Thursday, May 13, 2010

Interview with Tim Baltz

Danielle Solzman: Thanks for joining us today. How are things going in the Windy City?
Tim Baltz: Pretty good! Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are playing SNL this Saturday and they have a new album coming out in June. First studio album for the band in 8 years, Daniel. 8 years. Set aside the knitting equipment you use when you listen to other bands on your iPod. And pick up something that rules.

DS: I don’t own an iPod. When did you decide to go into improv and sketch comedy? When did you have your “Second City” moment? Or IO moment?
TB: In '95 or '96, I was 15, and I went with a friend of mine and our parents to see a Harold show at iO. It blew my mind. It was hilarious, but it was also really poetic, and harmonious, and different. As junior high or high school kids, I think a lot of us rely on movie quotes and falling down to get laughs. I remember in 7th grade, a friend of mine came up to me and told me that another kid in our class was upset that I was getting laughs by quoting the same movie as him. One of the dumbest conversations of my life. Anyway, in contrast to stuff like that, iO just seemed so intricate and wide open. Anything was possible. I made a promise to myself to be in Chicago and try it, and eventually went to college at Loyola University. At first, I was really afraid to suck at it, though, so I took Second City's Beginning Levels (A-E), which were a lot of fun. And then started iO classes three days after I graduation. In 1999, right before college, my aunt and uncle got me tickets to see Second City's Touring Company in Aurora, too. That was cool. I saw Better Late Than Nader after prom once, too, and that left an impression. I didn't really understand what Second City was all about until I got hired, though. To me, it was this big thing that people went to after they honed their skills at iO. Turns out they're both great, I just knew more about iO first and really wanted to play there.

DS: What was your improv training like? Is there any particular thing that an instructor said that has really stuck to you?
TB: I did SC's Beginning Improv Levels in college, then iO's Training Center, then SC's Conservatory from 2005 to mid-2006 when I got hired as an understudy to the Touring Companies. I had some great teachers....I won't list them all, but TJ Jagadowski, Paul Grondy, Peter Grosz, Liz Allen, Jimmy Carrane, Joe Bill.... I've forgotten so many of the great things that they've said. Joe Bill once told me, right before a show, "I'll bet you like tall girls, right?" Starting out, probably the main note I got was about focusing on one thing at a time. Andy St. Clair told me in a rehearsal once that I was like a cat in a room full of toys, and I couldn't just play with one, I tried to play with all of them. So I pushed myself to play with one at a time for a while. Otherwise, one that stuck out was being real on stage. Not being afraid to play yourself, have actual opinions. Anyone can be fake on stage, but some of my early teachers challenged me to play characters either close to myself, or characters that my real opinions could channel through. That was a good one.

DS: When did you join the Second City National Touring Company--and how long were you touring with them?
TB: I got hired in April of 2006, was put into the mightiest RedCo in May of 2006, and toured with them until early January of 2009. It was a really, really great time. Northern Idaho and Pittsburgh are cooler than you think.

DS: When you were promoted to the ETC stage, what was your initial reaction?
TB: Oh man, I chunked my pants, Danielle! I was really excited. I'd been understudying Pat O'Brien's parts on the mainstage throughout 2009 until he went to SNL, so I'd never gotten to understudy the e.t.c stage. It was just really cool. They were running a show I really admired in Studs Terkel's Not Working, so I felt honored to step in. And I had toured with Brendan Jennings for a year and a half, and with Mary Sohn for two and a half years, so that took a lot of the nerves out of the process for me.

DS: What’s the experience been like to be performing on the ETC stage?
TB: Come on, Danielle! It kicks ass!

DS: How does it compare to touring the Big Ten colleges?
TB: Totally different. Do you like apples AND oranges?? Okay, you said yes. But does your mouth recognize that they're different?? It's like that, MAN! Big Ten was a lot of fun, and I learned so much from it. I couldn't have asked for better people to learn from in Steve Waltien, Jordan Klepper and Mike Hall, too.

DS: How did you get involved with the Big Ten Friday Night Tailgate? Now that you are on the ETC stage, will you not be returning in the fall?
TB: I've known Mike Hall, a commentator for Big Ten Network, for several years now. I performed with his sister, Molly, with pH Productions from 2003-2005, and now he shamelessly hits on my girlfriend in front of me. He had me audition the season before, and I had a good audition but Steve Waltien got the gig. So they brought me back this past year and I auditioned well enough to get the job. It was challenging, too, since it was a one-camera operation, but we were constantly improvising. That's a coverage nightmare for a cameraman. I learned so much about production from that job. Every angle of it, from the cameraman, to the sound, to the direction and production aspects. I'm really thankful for that experience. And, it's true, now that I'm on e.t.c I'm out of the running for that job. However, from what I hear, the format of the show is changing a great deal for this upcoming season, so I hadn't been counting on it.

DS: The Big Ten is talking about expanding their conference. Does this mean that IO is going to field an athletic team since they practically sponsor the network, right?
TB: They should've struck while the iron was hot! That's classic Joni Mitchell! (that's a thing I say a lot these days - "classic Joni Mitchell" - please help it catch on, but give me credit)

DS: What can you tell me about the new revue?
TB: I can't tell you too much because Second City is an EMPIRE that would CRUSH us. But the show begins and ends with a song, has a bunch of scenes in the middle, and we improvise in the third act.

DS: What are some of your favorite characters to perform as during a show?
TB: I play a spy with a clubbed foot at his dermatologist's office, a waiter who thinks he's dreaming but is actually serving people without pants, and a gay panda bear that's really picky about what eucalyptus leaves he eats.

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?
TB: The process started, in earnest, on February 9th. Old scenes get replaced with new ones as the director thinks they're ready. We pitch in a variety of ways, from fully-fleshed out scripts, to beat sheets for a scene idea, or just an idea to be improvised, in earnest. Eventually all the old stuff is out and you turn your attention to what the show needs, and all the little, transitional elements that make it feel whole. And you try to get a lot of sleep and do something that isn't comedy related every once in a while. Otherwise you go insane, earnestly.

DS: What do you usually tell new improvisers when they are just starting out?
TB: Stop thinking about trying to be funny and start thinking about how you and your scene partner are communicating on stage. Not just talking, but communicating with your body language and subtext. Once you're paying attention to that, you can lend it importance. When you lend importance to something your scene partner is doing, saying, or conveying, they feel safer. When they feel safer, they can take more risks, access their subtlety, and not just do broad, stand-by, run-of-the-mill improv. If you're both doing that for each other, the sky's the limit. In short, relax and react honestly to the last thing said.

DS: What's your first memory of Second City and what would be your favorite?
TB: My first memory of SC is going to see the Touring Company in 1999 in Aurora, IL. I saw them again after prom, I think in 2002 (I was dating a younger girl, Danielle). I'd also go see the mainstage improv sets while I was taking the A-E classes. Those were the casts for Thank Heaven It Wasn't 7/11, I believe. But, probably my favorite early memory of SC was when I interviewed Joyce Sloane, Producer Emeritus, for a radio documentary I was doing in college. I had called SC and they'd set it up for me. I knew very little about the building, so I didn't know that getting to talk to Joyce was a huge treat (she was SC's first-ever producer). I prepared only 5 questions. Through the first 4, Joyce talked for 40 minutes, which was awesome because it meant I had tons of material to edit. Oh, and the Cubs game was on mute on her TV behind her the entire time. My final question was a real softball, "Do you have a personal favorite anecdote about your time at Second City?" She turned and glanced at the TV, then back at me and said, "....I think you've had just about enough." And, in total silence, I packed up my things and left. It still makes me laugh so hard. She and I have joked about it many times since I've actually gotten to know her.

DS: How did the Family Tree House Boat Accident come about? By accident?
TB: Well, first off, Family Tree House Boat Accident is a show I do with Seth Weitberg and Jordan Klepper every Sunday night at iO, and we create a brand new improv form each week, based on the events of one of our lives that week (we rotate each week). And we've been doing that for at least the last 35 weeks. Before that, though, Seth and I did a two-person show together called Nogoodnicks for almost 5 years. We started it right after we met in Level 2 at iO, and Jordan coached us. We wanted to do a show with Jordan for a while, and this idea is what excited the three of us the most. Last week, we just had Steve Heisler, who reviews for all kinds of publications across Chicago and the country, do a live-review of our show, complete with audience comments on his reviews. It was a blast.

DS: Do you always post crazy personal ads on Craigslist like you did last October?
TB: Sometimes, it's fun. You'd be amazed how many people sent back legitimate responses to something entitled "Man With Tree For Penis Seeks Woman With Chainsaw Pussy." They honestly thought it was a real ad.

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?
TB: People tend to think my path to stardom lies in a Happy Days re-make, or an all-French re-make of Predator, so their post-show comments usually reflect that.

DS: Do you ever get recognized for your work with Sonic or the Friday Night Tailgate?
TB: I've only been recognized by strangers a few times for Sonic. You'd be surprised how many people recognize me from Friday Night Tailgate, though. At least it surprises me. That show was such a fun hybrid of sports, reality tv, improv and Chicago comedy. I think its format will be missed. A guy stopped me outside a shoe store the other day and told me that all of his brothers and his dad sat down each week to watch it. They all went to different Big Ten schools and loved the show.

DS: Thanks again for joining Chicago Improv Celebrity News. Is there anything else you would like to add?
TB: Hey, thank you, Danielle. Stop by and see the e.t.c show the next time you're in town.

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