Kevin Michalski is an improviser based out of Riverview, Florida. He will perform three times at this year’s Countdown Improv Festival: with The Harmonica John Show on Thursday night; as “Cowboy” Kevin Michalski on Saturday night; and, most notably, as the leader of The Kevin Michalski Improv Trio on Friday night. In this spotlight interview, Michalski talks all about his eponymous trio, and why “humility” will be the key theme for their performance this year.
We’re excited to have The Kevin Michalski Improv Trio back for this year’s festival! What can audiences expect from your show?
Kevin Michalski: In a word? Humility. One of the things I’ve learned over the past few trying years is that the improv community is larger than just one person. I’ve been inspired by the initiative of the lesser known and up-and-coming players in the area as it pertains to putting on shows, teaching “workshops”, etc. It’s truly humbling to see the community starting to stand on its own, without hand-holding.
You’re obviously the face of the operation, but let’s talk about your teammates for a minute. Who’ll be rounding out the rest of the trio this year?
KM: We’ll see! Like last year, the two supporting spots in the Kevin Michalski Improv Trio will be decided by raffle. Entry tickets can be purchased at www.KM3.ru/opportunity_of_a_lifetime.htm until 11:59 PM this Friday (8/5). Beginner-level improvisors (< 15 yrs. experience) are encouraged to enter!
In your festival show last year you sort of took a back seat and let the rest of the trio take the spotlight. What was the thinking behind that choice? And can we expect to see more of you in this year’s show?
KM: It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. My supporting teammates for that performance (Katherine Taylor and Phil Bush) started the first scene, and as I recall, got into a bit of trouble right away. I was tempted to jump in and bail them out, but I remembered that abject failure can be a great teacher, and so I elected to give them the chance to dig themselves out of the hole. I’ll leave it to that night’s audience to say how successful they were.
This year, I plan to be much more involved from the outset. That’s all I will say at the moment.
How would you respond to those that have claimed—
KM: Next question.
Fair enough. We love a good improv origin story. How did the Kevin Michalski Improv Trio come together?
KM: It was assembled specifically for the Countdown festival! Many improv audiences in the Tampa Bay area are familiar with my solo show, Kevin-Sent. I had planned to submit that act to Countdown, but after giving it a bit of thought, it occurred to me that giving a few lucky beginners the opportunity to share the stage with me would be immensely rewarding—both for them and the audience. And so the KMIT was born.
Do you have any pre-show rituals? How does the trio prepare for a show? And what’s your notes process like afterwards?
KM: Before the show I like to stay loose, so nothing too crazy. I typically do 30-45 minutes of deep meditation in a dark room (when available). Following this, I will perform a series of deep breath exercises while reciting my improv mantra (which was given to me personally by Tim Meadows, and is obviously a trade secret). Then after just a quick cracking of the knuckles, it’s showtime!
I don’t put much stock into post-show notes, for a few reasons. For one thing, since I mostly perform solo, there is generally nobody to give notes to. But aside from that, I think it’s beneficial to remain in the post-show headspace, whether positive or negative, for at least four hours after a set. Remember what I said earlier about abject failure being a great teacher? In light of that philosophy, I believe that reassuring platitudes or insincere praise given after a poor performance can only be counterproductive. Better to wallow in shame so as to truly absorb the lesson. Of course, it has been many years since I’ve learned any such lessons myself, but for a junior improvisor it is essential to growth.
Also, my post-show cry is an integral part of my process, for which I prefer to be alone.
Finally, who do you think will be inducted into the Countdown Improv Festival Hall of Fame this year?
KM: Aw shucks, guys. For modesty’s sake, I’ll say Mike Walker or whoever.