IRC Podcast Transcript, Caitlin Tegart, 2011-05-15

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Introduction: I think that's also a good idea sometimes, especially when you're newer, jump into really writing out the idea and focusing less on running the idea by eight people because there's a chance they'll be like, "Meh, I don't know." I mean, I feel like a lot of shows that I've put up at the theater, or some of my most popular sketches are probably ideas that had I run them by ten people they would have been like, "Well, that's weird. I don't know." But you kind of have to trust, you have to learn to start to trust that you are funny and put it down on the page and see what happens.

Kevin Mullaney: Hello and welcome to the Improv Resource Center Podcast. I'm Kevin Mullaney, your host. Today we're talking to Caitlin Tegart. She has written and directed numerous sketch shows at the UCB Theater in New York where she also teaches sketch comedy. You can see her videos at ucb.com and omgoose.com.

You know on the podcast, we normally talk about exercises and techniques for running improv rehearsals and obviously, with you as the guest, I want to talk a little bit about some of the ways that you go about developing sketch material for the stage primarily, although we can probably talk a little bit about videos as well. Although I imagine the process is fairly similar. So why don't we start like this: let's say that I came to you and I had an idea for a sketch show, some sort of theme, you know connective glue, some sort of an idea for a sketch show but I hadn't really written very much of it yet. Would there be any exercises you might do in an early rehearsal process to develop things or would you just say, "Go away and write. Come back when you've got more."

Caitlin Tegart: Well, I do meet with writers, especially younger writers or students that do come to me in that similar situation. Usually I will meet with them and try to think of ways to generate material and it's usually based on whatever they think is funny about the idea that they have. For instance, I'm working with a student now who's a great writer and she's working on a show based on her experience working at bar and bat mitzvahs which obviously have a lot of different, just hilarious aspects to working at these upscale, weird parties for preteens or just newly teens, I guess. So we talked a lot about, you know, what are the characters at that location? What's funny about them? What's relatable to anyone that's never been to these kinds of events? So I do help them before they've generated a lot of material, but there's only so much you can do at that point. I feel like I can be most productive when the writer has too much material and we need to make it all better. Heighten the games, make it clear and cut out a lot of stuff. That's easiest for me and then it's very clear to me what I need to do, but I'm not afraid to work with someone that's newer, that maybe doesn't quite know how to generate material because it's a harder skill than we sometimes remember people that have been doing it a long time. My students always have trouble even if they're good writers. Just generating an idea takes so much work. Taking a funny idea to a great written piece is a bigger challenge than people that are on sketch teams or have had shows at the theater sometimes remember. So I try to work with them at that because it's just like starting an engine, really, because once it gets going, it's good to go, but you do have to tinker with it for awhile. I'm happy to help with that part as well.

KM: If you were working with a brand new student, maybe in a class or something, and they came to you and they were specifically saying, "I'm having trouble thinking of ideas, of coming up with the seeds of these sketches in the first place." What might you tell them to go do or where to find ideas?

CT: I think for one thing, I would say that's very normal and I go through it every week. I think sometimes we just need to, this sounds weird, but lower our standards for the ideas and just don't worry too much about whether the idea is so good or not. I think that will trip up students a lot. "Is that a funny idea? Isn't it a funny idea? I don't know. Maybe there's nothing there." You have to get to a point where you say, "Well, if it's half an idea and I need to write a sketch, I'm writing that sketch." Because I think that students and writers, in general, tend to censor themselves a lot about, "Oh no one else will like that idea. It's too weird. Maybe it's not universal enough," but you just have to go with it. And I think I would, more specifically on how to generate idea, I guess it's just what's funny to you and your friends. What do you find yourself making fun of all the time? Why? And if you can really isolate what's really funny about that, what's playable in a game, in a sketch about that, then you're half way there.

KM: Yea, it's interesting that, you know that first concept of improvisation, of accepting the ideas that are thrown out for a scene. Something that's not too hard to learn as an improvisor. I think it's really hard to learn as a writer sometimes, where if you're just accepting your own ideas, it's hard than accepting someone else's idea.

CT: Yea! Definitely. I think that's true and I think that's also a good idea sometimes, especially when you're newer, jump into really writing out the idea and focusing less on running the idea by eight people because there's a chance they'll be like, "Meh, I don't know." I mean, I feel like a lot of shows that I've put up at the theater, or some of my most popular sketches are probably ideas that had I run them by ten people, they would have been like, "Well, that's weird. I don't know." But you kind of have to trust, you have to learn to start to trust that you are funny and put it down on the page and see what happens.

KM: Right, don't give people a chance to tell you that shouldn't bother writing it.

CT: Yea, it's true. I guess it just comes down to... you ultimately are ... in the longer run, you have to be the best version of yourself, or the funniest version of yourself. You can't be someone else, so you have to figure out what's just you're own sense of humor that's maybe different from someone else's and what's just kind of bad because we've all written some clunkers too.

KM: When you're looking to put together shows, are there specific things you're looking at or is it more of an instinctual thing when you decide which sketches are in or out or is it purely a matter of keeping the funniest stuff in and getting rid of the stuff that isn't working?

CT: I mean it all depends on what level they are. But if it is students, it does tend to be whatever's the funniest and whatever's working. There's a big focus on putting together a show that's cohesive. Sometimes that doesn't best serve younger (I'm saying younger. I don't actually mean age, but they're newer to comedy), students because what they just really need is to see their best stuff on the stage. They're not even really at a place where they can get a lot out of seeing their stuff in a sort of thematic show. But I've seen that actually hurt some students, some younger students who work because they're so focused on this idea of, Well it all has to take place on this one pirate ship." Or whatever. It's like, "Well, but that's not..." it's running before you can walk, I would say sometimes. So as far as what I usually do, I feel like I usually go with the best stuff, but I have some trepidation about that because I know that shows are better perceived when they are in fact, shows. They have a thematic unity or something that ties them all together. And that makes perfect sense. Sometimes a sort of sketch showcase or a revue, best serves the writer, for their own purposes of growing and learning.

KM: Now are most of the people that you're working with, are they performing their own sketches or are they writing it for other people? I know on the Maude teams now, they have people who are designated writers and they have people that they're writing for.

CT: It's a about 50/50. I think that increasingly I'm seeing writers write for other actors, performers at the theaters. I suspect that's just because that's what I do and so writers that also want to do that are attracted to me as a director. There's definitely a mix of both at the theater.

KM: Do you think there's an advantage or disadvantage to performing your own work?

CT: For me, I used to perform more and then when I was accepted to be on a Maude team in 2008, I was a writer only and I just started to really feel like my work was growing because I wasn't worrying about that other aspect of performing it and so nothing was inhibiting me while I was writing it, thinking about performing it, which is my personal thing, though I don't think that inhibits everyone. Also, I think it's good to have someone thinking about things from a ... if you're running your own show you're going to tend to think about it more from a global show perspective and the actors are thinking very specifically about their own characters and dialogue so it's sort of good to have people working on both sides of it. Obviously one person can do both, it's just more difficult.

KM: Now with the sketch writing classes that are going on at the UCB, that program has really sort of blown up in the last few years. A lot more students doing that. Do you find that most of the students in the sketch writing program have been through the improv program or not or is it a good mix?

CT: It's usually a mix. There's usually about half the class, if it's a 101 class, it's usually half the class, this is their first class ever at UCB and then maybe a fourth have done, let's say level 4 or 5 improv and then the other fourth maybe have done level 1 and 2 improv.

KM: And do you think that someone who's been an improviser for a long time may have different challenges than somebody who's just coming to it fresh or vice versa?

CT: No. As far as the sketch writing class, no. The performers tend to be stronger writers because they're just familiar with the concept of Game and they've seen a lot of sketch and they've seen a lot of comedy, so they know what it's supposed to look like in the end, which is a big hurdle to jump for some students. I think improv can pose a challenge sometimes in the rehearsal process because there's this sense of freedom in an improv show that sometimes is helpful to a sketch shows an extent, but there's a point you have to pull it back and just say the lines on the page and just focus doing your character like you're really going to do it in the show, that can be hard for some improvisers to pull back. But as far as in the actual classes, no. If anything, any performer I've ever had in that class is usually the top, or top three writers in the class.

KM: Now it used to be, you know my experience with a lot of the sketch shows that were going on at UCB a few years ago, was that a lot of the material was developed through improvisation.

CT: Interesting.

KM: Do you find many people are still approaching it that way or that they're pulling ideas? I guess it's different to pull an idea from an improv show that you've done, but to, you know, lock themselves in a room and improvise for hours to try to come up with ideas. Or is that just not done as much right now?

CT: I don't think it's done as much right now. I've never really done things that way. It to me, never honestly seemed the best use of time. It just never seemed efficient to me.

KM: Right, right. So were you writing before you got to the UCB?

CT: Not at all.

KM: Not at all? Oh really?

CT: Not at all. The first sketch I wrote was for Charlie Sander's 101 class in 2007.

KM: So what attracted you to it?

CT: I had taken improv 101 and I really liked the ... I mean I just loved UCB and I loved the comedy world, but I felt like I would really like writing. So I took the class. I'd known about the improv classes from a friend and that's how I found out about those and then through being in improv I found about the sketch classes. So yea, and then that was kind of all she wrote and I've been doing it ever since.

KM: All right, so thanks for talking to me today.

CT: Oh, thank you!

KM: If somebody wanted to take a class, or hire you for a workshop, how would they get in touch with you?

CT: They can go to, well if they want to take a class with me, they have to go to ucbtheater.com and register through the classes page. If they want to contact me, they could go to my website caitlintegart.com and that has my contact info and also some other sketches and stuff I've done.

KM: Oh, and you do a lot of video work as well and where might they be able to see that?

CT: You can see my webseries, Ronda Casting, as well as a bunch of new videos we just shot. My old stage show, "How Rude: Tim and Darcy Find the 90's," we made those into a series of videos. Those can be found at omgoose.com. And I'm also writing for one of UCB's new beta teams and we're called Diamonds Wow and we can be found at ucbcomedy.com and we have our own page, if you click on beta teams, Diamonds Wow.

KM: Alright, well cool. Thanks so much.

CT: Thank you so much.

KM: You have been listening to the IRC podcast. You can talk about these podcasts and just about anything else at the forums of ImprovResourceCenter.com. I also blog at KevinMullaney.com.