People And Chairs – You Can’t Make This Up

As much as I’d like to pretend I’m the only improv blogger out there, it turns out that there are other improvisers doing equally (if not more) kickass work. If you’ve never checked out the website People and Chairs, do yourself a favor and spend some time there after this interview. Sal and Cam have been in the blogging game for years. They’ve interviewed some of improv’s greatest as well as written tons of articles filled with helpful exercises, performance tips, and even created some cool improv merch. They perform, they teach, they write. These guys do it all.

Meet Sal and Cam of People and Chairs:

Why did you get into improv? How long have you been doing it? 

Sally: I’ma let Cameron take this one.

Cameron: I dragged Sally into it. My therapist recommended I take improv to help with my anxiety, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to the class alone. That was 10 years ago.

Why did you start People and Chairs? How has the blog helped you grow as improvisers? 

Sally: I sat on the idea for two years before hitting “publish.” I’d been searching for a blog with improv tips, interviews, articles, exercises, format descriptions, and random funny stuff, all in one place.

I found some great ones (Jimmy Carrane’s blog, Will Hines’ Improv Nonsense, The House That Del Built are all excellent – subscribe now), but still I envisioned something a bit different.

I kept waiting for someone more qualified and cool to write the thing that was in my head. It finally dawned on me that I was supposed to make it happen. Seth Godin gets the credit for that; his blog, and books like Linchpin and What To Do When It’s Your Turn (And It’s Always Your Turn) are life-changing.

How has it helped me grow as improviser? By trying to put into practice the things I’ve learned from our fantastic community.

Cameron: Sally told me the idea and I think I said something like “meh.” So I’m glad she ignores me and does stuff. She’s the doer, I’m the… I’m not sure my role. I want to say support, so ignore the part where I shat on the idea for the blog itself.

Cam and Sal of People and Chairs with Quentin at Back to the Future

What’s your secret for getting interviews from some of improv’s greatest, like TJ Jagodowski, Dave Pasquesi, and Susan Messing?

Sally: We’re really fortunate. I don’t even know how folks like Mick Napier or TJ & Dave found time, between performing, producing, directing, writing books, and running their own theaters. I mean, holy crap!

A big reason for starting the blog was so people across the globe who don’t have access to these amazing people in person can still learn from them.

As for the secret, we simply approached them and asked nicely. And they very graciously said yes.

Cameron: My first reaction to this is that you’re just boldly asking, “How do I get them to be interviewed for my blog?” Love it. Big fan of boldness. Sally already answered, so I’m in color commentary mode now.

What’s your best tip for other improv bloggers out there?

Sally: Don’t wait. If you have an idea, put it out there. Even if it’s not perfect, get it down as best you can, because someone, somewhere will connect with it.

As a copywriter, I learned “When you think it, ink it.” I still carry a Moleskine and pen for that purpose.

Sometimes you’ll just have a kernel of an idea, but if you don’t get it down, it gets lost. I also keep notes on my iPhone. I have about 30 fragments of posts at any one time. Some take a while to complete. One recent post, “All By Myself,” about doing solo improv, sat in the Draft folder for a year.

Cameron: Sally’s great at getting shit out there. I’ll write a post and do nothing with it. She practically does live downloads of the words as she’s typing. As she said earlier, just hit publish.

Cam and Sal of People and Chairs with David Razowsky

What is the best lesson you’ve learned from improv that translates to your real life?

Sally: There are so many things. I’d been a copywriter for 15 years when we started learning improv, and even though I’d had my share of successes, it plussed my skills dramatically.

Improv has made me a better writer, presenter, and collaborator. It’s also helped with everyday life. Simply reminding myself to be present makes every experience more colourful, from riding the subway to eating a bagel to spending time with friends.

Cameron: Improv is my real life now. That’s how much it has changed me. I was in advertising for over 10 years and left that world to do this. This is more fun. Biggest lesson: I allow myself to make mistakes and look foolish in front of others without needing their approval. That’s very freeing.

Do you have anything going on that you’d like to plug?

Sally: We just launched some fun new items in our online store. The Joy/Fear/Improv series was inspired by one of our posts, Improv Explained in Venn Diagrams.

Cameron: I run classes designed to help people with their anxieties through improv. Look for them at Second City, or through playwithfireimprov.com

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