It was March 8, 2010 that my actress friend and I decided to study long form improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade here in Los Angeles. Unlike my friend, I have already studied short form improv at a couple of places in town, have seen Room To Improv perform live on stage and, of course, splintered my ribs when I watched Comedy Central's "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" (both the British and American versions). Moreover, it was redemption for me because in the late '90s when improv was hot (then), I was standing outside Groundlings trying to convince myself to not be scared, walk in and sign up. In seconds, I found myself driving away due to fear (I'm shy at heart). Anyway, Improv 101 at UCB was easy to pass despite my thinking head getting in the way. I thought I'd stop there. But, I didn't. I got addicted. Before we performed the first of two student showcases, to get over my stage fright, I did UCBTLA's Long Hard Improv Jam. I did fine for a while; holding my own with the vets while the laughs continued -- until I went blue. That's what I realized was a big no-no. Obviously, there are things I need to improve or just be smarter in my initiations. One of our classmates from the Level 1 class at UCB, Nick Rasmussen mentioned Monkey Butler to us. So, on January 13, 2011, I contacted the Artistic Director of Monkey Butler, David Magidoff. He confirmed what Nick said. We can go to any beginning class and they are free. Our first class was a Sunday afternoon at a Pasadena church with Nathan Davis for the Foundations Level which was okay...because I decided early on that I will complete the Basic Program at UCB (all four levels) and figured after a month at Monkey Butler, I'll sign up for Improv 201 at UCB. That one month became two months, then later six months and so on. My friend dropped out of MB due to a language barrier (which is understandable). I remember one rainy afternoon where only 12 of us showed up to class and Nathan decided rather than teach, we just do a full improv show in class. I was so excited! At first, I was trying to avoid jumping in or take the initiative. But, classmates kept pulling me in to the scenes (thank you!). At one point, I played the father whose daughter wanted to be a dancer and I happen to mention in character that I once had a dream of becoming a dancer. As soon as I said that, it was time for a flashback. It was happening so fast I had no time to really think or decide what to do. Just do what came to mind first. So, I saw myself doing Robin Williams dancing as Twyla Tharp. Then, I had to mirror it the second time after I said, while in a prison scene, as Donald Duck in character, I once did Shakespeare in the park...and of course, the next thing was a flashback. The last time I did a Donald Duck impression was when I was a boy and the last time I did anything Shakespeare was writing a report about the guy for my friend's final term paper. Let's just say with a growing sore throat and sniffles because of the rainy weather, I did the best Donald Duck impression I could while reciting the soliloquy in the "Nunnery Scene" of William Shakespeare's play 'Hamlet.' I will never ever forget that experience because we were all having fun!
On January 24, 2011, I volunteered to be one of the performers to represent Nathan Davis' Level One Workshop class in a Showcase called One Buck Butler which was held at the Oneonta Church in South Pasadena. Just short form improv games were done on stage. Which was fine. I just needed to get over my stage fright. Being in front of the camera is a whole lot easier than being on stage, for me. Being with Monkey Butler Comedy, I found balance. The other one thing Monkey Butler did for me was to be clean with my initiations as, again, I tend to go blue (which seems to be the norm at other improv shows). But, either indirectly or directly, because Monkey Butler Comedy was part of a faith group called Mosaic -- and also there were children in the audience, I really had to clean up my act.
On Thursday, March 24, 2011 at the One Buck Butler show at the Oneonta Campus, I was a guest performer for another class Level One Workshop taught by Lynn Downey Braswell. This was a test for me. Never having played with other scene partners before, more so, not know them...it was a challenge. The two photos above were of my new scene partner and I performing the improv game, "Whose Line." To me, this was more about acting and reacting than it was about improv. Those little notes helped carry the scene very well especially in the end. I think we did our job when we made a little girl laugh!
Another factor was performing improv with different people from all walks of live in various levels of their improv studies -- at other locations. This is where the support comes in. Supporting your scene partners and each other. Monkey Butler had a show at Alhambra, CA. (above) on April 23, 2011. Just did the improv jam and performed with the MB vets. I remember right after this show, one improv teacher at UCB believed doing jams are a waste of time. I beg to differ but, to each their own, I guess..
I continued to practice with Monkey Butler Comedy at the Level One Workshop. And, even though, I really wanted to advance to the Level Two Workshop and so on, I felt I'd stay in the basic level while I pursue the advance levels at UCB. On August 30, 2011, I signed up for Improv 201 at UCB. Advance weekly practice and study at UCB while having basic weekend practice and study at MB was the thing for a while; also doing student showcases at UCB and MB for the public was good because I was getting comfortable and less nervous being in front of a live audience. Also include doing various improv jams around the city not only Monkey Butler's One Buck Butler and Two Buck Butler shows but also at Crashbar Improv, Tuesday Night Thunder and Room 101, watching shows at UCB and Room To Improv and studying the books.
Monkey Butler Comedy was the Winner of the Harold Competition at the 9th Annual Los Angeles Improv Comedy Festival 2011 held at iO West.
While studying the 2nd level of improv at UCB, I did two more shows at MB. Then, after a year with them, I stopped and focused more on my UCB's studies. I passed Improv 201 at UCB. Then, I signed up for Improv 301 at UCB on November 3, 2011 and failed the class (because of the teacher; totally confused me and others students in the class). So, I went back to Monkey Butler to re-learn the basics of improv. I came to realize that once I advanced in improv, other disciplines and approaches come into play. So, I had to be solid with the basics again for the next four months until I signed up again for UCB's Improv 301 on March 6, 2012. Passed the class! Before I signed up for UCB's 401 class, I knew I didn't want to repeat another class. So, I went back to Monkey Butler on the weekends and also signed up for a daily improv intensive boot camp and later improv scene work. On July 13, 2012, I signed up for UCB's Improv 401 -- and passed!
I continued going to Monkey Butler Improv afterwards but mainly to their Halloween events. I was always El Santo!
Monkey Butler Comedy was the Winner of the Harold Competition at the 12th Annual Los Angeles Improv Comedy Festival 2014 held at iO West.
On August 25, 2014, Monkey Butler Improv Comedy announced they have ended operations. I don't what happened but, if I have to guess -- Monkey Butler was gaining more popularity than Mosaic. On September 19, 2014, Monkey Butler hosted their celebration party. Since then, members and students of MB Improv Universe opened new places to teach a new generation of improvisors, comedians and performers for the servitude of the community. A lot of cool people I met during my time spent at MB such as Nick, Moses, David, Gabe, Ai, Charles, Cristina, Billy, Skyler, Nathan, G., Jane, Ken, Greg, Jessica, Laura, Lynn, Max, Patrizia, Rey, Sean, Steve, Jason, Tad, Zach, Brittany, Janet and others. To which I say, "thank you, Monkey Butler, for everything!"
Catch my return as I promote my new film, SAMURAI COP 2: DEADLY VENGEANCE and its Kickstarter Campaign (ending Sunday, September 21, 2014) on the podcast show's eleventh episode, Super Awkward FunCast starring Elle Latham along with new guest Linnea Snyder (Top Story Weekly! Staff Writer) as we go deep into world events such as Kanye West's big wheelchair concert controversy in Australia, the new Fall TV schedule and what we're watching and of course 9/11.
To listen to the show, click the link here: http://superawkwardfuncast.podbean.com/e/episode-11-911/ Or, you can activate the podcast player below.
The show (9/14/14) will be up at iTunes (TBD).
My first time attending an Asians On Film's event -- this one was an Asian Cinema Entertainment Mixer held at the Vaucluse Lounge on the west end side of the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, California. Other than the talent that were inside, there were also photographers, press and a Step-And-Repeat wall. I went there initially to meet new folks and promote two projects I have coming up. But, the latter, I decided not to do because, really, I just wanted to meet new people and reunite with old friends - especially the ones I haven't seen in ages (and Facebook doesn't count).
Like many mixers, it is a chance to network with like-minded people to hope someday work with many of the people you've met as well as elevating each others' careers. But, more importantly, as I have learned in the last twenty five years in this business -- the goal is to gain a group of colleagues who will, in time, become your most trusted and lifelong support group of best friends. That's really the goal at these mixers in my humble opinion...because this town (and specifically in this entertainment industry), unless you're one of the lucky ones, you will get eaten up and spit out before you even realize what happened. Heed my advice from someone who've been through it. By someone who was stabbed in the back by an ex-friend/ex-colleague I've known for eight years and after working together on various projects including two feature films; the first film giving us notoriety almost twelve years ago, he financially ruined my life. I'll just leave it at that.
Usually, I avoid mixers. That's just me. It's all political. And, judgmental. And, I know I'm eating my own words when I tell you about three groups of people (nice segue, huh?). You'll meet three groups of people. The first group I call are the "Veterans." They are people who've been through hell and back working in the Hollywood industry, have thick skin, some may still be jaded but always hope for the best and has every war story in the back of their hand (but tread lightly telling their stories because you never know who is lingering in that social circle you're blabbering in that might know that person you're talking about). They also have very active radars and usually size you up before you even enter the room. And, they are experienced -- meaning they know how to carry themselves. However, there are two kinds of Veterans. First, there is the friendly kind who is more of a people-person and who doesn't give a shit about what level career you're at (because what I learned is that you never know who will be the next big thing). But, that, in itself, shouldn't be the primary reason to get to know them. They, too will sense that and will slowly, in a courteous manner, move away from you. That last sentence leads into the second kind of Veterans -- "the fake-friendly-kind-but-they-don't-do-it-intenionally-they-are-just-protective-or-if-they-are-friendly-to-others-beneath-them-they-feel-their-own-careers-will-fall?" Yeah, I just don't get it sometimes.
The second group are the "Newbies-But-Are-Seriously-Passionate-In-Their-Craft." I like this group. They know they are new in this industry. They know that people will size them up and judge them. They know that it's all or nothing. They are survivalists -- when all else fails, they are smart enough to move on and won't look back. They know they are smart enough to keep the ones who look out for their best interests (and vice versa, of course) and rid those who do not. Yet, they are also the ones who give others a second chance to redeem themselves: they are passionate, caring and selfless. These are the types of people this Entertainment Machine needs to survive. These are the regular normal folks!
Then, there is this third group -- you MUST avoid. I've seen my share; heck, I've experienced my share. As soon as you gain some notoriety and respect in this industry, you will attract this third group. Most especially when it comes to deeper relationships outside work -- it starts to get tricky and weird. And, this is the first sign you'll catch to recognize this third group. They walk into a mixer, work the room just a bit and come up with this consensus: "Aw shit! There ain't no important people here! Where's Spielberg? Where's the Weinsteins? Not even the Kardashians will show their faces here! I'm leavin! We're leavin!! We all leavin!!!" (Really?) If anything, you'll instantly see this third group a mile away. Whether it's the dudes still rocking their Ed Hardy tees to women who still think the hoochie mama look is still relevant, whatever they are doing isn't going to win many people over especially if they are crashing into an A-List party. But, hey -- to each their own, right? You show aggressive gumption, A-Listers will recognize! I have seen with my own eyes this third group successfully grabbing the attention of A-Listers (who I will not name here). However, these types of friendships or relationships do not last long and it is the people in this third group that become victims of their own selfishness. Their selfishness is so high, it completely blinds them from what is actually going on. They start thinking conspiracy; it's them (pick a category: small town, gender, religion, ethnicity) against the World (the A-Listers). There were A-Listers who were giving opportunities for this third group of people (which is what they wanted in the first place) but, they found it difficult to function and started blaming others because they weren't ready and/or some A-Listers took advantage of this third group's blindness or desperation to fill their own voids. Laws of Attraction, I guess. It's sad but it happened.
So, to this day, after everything I've been through, I always go back (and try to maintain) my place of balance. Everyday, you must find your balance. Abusing drugs and alcohol are never the balance so you should stop that. Every day is trial and error. Everyday, you're a work-in-progress. (Nicole Kidman still goes to her acting coach for new projects). Do not think or accept the people who've made it have settled. No, they also continue to find balance. Because in a split second, everything you've invested in, goes just like that. And, other than family and friends outside Hollywood who support you from afar, it's your most trusted friends & colleagues who are your strong support group when things in your Life goes loopy.
"Home is where the heart is." To me, sitting together in a table is just that. And, when I sat there throughout the night, friends I worked with more than ten years ago to friends who I worked with just recently came to this table (below). I guess in all honesty, I just wanted to reconnect. For the last three months, I've been engulfed with projects that this night afforded me the luxury to be real again.
I love fandoms! Take a look at this awesome fan art / fan poster for my next feature film, SAMURAI COP 2: DEADLY VENGEANCE. Scheduled to begin shooting this November. I'm listed in the fan art credits.
Check out more of Ralf Krause's work here: http://www.eyeofthedesigner.de/
Click HERE to donate to our SAMURAI COP 2 Kickstarter today.