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!"