Cuzzins is an improv duo featuring David H. Hepburn and Alex Taylor. In their show, the two real-life cousins “therapize” audience members and help them solve their problems. Based out of Miami, Fla., Cuzzins will perform in the 9:05 PM show block on Friday, August 14 at the 2020 Countdown Improv Festival. In this spotlight interview, Hepburn and Taylor discuss their format, their work with the Black Improv Alliance, and their own chances for induction this year into the Countdown Improv Festival Hall of Fame.
We’re so happy to have Cuzzins back for 2020! For the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with your work, please tell us a little bit about your show, and what audiences can expect to see at this year’s festival.
Alex Taylor: Cuzzins provides a therapeutic way to solving personal problems that everyone faces throughout the world. The caveat of our set is we are not going to tell you what to do, we will show you what we would do in your situation depicted through improv with a twist and at the end justify what you saw by applying it to your life
David H. Hepburn: Expect little to nothing except and including the collapse of all things known unfolding into an origami-esque fractal of the conspicuous subconscious streaming tickle tendrils tangentially fringing mellifluously upon the cortex keys of existential sublimity. Aka, expect to have fun.
In your show, you “therapize” audience members by offering humorous solutions to their personal problems. How did you hit upon this format? Have you ever had an audience member tell you something that made you go “Wow, I have no idea how to solve that one”?
AT: We kept workshopping ideas with Stephanie Rae (Black Improv Alliance) on what would be unique to our personalities. David and I have a unique view on the world and giving advice based on your viewpoint was and is exciting. Funny thing, is most of the problems that arise typically can be solved through murder and mayhem (just kidding). We’ve never had that issue of not knowing how to solve it because we are improvisers. The problem that has occurred is how to justify it based on the scene we did.
DH: The concept is the brainchild of the ingenious Stephanie Rae, founder and leader of the Black Improv Alliance. She has a facility for conceiving of innovations to improv forms. Coming up with fresh new spins is one of her signature gifts. Recognizing our palpable chemistry, she designed a form tailored to suit our sometimes-unorthodox brand of play. Part of what’s cool about our form is that it’s literally impossible to not have something for any and everything, and while we are certainly not professionals, not certified or accredited psychotherapists, we are gifted: we have been kissed by divinity.
The two of you are real-life cousins! How does that fact influence your on-stage dynamic? Did the two of you always know that you wanted to work together someday?
AT: Us being cousins in real-life helped us click faster. It made improv more enjoyable to me because I can be myself around him. It is/was a great place for us to reconnect because we did not know each other liked improv. Only when we found out that we were both into improv is where we decided we need to work together on this. That was 2-3 years ago.
DH: Being real life cousins gives me a freedom and a trust that was almost uniquely immediate and very specific to our performance DNA. There’s a dimension of fun, ease, and security linked to a prideful satisfaction of playing with family that would be hard to manufacture. I had no idea Alex was the least bit interested in performance at all in any way, shape, or form until he walked into an improv session and we were like, what up cuz!!! Haven’t seen you in years.
You’re both part of the Black Improv Alliance, which is doing great work both on and off the stage. In fact, your team photo on the website was taken during “Operation Black Joy,” in which you and the rest of the BIA delivered ice cream to families all over Miami. Can you tell us a little bit about how the BIA has grown and evolved since last year’s festival, and where you see it going in the months to come?
AT: The BIA has grown into an adult two-year old. BIA started in 2018, just four of us. Since last year’s festival, we have participated in 3 improv festivals, we launched a website this year (blackimprovalliance.com). We have received more visibility through not just Miami, but the world. We are committed to increasing diversity in teaching and cast members in improv theaters across the world. The BIA is in the process of starting an improv academy dedicated to teaching improv to everyone and ensuring that improv is a safe space for anyone that wants to do it. I see BIA maintaining its footprint in Miami and the world for a unique look at improv from the unapologetically black perspective. Also, ensuring Miami is widely known as a great place to do improv for BIPOC improvisers.
DH: Yeah, I’ll cosign everything that my cousin said. To be clear this is Stephanie ‘s vision many years in the making coming to fruition, and it’s a privilege and an honor to be on board as her dreams are manifesting. What she’s been able to do with a small group in a short period of time is gob-smacking. The breadth and scope of her vision knows no bounds. BIA is the direct result of her ceaseless efforts, infinite imagination, and incomparable creativity, and her meteoric rise is merely in its nascent stages. It is humbling and all-inspiring to be along for the ride.
What are you most looking forward to about this year’s festival? What, if anything, are you not looking forward to?
AT: I am looking forward to seeing all the shows I missed last year, the box of goodies, and performing. I wish we were able to meet in person; the electricity of performing in front of that audience was amazing. My silver lining is, if the world was status quo, I probably would not have made it to Countdown this year.
DH: Honestly, I am looking forward to Justin & Kelly. The way they greeted us last year left an indelible mark. They genuinely made me feel special. There was an earnestness to their expression of appreciation that elevated my contribution as a participating performer in my own eyes. Justin & Kelly are beguilingly humble and affably tangible titans. Unforgettable…and what more can anyone say about these hallelujah, inducing chinchilla soft T-Shirts! Glory to The God of Plush Luxuriousness.
I’m not looking forward to nervousness or the absence of physical presence.
Finally, who do you think will be inducted into the Countdown Improv Festival Hall of Fame this year?
Us or Key and Peele.