Meet Rob Long of The Revengers

Photograph by Mike McFarland

Photograph by Mike McFarland

The Revengers create a comic book inspired by audience suggestions. It's as cool as it sounds. I hope you'll be able to see their show Saturday night at the California Comedy Festival!

We had a chance to ask Rob Long some questions about improv....

Q: When and where did you begin improvising? 

A: March, 1989, in Bakersfield, California.

Q: What troupes and individuals were your early passions and influences? 

A: When I started, ComedySportz and Whose Line Was It Anyway were everything I knew about improv, though I quickly learned about the Kentucky Fried Theatre, Viola Spolin, Keith Johnstone and Theater Sports.

Q: How did your troupe come together? 

A: Eric Dains said “I have an idea for a troupe name –The Revengers, but I don’t know what to do with it.” I responded, “I’ve been wanting to put together an improvised comic book. That name seems to fit.” From there, we looked around for who we knew that loved both comics and improv, and the four founders started workshopping what tools we’d need to put a comic book onstage.

Q: What do you love about your troupe? 

A: What DON’T I love about my troupe? I love the pure fun of doing it – it’s the show where I just cut loose and commit myself to having a blast. I love the scene painting we use. I love the way we’re doing more than a show – we’re building a universe, a Revengerverse. I love the discoveries we make, onstage and off. I love the stories we get to tell, onstage and off. I love the characters we get to keep revisiting and exploring.

Q: Improv can be exhilarating. What do you personally consider to be the most exciting moments in your work?

A: The moments of pure discovery, when we surprise both ourselves and the others onstage. The “Yes, And” of it all, when one of us throws something out and two or three others go, “Yeah, I can do something with that.” It takes us to magical places.

Q: How would you define what differentiates a successful live performance from a poor one? A: What can improvisers do from your point of view to improve their live act? Did you have fun doing it? Then it’s successful. To improve your act, figure out what you love about your show, what drives your passion, and chase that. Don’t forget to embrace the fear. When you have fun, when you dive headlong into the fear and don’t let it stop you from enjoying yourself, everything, including audience response, will be successful.

Q: What's the most important lesson you have learned as an improviser? 

A: I am enough. Discovery is more important than invention. Follow the fear. Be passionate about what you’re doing. Those are so intertwined that I’d have difficulty picking one. Probably that I am enough.

Meet Joe McGowan and Phil Schramm of Side Pickle

side pickle

Have you seen Side Pickle? If you live in Sacramento, you're likely to say, "no." You should say that with a sign and sadness, too, because they're fantastic. It's a sad thing not to see a Side Pickle.

But, cheer up!

Side Pickle of Minnepolis arrives in Sacramento this Saturday! We had the opportunity to ask Joe McGowan and Phil Schramm of Side Pickle some questions...


Q: When and where did you begin improvising?

A: Phil - I started performing improv my freshman year of college at St. Olaf College in 2009, the group was mainly short-form that started to dabble in long-form as the years went on. After I graduated in 2013, I started taking formal classes in long-form improvisation at Huge Theater. 

A: Joe - I first got the buzz when I was living in New York. I was doing Americorps and we had a current SNL cast member Sasheer Zamata come in and teach us some basic games and such we could use with clients. I feel in love improve that day! Sadly, I could not afford classes at that time and put my improv ambitions on hold. 4 years later I started classes at HUGE Theater in Minneapolis and have never looked back.


Q: What troupes and individuals were your early passions and influences?

A: Phil - I could list some of my favorites groups and influences for days, because everything I watch I have absorbed in some way, so I will limit them to a few. There was an improv trio called Splendid Things in Minneapolis that was one of the most engaging and hilarious groups I have ever seen. I have aspired to be like every improviser in that group, they were quick, emotional, and had some out there but grounded scenes. Also, Jill Bernard always amazes me with her one woman musical Drum Machine, and I am glad I can call her a friend. And finally, I am heavily influenced from a scripted theater background too, specifically the Theater of the Absurd (favorite playwrights include Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco). I connect to that style of scripted theater so much that my work typically bleeds it.

A: Joe - I am a show and workshop fiend! When I first started out I took in every class/workshop/show I could get my hands on. If I had to pick a most influential person it would be without a doubt my 101/201 teacher Molly Chase. She gave me the perfect mix of confidence and regulation. Her ability to take all the scary “rules” of improv and put them into small packets of fun but pertinent information that can be easily accessed on stage. As for troupes it would have to be The Mess based out of Minneapolis. The point of this group is to have as many people on stage at once with high energy and never slowing down. They made it look so easy I had to seat and study how they could achieve doing this week after week with ease. 


Q:  How did your troupe come together?

A: Phil - I box office at Huge Theater in Minneapolis, and Joe had just taken one of the weekly drop-in classes at Huge (this was approximately a year ago). He had just started taking classes and I had completed the track a few months prior. Joe was eating a sandwich from a nearby eatery, and we started riffing and joking about sandwiches as we started to look up some facts about sandwiches online. Joe invited me to a practice jam he started and the rest was history. Our group name is inspired from our love of sandwiches, as it is not a real sandwich unless it comes with a side pickle.

A: Joe - Phil put it in such perfect words! I would just add that I realized then and there how our energy and dynamic would play out on stage. 


Q: What do you love about your troupe?

A: Phil - I personally love the freedom amongst the two of us that allows us to completely trust the actions of the other. No matter the scene, we will always find a mesh that is entertaining, either comically or theatrically. I can always trust Joe in scenes to provide for me the greatest choices at the top of his intelligence.

A: Joe - I love the moment when we catch eyes and both of us are on the same page, that spark ignites into a beautiful yet crazy scene! We absolutely love pimping each other out in scenes and then upping it over and over for both our and the audiences entertainment. Lastly no one listens to me like Phil does. He is ready to pounce on anything and everything I throw at him. 


Q: Improv can be exhilarating. What do you personally consider to be the most exciting moments in your work?

A: Phil -  The most exciting moments I can think of in Side Pickle are the ways Joe and I surprise each other each performance. We always find new ways to do scenes, to approach characters, incorporate unique spaces, that each show is usually a mini adventure in discovery.

A: Joe - Phil has a knack for tying everything together in the last few minutes of our set. That takes our work to a whole new level every time. Also we are not afraid to break the 4th wall and talk to each other as improvisers or straight to the audience. When done right it creates a unforgettable experience for all.  


Q: How would you define what differentiates a successful live performance from a poor one?

A: Phil - For improv, the difference in a successful performance boils down to respect. Are you respecting the venue? Are you respecting the audience? Are you respecting the improv? Are you respecting each other on stage? Are you respecting yourself? I am all about professionalism when it comes to doing shows, and when I see performers disregarding basic rules of humanity, it turns me off of their performances. And when I say respect, I don’t always mean “being polite”, I mean in also in the sense of respecting the intelligence of the audience, and your own intelligence at the same time. When you show care in your craft, people will be engaged.

A: Joe - It all ties to one main thing. Show me you care you are up there. Don’t lean on the backline, dress like you knew you were going to perform,  use the whole stage it is there for a reason! Every moment you are on stage is apart of the show. Don’t waste a second of it! 


Q: What's the most important lesson you have learned as an improviser?

A: Phil - "You are always enough." No matter what you do, who you are, where you come from, whatever, you never need to be more than what you bring. Every choice you make in a scene is exactly what that scene needed. I used to always be jealous of improvisers who were very knowledgeable and could spit out history facts or popular culture references like the back of their hand, which latched me into thinking every choice I made would never be as good as it could be. Improv auditions terrified me as I would play with performers who I perceived as drastically better than me. I thought to myself “I would never be as good as them”, and I believed I was letting my scene partners down by my lack of goodness. When I took a step back and started just focusing on me and self-improving (at some point in my reflection I heard this quote), I began to realize that I am “enough” to my scene partners. My choices and experiences provide the exact amount of weight needed in any scene. Everyone brings something unique with them to improv, which is perfect, and nothing more is needed. You already have all the tools you need to make great improv. And while it is completely fine to gain knowledge from things (art, movies, history etc.), is not a necessity to be a great improviser.

A:  Joe - Take the good and bad out of your improv analysis and translate it into easy and difficult. Taking a step to remove negative emotion from your thoughts will allow you to clearly see what is happening on stage and thus allow you to truly learn. I got this principle from the book “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Timothy Gallwey.

Meet Rich Baker and Rolland Lopez of Rollin' In Riches

Fifteen different shows await your eyeballs this weekend. Every show is unique, a blend of performer offers and responses.  Improv is all about the give and take. A partnership of trust makes a show that much better, and a show that much more unforgettable, because complete trust is rare.

When you watch Rollin' In Riches onstage, you quickly realize you're watching a pair that knows and trust each other completely. We are lucky to have Rollin' In Riches as art of the California Comedy Festival. We had a chance to ask the duo some questions....

Q: When and where did you begin improvising?

A: Rich - I began improvising in 1999 in Fort Worth, Texas after first seeing live improv performed by Four Day Weekend - currently in it's 19th year of existence and the longest running show in the state of Texas.

A: Rolland - i WISH i had started that early! I was a voice actor in LA who kept hearing that we should study improv to get better at the craft. So, in 2009 I started taking classes at The Westside Eclectic in Santa Monica (which eventually became Westside Comedy Theater). It's been a great time!

Q: What troupes and individuals were your early passions and influences?

A: Rich I have been influenced by comedy in general since I was a kid. George Carlin, Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby (when we didn't know his awful personal habits), Chris Rock, Paul Rodriguez, Eddie Izzard, Ellen, Kids In the Hall, In Living Color, SNL, Jim Carey, John Hughes, Chris Farley, Pixar, Southpark, The Simpsons, Beavis & Butthead and many more. 

A: Rolland - All of my teachers inpsired me in one way or another. A few that stand out: Annie & Levin O'Connor of "NOW?" (both individually and as a group), Sean Monahan and Aaron Krebs (both from the Westside Comedy Theater). Groups The Grind (the owners of the Westside Comedy Theater), Date Night (with Alison Royer), Quartet (at iO West) and Lloyd Ahlquist (as teacher, coach, player!)

My first improv influence was Four Day Weekend. I had never heard of improv before that. Shortly thereafter I discovered Whose Line Is It Anyway on TV and other troupes in the DFW area like ComedySportz Dallas & Pavlov's Dogs.

Q: How did your troupe come together?

A: Rich - When I came to L.A. in December of 2013 to look for an apartment I got to play a show with  Mission Improvable home at the Westside Comedy Theatre, because I had worked for M.I. in Chicago since 2009. I met Rolland that night and we got along swimmingly. I relocated to L.A. the next month I began performing with M.I. regularly and by coincidence Rolland and I were on the same cast two or three more times in a row. I liked him right away.

One day over FB msg I asked him if he wanted to write a sketch show with me. He wasn't interested in writing a sketch show, but he agreed that we worked well together. So, we floated the idea of doing two man improv. After one rehearsal together we were hooked. Been performing ever since.

A: Rolland - Yeah, I give Rich all the credit for this. I just got lucky he suggested it!

Q: What do you love about your troupe?

rich baker

A: Rich - I trust Rolland implicitly both on and off stage. He's the best relationship I've ever had. If we were gay we'd be the best couple in history. We road trip well together. We run the business side of improv well together. We have a blast on stage together. We make each other laugh. We have a lot in common off stage. There's nothing I can think of that I don't love about our troupe.

A: Rolland - Yeah, everything Rich said, I know that whatever move I make on stage (and actually, off stage as well), he'll support it. With that kind of amazing environment, how can I not want to get on stage and play with Rich whenever possible?? 

Q: Improv can be exhilarating. What do you personally consider to be the most exciting moments in your work?

A: Rich - My favorite moments in improv are always the surprises. I try to play with no filter so that I hear what I am saying and see what I'm doing in real time with the audience. It's like riding a great wave or playing an amazing game of basketball. It just flows and I more or less just get out it's way and ride the 'yes and.'

A: Rolland - Discovering moments. Moments neither of us could've / would've come up with on our own but that are only created because we're both 'yes and-ing' the hell out of whatever the other says....and I just realized that I basically said the same thing Rich said.

Q: How would you define what differentiates a successful live performance from a poor one? What can improvisers do from your point of view to improve their live act?

A: Rich - A successful performance is one where the audience feels confident that the people on stage are not bothered by anything. When the performers play with confidence and fun the shows rarely go south. 

rolland lopez

A: Rolland - A successful performance is one where the team supports each others moves. Where egos are set aside to justcreate something and where judgments aren't being made so that everyone feels comfortable to express their personality and sense of humor with a sense of play. When that happens, I feel that not only are the shows stronger but that they players are having fun and therefore the audience does too.

Q: What's the most important lesson you have learned as an improviser?

A: Rich - That a truly good improviser can make ANYONE look good on stage. When I was younger I believed that you were either good or bad and a good show only happened with two good improvisers. I believed when people made particular choices that they were 'wrong.' Now I know that you can yes and ANYTHING. I love to play short form with audience volunteers because it's all about making them look good. Same when I occasionally get a chance to play with my students. Years ago when I was first hired by ComedySportz Chicago I did my first show with Joey Bland (Improv Shakespeare, Second City ETC stage) and our first scene together was amazing. It felt like no work at all. And it wasn't because of me, but because he was so good and so experienced that he made me look like a rockstar. We are all capable of that. And the biggest hurdle to overcome is to stop judging your scene partners and start yes anding them.

A: Rolland - There's no room for judgment on the stage. That's all ego, anyway. You judge your partner because you (ego) think the scene should go a certain way. And to get true, in-the-moment collaboration, you and your team need to feel free to make whatever moves they're inspired to do. And that means not feeling judged. Or judging. (and that includes judging your OWN moves).

Meet Erin Daruszka of Off One Letter

Photo by Mike Holland 

Photo by Mike Holland 

So many things to love about a comedy festival. This weekend is packed with amazing artists. Have you seen Off One Letter? We saw their submission tape, and knew they had to be part of the California Comedy Festival.

Get to know 50% of the duo! We had an opportunity to ask Erin some questions.....


Q: When and where did you begin improvising?

A: December 2011 - I had a GroupOn for 4 drop in classes at Pan Theater in Oakland. Improv was always something I wanted to try and I chickened out multiple times. I figured for $20, if I hated it I wasn't out too much money. Instead I fell in love with it (and my savings account has been lighter ever since). 

Q: What troupes and individuals were your early passions and influences?

A: Doug Kassel was my first teacher. He worked with Viola Spolin when he was a child. I was introduced to David Razowsky very early on. He solidified for me that the patient, grounded work that comes natural to me has a place in the world. TJ & Dave were the reason I wanted to do a duo after watching their documentary. 

Q: How did your troupe come together?

A: Erik and I met at a drop in class at Leela in San Francisco in December 2013. We hit it off immediately. We kept seeing each other around the Bay Area improv scene and would hang out before or after shows. One night we went to see another duo perform (The Unwritten Bedroom) and post show were walking around San Francisco inspired. I (seriously) got down on one knee and asked Erik if he wanted to be in a duo with me and HE SAID YES! 

Q: What do you love about your troupe?

A: 100% trust and support. There is a freedom in knowing that whatever you say or do will be supported and not judged. 

erin daruszka

Q: Improv can be exhilarating. What do you personally consider to be the most exciting moments in your work?

A: I am most excited when I surprise myself or my partner surprises me. Those moments when something comes out of your mouth or their mouth and takes you off guard and takes the scene in a different direction. 

Q: How would you define what differentiates a successful live performance from a poor one? What can improvisers do from your point of view to improve their live act?

A: I try not to get too down on myself post show. The show happened and it is over. I can't change it, so let it go. For me, a good show is where I feel in the flow, the time flies by and I am having fun just playing. A not as good show is one in which I am not being present and get in my head and start judging myself or the work while it is happening. 

Improvisors should be having fun! I LOVE watching a team who loves being on stage and you can tell are having a good time. Be in the moment and enjoy!

Q: What's the most important lesson you have learned as an improviser?

A: Wow, there are so many...for me the most important lesson is that there are lots of different styles and ways of playing and there is room for it all. I do not need to like them all or be good at them all. I need to follow what lights me up and find my own voice within the art form. 

Catch Erin and OFF ONE LETTER this Friday, at the California Comedy Festival!

The California Comedy Festival Arrives Thursday

June 9-12th 2016. Circle the date. Print this post and then circle that date.

The California Comedy Festival is near! In fact, it's this week! The 4th annual comedy festival is here, and it's bigger and better then ever. Fifteen troupes, over 50 improvisers, and six workshops.

I know what you're thinking, "I've head it all before! Bigger and Better? Present your case!" We shall.

Not only have we added a day (now a four day Sacramento comedy spectacular!) but we've added States!

We can officially check off, "welcome a Minnesota improv troupe to the festival" from our bucket list (we have an unusual bucket list), because here comes Side Pickle! Oh yes! Thee Side Pickle from Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Side Pickle that calls the HUGE Theater home. They're a brilliant duo. And they're ours! All ours! Bwahahahaha!

sacramento comedy side pickle

Speaking of duos...

...., we can't forget Rollin' In Riches. How to describe their show? No plan. High energy. Transforming chaos into fun! Emotionally driven comedy.

Speaking of emotionally driven improv....

....have you seen the lineup of workshops? It'll emotionally drive you to tears of happiness. We have six workshops taught by some of the biggest names in comedy. Nick Armstrong, Cheslea Coleman, Ben Leddick, Betsaida Lebron, Rolland Lopez & Rich Baker. We have workshops in everything from creating scenes with confidence, exploring new improv formats, learning about Viewpoints and more. As we get closer to the festival I will post descriptions about each class, and more about each teacher. 

Speaking of teaching...

This years festival is unique, because it's raising money for a good cause. The California Comedy Festival is working with Evolve You Foundation to offer free improv classes to at-risk and foster youth. Evolve You offers vocational training and education to those in the foster care who will soon age out of the system. Evolve You helps prepare the teens for life on their own. That's the mission, and Blacktop Comedy and the California Comedy Festival are excited to be helping.

sacramento evolve you foundation

Speaking of helping...

Would you like to help spread the word about the festival? Below is a one page flyer that highlights all the important dates, times, and locations for the California Comedy Festival. If you've been thinking, "how should I spend the remaining ink in this printer cartridge," we suggest printing and sharing this flyer with friends and family. This year you're seeing incredible comedy and helping hundreds of local Sacramento kids. 

Also, follow the shenanigans on at, and hashtag all your photos with #ccf2016. We'll repost all your pretty instagram shots, and vine videos.

Thank you!

california comedy festival

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Loving the new Apocolypse Wow! set. Saturday it begins! #btc #improvcomedy #rocklin #roseville #apocolypse