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  March 16, 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 the super busy Mario Hannah. Mario performs on Harold Night team Endless Cash, directs Harold Night team Shake-A-Stick, and will be seen during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival as part of Now Showing: The Improvised Movie and his sketch team Trillcumber.

Mario Hannah: You guys get comfortable, we're going all night.

Mike Brown: 24 hours. Hi Mario.

Hey Mike!

So how long have you been performing for, and how did you find yourself a member of The Improv Conspiracy?

I think this is, I just had my two year anniversary. I found Conspiracy just by googling it one day.

By googling improv?

Yeah I was looking for improv classes. I was at a point where I had been trying to do stand-up for about a year with just random open mic gigs, and it was going terribly, and I thought ahh this will help with my stand-up. I just googled classes and that was the first result that came up, and that's it.

Transitioning from stand-up to improv classes, with stand-up you're always chasing your own spots, you might not be performing for weeks due to their ad-hoc nature. How was it having weekly challenges to build on in classes?

That was one part of it - that regular routine that just kept you on star. The other thing was having an actually supportive community around you when doing something together. Stand-up can be a pretty isolated.

As soon as you've done your spot you can leave, you're done.

Yeah. I never really committed to it because you don't really have anything that you need to commit to. The other thing is that it's lonely writing in your room by yourself, with improv...

You develop together.

Whether it's training or performance you have that instant gratification which is always nice, of hearing people laugh or support you.

Growing up, what did your parents want you to be? What did you want me to be?

I don't think my parents really cared, they weren't very pushy. I always wanted to do something money-ish, like finance-y, like a stockbroker.

Or investment banker of some sort?

Yeah. When I was a kid I was obsessed with money for some reason. Mum said that I'd always ask questions like "Are we poor?"

[laughs]

I don't even know why! We were just a normal middle class family, but I just had this fear of being poor. I always had these ideas of things, some sort of money making person.

What was your family life like? Brothers and sisters?

I have one sister, older. 

And you were just in a normal house, out in the burbs, worried about getting kicked out or something?

Just a house in Fawkner in Melbourne's northern suburbs. And yeah, it probably wasn't until.. I never really knew what I wanted to do, I was never really set on anything. 

What do you do now?

I do video production.

Was it being behind the scenes doing video stuff that lead to you wanting to do stuff on stage? Or was that something you always had growing up?

They were completely separate. The video stuff was always something I did with friends, whether it was making funny movies. Then that, this is a company that a friend started, so it was something at evolved into my career, but yeah comedy was always completely separate for me.

How would a teammate describe your style of play? Do you think you have any personal ticks or trademarks that people seem to like?

I don't think I have any.. I don't know actually. I'm sure you could get people to do an impression of me, there's certain personal traits that would be easy to imitate. I always play an exasperated character that always has his hands up. I think this [Mario raises his arms into the air, bent at the elbow]. Transcribe that.

You've got arms into the air, bent at the elbow, freaked out look on your face.

[laughs]. Yeah that's probably my trademark.

As improvisers you're always wanting to do something new on stage. Do you find yourself doing that sometimes and being annoyed by it?

Oh yeah, that's a thing that I'm always trying to get past, where I feel like I'm re-covering old grand. This isn't something that I was inspired to do, this is..

A go-to.

A cruch, almost.

What was your first job?

There were a few... First job... there can't be a few first jobs. My very first job in high school was as a waiter at a wedding reception centre. 

I think I might know the wedding reception centre you're talking about. In Fawker?

Yeah. It's called Farriro's, and that was just awful. 

What was life like? I'm guessing there was a wedding every weekend to attend to?

It would just be like kind of, ten hour shifts on Saturday and Sundays. Carrying around big trays of identical meals, and getting yelled out by old Italian people.

Were they in the wedding receptions or were they working for the reception centre?

Both, yeah.

How long before you kicked that one to the curb?

I was there for ages, just because I didn't have any job prospects and I wasn't kind of personable enough to work in retail.

You will take your fish and you will like it. You were just flinging plates at people.

I wasn't a very ambitious kid so that was the best I could do for ages. I left when I was pretty much finishing up uni and my first gig out of uni was doing voiceovers for a telephone company.

Oh really, for their phone tree systems or something?

Yeah things like "to hear your options again press 1", things like that.

Do you miss that? Are you ringing certain phone numbers and hearing your old voice?

Nah, it's probably all gone now. A lot of it was reading the weather, that's why it was a regular job, the weather hotline. There was a new hotline which was- I got replaced by a robot, that's why I left that job. But I used to do the, there was a Huey's Cooking Adventures, at the end of the show there was a hotline you could call..

Oh to get the recipe.

I used to be the voice of that for a while. So that's probably my main claim to fame.

Your main claim to fame. "Huey cooked today the Chicken Asparagus."

It was exactly that. It was just like "Stir the pot until thick and fragrant." Notice he always says thick and fragrant in his recipes for some reason. They'd send us the scripts for the recipes to read off. 

That's quite strange to have all your dishes be thick and fragrant.

Well he makes a lot of thick and fragrant dishes I guess. He makes hearty meals doesn't he.

He's a bit of a hearty man, Huey.

It's just a bunch of stuff in a pot.

Just stirred around until..

Thick and fragrant.

You coach Shake-A-Stick, you've been coaching them for a couple of months. Has coaching changed how you think about improv?

Yeah definitely. I don't know if changed is the right word, but it's  made me think about how I do improv. I think before I just relied on everything, just honing instincts over time. Now I actually actively have to think about what I'm doing on stage and how to articulate that to other people. And I think that's really helped because I can kind of consider my actions more carefully instead of just doing things and thinking about them later, and not learning from the work.

What's it called, conscious-

So before coaching I think it was unconscious incompetence because I didn't know what I didn't know. Now probably I'm at conscious incompetence. [laughs]. I know what I don't know, pretty much.

What's it's like looking after another group of improvisers and helping guide their path?

I really like it. It's a really good team, really talented people, and it's really nice to see, I don't know how much of it is my coaching and how much of it is the people getting more comfortable as performers with each other, just seeing them improve from week to week is really nice to see.

If a bio picture was made of your life, working in the wedding reception, wondering to your mother if you were poor, coaching an improv team I guess; who would you want to play you?

Can he still play me as a child?

Sure why not.

Because you know how those movies where from the age of, like Walk The Line, Joaquin Phoenix is playing Johnny Cash from the age of 17 up until his old and he looks exactly the same. So it would be that kind of thing.

Who would play me... maybe Sean Penn. I don't know. [pause]

He's got the kind of beard and moustache and the kind of hair.

Who do you think?

Who do I think? Gosh. Who would do you justice.

So I'm assuming that I can choose people from certain time periods. Like Sean Penn now couldn't play me, because he's over 50 years old.

I was going to go with Keanu [Reeves], Keanu could pull you off.

Yeah because he's ageless as well. Keanu now.

Keanu ten years ago.

Matrix Keanu.

Yeah, but just with facial hair.

Ok, let's go with Keanu. [laughs]

So we have a question from the Improv Conspiracy Student Group. Andrew S asks: Jason Chin will take any excuse to be Dracula in a scene. What thing do you love to do in a scene above all else?

One character that've played more than one, and I don't think it's something that I should be proud of either, it's one of those crutches that I mentioned earlier that I find fun to play, I've done it in The Remix a couple of times, I'll come out as a stand-up comedian just doing terrible material. It's just so easy to do, you do some microphone stand adjustment object work, and you're presenting out to the audience.

It always gets a positive reaction.

I've done that maybe three times which is probably three times too many.

So if we see it again, we can take it up with you.

Yeah just pull me up on it. 

If you're in the audience, just yell out.

That's not cool Mario.

Yeah actually heckle the performer, not the character you're playing. Which kind of makes sense in terms of a stand-up gig.

Yeah if everyone wants to get on in on the act, please feel free to heckle me.

Don't heckle improv shows please.

There's a lot of kind of, unique etiquette things that are unique to improv.

Such as?

Just things you wouldn't be aware of such as, like if you're a performer you should never be yelling out the suggestion. And others.

And others.

As teammates you should never note each other, leave that to your coach.

The same rule applies to students as well.

Yeah.

Anything that you'd like to plug? Comedy Festival is not far away.

So there's Trillcumber, which is a [pause] great show, it's a sketch show not improv, and it features two really great people in Hayley Tantau and Simon McCulloch.

Yeah previous interviewees of this very series.

You're Going To Meet Some People alumni. That's something that we've put a lot of work into and would really like people to come to. Also there's Now Showing: The Improvised Movie, which is a movie which we make up on the spot which is always really fun. And then there's the usual Harold Night and The Remix, and I'm not involved with Play Like A Girl but I'd encourage people to see that.

Plenty of stuff to see during ComFest. Don't you hate pants?

Yes? [laughs]. Is this [laughs], are you just trying to look for excuses to burn your pants Mike?

They make me very angry and I like to hold them up at a stage.

What's the thing on The Simpsons? "I hope he tells us to burn our pants, these things have been chafing me all night!"

[laughs] It's a good excuse to shoe-horn it in.

Do you have any other Simpsons related questions for me Mike?

Yeah I do actually. What would be your Troy McClure entrance line?

Hi I'm Mario Hannah, you might remember from such sketch trios as Trillcumber or as the voice of the Huey's Cooking Adventures hotline.

Oh man, that's great. As the voice of thick and fragrant. 

Finally we have a question from the last person being interviewed. Broni asks: What is something you can't say to someone in your life right now?

Ahhhhhh. Let me think. [long pause] You look a lot like Alec Baldwin. 

That's it.

There's someone I've encountered a few times and she looks like Alec Baldwin.

Oh she?

I just wonder if she knows.

Do you think she'd be offended if she found out?

Probably but you know, I think, yeah it's not necessarily a bad thing, she's still an attractive lady, she just has certain features that make her look like Alec Baldwin. [laughs]

Should I cut that?

The other members of Trillcumber start to chime in.

Hayley Tantau: Alec Baldwin's daughter looks like Alec Baldwin and she's stunning.

Mario Hannah: Guys is that acceptable to say?

Simon McCulloch: Absolutely.

Hayley Tantau: I think so.

Mario Hannah: Should we leave that in?

Yeah why not. Do you have a question for the next person being interviewed?

So what would you be doing if money wasn't an object for you and, maybe I should phrase that differently. What would be your absolute dream, what would you be working towards if you never had to worry about money?

What would it be for you?

For me it would be having a sketch show on TV, just writing for that. 

If money's no object technically you have a lot of money, so you could just pay for the airtime. 

Yeah, not in that way. Let's say you just make enough to survive, you weren't some wealthy crazy billionaire. You didn't have to worry about a normal day to day job because someone covered your expenses.

So you could just work on creative things.

Yeah.

So for you, it would be writing a sketch show and getting that on TV?

I think just being a, I'd love to be a writer on Saturday Night Live or Conan.

Work that crazy Tuesday night, staying up all night just writing.

Yeah imagine that? Just 24/7 almost, just thinking about how to make comedy. Imagine how good you could get just practicing and working those muscles every day.

The development would happen really fast I would imagine.

So yeah, that's what I would do.