Geeking Out with…Scott Adsit

This interview was originally posted on Pam Victor’s Interview blog series, “Geeking Out with…”, and is being re-blogged here with Pam’s permission.

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Like a total dorkwad, I hugged Scott Adsit the second time I met him. I guess I was a little nervous and, as already mentioned, a dorkwad. The previous night, the ever-lovely Susan Messing briefly introduced me to Mr. Adsit after their very fun, very sexy performance together in “Messing with a Friend”…so I guess through some malfunction in my brain, I concluded Scott Adsit and I had become dear, old friends after that fifteen-second interaction outside the bathrooms at Annoyance Theatre. So the next day, shortly before I was to interview him and John Lutz for the live “talk show” version of “Geeking Out with…” at the Chicago Improv Festival, something possessed me to greet Scott Adsit with a hug. He was gracious about it. (So far, no restraining order.) And John Lutz helped tremendously to ease the awkwardness during our introduction by coming up behind Scott and saying, “I want to get in on this hugging action too!”

I may be socially inept, but at least I got to hug Scott Adsit and John Lutz – so suck it, ladies and gay men!

Even better, I had the tremendous pleasure of having a stimulating and entertaining conversation with them both in front of a packed house at the Playground Theatre, and then watching their improvisational prowess later that night at a special midnight show only for performers of the Chicago Improv Festival. I watch a lot of improv, but I have to say “John and Scott” seriously blew me away. If you ever have a chance to see them, do whatever you have to take it. Their skill, talent, and chemistry are stellar. Plus, if the show doesn’t make you a better improviser, it will make you want to be one.

Coming up in Chicago, Scott Adsit performed on the Second City stages at Northwest, e.t.c., and on Mainstage for four years where he was a guiding force in enormously popular revues such as “Pinata Full of Bees” and “Paradigm Lost,” for which he won a Joseph Jefferson Award in 1997. (Scott also was nominated in 1994 for “Whitewater for Chocolate” and in 1996 for “Citizen Gates.”) Although he has had several tv and movie roles, chances are you know Scott Adsit best as Pete Hornberger in NBC’s “30 Rock.” However, if you prefer the noisy stimulation of an arcade over the coziness of your couch in front of the tube, you may know Scott from the pinball game Medieval Madness, where you can hear his voice as well as those of his former Second City and iO castmates Kevin Dorff and Tina Fey.

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PAM VICTOR: I usually start with the same question because I’m a hopeless romantic: Tell me about the moment you looked into improv’s eyes and knew she was the girl for you.

SCOTT ADSIT:‎ I was on a tiny, orange-carpeted stage in a junior high drama classroom. It was my first improv scene ever. My teacher was an actress and former Playmate, who decided the best approach to acting was a solid base of improv. So she put a girl and me in a movie theater on this orange stage, a boxy riser to be precise. I had a feel for the surroundings and scooted past imagined knees and cup holders to sit in my chair. As I sat and adjusted, I accidently put my hand in some sticky, wet gum under my seat and reacted. (Or, I should say my CHARACTER found gum.) It got a laugh, and the teacher used it as a good example of creating your space and having an emotion attached to it. She was very good.

PAM: So you’re an improviser because of a stripper?

SCOTT:‎ Improv will never get you laid. Let’s not mislead the youthful readers.

PAM: LOL. No sex. No money. And yet…we still do it. Why? Why do you still do it?

SCOTT:‎ Because it takes no preparation, nor money.

PAM: Neither does sex. Ideally.

SCOTT:‎ No, I was being cynical. I do it because of all the typical reasons. It’s a release of emotions. It’s therapeutic. It’s a place where the actors are in complete control of everything. Plus, I know a lot of great improvisers with whom I get to play, and they’re funny.

PAM: Tell me about your improv training. You pretty much exclusively trained at Second City-Chicago, right?

SCOTT:‎ I will say that I count the junior high class as my first training. (Props to Mrs. Little.) Then I was fortunate enough to go to a high school, Glenbrook North, that had a great theater program and amazing teachers. Being in a suburb of Chicago, my teacher, Pat Murphy, taught improv in the regular drama classes. Even more amazingly, he had an improv group that would perform at school functions. We were the school’s Second City. We made fun of high school life and the pressures there, but we also were allowed to make fun of and criticize the school’s administration and point out inconsistencies and flaws in the way the school was run. We were taught to think politically with comedy. We had rules set by the deans and principal that were not debatable: No religion, no drug satire, no racial commentary. But we did all of it. Murphy let us break the rules, and he was called on the carpet after every show. Wonderful guy.

PAM: Oh wait. Didn’t that high school group have a funny name?

SCOTT:‎ It’s still the best improv group name I’ve encountered, The Immediate Conception.

PAM: Oh, yeah. That was it. And after your stint at college, you hit Second City?

SCOTT:‎ I was at Columbia College in the South Loop of Chicago where I met my biggest influence. Marty de Maat was a guru in every sense of the word. He taught improv as a life plan. I was studying with him when I started also taking classes at Second City, where he also taught. From those classes, I got an audition for Second City.

PAM: Scott, you played with some of the most powerful Mainstage casts ever. Can you tell us the names of your castmates and director so I can swoon appropriately?

SCOTT: I did three different stages at Second City. The first was The Northwest, which is no longer out there at Rolling Meadows. They closed it a few shows after our show closed. The cast was me, the late Jim Zulevic, John Hildreth, Aaron Rhodes, Aliza Murrieta, and Nia Vardalos. And then Nia and I moved to e.t.c. with another great cast. And then I went to Mainstage. There was a terrific cast there that all evacuated after we did a retrospective of old material for the 35th birthday, which really didn’t go over that well. I don’t think it was the performers’ fault. It wasn’t the material’s fault. It just wasn’t a good match. We had agreed that we would only choose scenes for this retrospective that had not toured that much in The Best of Second City. We looked for obscure scenes…and we found them. We trusted them to be great, but we found out pretty soon after we opened that they weren’t being toured for a reason. They were either too old-fashioned, or they were so defined by the original performers, their personalities, and rhythms that it didn’t really work with anybody else. They were great scenes at the time, but it just wasn’t a great a match. After that, I was on Mainstage with Scott Allman, Jenna Jolovitz, Jon Glaser, Rachel Dratch, and Adam McKay. Rachel came right out of touring, and a bunch of folks had come from iO. For years and years, there had been this rift between iO and Second City where they refused to cross-pollinate. Then one year there was a détente. I don’t even know why it happened. But Second City hired a bunch of great iO people, and we were lucky enough to have them.

PAM: That may have had to do with a fact Second City hired that year from Jazz Freddy, a group with a lot of iO players that performed outside of iO. I heard that Second City went in and hired almost the whole cast, right?

SCOTT: I think so. The first show I did with any of them was at e.t.c. [in 1994] called Lois Kaz, named after someone who worked in the office at the theater. It was great show directed by Noah Gregoropoulos that had Brian Stack, Miriam Tolan, Nancy Walls, Kevin Dorff, Adam McKay, Jon Glaser, Frances Callier, Theresa Mulligan, Dave Koechner, Dee Ryan – just giants. That was really cool show. It got a lot of acclaim and everything, but it only had a short run. It was the first time I did longform.

…To continue reading the entire interview, visit Geeking Out with…Scott Adsit.

““Geeking Out with…” is a series of interviews with well-known, highly experienced improvisers. It’s a chance to talk about stuff that might interest hardcore, improv dorkwads like Pam. The series can be found in full frontal geek out version on her website.

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