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.
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