Category Archives: Interview

Actor Spotlight: Tony Rosato

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Tony Rosato needs no introduction. He is a comedy legend in his own right. Having starred in SCTV and Saturday Night Live, he continued to work on numerous television shows and movies, alongside big name celebrities.

What you may not know about Rosato, is how gracious he is. In a candid interview, Rosato opens up to Improv inTO about his life in comedy, discussing topics such as working with John Candy and Joe Flaherty to starring in a sitcom with Bea Arthur, being inducted to Canada’s Walk of Fame, the struggles of staying well-known, thoughts on profanity in performance, and his 7-year old daughter.

After a hiatus from acting, Rosato is returning to his roots in improv, and taking classes at Toronto’s Second City– a testament of dedication to his craft. As one of his classmates, I am amazed week in and week out at his talent, quick wit and genuineness.

You are incredibly funny. When you perform, it seems effortless. Were you funny as a child?

Yeah, I was mischievous. I hung out with a group of brats. We were always into trouble, doing pranks around the school.

Growing up who were some of your role models or inspirations?

I started going to movies when I was around eight. I used to sneak into the theatres in Ottawa. I saw a few Italian films that I really liked, Fellini movies, with Marcello Mastroianni. He was a role model. I liked all the Warner Brothers cartoons, with Mel Blanc doing the voices, like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. I watched The Three Stooges, and The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason. Burt Lancaster was one of my favourite actors. But you know, I liked all of the old comedians. I liked Charlie Chaplin a great deal.

When did you know you wanted to be a comedian? 

In my second year of university, when I had no idea what I was going to do in university, I came down to see a Second City show. I was invited by a friend; I had never heard of Second City. And I saw my high school buddy up on stage, Peter Aykroyd, Dan Aykroyd’s younger brother. I realized that they were the Aykroyds that I grew up with in Ottawa, and my next door neighbours. And here [Peter] was on this stage at Second City. And so I got talking to him about it later on. I had so much fun watching the show that I thought “Wow, I’d really like to do that.”

Had you ever done comedy or improv prior to that time? 

No. I had done a little bit of stage work at the Ottawa Little Theatre, and the Jewish Community Centre. I did a Neil Simon play Come Blow Your Horn. That’s about as close as I got to doing comedy.

What was your family’s reaction when you decided to stop your studies and pursue comedy?

They were not that pleased. It was just my mom and I. My dad passed away when I was 12. So it was with my mom’s permission. She wanted to see me get into something like be a lawyer, be a doctor, be something that’ll really have a solid career down the road. But once I told her how much I was enjoying it, and invited her and my other family members, cousins and so on, to see the show, they really enjoyed it. I was in the [Second City] Touring Company’s show and doing improv with them, so my family saw that I was really enjoying it. That was the important thing to them, that I was doing something that I cared about.

How did you get to be on SCTV?

Once I had that conversation with Peter Aykroyd, he convinced me I should join the workshops [at the Second City]. So I went down and did a workshop with them, and they said “You’ve got talent; we’d like to put you in the master class.”  And I said “Oh, ok, what’s that?” “That’s the more evolved class that leads to getting into the touring company.” And I said “OK, I’d love to do that.” And I did, and then one of the Touring Company members got ill, and they needed someone to replace him. He was in a car accident – Don Lamont. So I took his place and I never left. They kept me in the show, and I just kept reaching for the mainstage show. I finally got to the mainstage show in a couple of years.

And this is before you’re on the air with SCTV – this is with Second City.

Right. So once I got on the mainstage, I was there for about four years, and then John Candy and Joe Flaherty asked me if I wanted to be in the television series. I said yes, and so did Robin Duke. We [Rosato and Duke] both got invited from the same cast.

No audition? They just knew you were good and they said “We want you Tony.”

Yeah, would you like to be on the show? I said “Sure!”

And we had been doing small parts on the show already, as extras, just in the background of certain sketches. So we had already kind of got our feet wet being on the show that way before they asked us to be on full-time.

Rosato looks at a photograph from his time at the Second City (pictured at the Second City Training Centre in Toronto)

And then from SCTV you get onto Saturday Night Live

Yeah, I only did two seasons of SCTV, three with bit parts. And they didn’t know if they were going to continue the show. People were having changes of mind whether or not they wanted to continue doing SCTV. John Candy wanted to do his own show. Rick [Moranis] and Dave [Thomas] wanted to do their own show, as the McKenzie brothers. It looked like the show was falling apart. And one night, while we were doing the Second City stage show still, somebody from Saturday Night Live came to watch the show, for the purposes of hiring people. So they approached me at the end of the show and said they’d like to hire me. So I said “Yeah. I’d like to do that.” Catherine O’Hara got invited as well. We both went to New York to do Saturday Night Live. But Catherine didn’t quite like the vibe of the head writers and the way it was set up, so she left, but she suggested that Robin Duke replace her. And so [Saturday Night Live] offered Robin Duke the role as well.

What was it like living in New York compared to Toronto?

It’s so much more fast-paced. It’s such a huge city. It’s overwhelming, really. There are a lot of exciting places to go catch theatre and live shows. There’s Broadway. Just knowing Broadway was there was so exciting.

How was it working on Saturday Night Live versus SCTV ?

Completely different. Saturday Night Live was a high-tension, stress show. It was a live show; it had to be produced live every Saturday night. So by Saturday night you had to have 90 minutes of comedy material written, and we seldom had time to rehearse the entire 90 minutes of material. That’s why we had cue cards. You had to get to know the host. We had famous actors who would come and host the show. You had to take care of them as well; some of them had never done sketch comedy. I was a writer and an actor on the show; it was very difficult trying to balance the two, and just trying to write for other people, as well as write for yourself.

You wouldn’t just write for yourself, you’d also write for other people?

You had to write for other people as well.

Wow. That must have been really high-pressure.

It was high pressure, yeah. It was.

SCTV was much more laid back. It had no set standard of time by which we had to have the shows written. We would take a block of time over the year to write the shows and then we would take these written shows to camera.

So you’d do it all at once. You wouldn’t do a writing, a taping, and then go back to writing?

No. We tried to do all the writing upfront. When we got to tape, we’d have all our shows, and then if we had to fine tune anything, we’d bring it back in and workshop it or fix it in a writing session. But we had all our stuff written and then we’d go to tape.

Did you prefer one experience over the other?

They both had an exciting edge to them. I can’t say I like one or the other better. I found both of them really a lot of fun.

Do you have any special memories of your time either at SNL or SCTV?

I liked working with some of the actors that we got to work with. Working with John Candy was a real treat. Working with Joe Flaherty all the time was really great, he was such a genius. The SCTV cast members that were there, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Robin Duke, and people like that, were so good. On Saturday Night Live, Eddie Murphy was really exciting, he’s a really good performer. The cast I worked with was just a great cast. We had guest stars and bands that were really great as well.

Do you have a favourite skit or a role that you played?

Rosato and Kazurinsky in “Wedding Day” sketch on Saturday Night Live. (Photo from http://snl.jt.org)

Yeah, I played this Italian character, an Italian father. Derek McGrath and I started it on stage at Second City, and it was called “Groom” as in bride and groom. It was a father and son having a conversation about the upcoming marriage that is happening in about 5 minutes. He’s talking to his son sort of backstage. It’s all about the fact that he doesn’t think [his son] should be getting married at this point in time. And so it almost becomes this immense argument, that leads into a crescendo of gestures, Italian gestures that we throw at each other from this to this to this (Rosato gestures). That was a good scene, and it was the first scene that they showcased for me at Saturday Night Live

When I joined Saturday Night Live, Tim Kazurinsky played the son. Poor guy, he got thrown into it at the last minute. It was about a 20 minute sketch. The cue cards were there for him, but he was really strong at improvising, so he was able to go through the scene with me as I led him through it. He did a great job.

After all your achievements, why are you currently studying improv at the Second City? 

Well, because I hadn’t done improv in a long time. And it’s a skill, as you know. You have to stay fresh with it otherwise you start losing that sense of gravity that any good improviser has, that sense of courage, and strength. I hadn’t been well in the past few years, and I was trying to get back on my feet, trying to get strong again. So I went back to my roots, to try to get back to doing what I started to do, and just find it from the beginning again.Second City classes seemed like a good idea, since they have a whole series of them, and you can work your way up to a higher level within each class. And I wasn’t really a strong improviser when I was at Second City I don’t think.

No? 

I don’t know. I may have been and maybe just didn’t know it. But I didn’t think I was. And so I really wanted to do improv this time around and learn what I may have missed. Just to get strong, to get strong again.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career? 

Trying to stay in a certain position of recognition. Trying to stay strong where people know who you are in your career. Trying to keep yourself in front of the audience. That’s the biggest challenge. It’s trying to stay well-known, recognized, still doing good work, in projects that have some merit, showcasing yourself. You want to be well-known in what you do, because you want to do it well. You want people to say that you’re doing a good job.

What did you work on after Saturday Night Live? 

I ended up on a sitcom after that, with Bea Arthur from The Golden Girls. She was coming back from doing a series called Maude, and the series had ended. She was looking to do her next series, and she bought the rights to Fawlty Towers, which is a series with John Cleese, and it was called Amanda’s (or Amanda’s by the Sea). It was about this hotel. This woman was running this hotel by herself, and with her crazy Italian waiter.

You? 

Yeah, so I got that role. But we only did one season of it, and that was it. [Bea Arthur] got ill, and we had to call the show off. She got ill again later on with throat cancer.

So I came back toTorontoagain and got work here and stayed here. I always seemed to get work when I stayed here so I ended up staying here longer than I should probably.

Aside from you having this remarkable ability to make people laugh and genuinely feel good in your presence, you’re very humble. How are you so humble, after having so much success? 

Wow, that’s so gentle of you to say. Gee, I guess if there is any sense of that, then I think it must come from the fact that I just appreciate how hard it is to work in this industry, and I appreciate all the people who are in it, and who are struggling to stay in it. It’s not easy. It’s a really difficult practice and art form to be part of, and to have any success in it at all is really tough, and to stay there with it is even tougher. I’m going through a period where I haven’t worked in it for a long time, other than doing animation, which has been good for me for the past couple of years and some voice work.

You’ve worked on a lot of neat cartoons. 

79 different cartoons. That’s a lot of animation.

Is there a project or time that you’re particularly proud of? 

I liked doing that sketch that I did with Tim Kazurinsky on Saturday Night Live. Belushi liked it, Aykroyd liked it a lot, and I know that Gilda liked it. We got good reviews in the Chicago Sun Times and the New York Times. So it was a proud moment for me. Especially since it was the premiere of the season. A new season, a new show, a new cast. It was exciting.

I think when we [SCTV] were being inducted into the Walk of Fame, with Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Robin Duke, and Martin Short and everybody, and we got an honorary Gemini from the mayor Barbara Hall, those two recognitions were really important. They came at a time when I needed a pat on the back, and it was very strong, it was very nice, and they were very receptive to us as performers. [It] made us realize that they thought we were doing a really good job and had been doing a really good job over the years, as opposed to just over one period time. The honorary Gemini was for overall achievement, so I was really proud of those two awards.

SCTV cast inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2002.
(Photo from http://www.canadaswalkoffame.com/inductees/2002/sctv)

I admire how you can be very funny and also quite clean in your delivery. What are your thoughts on profanity in comedy? 

You know, I came from a school where they didn’t allow it. Del Close, and Catherine O’Hara, Robin Duke, the cast that I was in, we weren’t allowed to swear. We had to watch our language on stage. It had to be for a very, very, very strong reason to pull out a swear word. Otherwise you just didn’t swear at all. I know it sounds really weird, maybe too clean, but that’s the way we were taught.

Do you think profanity adds, or takes away, from humour? 

It steals a little bit from language, if you use it too much. You can get away with it if it’s used very punctually, and very succinctly and very appropriately – where it’s just an opportune moment to swear, if there is one. It can sometimes be hilarious. But overly done, it starts to diminish language, and when that happens, the rest isn’t as much a surprise. It’s supposed to be poetry at it’s best, as poetic as you can be.

What do you currently like to watch? 

I just saw a cartoon with my daughter, my 7 year old, called Madagascar 3. I enjoyed it. Marty Short is brilliant in that movie. I thought that was really terrific. I know that sounds kind of cheesy, but it had some great names in it.

What advice would you give to someone starting off in comedy, or with aspirations for a career in the performing arts? 

Aim high. Aim really high. Really get your talent together, really nurture your talent, nurture your skills. Take whatever class you can to nurture your skills. Find a good teacher that you can work with. And try to get involved in the best productions that are out there. But keep going at it.

What’s next for you? What would you like to work on? 

I’m trying to put a troupe together. A comedy troupe. I’d like to take it and turn it into an exceptionally well known troupe.

Based in Canada?

Based in Canada, and hopefully get work in the US as well. I’ve still got my green card and my working papers. I’m anxious to get a group together. A big group even, doesn’t have to be a small group. But strong on improv. We’re putting together some people who want to do it. Yeah, I’d like to see that get off the ground.

You mentioned your daughter. Do you think that she might be a budding comedian? 

I think she’ll be a singer. My wife’s a singer, and an artist, she paints as well. And writes, she sold a book of poetry for publishing. Yeah my daughter’s quite a good singer, she has a karaoke set up at home.

Sounds like a very artistic family. 

Yeah, my daughter has a lot of energy. She likes to dance a lot.

With Daddy? 

Yeah.

– Cindy Hackelberg

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Q & A with Kevin Matviw

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Kevin Matviw is a triple talent: Writer, improviser and director – but he doesn’t let it get to his head. I met Kevin Matviw after a performance at the Second City, and my first impression was what a nice guy he is. After sitting down with him, I realized it’s not an act. Talented though humble, Kevin Matviw is a performer to watch.

Kevin came to Toronto six years ago from his hometown of Victoria BC, where he first discovered that he could be funny. While studying at Humber College’s School of Comedy in Toronto, he also took classes at the Bad Dog Theatre, studying with Bad Dog founders and improv greats Kerry Griffin and Marcel St. Pierre, as well as Jan Caruana, Jack Mosshammer and David Shore. After a year at Humber, he dropped out in pursuit of more stage time and to hone his craft. He has since been improvising with the Bad Dog Theatre for five years and is a three time Toronto Theatresports Champion.

Kevin recently co-founded the Naked Friday Players, a comedy troupe that performs every Friday night at the Second City’s John Candy Box Theatre, in which he is not only a performer, but the head writer and director. Improv inTO sat down with Mr. Matviw to learn about the life of a busy improviser, and his recent work at the Second City and Naked Fridays.

When did you start working at the Second City? 

Kevin Matviw (KM): About three years ago, I applied for an audition. I applied once and didn’t get an audition, and the second time I did. I didn’t hear back for a month, and then I got a phone call telling me they wanted me to come in for the Educational Company (EdCo), which is a sketch comedy improv show for high school students and slightly younger.

Are you still doing that? 

KM: No. I moved up to the National Touring Company (TourCo) about a year ago.

Have you taken any classes with the Second City? 

KM: Yes, when I was in the Educational Company, I really wanted to show how dedicated I was so I enrolled in the Conservatory program and did that for the year while I was doing EdCo.

What would you say was the biggest lesson you learned in the Conservatory program or the Second City? 

KM: I learned a lot of lessons.

I learned that you can be as funny just by being supportive in a scene, and the value of remaining grounded and anchoring a scene when people are improvising and things are going totally crazy – just being that guy that keeps things in reality and sort of being the representative for the audience.

Also the value of teamwork. Doing EdCo and TourCo and Conservatory shows, the emphasis is on an ensemble collaboration, so learning to work with others in that kind of environment, and building on others’ ideas.

What is it like when you’re touring? 

KM: I did EdCo for two years and I’ve been doing TourCo for one.

For EdCo we had to get up sometimes at 5 in the morning and be downtown at 5 or 6, or some crazy time, and then jump in the van and drive off to a school somewhere and be funny.

One of the greatest lessons I learned working for EdCo is that it doesn’t matter how tired I am – I‘ve done shows with 3 hours sleep. I have insomnia sometimes, and the pressure of “Oh man, I have to get up at 5 in the morning” makes it even harder to get to sleep. But you’ve got to do it. You just get up and you can’t even think straight. It doesn’t matter – you just do it, you find a way, you find the energy somewhere.

Those shows were really fun. It was a bonding experience. We all enjoy working for the company. Everyone’s like “It’s so early, the kids aren’t gonna laugh at this. What are we gonna do?” You really get to know each other well in those van rides.

You also teach classes with the Second City? 

KM: I’m starting to. I was teaching the youth classes with EdCo. After the EdCo show we would do workshops with the students that had seen the show. We would teach them the basics of improv so they could theoretically do what we were doing on stage.

Since leaving EdCo to do TourCo, I’ve taught less of those classes, so I’ve been trying to get into more teaching here, and I’m teaching an intensive, my first official adult class here at the training centre. 

How did you get involved with Naked Fridays? 

KM: I was doing this show called Sunday Night Live with this group called The Sketchersons [at the Comedy Bar] last year and the idea behind that was to write a new show every week. It was based around the structure of Saturday Night Live, so we’d all have to write new sketches every week. And that really got me writing a lot. Then I took some time off from doing the show because I was directing a Fringe show last summer, and I decided that the tremendously long day on Sunday before the show for Sunday Night Life was too much and I wanted that day back so I decided to leave the group. But I still wanted the opportunity to put something up whenever I wanted.

So I overheard Ben Johnson [host of Naked Fridays] and Chris New [musical director of Naked Fridays] talking about how they should have a resident sketch troop and I kept it in the back of my head. I don’t think they knew I was listening to their conversation and later on I was like “Hey guys, I’m looking to put up material every week and I know you have this need and this interest, so maybe we can combine these two ideas.” And that’s how Naked Friday Players started.

First Cast of Naked Friday Players:
Matt McCready, Paul Kingston, Ashley Seaman, Kirsten Gallagher, Kevin Matviw,

How do you prepare for each week? 

KM: Basically on Tuesdays we meet and people come in with written sketches which we read. We usually go to Kirsten’s [Gallagher] house, she has all this food, it’s amazing. She has a hot tub, we’ve considered going into the hot tub and doing it in there, but we haven’t done it yet.

So we read the sketches, I give them notes and they have to give me the rewrites by Thursday afternoon, and then I look at them and I may make more changes, and then by Thursday evening at the latest, I send it all back to them to be memorized.

And then we meet on Friday at 6pm and we rehearse from then until 8:30 

The show goes on Fridays at 9pm. Is that your first rehearsal with it all memorized? Wow! 

KM: People in the cast – and I’m actually fine with this so long as the show goes well – will show up not even having their stuff memorized and will just learn it by doing it over and over and over again.

We’re really bonding as a group because of all of this. I’m the head writer, but I’m like “What do you guys think about this? Let’s bounce some ideas around. We need a new ending for this scene, what can we possibly come up with?”

All of the cast members currently are improvisers, so there’s a lot of funny stuff that just happens. I’m pretty cool with them going off book a little bit during rehearsals, we might keep it or we might not.

So you put that all together in a matter of just a few days. That’s impressive. 

KM: Oh thanks. It’s a lot of fun. Those guys are very very creative, they have a lot of very funny ideas, so it makes it a lot easier.

How did you form the Naked Friday Players? 

KM: We had auditions, and coincidentally I worked in some way with every one that’s currently in the cast in the past. So I was already familiar with their work a little bit. We as a group made the decision – me, Chris New, Josh Murray [Naked Fridays Producer and Announcer] and Ben [Johnson]. We all sat around and were like “That’s what we like and want to see more of.”

The cast is fabulous. 

KM: Thanks, they are, they are great.

Where do you get your ideas for sketches? 

KM: Something that I learned when I doing Sketchersons Sunday Night Live show – cause I would have to write something – I would give myself a deadline and then I would sit there and I would think of things like: What are two opposites that don’t belong together? Or what is a scenario that is normal, like say a birthday party, and what’s not supposed to happen? Often I would sit there and watch TV and flip through the channels and watch a dramatic cop show or something, and then just say the next thing that I think they will say, and if it made me laugh, I’d write it down.

I came up with this idea –  So what’s something that’s really high status?: A ninja. And what are ninjas like? They’re stealthy, right? Cool, let’s just have some incredibly loud ninjas who are terrible at what they do, and that’s it. That was in my auditions for The Sketchersons and that’s what got me in the show.

What advice would you give to someone pursuing comedy as a career? 

KM: I’d say just get out there and do it as much as possible. See a lot of comedy, live comedy, but also get inspiration from stuff that’s worked before. Mr. Show with Bob and David is one of my favourite sketch shows ever,  or Monty Python. Just watch that a lot.

But when you’re watching a live comedy show, and you notice that something doesn’t work – like you can tell when someone is trying to be funny – and if you hear no one laugh, and you’re not laughing either, I’d sit there and think to yourself  “Why is it that no one is laughing at this right now?”

Or the opposite – if someone is destroying, think “What did it take for them to get to this point?” I say that especially if you’re performing as well. Eventually, you will get an idea of the language that an audience needs to understand your point, and how to be as clear as possible. It’s sort of like working on a muscle, the more exercise you do, the stronger you’ll be.

Do you think anybody can learn to be funny? 

KM: Yeah, I do.

Yeah? I don’t think I could be like you. I think you’re very funny and I think the cast is very funny. 

KM: I honestly think that you could. Like if you really wanted to and you wanted to put the time in. Because I think in high school, I wasn’t very funny. I’m terrible at telling jokes and I always mess them up, but I’ve learned how to write sketches and how to succeed in improv just by doing it trial by fire. Because when it fails, you’re like “Oh man, I do not want that to happen again. I’ll do anything that I can to make sure I avoid it.” 

What’s next for Kevin Matviw? 

KM: What I want to do is focus on writing for TV, actually. I’m not super interested in doing the audition life of an actor. I’m more interested in having my idea out there as opposed to being the person who is the messenger.

I’m kind of getting a kick out of writing the sketch and casting other people in it, which I’ve been doing in Naked Fridays a little bit and other solo shows. It’s really satisfying seeing something come to life and seeing it from an outside perspective.

I want to be the writer, and be the reason that someone is performing it and the reason that the director is there and all that stuff.

Naked Friday Players can be seen performing at the Naked Fridays show, every Friday at 9pm at the John Candy Box Theatre, located at 70 Peter Street in Toronto (Second City Training Centre) . Admission is PWYC (Pay what you can)

– Cindy Hackelberg

Q & A with Dale Boyer

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Dale Boyer

Dale Boyer is a funny lady. Acclaimed actress, writer and improviser Boyer (pronounced Boy-é) studied with the Second City and went on to star in four mainstage revues, winning awards along the way, including a Canadian Comedy Award for Best Comedic Play. Last summer she said goodbye to Second City and hello to the world, starring in a new web series which is taking the internet by storm. Ms. Boyer sits down with Improv inTO to discuss her beginnings in comedy, success as a comedienne, and her latest project, taking her improv in new and wacky directions, Live from the CenTre.

How did you get started in acting and improv?

Dale Boyer (DB): I did a lot of it in high school, but my high school didn’t have an improv group, so I started my own. Then I went to the University of Waterloo to become an actor and I thought ‘I’m gonna be a serious actor.’ My last year there this voice woman said to me “You know, you should go do Second City.” I came to Toronto and after a year I quit my job as a stage manager and said that’s what I’m doing.

What were some of your early gigs?

DB: When I first started in Toronto, I started with a group called the Holy Diaphragms. We did long form rock operas. I had just gotten out of university, and we did the Cage Match through the Impatients. [Impatient Theatre Co] hosted the Cage Match and we won six or seven weeks in a row.  We were dominating. Then we got sent to Chicago as part of the Super Cage Match Chicago Improv Festival and went up against people from New Zealand and all over the world…We did so bad in Chicago. But we did a lot with the Holy Diaphragms and that was my start with improv officially.

And then I did Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. I did other theatre gigs along the way, but Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding was a big hit for me.

[After Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding] we started (sketch comedy troupe) Shame Is Right!. We did Shame Is Right! for a couple years, won some awards with that. I guess someone took notice, probably Klaus [Schuller] at Second City, and hired me for the [Second City] Touring Company.

Not only are you an improviser, you’re a writer. Where do you get your ideas from?

DB: I consume a lot of media. I watch a lot of news and I listen to a lot of news, and I rip it. My husband Trevor [Martin] and I rip the news apart. I think the news is probably one of the funniest things to watch on TV. It’s infuriating and very, very funny. I’m usually issue-driven.

Who were some of your role models?

DB: I didn’t realize until last year how much SCTV had influenced me, until I got the box sets of all the SCTV and I started watching them from the beginning, and realized, how much I knew and had already seen, and how much I loved Andrea Martin. I was definitely affected by that

When I was a teenager, I used to record Saturday Night Live. I asked my parents for Christmas for another VCR and then I would take my favourite sketches and put them on another tape and have a tape of all my favourite sketches. I did that for years. I probably still have them somewhere.

What was your favourite show to work on at the Second City?

DB: My favourite show was Something Wicked Awesome This Way Comes. Definitely my favourite show.

And that won an award.

DB: It won a Canadian Comedy Award, and it was also the top grossing show, to date, that [Second City] had in their new building. It was such a satisfying show to work on because you felt like you actually could address issues. Things I wanted to address I could, and I was given a voice to do that, through the director.

You and your castmates wrote Something Wicked Awesome This Way Comes?

DB: Yep, and Chris Earle, who was the director, and Matt Reid, who [was] the musical director…yeah, sometimes you just click with a director, I clicked with him.

Tell me a bit about your latest project, Live from the CenTre

DB: I left Second City with Adam Cawley and Rob Baker. We all got hired at the same time into Tour Co. We spent two years there together. And then we all got moved to Mainstage at the same time, which is unusual to have three people move up at once. And we did four shows together. So by that point we had spent four years together and had quite a good short hand with each other and we got along very well. And we’re very different performers which is helpful. Chris Earle, who directed Wicked Awesome, who I had a great connection with – the night that we left Second City, he was like “I think you guys are all so talented, I can’t wait to work with you one day again, do you want to work tomorrow and create a web series?”

This was just after your last performance?

DB: This was literally the day we were leaving Second City. [Chris Earle] said, “Brian Smith (You and Media) and I want to do a web series. We think the three of you would be great to star in this web series.”

Obviously I was like ‘Yes, that’s awesome!

So we sat down, we talked and [Chris] said “You know, Second City does all this work to nurture and build an ensemble, and then when you leave Second City, you really don’t work with those people again, unless you happen to get into a commercial together, you happen to get on a series together. You get to do shows at Comedy Bar and things like that, but you don’t get to work in that kind of capacity, and you’ve worked all these years at building an ensemble. Before you all go off on your separate ways, why don’t we take advantage of it, and do a web series?”

How did you create Live from the CenTre?

DB: We basically went about creating the CenTre in the same style as you would create a revue style show at Second City. So I think it is a unique experience the way that we put it together. Rehearsals, writing meetings, that weren’t writing meetings per se, they were like pitch meetings the way you would have at Second City. Days on set were treated like Second City. We just improvised in front of the camera, in the moment, and treated it really like that.

How long does it take to tape one webisode?

DB: Each webisode has three or four elements in it. We do the interviews in one take. We don’t do them twice. All those things you’re seeing are improvised, first time, that’s it. One go at it. Unless, let’s say I have a really good line, and I screwed up saying it – I can just pause, and say it again, and it will get edited. Apart from that, it’s completely unscripted, and it’s one time through, and that’s it. The interviews are 10 minutes long and we just take our favourite five minutes from it.

So are any scenes written?

DB: Some have premises, so for example, I’ll use the example of my own “Incubator Project.” I come in with a premise, like “Incubator Project,” and I say to Brian, all you’re getting is “Incubator Project.” So, he doesn’t know the questions he’s asking me, and I don’t know what’s he’s going to ask me, and I don’t know really what my responses are. I just know that I have a character that I’ve dressed for and I know the name of my company. That’s it.

Yeah, or like “Green to Grave” for example. I was like – I’m really interested in green funerals. I think that’s a really interesting and funny idea, and like how they dispose of the bodies, I think is gross and funny, and I said to Rob and Adam, these are some things that they do, let’s just go further: Bring a suit. Cause we’re going to be undertakers, funeral directors, bring a suit. And then Brian knew it was a funeral service. And then everything else is improvised.

So what has the response been like for Live from the CenTre?

DB: It’s funny, a lot of people don’t realize it’s improvised. I think that’s a great compliment. A lot of people think it’s written, which is funny, cause some of them are so improvised that we don’t even know what the title’s going to be or what our names are going to be. Like “Parking Doctors,” [Brian] said to us, “And we have the Parking Doctors” and we just made it up. Right there.

No idea what you’re going to be doing?

DB: No idea. First take. That’s all it was. Those were our characters. That’s what we did.

It’s been really good. It’s interesting, some people think it’s real. Some people don’t know what to think about it. It’s had a lot of hits in Europe. We hit 50,000 views today. 

And you just launched this on March 1.

DB: March 1. And today is [March] 26th. So we’ve gotten 50,000 views in 26 days.

That’s fantastic.

DB: It’s fantastic. We’ve partnered with DailyMotion.com. When you have a good episode, it gets picked up for the front pages in different countries. So like today, it’s been picked up in Romania, and Ireland and Austria and China, and then all these other countries see it, all these other people see it.

Where do you hope to see Live from the CenTre go?

DB: It’s interesting with web series, because we’re in a pioneer time in this world. Advertisers don’t know how to take advantage of the talent that’s happening and at the same time it’s hard to monetize what you’re doing because you could say you have 50,000 hits or 5 million hits and an advertiser will go, ‘I don’t know how to give you money for that, or I don’t know if I want to give you money for that, or should we bank roll your next series?’

The world doesn’t really know what to do with web series yet, but Canadians are watching so many of them, so I don’t know what’s going to happen.

Even in the year that this web series has come out – it’s almost been about a year since we’ve started – already so much has changed in the industry.

Would you want to keep this strictly to the web or would you consider moving this forward?

DB: I do think it has legs to become a narrative or a series of some sort. It obviously would have to be expanded past the 6 minute mark that it is right now.

The Simpsons started with even shorter than that. 

DB: On the Tracy Ullman show, it’s true, it’s true.

I mean the bible’s there, the series bible is made. You can see the characters. And the crazy thing is, and I think this is something that is unusual, is the three of us are playing all the characters. I play like 15 different characters in the series, like Rob does, Adam does. We all play – everybody.

And the three of you have really good chemistry.

DB: We’ve worked together a long time, and we respect each other, and we’ve loved and fought each other – a lot. Yeah, I’ve had good fights with all of them. It’s good, it’s good for art.

How can people learn more about Live from the CenTre?

DB: They can go to LiveFromTheCenTre.com.  The website is a big world. There are member posts, which are all written by us, there are articles, there are events, there are all the different organizations, and we’ve spent months writing all that.

What advice would you give to someone studying improv?

DB: I would say to take workshops and classes from many different sources. Each place has its own philosophy: Second City, Bad Dog, Impatients, in Toronto. They have different philosophies, some are long form, some are short form. I think it’s good to know all of those things and to find the philosophy that works for you. Because what’s right for one may not be right for another. The people that I’ve worked with have come from all different types of learning.

The other thing I would say is to find your voice, and do what you care about. Cause otherwise, if you’re just chasing the funny, it’s always going to be elusive, and it’s never going to be satisfying.

And finally have a hobby that has nothing to do with comedy or improv. And live a life, and have friends that aren’t improvisers, and try to be a normal person.

Live from the CenTre is shot in Toronto and stars Dale Boyer, Rob Baker, Adam Cawley, Brian G. Smith and Chris Earle. Visit their website LiveFromTheCenTre.com or follow them on twitter @TheCenTreLive

– Cindy Hackelberg