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Improv Conspiracy Blog

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  March 11, 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 Broni Lisle. Broni performs with Harold team Friends at the End, and will be seen during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival as part of Now Showing: The Improvised Movie

Broni Lisle: Hello iPhone.

Mike Brown: Do you always introduce yourself to iPhones?

Well actually in Perth; Tim [Quabba], Ryan [Zorzut] and I were trying get Siri activated from my bed. It was hilarious.

Because when it's plugged in you can activate Siri with speech.

Yeah but from three meters away she's terrible. She'd be like "what is it?" and I'd say "Can you text Ryan and Tim," she'd be like "what do you want to say?" "Tell them-" "I'm sending tell them." It's like no I haven't finished! It was the worst, I got really mad actually.

Does technology steam you up?

[laughs] If it's that dumb. It's like, come on man.

You've gotten used to technology being so good.

Yeah! Yesterday I was listening to a podcast and the host said "Are you serious?" Siri activated herself.

[laughs]

And said "That's me!" I was like, "aw fuck you".

We'll see if we can get Siri activated during this, even if it's just me tapping on the phone.

[laughs]

What did you do today Broni?

Today I went to a friend's birthday in Croydon. That's where I grew up, around that area. There's a brewery out there, we had drinks, and he turned 26, so I gave him a hug-

And wished him a happy birthday.

Yeah and bailed to here.

For Sunday Night Improv Conspiracy.

Yeah I can't miss at least half of it. I'll miss half of it [laughs]. Then I'll probably go home, because you know when I'm not on stage, I don't want to be here. [laughs].

Oh wow that's going to read really well Broni. [laughs]

No no no! Put in my facial expressions! [laughter]

Laughter.

Happiness.

Someone smug. Smiley.

No I love watching everyone.

What's your favourite thing about improvising?

Freedom. The fleeting moments of it, 'cause I'm a songwriter as well and now since I've been doing improv so much I find it hard to commit my words to paper and/or recordings forever. Because it's like that means my opinion is there to be heard or read forever, and what if it changes? So improv for me is like, I can say anything at any time and it's like that's just that person at that time.

Yeah there's no consequences!

No right? It's on the spot creativity, and it's a bit more freeing, and it's beautiful. And when people like show a little bit of themselves, I love it.

Do you try and show a little bit of yourself on stage in characters you're portraying?

Yeah sometimes. I think a lot of my characters probably have things I've thought at some point. Not all of them, but I think my favourite thing teaching is when I see someone just say something super real that's not funny, I just say "yes! thank you for giving it such weight." It means everything from there can be beautiful and hilarious because it comes from a real place. It's a beautiful artform.

Comparing it to songwriting - has it cleared up things in your songwriting? Things we approach in improv, like having a clear point of view and sticking to it. Has it helped?

Yeah that's interesting..

Has it made it a little bit easier in a way?

It's made it harder to be honest. I originally started improv to help my music, and it was not long before I realised that this wasn't helping my music, it was only creating a new thing I want to do instead.

[laughs] It's just taking a hobby away..

Taking away all my time! Yeah basically I started to analyse a lot of my songs, and... I don't switch point of views but I'm super-critical when I'm writing a song about whether my chorus matches the overall message, and that's really weird to me, I've never thought about that sort of stuff. 

Yeah randomly put together.

I think- I don't know if it's naturally worked out in previous times or I wasn't thinking about it and they don't make sense, but my songs are for the most part I think logical, but I think to myself "what's the overall message here?" and I don't know why I'm asking myself that question.

I'm curious. Songwriting is all about structure, you've got verses and your pre-chorus into a chorus and so on, and the Harold is much the same, you have your scenes into group games into more scenes. When you were learning the Harold initially, did you find it easy because you could just transpose the things from songwriting?

Nah I wish I could say, I wish it was romantic as you made it sound. [laughs] Honestly I couldn't find any similarities as I went through, I really thought I would. I really thought "this is going to improve my music" and I couldn't connect them at all. People have told me that since I've done improv my stage presence in music shows has been better, but I'm not sure that's true I don't feel any different. And for me learning the Harold was just an intellectual thing. It was just like while it's easy to see it as three-group-three-group-join the three, and so I know I've always approached the Harold lackadaisically anyway, because all the things about the five scenes, the five scene types anyway, they are all analytical tools to be used after the scene has been played rather than a tool to generate a scene.

Looking at the scene in review rather then in the moment.

Yeah I feel like when the Harold was created, they weren't saying "we can only use five scene types guys." They were doing Harold's and saying "well it seems that we do one of five things," and then that has been written into law. And then if you look at it too analytically you can get really trapped and in your head about it. So I think when I was learning Harold, I was like "this is really easy! it's just group-three-group-three-group-and then tie the three." So format wise I was like that's not hard, and I don't think I made any comparisons with music unfortunately. I wish I did, I wish I had some beautiful philosophical answer. 

Going back to stage presence, when performing music live were you always a comfortable performer?

Yeah I don't know, I've always felt pretty comfortable? I've been doing music for ten, how old am I, twelve years now. And my first few gigs I was playing bass in a band that I had nothing to do with the songwriting, it was a pseudo-successful band that had radio play on Triple M and whatever. And I was pretty nervous because I was young- oh wait, I was 16, so this is my fourteenth year in music. Shit!

Time flies!

It hurts my art [laughs]. I was pretty nervous, I tried to be a rock star and jump off my amp and stuff and I fell over. My first, I think it was something crazy like my first seven gigs I fell over.

What every gig?

Yeah. I'd either jump or run at our guitarist and trip on something, and it was just like, I don't know, was I nervous? I must have been nervous in some way. But I think I had a really easy ride because I was a bass player in band that already had it's own thing, I didn't start I joined that band who already had a thing. So I road their coat tails and learnt a lot of great lessons. So ever since I've been doing music for myself, I don't know I guess I've been pretty comfortable. I thought I was pretty comfortable but some people have said that I have opened up more, so maybe I have yeah, I don't know man.

It's for other people to judge really.

Yeah I've always been really comfortable on stage, like I'm more comfortable on stage talking to someone or talking to an audience then talking to-

Me, about your life.

Yeah, certainly. 

Putting you on the spot.

I'd happily share stories on stage, much more personal than these ones [laughs].

Ok well let's try and get some personality out of you Broni.

[laughs] Alright..

What dish do you make when you're trying to impress someone?

Aw shit! 

[laughs]

If I'm trying to impress someone I do not take them anywhere near my own cooking! [laughs] 

I guess my signature would be quesadillas but with, because I can't eat dairy, it's some dairy free cheese and some refried beans in a..

Tortilla.

In a tortilla, and then I make a salsa and avocado like... conglomerate. Then I add some vegan sour cream on there and a bit of rocket, and that's it!

So how long have you been dairy-free vegan for?

Two years now.

What brought on the change?

Just super lethargic all the time, and I'd been sick a little too long, just gut sick all the time. Just feeling queasy all the time.

Like you're always on a rollercoaster!

[laughs] Pretty much exactly right! So I went to a doctor and I got a blood test, and I was like the highest I could be allergic to dairy.

Oh wow, the highest? They have what, a chart?

Yeah apparently 0 to 4, and 4 is you're an idiot, basically.

Stop eating cheese and drinking milk.

Yeah and I got that back and I was like "damn" and if you knew me before that period, I would put sour cream on everything! Didn't matter what it was.

Things where it didn't even make sense.

No never made sense! My mum had a stock box of sour cream for every meal. We would have dinner - it could be just meat pies and she'd have, "Broni do you want some sour cream on the meat pie?" Fuck yeah, fuck yeah. It only doesn't work on strawberries Mike.

That's kind of strange! Because it's a cream-

Yeah I tried it. Also sausage rolls is not great either. But I've tried it on a lot of things.

And now you're looking for that vegan sour cream if you need a fix.

Now I have vegan sour cream if I'm having a Mexican dish that really requires that element. Otherwise I'm not touching it at all.

You just keep it away from the fridge.

Yeah it's really weird actually. 

You sound a little bit sad about it.

I am really sad about it! I miss it real bad.

Oh those glory days of sour cream and tripping over amps.

[laughs] Yeah my salad days, god.

Is there any book, any podcast, any blog post, any video about improv that you've consumed and want to recommend to the readers of this interview?

Yep, cool. I'm going to get specific, because everyone's going to say Guru [by Jeff Griggs] at some point.

You're the first.

Really?

Yep.

Maybe I'm not reading the interviews close enough [laughs].

It's a great book.

Guru to me, the segments in Guru about improv are better than any improv book I've read.

Very teachable, and it's clearly written to be teachable.

Yeah it's like anecdotes about teachable moments rather "hey, here's technique!". So that was really cool to me.

And you get to read some messed up stories about Del [Close], as well.

And get to realise like "gee, why is everyone praising this guy?" [laughs]

He just sat around and smoked and watched episodes of South Park all day.

And then people think that being in his shadow is a licence to be an asshole, unfortunately.

Yeah, that's accurate.

So that, and then there's Acting on Impulse which is a book that I really really loved. Carol Hazenfield is the author of that. And specifically David Koechner's episode of Improv Nerd the podcast, that blew my mind. I don't like, I hadn't liked David Koechner's characters that he has played.

Yeah he's been on The Office, he was in Anchorman and he's sort of an abrasive jerk.

Yeah he's loud and wacky and I was like if that's who he is as an improviser, I wouldn't dig it really. They do like a really short improv scene, and then he discusses how he pulls organically from a suggestion. There's no point in me going over it, but there's a segment where he uses the same scene using different elements of the suggestion.

And how he broke down the suggestion-

He's like "what's a knife, well a knife is shiny, so I'll do the scene as a shiny person." It's like, fuck yeah!

It's so easy!

Yeah great. Non-improv, Ira Glass' little snippet on creativity, and also Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk on nurturing creativity. Actually that's probably my number one recommendation.

Yeah plenty of stuff to start on, certainly some stuff I've never heard of.

Yeah get on Elizabeth Gilbert, she's the Eat Pray Love author. She talks about just being creative, it's great. Get on it.

You mentioned that you're a music guy. When you pop on the headphones, what are you listening to? Is it music? Is it podcasts?

I try to balance it really, and I don't know why I put so much pressure on myself. I want it to be music all the time but I want to learn more things so I listen to a lot of podcasts. It's This American Life and RadioLab, and also anything that Kevin Smith does out I check out depending on who he is talking to. Generally I try and make it music more often than not.

Here's the thing Mike. If the sun's out and I'm in my car, absolutely music. Can't be anything else.

No talking, you can't concentrate?

No it's gotta be, the sun is out and I'm driving my car, I need to be able to wind my window down and have a great sing.

[laughs]

No time to learn now!

What are you listening to genre wise? Any particular artists?

Aaron Embry has been blowing my mind at the moment. My favourite artist is either Ray LaMontagne or Jason Mraz. People scoff at me for saying Jason Mraz, but that's because they only thought he came out in 2008 with that one song, but he's been around for a long time. But it's generally folk-pop stuff, but I also love people like Sara Bareilles who has super pop tunes and even Taylor Swift, I've got time for that.

You'll find down the windows and sing Shake It Off?

Hell yeah. It's a good melody Mike. If it's a good melody I'll listen to it. I once took Whispering Jack in the bathroom with me, by John Farnham.

When was that?

It was like 1988 or something. My dad never lets me forget it, it was the family copy of Whispering Jack on cassette and I took it in the bath because I love it so much.

What's your favourite pre-show warm-up. And you've been teaching as well so I'm going to extend this question, what warm-up do you love showing new students?

That's a good question. I think my favourite is just Da-Doo-Doo, that gets me out of my head the most. Actually my favourite element of any warm-up is the eye contact I think. If any of my students are not doing the eye contact part of the warm-up, I'm all about it, I'll definitely call them out. 

Actually Mike it doesn't matter what warm-up were doing, as long as I'm getting solid eye contact from my teammates.

Actually no! Here's my answer. My favourite warm-up is the I've Got Your Back tap before a show. It doesn't matter what we do beforehand, because my own preparation for a show is internal I think and as long as I'm connecting with my team in any way I don't really care. If I'm ready to go and connected with my teammates, yeah I'm all good.

Let's fantasise. You're the biggest improviser in the world, playing Rod Laver Arena because they're hosting improv now. What are you putting on your rider.

Aw. Shit that's... Big bowl of grapes [laughs].

Yeah you've lived the rockstar life I'm guessing, you've had a rider.

I've had some good riders and some bad riders. One time I put my hand into a bucket and Pete Murray was like "what are you doing?" and I said "just getting a beer" and Pete replied "They're Pete Murray's beers."

He spoke in the third person.

[laughs] Yeah, oh yeah. That was good [both laugh]. Nah a big bowl of grapes, an expensive bottle of whiskey, something from the Islay region.

Something you might take home with you after the gig and not actually drink? Because that's what you do with your rider.

Yeah yeah! And probably some nachos with vegan cheese. [laughs]

Nice and simple before you do your show.

Yeah! Because I probably will have eaten if I was honest. Oh and some water, that's probably it.

Tell us about a good rider you had. 

I just remember, the Espy was always better than most people at having riders until more recent years. They would at least give you a whole slab, rather than two pots each or whatever. And Manchester Lane where Shebeen is now, that's the best place because the guy was always, probably why they went out of business, the manager was always like "whatever the band wants they get." So it was whatever bottle of wine we wanted, whatever beers. The fridge was always full of beers and it was like whatever beer we want, the best one you want, whatever, and he'd put it in there. And it had a proper green room.

It was hidden away that place but it was a good venue.

This isn't a rider but one time I played with The Milk Carton Kids in America.

Oh my god, I envy you a lot. I love those guys.

Do you really? Do you know them?

Yeah.

Yeah they're brilliant. And they had a bottle of whiskey backstage and they were like "while we're on, feel free to have some!" And I probably had almost all of it. [laughs]

I don't know if I want to talk about anything else now, all I want to talk about is Milk Carton Kids.

[laughs] How good are they?

All of the feelings! Michigan is my favourite song of theirs, it cuts deep that song.

Yep, it's brilliant. When they were soundchecking for that show, I was like "I can't go on!" [laughs]

They're going to throw tomatoes at me!

They are amazing those guys.

We have a question from the Improv Conspiracy Student Group. Nadine C asks: What have you said on stage that you'd be too scared to say in real life?

I don't know anything specific, but I know I've been more candid. I've been as candid as I wish real life Broni would candid. Like just things I'm staunchly against, for some reason I let them slide in public, obviously-

Out of politeness.

Yeah we're all just trying to be nice to each other. But improv let's you call shit out and it's beautiful, and people are like "Yeah!", because everyones thinking I wish I could say that!

I don't know, nothing specific, I wish I had a good answer.

Have you ever played the opposite point of view to real Broni, in a character, to make fun of something you hate personally?

Yeah Adam Kangas made me be a mean person once. He said that I've been mean people before but I've probably let it slip a little bit and didn't stay mean. But he made me, "your challenge today is to be mean people only". And I said things that were like... I attacked physical features of a character that I was seeing in front of me.

That's harsh! [laughs]

Yeah. And I don't wish I could be that person [in real life], but I liked that I was able to be that person [in that exercise], it was fun.

It's fun as hell to do it, because it's like "well I can go back to be being who I am now, and I'm glad that I don't encompass that in my day to day life".

Yeah absolutely. And it's another great thing about improv is that everyone who watches it can forget that once you're off stage as well. And they accept you for who you are to them rather than who you were on stage as for a minute. 

Yeah I don't know, yeah. I mean I've said things like "I love you" to characters who meant less to me than people who I wish I could have said "I love you" to, people who I love that I haven't told that to often enough. Like I love my sister but I barely tell her right? And I've said I love you on stage a million times.

Does that wake you up, maybe I should say "I Love You" to my sister.

Now that I'm saying it, it does wake me up, yeah. Because it's so easy to say on stage.

We don't do it as often as we think we do. Anything you want to plug before we wrap this up? You do improv, you do music.

I'm on Spotify, I'm on iTunes, bronimusic.com.

Gigs coming up soon I'm sure.

There are gigs, yeah. 

Check out your website.

Check out the website, yeah. I'm not doing any show shows for a while, I'm sort of in a re-invention sort of stage, but I'm doing front bar gigs where I play my songs, so it's the same thing.

Yeah Wednesday night's Harold Night, I'm enjoying that. Actually if you go to the Saving Grace page on improvconspiracy.com, we'll have something there soon I reckon. We'll do something.

Mighty fine team.

Thanks man. Yeah bronimusic.com I guess is all I want to plug, other than my "improv is just rock paper scissors theory" but I'm working on that. [laughs]

I look forward to reading about that. We also have a last person interviewed, Courtnee Johnstone your former teammate on Foggy Windows.

I love Courtnee.

Courtnee asks: What's your pet peeve?

Well can I say that one of my favourite scenes ever has been with Courtnee.

Tell us about it!

I just pimped her out and said "You're not going to sing are you?" and she had to sing, and it was the best thing ever.

And then I think everyone started singing and you looked so annoyed! In character of course.

[laughs] Just let Courtnee sing. [laughs]

Can't help that Andrew Strano.

If he gets an opening...

If you give him an inch he's going to take a mile. [laughs]

What's my pet peeve? People, when it's a really hot day, people who say "how good's the weather today?"

[laughs]

It's not good, this isn't good. 25 to 30 I'll buy that you think is good. But if it's 40 or 39, or anything above 35, you can't say it's good. Everyone's hot, everyone's red and sticky and like, shiny. No-one looks good! Not even the prettiest person in the world looks good on that day.

Because they're sweating buckets.

Yeah. No-one's comfortable. It's not pleasant to sit for a long time. It's not pleasant to stand, and you come to me saying how nice is the weather. You're lying to yourself.

Do you remember that Simpson's episode where it's a heatwave in Springfield, and the busker is playing guitar singing "Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy," and a guy walks past and punches him in the face.

[laughs] Yeah.

Would that be you? Punching that guy in the face?

Yeah absolutely.

Don't you dare ask me that question!

I was working in a high school and two girls came in to tell me that the weather was great one day, and I pretty much had the same rant as I did just then. After the end of the rant they were just, "I guess it is pretty hot today." See! You're just saying it to have something to say. Say something meaningful.

We always ask if the person being interviewed has a question they'd like to ask the next person being interviewed. What's your question - improv or otherwise.

Yeah cool. I should have known this going in.

What is something you can't say to someone in your life right now?

And how it always works is, you have to answer that question.

Yeah. The answer is: "get over it, what's done is done, be happy with what's coming".