I love Brian Dooley for a lot of reasons – he’s kind, he likes Star Wars and other geeky things, he tells good stories, he’s not afraid to be honest – but he also reminds me of a young me…a young me that’s also ten years older than me. He truly cares about this thing called improv and is doing everything in his power to get good at it. He’s on a slew of teams, works at The Improv Shop, practices a ton, studies the craft, and sees shows. He’s the model student. He’s everything I wanted to be when I was just starting out…except not old. Ew. I don’t want to be old.
I’ve been coaching Brian Dooley for the past year and it’s been awesome to see him grow as an improviser and get to know him better as a person. He’s smart, witty, and a great listener. What started as advice from his therapist has turned into, what looks like, a life-long love and a family of new friends.
Meet Brian Dooley:
Why did you get into improv? How long have you been doing it?
This is cliche, but therapy was the catalyst that ultimately brought me to improv.
I’ve always been a comedy junkie, and I’ve lived a pretty “theater adjacent” life as an adult, but I always resisted the doing for one reason or another.
In 2014, I was going through some pretty significant life changes—dealing with depression, crippling social anxiety, and addiction—as well as figuring out (at the “what-the-hell-were-you-doing-this-whole-time” age of 35) who I was…and taking responsibility for my own happiness.
I started seeing a therapist, and she told me to do something just for myself.
A few months prior, I had seen a troupe from The Improv Shop performing at the St. Louis Science Center, and I remembered that they were pimping their classes. A class was open, and I signed up for Level Zero with the wonderful Melanie Penn.
The folks at the Improv Shop and the folks at the St. Louis improv community at large have been my family ever since. It was magic from the first moment, and I’ve never looked back.
Wait, what was the question? …oh, August 9, 2014 was my “orientation” night at the shop, and August 10 was my first class.
What are you most looking forward to about becoming an Improv Shop veteran in a few weeks?
I don’t know what a fulfilling life without being in improv class looks like…
Really, I’m looking forward to being able to take David Mar’s continuing education workshops on Tuesday nights. And auditioning for Harold. And maybe being a veteran at the Serendipitous Pastiche.
I don’t know…besides the workshops, everything else is just an extension or a different iteration of what I’m already doing. I am the happiest and most fulfilled I’ve ever been, and I blame improv and the improv community.
Graduation will be another stage in that personal growth; I’ll likely spend my post-graduation heightening the reality and raising the stakes…the game of the scene is fanatic commitment.
I would describe you as “all about the improv.” What drives you to commit yourself to it so fully?
Committing fully is the easy part. I have a tendency towards compulsive behavior. Besides the requisite substance abuse, it often exhibits itself in devout geekery to various fandoms. I am also a junkie for stories and narrative, characters and relationships…watching or being in improv scenes is essentially freebasing.
I’ve been lucky to find that the Saint Louis community is good for fostering an improv addiction. From the very first moment I fearfully stepped into the Shop on a Saturday night to spend time with a bunch of strangers and eat some pizza, I was home. The Shop (and the community at large) has become my friends, my family, and my place of worship.
Improv is an artform. When you see it being treated as such, with the respect and craft that it deserves, it’s transformative. I’m somewhat artistic sometimes, but I’ve never found a medium that grabs me like improv. I can only see myself getting more invested and more committed as my life gets better and better.
What have you learned about improv from your time as one of the key stakeholders (so business, I know) the Book House Wednesday Night Improv Lab?
Well, first, I wouldn’t describe myself as a key stakeholder. I was in the right place at the right time when Brian Ackley was interested in putting something together. Which has been awesome.
Improv-wise, I’ve been able to experiment with a few different forms and to play in different ways. I’ve gotten to play with different people, too, which will be happening more and more as we grow the Book House shows and explore the boundaries.
Can you share some words of wisdom with those just starting out?
Fuck your fear, but be honest about it. Embrace the community.
If you’re just starting out, there will be a healthy level of anxiety and nerves. It is not new with you. You’ve joined the cult already, so lean on your sisters and brothers. They’ve been there, and—in many cases—they are still there. Every person you talk to is your friend and has your back. Admit what you’re scared of or nervous about, and then trust them to help you let it go.
Commit. Own your characters. Own your gifts.
What is the best improv advice or note you have ever received?
In my level 1, John Langen said that improv isn’t about being funny. It’s about being honest.
It’s shitty to see an actor trying to be funny and failing. It’s thrilling to see a character trying to do anything and failing.
Now, I realize that John didn’t invent that idea…but it’s forever cemented with him in my mind because he said it to me first.
Also, be agreeable. I don’t know who said it first…It might have been you, Ben, or it might have been Katie Nunn…but that was a big springboard for me in developing as a performer.
What is the best lesson you’ve learned from improv that translates to your real life?
Have you ever heard of “yes, and…?” It’s kind of a thing.
My anxiety has often put me in a position of mentally saying, “yes, but…,” or simply, “no.” The courage and confidence that I’ve gained since starting improv has spun my life in a more positive direction as I’ve applied the “yes, and…” principle to other areas of life.
Do you have anything going on that you’d like to plug?
Here we go…
30 Rock from the Sun is my twosie team with Tracey Kugler, coached by Ben Noble (ever heard of him?). We perform pretty regularly. We’re at 30rfs.com.
Pennyworth is my comic book-based twosie and expanded universe art project with the wonderful Frank Zito. Follow us at facebook.com/pennyworth.improv for more info.
Compass Improv has some incredible stuff coming up all the time, including open court jams and the Compass Improv Festival. Find out more at compassimprov.com.
The Book House Wednesday Night Improv Lab is a newer show in a non-traditional venue that is a great place to try things out and to get some of that sweet, sweet stage time. Check out bookhousestl.com for details.
Oh! And my Level 5 graduating class is having their showcases soon! Come see everyone. It’s been a thrilling ride, and there’s incredible talent on that team.
(Optional…well, more optional than the others). Is there a video, podcast episode, blog post etc about improv that you find particularly inspirational or inspiring?
Yeesh. I try to absorb a lot…
I listen to podcasts constantly, and the majority of them are improv or comedy based. Let’s see…Improv Nerd, Comedy Bang Bang, Improv For Humans, Thrilling Adventure Hour (not really improv, I guess), and Dead Author Pod. Those are the most improv-centric ones. As far as one particular episode? I don’t know. All of them. All the time. Compulsively. This is how I know to consume and process things.
As far as improv blogs, of course I read “I’m Making All This Up.” Also “Improv Nerd.” And I love “Splitsider.”
Books. Steve Martin’s autobiography Born Standing Up was pretty incredible, and illustrated how important it is to be well-rounded and to constantly seek improvement and to hone your craft.
I’m reading Improvise by Mick Napier right now, and that’s just awesome in general.
Truth in Comedy by Charna Halpern was instrumental in understanding the roots and concepts of the Harold.
My Amazon Improv wishlist is overflowing with improv books.
Preorder you copy of Improv ABC today to get the limited edition paperback and special bonuses (like extra chapters) that will only be around during this preorder period.
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