Nathan Kenkel was one of the first improvisers I got to know well. He was a member of my very first indie team, PersonMan, two years ago, and he’s been an awesome friend ever since. He’s incredibly dedicated and creative – writing sketches for SketchPad and on YouTube – and writing comics. But Nathan never graduated from the Improv Shop and currently doesn’t perform on any teams, which gives him some awesome insight into the world of comedy that we don’t often see on this blog.
I really love this interview because Nathan is super down-to-earth and has a lot of great comedy advice, but he shares it from a totally different point of view than my own (and I would guess it’s different from a lot of this blog’s readers as well). So enjoy! And check out his sketch, Chauve, making it’s first public debut next week at the Bareknuckle Comedy Melt Premier Show.
Meet Nathan Kenkel:
Why did you get into improv? Why did you choose to stop taking classes?
I actually started because Ron Moore invited me to take The Improv Shop’s Level 1 class with him. Prior to his invitation, I had never actually seen or heard of long-form improv, only what I had seen on “Whose Line…” Ron and I used to work together and it seemed like a good way to keep in touch, or he just really wanted the $50 discount for having me sign-up.
The biggest reason that I stopped taking classes was that I was spreading myself too thin, as I tend to do. I had to take a step back and look at the number of projects I was committing myself to and focus on the things that were most important to me personally, such as writing. At the time, our team, Person Man, was still practicing regularly, and I was still learning a lot from our fantastic coach, Dan Peterson, so I hadn’t dropped out completely.
I still believe I’ll finish up the classes someday.
What about sketch comedy is more attractive to you than improv or other comedic forms?
As a comedic form, I think sketch is more accessible to a lot more people, in a couple of ways. Obviously, you can film a sketch and send it to a friend in California and they can enjoy the experience as much as you did the first time you saw it. With improv, it’s only happening once, and you’ll never see it exactly the way that it was, and that is really a wonderful thing to be a part of but you can’t really describe it to someone who wasn’t there with you.
Maybe a little less talked about though is how weird long-form improv can be if you’re seeing something like the Harold for the very first time. I’m mostly referring to the opening games. The lights come up, you give a suggestion, and then the 6-12 players on stage all start mimicking the same chirping noise until they turn into fish.
Don’t get me wrong, I really do love improv, but that was a really confusing introduction to something I should have seen performed before I put down the money for a class. Sketch is a bit more straightforward, everyone has seen Saturday Night Live and it’s more understood by a mainstream audience.
How does creating comics influence your sketch comedy? Or is it really all one in the same?
It’s not very different at all really. I prefer to write comics that are a little bit strange, have colorful characters, and contain comedic elements. Some of my shorter comics could probably be turned into sketches with minor adjustments. Also, they both tend to share a lot of the same collaborative aspects. If you’re not willing to work with someone else, an artist or a production team, you’re never going to see a finished product.
Anytime you can just sit down and write constructively, no matter what the format, it will help you to grow and find your voice.
What is your favorite project to date? Why?
My current favorite is a short film script that I submitted for the Jamieson First Shot Film Competition. I’m usually completely sick of most of my projects by the time I’m finished with them, but this one feels different. I’m really excited by the possibilities with this particular story. Even if I don’t win the competition, I want to bring it to life in some way, possibly as a comic book.
Can you share some words of wisdom with those just starting out in comedy?
I’m the worst at giving advice, but look around at all the cool stuff that your friends are doing and support them. Don’t be jealous of their successes, use it as inspiration.
What is the best improv advice or note you have ever received?
Oddly enough, the best note I ever received about improv was when John Langen called me an asshole. He didn’t mean me personally (I don’t think…), but that all of the characters I played were always uncaring jerks. That really jarred me into creating richer characters and not just trying to make people laugh all the time. I really struggled at it for a while, and still do, but I think I’m getting better.
What is the best lesson you’ve learned from improv that translates to your real life?
If John Langen calls you an asshole he’s probably right. Also, I think there is a real reason that everyone focuses on “Yes, and…” so much. It’s something that when you use it in your daily life can have such a big impact. It’s such a very simple tool for moving forward with any type of conversation, whether it’s just making small talk or working on a professional project.
Do you have anything going on that you’d like to plug?
Too many things actually.
Chauve, a sketch I made with some awesome friends will be premiering live at Melt on March 18th, 8:00pm.
Our fellow-up sketch Wester-O’s: The Game of Thrones Cereal:
I’ll also be participating in SketchPad 5 this upcoming April.