Just two months after starting classes, I was watching a show and a group of girls came up behind me, giggling. I figured one of them was going to ask me out.
Analicia (who I didn’t know at the time): How old are you?
Analicia: Do you like pretty ladies?
Me (in my head): This is the weirdest way to ask me out.
Analicia: Great. Here’s a picture of my sister. Would you take her on a date?
And that’s how I met Analicia.
But in a short year and a half, she has become one of my closest friends, and we’ve spent many a three-hour dinner debating and discussing improv. She’s incredibly supportive on stage and off – serving as a high-energy teammate on my random pick-up team, Oh My Sh*t, coordinating an improv orientation to share her experiences with new students, and editing this fine website. I can’t thank her enough for all of the stuff she does.
But she works for my grandfather so I feel like I am justified in taking advantage of her kindness, right? Right?
Meet Analicia Kocher:
Why did you get into improv? How long have you been doing it?
They say life is improv, so I guess I’ve been doing it for twenty-six years. That’s what you mean, right?
I first discovered improv, like most twenty-somethings, by watching the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? I thought shortform was AWESOME. My drama club friends and I would play games and pretend we were the next Colin Mochrie. I remember doing an Ask Jeeves search when I was fourteen or so: “When I grow up I want to be on SNL. How can I achieve this?” A treasure trove of answers filled my computer screen (but very, very slowly because I had dial-up internet). This fueled my teenage dreams of studying at Second City, hitting it big, and becoming the coolest, funniest girl in America.
Flash forward ten years to me as a soul-crushed adult making false teeth in a dental laboratory for sixty hours a week. I was struggling to do stand-up at local open mics —my comedy dreams fading like Marty McFly’s photographed hand. One night I met a guy at HandleBar who knew a guy who was taking classes at The Improv Shop. “WHAT?! It’s not too late to give longform a go right here in my own city?!” So, I went to a show. I fell in love. That was two years ago.
How would you describe your style of play? In other words, what sort of scenes/shows do you have the most fun doing?
To me, the coolest part of improv is that it’s different every single time. I think my “style” of play depends on my mood, my teammates, or how much coffee I drank that day. (Maybe this is why I did so poorly with stand-up.) The constant, I’m hoping, is that I’m always a solid, reliable teammate.
Big collaborative activities make me happy. I love super fast-paced high energy physical comedy stuff. If I could do a pseudo-Harold that was somehow half organic opening/half third beat run, I’d be in heaven.
One of my biggest pet-peeves is a blank stage. If a scene is edited and there’s an awkward lull before the next scene, I feel each second pass like a slow motion near-death in an action movie. Everything is muted, except the deafening sound of my heartbeat. I’ll rush out to fill the void. Then I’m like, “Oh, crap. What do I do now?”
To be honest, I don’t even remember many of my “best” scenes/shows. Sometimes I step on stage and go into this trance. I’m moving and talking without any thought or control. I’m those people who convulse in the church aisle, speaking in tongues. I’m having the time of my life. It’s like when Tom Sawyer is perched in the rafters watching his own funeral. Surreal. I hear the crowd laughing and see my teammates having fun and I don’t fully comprehend that I’m a part of it ‘til the lights go out and it’s over. Whoa, that was awesome… What happened?
The last show I did with my independent team Oh, My Sh*t! (which I play on with blog extraordinaire, Ben Noble, and fellow interviewee Jaysen Cryer) was probably the most recent example of this. My teammates and I were like cream being churned into sweet, sweet improv butter. I love those guys.
Can you regale us with a tale about the best or worst scene/show you have ever done?
Ugh. Two words: Aunt Voula (or maybe: total failure).
You know that part in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding where Aunt Voula is describing the lump she had on the back of her neck? I loved doing accents as a kid. I especially loved parroting the lump bit for my friends, parents, and anyone who would listen. I’d do it over and over again. It cracked my dad up every time. On the opening night of my Level 5 student showcase at The Improv Shop, my parents were in the audience. Like any kid, I wanted to shine in a, “look, Ma, no hands,” kind of way. I took center stage as an old gypsy fortune teller with – you guessed it – the Aunt Voula voice. I was so sure my shtick (say “so sure shtick” ten times fast) was going to kill it that I hadn’t focused on anything else. It did kill it, but not in a good way. It bombed. HARD. When nobody laughed I realized I had nothing to fall back on; not even my very talented teammate could save me. I could feel my dad’s gaze from the audience like a blinding interrogation lamp. I panicked.
The worst part is that I thought I could redeem myself by doing a time-dash in the second beat. I brought “Aunt Voula” back. WHY? It was even more painful the second time. Jesus, Analicia, the horse is already dead. Stop beating it! Oof.I think the valuable lesson here is DON’T TRY TO BE FUNNY. Don’t try at all, really. Just listen to the last line said and react naturally.
Furthermore, if something fails, brush it under the rug. Don’t brood over it and make yourself feel lousy. Confidently move onto the next thing. Trust me, the only person who cares about a crumby scene the next day is YOU.
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 a real estate firm in a fancy-pantsy high-rise building in Downtown Saint Louis. I’m one part agent/property manager and one part 1950s Girl Friday type secretary to two adorable octogenarians. We fill out our checks with a typewriter and a check protector. It’s precious.
When I’m not improvising or getting paid to make coffee with the perfect amount of powdered creamer and Sweet ‘n’ Low, I’m usually out dancing with my friends. Or busy crafting some silly costume in preparation for dancing with my friends (or to wear anywhere, really). I like thrift shopping and antiquing and dumpster diving. I have been known to carry furniture on my back like an ant or a Sherpa for blocks. BLOCKS. I had a yard sale once where I sold all of the “trash” I’d been collecting in my basement. I made $300 bucks! Can you believe it?
I’m super fascinated with people. I like to go anywhere I can eavesdrop and people watch (yes, I’m a creep). I’m also addicted to reading auto/biographies and memoirs. I just love stories!
The ones my old men bosses tell are pretty great. Here’s a conversation I heard today:
Old Man Boss #1: Did you hear Odie Berkovitz kicked it over the weekend? Heart-attack. Only 77. What a shame.
Old Man Boss #2: Don’t tell my wife. She’ll be in a fit all week.
OMB#1: Linda? When’s she not in a fit? Heh. Say, what’s this gotta do with Odie?
OMB#2: Oh, come now. Don’t you remember? I used to go steady with Odie’s wife, Nancy.
OMB#1: I thought he was married to Shirley Czarnecki?!
OMB#2: No, no, no, that was his FIRST wife. Then he and Nancy Rosenfeld hooked up in ‘68. Anyway, she was the broad I took to your wedding! Don’t you remember when nobody could find us at the reception ‘cause we were necking in the bathroom?
Can you share some words of wisdom with those just starting out?
Don’t over think it. Just have let loose and have fun.
What is the best improv advice or note you have ever received?
One late night at Courtesy Diner I asked John Langen to give me feedback in a no-bars-held kind of way. He looked up from his hash browns with a twinkle in his eye and that classic John Langen smirk. “Surprise me.” I was expecting a whole laundry list of things, but that was it. Surprise me. I’ve thought about this ad nauseam. Maybe it was 2am and he didn’t feel like doling out advice. Who knows? In any event, here’s my conclusion:
Don’t be stale. Try new things. Get out of your comfort zone. Go hard every time. Be bold. If you think of an idea, don’t hesitate. GO WITH IT. Even if a shtick goes well, don’t repeat it unnecessarily. Use shows both good and bad to fuel better, newer art. Don’t get let yourself settle. Always stay searching and learning.
Even if you don’t realize it, you’re always growing and changing. That’s just how life works. But you can bloom much fuller and brighter if you keep your mind open to everything you encounter. It’s like this weird video game I played with my cousin Jimmy once when I was, like, fifteen. (A quick Googling has taught me it’s called Katamari Damacy.) You’re a ball that rolls over cities and farms. As you roll over things, like buildings and cows and cakes, you collect them on your ball-body. The more you collect, the bigger you become. It’s super weird. What I’m trying to say here is, the more life-stuff you roll over, the bigger the improv-ball you’ll become…I think?
(A note to Mr. Langen: I probably totally misconstrued your comment and now I’m name-dropping you and babbling about bizarre video games. Don’t hate me.)
What is the best lesson you’ve learned from improv that translates to your real life?
If you know me, you probably already know this. If you don’t know me, please know that – despite being bubbly and gregarious on the outside (and mostly inside) – I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety for much of my life.
So how has improv alleviated this? I’ll tell you:
Calm down. There are no mistakes. Just think on your feet and go with your gut. See the good in people. Be vulnerable. Let people get to see the REAL YOU. Be honest and people will respect you for it. Look out into the world for some people you like. Trust them, treat them the way you want to be treated, and together you’ll create a safety net. With them, you ain’t gots to worry.
Also, you know, just live in the now. Don’t dwell on the past or fixate on the future. Be happy with what you have at THIS very moment. Let your plans and worries go.
Do you have anything going on that you’d like to plug?
So there’s a hilarious group of ladies I met through The Improv Shop. (If you know ‘em, I’ll do some more name-dropping: Kate Kovarik, Katie Nunn, Christen Ringhausen, and Melissa Darch). We call ourselves Meat Collage, and we’re working on a skitcom (a term I just made up about a show comprised of tiny skits). Keep an eyeball out for it on The Youtube. I’m pretty excited about it.
My independent team, Foxymoron, has a new promo video coming out soon, too. It involves hazmat suits. Get ready.
What St. Louis improviser(s) would you like to see answer these questions?
Bryan Fornachon is my coach on Foxymoron and my teammate on RIGHT? He’s also one of my best friends in the world. The things that come out of his mouth, man… Brilliant.
(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?
I find this TedXTalks presentation particularly useful when it comes to improvising (for those readers with the attention span of a gnat, tune in after about ten minutes).
There’s the obvious connection that your facial expressions and body language will affect how your character is perceived. Really embracing a character is a great way to get out of your head and help your scene partner do the same. It’s kind of like that exercise where you lead a scene with a body part and let it inspire you.
More importantly, my body language helps me take charge.
There are days when I’m about to pee my pants with excitement before a show. There are other days when I am feeling gloomy and want to hide under a rock far, far away from everyone and everything—especially a room full of people waiting to be entertained. But ya gotta go up. Ya gotta face your fear. So right before my team is announced I sneak to the ladies’ room and duck into the handicapped stall. I close my eyes, straighten my posture, take a deep breath and tell myself, “Analicia, you are a strong American woman. You’re smart and creative and YOU CAN DO THIS. Now, stop being a whiny loser and knock this show out of the park.” Amazingly, IT WORKS. So just remember, folks, each and every one of you is a strong, American woman. Yeah, even you, Jaysen Cryer. (Now, get off the internet and do something worthwhile.)