Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Writing The TJ & Dave Book (#8): A Wonderful Time in the Neighborhood

By Pam Victor

["Writing The TJ & Dave Book" is the series plucked from the journal I kept while writing "Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ & Dave Book" with TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi. You should buy the book here. (I mean, if you want to.) 
You can see the whole behind-the-book blog series here for free.]

For almost every day of almost the last year, when I sit down to type, TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi’s voices come out of my fingertips. I am doing what David would call “the impossible.” (Yes, even in my thoughts, often his phrases replace my own more often than I’d care to admit.) Mr. Pasquesi’s “impossible” is performing TJ & Dave in Rome or to packed houses for over a decade every Wednesday at 11pm or in a 1,500 seat venue in New York City. The impossible I’m talking about is writing their book with them from the woods of New England in my cozy home office, which seats only one. Two, if you count the dog, who keeps loyal sentinel under my desk as my much-appreciate foot warmer. 

I’ve been hacking away at this book gig so long that my heart hardly lurches at all anymore when my phone reads “David Pasquesi” or “TJ Jagodowski” announcing a text or in-coming call. We’ve been at it so long they don’t launch into impromptu performances anymore during our conference calls, like they used to in our early days together when it often felt like I was gifted with my own private TJ & Dave show. (Though in all fairness, recently Dave did a Frankenstein imitation that made me giggle so much that he did it again. He’s generous enough to satisfy my cheap laughs.) I’ve seen enough TJ & Dave shows to be critical … though I do tend to follow the scale of one extraordinarily loyal fan who says he classifies their shows from merely “Great” to flat-out “Excellent.”

Still after all this time of stewing in their juices (a distasteful phrase that came from my disgusting mouth, not David’s and certainly not TJ’s), they catch me unawares. As they tend to do us all. And after all the hundreds of hours I’ve poured into writing about their theories and practical approaches to improvisation, there are still times I sit in the TJ & Dave audience and forget. I forget to be analytical. I forget to log examples for the book. I forget to try to peek under the hood. I forget to resist the fall into the miasma of audience groupmind while we are watching, slack-jawed, as the show blossoms in real time before our eyes. Watching the impossible made possible by TJ & Dave.

One such show was a warm Sunday evening at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York. The previous night, I had seen their show with a posse of friends. (It was “merely” great.) But that night it was just me and 198 other people, a few of them familiar TV faces. Most of them eager nerds of improvisation like myself. But only I had spent a few remarkable hours earlier that day holed up in an Air BnB studio apartment decorated with a for-show-only snowboard and an almost certainly also for-show-only hanging Buddha sculpture, as TJ and David waxed philosophically about improvisation and life (and
TJ & Dave
in the Neighborhood
(Barrow St. Theater, April 2013)
Photo credit: Pam Victor
pretended the amply hooded lamp was an electric chair helmet). Then in a hidden garden in Soho, Dave and I sat on a bench talking about nothing while watching TJ smoke and watch people nearby. Then TJ and I stood together on a Manhattan street corner, theorizing about what the chihuahua and the greyhound were thinking as they convened outside the coffeehouse where Dave was buying a cafĂ© americano and chatting in Italian to a Roman chef he somehow procured. 

And yet just a handful of hours later as the lights rose again after that TJ & Dave show and the audience applauded madly, I sat dumb in my chair, frozen with apprehension and intimidation. It was one of those shows that went beyond Excellent on the scale, straight into world of Impossibly Magical. How would I, a mere mortal, ever face these two men? Who was I to think I could get their process of wizardry down into mere squiggles on a page? What if this job of writing their book was not Pasquesi-“impossible” but really, truly impossible? The audience began to rustle and make its way out of the theater, and I robotically followed because I had to, not because I wanted to. I was embarrassed by my false bravado and intimidated by their actual, real deal greatness. But then I figured, "Fuck it." All I have to do is stand up and take a step. Just like they taught me. Just like they did that night on the stage. Just like all three of us were doing with this book, with blind faith and trust that the next step won’t land us in a pile of chihuahua shit. Or worse, greyhound shit.

Later that night in a quiet moment in a selective crowd in a small bar, I asked David how he thought the show went. “It was in the neighborhood,” he replied nonchalantly. I knew he meant the neighborhood of Greatness, the impossible brass ring he and TJ always are aiming to grasp. “It was in the neighborhood,” he repeated with a small shrug.


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

The latest is about the self-flagellation we do after a show, 

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.

1 comment:

  1. The book is awesome, and I'm loving it. I had the pleasure of bumping into TJ & Dave after show they performed at the Dallas Comedy Festival. I found myself stumbling and stammering to make a coherent thought come out of my mouth. But they were gracious. And listened (imagine that) to my babbling. I relate to your feeling of being in the midst of greatness, because, as a fellow improviser, I truly was in the presence of greatness. I send them random messages thinking one day, I will cross over from stammering fan, to possible friendship. Maybe I'll send you a friend request so I can fan-stalk you as well...

    Thank you for your effort with the book. You will have helped reveal improvisation to a new generation of performers from two of the best.