Episode 35

Published on:

18th Jan 2023

Improv'ing Your Podcast

Improv'ing Your Podcast

Good morning, Podcasters! Being able to think on your feet and react quickly to your guests, co-hosts, or hosts of shows you're guesting on is an important life skill. On today's episode, Scott Covelli, an agency content director and member of the Fish Sticks Comedy improv troupe, joins me to talk about the important skills that improv can lend to your show.

Scott talks about:

  • How he got started
  • The basic tenets of improv
  • What it's like performing on stage
  • The skills that improv will bring to your show
  • and how you can get started

I've posted some links below to the different improv programs discussed on this episode. I studied The Second City online comedy writing program sessions 1-4. Though you probably couldn't tell by reading the above.


Fuzz Martin 0:00

Good Morning, Podcasters! I have a guest today and we're going to be discussing how the basics of improv can improve your show.

Fuzz Martin 0:11

Hello, everyone, I'm Fuzz Martin and this is Good Morning, Podcasters! Three times a week, I present you with some news skills, new tools, actionable ideas that will help you improve your podcast by way of marketing, advertising, PR, and social media. And today is no different. It's a little different though, because it's the first time that I have a guest on Good Morning Podcasters since I took it over from Tanner Campbell, back in November, but we're going to be learning all about a skill that you can use to make your interviewing interactions and even your negotiations better. Scott Covelli, Content Manager at EPIC Creative and a member of the Fish Sticks improv comedy team is joining me to talk about the basics of improv, how you can learn more about it, and how improv will improve your life all around.

Fuzz Martin 1:01

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Scott Covelli 2:16

Oh, yeah, i Hey, listen. I got a dress for the part. Right? Yes. So glad to be here. Thanks. Yeah.

Fuzz Martin 2:21

We've worked together for a while. You started how long ago? Was it that you started doing improv?

Scott Covelli 2:28

So I've been a fan of improv for my whole life. I remember as a kid staying up past my bedtime to watch Whose Line Is It Anyway. And then even like, in middle school, in high school youth group growing up we would play things that I didn't know were improv games at the time, but ended up being like realizing after the fact. And also Yeah, just kind of enjoying the the fun of riffing and comedy and kind of having things spontaneously happen in conversation. But I've been professionally in improv, for about four years as a part of a national improv group called fish sticks comedy. We have four troops across the country in Milwaukee slash Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, and Denver.

Fuzz Martin 3:11

Outstanding. So what was the like that first time that you started doing improv, like, officially started doing improv,

Scott Covelli 3:19

it's exhilarating. It's so fun, just being able to create something new, to go up on stage, and to not really know where it's gonna go, but to just trust your teammates. And I mean, that's a big part of it is to, you know, it's so different from say, watching stand up comedy, where they have this prepared thing and it's an it's honed everything is, is, you know, thought through and figured out and there's, there's, you know, an amazing skill in that, but an improv it's just, let's go find something together. And it's exploration and trust and, and fish sticks is a great group and I got to learn with them and figure out how to do it and it was like, I remember going to a class with them and coming home and being like, there's nothing I want to talk about anymore Other than this, like, You're not gonna believe what happened. It was it was great, though.

Fuzz Martin 4:07

So you are taking or you have taken classes on it, you didn't just jump in and start doing it.

Scott Covelli 4:12

So they the Fish Sticks offers as many places do improv classes for you know, helping with ideation and team building. And then I just kind of started working with them and kind of got called up to the big leagues, I guess from one of the classes

Fuzz Martin 4:28

I during COVID I knew that you were doing Fish Sticks comedy. I have always had a love for The Second City and while you know we're bored on Zoom for, for forever, had to share it take some online classes and it was it was really cool to like zoom based in Prop, not as cool as in person in real life kind of situations. But you still learn some of the basic rules of improv. Can you tell us a little bit about what those rules are and what what improv is? is

Scott Covelli 5:00

Yeah. So someone who's listening who doesn't know much about improv and they only know that you make it up. They're probably like Wait rules of improv like, that's not a thing?

Fuzz Martin 5:08

Well, there are the 37.

Scott Covelli 5:11

You can never divert from them at all. No. So the rules are basically you have to, the one that many people have heard is yes, and which means you accept the reality that your partner or that you're seeing creates, and then you build on that. Some people also call it heightening, where you just take the thing that's in front of you, whether it be tangible, or the situation in front of you, and you just elevate, keep tightening and tightening. And then the other things are really just like listening and trusting will I'm sure we'll talk about that more here in the next few minutes. But it's about not just having your own idea of what's going to happen. Like sometimes you'll walk into a scene, and we don't have a relationship, you and I, but we need to create one. And if I say like Grandma, it's so good to see you. And you're like, I'm not your grandma. I'm your dad. Like that's not right. No fun. And that's like, oh, you confusing to the audience. So like if I say, Oh, Grandma, it's so good to see you. You've got to be like, Oh, scotch, it's so wonderful. Like, you have to adjust your grammar now. Because I've like, like, endowed you with that. Yes.

Fuzz Martin 6:16

So we're making me your grammar.

Scott Covelli 6:20

Sorry. Yeah, no, no. Don't apologize. Well, yeah, that's true. Yeah, that and you know, since I'm wearing a tuxedo and you're wearing a night gown, yeah.

Fuzz Martin 6:29

Well, I do look like your grandma. Guess how you put that together? And yeah, that's true.

Scott Covelli 6:34

So it's, it's not what's makes it so different from stand up is stand up is like, I have a thing that I'm going to communicate to you and I have it all planned out where it's just and I've got to write some things down and with, with improv, it's you've got to listen to the team and go with something that you may not have thought of even five seconds. Oh,

Fuzz Martin 6:54

yeah. And then keep heightening it until Mom tells you to stop.

Scott Covelli 6:58

Yeah, so right. Well, it's kinda like in like, in that show, I think you should leave. Like the premise of that show is just like taking a situation. I know. It's not improv. Yeah. But it's like taking a situation and then just like, ratchet it up, like, just keep going.

Fuzz Martin 7:12

Yes, exactly. The skills that you've learned from improv, don't just spill over onto the stage or in front of whomever you're performing in front of, they also spill into your your work life, right?

Scott Covelli 7:26

Yes, absolutely. So I think one of the main things is, is listening, being a good listener in improv, and, you know, since we're talking about podcasts, right, interviewing someone, it's not just having a list of questions. It's about listening to what the person is saying. And going off of that. And sometimes it's ripping up your sheet of questions that you have, or throwing away the idea of what you thought you might be talking about, and actually listening to them and engaging with them. And, and kind of being in the moment that you know, that's a kind of a cliche thing to say about it, but being in the moment of actually being here. And we're creating something right in front of us that didn't exist before.

Fuzz Martin 8:10

Right. And you're only saying that because I just edited out a portion where I was looking at my notes.

Scott Covelli 8:17

Right, exactly, yes.

Fuzz Martin 8:19

Perfect, perfect. No, we have and particularly, you have actually given a number of different learning seminars to our clients, to people in our community, and really teaching them about the importance of being able to improv with somebody over again, putting your trust in who you're working with, and really working in a way that you can lean on one another and finally get to a place where you're trying to go or we're we're a good place, I guess. It's not necessarily always where you're trying to go, but where it takes you. But in a way that is, I guess, cohesive and fun, right?

Scott Covelli 8:58

Yeah, absolutely. So it this makes me think of a quote from James clear. He's the author of the book, atomic habits. I don't know if your listeners have read that book. It's a popular book. But he said, preparing for I'm going to butcher it. But it's basically like preparing doesn't just mean preparing for a couple of different outcomes. Preparing means preparing for uncertainty. It's preparing for the I don't know what's going to happen or like preparing for the thing that I wasn't prepared for. And I think in in my line of work with public relations and with clients and with things that you can't always predict, but you have to be in a place of kind of Yes, ANDing those situations and saying, Alright, here's a curveball, we've been thrown. How do we manage it? How do we make the most of it? And that kind of idea is something that anyone can can benefit from right is is learning to be adaptable in the moment.

Fuzz Martin 9:53

Those those times where you don't know where something's going to go, but the two people who are community are more that are community cating understand the situation are able to feed off each other. We've been in a number of spots where people are like, do you guys share a brain and not only just you and me, but other people here at our office? Because we'll get into a client meeting and they'll ask a question that maybe we've never been asked before. And we're able to use each other's strengths that we've learned or use their body language to understand who's probably likely to know the answer or has a better way, right?

Scott Covelli:

You know, people's strengths, you can play to people's strengths, but then you can also, you all know what the, the end goal is, at least in the sense of we know what success is going to look like, to some degree, right? We're building towards the same thing, which in improv, it can get really tricky. If someone's not playing the game, if they're only in it for punch lines, or if they're only in it for this one idea that they had, but they're not going off of there not listening to the other suggestions or ideas from the other team members, then it gets real clunky and awkward because they're not moving towards the same goal. Right? There's an agenda. Yeah, right. They have an agenda or they just aren't listening or whatever. And so then, it's, it becomes clear to the audience, that team isn't working towards something.

Fuzz Martin:

Do you ever if you have a situation like that on stage, do you ever like stop and just say, go to stand up, bro?

Scott Covelli:

Right? Yeah, like, hey, this ain't the st the Comedy Cafe.

Fuzz Martin:

Hey, Bill Burr, right. Knock, knock that stuff off. I'm holding a banana,

Scott Covelli:

or it'll be afterwards and I'll say like, Hey, so you know, I kind of threw I threw something at you. And either you didn't hear me or we didn't. Yeah, we didn't connect on that.

Fuzz Martin:

Yeah. Yeah. Waka waka waka.

Scott Covelli:

Right. But then, but then the other thing too, in that sense is, if things go wrong, there's something in improv about failing, like kind of falling with style where you kind of you just give yourself to it because in improv, one of the most awkward things to see on stage is someone kind of like, hesitating, or second guessing. Or if you get a suggestion of an accent that you have to do that you can't do. Well, you've got to try to do a Russian accent, or you don't like you've got to, because if you're like, if you reject it, because like, well, I can't do that. That's like zero fun for the right.

Fuzz Martin:

Oh, sorry. Sorry, folks. So so I'm not the Russian voice guy.

Scott Covelli:

Right, like failing hard and, and failing with Grace is, you know, a nice part of that, too. Yeah.

Fuzz Martin:

And that I don't think relating this back to podcasting. I don't think you definitely don't have to have a comedy podcast in order to use improv. It can be for all of your interviews, whether you're interviewing, you know, the Pope,

Scott Covelli:

That'd be a good get.

Fuzz Martin:

That would be a good get. Yeah, you're probably gonna get some listeners. So you probably should brush up on your on your improv skills. No, but if you're interviewing, you know, it doesn't matter if it's a comedian, or an author, you know, something serious, just having being able to read that room interact, and improvise, if you will, on the spot is important. If that's if you have a guest, or if you have a co host, all those sorts of things.

Scott Covelli:

Can I tell a story about a podcast I heard where I just felt like they were horrible at improv, and it was real cringy (Fuzz: Yeah. Good Morning. Podcasters?) So I'm not going to go into too much detail, because I don't want to like, you know, yeah, I don't want to like mudslinging. But there was a podcast I was listening to is an interview with a musician who had recently left one of my favorite bands. And it was like his first time going on the record about what happened and all this. So this podcast, which I had never heard of, I like downloaded an episode, because I'm like, oh, you know, so and so is on this episode, he's going to talk about all the stuff. That episode was, there was zero, follow up questions, or riffing or anything, and I'm sure some of it had to do with the editing of the podcast. But the guy the interviewee was saying this rich stuff that was begging for follow up questions on like, Well, how did that happen? And when was that moment? And, you know, all this, you know, how did that make you feel? And how does it feel with this, you know, the band that you were in is now, you know, more successful and all this stuff, and, and there were zero follow ups. It was as though the interviewer was just going down his list. Never. He didn't even react to the responses. It wasn't like, he didn't even do the like, Oh, yeah. Like, oh, that must have been hard. And then just like kept going. Yeah, it just was. And I'm sitting there going, no, like, please listen to what he's saying. And like, throw your sheet away and just have a conversation with him. Don't just have a list of questions.

Fuzz Martin:

Sure. Going down next on my list. I appreciate you coming on the show today. I know it's a A it's something that you kind of have to get into in order to understand it where if somebody wanted to get involved or start learning improv, where would you? What would you recommend they do? Let's say they don't even live near any of the fish stick places. What would what would somebody do if they want to learn more about improv than

Scott Covelli:

there are there are definitely resources like Second City and, and others that that have online articles that you can read about improv. But I would say if you really want to get into it, there might be a local troupe nearby who who does classes, there are zoom and virtual things that you can do. But it's nothing like getting up in front of a group of people. I promise you the thing with improv is, you get out of it, what you put into it, as with many things, and if you're interested in just learning how to think on your feet, or come up with ideas or listen better, or be a better team member, just going and playing improv with people who even know a few improv games can really, you know, kind of loosen you up and unlock creativity that you didn't think you had a lot of people see me do improv and my team and they say, like, Oh, I could never do that. And it's like, no, you definitely can you just kind of have to get into it and get more familiar with it. And, and everyone has the ability to be creative and think on their feet. You just have to exercise that muscle.

Fuzz Martin:

You said before we started recording, when you first went to Fish Sticks, what did they say to you?

Scott Covelli:

Oh, yeah, in the first class, they said, Hey, though, one of the best things about improv is that you don't have to be funny. And I said I'm in. And honestly, if you're not focused on being funny, you, you can get out of your head and just have real moments on stage or in an improv scene. And, and one of the things about real moments is that a lot of people can relate to them. And that's, honestly what makes things funny, is because they're relatable. So when I knew, alright, it's not about making jokes. It's about making moments together. I thought that that was great. And it took a lot of the pressure

Fuzz Martin:

off. Before we go. I want you to promote your new book, which is coming out.

Scott Covelli:

Yeah, it's called. Somehow I manage and it's got a picture of me on the on the cover shrugging. That's a joke from the office. Yeah, no. I should have been proud of something that wasn't from a TV show. No, no books. Not yet.

Fuzz Martin:

No book. All right. All right. Well, we'll get you there. Yeah. Scott, thank you for coming on. Good Morning. Podcasters. We appreciate it. And and again, for those listening, I really recommend going and exploring it just explore go watch some improv and see how that all works. Go watch. What was it? Don't think twice. Is that the name of them? Yeah. So

Scott Covelli:

there's a movie. Don't think twice. That's another one. It's a show on Netflix. That's long form improv. It's called Middleditch and Schwartz. Okay, is it's a different kind of improv than I do. It's long form, which, you know, that's a different podcast. But that's a really fun show. That's like, on stage improv comedy, but don't think twice is a movie about an improv troupe that you learn a lot about improv comedy. And

Fuzz Martin:

also, yeah, with Mike Birbiglia and a number of others. So our right Well, thank you again, Scott Covelli, for joining me today on Good Morning, Podcasters!

Fuzz Martin:

New episodes of this show every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You can find it all at goodmorningpod.com You're a podcaster so I know that you know the drill, be sure to click the follow button. So you get new episodes and your pod catcher each and every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and we'll talk to you get on Friday right here on Good Morning, Podcasters!

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Good Morning Podcasters!
Marketing, Advertising, PR and Social Media Tips for Podcasters
Good Morning Podcasters explores marketing, advertising, public relations, and social media topics as they relate to podcasting and content creation. The show is hosted by Fuzz Martin—an agency owner and former broadcaster. The show is published on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with regular bonus episodes of "Podcasting Sucks!" with co-host Jeff Townsend on Saturday mornings.

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Fuzz Martin

Fuzz Martin is a partner and Chief Strategy Officer at EPIC Creative in West Bend, Wis.