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?
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.
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).