Thursday, June 14, 2012

Geeking Out with...Dave Pasquesi (Part Two)

By Pam Victor

 [“Geeking Out with…” is a series of interviews with well-known, highly experienced improvisers. It’s a chance to talk about stuff that might interest hardcore, improv dorkwads like Pam. The series can be found in full frontal geek out version on My Nephew is a Poodle and in pithier version on the Women in Comedy Festival blog. For behind-the-scenes action, ‘like’ the “Geeking Out with…” Facebook page.]

-Susan Messing on TJ and Dave

In Part One of Geeking Out with…Dave Pasquesi, we covered Dave’s introduction to and training in improv, the benefits of following your fears, and his stint as a cowboy in New Mexico. As we moved into our second geek out session together, I began to realize that my luscious, terrifying challenge was to avoid the quicksand of seeming precious and assish while partaking – sometimes in sips, but for me in great, greedy gulps – in invigorating brain quaffs of improv philosophy. The joke is on us, I suspect, as Dave Pasquesi couldn’t be farther from a precious ass if he tried. (Lordy, I hope he uses that quote on his website some day.) Thus, we pick up the conversation with a continuation of his interpretations of the lessons of Del Close.

PAM:  You mentioned in our last interview that you follow Del Close’s instruction to perform “characters played as a thin veil.” I would love to hear you expand on that please.

DAVE: I think it was for a couple reasons. First, because none of us were accomplished actors, and that if we were busy 'acting' then we would not be honestly responding in the moment.

Also, our type of performance and comedy is not broad characters...more simple and honest. So we are ourselves, but with slight exaggerations.

David Pasquesi
[I am reminded] of something Del said. That the line is not finished until you recognize it was received.

PAM:  And how do you show it was recognized? Internally or by expressing it with the yes-and…?

DAVE: Mostly just a recognition in the eyes.

PAM:  Lovely.

This is a complex topic disguised as a simple question: How best to honestly respond only to the scene and other player?

DAVE: By paying close attention.

PAM: Simple answer that takes decades of work.

Yes, Mr. Pasquesi, you are known and respected widely for your ability to pay attention. More like Pay Attention. Or PAY ATTENTION. Not a command, just a full-bodied, full-minded gift.

DAVE: TJ and I go over every show immediately afterwards. If there was an error, the cause is always that one of us did not pay close enough attention.

PAM: Hence the pace of your show, which facilitates receiving the message.

This is tricky to break down, I know - maybe I'm asking you to parse out bits of fog or magic – but can you talk about the moment that happens after you receive the message? There is a great deal of attention being paid in that moment as well.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is what people are seeing you do when they remark at your uncanny ability to Pay Attention, and what that feels like from inside your mind and body.

DAVE: Hmm. The reason to pay attention: We've been told that your scene partner is the most important person on the planet. If that's true (and it is), why wouldn't you want to learn all you can from them?

Also, my scene partner is the answer to all problems...again, why then would I not pay very close attention?

I don't know how anyone else "listens," but I think the goal is to have a frame of mind that is not, "Oh, good. I'll be able to use that as a joke later on."

Also, I would not recommend being in my mind.

PAM: Ha. I'm sure I've seen worse.

Is your goal, when doing improv, to be in a constant state of discovery?

DAVE: Exactly. Rather than fabrication. Discovery of what is already there, not what I can make it into.

PAM: What specifically do you do to meet that goal and to get into the realm of discovery rather than invention?

DAVE: I’m not there yet, but I've been at it for a while. And all that while, I have had relatively the same goal for improvising.

It’s really is a lot about faith. That I am going to be fine without all my great ideas.

PAM: So you're saying, to get in a space of discovery, you set that as the goal?

DAVE: That's what I think. It isn't going to happen by accident. It has to be intentional.

PAM: So you set an intention to remain open to discovery and resist the prescribed?

DAVE: Yeah - but then this conversation becomes even more precious - about how not to resist, because that is giving it attention…and other nonsense ideas like that.

PAM: (We don't want to get precious.)

DAVE: (Please. Promise me.)

PAM: (I would love to promise you anything, but the line between “precious” and my intense curiosity to step inside your brain/process is thin and wavy.)

DAVE: I do think it is not about resisting, but remaining open.

PAM: I see. [Though it’ll take another decade of work, I suspect, for my improv soul to truly see.]

I’ve heard you often talk about your show in a way that sounds almost spiritual to me. For instance, in the documentary “Trust Us, This is All Made Up,” you said that the scene is going on before you take the stage, and you just step into it for an hour or so. When I hear you say that, it conjures images of a Zen concept of “flow” or that ancient Greek philosopher who said, “You cannot step into the same river twice.”

Do you think of improv in a spiritual way or is that just the way you have chosen to describe it?

(Was that precious??? Are you making barfing noises?)

DAVE: For me, I have chosen to describe it that way because I believe that those are the best terms.

(Yes, but because I am actually barfing.)

PAM: (Hahaha! On the plus side, barfing is not precious at all.)

DAVE: I say, faith and trust…and, yes, love about improvisation. You have to have those things. And not for any other reason than the scene usually does not work as well without them.

It is not so much spiritual as it is effective. (And I happen to believe the same of spiritual things, too.)

PAM: There is much Zen in improv. That's the book I've always wanted to write.

(But then people would barf all over it.)

(So I guess the cover would have to be waterproof.)

DAVE: Or pre-barfed-on.

PAM: lol. By famous improvisers. So everybody out there needs to save their barf because they might become famous some day!

DAVE: That’s a contradiction in terms: "famous improvisers."

PAM: Ha. In our little circle, famous.

Ok. I think I've said "barf" sufficiently to David Pasquesi. If I was a normal person, I would be horrified. Speaking of which, people seem to find you quite intimidating, as I'm sure you have heard.

[At this point in the interview, there was a lengthy pause.]

Oh, right. And they say you don't respond until you've been asked a question. I've heard that too.

[Another lengthy pause.]

Ok. You win…

Does that resonate with you?

DAVE: Me being intimidating to other people?

PAM: Yeah. Do you hear that and say, "WTF?" or...

DAVE: I don't really understand that, no.

PAM: Improvisers have said to me that you're the guy whose respect they most want to earn. (I think that's pretty cool.)

Moving on...
Much ado has been made, in certain circles, about that “First Moment” in a TJ and Dave show, the one when you look at each other and gracefully step into your characters. Do you ever look at TJ and think, “Oh crap. I got nothing”?
TJ and Dave

DAVE: All. the. time.

PAM: Hahahaha!

DAVE: Fortunately, that doesn't seem to be the problem I think it is.

PAM: Because there is always something…if you trust?

DAVE: Exactly. Mamet said something like, "The interchange between two people on stage is always occurring, is always unplanned and is always fascinating...."

Even if I don't does not require my approval.

PAM: In the beginning when you started working together, were you specifically looking for something or just opening up yourself to what was there already?

DAVE: It is always happening. I don't need to add anything to it; I just need to find out what it already is.

As I recall, we were just trying to let some unknown thing unfold one tiny moment at a time. No plans. No great scene ideas or stories. Just the next little, tiny thing.

PAM: Exquisite.

Do you think this skill - this art - you and TJ share is learnable/teachable? Or should I just stick to playing endless rounds of Freeze Tag?

DAVE: Dear God.

PAM: lol.

DAVE: By the way, Freeze Tag is a children’s' game. Switch is a theater game.
(A pet peeve.)

PAM: Sorry. My troupe, like many, changes the name of every game.

Ok then. Switch.

DAVE: Almost no one calls it Switch, but that is still its name.

PAM: The trend shall begin anew here.

DAVE: I think the way TJ and I communicate is kind of rare. I had a connection on stage with Joel Murray. We were roommates in college. We traveled all over the place together. We cheated at cards together. We had a history. So it made sense that we had a way of communicating that was exceptional.

But with TJ, we were pretty much strangers when we started doing our shows. And yet, we seemed to be on the same page/plane. So, I think one thing (besides logging hours on stage trying this stuff), is to find a like-minded person. Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

Speaking of old Greeks, how do you get to the top of Mount Olympus?

Take every step in that direction.

PAM: Nice.

Is it true you and TJ don't hang out together off-stage?

DAVE: Did you hear that from the same people who say I am intimidating?

PAM: Gosh. I don't know where I heard that one...I heard the intimidating thing from Jimmy Carrane's Improv Nerd podcast, by the way. But it was confirmed by a friend.

So that's a big, fat lie?

DAVE: What's a lie? Intimidating or hanging out?

PAM: Hanging out.

DAVE: I used to say after the first year of shows that I had known TJ for 52 hours.

PAM: Right. See?! I didn't just hear that shit anywhere. YOU said it.

DAVE: We travel a lot together. We spend a lot of time together. I was just at his house in western Massachusetts.

He's never slept over.

PAM: Ok, so no TJ and Dave slumber parties. Got it. That fantasy is off the list.

DAVE: We'd get no rest.

Oh wait...he's never slept over here.

PAM: But you've had slumber parties on the road? Or is it more in the tent behind your house?

DAVE: A tent behind my house is also the road.

TJ and Dave from my seat in the audience
UMass - Amherst, 2012
PAM: My favorite moment in one of the shows I saw recently (the one at UMass - Amherst) was when you were laughing at something TJ’s character was riffing on. It was sort of a rare peek into you as a person, and I found it incredibly delightful. What makes you laugh most?


My friends are really funny. They make me laugh the most. Friends, my brothers, my kids.

PAM: In a video interview, you said that you thought improv was “beyond comedy…that’s the way to fix the world.” Can you expand on that beautiful sentiment?

DAVE: Jesus, who do I think I am?!

PAM: Hahahaha! One badass, intimidating motherfucker. Face it, Dave. You are Shaft.

DAVE: You noticed earlier the similarities in descriptions of improvisation and spiritual matters (at least the way I talk about them). I think that these simple things -  principles - they work in improvisation. And they work in the rest of our lives as well.

Play at the top of one's intelligence.
The other person is more important.
Follow the fear.

PAM: Staying in the moment. Trusting. Being true to others.

DAVE: Yes…yes.

PAM: Lovely.

DAVE: Improvising is like a safe practice area where you can do the things you don't dare in real life...yet. In a scene, you can be ultra kind without any of the negative repercussions.

PAM: There are negative repercussions to being ultra kind?

DAVE: Facetiously.

PAM: Do you still get high from improv?

DAVE: Yep. My brain works differently while improvising in front of people than it does anywhere else. And I like it.

PAM: It does feel really good, doesn't it? For me, it relates to that Zen moment. Being in the Flow. Experiencing the Now.

All that hippy crap.

DAVE: Yeah. That hippy crap is one of the things I like about it all.


Do yourself a huge favor and see TJ and Dave at  iO almost every Wednesday at 11pm. They also perform occasionally at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York City. And this summer, they will do a run at Theater on the Lake in Chicago from July 11th to the 15th, 2012. But even if you won’t be in NYC or Chicago, you can see their wonderful documentary Trust Us, This is All Made Up. It is the rare opportunity to see improv brought to the screen in a most adept fashion. Trust me, it’s true.

And while you’re at it,


You may enjoy "Geeking Out with...TJ Jagodowski,"
a special in-person interview.

Catch up on past improv geek-a-thons:
Geeking Out with…Chris Gethard of The Chris Gethard Show,
…with Joe Bill of BASSPROV,
…Jimmy Carrane of the Improv Nerd podcast,
…Susan Messing of Messing with a Friend,
and many more!

And "like" the "Geeking Out with..." FACEBOOK PAGE please.

Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show in western Massachusetts. Pam directs, produces and performs in the comic soap opera web series "Silent H, Deadly H". Pam also writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle." If you want to stay abreast of all the geek out action, like the “Geeking Out with…” Facebook page!

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