in the nicest way possible.  There were times he deliberately manipulated us.  And he did it because that’s what an audience (or an audition) will do to you.  Mick wants you to be a strong performer.  He wants you to move forward into the darkness with power.  It’s what The Annoyance is all about.  And it’s a much-needed perspective in contrast to other schools that coddle you, collect your money and deposit you back on the sidewalk without any real skill.

Among some of the gems of wisdom Mick dropped on my class…

  • “Surprise your audience for laughs.  Surprise comes from the unexpected.  Get there by bringing in ‘crazy.’  Don’t think in a straight line.  No one laughs because a scene makes sense.”
  • “Exposition takes away from improvisation.”
  • “Alleviate the burden of having to make sense.”
  • “Start with anything and let your brain catch up.”

Mick’s great gift is that he’s extraordinarily practical.  There are no “cloud in the sky” speeches about improvisation making you a better person or connecting you to another human.  He just knows you want to improvise and you want to move a crowd to laughter or tears.  And he’ll do what he can to get you there.  But you have to be willing to take his direction.

Mick is also a total weirdo.  And we love him for that, too.

And here he is breaking down improvisation for non-improvisers.

Lessons from the Masters: Michael Gellman – TJ Jagodowski 1 – TJ Jagodowski 2 – Mark Sutton

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


2 responses to “Lessons from the Masters, Volume 3: Mick Napier

  1. Reblogged this on MissImp Nottingham Comedy and commented:
    Funny, inspirational, direct. I like it. Thanks to The Boiling Point for the great article:

  2. Thanks for sharing. Just moved here to study improv and there’s a lot of info about classes and all that jazz. Mick’s e-mail may have been the most useful things I’ve read so far.

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