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  January 12, 2015

During 2015, Improv Conspiracy member Mike Brown is going to have a chat to every single member of the Conspiracy - about life, about improv, and everything in between. This is: You're Going To Meet Some People.

Today, Mike chats with Simon McCulloch. Simon currently performs with Harold Night team Dirt Squad.

Mike Brown: I’m with Simon!

Simon McCulloch: Heyyyyyyyyy.

And I’ve got questions.

Shit.

So you got added to a Conspiracy [Harold Night] team at the start of 2014?

End of 2013. 

End of 2013. So December.

Just after that reshuffle.

So you’ve been performing on a team for a year now?

Yeah exactly! The Foggy Windows thing was the start of December, didn’t do a show until January.

Since then you’ve done iO [Chicago training workshops] and now you’re on a new team who are called…

It’s Dirt Squad. I think it was just a joke name but it stuck.

What do you think of the name?

I love it, actually. It’s like any kind of name, it takes on its own thing after you get clumped into a group of people enough times and it’s just like – oh that, that team.

I know it’s very early on, but how are things in Dirt Squad compared to how things were in Foggy’s. Are they the same, are they different?

The things that remain the same…

You’re doing improv, that’s number one.

True.

You’re doing the Harold, that is number two.

That is a fact. It is improv, it is at the Dan O’Connell, there is a training once a week – this time Thursdays! Equally daunting, cause like when I got put onto Foggy Windows there was like [Andrew] Strano who took me for Level 1, Andrew Watt who was like the first guy that messed my mind up with how great it was to watch that dude on stage, and also Broni and Dave Evans, Jack and Hayley and Siobhan. All these people I’d been like, just watching and then be like “oh hey, just be totally cool messing around with them!” It’s not that easy. And now, the same. An enormous amount of people I admire way too much for my own self-esteem levels, like I should sort that out maybe at first.

How do you deal with that?

How do you mean?

How do you, like it isn’t something you just “oh well, I’m perform now, I’m over it.” You can’t just put that [feeling] away.

Shit no you can’t put that away! But like, I might have a bigger problem than most problems. I tend to put people on a pedestal, then I have to whittle them down before I can “oh hey, they're just like me!” Basically I have to see people mess up enough so I can relate to them as a person [laughs], because I’m terrible.

The easiest leveller is like, if you come away feeling bad about a show and your team also feels bad about a show and you can commiserate each other – that – that is the great leveller, that is when I feel you can relate to people, maybe because they’re at their lowest? [laughs].

You gotta add that I had a lot of jest in my voice at that stage. [both laugh].

Alright I’ll add that exact sentence; I had a lot of jest in my voice when I said that.

I sound like an eternal asshole.

I know you enjoy music. When you’re popping on your headphones, when you are popping on a record at home, what are you listening to at the moment?

Twin Peaks. It’s called Wild Onion. They a bunch of like 20 year old bratty Chicago kids and it’s just like really Stonesy, kinda Beatle-y brat-garage. Making Breakfast.

Making Breakfast is the song?

Is the song. They have a film clip for that. And it’s just, just like… obviously they are really talented, but I’d describe it like dumb kids who have never been told they can’t. So I really enjoy that attitude, that cavalier attitude to stuff because I recognise I don’t have that. I wish I didn’t give a shit like these kids don’t give a shit.

So they’ve been told they can’t, but they don’t give a shit and do it anyway?

Yeah maybe that’s it!

Would you say that’s an attitude you try to bring to your improv?

Geez I wish! Oh, I wish. I’m way, way too in my head and concerned about stuff. I wish I could throw the shackles off. But I don’t even know if that’s going to work, because if you throw everything away and “screw it,” you’re not going to be paying attention, cause you do have to pay attention. I’m trying to make those two points meet where you don’t give a shit and can have a lot of fun and still checking yourself. I think it comes down to checking yourself.

In my head I feel really constrained, so maybe it’s just that a mental freedom I would just like. Like when you’re messing around with your mates there’s not the pressure of “you’ve still got 50 people looking at you” and I still can’t shake that as much as I would like to.

How was it when you originally got added to Foggy’s, and you’ve got the hot lights pointed at you at the Dan? I know for me, I found it quite its intimidating.

Yeah!

I was never like “oh I’m a performer; this is always what I wanted.” This is “they’re looking at me and it’s hot and better not screw up!”

And everything’s slow.

Yeah.

It’s terrifying! And for the first six months, the first shows I was doing all I would do is eat shit. My sister was at the third Harold I ever did and I’ve never seen anybody totally freeze up on that stage but I’m pretty sure I totally froze up there on that stage and, god bless them, my team was wonderfully supportive, and so I had never felt support like that before. So I died, got out of there, and then they carried on the show basically. That’s what I felt like for the first six months of shows I was like standing around with lights in my eyes hoping no-one would…

Pull the hook out from the side of the stage?

[Both laugh] Yeah! Just realising “this guy’s a fraud; get him off stage in front of his sister.” But yeah it was awesome and really really liberating, because I was like “alright, my sister saw me eat shit, I’m still here and alive.” So that was like, simultaneously a low point and a high point in terms of the long game, if you want. That was such an unfathomably high obstacle to get passed until it happened. Like I’d be petrified of the thought of someone I knew seeing me just completely fail at something that I really like and enjoy, but no-one cares! No-one really gives a shit at what you’re doing in your entire life, so you might as well do what you want to do.

What do you do to relax?

Looks at beer. [both laugh, long pause]. I don’t know, I kind of stopped playing video games much. I feel like I’ve had enough time off in my life [laughs]. I would spend a lot of time thinking about comedy but not doing anything until I turned 25 and started doing this, and then I’d just have anxiety in my head because I was like the person who I wanted to be was far different to the person who I really was, just watching other people doing things.

So you’re a big comedy fan?

Yeah!

Did you go out and see live shows or was it on television?

It was just watching, yeah, just heavily invested in American sketch, I guess.

What kind of stuff?

Mr. Show is obviously just wonderful, and Key & Peele, and I always kinda kept tabs on Saturday Night Live. Like all the things anybody really enjoys but for some reason I thought “I’m a connoisseur, I enjoy these things.” Nothing widely crazy. [Inside] Amy Schumer is maybe the best thing on television now.

Really excites you?

Yeah, you’ve seen that Call of Duty sketch, that…

I have not.

Watch that! Watch that. Link that, link that.

We’ll embed it on the interview.

Yeah do that. As far as what I do to relax, I drink way too much. But, it calms me having things to do.

You need to be busy?

It’s something I only realised maybe year and a half ago, but I’m a lazy work-a-holic [laughs], in that I won’t work much and that will give me anxiety, but if I’m doing things constantly and have my time taken up, I’m much calmer and much more at peace so I need to not fall off that wagon, otherwise that will stress me out.

When you’re like facing a blank room with zero outlet, that’s maybe the most terrifying thing. I haven’t even done anything yet, but I’m still much calmer knowing that I have certain outlets available to me. That’s – I’d rather be busy. And I’m lazy, I’m so lazy.

Was there ever one particular lesson, or a note that opened up your mind about improv?

It sounds really dumb, but smile. Just like the hardest thing for me to do.

The fake smile?

The fake smile. You scrunch your nose like that, if you scrunch your nose up it will force a smile out. I remember some workshop in the first half of the year here, either Dan [Pavatich] or [Adam] Kangas was taking it, I got endowed as a guy who had a creepy smile and they were just like “hey, why don’t you smile or just do the smile and see what happens there,” and I couldn’t.

But I stole this, like most things that are like beneficial to improvising; I’ve stolen it off somebody else. But I do Jason Shotts, that teacher in Chicago, he would always.

[Simon scrunches up his face and smile.]

The scrunched smile! You’re doing the scrunched smile!

Yeah he’d do it hahahaha and skip around the room with it. His big note is smile and like that person you’re in the scene with. So, somehow smiling unlocked a lot of doors for me.

Yeah I remember Jason saying that, because he gave me the same note. And yeah I tend to look quite dour and serious, even though I don’t feel that way its how you come across.

Oh same! I am exactly the same! I look like a sad wet sack walking around. Internally, I’m skipping around; I’m having a great time.

And Jason’s note was, if you smile you can get away with anything.

Yes!

And there’s truth to it.

So much.

I’ve done it and he’s right, the man he knows.

And it will take care of everything. I mean like, don’t use it all the time ever, but it certainly just unlocked a lot. The simplest thing that did a lot. In saying that, that the whole entire of year of doing Levels 1 through to 3 before I got on a Harold team did so much for my life that it’s just like clustered together like “this is how I should act as a person.” It’s just once I done some stuff enough that like that tiny little note helped a lot more.

Do you find that there are things you’ve learnt from improv that you now use in everyday life outside of improv?

Yeah just put effort in, I think.

[Both laugh]

I always project, I would project a lot. I would like “this person doesn’t want to talk to me because clearly they were looking at a spot next to my head once in conversation which means that they are bored which means they don’t want to talk to me.” But like, because I would never really contribute or put myself out there or anything like that. So like that game, Alien Soulmate, it was like the first thing I did in the Level 1 class. It terrified me and I nearly quit because it’s so terrifying.

I hate that game.

Yeah!

It’s the worst!

‘Cause it’s like you put yourself out in a circle doing a weird action and a weird noise and you’re just supposed to rely on the nature of good people? That never happens! And then it does happen, and so that.

It kinda breaks your expectations in a way doesn’t it.

Totally! Because I was, all my thoughts are really insular. So like you know something as dumb as saying hello first, a tendency I usually not do, and I’d get like “people must think I’m such an arsehole sometimes.” I don’t mean to be, I’m terrified that this person doesn’t want to talk to me, so like “get out of here; I didn’t make eye contact with you for a reason, get out of my face.” So that, yeah, just. Just throw somebody a bone, give someone a piece of yourself first and the human connection is easier. Yeah, it did too much for my outlook on life that is not embarrassing to say, it’s ridiculous.

You mentioned your love of beer. If we’re at the Dan and I’m buying you a drink, what are you picking, why are you picking it?

Brunswick Bitter is a good beer and I will defend that. It is local, it is relatively cost effective, and it is a delight. It is a great beer! But if they had any of the Two Birds range, which they do, the Taco from Two Birds is bangin’.

How did you find yourself as a beer person? Because some people I talk to, they drink beer but if it’s fancy, if it’s imported beyond say – a Corona – outright rejection.

Get on the Corona ugh that’s disgusting. [laughs]

Melbourne, I guess? In Hobart [where Simon is originally from] it’s pretty much Cascade. There’s a lot of pride behind that, and I will defend it, it’s a great beer. Until Christmas, I went down there and I drank a Cascade and it tastes like your first beer does when you’re 13, just horrific. I was taken aback by it.

Do you remember what your first beer was at 13?

Yeah it was Cascade Draft. It was always what was in the fridge. It was Foster’s before that, which is equally as nasty. The way to ween your kid onto a beer is not give them Cascade Draft.

I don’t know, I got onto Coopers before I got here and it kind of blossomed out.

Takin’ risks!

Yeah well there’s no options anywhere else, you don’t get like, and this has probably changed because Hobart is moving along quite well, I just don’t see it, because I’m over here. But like the two big beer companies [CUB and Lion] make 90% of the beer and then buy all the taps up, so I’m sure that has a much larger stranglehold then it does up here.

I would say I branched out from Coopers to Brunswick Bitter, this is the worst story in the world [laughs], to maybe Sierra Nevada and Four Pines, and here I am drinking a…

Rogue, from Oregon.

Thank you Mike.

We have a question from the Improv Conspiracy Student Group. Matt J asks: Sister Act – 1 or 2?

Real talk – I haven’t seen them. Sorry Matt.

Are you going to plan on watching them?

Does Sister Act 2 have like, is 2 set in Miami is it Sister Act 2: Miami?

I’m trying to remember, it’s been a while since I’ve watched Sister Act.

No wait it’s Back in the Habit. Which is an amazing follow up title I’m going to with 2, it’s definitely Back in the Habit. I’m sold on the name, I remember the name well enough, it’s going to be Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Because it’s up there with Havana Nights.

Are you a fan of good sequel names?

That’s about all I’m a fan of in the sequels.

Speed 2: Cruise Control.

Yeah that’s great!

It’s on a ship!

Because that’s the only creative licence you get to exercise. The same shit’s gotta happen with the same characters, you might as well have a great tag line.

Do you think films like the Beverly Hills Cop series wasted their time by not having a tag line?

Beverly Hills Cop 2: Angels Must Fall I don’t know. There’s so many options you’ve got there.

Call me, Eddie.

We’ve also got a question from the last person interviewed.

Ryan right?

Ryan Zorzut asks: If you had to become a robot, would you be a good robot that helps out humanity or would you be a bad robot who takes humanity down, and why?

So I’ve lived as a person until I become a robot, yeah?

Yep! You’ve been a human, and then become a robot. Robocop rules apply here, I think.

It depends on the timeline. In 2013 pre-improv, I’d probably be taking humanity down. I’d be take no prisoners, I’d be Terminator 1 stop-motion walking down that hallway gunning for Sarah Connor to take it all down for Sky-Net. Now, I’m gonna be an alright robot. I mean I’m going to have flaws, like you know I’m trying to get my life together, maybe my child robot hates me a little bit. But the intent is there. So aiming for good, I’m aiming for good Ryan.

Of course he’d ask that question.

Before we wrap things up, is there anything else you’d like to plug for the internet?

I mean like come out and have a beer, maybe?

Come out to the Dan after Harold Night and have a beer?

Yeah why not! Let’s try some beers together. Also, Trillcumber have a Comedy Festival show running March 30 to April 4 at the Catfish. Go to the Catfish and have a beer, support those guys.

Trillcumber is your sketch team with…

Hayley [Tantau] and Mario [Hannah], some of the most delightful people in the damn world.

Fellow improvisers as well.

I don’t know why they let me on this trio but they have for some reason so I owe them too much already.

Finally, what question would you like to ask the next question being interviewed? Improv or otherwise.

What was the worst thing that happened when you were completely honest with somebody?

What was the worst thing that happened when you were completely honest with somebody?

Yeah.

What happened?

Me?

Yeah.

Oh shit.

That’s how it works!

Oh that’s brutal.

The girlfriend I had before I left Hobart, I kind of had the intension of moving to Melbourne before it had started. And one night she cooked pasties, completely home-made at her house. And neither of us had cooked that much so it was amazing, it was wonderful, that was the nicest thing that had ever happened, probably the nicest thing that had ever happened to me as a person at this stage.

And then [laughs], later on that night we’re in bed and somehow that question came up. And I didn’t want to avoid it anymore, so I was like I’m going to be a good guy and just be straight up honest. 11pm at night is not the best time for honesty, especially if you’re at that person’s house.

So she asked what’s going to happen and it’s kind of hazy, but I was like I’m not going to lie, I’m going to be a good dude and get it out. I feel like maybe I could of had some tact when I said whatever I said but either way, there was like some tears and arguing, and I felt really bad about like, the pain I was watching come out of someone else’s face at this moment. But I vomited up the pasties that she had made me all over her bedroom floor.

Oh my god. What you literally vomited them up?

I straight up vomited.

You weren’t vomiting words, you were vomiting pasties?

I vomited actually pastie. And that was a good pastie, like the meat was fine.

Plenty of veg!

Yeah!

Delicious casing!

It was a well-balanced, fresh ingredient pastie. And so while I was on the floor, doing what I had to do I guess, she cleaned that up and then like kinda took care of me. And then it was a really long night, and I drove her to work in the morning.

And that was the worst thing that personally happened to me; I vomited when I told the truth. It was better for the situation, but me personally I vomited someone’s meal all over their bedroom floor and they cleaned it up.

Wow. That’s a hell of a way to out on.

[laughs]. You’re welcome.