Danielle Solzman: Thanks for joining us today. How are things going in the Windy City? Or Los Angeles? Or wherever it is you call home these days?
Joe Canale: No problem. What day is it again? Where am I joining you? What is happening? Oh, LA is great, that is where I pay rent, though I am in Chicago as often as I can afford to be to see my daughter, Sofia Mia and my lover Charna Halpern.
DS: When did you decide to go into improv and sketch comedy? Did you have a “Second City” moment when you knew it was what you wanted to do?
JC: When I was in college, this dirty scummy theatre director named REDACTED told me that I should move to Chicago because they have this great theatre called The Second City. Basically he was moving to Chicago and needed to con someone into being his roommate, I was high enough to fall for the ruse. Once I got into classes I realized it was the only thing I was good at.
DS: What's your first memory of Second City and what would be your favorite?
JC: Second City classes? Or working there? I guess I’ll decide since this interview is really just you sending me a bunch of questions over e-mail. My first memory is being the first person to arrive for my first class at second city. I took a seat in the ETC theatre and judged everyone as they came in. I tried to pick the person I thought smoked as much weed as I did and be their friend. I turned out to be right with my guess and Bob Skupien and I did nearly every improv thing together for the next 5 years. My favorite memory of Second City is every minute I spent performing on the mainstage.
DS: What was your improv training like?
JC: Typical. Some teachers I liked, some I hated, didn't matter. Stage time was the key. My best training in improv was hosting the Jam at IO on Saturday nights. My best teachers were Susan Messing, Mick Napier, and Del, because in Del's class you didn't get much stage time and you really didn't fuck around, so you were really concentrated on being your best . I have since learned that fucking around is the only reason to do improv.
DS: When did you join the Second City National Touring Company--and how long were you with them?
JC: I was hired shortly after I returned from working at Boom! Chicago (early 2000). I spent 3 months in Green Co holding a spot for John Lutz, who was doing a show at IO at the time. I then understudied for about a year then got hired permanently into Blue Co where I worked for almost exactly one year.
DS: What was the Boom! Chicago experience like abroad?
JC: The Boom! Chicago experience was unbelievable. On par with my mainstage experience, I worked with some very talented performers, made lifelong friends and did shows for money in a country where smoking pot was legal. I also became a much better physical comedian, because no one in Holland was laughing at my Chicago White Sox jokes. I have since nearly completely abandoned physical comedy so that I can stand around and be clever. A real shame.
DS: What was your initial reaction when you first found out you would be on Mainstage prior to your first revue? And which show was it?
JC: At first, I asked Robin Hammond if I could do the ETC because they have a much better schedule. And I figured I could do more shows that way (do a couple on etc then a few main drainers), but I was pretty excited overall. This is going to make me sound like an arrogant asshole but by the time I got hired on the mainstage I felt like it was overdue. I knew who else was out there and I had performed with everyone and I think I more than held my own. I don't recommend this attitude however; because it seems like in "show business" merit is not always at the top of the list of reasons to get hired. Nor is being an entitled prick. But in Chicago, it worked out pretty good for me. Anyway my first show was called "WAR!! Now in it's 4th smash year!!" (which must have been a nightmare for the people in the box office selling the show over the phone). It's widely regarded as the 3rd best show ever in the history of The Second City right behind two of my other shows and in front of one of my other shows.
DS: What are some of your favorite characters to do?
JC: Well, when you ask me what my favorite "character" was I would say "joe canale" because i'm not a huge character guy. I enjoyed the art institute scene that I wrote, most likely because I am talking through the entire scene (however, without the bugged out eyes and masterful expressions of Brad Morris, the scene would not have been what it was). I also enjoyed any opportunities to improvise in the shows, which is a nice segue to your next question which I am reading right now.
DS: What is it about the polar bear? Is it true that Brendan does such a better job?
JC: The polar bear, for anyone who didn't see "America: all Better!" is a bit where I come out on stage with a giant polar bear head on and do some bullshit bits about global warming, but truly I am just interacting with the audience with very little scripting for about 6 (or if it's going well 11) minutes. Brendan Jennings (who understudied me when I left mainstage and is now on the ETC) was funny as well, pretty much anyone can get laughs with that head on. I have said that Brendan did some of my parts better than me, likely because he is a fun person to watch on stage and he was working with brilliantly constructed material. That's actually bullshit, I didn't write anything in the last show I did at Second City, though I didn't really let anyone else write anything I said either. By that point I pretty much knew how a process worked at second city, and I knew how Matt Hovde, our director worked. I knew that Matt would allow each person to make each part they were in their own. So I did. I brought in a few ideas that got in, but my main goal was to make every part I was in funny, while still serving the original idea of the scene. The polar bear idea came about only because that head was being stored in Kelly Leonard’s office, as soon as I saw it I knew it would be in the show.
DS: I want to talk about the roast at IO for a minute. Was there any roaster there that really surprised you?
JC: Again for context, before I moved to LA, there was a roast for me at IO. Bob Kulhan sent his roast in to Brad Morris, who chose to have Danielle Solzman read it. That was the biggest surprise and likely the highlight of the night.
DS: What are your thoughts on the process when it comes to writing a new revue? How early did new scenes start joining the running order?
JC: My thoughts on the process were outlined in my polar bear answer. Just do what the director assigns, and try to make everyone’s scene work, and try to avoid judgment of anyone's (including your own) ideas. Everything else should work itself out. Obviously, this is an incomplete answer, but at this point I’ve typed a lot.
DS: How did Uncle's Brother come about? With your move out west, how often do you think that there will be shows at iO?
JC: Uncle’s Brother came about because Tim Meadows did the set on the Main Stage a few times, liked Brad and I, asked if we wanted to do a run of shows at IO, we said yes, shows were funny= Uncle’s Brother. Until Brad moves to LA (summerish?), we will still do shows about once a month, as I come into Chicago a lot. We have two shows in May, one on May 2 and one on May 23. Come to the shows.
DS: What do you usually tell new improvisers when they are just starting out?
JC: Stage time, stage time, stage time. And watch good shows. Mine mostly.
DS: Around the time of the 50th anniversary weekend, Andy was quoted in the AP about having to sign an autograph for an audience member and was flattered when they said they can't wait to see him on SNL. Have you had any similar moments?
JC: Yes, people often say they can't wait to see people on the mainstage when they get on SNL. I tell them that I am 10 years too old to be on that show. I like to crush their dreams.
DS: Lazy Tuesday or Lazy Sunday?
JC: If you are truly lazy, you don't know or care what day it is.
DS: Thanks again for joining Chitown Improv Celebrity News. Is there anything else you would like to add?