How To Keep The Romance Alive in Your Improv Group: An Uncalled For Love Story
"I’m going to answer this in the most humble way I can think of. That is that, we are like the Beatles."
The boys talk about everything...and leaving the Fringe.
by Émilie Charlebois
After some record breaking email correspondence, I sat down for a few beers with Montreal Fringe veterans, Uncalled For’s Dan Jeannotte, Anders Yates and Matt Goldberg (also known as the 13th Hour’s Sweet Sweet Jimmy Priest, Zack Winters and Rufus O’Hallahan) to talk about relationships, being a nerd and of course the Fringe. It may have been the alcohol, the nachos, or the eleven year history they carry with them, but there was definitely a lot of love in the room.
What really brought us together was blood type. We’re all compatible, we’re all AB negative.
Charpo: So, let’s start at the beginning. What really brought you guys together?
Dan: What really brought us together was blood type. We’re all compatible, we’re all AB negative.
Matt: We need a lot of transplants.
Dan: We met at a car accident and there was this immediate bond because we all saved each other’s lives.
Anders: Thank god for that.
Matt: Actually, what brought us together was, I started an improv club and I demanded that both of these guys audition to be a part of it.
Charpo: You demanded?
Dan: That is correct.
Matt: They could not be a part of the club unless they auditioned.
Anders: Yeah but he didn’t ask me, I was just like ‘’Hey guys! ThissoundsamazingcanIjoinandbeapartofthisplease?”
Matt: He was at John Abbott and he signed up so he had to audition and Dan, who I befriended… still had to audition. It was really funny, because we met Anders later and he cued in perfectly. But Dan and I were doing a play together and I just thought he was sort of funny, and I had done a little improv in high school and wanted to keep doing that. He had good hair (it’s important).
Dan: And Mike…
Matt: Ooooh, I’ve always been a big fan of Mike.
Dan: Well you knew him from high school. So Matt started this improv club, then I auditioned and Anders and Caitlin found out about it. They came by and we all hit it off. There were other members who were a part of the club originally but over time we kind of realized who we really all sparked with.
Anders: And also some other people who realized that they weren’t all that interested in doing it, that it wasn’t as big of a thing for them…and others realized that they were being hired by Much Music.
Dan: And that’s it, that’s how we met!
Matt: And really, I feel so lucky because these are all the funniest people I knew and someone like Mike who was a year above me in high school, was the funniest guy. I’ve always had love for Mike. And Caitlin, who was a couple of years below me, I always wanted her to be part of the troupe too.
Dan: So it came together as something that Matt initiated, but we certainly did not expect that 11 years later we would still be working together.
But I do want to say that doing the Fringe, we really found what we’re doing, we found what it did for us as comedians, as a company...
Matt: I did.
Anders: Frankly, I thought that if we were still going to be doing this, it would still be in Matt’s parents’ basement in Beaconsfield.
Matt: We have a show there next week... I just ruined Dan’s ambitions for the moment. But I do want to say that doing the Fringe, we really found what we’re doing, we found what it did for us as comedians, as a company, as people who want to do improv and sketch, and do it just a little bit differently. We have our own aesthetic, our sense of humour.
Dan: That’s very true, we never learned or were taught how to do improv. We just learned together how to do it and that says a lot about our style of comedy, that we trust each other and trust ourselves.
Matt: But no one else
Charpo: And after 11 years, what do you think keeps you guys together?
Matt: Massive social, emotional and financial debts.
Anders: Um…lack of other successes in life? There are other members of Uncalled For who are far less active than we are due to their being far more successful than we are.
Matt: But on an optimistic answer, on a happy answer, no matter how many years we spend together, no matter how many different styles of things we try, we still find each other funny. We sort of inspire comedy from each other, and I think that’s big. Not just that we find each other funny but that we make each other funnier.
Dan: We’re very lucky in that we work together and that we’ve been friends as long as we’ve been together and that we’re quite close as friends. That’s pretty special and I like to remind myself of that when I ask: “Why am I still doing this?”
It’s not often that you get to be workmates and friends as long as we have.
Matt: But you don’t ask yourself that often… right Dan? You don’t right?
Dan: It’s nice to remember that this isn’t common for any group of people, whether you’re talking about a band or a start up company or a group of artists. It’s not often that you get to be workmates and friends as long as we have. And that’s a huge part of why we’re still together. It’s because we’re still buddies.
Charpo: That being said, is there anything you don’t like about working together? Is there any drama?
Matt: Well what’s great, is there have been a number of times where I have been adamant about one thing and I’m proven wrong and I’m better for it. I think that when we disagree, it makes whatever our product is stronger because then the other guys work harder to show why ‘this’ works, ‘what’ works. I think our difference is our strength.
Dan: I’ll tell you what I don’t like about these guys…because we have been working together for 11 years, and because we have changed up what we’re doing and because we have fairly high standards for ourselves, we’ve basically set it up so that we need to do well. Both for ourselves as a company and for each other. Like I can’t let Matt or Anders down because we have a long standing history together.
If I was working with people who I didn’t know or who I didn’t care about, there might be a bit more of a “fuck it” kind of attitude...
Anders: That’s true.
Dan: If I was working with people who I didn’t know or who I didn’t care about, there might be a bit more of a “fuck it” kind of attitude, which is not always a bad thing in art. But it’s interesting, the longer you work with a group of people, just like in a relationship in a way, the more important it is and the more you don’t want to let them down. And sometimes…I just wanna get drunk and not do my homework.
Matt: That’s kind of like in a job interview when someone asks you:
“what’s your one fault?”
“I work too hard.” [Dan glares at Matt]
Anders: You see what that is? Dra-ma. Between these two.
Matt: He’s going to punch me later…and it’s going to hurt so bad.
Anders: You know what’s annoying, like in the same vein of “I hate how much I looove these guys”? Because we are good friends as well, it happens sometimes that because we spend so much time working on projects that we don’t spend social time just hanging out with each other…
Matt: We’re having beers right now!
Dan: …or with anybody else.
I’m going to answer this in the most humble way I can think of. That is that, we are like the Beatles.
Matt: Or with anybody else…including our lovers.
Charpo: I don’t know if you guys are aware of this, but based on my own personal experience and from talking to other people, you seem to have this effect of creating instant fans in your audiences. Why do you think that is?
Anders: These blue eyes, right here.
Dan: Why do you think that is?
Charpo: Well I think, from my own perspective, it shows that you all feed off of each other and get along so well. Even when something’s going bad, one of you will pick it up and create a sort of chain reaction where each of you plays off the other. Or maybe you’re all just inherently funny? But a lot of improv people are hilarious and sometimes just crash.
Anders: I’m going to answer this in the most humble way I can think of. That is that, we are like the Beatles. In that, when you watch The Beatles, you can tell that they’re…having fun. And that they’re having fun with each other…
Matt: Until the end.
Anders: And that they take a lot of drugs and they all have silly hair and later hair-beard combos.
We’ve got a lot of joy, and I think that it’s the joy that’s really wonderful.
Dan: I think Anders brings up a good point…we all do a lot of drugs. And people relate to that because they like to see an underdog. But yeah, I think for sure it has to do with the fact that it’s clear that we’re having fun together and I’ve always thought that it’s clear that there’s love amongst the performers, that there’s support there. It’s just nice to watch people who’ve got each other’s backs. Even if it means making fun of each other, you know that there’s a basis of love and support there.
Matt: We’ve got a lot of joy, and I think that it’s the joy that’s really wonderful. When someone falls, when something isn’t working, there’s always someone there to pick it up. We pick each other up and we know how to set each other up. There’s a real relationship here and I think that that’s fun to watch. To succeed and fail in equal measure…like where they try to make me rap on stage? Because that’s happened and it’s never a good choice, but it happens.
Hypnogogic Logic (Photo: Jeremy Bobrow)
Anders: We’re not going to stop making it happen either.
Charpo: With Uncalled For being all about comedy and for the most part unrehearsed material, do you look for similar or different things in your respective individual projects?
Matt: Well I can say that with Confabulation (Fringe 2011), for me…I’ve always loved stories. And I think a lot of what we do in Uncalled For is storytelling. And I just want to continue to explore that. I see a strong connection between what we do in Uncalled For and what I loooove to see in Confabulation, which are these narratives that are fun and interesting, that feel real and that you can connect with. Maybe a bit more serious and a bit more real than what we do with Uncalled For.
Dan: But also, Confabulation is its own thing.
In fact, also what I look for a lot of the time, is things that I can bring back with me into Uncalled For.
Matt: Yes, it is! But it’s doing a different kind of meditation on this idea of the need to tell stories and explore ourselves. In Uncalled For we explore ideas. In Confabulation I’m challenging my participants to explore themselves, turning these explorations inwards.
Anders: Generally, in any kind of project that I work on instead of Uncalled For, I’m usually seeking things that are totally different because I want to broaden myself however I can. Mostly, what I’m looking for is a paycheck…because so far I’m the only one who hasn’t bought any of these beers. But yeah, I just accepted a part in a summer works show in Toronto. It’s a puppet theater performance that involves so much incredible creativity, that I think is going to be a total blast. In fact, also what I look for a lot of the time, is things that I can bring back with me into Uncalled For. We’ve never really done puppet theater, but I don’t see why we couldn’t; it could mesh quite nicely with the things that we do.
Dan: I don’t have a job other than being an actor and so to some extent as an actor you’re at the whim of what other people offer you…and Anders said it as a joke, but not really a joke, we’re just looking for a paycheck. So I don’t always get to choose the stuff that I work on, in a way, it gets offered to me, but I’m definitely interested in a wide range of kinds of performance. I couldn’t just do improv. Because it’s almost too easy and too light…it feels too good. If I just did improv I would be neglecting a part of myself that needs to explore a bit more of a darker side. I do a lot of theater and some fairly dramatic stuff, and I really appreciate that as a counterpoint to what I do with Uncalled For. I like the idea of doing comedy in other places but the more we do our stuff together and the better we get, I guess, in a way it feels like comedy with anybody else is not going to be as fulfilling or as easy?
Anders: And also it’s hard…we have such an easy shorthand between us and such a practiced way of working together that yeah, working with anybody else on comedy would be so much trickier because we all understand what we think is funny and what we care about and can defend it in those times when we’re trying to argue about ‘this line’ or ‘that line’…
No! I was actually going to pay you two a compliment, and I’m going to retract it now.
Dan: Yeah and we can explain it to each other like “Do it like this kind of person would do it” and we understand each other immediately. So direction comes more easily. Doing comedy outside of my own troupe, I’ve done it for sure and it can be incredibly fun, but I think that just in general that as an actor, as an artist, you get to play a lot of parts. You literally take on a bunch of different personalities so why not try to expand your repertoire and do as much as you can do.
Matt: I was going to jump in and just say,
Matt: No! I was actually going to pay you two a compliment, and I’m going to retract it now. What I was not going to say, is that I’ve watched these two do a lot of other things and maybe it is that the Uncalled For training has given you guys the opportunity to be open to other things even when you don’t feel like “maybe this play isn’t going to be as funny because I’m doing it with other people,” but you’re always ready to play. And I’m jealous of that because I haven’t done as much outside work.
Dan: Right. Our skill set is that we’re improvisers to begin with. It’s not the first thing we did as performers, but it’s what we’ve done the most of.
Matt: And you have such a wonderful ease with people and I love watching you guys do it for that reason. That was the compliment I retract!
Wait a minute, you’re Uncalled For’s best hugger? I thought that was Mike…or Nic even.
Charpo: Based on your Uncalled For website profile: Dan, what steps did you take in order to become Uncalled For's best hugger?
Dan: Oh wow.
Matt: Wait a minute, you’re Uncalled For’s best hugger? I thought that was Mike…or Nic even.
Matt: Dan gives great hugs: full arms, sometimes lip.
Dan: I just have a lot of love inside of me and I’m not ashamed of my body. That’s all you need. Matt’s got a lot of love in him, but he’s so ashamed of his body.
Matt: I cry, so much…every night.
Anders: I have no shame about my body but I also have no love inside of me whatsoever.
Charpo: Matt, how did you become the fastest member of Uncalled For?
Matt: He can reach anything.
Dan: Why do you think he has no love for anybody else?
Anders: It’s fucking shitty and it’s turned my heart in to stone.
Matt: Actually! I remember where this came from! I claimed to be the fastest member of Uncalled For because in 2001 I went to Wales for a year, where the university was at the top of a hill and I used to go into town every night, up and down this 1 mile hill and so I did a lot of running while I was in Wales. When I came back, I was really adamant to see every show in the Fringe and whenever we would go to shows, everyone would have their bikes except me and I would just run really really fast just to beat these damn cyclists. And that’s why I started claiming I was the fastest runner: because I was unchallenged, they were on bikes.
Charpo: Anders, what is it like being the tallest member of Uncalled For?
Matt: He can reach anything.
Dan: Why do you think he has no love for anybody else?
Anders: It’s fucking shitty and it’s turned my heart in to stone.
Matt: Anders lies about his height all the time.
Anders: I would like to go on record as saying that I am 6 foot 4.
Dan: That’s bullshit!
Matt: He’s 6’5! He’s 6’5!
Anders: However…I would like the record to show, that I’m 6’4.
Dan: We need to update our website.
Charpo: Ok so Dan, other than being the best hugger, are their other areas in which you consider yourself to be a champion?
Matt: Aww shit.
Anders: Oh wow, oh that’s cool.
I was going to say that I think I’m too vacillating, I think Anders is too mean to everyone. I’m too giving, he’s to taking, but I think that Dan is just right. He’s the middle bearer.
Dan: Me personally? … I don’t know, I’m a mix of self-aggrandizing and self-deprecating. So there are some things that at some point I might say that I’m the best at and at some points say I’m the worst at. So I’m the best at contradiction.
Anders: Dan knows just where to tickle me.
Matt: You know what I think Dan is the best at? I was going to say that I think I’m too vacillating, I think Anders is too mean to everyone. I’m too giving, he’s to taking, but I think that Dan is just right. He’s the middle bearer.
Charpo: And Matt, are you a champion in any other area, other than being the fastest…or self-proclaimed fastest?
Anders: You’re a champion of self-proclaiming.
Matt: Would it be fair to say…
Dan: That you started Confabulation?
Matt: I’m the best starter of Confabulation…um, I don’t know, what I’ve always prided myself on my, despite my crippling self-doubt… I never say die. My willingness to keep punching until I’m down?
Anders: You definitely like punching.
Matt: What I lack in brute talent, I make up for in willingness to try! Well past the point of any sensible person. Dan, what do you like about me?
Dan: Your desire to make other people happy. For me, it’s not specifically about making people happy it’s more like dealing with people, but you just very naturally and instinctually want to please people and that’s a beautiful thing. You’re the one who’s least likely to say no, right? If you want to sucker us into doing anything for you, ask Matt. Because you’re just so invested in the wellbeing of other people, you’re eager, enthusiastic and just don’t know when to give up.
Matt: I take those all as compliments! What do you like about me Anders?
Anders: I second everything that Dan has just said. I also appreciate just how well read you are.
Dan: Right. Let’s talk about that. You two are the smartest people I know. For real, they are.
Anders: But Matt really owns a lot more books.
Dan: He does, and Anders watches more TV and movies. They compliment each other’s knowledge gaps.
I’ve read a lot of books about the brain but I don’t know anything about English theory or drama theory which is one of Matt’s fortes and Anders is super smart.
Anders: Dan’s the only one who knows about science.
Matt: He’s the one who read The Head Trip, which inspired “Hypnogogiclogic.”
Dan: We all have overlapping interests in different nerdy things. I’ve read a lot of books about the brain but I don’t know anything about English theory or drama theory which is one of Matt’s fortes and Anders is super smart.
Charpo: And you, Anders, in what other ways are you a champion? Now’s your chance to move away from being the tallest.
Anders: Apparently I’m a champion at mean-ness.
Matt and Dan: Ahhh, noooo!
Dan: You don’t understand, you can’t be a champion at being mean!
Anders: I am the most humble person you will ever meet in your fucking life. So much humility. Holy shit!
Matt: For me, Anders is a realist and he knows what he wants and what we need. And Anders is very honest about these things in a way that I think I make apologies for. Anders is the one who is smart, realist, direct…and is an asshole.
...the way I usually tie the story up at the end involves being an asshole.
Dan: Anders might have the most levels of operation going on in his brain. He can see things from a large view, but also from an immediate one. Whenever we have to do improv shows and the story needs to be tied up at the end because we’ve got seven different threads of the story happening, I think we all assume that Anders will be the one to tie it all up.
Anders: And the way I usually tie the story up at the end involves being an asshole.
Matt: I want to apologize, because I was trying to say what Dan said, but I think I’m less eloquent (that’s another one of his strengths). No, I really do appreciate that about you Anders.
Anders: Guys, can we all hug?
Matt: That’s what I was just thinking! I was thinking this is like the best question ever because we’re best friends again! All that tension is gone…Dan.
[Matt and Anders hug tenderly]
Dan: You see? [pointing at Matt] Ashamed about his body, very ashamed.
We all love the Fringe and all that it’s given us and there’s so much that we’ve gained but at a certain point we all recognized that there are other things that we want to accomplish...
Charpo: Now that it’s officially you’re last year at the Fringe, how does it feel to be leaving after nine years?
Anders: It feels bittersweet. But mostly it’s amazing because we have been very lucky. We have had an amazing run. We all love the Fringe and all that it’s given us and there’s so much that we’ve gained but at a certain point we all recognized that there are other things that we want to accomplish and other places we want to devote our energies to and our summers to and our build up to our summers. I think the Fringe’s best role is to foster emerging artists and I think that we’re finally ready to admit to ourselves that we have emerged.
Matt: We’ve been birthed, we can come out of the womb now.
Anders: And so now we are just trying to figure out what we are going to emerge in to. Among those places are the internet, other cities, other countries, other media.
Matt: I wanna say, I was nervous when we first decided on this but having talked it out now and having really gone in to this, I feel really good. This is the right choice for us. Now that we’re here, this is feeling like a good way to go out.
Dan: I think it’s great that we’re leaving because it’s all too easy to become complacent and comfortable in the small places that you find success. Not to say that the Fringe is small, 55,000 tickets were sold last year…I think. But it’s only one small corner of a huge world. It’s nice to know when it’s time to move on…
Anders: Too bad we didn’t know that three or four years ago!
Matt: No, but three or four years ago we weren’t ready! I think we started something in the last four years of sketch comedy shows that we would not have done nine years ago. These past four years have been incredible for us. We really discovered ourselves as a company. I think the film and (hopefully) television we’re going to be getting in to is going to be based on these past years. The first five were a build up to this. I am so impressed with how far we’ve come in a decade. We’re just slow, that’s all.
Anders: Says the fastest member of Uncalled For.
Because I can dance for like days on end. And signature move…my moves don’t have names man…
Matt: You’re all slow compared to me, sucka!
Charpo: One of the main things you’ve brought to the Fringe over the years is the 13th Hour, known for it’s 11 second dance parties. If you literally had to dance until you dropped, what song would you dance to and what would your signature move be?
Dan: I’d have to dance to the same song? Because I can dance for like days on end. And signature move…my moves don’t have names man…one song, holy shit.
Matt: But you’ve got to choose one because it’s going to be miserable no matter what you choose.
Dan: Yeah it’s true, it’s going to be hell no matter what.
Anders: I’m going to nominate John Cage’s 4’33.
Matt: And what’s your signature move? Pretension?
Anders: No, my signature move is hitting the snooze button. I can do that for ages to that song.
Matt: When we do the 13th Hour, we listen to “Deceptacon” a million times over already, so what’s a million more! I love the part where everybody claps! And I’ll just do that forever, and I’ll still be miserable because it’s the same song for eternity…Mr. Silence.
Charpo: You’re allowed to drink at the same time.
Matt: Oh then I’ll be fine, that’s been the last ten years: just clapping with Deceptacon and mostly drinking.
Dan: My song would be “Because I Got It Like That” by the Jungle Brothers and my signature move would be… like when you bring yourself down like: “dunuhnuhnuh” [said in descending tones]
Charpo: Getting Low?
Dan: Getting low.
Matt: That makes him sound really cool.
Seven years ago, the way we were asked to do the 13th Hour was: the previous hosts basically announced on stage that Dan and Anders were going to take over the 13th Hour the next year.
Charpo: Were you guys asked to do the 13th Hour?
Matt: That’s actually a really interesting story. Seven years ago, the way we were asked to do the 13th Hour was: the previous hosts basically announced on stage that Dan and Anders were going to take over the 13th Hour the next year. Basically you guys were asked to do this on a whim and it’s become a major preoccupation of ours for the past seven years. I think that’s great, because it was reinvented and made awesome.
Charpo: Any favourite Fringe moments?
Matt: I got to crowd surf a couple years ago, and it absolutely made my life worth living. It was during a Frankies hosting. As ‘Rufus’ I was dared to crowd surf by one of my favorite companies from out West. I haven’t had anything in the Fringe that’s compared to that.
Anders: I guess the time TJ Dawe made a bunch of pot cookies and handed them out to everybody in the audience at the 13th Hour. That was pretty cool that people came and we gave them all drugs!
Matt: I’ve seen him joke about that in other cities, but then he came to Montreal and did it for real. There’s something special about this city.
Dan: For me personally the last two shows we’ve done (“Hypnogogiclogic” and “Today Is All Your Birthdays), I’m incredibly proud of as a whole product. I remember doing “Today Is All Your Birthdays” for the first time and getting this incredible reaction from the crowd after the show was over. I mean you hear the laughter while it’s happening, but then it’s the applause at the end where we just kind of understood how much people appreciated the show. We’ve been kind of shifting from an improv troupe to a scripted comedy troupe and to hear that kind of reaction, to know that our crowd came with us was incredibly validating and satisfying. Most of my funny memories are from the 13th Hour, just insane stuff has happened. Just the energy of the Fringe is an amazing thing.
“Manga,” from Belzébrute. I looove Belzébrute and everything they do. Manga especially looks beyond amazing.
Charpo: Are there any shows you’re excited about at this year’s festival?
Matt: “Manga,” from Belzébrute. I looove Belzébrute and everything they do. Manga especially looks beyond amazing.
Anders: “Peter and Chris Save the World” is going to be really cool.
Dan: There’s a sketch comedy troupe from Toronto called Frenzy. I feel like they’re brothers, that we’re kindred spirits. They don’t do the same thing that we do exactly, but it’s a similar kind of pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-absurdist sketch comedy. Oh and “Blink Blink Blink” with Kirsten Rasmussen. She’s just such a funny funny person and such a great performer.
Matt: But at a much faster pace. SO funny.
Anders: Speaking of ‘brothers,’ we have to mention Sexual Tyrannosaurus, they’re like our improv brothers in Toronto.
Matt: In terms of companies we don’t know as well, I just want to say that the Fringe-for-All company that I don’t know at all and that rocked it was “Who Is Aristopus?” Those guys look crazy! And what I love about the Fringe is the crazy and not knowing what I’m getting in to.
We’re having an improvised trial and the audience serves as our witnesses, our experts, our bailiff, our evidence, our jury…
Charpo: And for your own show, what can people expect?
Anders: They can expect to be a part of it.
Dan: Yes, they can expect to be a part of the justice machine. We’re having an improvised trial and the audience serves as our witnesses, our experts, our bailiff, our evidence, our jury…so a lot of what happens in the show is going to depend on the input of the audience. But don’t be intimidated by it, we won’t choose anyone who doesn’t want to be chosen.
Matt: You can hide, but I think being the jury is what’s going to make it amazing.
Dan: People can expect a high energy improv show and the audience gets to decide the fate of a man or woman and whether or not he or she is guilty.
Matt: The special guest star is the suspect!
Charpo: Last question… for the fans: any sex advice?
Uncalled For: Oh wow.
Matt: Don’t cry! Just don’t cry!
Anders: I’m going to use both my best improv advice and best sex advice: just always say yes and be ready to fail.
* * * * * * *
- “Uncalled For Presents: Trial of the Century” opens at the Montreal Fringe Festival, June 11 at Venue 5, Cabaret du Mile End ($10, $7 for anyone with an official jury duty notice)
-The 13th Hour starts June 10 at Cabaret du Mile End and takes place every night until June 19th at 1:00am.
-To stalk Uncalled For go to their web site.
- Uncalled For has just wrapped up shooting videos of some of their favorite and best sketches which will soon be available on their website. Look out for sneak peaks throughout the Fringe Festival!
- Let the record show that Anders, Matt and Dan all give excellent high-fives.
I'd just like to say that I'm one of those instant fans because of Anders' blue eyes. Is all I'm sayin'.ReplyDelete