improv comedy with an audience member


An Interview With Matt Holmes

Never Done Again Blog -
March 3, 2015
by Kat Aldrich

I first read about Matt Holmes and his show "Matt&" last year at the first SteelStacks Improv Comedy Festival. I was reading an article written about the festival in the paper. I had contributed some of my photos and was looking to see how they came out with the article.

I saw Matt's photo and read about his show. I saw the pic of just him sitting there and was baffled. What? Is it just him? What is this? I then read on and found out that he does have a second person help him do the show... a stranger! WHAT!?

Come on! Seriously, someone he's never worked with? Someone who's never done improv? And this show actually WORKS? What!?

Well I was impressed from there. I honestly don't remember what happened to me. I missed the show. I think I was just exhausted and really needed a break, and something had to give.

However, this year I made a mental note NOT to miss it. He got on stage, gave a short introduction, and asked for a volunteer. No hands. I was in the front row taking my pics. I waited a few more seconds. Still nothing. I raised my hand and said: "SURE I'll do it!"

The next thing I know I was his blind date, and I was calling him a dangerous baby. Then in the next scene I was his son who wasn't a football hero, and finally I was his ex wife who had just had a fling with him and was trying to reconnect our marriage again; even though all he wanted to do was label everything. Not just our relationship, but with his label maker!

And people were laughing at us! It really worked, and he was a total stranger to me, but he as good at making me feel safe up there. I just knew he'd catch me if I faltered at something.

This really deserves some mad props on his part because I'm pretty selective about who I'm comfortable doing scenes with. It's something I'm still working on, but being up there and not caring if it went well or not got me that much closer.

It was a lot of fun, and it was really great getting to know this guy who is obviously very passionate about improv and his show Matt&. Enjoy the interview!

KA: Tell me about your beginnings, what led you to improv?

MH: I've always been interested in comedy, not just as a fan but as a genuine fascination. I like comedy like everybody else, but I'm also really interested in the inner workings of it, like it's a puzzle to figure out.

When I was a kid, I had phases where I got really into watching stand-up, then watching SNL and SNL reruns from the 70s, then stuff like Laugh-In or Kids In The Hall or Monty Python that I stumbled onto, and also new stuff coming out like In Living Color, The State, MADTV.

Recently, I got really into British sketch like Mitchell & Webb, Armstrong & Miller, Fry & Laurie, French & Saunders.

I'm a comedy fan who got brave enough to try it, like a lot of improvisers.

Honestly, though, I just tried out for a college improv group on a whim, the way that people do anything and everything else in college on a whim. The fact that I got in just pushed me into actually doing it and learning more. I'm the kind of person who's into something all the way or not at all.

After college, I wanted to do improv but didn't see a lot of opportunities, so I ended up starting my own group and helping to build a comedy community in Philly, with shows and classes and workshops and making connections.

KA: What is something you are still trying to master in improv? How are you working to improve that?

MH: I've spent a lot of time getting comfortable on stage, but I've also spent a lot of time figuring improv out.

I've had some good opportunities to learn from a lot of different schools of thought, as well as learning by doing. Like anything else, different experts have different opinions and approaches.

I've tried to boil down everything I've heard and read and learned about improv into some simple, underlying techniques. That's the most useful for myself and for when I teach others.

I've also been learning all kinds of random skills that could come into play: clown, circus, singing, dance, dialects, I'm reading the dictionary cover to cover (currently on J).

KA: What about improv brings you the most joy?

MH: I really like how improv is something that anybody can do.

I really like how improv can surprise even the people doing it, becoming more than the sum of its parts.

I really like how improv combines a lot of different skills and interests, like repeating exponential fractals.

In Matt&, I love when a hesitant partner starts to open up and play more, and also when pieces start to fit together.

KA: In your show "Matt &," you pick someone at random from the audience every time and do a scene with them. Tell us the story of how this "idea" came about.

MH: As I went to improv festivals around the country and built the Philadelphia scene, I met more and more great improvisers. I got a chance, occasionally, to play with different people (like in the randomly selected trio tournament, Troika).

I picked out some people I really wanted to play with, if I liked their style. I thought about doing some kind of Marvel Team‑Up project, and somehow that idea sparked another idea: performing with somebody from the audience.

I had done more short-form games in the past, which can be engaging to the audience, but had moved into doing predominantly long-form shows, which I found to be more artistically satisfying but a bit detached from the audience.

This improvise-with-an-audience-member idea seemed like a bridge.

An opportunity came up, and I gave it a shot. It was strange to be so nervous again with this new challenge.

The show worked remarkably well. I've been consistently surprised at how much of a perfect fit it is for me, and how it can be interesting for audience members who are unfamiliar with improv and at the same time interesting for experts who know all the ins and outs.

Since my first attempt in 2008, I've performed with more than 60 strangers in 8 states, and even advised people doing similar shows in 3 countries.

KA: In "Matt &," you must have had some challenging experiences. You're working with people you don't know, and who probably don't know improv. How do you make this work?

MH: I start with the concept that my partner can do no wrong. I set them up to make choices, and then I support whatever choice they make.

My natural tendency to over-control becomes a positive, but the show also naturally pushes me to do more listening, connecting, and letting go.

I've added in lighting, sound effects, and music. That seems to make the show more solid for my partner to fit into, and also keep the energy and pace up.

KA: Favorite Slow Jam?

MH: Elephant Larry forever solidified that Dilemma (Nelly, featuring Kelly Rowland) is my jam on the real.

To learn more about Matt Holmes and where he performs his show "Matt&" go to: