Steve Horton is an improviser and comedian from Chicago, Ill. He will make his Countdown Improv Festival debut on the Commodore Stage on Saturday, Oct. 23 with his show Improvised Phone Calls with Steve Horton. In this spotlight interview, Horton talks about the genesis of his show, the differences between standup and improv, and exactly how much it would take to rig Atlas Improv Co.’s competition show “The Cut.”
We’re super excited to have you with us this year, Steve! Can you tell us about your show? How did you come up with the concept, and what can audiences expect?
Steve Horton: Oh hey, yeah, thanks. I’m excited too. Well, I’ve been exploring solo improv more lately. It’s fun to not have to listen to anyone else go on and on about what they think is funny. It’s like, hey! We get it! Ostriches are funny or whatever! I don’t know, I just feel like if my scene partner wants to keep doing scene about ostriches, I mean, after a while it gets old. I guess I just want to do improv that’s not about ostriches for once. Did I answer your question?
The show seems to rely on people actually picking up their phones, right? Do you have contingency plans if no one picks up, or if the calls all go to voicemail?
SH: Do you think that’s the case because it’s called “Improvised Phone Calls?” Because up til this point, it hadn’t occurred to me that I could actually call people with real phones. I guess that could work though. I’ll consider it.
Your show sort of feels a little bit like it straddles the border of improv and standup, which is fitting, since you’ve got lots of experience doing both. How does your improv influence your standup, and vice versa? What do you find fulfilling about each?
SH: Well, when I do stand up, I get frustrated that I can’t do emotional character work. And when I do improv, I get frustrated that I can’t do my witty observations about all the different books and DVDs on minimalism. Why are there all these books and DVDs on it? Seems kinda ironic, huh? (Pause for laughs.) Anyway, I guess the two art forms influence each other. To be honest, I’m also influenced by my ventures in screenwriting and even some clown work I’ve done. Heck, one time I was booked to walk around in a giant taco costume and hand out coupons for a taco shop. My point is my show is truly one of a kind. Did I answer your question?
Do you have any pre-show rituals? How do you like to prepare for a show?
SH: I really want this show to be good, so I think I’ll isolate myself pre-show and write out every line of dialogue and pantomime I plan on doing. This is my pre-show ritual for shows I want to do well at.
You performed with Atlas Improv Co. in Madison, Wisconsin for a long time. Be honest with us: How much money would it take to rig The Cut? $50 per judge? $100? Everything has its price, Steve.
SH: Are you suggesting I only won The Cut in 2014 because I bribed the judges? Because that’s actually the truth. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’ve hired a private detective to dig up dirt on every judge. And this dirt? It was dirty. Now the more astute among us might think I’m an idiot for confusing bribery with extortion. But, well, whatever.
Finally, who do you think will be inducted into the Countdown Improv Festival Hall of Fame this year?
SH: I just hope both teams have fun.