It took 10 years but it finally happened.
The first time I saw TJ & Dave was in the old iO Chicago, by Wrigley Field over 10 years ago. Both the late Jason R. Chin and UK improv heroes of mine, The Maydays, told me that seeing TJ & Dave was a must. At the time Chicago was still the Mecca of improv. A hub of world class improv theatres, classes and outstanding shows. Among it all, was a show that had people queuing around the block on a Wednesday night. It was always a dream since then to bring them to Dublin and past efforts usually ran aground. Until this year when schedules aligned and the Dublin improv scene had grown to a level where there would be organic interest. Of course, after many years of me blabbing on to my own improv students about how great their show is, would their Irish debut be of the same standard to the shows I had seen myself?
TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi‘s show is a household name in the improv world offering an experience that is often imitated but rarely duplicated in the improv art form. It’s easy to see why people queued for tickets when it was a weekly show in Chicago. They offer a truly grounded experience, with authentic connections between characters (of which there are often many) brought to life by their stellar performances. There is no suggestion, no perceived format and often, no apparent plot. It’s usually a show that features a slice of life view of the world of the characters they represent. It’s rarely an extraordinary day either. Yet despite all this, what unfolds is magical journey that gives both a rich view of the lives on the characters on stage, brought together through comedy and drama. Every show is grounded, authentic and can be a view in to the lives of the people around us.
The nuances of their performances are quite special. I’m sure with the countless shows they have under their belt at this stage in the career, they have played many waiters, managers, employees, chefs, cops etc. However, their depth they bring to those characters means that it doesn’t feel repetitive. From the physicality, the mannerisms, the subtle changes to the accent or voice, their POVs, it all really does bring their characters to life in a way that never feels 2-dimensional or like a caricature.
Here’s a few tips that I have picked up from watching TJ & Dave (and being a fanboy) over the years:
- Notice everything, but don’t make everything an issue.
Everything means something on stage, including doing nothing. The performer may not even be aware of it, but even the way they drink their coffee, or brush their hair is telling is something; their mood, their attitude, their point of view. It’s all there in front of us. However, that doesn’t mean we have to make an issue out of everything either. Just like real life, sometimes characters are naturally quiet, or extrovert, or annoying. Today doesn’t have the day their annoying behaviour is an issue, or the quietness means they’re about to leave you. Instead, use that information do tell you something about the characters and their relationship. In other words, don’t force it.
- Just enjoy the damn coffee
I’ve always found TJ and Dave to demonstrate stellar object and environment work. The nuances of it too are quite remarkable. As improvisers, we know to generally avoid talking about what we are doing to avoid making that the focus. But sometimes as improvisers we do the object work for a few seconds, and ditch the action once the dialogue beings. Instead, we should learn to savour the action. Enjoy drinking your coffee, or eating your meal. Again, don’t make it the focus, but do treat it with the same unconscious attention you would in real life.
- Share and Embrace the “Conflict” together
Again another common bit of advice we often find in improv is to avoid conflict. I prefer to refer to use terminology of tension, be it positive or negative tension. (Ultimately we want to move toward the tension and face it, rather than deflect away from it). If there is negative tension between the characters, share it. Take ownership of your flaws (even if identified by the other performer) but don’t let it take over. Don’t deflect either. “Yes, and” is very useful here. Accept your flaw, and justify it without making a joke of it.The tension between the characters doesn’t always have to result in a cathartic scene finisher. Sometimes its satisfying to see bubble throughout.
TJ & Dave’s Influence on Me
TJ & Dave, was one of the influential factors on the evolution of my own Neil+1 show, where I perform with a random non-improviser audience member. It helped me ground myself in narrative improv and open up to make more room for drama to unfold on stage and not just let the focus be comedy all the time. But there is something a little more than that, and it’s the very nature of the structure itself – it’s a duo.
Duos are often my most favourite type of show to do. There’s something special about the intimacy shared on stage (as you are usually on stage all the time) that can really bring the performers, and audience together. Lloydie James Lloyd uses the analogy of an ensemble show being like working with your family, and a duo show like working with your best friend or a twin with whom you have an unspoken code. There’s no let up on the action, and no fighting for stage time either. All that you have is an empty stage and your partner. The chasm that exists should be filled by the trust you create and the boundaries you set. Duos can naturally lead to improvisers offering even more unconditional support for one another and stronger active listening skills.
I’m been fortunate to perform in many duos over the years with many stage partners. Aside from my duo show with former ImprovBoston regular, Jenna O’Brien, in Time Card and the multitude of guests in Neil+1 in the 11 years of the show, I have also performed in “You and Me” with actor Michael Patrick Thornton (Private Practice, The Exorcist), Lydia Hensler (UCB), Vinny Francois (Improv College Montreal), Curt Mabry (Zmack Comedy Shanghai) and in “72 Hours” which debuted in The PIT, New York. Each show has brought a unique artistic joy with each of the performers I was lucky to share the stage with.
As C.S. Lewis once said, “Come live with me, and you’ll know me”. I feel the improv equivalent of this is, “Come improvise in a duo with me, and you’ll know me”.
Now Its Your Turn
I’m running a 1 day Workshop entitled “Just the Duo of us” which focuses on developing grounded duo shows and scene work in Dublin on Saturday 11th November. You don’t need to be in a duo to attend, and the workshop will really help enhance your 2 person scene work in a meaningful way. For more info, please click here.