Friday, April 30, 2010

Interview with Brendan Jennings

Danielle Solzman: Thanks for joining us today. How are things going in the Windy City?
Brendan Jennings: Getting warmer everyday, so awesome.

DS: When did you decide to go into improv and sketch comedy? When did you have your “Second City” moment? Or IO moment?
BJ: I never did any acting until I went to college. My Sophomore year I did a bunch of shows and at the end of the year the theater department had an improv/sketch show and I joined. I was always told that I was funny and should do stand up, but was nervous about going up in front of an audience and bombing. The second I did improv in front of an audience I was hooked. I had someone to work off of, I could still be funny, and it was never the same twice. My Second City moment was with my same college theater group visiting Second City. We were all going to take a workshop with Martin DeMatt, so me and three of my improv nerd buddies drove down from Cincinnati early, whilst the rest flew. Snow storms delayed them so we showed up at SC to find no workshop happening. Martin was awesome and gave us a tour of the whole building, let us sit in on a class, it was amazing. Saw the mainstage show ,4.0 ,that night and was blown away. I made a vow that night to do everything I could to work there. Years later I finally went for the big Chicago move and had my first iO moment, which was seeing the Reckoning and paying to much for one of iO’s “pizzas” It was my first Harold experience and I got all the good and bad in one night. Two weird teams and then The Reckoning was great, this was in POB’s huge glasses days. He was real good.

DS: What's your first memory of Second City and what would be your favorite?
BJ: Oops, I may have covered that in my long winded first answer. I’ll never forget my first conservatory class, that was cool. I was so nervous looking back, I don’t know why it was just a class. I guess I thought you could get hired the same day. That class is where I met Greg Hess (fellow Cook County chap) and I changed his life forever.

DS: What was your improv training like? Is there any particular thing that an instructor said that has really stuck to you?
BJ: My first three years were self taught doing shows with a group my buddies and I started at Xavier. I then moved to Orlando and took a class with Sak Comedy Labs, a great improv theater there, and then worked for them for 3 years or so. I learned a ton doing shows for them every night and moved here feeling pretty polished. I took SC conservatory and iO’s training center at the same time and learned even more. It was exhausting taking both at the same time but worth it. I had great instructors through out, Tim O’Malley, Michael Gellman, TJ Jagadowski, Rachael Mason, and Al Samuels. I really loved how Al taught and he was the guy who settled me down and got me to just enjoy it for a bit. I was so obsessed with getting hired by Second City and he told me, you’re good, it may or may not happen, so why not enjoy where you’re at. It was a great wake up call.

DS: When did you join the Second City National Touring Company--and how long were you touring with them?
BJ: I can’t remember the date. It was right when Andy St Clair went to Vegas. I took his spot. I toured for just over 2 years. I loved it, but then my first son was born and I missed being home and hung up the ol’ touring pants.

DS: What was the Mainstage experience like?
BJ: Amazing. I loved that cast and that show was real fun to run. Canale gave me some fun things to do.

DS: When you came out as the polar bear, did you tend to get awkward experiences from the audience?
BJ: No. It was generally great. If you got an asshole I would do the opposite of Joe and just end it quicker. Joe would crush those cats for hours, I’m too non confrontational. I only had one truly awful person. Some rich couple who couldn’t be bothered or lighten up. We subtly would make fun of them through out the night, I think the woman caught on and left even more unhappy. Terrible people, damn them.

DS: What are some of your favorite characters to perform as during a show?
BJ: In those SC shows, polar bear was great and when I did a spell as Ithamar Enriquez’s understudy, Iggy the Jiffy Lube mechanic was a blast.

DS: How long have you been with the Cook County Social Club and how did you guys get started? Is the social club restrictive like most of these country clubs?
BJ: We’ve been together for five years maybe? I’m real bad with dates if you haven’t noticed. Greg, Bill Cochran and I were in a group called Show Pony together. It was my first squad and we had a blast performing together. We became friends with Mark Raterman who was in an equally great group called Chuckle Sandwich. A few years later Mark, Bill and I were working as secretaries at a law firm down town and Greg worked at the art institute near by. We would meet everyday for lunch, bit for hours and hours over email and eventually decided we should do a show. We wanted to do it at iO real bad, so we wanted it polished and worked for three months or so just rehearsing with Jeff Griggs. We never did a show until we were really happy with the form and we did a short Thursday night run at iO. Charna saw it and kept giving us new nights until we ended up taking the Tuesday night spot over. Last year while I was on Main, Tim Robinson played in my sot and we loved him so much we kept him on. Everyone is welcome to be a member of our club, so please come and join us on Tuesday nights. (Thanks for the plug)

DS: When you found out that you were going to be on ETC stage for the new revue, what was your initial reaction?
BJ: I was thrilled. I moved to this city with the intent of getting a stage at Second City and I did it. Real great phone call to get.

DS: For most people, isn’t it usually the other way around—going from ETC to mainstage? I’m not trying to be rude or anything but how often does it happen that one goes from Mainstage to ETC?
BJ: My Mainstage stints though very long and amazingly, amazingly well done were only in the capacity of understudying. I finished Joe’s and Ithamar’s contract and of course wanted to stay on for the next show, but a lot goes into the decision on who gets a stage there and both times the cards didn’t fall my way. In the end I’m in a great cast, for a great show, and I’m on a better schedule so victory for all.

DS: The Big Ten is talking about expanding their conference. One rumor has the Big East being scrapped to the basketball-only teams and having most of the Atlantic 10 joining them. Any thoughts on the idea of Xavier playing in the Big East?
BJ: I would looooovvvveeee this. In Cincy, UC still gets al the press in college sports. They endlessly rip XU for playing in a weaker conference and make a ton of excuses when we beat them head to head every year. I think X would do great in the big east, much better than UC any way. F those guys.

DS: Any comments on the Xavier recruits for the 2010-11 season?
BJ: We got four great players coming in again. We may lose Jordan Crawford to the NBA, but X always does an amazing job reloading talent. I think we can expect the same results from X next year, though I would love to break out of the elite 8 and get a final 4. I think the program is real close on doing that. This year would have been perfect, damn KSU.

DS: Do you have a Final Four for next year?
BJ: If the tourneys anything like this year I’ll say Xavier, Duke, the Golden Grifs of Canisus and Long Island University.

DS: World Series pick?
BJ: I would love to say the Mets but picking them would jinx them so I’ll say Phillies, Yanks again and hope I jinx them.

DS: What can you tell me about the new revue?
BJ: I can tell you it opens May 2nd and is a laugh riot.

DS: What's the process like when it comes to writing a new revue? How early do new scenes start joining the running order? For the new revue, The Absolute Best Friggin' Time of Your Life, when did this process start?
BJ: We started in February. Early on we’d bring scenes in or improv through ideas, soon the director would try things in the set, then move them into the ro. Billy Bungeroth is our director and he got things into the show real, real early on. It’s fun to slowly take the old show apart.

DS: What do you usually tell new improvisers when they are just starting out?
BJ: Perform baby! Stage time is the best learning tool. Take notes well in class and be a good person to play with and be able to play with anybody. When I say take notes I don’t mean write stuff out I mean when the teacher says something apply it rather than argue. If you disagree you can change it later but people feel notes sometimes are a personal slight, when the teacher is just trying to make you better.

DS: 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. Has this ever happened to you?
BJ: Yeah, it’s exciting and weird. I then feel like I’m going to ruin this person’s life if I don’t make it. But in the moment it’s great. I also somehow get recognized when my family is around, so that’s cool. Especially if it’s a member of my wife’s family, I think it makes them feel I’m less of a bum.

DS: Remember that time you got to meet Kentucky Basketball Coach John Calipari? That was awesome! How did that happen? I heard it had something to do with Brad Morris, right?
BJ: It has everything to do with Brad Morris, that’s my answer to improv and all other questions in life. While Brad was in rehearsals for Taming of the Flu, I got to go out on the road with Uncle’s Brother (Brad, Joe Canale and Tim Meadows) We got to go to UK for a show, it was a pep rally that we did prov for at the end. Before hand Calipari was talking with Tim so Joe and I used that moment to go meet the new king in town. He was amazingly slick, I can see why he’s a good recruiter.

DS: Thanks again for joining Chitown Improv Celebrity News. Is there anything else you would like to add?
BJ: I’m thrilled to do an interview with improv’s leading news paper. Thanks Solzy.

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