TT with HD: Josh Funk and Nyima Funk
[Ed. note: Searching on YouTube for 'josh funk comedy',
'313 improv', or
'tuesday movie cobb', yields
several video shorts featuring Josh, Nyima, and other members of the Los-Angeles-based 313 improvisational group. If you've
got MTV, Josh and Nyima can be seen as regulars on Nick Cannon's Wild 'N Out. Even if you don't have MTV, you can
get a flavor of Wild 'N Out from the Wild 'N Out: Immigration and Jungle Fever video.
Josh and Nyima appear towards the end of that clip. Their improvised vocals are worth the wait.
To serve your Funky MySpace needs, Nyima and Josh, as well as 313, have their own pages.
Josh Funk's movie Garage: A Rock Saga, starring himself and George Wendt (Norm from Cheers), is now available on DVD from the Planet Ant website.
Ann Arbor's own Improv Inferno has moved off Main Street to Ashley Street inside Live at P.J. and still offers many of the same series of shows, including Citizen Improv on Friday nights.]
NF: Here we go
NF: Aww, this is so romantic.
NF: Or maybe not!
HD: Okay this'll work, this'll work, we just have to be gentle. Is this going to be okay?
NF: Yeah, this is great!
HD: I'm going to count this as two rides, by the way [Ed. note: picture taking ensues] Welcome to the teeter totter.
NF: Thank you!
HD: So you know, trash day is today on our street. And you were saying as you drove up that in Los Angeles it's every day?
NF: It's every day, because there's no city-wide trash pickup ...
HD: ... so the city of Los Angeles does not provide trash services?
NF: No, it's contracted by all different people. Anybody with a truck, who can pick it up!
HD: So who do you guys contract with?
NF: Well, our building has some guys who come once a week, who make a lot of noise and wake us up, and take out the trash and drop a lot of it along the way.
HD: Are the limits to how much volume you can put out, or is it by weight?
NF: No, we just throw it into the dumpster.
HD: How have you guys been killing time here in Ann Arbor? I mean, you live in Los Angeles for heaven sakes, and I can't imagine that it's easy to find fun and interesting things to do for you here in Ann Arbor.
JF: What have we been doing in Ann Arbor?
NF: Well, actually we went to Detroit! [laugh]
HD: So what you do in Ann Arbor for fun is, you go to Detroit.
NF: Well, the Planet Ant Theater is in Detroit in Hamtramck ...
HD: ... oh, and Josh you're a cofounder of that, right?
JF: Of the improv part of Planet Ant. The Improv Colony, it's called.
HD: So what is the other part?
JF: That's just the Theater part. Planet Ant splits itself into three or four categories, I guess: it would be just the straight-up theater productions, which they do for part of the year; and the other part would be the original improv comedies done by the Colony; and then they're also a record label and a movie production company.
HD: So is that the record label you put out your Grits stuff through?
JF: It's Park, my band in Detroit from like 5 or 10 years ago.
HD: So Park is the band from Detroit. And Grits is ...?
NF: Grits is our band that we started in Chicago.
HD: I see. And you're originally from Chicago, Josh?
JF: I am from Chicago, yes.
HD: And your family is still there?
HD: So you split time during the holidays between Ann Arbor and Chicago?
JF: Yes, that is why we're driving a minivan with Illinois license plates.
HD: Yeah, it's a stylin minivan.
NF: Thank you!
HD: But you're not strangers to minivans, right? Some of the promotional material I found for the 313 had you guys all in hybrid minivan.
JF: My parents' minivan! Because when we travel ...
HD: ... so this is the same minivan??!
JF: Yes, because we always fly to Chicago, and then visit my family for a little bit, then borrow their minivan and then drive here and visit Nyima's family and drive back, then fly out of Chicago.
HD: Ever think about taking the train?
HD: It's a pretty good train ride, I have to say.
NF: You know, I took the train once from Chicago to Ann Arbor, and the last time I took it, it took about eight hours, because the lights were out at all of the train stops. So each time we got to a railroad crossing, the conductor had to get out, stop traffic, put down the railroad crossing gates, let the train through, get back off, put them back up and then get back on so we could keep going. It took forever.
JF: I had a similar experience. I took the train once from Chicago to Ann Arbor, and I was in a [train] car--it was in the middle of winter--and they couldn't get the outside door to close, so they just decided to keep it open for the whole ride. So there was snow blowing into the car.
HD: Wow, so did they give you a discount or make some kind of accommodation for you?
JF: They apologized!
HD: Well, that's nice of them. Amtrak's got good mid-western manners. So did you spend Christmas Day in Chicago or here?
NF: Here. We spent it here with the Woods family.
HD: Do you alternate years for Christmas Day itself, do you treat that as special?
NF: Last year, we actually were in both places. We started Christmas Day in Chicago and then drove here. We both have nephews and nieces who are now getting to the age where its like, Hey, are you coming for Christmas?! So we usually either do Christmas Eve in Chicago or Christmas Eve here. We try to divide it up. My family here in Ann Arbor celebrates Kwanzaa, which is the week between Christmas and New Year's.
HD: So now you're right in the thick of that?
HD: So did either of you get or give anything particularly amazing as a gift this year?
NF: Wow. Particularly amazing?
HD: Something where you thought, Wow, that's just the best present ever?
NF: You know, this is probably going to sound very silly, but being an actress and trying to work all the time, money is always tight, and about a month or two before Christmas, Joshua's mom sent us money to fly home, and that was probably the best gift that I could have received, because we wouldn't have been able to do it without that.
HD: That's pretty cool.
JF: Well, my favorite gift was the $50 gift certificate to GNC.
JF: So we'll have to split our opinion on that one.
HD: Do you have your eye on something on a GNC shelf?
JF: Probably some protein powder!
HD: Thinking of trying to bulk up some for the New Year?
JF: Yeah, thinking of getting some creatine and doing some muscle building.
HD: Sounds like a good plan.
NF: Oh, and my mom got me a pore cleanser for my face. I call it a pore-sucker.
HD: Is it a mechanical device, or is it like a salve?
NF: It's a mechanical device that you plug in. I'm assuming that it's going to somehow suck my face.
NF: Maybe like as a squid does.
HD: Now, you're not making this up, are you? You not doing a bit here?
NF: No, I'm not making this up. Next time you see me, I might be white as a result of using this thing. We'll see.
HD: [laugh] Okay. Speaking of doing bits, you were both here over the summer back in August at the Improv Inferno, and I went to both performances--the Wednesday night Citizen Improv and then the 313 show on Friday--do you guys have any memory of the bits you did for those shows? I mean, I'm not asking you to re-enact anything here, I'm just wondering when you do an improvisational evening, does that just evaporate from your memory, or do certain scenes stick in your mind, say, as that was a really great scene, and I'll remember that for a really long time?
NF: Well, there is a time sometimes when you're improvising, when you just get into this mode where you can't remember what was happening, because you're so in the moment. And that happens often for me working with the 313. Just because those guys are so fast and so quick and everything flows really nicely. After the show sometimes we'll sit and go, Hey, when you did that, that was great, that was wonderful when you did that! And we will remember things and things that worked well, characters that worked well, or initiations that worked well. We always sort of try to talk about things that work and things that don't work. Of course the bad things you remember for longer, Dang, why'd I say that, that was stupid! And then the good things, you're like, Yeah, I said that, that was great!
HD: Do you remember the scene from the Wednesday night performance, where you were in the J.C. Penney's, the character you had created was an old woman shopping for underwear ...
NF: ... yes, yes, I remember that.
HD: That one made an impression on me as one of the best scenes of the night. And there was another one, were there were two band geeks, that I thought was particularly ... anyway I remembered it.
NF: That set was so much fun, because I'd never improvised with any of those people before. And there's such a giving quality to improvisation where you just have to sort of let go, and make the other people on stage look good, and hope that they make you look good, and hope that everything turn out well.
HD: One of the things you did that evening that I hadn't seen before at the Improv Inferno was music: singing. So you were off stage on several occasions, but were providing sort of this background soundtrack vocal almost. Now you both sing, right? It's a standard part of the competition on Wild 'N Out?
NF: Yeah, we rap and then we also do an improv R & B sort of song.
HD: Now, I don't get MTV and I haven't seen it since I was in college, I think, so I'm relying on descriptions I've read on the internet, plus there's one video uploaded sometime in November, the Immigration-slash-Jungle-Fever un-aired segment ...
NF: ... yes! We sing that one together.
HD: So improvised singing, that just strikes me as impossible to do without preparing in advance. I mean I know it must be gratifying to hear someone say, Wow, I can't believe you guys really improvised that, you must have scripted it. Because it was that good. But on the other hand, it must be frustrating, that when you really nail something like that--and I have to believe, plenty of people have already told you that that vocal singing performance by both of you, that is just like a slam dunk, homerun, right? But how frustrating is it for you to hear people say, No way you made that up on the spot! No way!
JF: I love it.
NF: I love it, too!
JF: That's the fun of it, is the skepticism and playing with people's perception of what they think couldn't possibly be improv. It's sort of like being a magician, and after the show having people go, There's no way, oh my God!
NF: How did you do that?
JF: When you hear that, you know you've done it right. It should look like it has been scripted, and the audience, the more skeptical they are, it means the better you've done. And if I have an audience that comes to me after the show and says, Yeah, you were really improvising! it probably means I sucked!
HD: Well, sometimes it's nice to be able to see the glimpses of the wheels turning, because it lends credence to the idea that it is really made up, that it's not all perfectly seamless. Because unless you see the occasional bobble, or the occasional break in continuity, it's not maybe as believable as improvisation. So did you guys actually win that round [of Wild 'N Out]? Because what's up on the web ends at the end of the musical performance.
NF: Oh, at the end there was like a 5-minute standing ovation, when they couldn't get the audience to sit down. I mean, after that happened, everybody went crazy.
HD: But your team won, right?
NF: Yeah, we won.
HD: Is the scoring by audience vote?
NF: Yeah, it is by audience vote, but by the time it's put on MTV, they sort of fudge it to make Nick Cannon win, because it's his show [laugh].
HD: Oh, okay.
JF: But the guest was Kanye West, so he was kind of, You know, Kanye I think should win.
NF: Yeah, that one in particular was so much fun to do. The audience on the show doesn't know that we're married. So I think that really threw them. Oh my god, this black girl's dancing with the white guy, what's going on?! So that always throws them for a loop whenever that happens.
JF: Even our bosses can't believe we're married. They had hired Nyima first and were bringing me in for interviews ... I was in for about my third or fourth interview, where they finally said, Okay, we'd like to hire you to be the improv director for the show, and it's really funny, because we have a girl who we've hired, who has the same last name as you! And I said, Yeah, yeah, that's my wife.
HD: That's where she got that name, by the way.
JF: Yeah, but they were like, No, no, it's a beautiful black woman. And I said, Yeah, that's my wife. And they said, No, let me get her head shot and they went through the file and they showed me the photograph and one last time I said, Yep, that's my wife! And they took about a 3-second pause and said, Why did she marry you??
HD: So why did you marry this guy? Did you guys fall in love after 313 formed or were you already a couple when that happened?
NF: We were a couple before that. We actually both went to the University of Michigan Musical Theater Program. He was two years ahead of me in the Musical Theater Program. And I knew of 'Joshua Funk'. You know, I'd seen him, met him, he was the golden boy, is the golden boy ...
JF: ... aww ...
NF: ... I watched him do shows and always thought, Wow, that guy is awesome. A few years later--and you know we never dated or spoke or anything, ...
HD: ... you just worshiped him from afar?
NF: Yes, I just worshiped him. A few years later, I was doing a show at the Performance Network. And the producer at Second City Detroit came to see the show, and asked me to audition for Second City Detroit. And I went to the audition and I see this guy. And I go, Hey, that's Josh Funk, I remember him! I had never improvised before. And I went up to him before the audition and I knew that he had done Second City and was in the cast, and I said, Hey Josh, I'm Nyima Woods from University of Michigan and he was like, Yeah? And I said, I've never improvised before, you know, what can you tell me? And he gave me this look like, What are you doing here? And he said, Don't ask any questions, and say yes to everything, that's basically how you improvise. And I'm like, Why does this guy got such an attitude with me ...?
HD: ... do you remember this encounter at all, Josh?
JF: Oh, absolutely not.
NF: Well, we walked into the room to audition and he's running the audition. So I realize that I've just told the guy that I'm trying to get hired by, that I have no idea what I'm doing there. I ended up getting hired. He was my first director. As soon as the show opened, we started dating.
HD: And what was that show?
NF: The show at the time was a retrospective show, the 5th Year Anniversary for the Second City.
JF: It was my first directing job with Second City and if I can remember correctly, Marty Kohn, the theater reviewer, reviewed it and I got one star.
HD: Hey, it's better than no stars.
JF: It was probably the worst review that I've ever gotten in my life.
HD: Did you clip it and save it, though?
JF: I clipped it and saved it, because that was probably my motivating force to try to become the best director for Second City ever. Because when you have a horrible failure early in your career, it can either do great things for you or it can just stop you from doing it ever again. And for me, I decided that I wanted to make it do great things for me. You know, the reason why I was kind of stubborn-ish with Nyima, was because I had already liked her, ...
NF: ... aww ...
JF: ... so I didn't want to show her that I liked her, so instead of that I showed her that I, um, didn't like her.
HD: So did you notice her worshiping you from afar earlier?
JF: Well, I went and saw her in the Color Museum. Right? Was that it?
HD: Where is the Color Museum?
NF: It's a play by George Wolf. We did it at the Performance Network ...
HD: ... oh, it's the name of a play ...
NF: ... oh, you thought it was like a racist thing? Well, it could happen! [laugh]
HD: Or I was thinking like displays of Crayola crayons.
NF: I have also been in the African-American Museum, the Black People Museum, ...
JF: But I just call it the Color Museum!
NF: Yeah, he cuts to the chase. [laugh]
JF: So I had admired her ever since she was a sophomore in college. So you know, I played it cool. And it worked! I got her!
NF: So we lived in Detroit for a couple of years, we dated for a while and then we moved to Chicago and decided to try our hand at the Second City there. We got married in 2000.
HD: Wow, then you've been married six years, then!
NF: Yes. Yep, about two days before we got married I was asked to join the Chicago Main Stage cast of Second City. And I joined the cast and Joshua started directing shows ...
HD: ... 2000 was also the year that the movie Garage, came out, is that right?
NF: In '99, 2000, yeah.
HD: So you were getting married and directing a movie all at the same time?
JF: I didn't direct Garage. I wrote it and starred in it. Mikey Brown directed it, who's now running Planet Ant in Hamtramck.
HD: It's supposed to be out on DVD I read. But when I looked for it on Blockbuster-dot-com and Netflix-dot-com, I couldn't find it. Who do you need to call to make that happen?
JF: Planet Ant website. They are the sole distributors.
HD: Now do you know, is George Wendt still alive? [Ed. note: Mr. Wendt appears in Garage. And deepest apologies here to George Wendt. Bear in mind this question comes from a guy who thought the Color Museum was a museum.]
NF: Oh, yeah.
HD: I was trying to remember. I thought I remembered seeing that he had died somewhere.
JF: He is currently touring around the country in Twelve Angry Men. I think he was just on Broadway. And travelling around the country. We're actually good friends with him out in Los Angeles.
HD: Does he live close by?
JF: We live within five minutes of each other. And he has been great to us.
NF: Yeah, he really has.
JF: It's scary moving to Los Angeles. Scarier than any other city I've ever moved to. Just because it's really intimidating and it's so far away from home, and it's so expensive. You have that feeling where, Boy, if I don't make something happen soon, I'm back on the bus headed back to Chicago or Ann Arbor ...
NF: ... or on the Amtrak ...
JF: ... on the Amtrak with the door open. He was one of the people that really took us under his wing when we got out there. He introduced us to people, showed us around, and he's been an angel to us.
HD: So you mentioned before this 'pore-sucker' that your mom gave you as a gift, and said that it might make you white, and you've just made light of race in connection with the Color Museum, and in fact that video clip from Wild 'N Out that we talked about, the humor in that trades heavily on ...
NF: ... race. Yes.
HD: Right. So obviously, you as a couple, this is something that you're very comfortable dealing with. In comedic contexts, now, it seems to me that we as a country are pretty good at dealing with race--Michael Richards aside--but what is it that you think doesn't allow us to take the good time that the white people and the black people on the screen in that video seem to be having with your performance--why is it so difficult to translate that into day-to-day life?
NF: Well, I think it's because we do have these perceptions of race and of each other that we can put them on stage and laugh at them. But we're laughing because they're true and these things, we actually see them every day. I have had issues in the past working at Second City, doing things on stage and saying things on stage--even with Wild 'N Out, many people on the show will find it okay to use the N-word, and I don't at all. I think there is a more intelligent way that we can look at race in America and still find the humor in it, without being racist about it.
JF: I think we learned at Second City more than anywhere that comedy is more than just laughter, that comedy can hit important issues. Detroit Second City, of all the Second Cities--in Chicago, and Toronto, and Cleveland, and Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York--Second City Detroit is known for its racial content. More than any other Second City. That is sort of its bread-and-butter. And so early on, Nyima and I learned that racial tension in a city that is full of racial tension can be the cause of great comedy, because you press certain buttons, and you make people feel uncomfortable and that's the key to releasing that laughter. Then we learned it again in Chicago, with 9-11. Suddenly the racism was no longer about black and white. It was about everybody versus Arabs or Muslims.
NF: I think September 12th was the day when all black people were like, Hey, we can do whatever we want, nobody really cares!
HD: So it seems like what you're saying is that it's perhaps these unhealthy racial tensions that exist, these unhealthy relationships between races, that actually allows the comedy to happen, and that it wouldn't necessarily be reasonable to expect that out of that comedic community experience you could extract some way to live day-to-day. That it's not really surprising, when you analyze it that way.
JF: Yes. In fact, I can tell a quick story about right after 9-11. We were in the middle of directing or writing a show in Chicago. Nyima was on the Main Stage Second City, and I was directing the ETC Second City. Both theaters are in the same building, connected. Nyima's show was scheduled to open on ...
NF: ... September 12th, 2001.
JF: So they wrote an entire show and the day before it opened, the world changed. And they got a lot of criticism, because suddenly here was this show that wasn't dealing with hard issues.
JF: It seemed like comedy that didn't deal with issues was pointless, that it was light and fluffy and meaningless. So we had the order come down from our bosses, saying we had to change the Mainstage Show and re-write a bunch of scenes to be about what happened that day. And the ETC show, since we were in the middle of writing it, our show had to be all about 9-11. They say in comedy the formula is: tragedy plus time equals comedy. Well, we didn't have the time, we had the tragedy. I remember those months after 9-11, it wasn't enough time, a normal enough time after that. That was something that was different from anything in our history. Maybe Pearl Harbor might be compared to it, but that's not our generation. But we found a way, and through dealing with the truth and through dealing with the way people were feeling and releasing tension, and we found that comedy could be therapeutic, and can change lives. The show that we wrote was so powerful that we had firemen from Ground Zero in New York, coming to Chicago to take a break from the rubble to laugh about it. And it turned into a routine for these firemen in New York to make these trips to Chicago to see the show at Second City, so that they could find a way to laugh at what they were doing, and then go back. They would come backstage after the shows and say, You know, this is better than any therapist I've gone to, this is better than any group session of talking about these issues. Comedy is a very powerful healer. And right now with the Michael Richards situation, comedy is a way we're dealing with it on Wild 'N Out in improv scenes. He said things that are really hard to listen to. And really hard to swallow. But they're there. Nyima and I have realized that the one weapon we have, and that we're good at, is we can take hard issues and we can find a way to make people laugh at them, not in a making-fun-of kind of way, in an observational kind of way. To say, let's float above this issue, let's look at it, let's observe it, let's talk about it, let's start a dialogue, and let's say some things that make people start their own dialogue once they leave the theater and the improv world.
HD: So you guys got big New Year's plans?
NF: We're going back to Chicago. There's a party at Josh's family's house. And for New Year's Eve, we're going to be on Lake Michigan. We're going to rent a house on Lake Michigan, with some of Josh's friends.
HD: So do they do fireworks over the lake or anything like that for New Year's?
NF: I don't know!
JF: There'll be fireworks between you and I ...
NF: ... oh, honey! [laugh] This teeter totter is very romantic.
HD: Uh, yes, it's a lot of fun. [laugh] I built it as a 15th year wedding anniversary present for my wife and me.
NF: Awww ...
HD: ... well, it's a metaphor for marriage.
NF: The ups and downs?
HD: Well, you know, the balance, the give and take, something like that.
JF: It's kind of like we're married to you right now.
HD: Sort of.
NF: Except there's that extra baggage you have to carry, the fifty pounds.
HD: Oh, you mean these extra counterweights? This is working out okay, I think. I was really concerned. And Josh, you're doing a nice job.
JF: Yes, I'm getting great work on my legs.
HD: Yeah, I know if I had just a little more weight I could take a little more responsibility.
JF: And if I just had a little bit of protein powder right now ...
NF: ... GNC!
HD: So you guys don't have Rose Bowl tickets or anything like that?
NF: No, we don't.
HD: So do you have connections out there in L.A. where if you really, really wanted to see the game you could manage to score some tickets? I mean could George Wendt come through for you?
JF: Probably. Larry Campbell, who's a Michigander--he's on According to Jim, he's one of our best friends--but he's got crazy connections somehow with ABC.
NF: He does. Like he can go to Disney World and jump the line. Who does that?
HD: I've never been to Disney World, so I don't know what that might be like.
NF: Oh, it's incredible.
HD: I just wanted to ask you before we hop off the teeter totter, there's this guy Andy Cobb, who's a part of 313. At the Friday night show, when they were playing the Improv Inferno, he kept going to use the bathroom. And it turned out that I needed to use the bathroom, too, during the show. So you know I waited until he came out before I went in, because I didn't want to have an awkward Andy Cobb encounter in the men's room.
HD: So I go in an there's two urinals, and I take the one farther away. And he comes back in and takes the other one, and I finish up, and the way it's configured, the urinal, well, there's no space between the urinal and the stall behind it for traffic. So if someone's standing there using it, you basically can't get past without brushing up against them. And I don't think he even saw me standing there, was the problem. So I thought maybe when I flush, he'll hear it and maybe he'll figure out that he needs to give some ground and make some accommodation, but he didn't. And I'm just wondering, without telling you what my solution was, knowing Andy as you guys do, what do you think the right call would have been?
JF: Well first of all: Andy Cobb is crazy. And we love him for it.
NF: He's brilliant. He's brilliantly crazy.
JF: And he would have loved, if you had done something equally as crazy.
HD: Well, it wasn't like he was doing anything crazy. He was more just in the way, going about his regular 'business'.
JF: Or was he?
HD: Hmm, well there is that one video short ...
JF: He does a great job at making people feel uncomfortable to get something out of them. Just strangers walking down the street.
NF: Hi, I'm Andy Cobb, you're a child, how's that going for ya? You know, he's just one of those ...
HD: ... so you think there's a possibility that it was just intentional, that he intentionally put me in this circumstance?
JF: Mm hmm.
NF: Or that he just wasn't aware.
JF: He's kind of like an Andy Kaufman, where you ...
HD: ... don't know if it's performance or real?
JF: You don't know. He only needs an audience of one sometimes.
NF: When Andy comes over to our apartment, before he comes I'll hide things because he'll pick up anything and just put it in his mouth.
NF: But I'm used to that, and I'm cool with it. I'm like, Andy, give me my curling iron back!
JF: But we've been working with him a lot on YouTube now.
HD: So, these Tuesday Movies?
JF: The Tuesday Movie Day.
HD: These silent little movies, is there a new one every Tuesday, is that how it works?
NF: Actually, those started when we were in Chicago. And the way that it started was Andy and I were in the Second City ETC cast. Josh was our director. We only did shows Thursday through Sunday, so we had Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday off. The three of us decided we would get together on Tuesday morning, come up with a film short idea, film it, and edit it, all in one day. And then show it to people when we went back to work. Second City was like, Hey, put that on our website! So it became: every week making a new video. Now it's a class that they have at Second City, it's completely out of our hands. That sort of started us on this guerilla movie-making thing: get a suggestion from the audience, and make a movie from it, and show it at the next show.
HD: So the Tuesday Movie series, are those all from audience suggestions from some show or another?
NF: No, those are ones that we came up with on our own.
HD: Are they scripted out? I mean, obviously the dialogue is not scripted out, because there is no dialogue, they're silent.
NF: No, the first one, we said, What if this guy wakes up in his apartment and he has no idea who he is? We started with that. And then someone was standing in front of the mirror and noticed that if you turn the mirror like this, you can make it look like his reflection in a black woman. So it sort of went from there. And Josh got a beer-making machine for Christmas, and that's the second episode. It was so funny, because we tried to make the beer and it was so much work. You know, people give you a gift, and it turns out to be way more work ...
HD: ... yeah, making beer is not like mixing up some lemonade.
NF: Exactly. So that was the second one: this guy gets a beer machine and goes through weeks and weeks of making it. And the more we did them, the more people started going, Hey, when's the next one? Can I be in it? What's the next story? What's going to happen? So that set of six is just what we did in Chicago. When we moved out to Los Angeles, and we hooked up with the other 313 people, who are all Detroit Second City people. I think it was sort of a ploy to get people to come back and see our shows every week. We'd say, Hey, we'll make a movie, and we'll base it off an audience suggestion, and it'll be improvised! And it just turned into a weekly movie-making thing.
HD: Now, the video that involves you as a couple sitting on a couch--the mechanic who's a member of the band, Satan's Bellybutton, and you and a dental hygienist--that was one of those?
NF: No, somebody else wrote that. Rick Ferguson, he's a friend of ours. We get a lot of people who say, Hey, can you come down and do this film short for us?
HD: So that was all scripted out?
NF: No, I think he just said, Okay, you guys are a couple and he wants to have a singing group and you don't want him to, so go! And we just sort of took it away and improvised off of it.
HD: Well, to wrap up the story about Andy, I just said, Dude, I gotta get past, sorry.
NF: [laugh] Did he say, Hey, dude, I'm sorrry.
HD: No, just sort of said, Oh, and gave me a little space. [Ed. note: Bill, a neighborhood cat, wanders into the backyard] Oh, are you guys allergic to cats at all? That's not our cat, but he rules the upper slopes of Mulholland.
NF: You know, I used to live at the end of this street.
HD: Did you really??
NF: Yeah, there's a house on the very end, that's actually on Washington, there's a nice hill right on the back there. I used to live there.
HD: Now that was when you were growing up here in Ann Arbor?
NF: No, this was, let's see, it was right before I moved to Detroit. I lived there and I was doing shows at the Performance Network. So it was very convenient for me to walk. That was when the Performance Network was where the new Y[MCA] is now.
HD: Oh right, what did that used to be called ... [Ed. note: It was called the 'Tech Center']
NF: Can I just say one thing? You asked a question earlier about what we do when we come to Ann Arbor. And I just wanted to say that this summer, doing the shows at the Improv Inferno and this past fall when we did shows at the Improv Inferno, it was just such wonderful feeling to do that in Ann Arbor, and have people come out and have that sort of community vibe. I miss that theater and I certainly hope that they're able to open up another one.
HD: Yeah, I don't know what Dan's [Izzo] long term plans are, but right now they're relocated inside of Live at P.J.'s.
NF: But that's just one of those things about Ann Arbor, that you just don't get in a lot of places. [Ed. note: Bill joins HD on his end, apparently tipping the balance dramatically in HD's favor.] Woah, that's heavy cat! [laugh]
HD: Now, were you just playing with me or is Bill really that heavy?
NF: Yeah. Sorry. But Ann Arbor is a really wonderful, wonderful city and I hope that one day we'll make enough money that one day we'll be able to have a house here and in Los Angeles.
JF: Well that's news to me!
NF: Oh, sorry, oops, Ypsilanti.
HD: Well, there's talk about the key to revitalizing Michigan's economy lies somehow in the manufacturing sector, but I've often wondered if it might be possible to generate some kind of bona fide film industry in Detroit. I mean there's certainly a rich history of the recording industry there, maybe not as much anymore. We've got Jeff Daniels over there in Chelsea, doing his thing, but it's hardly the kind of thing that would propel southeastern Michigan into a movie-making hub of some kind. And we've got the Ann Arbor Film Festival, which is not about making movies here, it's people who've already made their movie and then coming here with it. So there seems to be some sort of cultural interest in at least a vague general sense. And having made a movie, can you imagine southeastern Michigan offering anything of interest to movie makers?
JF: Absolutely. I think that the artists here in southeastern Michigan are some of the greatest in the country: the improvisers, the actors, the writers, the directors. And you know, we are making a conscious effort out in Los Angeles and in Hollywood, to constantly try and bring work to this area, to bring it back here. In fact, Andy Cobb in particular, the three of us have been working feverishly to sell a TV show idea, and one of the first things we say is, We want to shoot it all in Detroit.
HD: Does that make it a non-starter for a lot of people who might otherwise listen, though? If you lead with that, some people might say, Well, if that's the way it has to be, if you're not going to negotiate that point, well then we can't talk.
JF: I think they like it, because I think they think it's going to be cheaper to make.
NF: But they also know that there's a creative element. Detroit doesn't look very good on the outside, but behind all those doors, there's a lot of creativity going on, and I think people recognize that and are willing to say, Okay, Detroit, what do you guys want to do there? The show idea that we're trying to pitch is sort of a people's history, telling it from the viewpoint of the people, the masses. That's why Detroit would be a really good place to do that, because ...
HD: ... so this would be an improvised show?
JF: Yes. It's based on the book The People's History of the World.
NF: Howard Zinn's.
JF: And our idea is that every episode, we'd take an issue, like marriage, and we'd show the people of Detroit's version of the history of marriage. And it can it can branch out anywhere. We believe that it's time for the national scene to see what the viewpoints and opinions and philosophies are of people in this part of the world. Because it's not out there a lot on TV. I know there's a lot of stuff out there, but not for everybody to see. But we were here, we lived here, and we've seen it ...
HD: ... so the idea would be there'd be an ensemble cast for the show, or that you'd actually go out on the street and try to piece together an everyman's history of marriage?
JF: There'd be an ensemble cast, and they'd go out on the street ...
HD: ... and interact with regular folks.
NF: But we keep the 313 name alive. I know 313 is Detroit now [Ed. note: The improv troupe's name 313 is a reference to the telephone area code], but it used to be the Ann Arbor area code when I was growing up, so when I say 313, I'm thinking right here.
HD: But the telephone number you left in your email was not a 313 area code. I was so disappointed!
NF: I'm sorry. It's Los Angeles. I tried to get them to change it. But Schwarzenegger won't listen to me.
HD: So this TV series, does it have a proposed name attached to it?
JF: People's History of the World.
HD: And apparently there's some other pilot project you're [Nyima] working on, are you allowed to talk about that?
NF: I'm working on a project for NBC, is that the one? Yes, it's called Thank God, You're Here.
HD: Right. So that exists in Australia already?
NF: Yes, that's already a show that's running in Australia. It's doing quite well. It's a show where there's a four-member cast, and we have a script that we're following and a scene that we're performing in. The fifth person is a celebrity, who does not have a script, does not see the set, does not get a costume until two minutes before they walk out into the scene. And it's up to them to keep up with us and up to us to ...
HD: ... so that's the opening line to each bit: Thank God ...
NF: ... yes, Thank God, you're here! We filmed the pilot and it was a blast. It was a lot of fun.
HD: When is it going to air?
NF: I don't know! Hopefully they'll pick it up for episodes. They're showing it to NBC now.
HD: So this is in the queue for somebody to make a decision that they'll show the pilot?
NF: Yes. That's how it works.
HD: So if they showed the pilot, they'd certainly order at least a couple of more shows, right?
NF: Yes, yes.
HD: Can you say who's on the pilot?
NF: The pilot was Bryan Cranston, who's the father from Malcolm in the Middle. And Jennifer Coolidge, who is in For your Consideration, American Pie, those movies. Wayne Knight, Newman from Seinfeld. And Joel McHale who is on The Soup.
HD: And you?
NF: Well, those are the celebrities. The cast members, there's two guys, Brian Palermo and Chris Tallman. And then myself and a woman named Maribeth Monroe, who is a Second City Detroit alum.
HD: Okay, you were naming off these people and I was parsing them as the ensemble ...
NF: No, those are the guests.
HD: So one show will include ...
NF: ... four celebrities. It's an hour long show.
HD: Got it. So is there an email address people can write to requesting that it be shown?
NF: Well, nbc-dot-com? [laugh]
HD: Listen, anything else on you guy's minds this morning?
NF: Well, thanks for having us.
HD: Well, it's a thrill to have you, I assure you.
NF: It's very cool. We'll come back and do it again.
HD: Absolutely, you can just drop on by. Sometime I'm hoping that someone will take me up on my genuine offer to just knock on the door and say, I'm here to ride your teeter totter. Cause I swear, I can't think of a reason why I wouldn't or couldn't. That's actually my strategy for dealing with all of the door-to-door people. I listen to what they have to say, and then tell them, If you'd like to talk about this further, we can talk about it on the teeter totter.
NF: Really? That's a great idea.
JF: I like that.
HD: There was a Jehovah's Witness who I almost coaxed onto the teeter totter.
NF: That's great.
HD: She was nice, actually, and I found out a lot of interesting things about Jehovah's Witness theology from talking to her. They apparently believe in Heaven, but not as a place where people can go. That's where God lives. And mere humans could not hope to go where God lives.
NF: Kind of like the White House.
HD: Sort of. And they don't believe in Hell, apparently. With that, you'd think it might be a more popular religion.
NF: You'd think. Let's switch.
JF: From what? ...
HD: Well, listen, this has just been a real thrill. I don't even know how to convey it adequately.
JF: This was definitely a unique experience.
HD: I don't think any of your Los Angeles friends are will be able to say, Well, my teeter totter ride over the holidays was better than yours.