After Midnight started on a whim when some Level 1 students decided to enter the ColdTowne CageMatch. They went on to win that series and have kept performing together regularly at ColdTowne while still taking classes. Now in Level 5, Chelsea Bunn, Vickie Dinges Grier, Kim Lowery, Brian May, Lance Nealy, Frances Nguyen and Bobby Stover tell us what it’s like to play shows while still learning the basics.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, can you all explain what exactly the ColdTowne CageMatch is?
Lance: The CageMatch is like a bracket-style tourney. Each Wednesday night at 10, two or three troupes will each play twenty minute sets with the audience voting on who they liked best. The team that wins that night advances. There are usually a few weeks of preliminaries, then the semifinals and then you’re ultimately left with two teams. The troupe that wins that final round are made CageMatch champions and get to sign their name on the chump chucker, this barbed wire-wrapped 2×4. It’s bad-ass. They’ve also recently added a four-show run to the deal. Since Raw Power won the last series, they get to host the current one and close out every CageMatch show. But the best part is that anyone can form a troupe and enter. The commissioner can only take so many troupes, but pretty much everyone has an equal shot. That’s how we got in, dumb luck. Part of winning is putting on a good show, but an equal part is marketing it, so you get all your friends to show up and vote.
Bobby: For me Cagematch epitomizes what I love about Coldtowne: that everyone, regardless of experience level, is eligible to perform and participate. It just makes the improv community seem so open and inviting.
How long have you all been performing improv comedy? What made you start?
Brian: I started in January along with most of these people. I had recently gone to NYC and seen some amazing stand-up that got me really into the whole comedy world, and I had always watched “Whose Line” growing up. Then I had a friend from forever ago that tried improv to get stage experience for Blue Man Group, and he loved it. I took his suggestion and ran with it, couldn’t be happier he told me to go for it.
Kim: My husband sent me a text one day with a picture of a ColdTowne poster someone had hung up in the break room in his office. (Thanks Sarah Coker!) His message said, “You could do an improv class =)” So I went to the free Monday night class with Cody. It was so exciting, and I was happy for the challenge.
Bobby: I saw a rap battle show at another improv studio in town and thought it looked like a lot of fun. Then Frances and I wound up in the same free class with Kim and, BAM! Next thing I knew I was standing on stage, blinded by bright stage lights. Nicely done Cody!
Vickie: A friend did an interview with Sam for the my husband’s podcast and I fell in love with the idea. The hubs got me Level 1 classes as a Christmas gift.
Lance: My neighbors took me to see The Frank Mills and Midnight Society at ColdTowne and I had a blast. I kept that ticket stub with the free class info on my desk. I was working from home at the time, and was new to Austin so I really needed to get out and meet people.
How did you all meet? How did After Midnight happen?
Brian: We all just met through classes at improv. Bobby just asked who wanted to try to enter the CageMatch, and then a Facebook chat was born, and eventually we got to the CageMatch.
Bobby: I became aware that Level 1’s can participate in Cagematch on the eve of the deadline so as Brian said, I just asked everyone in my class and signed us up that night. Luckily you can change rosters before the first show because we lost about half of the people who originally said they were interested. So between those few brave remaining souls and a couple free agents we picked up as late as the evening of our first show – Kady and Vickie I believe? After Midnight became a thing!
Vickie: I believe Bobby is right. I asked if they had enough people and Bobby said “come on.” When we advanced the first night, I didn’t even realize they said our name.
Lance: Yeah, Vickie was totally “What just happened?” That first show was so much fun and just crazy. At this point I feel like we need to pour one out for our dead homie Kady Ferris. She’s not dead, but she moved to Portland after we won the CageMatch series, which basically makes her dead to us. But in a nice way. Hi, Kady!
Where did your name come from?
Frances: Bobby signed our group up for the CageMatch, but he did so after the deadline which is at midnight. Hence, After Midnight.
Lance: I used to really hate the name, but it’s totally grown on me. It definitely fits the material we did in that first run of shows. Very perverted. Very blue.
Brian: I’m with Lance, I really didn’t like it, but it is growing on me, plus some one found a theme song with our troupe name, so that’s not a bad thing.
Bobby: I stand by my late-night, half-thought out decision on a name. Glad ya’ll finally came around!
Are you nervous before you go on? What’s the mood like in the hallway?
Frances: Excited mostly. A little nervous. And just trying to keep the momentum from warming up going as we’re waiting. My favorite part is right before going on when we all pat each other on the back and say, “I got your back.” It’s slightly cheesy and totally sincere.
Brian: I’m always really excited before and not nervous at all before we get into the hallway, then it’s like game time and the mood gets more serious, and we do the got your back thing, Frances hit the nail on the head, if you read this I applaud your dedication to the interview.
Kim: I’m not always nervous until I get in the hallway, then I’m pretty much immediately giddy and sweaty and unsure. It’s like being strapped into the seat of a Roller Coaster ride. There’s no turning back, and I almost always regret my decision to put myself in these situations. But afterward, I’m so excited and proud that I did it.
Vickie: Love Fest!
How do you get pumped up for a show?
Brian: I love warming up, it’s just a great way to shake everything out and get psyched for whatever is about to happen.
Kim: Warming up in the parking lot is so fun. We play games and run through our opening. It’s pretty incredible being able to play with friends like I did when I was a kid and know that they won’t make fun of these stupid and sometimes vulgar things popping out of my mouth.
Vickie: Usually, Kim says something about poop or Lance gives a character the attribute of having one leg shorter than the other. I also love the addition of Chelsea, who brought Bunny and Froggy into our lives.
Lance: There was some Yelp review online that complained about shows not being improvised because people were rehearsing in the parking lot. To the uninitiated, we’re not rehearsing lines or anything, we’re mentally stretching. Getting loose.
Is it weird taking classes, but also performing? Has one helped the other?
Brian: I don’t think it’s weird, it’s so helpful to have both sides of it going. Currently we’re doing some coaching as well, which is extremely fun and helpful. We have class which we really break stuff down and play less, but learn SO much. It’s nice to be able to play in coaching, and then get down to the nitty gritty the day after, let our minds go over it and then we play again.
Kim: It was weird at first. I sort of had the thought, “Who do we think we are, we don’t know anything yet!” But I think that’s what made us decent. We were learning and we were excited. It still feels that way most of the time.
Vickie: I think they go hand in hand. Classes are the hard work and preparation that make performing fun. And, yes, some of the Level 3 sessions were difficult for me, but I learned a lot. Thanks Dave!
Lance: It’s actually funny how quickly we all moved from being terrified of being on stage to being absolutely addicted. Most of us are in multiple troupes now because we just love playing. There’s Loverboy, Side Hugs, Sorry For Your Loss, GameTowne, Grounded in Harmony, Save By the Bell, Replacement Mark and probably a few more by the time you read this.
What’s it like coming off stage?
Brian: It’s always a little strange, it never feels like it was 20-30 minutes, it goes by in what feels like 5 minutes every time. Sometimes I get so caught up in watching the troupe that I almost forget that I am supposed to get up and play too.
Bobby: Oh man, I always feel in a daze and can barely focus on anything people are saying right after a show. It’s an adrenaline rush being under the lights in front of a room full of people. I love it!
Kim: After a good show where we each got a few laughs, coming off stage is exhilarating. But we recently experienced coming off stage and sort of staring at each other in disbelief. We all knew we hadn’t had fun out there.
Vickie: It’s a feeling of exhilaration and relief all at the same time, but then we start talking about what was good and what could’ve been better. I love it when our coach, Emma, is there because we can get notes right away. I am glad she didn’t see the show Kim described though. It was craptastical.
Lance: Yeah, that one show. We had a run of shows we had really enjoyed. I think part of them was “Wow! We did it. We got up.” And we were inexperienced enough that we didn’t see things we should have done better. I think the longer you’re doing it, the more likely you are to find fault with something you did on stage. Well, we finally hit that show that was just craptastical, as Vickie said. It just wasn’t fun. We had weird energy going in, lots of people had crappy days, etc. But, two days later we had a great show. So much fun. For me it was very much like, “Well, nothing could be worse than that crap fest that just happened.”
Do you all hang out when not in classes or practice?
Frances: No. We all actually hate each other. Sometimes I pass Kim in the hallway, and we try really hard not to make eye contact with each other.
Brian: There’s some animosity in the group, so it’s best to act like we get along on stage.
Bobby: Occasionally we’ll show up to the same bar by accident and it’s super awkward. Lance usually gets buzzed on fruity drinks and then things just get weird!
Kim: Lance sometimes sends us nude photos. Of course, they’re unwanted but it’s nice that he’s reaching out, trying to keep us all connected.
Vickie: The troupe has kind of made me the mom figure, which means we are horribly dysfunctional.
Lance: Can you feel the love? Seriously though, we do hang. After Midnight is very fond of happy hours and day-drinking. Except Chelsea. She doesn’t like to drink. So never offer her a free beer.
Is there something you feel you still struggle with?
Brian: I feel like I struggle with keeping it slow and not jumping to something for a crazy statement. Characters are also not my strong suit I feel, but now you guys all know what to look for and to point out how terrible I am at them, GREAT.
Vickie: Impulse control and remembering to develop relationships with the other characters. I like playing with Frances because she is really good at both.
Bobby: So many times in a show you wind up just jumping up on stage at a moment’s notice which makes it very difficult to truly internalize a character and be able think and act like they honestly would in the various weird obscure scenarios we create. Thank goodness for practice time!
Frances: Aww, thanks Vickie! Something I struggle with is just going with my gut and having confidence in what I have to say, which is something I think a lot of members in our group, especially Vickie, are great at.
Lance: Holding onto a character. Although I recently took a character workshop with Dave Buckman and I’m definitely working on that And I agree with Brian, slowing things down and working on developing characters, versus just doing bits. Also spacework. Good lord do I suck at pantomiming.
Now that you’re way past the halfway point in classes, is there a tip you’ve learned that you’d pass on to other students/performers?
Chelsea: Sit in on classes with different teachers to see what kind of coaching best suits your learning style.
Lance: Try not to be hard yourself. The thing you hated that you did, someone else thought was hilarious. I’m still pretty bad at this one though. It’s good advice but hard to follow.
Brian: Listen, listen, listen.
Vickie: I second all of that. Learning to be open and just letting go can be harder than you think. Turn into the skid!
Bobby: Go to jams early and often! Doing this helped my understanding of what we were learning in classes immensely.
Frances: See shows! There are times when I get in my head about how I’m doing in classes or performances. And then I force myself to go see a show and am reminded why I started taking classes in the first place: when you see a great show, it’s brilliant and funny and inspiring.
Lance: Also if you have the time, try to intern. You get a discount on classes, but more importantly, when you’re doing tech you get to watch shows. You learn so much from just watching shows.
Chelsea: There is a fierce “beer v. liquor” debate within AM. I think we all know which is better… it’s beer.
Brian: I got Lance to say he liked a beer, and of course he denied it afterwards. But I’m a huge imperial stout fan, I used to mainly drink liquor, but this whole craft beer goodness is too good to me.
Vickie: Vodka and ginger ale—not ginger beer, not coke and sprite mixed together, not soda with bitters in it—ginger-freakin’ ale! Lance and I are the liquor hounds!
Lance: I’m a big American whiskey fan, almost anything brown. But I’ve also been digging on the Mezcal lately.
Brian: Wet Hot American Summer, I have watched the first half of that movie drunkenly and passed out at 3:30 am than any other movie. It’s my I-have-people-over-and-we’re-all-drinking-we-have-to-watch-this-movie-right-now-and-then-I-pass-out-halfway-through movie. And there are so many small gems in that movie that you have to watch multiple times through, or at least I did.
Kim: I like all the movies. Especially from the 80s and 90s.
Vickie: The Big Chill, Best in Show, Caddyshack, Dogma, Toys, and A Fish Called Wanda. I also have to watch Snakes on a Plane and Deep Blue Sea any time they are on. Hilarious!
Favorite moment in comedy. Ever?
Brian: That’s a tough one, I honestly can’t say. Maybe watching “Whose Line” growing up with my dad. That’s such a hard question though, there’s so many new moments, definitely doing improv now, every time you play there’s something that is so funny that it blows you away.
Clark: Whew, it’s warm in here.
Mary: Well you have your coat on.
Clark: Ah yes I do, why is that?
Mary: Because it’s cold out.
Clark: Yes it is, it’s a bit nipply out. I mean nippy out, what did I say, nipple? Huh, there is a nip in the air.
Vickie: I love watching classic stand-up, especially George Carlin, Steve Martin, and Richard Pryor. The Original Kings of Comedy has me in tears every freakin’ time and John Leguizamo and Eddie Izzard are pretty genius. Yes, I know I didn’t answer the question.
Lance: I can’t pick a favorite moment in comedy, but the hardest I’ve ever laughed was during the Happy Fun Ball SNL commercial. Something about it just tickled me to the point where I started hyperventilating and I passed out. I woke up and my friend Chris was standing over me laughing at me. I then started laughing again and almost passed out.
Favorite thing about improv?
Brian: The ability to do whatever you want and it’s always right. No matter how ridiculous it comes out of your mouth, it always just works.
Kim: With very few exceptions, I go home feeling inspired and encouraged. The audience is ready to laugh and support us. The best improvisers, the ones I look up to, have been so great to give a pat on the back or an encouraging word. My troupe and classmates have become some seriously awesome friends.
Vickie: I think it’s the unpredictability that comes with playing with other people. I’ve done some stand-up and this is a totally different vibe. You have no idea what’s about to happen, but you feel fearless because you know the others are there for you.
Lance: Totally sappy, but I really love making up stuff with my friends. It’s not always gonna be funny, but it’ll always be fun. Also, I love being in the wings cracking up, watching my friends on stage and I look across at the other wing and I see people there laughing too. That’s the best.
What would you say to someone who has thought about taking classes, but hasn’t signed up yet?
Brian: Either try a free class on the first Monday of the month, or maybe wait until there’s a deal if you’re looking to save some money. I can tell you it’s been worth every penny and I can’t think of anything better to spend it on then learning more and playing with these fine people.
Bobby: Stop hesitating! It’s worth it. And who knows, you may just find out a thing or two about yourself; like that your go-to dance move is a pelvic thrust. Lance!
Kim: DO IT! Seriously, you won’t regret it. I’m always surprised that I am doing this. I love that I’m attempting to learn how to do something that I admire in other performers.
Vickie: It’s a gift to yourself. For two hours a week, you can play and be totally in the moment. Work, traffic, bills, and anything else that’s stressing you out gets pushed completely from your mind.
Best thing that’s happened during a show? Worst?
Brian: There are so many good things that have happened, I can’t remember the best thing, they all blur together after a while. Each CageMatch show we have had had a main point to it that we kept hitting on, and we were going through learning what we were doing, that may be the best part, but that’s just the experience on the whole… Worst thing, I can’t even think of anything bad, anything that feels rough you just forget about and move on, go through the rest of it and it all works out.
Kim: I’m not sure how this qualifies, but in one of our first shows, Bobby’s character made me get on a donkey. Everything in the show had been leading up to seeing a Donkey Show. I was thinking, “If he makes me fuck a donkey, then it’s on like Donkey Kong.” Thanks Bobby for having my back and taking our donkeys on a sunset ride on the beach.
Vickie: I have had some really funny scenes with Brian where I have gotten all up in his personal space. I also liked when I was Lance’s mom and gave him electro-shock therapy. Bobby and Frances invariably make me play the mom in scenes, which can be best or worst. (Remember our trip to the brothel, Bobby?)
Bobby: I had my improv mom, Vickie, meet my real mom once…it wasn’t awkward until Vickie said “so I took your son to a brothel last week…”. Not a bit.
Lance: There was moment on stage where Bobby and I were father and son and we were working at an Arby’s. I said something about beating the meat and I could see Bobby almost start to break, at that point I knew it was gonna be a good night.
When people come to an After Midnight show, what are they going to see?
Brian: Honestly, who knows. Our shows tend to have some dirty subject matter, I feel like Vickie, Kim, and I help to really drive that, maybe unintentionally, but it always happens. We’re testing out formats, and as of me writing this we haven’t even decided what we’re doing yet, we might just make it up all on the spot.
Frances: A group of people having fun! We like performing with one another and are still learning. I feel like I’m getting up there and laughing along with my troupe and the audience.
Kim: They will see a bunch of grown ups playing on stage. We usually have so much fun, and I’m always proud of my troupe mates when they’re up there.
Vickie: Hopefully a high-energy, totally random, completely inappropriate event that’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Bobby: What Vickie really means is: donkey stuff.
If your troupe entered the Hunger Games, who would win? Who would die first?
Frances: I think we talked about this over drinks once, but I can’t remember who we decided would win. I’m pretty sure Bobby and Lance decided to form an alliance to kill everyone else. Typical.
Lance: I don’t know, I’d probably try to form an alliance with Vickie. She always seems to have the skinny on what’s going on in Austin. She’d probably know where all the good knives are buried and which bush is the most flammable.
Brian: I would probably talk a lot of trash and then die about halfway through, but I also haven’t seen the Hunger Games or read the books, so I don’t even know what I’m talking about.
Chelsea: Kady would definitely die first.
Kim: I would win. Because Kim gets Hangry.
Bobby: Guys, I think Chelsea killed Kady!!!
Vickie: Lance is right! I’d put your money on me. I mean, I am the person who sent out pictures of corn dogs and vodka to the entire group. I wouldn’t count Frances out either. She makes a mean cupcake and she will cut a bitch.
Besides After Midnight, who should people check out at ColdTowne Theater?
Brian: I enjoy those Miller and Purselley boys. I’m also partial since I did graduate from high school with Pierce, and we had a very touching moment in my first improv class that we both forgot we were in class, and it stopped cause he “had to keep keeping class” or whatever.
Kim: Miller and Purselley. Anything with Juliet Prather or Sarah Coker. There are so many people to stalk… I mean watch… on stage from a safe and respectable distance.
Bobby: The Frank Mills are awesome, Patio Talk is always hilarious, and pretty much anything involving John Ratliff leaves you wanting to become a better improviser; especially Ratliff’s Church of Indeterminate Divinity show every 3rd Sunday of the month at 5:30pm! (shameless plug, anyone??)
Vickie: There is such a variety: Frank Mills, Wink Planet, Glamazon. The jams are always a chaotic mish-mash of awesome. I also like the Triple Threat shows that combine improv, sketch, and standup.
Lance: Oh, Science! on Sundays is great and if you get a chance, catch Dervish!
All photos by Kim Lowery.
You can see After Midnight perform Wednesday, November 5 @ 8:30pm – tickets available now.
Check out the next FREE Improv 101 Class, the first Monday of every month at 7pm.