Posts tagged: comedian

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….

Improvising skits and composing folk music with Tim Joyce

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By , July 27, 2009 9:49 am

Funnyman and musician Tim Joyce

Funnyman and musician Tim Joyce

Tim Joyce, a Second City improv student and folk musician talks about his passion for performing.  Like the best musicians and comedians, Tim strives to keep learning, changing and improving his skills. When you have some free time, you should watch him perform at the Second City and catch a late night brewsky with him at the Old Town Ale House.

F: Many people enjoy comedy without ever trying it themselves. Based on your experience, what are the biggest differences between being on stage and sitting in the audience?

T: This is a tough question. I think the differences are far fewer than most people think. What really makes people laugh are the things that they can identify with. Most people know when things are funny, and funny stuff happens in our lives everyday. When you see someone on stage in a funny situation and you recognize it as something that has happened or could happen to you, it makes you laugh. The one big difference: as a performer, you are putting your self out there. You and your life experience can get laid out for everyone to see. If someone yells out “embarrassment” as a suggestion, you may likely have to deal with the time that you wet your pants in gym class in second grade. And there is the rub, you will have to deal with it in front of a bunch of strangers. (That didn’t happen to me though…)

F: What was your first routine like?

T: My real first stab at comedy was as a little kid. I would jam a globe under my t-shirt and pretend I was an uncle who had quite a large gut. People laughed. Turn about is fair play I guess, because now my nieces and nephews get to do the same thing to me. One of my more recent opportunities to perform in front of a non family audience was at the end of my first year at the Second City. There were definitely some nerves and the fear that I would screw something up, but as soon as I stepped out on the stage, I forgot I was nervous. You trust that your teammates will not let you down, and have to trust that you are being honest and make sure you are having fun, and things will work out.

F: How would you describe your comedic style?

T: I think that is always evolving, especially in improv. Currently, I think I am a slow burn type of guy. When it comes to improvisation, I find myself taking a lot of time to let things sink in. Not that I am slow on the uptake, but I might react with a facial expression or a movement of my body before anything comes out of my mouth. This might be out of necessity at this point in my training. I’m still learning. It would be nice to be one of those people who can say what seems like the right thing every single time. I think a lot of that comes with practice: The more you do it, the more comfortable you get. (At least I keep telling myself that.)

F: How do you learn in comedy class?

T: I think the key is listening. It sounds corny, and you hear it all the time, but you have to pay attention. I learn more from watching my classmates than any other way. Seeing how they succeed and how they fail is the best instruction. And I think failing is a huge part of improv. You have to be able to let yourself screw up, forget about it, and move on.

F: Do people always ask you tell jokes? How hard is it to improvise something funny on the fly?

T: “Tell me a joke” happens pretty often. But more often is “Do something funny,” or “Do an improv!” I try, in the nicest way possible, to explain to people that it is not a crazy-hands, toe-tappin’ cigar-in-the-mouth Vaudeville thing. I try to explain that it is more often the people you work with who make you funny. It is getting in a scene with them and connecting with them that gets the laughs, it is about people in the audience being able to recognize something you are doing as something they might do, or more likely something they have already done. I guess to answer the question: “On the fly” is what it is all about, but it feels most rewarding when you have a partner in crime who knows the ropes a little bit.  This answer doesn’t usually leave family members very satisfied at Thanksgiving though, and that is usually the time I pull a joke out of the old funny bag.

F: What do you think of the comedy scene here in Chicago, especially improv?

T: I think Chicago is an amazing and incredibly supportive place for improv. I have spent a lot of time in the music scene here in Chicago and I find them very similar: Two very supportive groups of people with a lot of overlap. On any given night in Chicago you have access to some of the most accomplished performers in their fields. You can see a musician at the Old Town School of Folk Music on one night and the next night they will be playing at a little club in Evanston. Or, you can see someone on the mainstage at Second City one week and then see them at the iO or The Annoyance the next week. All for not that much cash, really. Great for the audiences, not so great for the performers. But a testament to how much people love performing. (Pay: another sad but true similarity between music and improv.)

F: Second City has some pretty famous alums: can that be intimidating while taking classes at the Training Center? What do you want to do after you perfect your craft?

T: There is no doubt that history surrounds you at The Second City. There are reminders everywhere about all the other people who preceded you: old flyers, posters, paintings. even the people who are training you are part of that history.  It is intimidating at first, knowing that all these famous folks who came through the programs and performed at Second City. But as a student, the real solace is something I mentioned before: knowing they all failed at some point and kept plugging along. I don’t really have an end goal in mind at this point really. Right now, I just want to really continue plowing through to be able to get good at this. I don’t know if you can ever perfect the craft of improv either. It seems that even the best performers are always learning and changing and getting better, even the ones you think are already geniuses.

F: You also work at the Old Town School of Folk Music, a singular presence on the Chicago music scene. What distinguishes folk music (from classical or pop, for example)?

T: I think folk actually has a pretty expansive definition. People usually just think of the sixties folk revival most of the time, but I think it extends way beyond that.  A lot of musical genres have more folk in them than people realize. The points where musical genres overlap are what I find the most interesting and I like music and artist that are blurring those lines. For example, one thing that is exciting to me right now are the groups of younger classical musicians who are playing smaller group shows in venues that normally wouldn’t be for classical music, and not necessarily playing all classical pieces.

F: How does comedy relate to music, particularly folk music?

T: I think there is a real similarity on the learning level. You have to practice to improve. No one can just sit down and pick up a Banjo and play Bluegrass having never touched a banjo before. The same way that no one can jump up on stage and be an expert improviser from the get go. You need a little instruction and you need to practice. You need to learn the basics. In banjo, it is chord shapes, tunings, clawhammer style, Scruggs picking technique… In improv it is dialogue rules, how to react, how to move your body, how to listen and respond…  And then after you get the basics down, you can decide what you like, what you want to continue to use, and find out where you want to go from there.

F: Do you think folk music is becoming more popular with listeners and/or musicians?

T: I do. Even though I would love to expand the definition of folk, there are things that definitely fall into the folk category for many people. It seems like every time you turn around there is another band that has a fiddle player, or a ukulele, or a strange Appalachian instrument in it. I think that is a good thing.

F: What are your favorite places to go in the Old Town neighborhood? What do you think Old Town has to recommend it (above other Chicago neighborhoods)?

T: Ahhhh the Fudge Pot. One of my favorite places in Chicago. You can get chocolate shaped like anything there. I think Old Town is a great neighborhood because of it’s accessibility. Once you are there, you can spend the whole day in a few block radius. This would be mine: I am a bit of a food geek, so I’d hit the Spice House and Old Town Oil then grab Lunch and a smoothie at Fresh Choice, proceed to dessert at the Fudge pot, grab dinner at Trattoria Pizzeria Roma, Catch a show at the Second City, then hit the Old Town Ale house for a late night beer.

F: You said you also run a record label with friends… tell me more about that.

T: The label is called Contraphonic. Part of the label is a traditional record label with a roster of bands running the gamut from freaky folk music, to giant experimental jazz orchestras, to 70’s style pop music. The other part is a Chicago History based project called the Chicago Sound Series. There are two parts to that currently. Little Hell is a Series (currently 4 volumes) in which we have musicians compose short, e.p. length musical interpretations of historical people, places, or events related to Chicago. The second portion is called “ A Lot You Got to Holler.” The “Hollers” are very short studies/field recordings of things in and around Chicago. Those are free downloads on our site.

F: And, finally, please tell me how you manage to pursue all these diverse interests and find time to sleep!

T: It is difficult. But when you are lucky enough to be involved in things that really mean something to you, it makes it easier. The excitement and enjoyment I feel when I am about to head to a class at Second City, record with my band, or watch a show at the Hideout keeps me going. (Plus I have a very supportive wife.)

F: There is another comedian named Tim Joyce based in Chicago – also associated with Second city, no less! Have there been any embarrassing mix-ups between the two of you?

F: I get the occasional Facebook message for him, but nothing major. Wait, I’m not even sure it was the same Tim Joyce, but there was this time in college…(cue flashback music)… It was the final day of a History class I was taking. The day before the exam and the professor asked me to see him after class. He pulls a Chicago Tribune out of his desk drawer, looks me in the eye and says “I need to know if this is you” He slaps the Local section of the paper down on the desk and there is a giant photo of Barney the dinosaur. I begin to read the article and the first lines say something like: “ Every weekend local actor Tim Joyce dons his Barney suit to entertain kids on the North Shore of Chicago…” I vehemently denied it until he finally believed me. But before I left I asked if it would have affected my grade, and he said very honestly “Very likely, I can’t just overlook these kinds of things.”

F: Any other cool things we should know about you?

T: I am addicted to cooking Italian food. I am a rabid cookbook reader, not a big fan of roller coasters, I love visiting Montana, and I used to drive a school bus.

Laughing out loud with comedian, T-ball all-star, and Sox fan Joey Villagomez

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By , May 13, 2009 8:46 am

Joey talks to us through the only payphone in Chicago

Joey talks to us through the only payphone in Chicago

Watch out, the next blockbuster comedian could be right around the corner – Chicago’s very own Joey Villagomez is quickly taking over the standup scene generating laughs from colleges, comic clubs, and the internet. A Brighton Park resident and rising local celebrity who has been featured in HBO and NBC, talks to us about being a comic, living with three Latina women (his wife and daughters), and best places to grab Mexican grub. You can catch him performing at the Center for Performing Arts and Joe’s on Weed St, but his next major shows are at Club Ki-Yowga on May 23rd and the El Show Latino which happens in August. Outside of standup, Joey enjoys playing T-ball, so if you see an overgrown Mexican destroying the 11-15 year olds in a T-Ball All Star Game, grab his attention and ask him to tell you a joke. He’ll enjoy it. Seriously.

Joey Villagomez speaks to us about his life, inspiration, and fame

Wow. So you’ve been featured on NBC, HBO, and have done shows across the country. What is it like being famous? I have been to several universities and comedy clubs across the country. My HBO Latino appearance did give me some stardom in the Latino communities. I couldn’t go to the supermercado without having to autograph someone’s pack of tortillas! I also appeared on Cops, Jerry Springer and Cheaters!

Do people always expect you to be funny? YES! It’s kind of annoying at times.

Like do you come home, and your kids just want you to do a routine? Or do people hold you hostage and ask you to tell a joke before they help you out? No, people hold ME hostage to tell ME a joke! It’s usually an old joke that I’ve heard and then they tell it all wrong! Or they say, “Hey, here’s a joke you should put in your routine!” No, I write my own jokes man! My kids just don’t take me serious. “Do your homework”…they laugh! “Go to bed”…they laugh! “I’m not your real DAD”…they stop laughing!

Richard Pryor is watching Joey Villagomez perform, while Jerry Seinfeld takes notes. George Lopez just sits there and cracks up at Joey’s jokes!

Do comedians compete? Like how rappers battle? If you could do a comedian “battle” who would you do it with? Not really. Unless it’s a comedy competition. We all just try to do one thing, make the crowd laugh! If I were to battle, I’d like to battle Carlos Mencia! I don’t like what he says about Mexican people and our culture. Saying BEANER 1,000 times isn’t comedy! Forget that…let’s fight!

All the pretty girls follow you on MySpace because that’s what they do, my wife thinks they’re all hoochies!

There’s a great video of you explaining how you destroyed your Dad’s record collection from the 60’s playing “record wars” – throwing and cracking major collector’s items with your cousin in an alley. I always wondered if you got into major trouble for it. Oooh, why you gotta bring that up? It was with my brother and some friends. We were bored, we had no idea of the value and we were bad ass little kids! I really do regret that. My pops loves rock n’roll and he is a rock n’ roll encyclopedia so to destroy his collection of 45’s is something I wish I could take back. There were over 500 records. He whooped us for a month straight! “I want my daddy’s records back!”

I started doing standup too late! I started at 24 and I wish I began at 18, but my dad has always been my favorite comedian! He’s hilarious!

What is your biggest frustration as a comedian? The money! I have kids, bills to pay! I have to hang in there. It takes several years. I love doing it though!

Best place to sit when watching your show: Front row! Worst place to sit while watching your show: Front row!

Check out this hilarious clip of Joey V (requires plugin to view)

So Joey…tell us a bit more about Chicago

We understand you are an avid White Sox fan. Why do Mexican people love the Sox and not the Cubs? Because they sell elotes at U.S. Cellular Field…and tamales and paletas tambien!

Other comedians (aside from you) who people should check out: Alex Ortiz. He’s big time and moving up. I feature for him on the road so he’s taught me a lot about the business. He is another successful Latino comedian!

When I want to see more Mexicans, I go to my front window and look outside

Authentic Mexican food I love can be found at Atotonilco’s on 57t and Kedzie! My mom’s house and my wife’s cooking too, not so authentic but great Mexican food can be found at – seriously, I don’t eat at those places!

Around the city, I like taking my family to Millennium Park, Navy Pier, and the Lakefront of course!

Best Chicago bathroom any tree or garbage can with no police officers present. Worst Chicago bathroom the one at Chuck E. Cheese…nasty!

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