Tuesday, January 27, 2015

You're Going To Meet Some People: The Sparrow Men

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 Marcus Willis and Andy Balloch of two-man team The Sparrow Men, who will be seen together at the Butterfly Club this Tuesday through Sunday.

Mike Brown: Get comfortable, I'm here with Andy and Marcus, The Sparrow Men. Guys.

Marcus Willis: Hey

Andy Balloch: Hi!

Thanks for doing this.

A: Thanks for letting us.

Marcus you just made me a smoothie, it's pretty good.

M: Yeah, my pleasure.

The things you can do in your own house.

M: Yeah it's really nice.

You don't make many smoothies you said.

M: Well normally people say no, like you.

A: [laughs]

M: Then after three or four times people don't give in, but I could sense weakness in you.

A: [laughs] So Marcus went in for the kill.

I'm always interested in origin stories. How did The Sparrow Men come together?

A: Do you want to field this? I've told this story many a time.

M: You go ahead.

A: So Cage Match opened, and there were registrations. And Marcus wanted to do a two person team, and so he sent a couple of people messages and I replied with yes yes yes yes, and I think I was still in level two?

M: Yeah I wanted to choose some students and do like a different two-man thing, or a different two-person improv team with a whole bunch of different students.

Yeah from memory Andy you hosted Harold Night during [Melbourne International] Comedy Festival [2014], so that was your on stage exposure for Conspiracy up until then.

A: I was the loudest of all the students. I got to intern on the door so I got to know everyone, and Marcus said yes, Andy, that's a good idea, and I went ok cool, and then we had our first training [laughs], I had had one half-conversation with Marcus at my level one grad show where I sat down next to him and he said "good show" and I said "thank you, what level are you?"


A: "I have graduated and am on a team", and I said "oh that must be nice", and that was it. Then he sent me that message and I said yes. And we had our first training session and that was the first, we had two training sessions for that Cage Match, and that was our first conversation that we actually had, was when we had training. And then we went out and got drunk. And then we did Cage Match and we lost, but we had lots of fun.

So yeah, you [Marcus] planned on doing Cage Matches with different people.

M: Yeah I'm still going to do it, I haven't given up on doing that! 

A: [laughs] I bullied Marcus! From that point on I bullied Marcus into doing stuff with me.

M: Yeah.

A: Because he's amazing and I'm a bully.

[Andy] you mentioned something that I've had happen to me - having students come up to you and ask you what level you're in. Have you had that happen to you since joining a Harold team?

A: No I've had the opposite happen to me. When I was still in level two I had team members ask, like Lucy Horan came up to me "I can't remember what team you're on." And I say "I'm in Level 2, I'm not on a goddamn team yet." Yeah, I just faked it. Yeah I'm really good, I'm definitely good, I'm team-worthy, and everyone just believed me.

So growing up, what did your parents each want you to be, and what did you to be?

M: My dad owns a horse stud, so he wanted me to be a vet so that it would cut his expenses in half.

[all laugh]

A: So it would cut his expenses in half. Your future is a budget plan.

M: And actually there was a girl in my high school who own, her parents own the feed company, they own the feed company, like the horse food company, and he was like "get friendly with that girl".

[all laugh]

M: That would be financially, that would be great.

What I like about that Marcus is that it's not like Dad's like "I want you to join the family business." It's "I want you to work in a different area to assist the family business."

A: In tandem with my plans. That's genius.

M: So I never really had an interest in that. Then I wanted to be a lawyer for a little bit, and I kinda did that and then I changed my mind and now work in marketing.

Did you study?

M: Yeah I did, yeah.

And work in law?

M: No I just did the first part of the degree.

A: You studied law?

M: Yeah, I did.

A: [high pitched] Oh okay!

M: And then I...

A: We're all learning something here.

M: Yeah it was really hard because I had to do legal studies, I had to study so hard to transfer into law and as soon as I transferred I realised "oh this isn't for me." Yeah, then I was just like "yeah I should have been a vet dad was right."

[all laugh]

A: Dad was right this whole time. God damnit.

What about you Andy?

A: Yeah, look. My parents are, I love my parents they are amazing. They have said time and time again is all they want is for me to be happy, so they just let me run free and let me do whatever the hell I wanted and just supported me. So I did, I did like I was a child actor so I did drama classes when I was a kid, and I did some stuff, I was like in Bell's Shakespeare Company, I dubbed over cartoons, I was the voice of a horse in the Silver Brumby cartoon, random stuff. I did that until I went to high school, and I still loved drama and still continued to do drama, and went I went to uni I studied linguistics and teaching secondary for two years, so I always wanted to do drama and words. I hated teaching so I dropped out, and I just drank for a whole bunch of years. Then I got my heart broke so I decided to do something fun, so I decided to join Conspiracy. And now I'm here, on Marcus' couch, sans smoothie.

So the question for each of you: How would you describe how each other plays? Andy, what do you like about watching Marcus play, and vice versa, Marcus what do you like about Andy?

A: I love... Marcus just generates so much so fast, and so freely. It's something I have been working on and I'm nowhere near his level, but I try to keep up. It's just so easy for him, and it's sorta logical steps, but I think playing with him so much I can see how he gets to everything it's just so fast but it's all logical.

And it's all specifics, I've noticed that as well. 

A: It's all specifics and details and that's really really fun to play with. Playing with him I guess because we've trained so much now there's this infinite level of trust, that was my favourite thing when we last did the show when I was waiting at the bus station and you didn't even come on stage. There was no point in that when I was like "Fuck I'm out here by myself!" I thought "I'll do this for a while and I'll heighten what I'm doing and suddenly Marcus will make a move at some point." So, yeah, I think that just the support is sorta quite incredible.

M: I like playing with Andy because he just has so much energy and is really really fun. Like he's always having fun and is excited about something. And it's good on stage but it's really good off stage, every time we finish a show we are like "oh well that was just fun" it didn't feel like work.

Not laboured in any way.

M: Yeah exactly. He's always happy to be there, he's always smiling and laughing, even when he's supposed to be in character.

A: [laughs]

M: I like trying to make him laugh and try to ruin a scene basically just to try and break him.

A: [laughing] It's so true tho!

Any examples come to mind that you really enjoyed breaking him?

M: I feel like, sometimes when he has an idea for a scene I'll just, "oh we've played that before, let's ruin that." Especially those kinda boring-ish scenes we've done a thousand times we just see how weird we can make it.

A: There was one scene - the first time we did cops, when I was sorta, we were at a murder scene and I just sorta came, I was investigating and about ten seconds in, I said "I'm sorry I slept with your wife sarge." From then I was like squatting on the ground and Marcus was giving all these ridiculous specifics and kept on going on. I almost literally peed myself because of the position I was in and because I was laughing too much. There was a point where I had to say "stop," and it was half in character and half out of character.

M: Stop talking.

A: Stop saying words. Yeah, that was fun. What a memory.

If the two of you bought a boat together, what would you call it?

[long silence, Andy laughs]

M: It's hard to go past Sparrow Men.

A: Yeah!

[all laugh]

A: I was thinking more like Terry.

M: Oh yeah! Hmm..

A: The S.S. Sparrow?

M: Yeah the S.S. Sparrow is pretty solid.

So you can have three S's?

M: Yeah.

A: Yeah.

M: The S.S.S.

A: Is that a Nazi reference?

M: Yeah!

A: Cool! 'Cause Marcus is a big fan of nazis. [laughs]

M: I think it's funny to have a boat named after a bird. Something that can fly.

[all laugh]

A: Or something that hates water. Is anything allergic to water?

M: Cats don't like water.

A: Yeah. What's like the worst thing to put in water? Like, there's an element that has a violent reaction to water.

M: Alright we'll find out.

A: Whatever that element is, The S.S. That Specific Element.

M: Deal.

A: Yeah, like the S.S. Hydrogen Chloride.  

You're both on Harold teams. What makes doing a two person show different to performing a Harold? Apart from things like the format or having six people on the sidelines.

M: You just have to listen so much more and be on the same wave length. Just naturally the more people you have in your group the harder it is to have the exact same idea. But when you just have two people a lot of the time we know exactly what each other is saying, we don't really need to use words. So it's more exciting just that, intense level of connection between us.

A: Especially, we've done a whole bunch of times in training when we call back to characters, we know that we're calling back to the characters without using names. Oh sometimes we do, when we call back to Jessica on her wedding day in training, all you said is "Jessica you look beautiful," I know I'm the sister of the two character that were in the previous scene, I know I'm pregnant, he's probably my dad, yeah great this is perfect. So it's just, yeah, it's easier?

M: Yeah for me probably. It's just different, I wouldn't say it's easier, so different. 

A: It's got it's own challenges. I mean when you're on a Harold team you've got six other people so you're doing one-seventh of the lifting, whereas a two-man team you're doing half the lifting.

Do you find it more exhausting because you're always on the stage generating, you haven't got that time to pause and think?

M: Yeah I like not having that time to pause and think. Because when you're off-stage in a Harold you think "oh what is the strongest move, what's happened, what are we doing"

You're doing more analysing than doing.

M: Yeah but in two-man you're constantly in the moment, you're always in the character, living breathing being very present. You never have that time to reflect. So it actually means that you're actually improvising more and planning less.

A: Yeah. I feel the same.

M: Cool.

A: [laughs]. That's all! Yes. Everything that Marcus said. Write that down.

If The Sparrow Men were ever asked to endorse a product, what product would you agree to and why?

A: I'm a whore, so all of them. I don't care. And then by proxy Marcus would have to go along with that.

M: Ok...

A: [laughs]

M: Well I mean...

A: What wouldn't you endorse?

M: No I would endorse gin.

A: I was going to say booze, yeah.

M: Because in our first training we practically drank gin for six hours, so I think it's like...

That's a long training session.

M: It's a product that's very close to our hearts.

Any particular brand?

M: Hendrick's. Definitely.

A: Uhh, yeah. Hendrick's in summer, Tanqueray Ten in winter.

M: We have two different endorsement deals.

A: Well because you can't really drink Hendrick's in winter.

M: I can.

A: It's a cucumber, it's a summer gin, it's cucumber enfused.

I would agree with that.

M: Really? Wow.

A: Because you have Hendricks and Tonic in summer with cucumber.

You want a spicier gin for winter.

A: Where with Tanq Ten you have it with, with true gin you have it with lemon, but I have mine with shit-heaps of lime.

M: Right...

A: I used to be, I used to write for an online bar magazine. I know drinks.

M: I didn't know that!

A: Yeah.

What do you drink your gin with [Marcus]?

M: Cucumber. I'm just a Hendrick's, tonic, cucumber, all seasons kinda guy.

You're just all about that gin.

M: Yeah. [laughs]

A: [singing] I'm all about that gin, bout that gin, bout that gin, no vodka.

A: Yeah, although my favourite drink is vanilla vodka and Coke. Because it just tastes like Vanilla Coke, and you can mix it half-half and it still tastes like Vanilla Coke. And then before you know it you know you've drank an entire bottle of vodka. Time to go out ladies! [laughs]. I drink a lot. I'm a professional drinker.

We've got plenty of people on Conspiracy teams who are thinking about putting together their own two-person teams. Do you have any tips or advice for them?

M: Yeah. Have as many characters as you can. Know the person as well as you can. Spent a lot of time not doing improv together. I think that the more characters that you can do in two-prov, the better. I think that's something that we learnt. You need a giant variety of scenes and ideas and different styles to make it last, especially for us when we're doing an hour.

A: Yeah. yeah. I agree with all of that.

M: Watch TJ & Dave, as much as you can.

A: Yeah, I guess. I mean, watching TJ & Dave obviously they are amazing. But they've been doing it for a thousand years. So I guess my advice would be don't aim to be another version of a two-prov. Because we just kind of went TJ & Dave are great, that would be great to do. But we are nothing like them. We don't do anything that they do, really.

M: Yeah, find your own style.

A: Do what you want to do, and I guess let the style come to you. We just had a lot of ideas, this is how we wanted the style to be, and then we just kinda just abandoned all of those ideas. Let's just do some stuff.

As you do more work, you find the style organically.

A: Now the form of our show, we just understand it more. And I'm in love with it, because it came about quite naturally. Just out of trainings and how we like to play together. So my advice would be - just do it, and do it lots, and see where it takes you. And don't aim to be someone else. Is that ok?

M: Yeah I like it.

A: Is that ok Dad? Now will you love me? [pause]. My dad loves me.

[all laugh]

M: Oh god.

We have a question from the Improv Conspiracy Student Group. Adam M asks: Who would win - miniature pony or snapping turtle?

A: Uhhhhhh great. Great question. I would like to thank Adam M. Can I start by saying I don't play, I want to say Pokemon. Is that.

M: I was going to say snapping turtle.

A: I was going to say snapping turtle regardless because look.

M: No let's just say snapping turtle and leave it at that.

You don't want to elaborate what-so-ever?

A: Mystery is better on this. When it comes to this specific question, the mystery is better.

Ok, Adam can chase you both up privately to find out your logic.

A: He can do whatever the hell he wants but he's not going to get more of an answer than snappy turtle. Have a good night.

Snappy Turtle?

M: Snappy Turtle [laughs].

Snappy Turtle!

A: Is that not what it is?

Snapping Turtle.

A: Oh Snapping Turtle! That changes the game. I thought it was Snappy Turtle.

M: I'm going to stand by Snapping Turtle.

A: I'm going to stand by Snapping Turtle as well.

You've just invented your own answer.

A: I vote for Snapping Turtle.

M: I vote for S-T.

S-T. Also we have a question from the last person interviewed. Hayley Tantau asks: What would your lives be like if you hadn't found improv?

M: That's very scary to think about. I wouldn't have any of the close friends I have, I would be doing different for work, I wouldn't live with the person I live with, I wouldn't have anything that I have and I probably wouldn't own the shirt I own now, it would be completely different. And I think about it a lot, it's really scary because when I was in uni someone just told me to read this book, and I didn't know what it was, and it was Tina Fey's Bossypants, and then I heard about this improv thing and then I was like "aw that's interesting," and then I Google'd it and Impro Melbourne had a class starting the next week. So it's just all such a crazy..

A lot of circumstance.

M: Yeah! It was amazing! So every-time I think about that it's terrifying. I don't know, I would be so different and I don't think I'd have the confidence to do any of the stuff I do outside of improv as well. It would be horrendous, I would be terrible.

A: Uhhhhhhh I would be pretty much the same.

M: [laughs]

A: My life went bang-on track.

M: Wow.

A: What would I? I would realistically be performing, I was performing before I started improv. So I would probably be doing, I don't know. It would probably be something along the lines of, like I might do drama or VCA or something along those lines. It would still be writing and performing. So it would be different but it still would be similar. I have a lot more friends now tho. I have a lot of a friends tho. [pause] I'm good. [laughs]. Yeah. I'm still new to this.

What interviews?

A: No improv. [laughs] So I'm only a year old when it comes to improv, and I'm ancient anyway. I already had stuff. I'd probably be doing more stand-up.

M: Gross.

A: Yeah!

Before we go, anything you'd like to plug?

A: No.


M: We're doing a show...

[all laugh]

Let the record state that a greasy look was shared by Marcus towards Andy after saying No.

M: Oh yeah. We're doing a show Midsumma, 27 Feb, 1st of Jan [Note: Actual dates are 27th of January to 1st of February]. Can you put a link to the website?


M: I'll send you a link to the website.

I can find it.

M: You can find it. And that's very exciting, it's my first Midsumma show, and it's called The Sparrow Men.

And where's it at?

M: At The Butterfly Club.

A: Which is great. And we're hosting the main stage of Pride on the 1st of Feb.

And where's that at?

A: That is in St Kilda. Just follow the f*ggots. We can say that, can't we?

M: [high pitched] Yeah!

A: Four and a half hours, I am going to get in so much trouble.

M: It's going to be concerning.

A: This is the worst idea ever, to give - thank god you're there. 'Cause if I was just given free reign with a microphone for four and a half hours, people would throw things at me.

Oh that could still happen.

M: [laughs]

A: And probably will, let's be honest. I'm going to turn Grindr on at the start, and tell people that I'm looking for a boyfriend.

M: Wow, that's dangerous.

A: Yeah, thousands of people. I'm going to tell them all to message me, they know where I am.

And we always finish with this one question: What question would you like to ask the next person in this series to answer?

M: Ok.

[long pause]

M: I like to, I think there's like a moment in a lot of improvisers lives when they are like "oh wow," something just clicks for them, and they have a breakthrough.

A: What's was a click moment, because I've had loads, where I've been like "ohhhhhhhhhh yeaahhhhhhh". What was a click moment.

What was your improv 'click' moment? So what was yours, Marcus.

M: Yeah. I just want to describe it properly. 

A: I know what mine is, I can answer quickly.

M: Yeah yeah.

A: Mine is also something that I taught level two's that I call "How Do You Feel Microwave?" Because I was watching a show, a Harold team do a show, and the suggestion was microwave. And they were doing stuff, and I was sitting next to Charlie Sturgeon. And it was going on and I was like "this feels a bit clunky" but didn't say anything and Charlie was eating lasagna, and under his breath went "but how do you feel microwave?" and I went "what!?" and he goes "how do you feel microwave, personify it, give it emotion, give it feeling, it's really important in an opening." And I was like "ohhhhhhh FUCK." From then on every time I do an opening that's always sitting in the back of my head, if I was the microwave, how do I feel, because it's easy to play off emotion. So for me that was a big click moment. That "How Do You Feel Microwave". Thanks Charlie.

M: Mine was very recently, my most recent one was when I watched Dan [Pavatich], he did a show where he just sat and watched the audience for twenty minutes.

What is Art? which he put up for Cage Match.

M: Yeah it was beautiful and it taught me so much. Like I learnt more then I had in the past twelve months just watching that. So that's my most recent moment.

A: What did you learn?

M: I learned that you don't need to do everything, you just need to be real, you need to be a person, do less. Less is more.

A: Truth in Comedy.

That was a delicious smoothie Marcus.

M: Oh! Do you want another one?

I have to go.

M: I'm sensing that you want another one!

I really should leave.

A: You should have another one.


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