Tim Joyce weighs in on Improv Comedy

By , August 12, 2009 10:35 am

TimJoyceA few weeks ago, Funsherpa interviewed Tim Joyce, a comedian-in-training with Second City.  This week we talked to another Tim Joyce in the same line of work: a distinguished playwright/ actor/comedian and longtime resident of Chicago.  Tim has made a career out of stand-up comedy, writing, improv, acting, and teaching.  He has succeeded as a published author, speech-writer, and private comedy coach

You seem to have done it all! What aspect of your diverse career do you enjoy most: writing, performing, teaching, traveling…?

If you had asked that even three years ago, I would have quickly answered “performing.” But in the past few years I’ve been doing a lot more teaching, which provides inspiration and an outlet that I hadn’t expected. There’s a really sweet level of communication when teaching someone. So now I’d say it’s a tie: teaching and performing; with writing a close second.

Is comedy for the camera different than live comedy?

Live performing is actually very different that performing for a camera, whether it is comedy or drama. Cameras are intimate; they pick up tiny nuances that even the performer isn’t aware of, so you want to avoid being too broad. In a live stand-up situation, it’s almost impossible to be too broad.

What is it like to watch your plays performed? How much input/control does the playwright have?

I love watching my plays acted!!! It is a kick that cannot be described to see the levels actors and directors add to your work. They show you things you had no idea were there and make small choices that cause your work to shine.

I’ve been lucky to have a lot of input with my plays that have been produced. In every case, staged readings as well as workshops were necessary to get the working draft in shape. I’ve also worked with some really great directors who did a fine job shaping the material and the performances of the actors. A play – especially a new work – is a collaboration; I’ve been fortunate to have great collaborators.

We’ve recently interviewed another Tim Joyce who is taking classes at the Second City Training Center. How has Second City factored into your comedic career?

The Second City Training Center (which I attended in 1986/87) was a huge influence on me as an artist. It is not only a place that gave me a solid grounding in improv and more depth in performance, it is honestly the place where I believe I learned how to write.

You are also an experienced Shakespearean actor – what is your favorite Shakespearean character?

As a college freshman I got to play Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and it will always be my favorite role from any play. I also love the character and poetry of Richard II; in fact, I use a monologue from it for auditions.

What made you decide to pursue comedy over straight acting?

I wish I had a more sanguine answer…But it was money. Comedy pays better and there are more financial opportunities as a comedian and as a comic writer. It is an artistic challenge too, but it was a fiduciary choice.

How much research is involved in writing for someone else’s speech? Who have you written speeches for?

The speech writing I have done has been very corporate, it is largely a job of “punching up” executives’ existing speeches – making them less dry.

How did you go about writing a ‘spoof’ of self-help books, especially with a co-author?

Carl Kozlowski, my co-author, is a former student of mine and an amazingly talented writer who has worked for the Tribune, Esquire, LA Times, and numerous other media outlets as a reporter. He and I were tipped off that there was an opportunity to write a self-help spoof and we put together some spec chapters and pitched it. Voila! Book!

Can you give us an overview of your teaching methods for comedy?

People often ask me how you can “teach” comedy when so much humor is subjective. Truthfully you cannot teach someone to be talented, but you can help them learn to edit and to focus their voice as a writer. My emphasis is on editing material ruthlessly and constantly asking yourself if you are saying what you want to say – what you think you are saying. The best comedy has no wasted words, and every word should audition to get into your act.

How do you juggle touring with raising a family?

It is hard. I do not have my own biological kids; I have two wonderful young women who came into my life through Hurricane Katrina. One has gone off to Boston to get her MBA and the other graduates in 2010 from college. I’ve been married for 26 years and I still miss my wife on the long trips. Staying emotionally grounded on the road is the single biggest challenge I face as a comedian. The road is inherently lonely.

Why did you decide to settle in Chicago? What do you think of Chicago’s comedy scene?

Studying at Second City was the major factor in my moving here. The comedy scene is always changing, sometimes it is up and other times it is down. The talent tends to move to the coasts after developing here, so the scene doesn’t stay the same for long.

What is your favorite Chicago improv club to either perform in or to see a show?

I still love seeing shows at Second City, especially the improv sets there. IO is pretty cool too. For stand up I like the Comedy Upstairs show at Fizz Bar and Grill….

One Response to “Tim Joyce weighs in on Improv Comedy”

  1. I was a working stand-up here in the city in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and worked with Tim several times. I used to envy his professionalism, work ethic, promotional skills and ability to channel his creativity into forms of expression other than stand-up. It’s nice to see that he has continued to grow and thrive.

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