An Evaluation of Sick Puppies Comedy

Our thanks to Amy Mahon for her open letter to those interested in improv and the Sick Puppies classes.

by: Amy Mahon

Let’s talk about how awesome this Level I Improv Class is. I wondered whether taking a beginner's class would be worth it. After all, I’ve spent years in and out of acting, voice, dance, music, and improv classes. And while I understand the appeal of teaching - I am a teaching artist as well - in my personal experience instructors are hit-or-miss.

I’ve been to some theaters where the instructors were clearly part of a clique and while they say they are open to all types of people - an appealing aspect of the arts - they’re not. I’ve been in some community classes where we were so unproductive that I actually got distracted thinking about all the things I had to do when I got home instead of being absorbed in the lessons.

So I wasn’t the type of student that was walking in off the street wondering, “what’s this?” I was the student who knew what this is, and I had high expectations. All, of course, which were met. But, by my surprise, were also exceeded.

I’m not new to this. While my skills are much stronger in writing - I was studying in UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting while participating in Second City’s Online Writing Program. I have read Viola Spolin and two years ago read Greg Tavares’ Improv For Everyone, which I used heavily when I was an acting and improv teacher in Virginia.

My goal was to meet others that I could possibly collaborate with on future projects, develop as a teacher, but also have fun. As a teacher I didn’t have a lot of time to perform myself because I was always focused on my students, and I found that my skills needed to be refreshed. I wasn’t too keen on starting at Level 1 since (a) as a teacher, I know how frustrating it is to have that one kid in the class who has all the correct answers and unintentionally makes the other kids not feel as confident, and I really didn’t want to be THAT person and (b) I really didn’t want to waste my time or money (I said I’m an artist, not an anesthesiologist, financial manager, pilot, or someone else in a lucrative career).

I walked in the class with the most experience, but it shows the skill of our instructor, Casey Casperson, who helped us advance individually but also as a class. He side-coached during various games and gave us individual feedback as a group, so we were able to learn from and teach each other through our mistakes. And he presented information in a logical, realistic manner that any adult will be able to understand.

This wasn’t a class intended to stroke anyone’s ego and that’s vital in an improvisation class. It’s all about the work. When it becomes about ego, individuals alienate the group, and that goes against the collaborative nature of improv. You are building something together - that is what improv is about. You’re creating something out of nothing and using a defined structure to make it happen. You’re not up there doing bits or reciting hackneyed jokes, but rather, you’re creating fresh, original material that exists ephemerally.

As someone who has been in classes that catered to people’s misconceptions of improvisation, I am grateful for the integrity in teaching here.

So it really doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned actor, standup comedian, or sketch comedy writer/performer who wants to try improv, or someone who knows nothing about it other than it looks like a lot of fun on the show Who’s Line Is It Anyway, the Level 1 class will help you and be fun for you. It will improve your listening, reacting, and observation skills, and for actors, well, I’m sure you already know how it will help you in castings. So if you’re a seasoned performer, like me, who wants solid training that’s going to be worth the time and the money, sign up.

If you’re a doctor, attorney, college student, or college graduate living in your parents’ house working hard to afford moving out, sign up. It will be worth it for you, too. Back in June when I signed up I didn’t think that by the end of August I’d have actually downloaded WhatsApp and started planning on hanging out and rehearsing improv or writing material with my classmates, and I am excited to report back with what I am learning and doing with them as we continue on to Level 2!