Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Zen of Improv: How "Yes and..." Screws the Pooch

by Pam Victor

[The Zen of Improv is a series of articles about 
the place where improvisation and Zen thinking meet

Big confession time: I do not teach “Yes, and…” to my improv students. Especially (!!!) not my beginning students. 


I know. Blasphemy, right? After you're finished flogging me with a rubber chicken, you might be wondering why I don’t teach “Yes, and …” to my beginning students. The answer is that I think "Yes, and ..." is one of the most misunderstood rules in improvisation. And I believe it can do more harm than good when it’s misunderstood and artlessly applied. 

Do I teach the spirit of and the principle behind “Yes, and…”? Oh, you bet your sweet ass I do, and how! To me, the spirit of “Yes, and …” lives in Acceptance. I think it’s important that improvisers practice acceptance of the moment that’s happening onstage rather than the ideas happening in our heads. And it’s my understanding that the principle behind “Yes, and…” means accepting the reality of the moment.

In response to, “Look out! There is a sinkhole!” The spirit of “Yes, and…” would have us say, “Holy cow! Let’s get out of here.”

Likewise, in response to “Look out! There is a sinkhole! Let’s jump in it!” the spirit of “Yes, and…” would have say, “No fucking way.” (Unless we’re playing suicide spelunkers.)

TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi really brought home this lesson to me while we were writing Improvisation at the Speed of Life

“TJ: The spirit of ‘Yes, and…’ as we read it, is an agreement to the present and to deal with it as actual. I don’t literally have to agree with everything Dave says or say ‘Yes’ all the time. If he invites me to the beach and my character doesn’t like the sand, I will say no.
TJ: Like that.”

(Can I just take a commercial break moment to enjoy how much I enjoy David Pasquesi?

Ok, moment over…)

Saying a reflexive “yes” just for the sake of saying “yes” is what TJ calls a “baloney yes.” He writes in our book, ”We’re told to offer these automatic yeses that end up reading like the bullshit they are. Instead, be honest to the point of view that you’ve found yourself in.”

(Can I just take a commercial break moment to enjoy how much I enjoy TJ Jagodowski?

Ok, moment over…)

Patrick Short
In a discussion online, General Manager of ComedySportz (Portland) Patrick Short helped me further refine this subtle distinction in my mind when he said, “A character may say, ‘No,’ if that fits their character in that situation. The PERFORMER should not say no, which usually comes from panic, pushing their own agenda, or ignoring others' ideas.” 

I love this differentiation between the improviser’s mind and the character’s mind. The character can say no, if that’s honest to their point of view. The improviser must say yes to the reality of the moment – this is exactly what “Yes, and …” means to me! (I bold faced it, so you know I mean it.) But saying yes to the reality of the moment is a subtextual, unspoken affair; which is why a blanket, out loud “Yes, and …” to every offer is so clumsy and ineffectual, because it offers a slobbering face mauling when what you really desire is one well-placed neck kiss. Ok, that metaphor might not work, but you know what I mean. Saying “Yes, and …” all the time is like a dentist using a hammer as her only instrument.

(See? That kissing metaphor was tons better, wasn’t it?)

Kissing and dentistry aside, the spirit and principles behind “Yes, and …” are a far subtler affair between the improviser and character which an automatic “Yes, and …” can’t possibly convey. One instance I've noticed this improviser mind/character mind mix up is in the tendency in some students to try to fix the situation. Like if a car breaks down, beginning improvisers are likely to try to repair it, which doesn’t always lead to the most fun scenes. (Though it might and that would be amazeballs!) The character wants to repair the car – that’s a perfectly reasonable "Yes, and ..." response in the real world. But the improviser wants to agree to the reality (say “yes, and …” if you will) to the broken car because of the fun that could unfold. 

“Shoot. I can’t get the car to start.”

The character thinks, “Oh no! We have to repair it!”

The improviser thinks, “Oh yes! And there is a super sketchy looking guy walking towards us.”

Aha! That's when my improv parts start getting warm and tingly because that's my joyride. (Though yours might be different, and that's cool too.)

Craig Cackowski of iO Theater West teaches a great exercise that brings home this lovely character mind/improviser mind dance called “Make It Worse.” From my chat with Craig in Geeking Out with…Craig Cackowski:

“PAM: ‘Problem-solving is comedy elimination’ is another great Cacky quote I remember from last summer. I found that quote and this exercise very enlightening because we learned that in a scene it was important not to solve the problem, but to make it worse while staying true to our characters. (I think you said something about a bully needing a nerd, not another bully, in a scene.) The exercise was very counter-intuitive because in real life we tend to want to fix or brainstorm away the problem rather than prolonging the agony. You said what the character is asking for and what the improviser is asking for are two different things. I thought it was so interesting that “Yes, and…” means doing what the IMPROVISER wants, so if someone's character says, ‘Calm down’ in a scene, the improviser might be saying, ‘Be more insane.’ And her partner should agree to that (‘Yes, and…’) by heightening the insanity.

CRAIG:  I think it's about each improvisor figuring out what their unique role is going to be in the scene. So if I'm agreeing to be the nerd, I'm not going to spend the scene trying to get out of being the nerd, or trying to make YOU the nerd, or trying to negotiate with the bully. I'm going to be that FUCKING NERD. In other words, I'm not trying to WIN the scene, or have the ‘correct’ point of view. I want both of us to agree to our roles, so we can win TOGETHER. My job as a writer of the scene is to help you be a better bully, not to get you to stop bullying me.
Craig Cackowski and cat

But people want to be right, and people want to win, so it leads to a lot of conflict-driven scenes. It's more fun to lose, or to be gloriously wrong. When we talk about conflict in improv, we're usually talking about the improvisors not being able to agree what they want the scene to be about. Conflict between two characters we care about can be compelling. Conflict between improvisors is boring. The worst kind of scene? Two characters of equal status who both think they're right.”
This resistance to making it worse is just like that impulse to say “No.” Both are born of fear of the unknown. Both tend to put the brakes on a scene. And I get that so hard, you guys. Moving forward into the unknown future is SCARY. Our impulses to say “No” and to fix it are perfectly understandable, normal human reactions. Fortunately, improvisers are not normal humans. And in seeking help in taking the blind plunge into the unknown and mucking things up, “Yes, and …” is a handy shorthand reminder. Too bad it so often screws the pooch. 

The spirit behind “Yes, and …” is some subtle shit, man. Maybe – just maybe – you’re starting to see why I choose not to teach “Yes, and…” to beginning students. The term is pithy and cute but also trite and misleading. Exploring acceptance – the principle behind “Yes, and…” – is a far more nuanced journey. One that, in my opinion, could be well guided by our hearts and guts rather than our minds and mouths. 

And the spirit of "Yes, and ..." could be well guided by our joy parts too! That's why, instead of a ham-fisted "Yes, and ..." exercise, I prefer to teach an exercise I call "Love the Fuck Out of This Moment," which is a series of short scenes in which the players are instructed to love the fuck out of every single offer their scene partner makes, whatever that looks like and whatever that means to each player. This exercise strengthens our muscle of total joyful agreement. Have fun! Love everything! Invite players to just jump in there and say anything with joy and abandon ... and love the fuck out of it. As you can imagine, the scenes tend to be very high energy and sometimes frenetic, so after a happy round or two, invite players to experiment with modulating the energy. How can you love the fuck out this moment slowly? quietly? super sexy style? Wheeee! This joy is what it feels like when the improviser (as opposed to the character) plays with pure acceptance.

In defense of all those “Yes, and…” enthusiasts, I think that’s the muscle we’re all trying to strengthen: the joy of pure acceptance, of jumping into the unknown and making it worse. As Curt Mabry, founder of Zmack Improv (Shanghai, China) said to me, “When I use exercises that focus on how can you 'yes, and' in my advanced classes, I also remind them that this is like the batter in baseball warming up in the on-deck circle - he has a weight on his bat as he swings to challenge his strength ... so that when he's up and the weight is off, he's got all the power in his swing but also a lot of learned control.”

When those muscles are stronger, we have more ability to play with agility, nuance, and discernment. Just as I think that we should make a conscious rather than reflexive choice to say “no," I also believe that “yes” also should be a conscious rather than reflexive response. Does the “yes” jibe with the reality of the scene and all that has come before it? If so, say “Yes!” If not, say “No.” (Or if you’re Mr. Pasquesi, you may say, “No. Go fuck yourself.”)

Here’s the super subtle part that I’m ruminating over these days: If we’re not sure how to respond and “Yes, and …” still maintains the integrity and reality of the scene, please by all means let's say “Yes, and …!” And then see what happens. Often, it’s a super fun joyride that you would have denied yourself by saying “no.” If you explore this balancing act in your work, let me know how it goes.

As I'm sure you all know, the spirit of and principles behind "Yes, and ..." extend beyond the classroom as well. By strengthening that so-called “Yes, and…” muscle, we’re becoming more willing to jump gleefully into the unknown, more adaptable to change, and more able to accept the reality of the moment. Because isn’t that the very definition of personal sadness: the difference between the actual reality and what we WISH would be the reality? As far as I can tell, the act of accepting the present reality seems to lead to more joy. And you know me - I'm all about the joyride. Can I get a "Yes, and ..." to that, brothers and sisters?

* * *

A teeny tiny, one-minute webseries that 
tries to answer the questions of life 
according to the tenets of improvisation.
In this episode, we explore the question, 
"How do you know what your joyride is?"

If you are interested in exploring some 
more Zen of Improv pieces, 
you might enjoy reading the other side of the "Yes, and ..." coin: 

Or how about some of these "Geeking Out with..." interviews?


Pam Victor is an improv comedian, author, journalist, teacher, and nice person. TJ Jagodowski,  David Pasquesi, and Pam are the co-authors of "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book."  Currently, Pam teaches  "The Zen of Improv"  to the best students in the world, as well as bringing the power of improvisation to the workplace in her "Through Laughter" program. 

All her crapola is at

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Radio: Comedians of the Pioneer Valley

I got to sub on The Bill Newman Show on WHMP (Northampton, MA) today, and I invited three other funny ladies - Laura Patrick, Kim DeShields, and Jess Miller - and a whipsmart professor to talk about comedy in the Pioneer Valley. Then we did the Hot Mess Guess game show, in which Professor Kirsten Leng of UMass (Amherst) quizzed us about women in comedy. How did we fare? Listen and see.

I mean, hear. Listen and hear.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Zen of Improv: The Power of "No"

by Pam Victor

[The Zen of Improv is a series of articles about 
the place where improvisation and Zen thinking meet

Comedian and improviser Jane Lynch spoke to the graduating seniors at Smith College in 2012:
“As you travel through life, in these many years ahead, I guarantee that you will come upon countless times in which the last thing you’re gonna want to say is “YES AND.” You will experience loss, heartache, the death of a loved one, you’ll probably have to say goodbye to a lover, you’ll experience rejection, maybe have to deal with a bad diagnosis. You’ll age.
Jane Lynch, Smith College commencement 2012 
The trick isn’t to avoid these times or pretend they’re not happening; you can’t. What you’ll need to do is step up to them courageously and embrace them. Allow these experiences to permeate your being and weave them all into the fabric of your life. They will not only soften you and strengthen you, and you will open your heart to compassion. You will not be powerless in this. If you embrace what is happening, instead of denying it, you can make it your own. If life gives you lemons, grab it by the horns and drive.”

Scratch a comedian and you’re sure to come up with a quote about living life according to the testament of “Yes, and…” A guidepost I also believe in deeply and thoroughly and down to the very marrow in my bones and the glitter in my soul. But why doesn’t anybody talk about the power of “No”?

I can’t love “Yes, and…” without having some healthy respect for “No.” It’s such an effective weapon for putting the ultimate brakes on life. “No” is a powerful beastie, because the person who plays the “No” card automatically wins. Or at least forces the other player to concede defeat; it’s a mere formality whether the poor schlub decides to go down swinging and spitting or just instantly put their cards on the table with a firm, “I’m out.” In any case, the power of “No” is a profound game ender. 

I suppose that’s why it’s so hard to let go of “No” for us improvisers and human beings. To do so would be to relinquish control of the situation. To let go of “No” is to hand over the wheel to another driver - to fate, to the moment, to the group. To switch over to another vehicular metaphor, “Yes, and…” helps us pull the oars into the canoe and allow the scene/moment to take us where it’s going already. Whereas “No” grabs the mother of all bigass oars, shoves it deep into the water where it anchors us in the muck below, effectively arresting the canoe dead in the water. In fact, “No” makes the canoe altogether un-canoe-ish, as the it transforms from its float-down-the-stream job and instead becomes more like a boulder resolutely moored to the floor of the stream ever since prehistoric times and well beyond all our lifetimes and our children’s children’s children’s lifetimes. There is no joyride on that boulder. But it is undeniably potent. “No” is definite and immovable and, yes, a very powerful way for the No-er to hold total control.

Lately (as in, for the last 48 years of my life,) I’ve been seeking the answer to, “How to let go?” with extra special bonus points awarded for the answer to, “How to let go gracefully?” How to let go of the power of “No”? How to let go of the need to control? How to let go of the fear of the unknown? How to let go of the boulder and instead float ease-fully along with the current of the moment?

As I understand it, improvisation encourages us to let go and allow the scene/moment to take us along its path. In order to be a good improviser, we need to let go of where we WANT the scene/moment to go, and allow the scene/moment to take us where it’s going already. It's that act of pulling the oars into the canoe and saying "Yes, and ..." to the stream, where the scene is going already. This actions requires a tremendous amount of letting go, especially the two big, bad Leroy Brown’s of letting go: letting go of control and letting go of fear. We allow ourselves to feel the big, bad feels, and we let go anyway as we say, “Yes, and…” to the scene and to the moment. 

Let’s scratch a few more comedians:

"’Say yes, and you'll figure it out afterward’ has helped me to be more adventurous. It has definitely helped me be less afraid.”
- Tina Fey, Bossypants

 “I love saying ‘yes’ and I love saying ‘please.’ Saying ‘yes’ doesn’t mean I don’t know how to say no, and saying ‘please’ doesn’t mean I am waiting for permission. ‘Yes please’ sounds powerful and concise. It’s a response and a request. It is not about being a good girl; it is about being a real woman. It’s also a title I can tell my kids. I like when they say ‘Yes please’ because most people are rude and nice manners are the secret keys to the universe.” 
― Amy Poehler, Yes Please

“… you are not in control. So say ‘yes.’ And if you're lucky, you'll find people who will say "yes" back. Now will saying "yes" get you in trouble at times? Will saying ‘yes’ lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes it will. But don't be afraid to be a fool.” 
- Stephen Colbert, Commencement address at Knox College (2006)

But what happens when a “Yes, and…” joyrider meets a bigass boulder of “No”? 

The answer can be found in the splinters of canoe shrapnel floating down the stream. “No” wins. Game over. End of joyride. 

“No” is so fucking powerful, you guys! “No” not only hoards all the oars but also overtakes the power of the stream’s current, gravity itself. “No” says, “Try to move me, motherfucker. I dare you.” And you can’t because “No” is Arnold Schwarzenegger in a no good, very bad “Go ahead, make my day” mood, and even if you could deal with that shit, it’s just not worth it, man. It's just not worth it.

(Yes, I know that Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t say “Go ahead, make my day,” but you get my drift.)

What would it be like to let go of the Power of No? What would it be like to let go of our fear of what’s ahead? What would it be like to let go of our need to plan? To let go of the whole self-delusion of planning? What would it be like to let go and give in to where the scene and the moment is taking us?

Back to Ms. Lynch at that Smith College commencement for this one,

“To this I say: you can always trust that when you’re coming from your highest self and from your heart, you’ll know when you should say YES AND,’ and when to engage the awesome power of ‘NO WAY’ …. Your job is to honestly discern for yourself if you’re saying ‘no’ to an opportunity out of fear, or are you simply exercising good judgment.”

And I would add that we should take a magnifying glass to our definition of “good judgment” while we’re examining these intersections of life. Aside from those classic “bad judgment” red flags – like heroin, murder, kitten torture – defining “bad judgment” is not always a no-brainer. That’s the bitch of it, people. Because there are moments when Fear colors everything to make it seem like a bad decision. Quitting your paying job in order to fulfill your non-paying dream? That logically seems like a bad decision. Saying yes to an opportunity to leave all your friends and family and move to another country? That logically seems like a bad decision. Being with a person who you desire even though it would mean posting on Facebook that “It’s complicated”? That logically seems like a bad decision. All those moments logically certainly seem like good times to wield the great Power of No.

And yet …

What would happen if we allowed ourselves a bubble outside of life, a bit of time in a life vacuum outside of the exertions of the “shoulds” and “musts” of life? What would happen if you were scared but tried it anyway, even if it doesn’t make sense and you don’t know why you’re doing it? What would happen if you take a tiny break from life to listen to your heart? What would happen if you pull the oars out of the water and allowed the moment to carry you, just for a moment or two or three or four? Where would you go? How does that feel in your heart? Can your head possibly catch up for just a second to consider those moments in this lovely bubble before stopping the journey dead in its tracks with “No”?

On the other hand, should the lovely bubble experiment fail, what would it be like to say “Yes, and …” to that new reality, whether we like it or not? What would it be like to say "Yes, and ..." to the "No"? This “No” might be the new normal, the (maybe) unhappy reality of this moment. What would it be like to allow that moment of “No” to take us to the next step along the way? Because, as my co-authors of Improvisation at the Speed of Life taught me, the principle behind “Yes, and …” does not require us to say yes. The spirit of “Yes, and …” suggests that we “merely” accept the present reality of the scene/moment. Bonus points for doing so without out judgment. Daily double bonus points for doing it gracefully.

“No” is a powerful weapon that requires we use it ever so wisely and judiciously. Maybe the secret is to follow the heart rather than the head? For sure, the secret is to consciously, rather than reflexively, choose to say no.

This seems to be a good time to return to our seats in the beautiful quad in Northampton, Massachusetts on a sunny day in 2012 to turn our attention toward a very funny woman:
“It turns out I just had to be willing to take chances, look at what’s right in front of me and greet everything with a big ’YES AND,’ putting all of my heart into everything I do. My counsel to you, women of Smith College? Let life surprise you. Don’t have a plan. Plans are for wusses.”


A teeny tiny, one-minute webseries that 
tries to answer the questions of life 
according to the tenets of improvisation.
In this episode, we explore the question, 
"How do I let go?"

If you are interested in exploring some 
more Zen of Improv pieces, 
you might enjoy reading about the other side of the "No" coin:

Or how about some of these "Geeking Out with..." interviews?


Pam Victor is an improv comedian, author, journalist, teacher, and nice person. TJ Jagodowski,  David Pasquesi, and Pam are the co-authors of "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book."  Currently, Pam teaches  "The Zen of Improv"  to the best students in the world, as well as bringing the power of improvisation to the workplace in her "Through Laughter" program. 

All her crapola is at

Saturday, September 19, 2015

What Would Improv Do? (How do you let go?)

Life's questions according to the tenets of improvisation. 
(Or at least how I interpret them.) 
This week's question: How do you let go?

Email your question to!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

What Would Improv Do? (How do you know what your joyride is?)

Life's questions answered according to the tenets of improvisation.
This week's question: How do you know what your joyride is?

Send your question to

Monday, September 7, 2015

Friday, July 31, 2015

The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment (#22: The Experiment Ends & Life Begins)

By Pam Victor

[The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment is my one-year challenge to make a living through creative pursuits. Read all the updates here.]

Well boy oh boy, tomorrow is August 1, 2015, the official last day of The "Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment. As I summed it up on August 1, 2014, "The crux of my 'Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?' Experiment is to see if it’s possible to do these things that I love from the tips of my toes to that godly space above my head while getting paid just like other hard working people." And I even went ahead and made my financial goal see-through rice paper, scary vulnerable transparent: $16,000 in a year through improvisation, writing, teaching - "the things that put wind in my soul’s sail, make my heart want to keep kerthumping, rev up my juicy lady motor, make me eagerly lean forward and want to learn and explore and experiment and do more every day forever and ever until hopefully even after I die." 

I have twice in one paragraph quoted myself, so obviously I succeeded in my goal to become a pretentious twat. But has the Experiment itself been a success? Spoiler alert: Yes.

Doing what I love with the people who I love.
The Ha-Ha's 2015
I achieved my financial goal a few months ago, so I've been putting away a little bit more since that time. Enough that if I was the sole breadwinner of our family of four, we would be just teeny tiny bit over the poverty line. Though the Experiment is a success, according to society I make a meager living. That said, when improvisers hear how much I made, they can't believe how much it is. However, when normal people hear how much I made, they can't believe how little it is. But the fact remains, I made a bit over $25,000 in one year through teaching, performing, and writing about improvisation. I'm sure you will rejoice this achievement or make sympathetic clucks depending on which side of the aisle you're sitting in. For both, I thank you.

This Experiment is about much more than just money. It's about the experience of making a living doing what I love, and if I still love what I do after doing so. Was that do-si-do a success? I'll have to go with a more moderate "Yes" on that one. Yes, I still love improvisation. Of course I do. I love it like I love breathing. Has every moment of the last year been skipping through a field of daisies, mojitos, and kittens? No. No, it hasn't.

Like Rick Hall told me last September when he was on the
With Laura Hall and Rick Hall at the BCAF 2015
[Photo credit Lisa Cordner]
panel of my talk show at the Boston Comedy Arts Festival - oops, that pretentious twat just snuck out again - anyway, he said that getting the job is work, doing the job is play. Most of the time, I still deeply love performing and teaching, but actual performing and teaching is about 20% of the work necessary to do this job. The other 80% is sitting in front of my computer alone in my office, doing what needs to be done to get onstage and into the classroom. 

The Big Stuff I Accomplished During the 
"Can I Make a Living Doing What I Love?" Experiment:
  • Designing, running, and teaching a multi-level improv class curriculum called The Zen of Improv
  • Teaching 70+ Zen of Improv students, plus probably an equal number of workshop students in several different states
  • Publishing a book with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi
  • Writing sixteen essays in The Zen of Improv series
  • Almost always getting paid to perform improvisation
  • Producing The Happier Valley Comedy Show and Sunday Improv Fun Time (a jam/show)
  • Facilitating many workshops with guest teachers
  • Firmly establishing a home, school, stage, and loving community for improv comedy in Western Massachusetts
That seems like a year well spent when I see it all bullet-pointed out like that.

What's the big lesson I learned over the last year of doing what I love? It's all about hustle. (Yes, Zach Ward of DSI Comedy Theater got the hashtag right. #hustle) This job has been a ginormous 24/7 mofo of hustle. I'm CONSTANTLY thinking, working on, managing the next gig. I am always brainstorming new ideas to try to figure out how to expand my job still further. I'm still trying to crack the nut of applied improv, how to utilize improv for personal and professional growth in my "Through Laughter" Program and how the hell to get those gigs. I'm always working on my websites, both of which I had to re-build over the past few months. (Add Web Design to my skills! But don't put that under "Doing What I Love" - Egads! What a pain in the ass. Goddess bless the web designers, those patient souls.) Hustling also includes booking workshops, finding classroom and performance space, planning new classes, designing curriculum, taking registration, answering endless questions, sending out proposals ... basically, putting every possible pole in the water in hopes of getting just one bite. Hustling has become reflexive and nearly compulsive and may have made enemies of my Facebook friends with. Basically, I've spent the last year getting a new business off the ground. Which means I've been working without stop almost every day and many evenings for the last year. 

Time management has been my greatest challenge, by far. My biggest source of income right now is classes. I teach about three or four classes each week. That means that between classes, workshops, performances, and rehearsals, I'm out of the house about five or six nights a week. Often, I leave the house before my husband gets home from work and I get home after he has gone to bed. You'd think we'd see each other on weekends, but shows, workshops, and classes tend to land on Saturdays and Sundays. Plus, if I have a free moment, I tend to sneak down to my office to get a little work done in hopes of whittling away at the endless, regenerating monster of the to-do list. I pretty much work in front of my computer all day long, then shove some late afternoon combo meal (linner? dunch?) into my gullet before dashing out of the house to teach/perform/rehearse. I have a ridunkulous work ethic and the hustling is non-stop. And stressful.

What I'm saying is, I am very tired.

Nevertheless, I have to take a moment to say that I feel very - excuse the expression - blessed. You cannot believe the people I get to work with! I know you think you can believe it, but you just cannot. I'm telling you, improvisation is like the most powerful Awesome People Magnet ever. I have received nothing but encouragement from every improviser I know. Over the last year, I've felt like I have a team that literally spans the globe rooting for me. Here are a few stand-outs who have let me know they're cheering me on: 
  • Everyone I perform with has let me know they have my back, but most of all my improv family in Western Mass - Laura Patrick, Christine Stevens, Moe McElligott, Maile Shoul, Mosie McNally, and Scott "Sunshine Face" Braidman - such talented improvisers, such huge hearts, such cherished friends
  • Neighbors who have heard me on the radio and took the time to say so
  • My ImprovBoston family. (Thanks especially to Mike D!)
  • The improvisers I worked with in Florida 
  • The gentleman in Italy who translated my Zen of Improv essay and offered me a place to stay if I'm ever in Milano 
  • The members of our audiences
  • Readers of my blog, especially those kind and generous souls who took a moment to let me know that someone appreciative is out there reading
  • Susan Messing, whose sexy voice rings in my head when I'm struggling: "If you're not having fun, you're the asshole," "Being brave is being scared as shit but doing it anyway with the results of flying," "You, love, will put your head down and take care of your beeswax," and so much more.
  • My mentor/friends Will Luera and Piero Procaccini
  • Dr. Sue Keller, a dentist who sponsors The Happier Valley Comedy Show and sent me a clipping in the real, actual mail when I was in the paper 
  • The people, like Sarah and Tom, who come to almost every show. And like Adelaide who buys a ticket every month, even if she can't attend the show. 
  • And boy oh boy! do I LOVE LOVE LOVE my students so damn hard. They are some of the most brave, loving, supportive, and fun-loving people I've ever met. I cannot tell you how many
    Some of the Best Students in the World
    different ways my students inspire me each day. I feel so grateful for getting to meet, work/play with, and become friends with them. I am excited and optimistic about the improv community that is building around these classes. I hope you get to meet, know, play, and/or work with my students one day because I'm pretty sure they're the best students on the planet. And that's not an exaggeration in the least.

What's ahead? The good news is that my Experiment was enough of a success that I can continue to do what I love. That means my next challenge is to figure out how to do what I love in a more sustainable way that will keep me going over the long haul. I need to figure out how to take days off and re-charge. I also would like to expand my applied improv program because I have learned that improvisation is as helpful to people off the stage as it is on the stage, and I would like to bring the joy and learning to more people. My next financial goal is to be able to cover all of my son's college tuition, so we can eat something besides rice and beans this year. I also would like to establish a physical "clubhouse" for improv comedy where we can teach and learn and perform and nerd out. I have a lot of ideas for more shows and classes, and a permanent forever-home for improv in Western Mass. would allow them to happen. I would like to find more paying performance opportunities. I would like continue to facilitate more paid improv gigs for others. I could go on ... I have more goals, hopes, and dreams that I'm looking forward to making my work and play in the year ahead. Still dreaming. Still hustling. Still on the joyride.

When you're using your own machete to clear a new path through life's jungle, it's not always clear which way to go. Though I have some ideas of the general direction I'd like to aim in, like those listed above, the big unknowns are how to get there and which is the "best" path for me. It should come as no surprise that when this self-questioning reaches a crescendo (usually around 3:00am as I'm tossing and turning in bed, scowling in the dark at my easy-sleeper husband,) I turn to improvisation to light the path. 

ME: Excuse me, Goddess of Improvisation? Do you have a moment?

IMPROVISATION: I have only moments, like the one right here and right now.

ME: Um, cool. Thanks. So how do I make my way through the unknown? 

IMPROVISATION Notice where you already are and be there. 

ME: How do I know which path to take? 

IMPROVISATION: Take the one that feels the most ease-ful and fun. Pull the paddles out of the water and into the canoe and let the joyride take you where it's already going. Follow the show. (And by "show," I mean "moment.")

ME: Roger that. Thanks. What is the best path for me? 

IMPROVISATION: The one you're already on.

ME: Oooohkay. Thank you kindly, ma'am.

IMPROVISATION: You are most welcome. Now do five moments of gratitude, notice the moment around you, and never make a joke onstage again.

The Experiment ends today, but, if all goes well, life as a full time, professional improviser is only just beginning.

Ok, I gotta go work on that monster to-do list! Thanks for following me along on my journey. Really, I mean it. Thank you.

* * *

Pam Victor is a full time professional improviser! She is the founder of Happier Valley Comedy, The Happier Valley Comedy Show, The Ha-Ha's, The Zen of Improv curriculum, and the "Through Laughter" Program, which brings personal and professional growth through improvisation. Pam performs "Geeking Out with: The TALK SHOW," a live version of the written Geeking Out with... interview series, at comedy festivals throughout the land. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle." She also writes about the meeting of Zen thinking and improvisation in the Zen of Improv written series. Along with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi, Pam is the co-author of "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ & Dave Book."  Read all her nonsense at

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Scrumptious Improv Quotes: The TJ & Dave Book (Silence)

If you're interested in reading more of my slurry, check out

Or perhaps you'd like to read interviews with great minds in improvisation in the Geeking Out with... series here?


Pam Victor is the co-author of the newly released "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book" along with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. Pam writes (and performs) the Geeking Out with... interview series and The Zen of Improv series as well as mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on the blog "My Nephew is a Poodle."  Pam is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show.   Currently, Pam teaches  "The Zen of Improv Comedy" and "Mindfulness Through Laughter" in Western Massachusetts.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Geeking Out with..."Open Tables" (An interview with film writer/director/producer Jack C. Newell with thoughts from Colleen Doyle, Beth Lacke, and David Pasquesi)

by Pam Victor

If you like good food, romance set in Paris and Chicago, and improvisation, Open Tables will make all your juicy parts say, “Mmmmm.” Written, directed, and produced by Jack C. Newell, with whom I previously geeked out about Close Quarters, the first improv-chocked film he directed, Open Tables explores the idea that “every table has a story.” In this case, the story-rich table is surrounded by a pu pu platter of delicious improvisers and stage/screen actors - TJ Jagodowski, Colleen Doyle, Kate Duffy, Keith Kupferer, Caroline Neff, Desmin Borges, and Jack C. Newell himself – who play three couples sitting down together to a centerpiece meal from which radiates a banquet of stories about love lost and found, and lost and found again. This films also features Joel Murray (who manages to eat throughout the movie even though all his scenes take place in a doctor’s office), Linda Orr (who is a familiar face from the stages of Annoyance and iO theaters in Chicago,) Gwendolyn Gourvenec and William Prünck (who are both French actors and thus very, very sexy,) Beth Lacke (who has the good/bad luck to fall in love with an amnesiac,) and David Pasquesi (who plays the aforementioned amnesiac lover.)  Plus, improvisers will enjoy cameos by beloved Chicago gurus Susan Messing and Bill Arnett.

A picturesque, romantic movie, Open Tables makes eye-love to viewers with its appetizing meals and settings. This movie left me both sated and hungry for good food, travel, and love. It’s no coincidence that Jack Newell first discovered the kernel of the story while he was falling in love with his now-wife during their trip to Paris. (Let that be a lesson to you: Choose wisely with whom you travel to Paris.) Open Tables riffs on the idea that we also would do well to choose wisely with whom we share a meal. As Jack Newell writes, “Once you've eaten a meal with someone you can’t call that someone a stranger. The act of eating is, by definition, an ephemeral experience, but the memory of a great meal stays with us forever.”

Love. Great meals shared together. Chicago. Paris. Improvisation. Open Tables satisfies all our tastes. (Or at least mine. As they say in France, “À chacun son goût.”)

I had the good fortune of sitting down with Jack Newell for this cinematic Geeking Out with… Additional commentary by some of the stars of the movie can be found in the Special Features track.

No. Wait. Blogs don’t have different tracks. Ummm…. Ok …Let’s pretend little text boxes are Special Features. (Wheee! I’m in a movie! I’m gonna IMDB this shit.)

PAM: Of course, I'm most curious about how you utilized improvisation in the making of this film. I get the impression that you used it in a more structured way than in your previous film.

JACK C. NEWELL: That is correct. If Close Quarters was 90% improvised, which I think is safe to say it is, I would say Open Tables is 50% improvised. Though this conversation gets tricky when you use the word “improvised.” In the shooting draft, I had sections that are 100% scripted, 50% scripted, and 0% scripted. So different parts of the film are dealt with differently, and it's hard to say one way of how I approached it.

PAM: What was the process of making this movie?

JACK: I wrote the script for this one. (I did not write Close Quarters.) It started as an idea while my girlfriend (at the time - wife now) and I were in Paris. When we got home from our vacation there, I wrote the script in two weeks. And then rewrote it over the next nine months.

PAM: How did making this movie differ from the process of making Close Quarters?

COLLEEN DOYLE ("Dana"): Open Tables was a very different experience than Close Quarters. Jack gave us a lot more structure in Open Tables; the story was laid out and there were beats we knew we'd hit. The film was fleshed out from the beginning, but the dialogue was still improvised and there was room for discovery there. Jack loves improv and it's always so fun to have someone who’s excited about what you're bringing to the table and willing and eager to let it help shape the piece. I also got to work with different and wonderful people over the course of several weeks while not eating in Chicago's best restaurants.

PAM: In this film, you use well-known and highly respected improvisers, such as TJ Jagodowski, David Pasquesi, Colleen Doyle, Kate Duffy, and Linda Orr, but many of your actors seemed to come from the stage. They aren't at all regular improvisers, if at all. And of course the main character is played by you, a "normal" as Susan Messing calls non-improvisers.

JACK: As well as Caroline Neff, and the French couple - Gwendolyn Gourvenec and William Prünck - all "normal" people.

PAM: Yup. They're "real" actors, right? Not improvisers. That leads me to believe you were looking for something different from the actors in this movie. Perhaps something different than the typical improviser's approach?

JACK: I would say like "on the ground" that I was less concerned with the labels. Not to discount your point.

PAM: Go ahead. Discount my point. The night is young.

JACK: Hahaha! My interest in improv is the fear in the eyes of the unknown, which is almost impossible to replicate.

PAM: And very difficult to capture on film.

JACK: I think one thing that sets my films apart is a level of performance that is very "real" or "believable." Improvisation, if used right, can do this very well; actually, better than anything else outside of real life. My tolerance for unbelievable or fake moments is incredibly low. I can't stand it. It turns me off immediately. That's not to say it has to be REAL as in POSSIBLE, but REAL as in BELIEVABLE.

Case in point, Pasquesi: Ridiculous story line. Totally believable.

PAM: Dave Pasquesi plays a man named Dean who has a sort of amnesia. And Hannah (played beautifully by Beth Lacke) falls in love with him.

JACK: If you breakdown Hannah and Dean's story, it's ridiculous. But in the end is believable and reveals something true about human nature.

PAM: Hannah is an interesting character.

JACK: Yeah! I love Hannah.

PAM:  Me too. And Beth Lacke is pretty wonderful too.

PAM: What is about Dave Pasquesi's character, or at least his situation, that makes your character fall in love with him?

BETH LACKE ("Hannah"): I believe that with him she's given an opportunity every day to open up more and more at a pace that feels safer than her past relationships. It would take a man who wakes up every morning, looking at her as if she did nothing wrong the day before, to generate the (in this case, false) feeling of unconditional love that would make her feel safe enough to feel worthy of love. Which, for me, was the underlying reason she was burning through men faster than a California wildfire before he entered her life.

PAM: Why do you think Beth's character falls in love with your character?

DAVID PASQUESI ("Dean"): I am fucking irresistible. Did you not see the movie?!

PAM: What's it like to share a bed with David Pasquesi?

BETH LACKE: I can say that for the brief time we shared a bed, it was just as delightful a time as one would assume if you'd spent any time outside of one with him.

PAM: Very diplomatic.

PAM: Can you tell me about-
David Pasquesi and Beth Lacke
in "Open Tables" 

JACK: Can I ask a question first?

PAM: Of course.

JACK: Is Hannah's storyline scripted or improvised?

PAM: Hmmm … I think it's scripted. It is set apart from the other stories, and I think you were trying to make a point about a certain type of relationship. A commentary on how women approach romance. The general story is scripted. Her exact words seem to be improvised.

JACK: Good, good.

PAM:  You are about to tell me I'm wrong, I assume.

JACK: No, you're very close. The only alteration is that it's 100% scripted. There are some ad libs, but nothing improvised. She's a great actor.

PAM: Ah! She really is a great actor.

JACK: As is Dave.

PAM: Yeah, he’s okay.

JACK: Hannah's character and situation are something I observe in my friends and people I know, who bounce from relationship to relationship. And you see them for coffee or a dinner or something, and they're telling the same story over and over and over, but the characters change.

PAM: But there seems to be something specific to that story. It's more than just “we broken real humans re-living the same tired storylines in our real broken human lives.” Number one, the situation with Dave's character changes the pattern, in a way. Number two, I think the story is about this woman approaching men in a stereotypically male way.

JACK: That's interesting. I hadn't thought about that. That's the first time anyone's said that to me. It's a good point, and I don't want to discount that. I think your analysis of Hannah is great and valid.

PAM: Aha! We're 1 to 1. A discount tie.

PAM: How do you view the character you play?

BETH LACKE: I see Hannah as completely lost, but like most ‘self-actualized’ women, who live by the idea, “I've come up with a set of rules to live by that define who I am and nothing will shake me from my rock solid sense of myself and what I want out of life," she has set herself up for quite a shaking up when life sets up the supreme practical joke of falling in love.

PAM: Without giving away the end, how did you view and play her differently at the end of the movie than at the beginning?

BETH: In the beginning I wanted her bravado and ultimately her boredom to be a force field around her that kept every one out and kept her seemingly safe and sound only to have her at the end to be gobbly-gooked, wobbly, post-apocalyptic love raw mess.

Ah, vulnerability. Ah, love….

PAM: Do you think her story represents a commentary on dating in this day and age?

BETH: Sure. Vulnerability is incredibly scary and unfortunately is one of the only roads to true intimacy and deep love. (At least, that's what I hear ...) In this day and age when everyone has an opinion, which they're sharing on social media 24/7, I feel it's become even scarier to be fully who you are front and center, without fear of criticism or less than favorable commentary. I think that leaks into our personal relationships so we're putting up the same false fronts in dating that we do on our Facebook walls hoping to keep us safe, but really in just keeps us lonely.

Ah vulnerability. Ah, love …”

JACK: Here's how I see it, all of the storylines are in service of Ryan [played by Jack Newell] and Cassie [played by Caroline Neff]. So Hannah & Dean, Jon and Dana, and the Paris story - all are different points of view on love and relationships, etc., and they are all to push forward, or put obstacles in front of, Ryan and Cassie getting together. OR NOT getting together.
Caroline Neff as
"Cassie" in "Open Tables

PAM: No spoilers here.

JACK: The stories exist independently, but they also all talk to each other on a thematic level.

PAM: Like a Harold.


PAM: I win a point! 2 to 1.

JACK: But not intentionally. I wasn't trying to make a Harold, which is just a story structure. You could say all of these things connect like a Harold does,
or at least any other good story.

PAM: I do see Open Tables as an improv structure - but like that kid in the Sixth Sense who sees dead people, I see improv. But seems like the "source scene" is the dinner table. And all the stories branch off from that table. Ebbing and flowing from that scene.

JACK: That's intentional. It's either a Dinner Table or a Living Room.

PAM:  A Living Room structure! Exactly!

JACK: Right. The first, like, 10/16ths of the film is a Living Room, and the final 6/16ths is a La Ronde.

PAM: La Ronde ....woah. Mind blown. Hold on. I have to process that Is it really? Wow. Ok. I popped an improv lady boner.

Back to the process for one sec, aside from the Dean-Hannah (Pasquesi-Lacke) story, did you give them a general outline scene-by-scene of moments they had to hit, while leaving the actual verbiage up to them?

JACK: The Dean-Hannah story is fully scripted except for an ad lib or two. The dinner party is all improvised. Paris is all improvised. The Dana-Jon (Colleen-Desmin, TJ-Linda Orr) storyline is all improvised except the ending. That's the simple breakdown.

PAM: TJ did scripted work?

JACK: That was interesting. So I had read all the “TJ doesn't do scripted work” stuff. And when we met to improvise, he was like, "Is it cool if we don't rehearse any scenes at all?"

And I was like, "Yeah!" I just gave him the pages for the final scenes and didn't even talk to him about it.

And when we shot, he did all of the lines as written.

It's part of the environment I try to create on set. And he had the pages, he knew what I was going for. I don’t know if he even read them. And I wasn't a dick about every comma and period. The other actors in the scene did what was scripted, and he did too - but perhaps without ever reading anything at all.

PAM:  Wait. Are you suggesting he intuited the script? Just by listening carefully and reacting honestly?

JACK: I have no idea what he did. Here's my guess: He read the script, understood it, and then improvised it. Or not. I honestly don't know.

The "Foursome:" Desmin Borgest, Colleen Doyle,
TJ Jagodowki, Linda Orr
Open Tables by Jack C. Newell
So one day on set, we're shooting the scene at Trencherman [Chicago restaurant], when "the look" happens between Desmin and Colleen. In the script, all that it says is something like, "They talk, and have an amazing time, and then this look happens during The Look Away Game."

On set, they improvised everything up until The Look Away game, which I taught them on set. The Look Away Game and the outcome is "scripted." Everything before that was "scripted" in that it was - "Have the best time ever." So anyway, I'm on set feeling pretty proud of myself, like I'm this genius improv filmmaker who is creating a whole new form. Like no one has done this shit. Ever.

And TJ comes up, and we're chatting and I ask him, “Do you have any questions or anything?”

And he says, "No, I get it - very simple: First Line, Last Line, right?"


JACK: First Line, Last Line - you're familiar with?

PAM:  Yes, Jack. I am.

JACK: You don't call it something different on the East Coast?

PAM: Not to discount your question, but I get another point for knowing the game. The score is 3-1.

Yes, we call it First Line, Last Line here. It’s the rare improv game name that sticks universally.

JACK: WHOA! Well, I had to look it up. So, you have 4-1 points now?

PAM: I think I have three. You have one.

JACK: So, the outcome of the scene or more like the emotion of the scene is the "last line." And they just played to that.

PAM:  Everything good about art and life can be summed up in an improv game.

Tell me more about the environment you create on set so you can get improv-quality (that is, natural language) out of a scripted piece.

JACK: And the opposite of that question, How to get improv not to feel meandering and listless but on point and ‘scripted'?’”

PAM: Burn. Ok. Two points to you, three to me.

JACK: I think filmmakers probably get too caught up in the words, which is odd. And I think comedies nowadays are a.) not very funny and b.) too wordy all about witticism. But what matters is subtext … so, directing from the underneath.

And if there's a line you really love, you do it all the same way, but just make sure they say that line.

PAM: That's the thing about this film: It's about the relationship. And that's the thing about good improv: It's about the relationship.

JACK: Totally.

PAM:  As the brilliant Mark Sutton says, "I guarantee you that nobody in an improv audience anywhere has ever turned to the person sitting next to them and said, ‘Man, I sure hope they fix that bike.’"

JACK: Exactly. The fool looks at the finger sort of thing, right? Like someone is pointing at something? Wait. Maybe that doesn't work …

PAM:  I can't answer. Too busy looking at my finger.


PAM: My nails are a mess.

JACK: Everyone has zero points now.

PAM: I like this game. All or nothing. It just got interesting.

JACK: High stakes, Mr. Bond.

So, to go back to an earlier idea, I think I am landing on the side of improv as a tool for creation and maybe not an end to itself. At least in film.

PAM: WHAT???!!!! A million points for me. Black hole points for you.

JACK: Why?

PAM: Are you familiar with the age-old argument between Bernie Sahlins (founder of Second City) and Del Close (co-founder of iO Theater)?

JACK: Hit me with it.

PAM: Mr. Sahlins believed that improvisation is merely a tool for creation, as you said. That's why - or so I'm told - the improv set at Second City is free. He believed that improv is not worth the price of admission

JACK: Yikes. *neck collar pull*

PAM: Del believed otherwise and spent his life proving it. They even argued about it at Del's deathbed, or so the story goes. I would suppose Del met Bernie in the afterlife to continue the debate.

Anyhoo ... that's the pile of dog doo you just stepped in.

JACK: Well, I don't really think the argument or both sides is mutually exclusive. Why can't improv be it's own art form over here, and then also this other thing - improv be a tool for creation?

PAM: Of course it can.

JACK: I would also throw in there, as a filmmaker, we are like mixed media artists, and we borrow from photography, music, dance, acting, improv … and so my view point is weird when put next to someone who is just an improviser.

PAM: You said, "Improv is a tool for creation and maybe not an ends to itself,
at least in film."

JACK: Or the other way to say that is "Of course I think it's a tool.” In film, everything is a tool to tell story, to evoke emotion, to reveal truth, etc.

PAM:  Yes, yes, of course. I see your point. It’s the same with improv. Supposedly, Del said to go out and live life, then bring it to the stage.

JACK: I love that.

PAM: Yup. It's a good one. I can see the challenge in an exclusively improvised movie though.

JACK: Yeah.

PAM: I just take issue with your point that improv is not an end to itself. I don't think it can be limited in that way. But what do I know? I'm, as you say, “just an improviser.”

Score: 1-1.

JACK: I don't know. It's interesting, I think you'd talk to some improvisers, and I could explain the film process and they would respond either a.) Your work is not improv at all, too much "scripting,"or b.) It's totally improv because improv has games, and bits, and "rules", and etc, etc, etc.

The Harold is scripted in my viewpoint, and any good player knows the script. Just like someone's ability to recognize a game; once you know "the game," it's what I would call scripted. And then you have a chance to either subvert or play out the expectations.

PAM: Let's have this conversation again after you read our book [Improvisation at the Speed of Life.] As TJ and Dave view it, improv is about human nature, and not at all about game.

JACK: People get real bent out of shape about "game." Jeez.

PAM: You have no idea.

JACK: I have some idea!

PAM: Ok. You can have a pity point. 2-1.

Cinematically, I see influences of Woody Allen in this movie as far as the visual rhythm of some scenes. Especially in the scenes between TJ and Colleen in their kitchen.

JACK: Sure.

PAM:  Is that intentional or unconsciously intentional?  It's very pretty.

JACK: I would say that Woody Allen is a big influence for me.

PAM: I love Woody Allen. As a filmmaker.

JACK: (Am I allowed to still like Woody Allen?)

PAM: (I'm pretty sure we're allowed to like Woody Allen, but we're not allowed to like Bill Cosby.)

PAM: That scene in TJ and Colleen’s kitchen made me think of Annie Hall.

JACK: Sure. I'm more of a Hannah and Her Sisters fan, so I'm thinking more about that.

PAM:  I haven't seen that one in years. I'll take another look.

JACK: There's actually a bunch of direct references to Hannah and her Sisters in this film.

PAM: Seeing them through the doorway/window, as they're talking. But then when they argue, they're in the same frame. To me, it feels like how relationships can be.

JACK: Yeah, totally. That kitchen, I loved.

PAM:  You see your lover in isolation, your projection of him/her. Then when it gets real ... it’s all right there, so real and in your face.

JACK: And I loved how Stephanie [Dufford, Director of Photography] shot it. That is all improvised. And TJ is so fucking good in it. I love that he gets to be the asshole here.

PAM: Please tell me there was a take in the scene when you're fighting with TJ that you smacked the shit out of him.

COLLEEN DOYLE: No smacking TJ. It's in his contract. Also, no direct eye contact.

JACK: How many millions of negative points do I currently have?

PAM: I think we're tied again. Two bananas each.

Ok … Paris. We have to talk about Paris. First of all, I would give my left ball to be in a movie in Paris. That's not a question. Just putting it out there.

JACK: I understand. Left ball. GOT IT, PAM - LEFT BALL.

You don’t want to hear about my homage to Hannah and Her Sisters?

PAM: Of course I do. But Paris awaits and time is short. Also, I HAVE BALLS.

JACK: I'll save it for next time. Hit me with your questions.

PAM: Can I be in your next movie in Paris?

JACK: Haha!

PAM: The score is tied. The game hinges on your response.
Jack C. Newell as Ryan
Open Tables
JACK: If I do another one in Paris, we'll talk.

PAM:  I speak French.

JACK: I do not.

PAM: And I lost my virginity to a Frenchman in France.

Boom. Five points for me.

JACK: Whoa! Okay.

PAM: So, given all that, plus my love of wine and chocolate, I'm basically French.

JACK: I came up with the idea for this movie in Paris and wrote a thing in Paris. And I was like, "We gotta try to shoot in Paris. It's one of the most rewarding film experiences I've had.

PAM: How can you not be thinking about love in Paris?


PAM: And you actually were in love in Paris?! That's the best.

JACK: I was! That's when we FELL IN LOVE.

Filming "Open Tables" in Paris

JACK: Yeah, I mean, we were definitely in love. But going there over New Year’s Eve … it was like LOOOOOVVVEEEEE. LOVE. All the feels.

PAM: So many feels in Paris.

Anyway, tell me about how you were falling in love in Paris and how these particular ideas about relationship were formed. Because Open Tables is not really a rom-com here. These aren't the same tired old ideas about boy-girl romance we've seen a thousand times. (And I love rom-coms.)

JACK: The simple idea is playing on what you are talking about. But it is much sadder: What if you were the loneliest you've ever been in the capital of love? And so, that's ultimately his story.

PAM: “His” being the character you play, Ryan, who is set up with Cassie. When he later tells his Paris story at the main table, she’s really turned off.

JACK: Cassie's character is motivated by the truth and a desire for it, and she can tell when people are full of shit. And that's what she responded to. (Like Mark Sutton’s bicycle thing you mentioned before.) One of the points of the film is that if you are truthful and open and vulnerable, you can or could find love.

PAM: Maybe to apply it to the theme of relationship, lies are the deal breaker for her. And as long as he's telling the truth, she doesn't care what it is. Maybe it's about how we set these litmus tests for our love interests, which maybe valid or super duper random?

JACK: Right on.

I actually feel like I am most like Cassie in the movie. That is me, if you were gonna ask, "Who are you most like?" I identify with Cassie.

PAM: I am most like Beth Lacke's character. Tough on the outside. Big ol' open hearted marshmallow on the inside.

JACK: Nice. AND CRAZY. (Just kidding.)

PAM: Everyone is crazy, Jack. Everyone.

JACK: Double true.

PAM: The score is 6 to 2, if you were wondering.

JACK: Shit. Unless I am the six? In that case: In your face!

PAM: No, I am six.

JACK: Oh. Okay ... COOL.

PAM: I don't know how to announce points properly. I am sports-challenged. So that’s one more point for you. Now we're 6-3.

JACK: “Pam 6, Jack 3” would be one idea.

PAM: Ok. That's one possible way, Jack. The obvious choice …

JACK: Jack "Obvious Choice" Newell.

PAM: That's what she said.

JACK: "Really, you're going to put it there? Such an obvious choice."

PAM: Speaking of which, one topic that comes up in this movie is the question, "Are women 'better than' men?"

JACK: Sure. They do actually talk about that in the movie.

PAM: I knew I heard that somewhere!

JACK: And I think all of the characters come down pretty strongly on the side of, "Yes, women are better than men."

PAM:  In bed.


PAM: (I was playing Fortune Cookie, which is an improv game I just made up.)

JACK: (We call it First Line, Last Line here.)

PAM: (Hahahaha!)

JACK: So, you definitely lost points there, right?

PAM: Ok, ok. I lost points with "That's what she said" too, of course.

Nice. You're winning. Jack: 6, Pam: 2.

JACK: Yeah, you're kind of bro-ing out over there.

So, are you asking me if women are better than men?

PAM: I suppose I am, at least in the context of the movie and relationships.

JACK: I'll answer it like this: My Director of Photography and Editor are both women. We had a large female crew and we have strong, good, interesting, female roles in the film. It's ensemble film, but the women stand out. I find women more interesting to work with. I find women interesting to explore.

PAM: (I get points for not saying "in bed.")

JACK: But I didn't directly answer your question. You took it slightly more specific. I don't know how to answer this. I feel like anything I say as a man is in danger of being misconstrued and potentially dumb.


JACK: Ha! Fair.

PAM: I think the movie asks the question and comes close to answering it: Women and men can both be the most exquisite creatures … and total asshats.

JACK: I would agree with that statement. Thank you for jumping in there.

I want to say one thing about collaboration - and this is where I might sound like an idiot -  but one of the things I like about collaborating with women is that I feel like their priorities are different than men (speaking generally) and one of those priorities or attributes is emotional intelligence and an ability to communicate their emotions. And that is much more interesting than some men. It's just a hard statement because there are people on either side that break that.

PAM: Sure. I think the sticky part comes when you apply it strictly to women and men. But I think if you think of it as feminine vs. masculine sensibilities, it works better.

JACK: There ya' go. And to go back to the movie, the thing you said: "I think the movie asks the questions and comes close to answering it. Women and men can both be the most exquisite creatures. And total asshats." That is right on.

PAM: Oh, please quote me more! I love that. Pam: 10, Jack: 6

JACK: Actually, the "Are women better than men?" conversation is a distraction. In the movie, the characters say women are better than men, right after seeing Hannah be a douchebag.

PAM: Exactly. And that foursome of TJ, Linda, Colleen, and Desmin – they’re involved in that “love square.” (It’s more than a triangle because it’s four people.) They're ALL fucked up.

JACK: Well, yeah. Classic tragic figures.

PAM:  They've got that whole "grass is always greener" thing going on.

JACK: They are people you know. You might have been that person. I might have been ... we ALL have been or are those people.

PAM: In thinking about your character's storyline - sort of in that classic "torn between two lovers, feelin' like a fool" situation - it feels like a statement on romance. What angle on romance do you think your character's storyline explored? Do you relate to that in anyway?

COLLEEN DOYLE: I think my character's storyline revolved around that time (or times?) in your life when you think you know what you want. You're technically an adult: you have a job, people expect things of you, etc. And then you ape the types of relationships in which you've seen other adults engage. You're not a fully formed person yet, but you believe you're ready to play house. And that's easy to relate to; it's how I spent a good deal of my 20's -- dramatic and immature.

PAM: Another question raised in Open Tables is: What is the crux of attraction? I mean, for Hannah – whose amnesiac lover allows her to re-invent herself each day - it's to have this blank slate upon which to project her desires. Maybe for the foursome, the crux of attraction is what you can't have. For your guy in Paris, it was human contact. For Cassie, it's about truth …

JACK: We have these appetites (food tie in!) that need to be satiated. And they are actually probably a distraction from love - or can be. One thing for sure, they aren't love. Sometimes we think they might be.

PAM:  Most of these couples don't find love.

JACK: Open Tables is essentially a movie about why and how relationships don't work. So when you go into that final scene with Cassie and Ryan, the couple who you are rooting for to get together through the whole film, you are presented with the question: Is this their first date or last date?

And that's up to you. There's no answer.

PAM: I think the final score is a tie.

The Main Meal
Open Tables by Jack C. Newell
The premier of Open Tables is on July 26, 2015 at the Wood’s Hole Film Festival
For more about Open Tables, check out the website and the Facebook page. 
If all goes well, you will be able to see Open Tables soon. 
In the meantime, you can now see Jack C. Newell’s first feature film,
And in another visual arts medium, Jack currently is 


and many more!


If you like groovy stuff, you might enjoy
The Zen of Improv series, 
which contemplates improvisation and 
mind-expanding ideas like non-judgment, joy, and curiosity. 


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Pam Victor is an improv comedian, author, journalist, teacher, and nice person. She is the founding member of The Ha-Ha's, the producer of The Happier Valley Comedy Show, and the teacher of The Zen of Improv curriculum. Pam writes (and performs) the Geeking Out with... interview series. Pam writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and lots about the joys of improv, plus reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle."   TJ Jagodowski,  David Pasquesi, and Pam are the co-authors of "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book."  Pam teaches  "The Zen of Improv Comedy" and  brings the lessons of improv to the workplace in her Through Laughter program in Western Massachusetts and wherever else she gets the chance. All her crapola is at