Go Deeper

Improv, 1-on-1

Posted August 30th, 2010

Comedy has taken on a bigger role at Philly Fringe in the past two years. For the 2010 Fringe, Matt Holmes offers something unique in the genre: one-on-one improv with a random audience volunteer.

“I always assume they’re scared out of their wits,” Matt says about his partners in improv repartee. “I’ll ask for somebody who’s never been to an improv show before. I try to put them at ease, telling them that anything they can say or do is perfect. It’s all on me—it’s my show, after all.”

Matt recently returned to Philly from the Baltimore Improv Festival, where he says he had one of his best one-on-one shows ever. He also gave a workshop teaching his approach to improvising.

In the workshop, Matt taught “how to improvise without getting in your own way. People have the tendency to over-think—improv teaching supports that by giving a lot of rules. I try to strip it down to making a choice and committing to that choice.”

In one-on-one improv, Matt’s gotta commit, because nobody’s there to bail him out but himself.

“A lot of improv out there,” says Matt, “is five to ten guys in a big group that support each other, like an orchestra. I’ve been doing smaller and smaller groups, and I’m used to working on smaller teams,” like his projects with Rare Bird Show.

“The idea started as, ‘Maybe I’ll do what Susan Messing in Chicago does [in Messing with a Friend], where I get a chance to perform with great improvisers who are out there.”

But, Matt says, he had a nagging fear.

“In the back of my mind was the idea: what if I schedule a show and the person doesn’t show up? And how could I do a show with an audience member?”

And so his one-on-one project was born. He makes a point of making audience members feel comfortable, and of offering them the opportunity to make their own choices as well.

“I say they can even try to mess me up,” says Matt, “and sometimes that yields the funniest lines. In the first show, [when working with] a younger woman, I gave her a name: ‘Karen, your breakfast is ready.’

“She came back with, ‘My name is not Karen.'”

Think you can trip up Matt? Find out at m@& (that’s pronounced “Matt and”), which opens Saturday, September 4 at 9:00 pm. Mainstage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street, Rittenhouse Square. Five other performances, dates and times vary. $10. For details, and to purchase tickets, click here.

–Nicholas Gilewicz