The first time I saw Jaysen Cryer on stage, I admired the risk he took in committing to a British accent in his scenes. The second time I saw Jaysen Cryer perform, I thought, “Wow. Why does this jackass always do a crappy British accent in his scenes? He’s not impressing anyone.”
It took me a few weeks to figure out Jaysen was actually British, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that he was super talented. Gifted in make-em-ups, scripted comedy, drama, videography, kickball, and Snapchat, Jaysen’s an all-around all-star and a good-looking Brit to boot. He’s constantly innovating and devising new ways to deliver his unique brand of comedy to St. Louis and the Internets.
He currently performs with Harold team Empty Full of Donuts as well as a slew of independent teams, including a Twister-based improv experiment called Left Hand Blue. He is also a member of sketch-comedy group The Exacerbaters.
Meet Jaysen Cryer:
Why did you get into improv? How long have you been doing it?
As far as making up unscripted comedic stuff, you have to go waaaaaay back to when I was 16 years old. My best friend and I used to do a fake radio show. It started as a project for his media course, and then we just did it because we enjoyed doing it. If it hadn’t been the mid 90’s we probably would have made podcasts, instead this stuff was literally just recorded onto cassettes for us to enjoy later. I would play all the guests and he was the DJ. We continued this all the way up to 2004. We even made a short film with one of the characters created through these “made up’ sessions, which was 90% improvised dialogue. (I need to find and post that sometime – I have it on VHS!).
My first experience doing improvised theatre would have been at school. As part of our A-level exam we had to create a ‘polished improvisation’ piece. Basically, we devised a one-act play without ever writing anything down, and then rehearsed it to performance level.
Fast forward to 2007. I’d been in St. Louis for about 4 months and I was looking to do more acting. I responded to an ad looking for actor/writers to do sketch comedy (which, at that point, was what I wanted to do). When I turned up to the comedy club at Union Station, I met The Laughmasters. They were doing short form improv shows. At that point in my life, I had only seen one short form show (outside of “Whose Line…”) and it scared the shit out of me. I did, however, join the group and learn some of the rules of Improv. I learned the best way, by performing 4 shows a week! As someone who’d done mainly stage acting all my life, I loved the instant gratification of getting up on stage without weeks of rehearsal, of discovering something in front of the audience.
The club closed, and it was another 4 years before I would dip my toe back in the ocean of improv. I saw my first longform show at the Tin Can in 2011—I believe it was Magic Ratio—and fell in love…with Andy Sloey. I instantly saw that I knew nothing about Improv, and I started regularly attending shows until I could get the chance to take classes.
As for the short answer – I did it for the chicks.
How would you describe your style of play? In other words, what sort of scenes/shows do you have the most fun doing?
One of the things I love most about Improv is that no two shows/scenes/or styles of play have to be the same. Some days I love doing super gamey scenes. Other days I really want to dig in and do something super serious. I even enjoy bad scenes now.
I like the idea that a scene comes from your scene partner. How are they feeling? What are they looking for? That’s where your style comes from. You can initiate any kind of anything; your scene partner’s reaction is going to inform the style of play. More specifically, I had the honor to practice and play with “People?” The style of that team is very conversational improv, like you’re watching a group of real people interact. I loved that.
“Empty, Full of Donuts” my current house team, has a much bigger, high stakes, over the top style. When we’re on it, the fact that we’re performing a ‘show’ can go out the window because we’re just having too much fun. Is that good or bad? I do improv because it’s fun, so I say good.
Can you regale us with a tale about the best or worst scene/show you have ever done?
Oh god. So many contenders for both. I’ve been involved in some Serendipitous Patiches where I’ve honestly questioned my status as veteran improviser. Probably the worst overall show I can remember is the infamous (for us) “Tentacle Porn” show from EFoD’s level 5 showcase. I think the audience still enjoyed it—but it’s the classic example of the suggestion infecting the show. Every scene was about tentacle porn. We couldn’t step away from it. I tried, I believe, to do something different—but that ended up being the worst scene in the whole show.
Best show ever? Hmmm…in recent memory our “Brass Eyed Monkey” Harold, really felt like the most complete Harold I’ve ever been a part of. It really felt like we said something.
I’m going to go with this though: The day I am part of the best improv show ever… is the day I quit. There’s always something you realize later that could have enhanced the show. Improv is not a good art for perfectionists.
What do you do to find inspiration for improv? In other words, do you have a life? If so, how do you spend it (besides pretending you are someone else on stage in front of large groups of people)?
I work at Trader Joe’s, and I find that I’m basically improvising my way through that too. Aren’t we all just pretending to be something all the time? I am still pursuing a career as an actor, but I’m definitely getting in my own way with that. I keep writing sketches and short films to highlight my friends acting abilities and keep forgetting to go and do my own stuff.
Can you share some words of wisdom with those just starting out?
First, everyone thinks they suck at first. Most of us still think we suck on a regular basis. The best thing to know is this: It doesn’t matter. The more you do it, the better you’ll become. Once you stop caring if something you does sucks or not it will just keep being better. It’s better to suck with intent than to be mediocre and apologize.
Other than that—the usual stuff you hear: Go to shows, watch as much as you can. Find stage time. St. Louis is one of the best Improv scenes for students getting stage time, or so I hear, so take advantage of that. Do workshops. When you get a note—work on that thing. For the next few practices forget about everything else and concentrate on that one note. Once that’s second nature, work on the next thing.
Buy me drinks at shows. That’s probably the most important one.
What is the best improv advice or note you have ever received?
Something Eric Christensen told us during our level 4 classes: Don’t be polite. At first, I felt like that went against the improv idea of supporting your scene partner, agreeing and saying yes, but in a show, sometimes the best way to support is to get out there first or to edit. A show quickly looses its energy if everyone is waiting to let other people do their bit. The other thing I learned during his classes is that there are literally no rules to what you can and can’t do with improv. If you can physically do something, it can be part of an improv show.
Another good one I have heard from a few different people in workshops, Greg Hess and Jason Schotts specifically, probably others: Don’t tell us what you’re feeling, SHOW US. ”Hey, I’m really angry at you,” said in a passive voice, does not make an entertaining scene. “WTF! ARRGGHH!” advancing towards the person as if you want to murder them. Much funnier. On stage. Don’t do that in real life.
What is the best lesson you’ve learned from improv that translates to your real life?
Listening, and saying yes. I got the saying yes way back when I did short form. I only really started living it since I did longform though. Many of the greatest adventures, best friends, and most fun things I’ve done in the last few years have been from saying ‘yes’ to things I otherwise may have said no to. The listening part is important because you’ve really got to know what you’re saying yes to. Sometimes a “no” is an acceptable “yes.”
What St. Louis improviser(s) would you like to see answer these questions?
Is there a video, podcast, blog post etc about improv that you find particularly inspirational or inspiring?
I’m terrible at looking at stuff online. I’m a terrible student.
If you liked Jaysen Cryer’s interview, you might be interested in my book, Improv ABC: The A-Z Guide to Becoming an Unstoppable Improviser. Just enter your email below and I will send you two free chapters—no strings attached.