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Interview: Don Gervasi of Eclectic Improv

By: Kristen Becker

For over 10 years the The Eclectic Improv Company has been making Western New York audiences laugh. Last week they were nominated Artvoice’s best of Buffalo in the” Best Genre-Deftyng Artist” category since there is no category for improv comedy as of yet. I sat with one of the founding members–and a local actor–Don Gervasi, and threw a few questions his way.

KB: When did Eclectic Improv Company form? Did you guys know each other before that?
DG: We formed the Eclectic Improv Company in 1998 after leaving another troupe, so we’ve really been improvising together for over 15 years or so, which I guess explains the odd chemistry we have. When we formed, however, there were eight of us, including two women! I miss having a big group, simply for the variety of characters everyone brought to the table.

KB: Was improvisation your first love, or did you dabble in other comedic genres?
DG: I discovered improv while taking an acting class at Canisius College. Those types of courses breeze by the improv [aspect] because most instructors really don’t have a background in it. I remember wishing there was a class that focused entirely on improvisation. Years later I got my wish while studying at Second City’s Conservatory in Toronto. So improv and sketch-comedy are really the only forms I’ve performed. I worked at a Funnybone Comedy Club for a few years, seeing the best road comics each week, and realized I’m much more suited for ensemble comedy. I’m too lazy to write and hone an act.

KB: Have you always been this handsome?
DG: No, this is new. Cost me a fortune.

KB: In addition to short-form improv, you also perform long-form improv as well, correct? Could you explain long-form improv to our readers? Is there somewhere in town they could see a performance?
DG: Long-form is a bit more [of an] advanced level of improv, both for the performer and for the audience, sometimes exploring a single theme for an entire show. Characters resurface, scenes combine and somehow it all makes sense by the end of the show. Although we’re capable of doing long-form, we primarily perform a short-form, game-based improv show that’s a bit more palatable for an audience to see. That is, all scenes are under 10 minutes and normally do not intertwine. But the audience does love a good callback. We perform our show “Eclectic Boogaloo!” on the last Saturday of every month at Shea’s Smith Theatre. (Tickets available at all Ticketmaster outlets.) We are squeezing in a show on May 1st. Can you think of a better way to celebrate May Day?

KB: I heard a rumor you were offering improv classes, true? And some info please..
DG: I try to teach an eight-week improv class every few months. Hopefully the next round will be in June/July. That’s all I know. I’ll keep you posted.

KB: Can you tell Todd Benzin I said “hello” the next time you see him?
DG: I could…however you have to understand how much responsibility goes along with that. I tell him “hello” from you, and he of course feels obligated to reciprocate, and tells me to tell you “hello” the next time I see you. Now, depending on the amount of time that passes until I see either of you again, I could be relaying these “hellos” in perpetuity. So, I’ll respectfully decline and encourage you to find him on Facebook and Poke him or something.

KB: Fair enough. In addition to comedy, you are also a talented dramatic actor. Do you prefer one over the other, or does it not matter?
DG: Gee, thanks. I prefer comedy, because you can hear your results. However, to me there is no difference in technique; you are using the same muscle. With Comedy you just squeeze a little harder.

KB: Buffalo seems to be regaining its interest in comedy, what would you like to see in the future of Buffalo Comedy?
DG: Although we’d love to have our own black-box theatre to improvise in, it would be great to see a full-time “A-room” comedy club in the city… in the county, for that matter. It’s been awhile since the area had one. If laughter is therapeutic, then Buffalo needs to laugh more than most cities. There are essentially only “comedy nights” speckled around town, but they are very well-attended, which proves folks want to laugh. They just need more opportunity to.

For more information about Eclectic Improv Company, Visit them on Facebook.

—-
Kristen
Becker
is a comedian who started
her comedy career in Toronto 8 years ago, and since then has traveled
the continent performing and producing shows.  She has opened for
national acts such as Doug Stanhope, Josh Blue (Winner of Last Comic
Standing), and Ani DiFranco.  Additionally, Kristen beat out 60
contestants (all men) to win the 2006 Queen City Comedy Competition. 
Becker was recently named “One of America’s Funniest Lesbians” by CURVE
Magazine, in a tie for #8 with Lily Tomlin.  Locally, Becker has been
producing/hosting the Doin’ Time
Stand-Up Comedy Showcase
at Nietzsche’s
every Tuesday in Buffalo for the last 4 years.

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