Although Todd Towers and I started taking improv classes at the same time, he and I didn’t really meet until our Level 4 class, probably because I was loud, outspoken, and annoying while Todd was more reserved.
That yin and yang between our two personalities is what I love about hanging out with Todd and playing with him on stage. We always have great scenes because we come at characters from different angles – me with larger than life reactions and game moves and Todd with centered and nuanced characters that seem real.
Since that meeting in Level 4, Todd has taken over the Improv Shop stage – as my teammate on Bluebeard and in last year’s Halloween Sketch Revue to this year’s Improvised Missed Connections and on the new house team, Burnside.
Meet Todd Towers:
Why did you get into improv? How long have you been doing it?
The main reason I tried improv was to finally attack my fear of being on a stage. There’s something about the spotlight or being the center of attention that just made me freeze. When I turned four, my parents rented ponies for my surprise birthday party, but instead of being excited like all the other kids, I ran inside and hid. I actually remember this way too well. It took my parents over an hour to get me to come outside, and we all know the hourly price for some ponies aint cheap! I wish I had a time machine so I can go back and tell that little four year old that everything is going to be alright and that one day, he will stand on a stage and tell dick jokes.
It’s been two years since I had my first improv class at the Improv Shop. That was my introduction to improv. I was hounded by Steve Raines to sign up, and after months of making (bullshit) excuses, I wandered into my first class. I was hooked right away. Not just with the art form of improv but the community. People were supporting every dumb thing I said without hesitation. Halfway through level one, I noticed that I wasn’t afraid to be on stage with a bright light in my face. It was a great feeling.
This past fall, you performed in the Improv Shop’s Halloween Sketch Revue. How did that help you grow as an improviser or a comic in general?
The Halloween show was my introduction to sketch comedy. I quickly learned that I am not a stage actor. Not yet. Hopefully one day, but like everything, it is a learning process. Luckily, the cast was amazing. Everyone was devoted to putting on a great show. I would just watch them rehearse and then steal their moves. My favorite part of the whole experience was the rehearsals. We would write a few premises and then just improvise. Once we found the funny, we would improvise the scene again and then write the sketch. Am I answering this question? I hope so!
I have been trying some new projects and the most recent is standup comedy. My first time up was a lot of fun. I felt like that guy that calls into talk radio shows and intros his question with “long time listener, first time caller.” I have loved standup for a very long time, but just like the ponies, I was too nervous to even try. Not anymore! I’m going to ride off into the sunset or at least until I encounter my first heckle. There seems to be some similarities between sketch and standup. You write down something you think is funny and then you have to deliver it in a way that you think is funny. Bobby Jaycox is probably shaking his head right now. Also, do I get a prize for referencing Bobby Jaycox?
What has performing every Friday with the Improvised Missed Connections show taught you about improvisation?
Oh boy, that show has taught me how many versions of weird exists all around us, but it also has taught me that I need to branch out as an improviser. I noticed I tend to play a handful of the same characters a lot, and I want to be able to play any type of character. We take Craigslist missed connections submissions from crazy people around St. Louis and improvise off of their weird lives. I’m obsessed with this form. I love crazy people. They’re underrated in my opinion. I just need to learn to play the straight guy instead of the guy that thought he had a moment with the lady in the blue Ford Focus on Hanley Road near the Taco Bell.
Why did you choose to audition for the new house teams? What are you most looking forward to now that you’ll be joining the new house team, Burnside?
I auditioned because I wanted to keep growing as an improviser. I still feel like a rookie that got his first call up to play with veterans that have scars older than him. Burnside is made up of improvisers that I really haven’t had the chance to perform with so I’m just looking forward to that opportunity. Plus, Andy Sloey is our coach and I am really excited about that, but he keeps using surfing metaphors during our practices. He is our Mr. Miyagi.
Can you share some words of wisdom with those just starting out?
Commit 100%. Every scene you’ll be in needs you to commit or the scene will go flat. If you’re in a scene and someone says that you’re a farmer, don’t do a half-ass impression of a farmer that you saw on TV. BE A FUCKING FARMER. The audience respects commitment. They’re going to know that you don’t know anything about farming and they will eat that shit up.
Also, don’t worry about getting laughs. Yes, it feels good to hear people laugh, but some laughs are cheap. I saw a scene where no one in the audience laughed, but the guy sitting in front of me said “Oh my God, that’s something my grandpa would’ve said.” That scene affected that guy. It was cool to see and something that stuck with me.
What is the best improv advice or note you have ever received?
Have a real reaction. Don’t just say “Oh, no that’s bad” if your scene partner gets shot. Give them a real reaction. I did a workshop with Greg Hess and he had us do this exercise to improve our reactions. I failed horribly. He kept making me do it again and again. Finally, I reacted like a real human would and I got to sit down.
What is the best lesson you’ve learned from improv that translates to your real life?
Shut up and listen. That sounds mean, but it’s not near as mean as not listening to your scene partner because you’re too busy thinking of some stupid bit. Just like when someone talks to you on the street or at work or at Ponderosa. Listen to what they’re saying because it is important. My parents can vouch for me when I say that I am not the best listener. Can’t tell you how many times my father has said the words “what did I just say?” It’s a weakness that I have, but since starting improv, I have made it a little less of a weakness. Progress!
Do you have anything going on that you’d like to plug?
(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?
If you like Todd Towers, then you might like our other interviewees as well. Like us on Facebook to stay up to date on our latest and greatest improv posts.