Although he is a rather young man, Jimmy Sitzman has been doing improv for a good chunk of his life, and he’s seen some sh*t. He’s been an ensemble member for both Comedy City and KCIC, plays on multiple teams around town, coaches high schoolers for Operation Show, and is literally the best booth person an improviser could ever want!
What are your 3 favorite tv shows of all time?
#1 – Desperate Housewives. I connect with Lynette Scavo so much but my friends tell me I’m a Bree Van de Kamp. I’ve seen the whole series over five times and am currently working on my sixth.
#2 – Golden Girls. I’ve seen every episode multiple times and they still always make me laugh. The comedy is brilliant and, for its time, it was very progressive.
#3 – RuPaul’s Drag Race. I really hate reality television – especially competition based shows – but I adore this one. I think it’s done a lot to progress LGBTQ awareness and acceptance and it is always a hoot to watch. Plus to see where it’s come from and the fan base its grown is extremely impressive.
What made you fall in love with improv?
I remember going to Chicago when I was 17 and seeing one of my first longform shows ever at i.O. The suggestion was “road trip” and the group (whose name I can’t recall) was so fu*king in sync it was crazy. They went on a road trip where they ran into so many obstacles in the way of getting to their destination. At the end of the set it was revealed that the “road trip” was really a mushroom trip – and it blew my mind. It was one of those sets I would do anything to watch again so I could see the signposts of what made it a mushroom trip. You could tell the performers knew from the beginning what they were doing but wanted to wait to let the audience in on the joke. It was hands down one of the top five sets I’ve seen in my improv career. From that moment on I wanted to do that for an audience – keep them on the edge of their seat and give them a shock just as satisfying and beautiful as the one that group did.
Have you ever needed a performance break?
I took about a year off in 2017. It wasn’t anything anyone did; I just felt like I was really sh*tty at improv. I wasn’t in a good place emotionally with myself and it began to show on stage. I lost my confidence, voice and joy in doing improv. It became a chore that I had to do instead of a hobby I loved to do. I felt like I wasn’t good enough and had a slew of bad shows in a row that made me think, “Maybe this isn’t for you. Maybe you aren’t accepted or loved in the community. Maybe it’s time to hang your hat.” So I did. I quit and had no intention of joining the scene again, but decided on impulse to audition for the Conservatory at KCIC led by Adam Hoelscher. That experience changed a lot of my feelings about myself in the improv community. I felt supported and I worked through some of my personal demons regarding being on stage. My confidence grew and I felt good again. I felt like I belonged again. I hope Adam knows how much that class helped me. And how much it meant to me. It was a true turning point for me in my performance career.
What made that class and Adam so great as a teacher?
Adam is an extraordinary teacher who’s both positive and honest at the same time. He allowed me to fail at scenes without making me as a performer feel like a failure. He’s not only extremely knowledgable but he’s also super passionate. I think, at times, instructors tend to get burnt out on improv themselves and it begins to bleed into the classes they teach. With Adam, this was not the case. Every class felt specifically tailored to the needs of me and my fellow classmates making it a blast to play with them. I still hold some of those scenes close in my improv-heart.
What’s your go-to improv resource (be it book, podcast, blog, etc.)?
CLASSES. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing improv you should take classes as often as you can. Books, podcasts, gossip sessions – all of them are helpful, but there is nothing that compares with taking a class from a seasoned improviser who will give you direct feedback.
Is there anyone around town you want to take a class from that you haven’t gotten a chance to? And if so, what would the workshop be on?
I would love to take a class from Jamie Campbell on character work. Character heavy short form games like Dating Game and GABA terrify me because I don’t find myself to have the most diverse range of character development as other improvisers. I find myself usually playing a character very similar to myself. While that is an important trait to have as an improviser, I think it’s equally as important to be able to play a very off-the-wall out-there character, too.
Without any sort of self-criticism, what do you think defines you as an improviser? If someone saw you at a show, and loved your performance, what about it would you think stood out to them?
Hard question. I really don’t see myself as one who “stands out” in a show – and I don’t want to be. I think a quality improviser is not only funny but works diligently to set their scene partner(s) up to be the funny one in the scene. I would like to think that is me but the truth is… I’m the improviser who calls out the crazy in the scene. When something crazy or wacky happens I like to bring a little realism to the scene. The audience usually responds well because they’re also thinking “who has a penguin as a pet?” “Since when do cats speak Spanish?”
As much as we are all very entrenched in the improv world, and as big as improv is in a lot of cities, it still feels like an art form that a lot of people don’t know much about. Why do you think this is?
Personally, I think improv is a niche market. As a whole we don’t do the best job of explaining what improv is to people buying a ticket at home. Many of my colleagues always ask “how’s your stand-up going?” And I have to explain to them the difference between stand-up comedy and improv. We have got to stop saying, “Did you ever watch ‘Whose Line’? It’s basically that.” It’s not basically that. That show, while awesome, is one tiny slice of the diverse world that is improvisational theatre. The more we can market to people what improv really is, an unscripted theatrical production, the more main-stream I think we would be.
If you were able to travel back in time to right before your first improv class, what would you say to yourself?
“YOU’RE GOING TO FAIL and it’s okay.” When I auditioned for my first troupe in high school I didn’t make it. I beat myself up about it pretty hard but decided to give it another go the next year and made it. And for a while there were no bad shows (that I recall). I attribute that to playing in front of my fellow high schoolers (who were my friends) so of course they laughed. That’s the beauty of putting on a show for your friends.
Then, still in high school, I was in a show downtown when ComedyCity use to be at the buffalo room and I BOMBED. One of the worst sets I’ve ever done. And that was my first experience at having a bad show and I thought, “Did I lose my mojo? Or do adults just not get my humor?” Since then, I’ve had great shows and I’ve had not so great shows – and that’s okay. Not every show is meant to be the best. I’m grateful to have that knowledge now. The knowledge that it’s okay to trip up and stumble from time to time. It’s a natural part of doing improv. And at the end of the day I tell myself the same thing I tell my high schoolers, “Even if you don’t have the best scene or set that’s fine. That’s going to make the next brilliant scene you have feel ten times better.”
Is there something you find yourself working on more nowadays that you used to not focus on as much? How has it helped or hindered your play?
I’ve been working really hard on being less timid lately. When I first started doing longform I never wanted to edit scenes. There was some Midwestern hospitality going on in my brain saying, “No! Don’t be rude. Let them take their scene as far as it can go.” Over time I have found this is almost the opposite – it’s more rude not to cut a scene when it needs to be cut. It’s part of supportive play. So, lately I’ve been working on gaining confidence in myself to make the right call and cut. I’ve found this has helped the sets I’ve been in for the most part. One of the brilliant things about the always delightful Ham Kitty is their ability to cut a scene perfectly. Some scenes can last 6 minutes and some can last six seconds, and they never vary in their crazy level of sheer awesome. Eventually I want to have that same skill in my toolbox fully sharpened.
Do you think there is something about our Midwest improv scene that the big cities could take note of? Or a perk to being in Kansas City as opposed to New York?
I think the really unique and wonderful thing about Kansas City improv is that we all pretty much know each other. I can walk into The Improv Shop, Comedy City, KCIC, AITK, Indie Playhouse, The Thursday Night Show, etc. and know at least 80% of the people in the room. That’s pretty amazing. For being bigger than we ever have been, there’s still that small family feel. There’s still that awesome connection of running into your improv friends at a bar in Westport not even knowing they were there. It’s a beautiful thing we have going here.