When it comes truth in comedy, you’d be hard pressed to find someone more honest than Kaitlin Brennan. On stage, she is great at saying the very thing the audience was thinking, but afraid no one would address. In her real life, Kaitlin has a way of telling you what you need to hear, and always coming from a place of love. She has played with teams like Hot Stix, Moon Cycle, and Woman+Boy, and is also a marketing guru to both businesses and improvisers in town, and I think I speak for all of us, when I say, “THANK YOU!” And now, more on Kaitlin!
Tell us about your improv journey.
I got a lot of encouragement from coaches and friends to continue doing improv when I was taking classes through KCIC. Then, I got a lot of encouragement, again, from coaches and improv friends/mentors to create an indie team with my KCIC classmates and to start performing. And now that I’m planning to move to LA to further my improv training, I’m getting encouragement from coaches, friends and family.
Basically, I’ve been lucky enough to have a real support system through my entire improv journey from pretty much day one. It’s always felt good; like something I should do. I’ve never really been told not to do anything improv-related, everyone is always like “yeah take that class, yeah do that workshop, yeah start performing more, etc.” If anything, the only feedback I’m given is that I need a break and I’m putting too much improv stuff on my plate! It feels good and it’s incredibly validating. I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be and this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life and that’s such a great feeling. It’s empowering and it only makes me hungrier for more – to continue challenging myself and to continue learning.
Have you ever just wanted a break? Or gotten disheartened?
So many times, though, I’ve technically only taken one break from improv. I was dealing with some family sh*t and needed to hit the pause button on my improv education for a bit. But looking back, there were times when I wish I didn’t take on as much as I did. It’s really easy to get burned out and bitter and resentful when you feel like you’re doing so much and no one is willing to help. Our community is also small and I think it can be really toxic at times, so that’s a bummer.
So I guess the things that make me hate improv sometimes boil down to 1) mental health 2) burnout and 3) toxic improv culture.
More on point 3. We’re already a relatively small community, and yet we do things to divide ourselves into even smaller sects. I know this may be hard to answer, but what can we do to make it less toxic?
One of the KC improv’s greatest weaknesses is that some people in the community view themselves as infallible and absolute. They’re self-righteous and see themselves as above the law because they “are the law.”
Maybe it comes down to just calling people (those types of people) out on their sh*t. This is particularly hard in our community due to the size. The people we’re “calling out” are the same people we have to share the stage with and see again and again. These are people who might even be our closest friends or people we have turned to for advice in the past. These are people who book shows, sell out shows, have friends and a lot of community power and support sometimes.
How do you think non-improv people view improv?
This is a loaded question. I think a lot of people know about improv, but not KC improv. The KC improv community has been terrible about branding and education, sorta’ assuming most people will connect the dots themselves about what improv is and how it’s its own unique comedy art form. There’s just been a lack of marketing and education.
Are we in our own bubble and thus ostracize people? Of course, we do. We’re always going to be blind to certain things in our community when we are actively a part of it. There have been so many times when I bring my “non-improv” friends out and they always complain that nobody talks to them. They say everyone is nice but that we all huddle together in our own nerdy improv cult group. We are very distrusting of outsiders – it shows and people notice.
There’s also no one in the community who is 100% dedicated to improv as her/his full-time commitment. It’s always someone’s side-gig running a theater, producing shows, etc. For that reason, our community is never going to scale or grow the way Chicago, LA, NYC or other bigger cities are able to. You have to be fully committed to get that kind of retention with the general public, to perfect your “product” and to scale that “product.” That’s a 40-hour a week commitment. There’s no half-assing it.
I love that you bring up that improvisers not talking to anyone besides other improvisers at shows. I have noticed that, and I was curious why you think it’s so common?
I don’t think it’s malicious. It’s because a lot of people who are drawn towards improv are awkward and have difficulty communicating or talking to people, and it just manifests itself a bit differently in every person. Most people know/understand that.
But you should always make time for your fans or people paying to watch you perform. They are the reason you’re on stage. Maybe when we’re coaching teams who perform regularly we should remind them to network with audience members? I don’t know, but I think the improv bubble has burst, so to speak. Improv theaters are closing. It’s not a smart time to ignore your paying customers, let’s put it that way.
What is a non-improv hobby that has lessons that have helped you with improv?
My startup/entrepreneurship world for sure. There are so many parallels between starting a business and improv – it’s insane. In the startup world, you’re still perfecting your product while you’re putting it to market or selling it to investors. That’s the same with improv. You’re literally creating the product as you go.
You also start with an idea and turn it into something real in both startups and improv. You’ve got to have people you completely trust by your side because you’re going into the complete unknown. Nothing is certain. You have to let go of fear to be successful. You can’t be afraid to take risks. You’re going to make mistakes, but that’s okay. In fact, some mistakes are necessary for the overall success of the product/scene in the long-term.
What’s your go-to improv resource (be it book, podcast, blog, etc)?
I might be one of the few improvisers in KC who’s never read an improv book. The closest I’ve gotten is reading Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants. I also don’t really listen to any regular improv podcats either, though (very rarely) I will listen to “Improv4Humans.” My improv sources are my coaches, fellow improvisers I perform with and just other random people in the community in general.
I read entrepreneur books or interviews with famous writers for acting and creative resources. Right now I’m obsessed with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, so I’ve been listening to her method for crafting characters. I also really like her dark sense of humor and how she doesn’t shy away from showing the really dark sides to her character’s personalities.
I regularly listen to the podcast “How I Built This” on NPR. Just hearing how entrepreneurs succeed and the underlying characteristics or decisions they all made to be successful is interesting.
If you were able to travel back in time to right before your first improv class, what would you say to yourself?
– Listen more than you talk.
– Don’t be funny, be honest.
– Your vulnerability is a gift, not a liability.
– It’s okay to cry.
I feel like when we’re first learning improv, we tend to lean into our strengths, but as we keep going, we start to work on the things that are more challenging to us. 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?
One thing that has definitely helped my play is really to just “act” more. Do more character work and physical work. Andy Perkins told me recently to stop “acting like I’m scared” and just “be scared.” It was a meta note, but it made sense to me and it reminds me to respond honestly in scenes, be my character fully and commit to it.
Are there any trends in improv you wish would be dialed back a little? Or a pet peeve that takes you out of a set when you’re watching it?
I’m really tired of seeing that short-form game when you play a different accent cause I feel like we always basically end up making fun of a culture and it’s cheap laughs.
I’m also over Trump jokes.
I feel like as a community, KC gets too hung up on form. Just do improv!
What do you want to see more of in the Kansas City improv community in 2019?
More women, more POC, more honestly, more vulnerability. More women in positions of leadership and power and fewer men in positions of leadership and power. More people doing improv who haven’t before and more people seeing improv shows who haven’t before.
Do you have any tips or ideas that improv theaters in KC can start doing to head in this direction?
Measurement. Have you considered gathering data? Like how many women were on stage this month vs. last month? Were there more or less? How many POC are taking our classes this round? Are more women + POC joining rather than leaving? If you work hard, it will pay off eventually.
Also, start consuming and engaging with content that’s been created by women/POC and for women/POC. Whether it’s music, movies, books, podcasts, etc. Start actively doing this and noticing when white men fu*k shit up and how they fu*k shit up. Pay attention to patterns – like you’ve been to do in improv! If there’s a regular, negative pattern you notice, ask yourself how you can break it as a theater owner, producer, improviser, white man with power.
Hope this helps! Thanks for allowing me to be included! You’re the best!