David Razowsky: The comedy is in the reality

click to enlarge David Razowsky: The comedy is in the reality
(David Razowsky/Submitted)
David Razowsky entertains at Unscrewed Theatre.

David Razowsky said he believes “The motivation to do what I’m talking about is to stretch yourself, to connect more with your partner.”

“Improvisation isn’t just about getting the laughs. Improvisation is about you acting in a way that you’ve never done before, being a person, a character that you’ve never played before, connecting in a way that you’ve never connected before, saying what you’ve always wanted to say, saying what you’ve never wanted to say, saying what you heard somebody else say, saying what you heard somebody else say, but you saying it better.

“So it’s an existential experience that you get to expand on.”

This is not your grandmother’s improv. At the same time, it’s a radical, revolutionary and apparently unintentional echo of a philosophy espoused by the legendary Viola Spolin. It was she who invented “theater games,” which have morphed and commercialized over time into performances like “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and its local-theater counterparts.

Spolin had studied under trailblazing social worker Neva Boyd who, at Chicago’s Hull House, helped integrate migrants into the existing culture through noncompetitive play. As an actress, director, author and educator, Spolin said, “My vision is a world of accessible intuition.”

In contemporary improv, it’s Spolin’s emphasis on games that is remembered, and not so much the philosophy behind them. Razowsky seems to disdain games for almost the same reason Spolin embraced them. His practice is a philosophy wrapped in a theater.

“When kids are playing, their purpose is not to get a laugh. Their purpose is to play. (But) 95% of improvisation, their purpose is to get a laugh. I find it hard to watch. When you go to see a play, though, you remember the beats, the moments.”

Razowsky has studied, performed, taught and directed at Second City with performers Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, and Keegan-Michael Key, among many others. He served as artistic director of Second City Hollywood for nine years before focusing on full-time coaching around the world and remotely from his Los Angeles home.

On Sunday, March 26, at Unscrewed Theater, he will present a master class based on his new book, “A Subversive’s Guide to Improvisation.” The workshop costs $150 and runs from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with an hour lunch break. Attendees will receive autographed copies of the book. At 6 p.m. he will read selections from his book and engage in a Q&A with an audience, in real life and online. Admission is $10 or $25, which includes a copy of the book.

Razowsky said, “Part (of the book) is about the culture of improvisation and how the art of improvisation connects us more to each other, to what we’re doing every single day. Every moment of the day connects us more emotionally, to be more empathetic, to be more connected to what’s happening.

“What improv can offer is to help people be more empathetic and connected and (to listen) on a deep tissue level. Most improv training doesn’t go for that because they’re teaching the improv rules. Everything has to go through the filter of, ‘Can I say ‘yes, and?’ ’Can I ask a question?’

“You’re not supposed to ask a question. You’re not supposed to talk about people who aren’t there. You’re not supposed to have a negotiation. You’re not supposed to say ‘no.’

“All these things are things that human beings do each and every day. Every play that you see has (those things) in there. Every book that you read has questions, talks about people who aren’t there.”

Razowsky said that the book also covers his philosophy, methodology, history, Buddhist methodology, the role of mindfulness, presentness and awareness. “My philosophy,” he said, “is not just to make great improvisation (but) also to make people feel free in connecting to each other.

“One of the main purposes, one of the main things in my book is the idea of knowing that you exist, of being present, of being mindful, of being aware what’s going on. And improvisation, good improvisers who aren’t going for the laughs, are aware of what their partner’s doing, are mindful of what’s going on, mindful of where they are on stage, because they need their partner in order to create together.

“The people that are coming to my classes should know that we’re not going to do ‘zip zap zop.’ We’re not going to be getting out the who, the what and the where at the beginning of the scene. All the rules that normally apply to improvisation, I don’t do any of them.

“That’s why my book is called a ‘Subversive’s Guide to Improvisation.’”

Other Shows This Week

Catalina Craft Pizza, 15930 N. Oracle Road, Suite 178, 8:30 p.m., Saturday, March 18, “Comedy in Catalina,” $8 or free with a donation of food or clothing. Phoenix comic Crickette Gill headlines with openers Kenny Shade, John Michael Redding, Manny Morales, Sylvia Remington and Drake Belt. Allana Erickson-Lopez hosts. Reservations recommended, 520-825-0140.

Chuckleheads, 41 Brewery Avenue, Bisbee, 8 p.m. Friday, March 17, chuckleheadsaz.com, $10. Darrin Chase, former wrestler and NBA security guard, now a habitue of glamorous comedy clubs and this one.

Harambe Café and Social Club, 6464 E. Tanque Verde Road, Suite 150, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18, harambecafe.com, “A Dab of Comedy,” T Dot Kingsby headlines, Rick Walt features.

Laff’s Comedy Caffe, 2900 E. Broadway Boulevard, 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Friday, March 17, and 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18, laffstucson.com, $15, $20 preferred seating. Steve Gillespie promises “hilarious self-flagellation and blistering social commentary.”

Tucson Improv Movement/TIM Comedy Theatre, 414 E. Ninth Street, tucsonimprov.com, $7 each show, $10 for both shows, same night, free jam and open mic. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 16, “Harold Eta” and “Shatfan;” 8:30 p.m. open mic; 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 17, improv jam; 7:30 p.m. “The Soapbox;” 9 p.m. “Femme Drop” (new); 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18, “Toot Pole” and “Game Show Show;” 9 p.m. “Improv Madness.”

Unscrewed Theater, 4500 E. Speedway Boulevard, unscrewedtheatre.org, $8, live or remote, $5 kids. 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 17, family-friendly improv; 6 p.m., Saturday, March 18, Unscrewed Family Hour, $5 all tickets; 7:30 p.m. family-friendly improv; 9 p.m. “The Backyard Improv Playground,” pay what you will admission.