With no trip to LA this weekend, I decided to answer some of the questions I regularly get asked from friends, emails and comments I’ve received here on the site. So, in no particular order, here are the most common questions I get asked, or have been asked by email/website/carrier pigeon/smoke signal:
Q: You fly to LA every weekend? Why?
A: Yes, I do. I am in the Second City Improv Conservatory Program (Level 3) and my class is on Sundays from noon to 3:00. Yes, I fly 6 hours round-trip for a 3 hour class. I leave Saturdays at 5:00 pm and return Sundays either stand by on the 5:10 pm or take my scheduled 5:55 pm flight, depending on how traffic treats me getting to the airport (discussed below).
Q: What is Second City?
A: Second City is an improv school that started in the late 1950’s as a theatre for political satire called The Compass Players. One of the founding members was Oscar® winner Alan Arkin. I’m going to be lazy and just give you the link to the history section of the SC website. Look at the alumni section and read the names. It’s a Who’s Who of Comedy legends, none of which I will shame by uttering their names in my puny little blog.
Q: How long is the program you’re taking?
A: The Conservatory program is a 5 level program at 8 weeks per level. The way it is setup, you have to audition to get into Levels 1-3 collectively, then audition again for levels 4 and 5 collectively. From what I understand, level 5 is longer than 8 weeks due to the weekly performances.
Q: What do you plan to do once the classes end?
A: Right now, I’m focused on level 3 and preparing for my level 4/5 audition. I don’t allow myself to think that far ahead and play the “what if” game.
Q: Are you crazy?
A: I got this, or some variation, quite a bit. I am beginning to think there might be some slight mental retardation. The first weekend I made “the loop” as it is referred to around here, I told my driver “I have made the biggest mistake of my life and the next time I decide I want to do something like this you must stop me.” My attitude changed whole heartedly after the third week when I had conquered the traffic and altered schedule. It also helped that I was able to hang with the other students on class and not look like a complete d-bag.
Q: Are there no acting opportunities like this where you live? Why travel to LA every weekend? That’s got to be expensive.
A: There are acting opportunities here. I have an agent and I take acting classes here, but there is no Second City here. There are a couple of improv classes in the area taught by some wonderfully qualified improvisers, but I decided to take the leap and go this route. The classes are very affordable, it’s the getting there part that is the trick. My flights average $225 so do the math. Fortunately, the good people at Chase are helping to finance this little endeavor.
Q: How can you afford this?
A: One of the most popular questions…that I just answered.
Q: What does your wife think about all of this? Doesn’t the travel wear on you guys a bit? I know it would suck to not have any weekends together.
A: I’ll let her tell you: I’ve always thought Brian could do whatever he put his mind to. When he approached me with the acting bug almost four years ago, I thought it was a perfect creative outlet for my 14-year-old trapped in a 30-something-year-old husband. When he approached me with a plan for 40 weekends of travel to LA and back, I was amazed at his commitment and glad he was taking the leap. So I support this endeavor 110% (with the help of Chase, see above). Yeah, it’s hard not to have the down time on the weekends together, but Brian has graciously adjusted his travel schedule so his time away is minimal. I even applied for the position as his driver so we could spend the ride home from DFW on Sundays to catch up on what we missed in the previous 24 hours. That plus his occasional trips to the Apple store for a video chat make the time pass pretty quickly. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder…I’ll let you know how that works out with my “passenger.”
Q: You have a driver?
A: See previous question.
Q: Why Second City and not The Groundlings or UCB?
A: As a kid, my sister and I watched SCTV every Saturday night at 12:30 after Saturday Night Live (SNL) on channel 5. It was the alternate SNL, sometimes edgier and, being a half hour show, they could serialize the storylines if they wanted. The cast was made up of SC Toronto grads (Martin Short, Eugene Levy, John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Andrea Martin to name a few) and is still one of my favorite shows.
The Groundlings and UCB (Upright Citizen’s Brigade) are also good schools, but I chose SC. How I chose them was very scientific — I was surfing online one day and I saw a banner ad for the weeklong SC Immersion Workshop, noticed it was starting in less than two weeks in LA so I decided to be impulsive and go. While I was there, I got invited to stay another week for their Improvised Film Lab. The Film Lab was great because we came up with our characters and everything from nothing and put it all together in the first three days and shot the 15 minute movie the last two days of the week. I would post it to YouTube, but it’s over the time limit.
I have to say thanks to my boss for being so understanding and letting me burn that extra week of vacation time.
Q: What’s the hardest part of the travel?
A: The traffic. Plain and simple, LA traffic blows. When I book my flights, I always book the 5:55 flight back Sunday nights just in case traffic snarls me. Luckily, I’ve been ok so far and Ember is always kind enough to get me on the 5:10 stand by. Ember is the AA gate agent who recognized me a couple weeks into this as a frequent traveler and helps me with the stand-by/exit row stuff. Thanks again, Ember.
On the Sundays when I have shows, I have to take the red eye back which means leaving at 12:35 am, landing at 5:00 am, getting home by 6:00 am, then trying to catch a quick power nap and be at work in a matter of about 2 hours. Plus, I’ve adjusted my schedule so my acting class is on Monday nights starting this week. I have feeling I will be crying “uncle” after the first show of level 3.
Q: Have you seen any celebrities?
A: Yep. Dolph Lungren, Kevin Smith, Michael Irvin, Danny Bonaduce, Sigourney Weaver, Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell (from “Prison Break”) to name a few.
Q: You must be racking up the frequent flyer miles.
A: Not exactly a question, but…It’s 2,470 miles round trip and I have flown about 39,500 miles in the 16 weeks I’ve been doing this. My classmate and friend, Annie, suggested to me that I take the American Airline Platinum Challenge. She knows the tricks to air travel so I figured I had better heed her advice. What the challenge is is an unadvertised program from AA to help you reach elite status faster. Basically, you call AA and you say “here’s my frequent flyer number and I want to take the platinum (or gold, your choice) challenge.” American, in turn, tells you “good luck. everything you need is by email.” They don’t even like talking about it. So I get the email and it says that if I fly 10,000 “points” (part of all of the miles based on farecode *cough*Bull$h!t*cough*) in 90 days then you are automagically Platinum status, yes I said automagically. They play it up like it’s a big deal, but 2 loops and a round trip to Hawaii for Christmas and I was done. 4 weeks, real tough. I have to admit, it is nice to be able to book the exit row or bulkhead online and then get to board early.
I told Annie for this tidbit of info I would take her wherever she wanted to go for a meal. The Palm, The Ivy, any restaurant with “The” in the name. She picked a soda and some chips. The offer still stands, Annie. :)
Q: Do you stay in a hotel every weekend? That’s got to cost an arm and a leg.
A: Actually, I stay with my friend, Page. You might know him better from his pro wrestling days. Page was my very first client back when I had my own design firm. Since then we’ve grown to be very close and he’s been kind enough to give me a key to his place and extend his home to me. Thank you, Page.
My driver’s brother and sister-in-law live in LA, as well, and I stayed with them back in July when I did the intial two SC workshops. I do know that my driver will be accompanying me out to LA for some of my shows so we’ll get to see Tom and Kelly more often. I would have seen them last week if he would have called me to tell me he was at the show….
Q: What’s the most memorable thing for you thus far?
A: It’s a tie: getting my first laugh at my SC first show and playing poker with Kevin Smith (and making him laugh). I was curious how the first show would go and if I was going to be able to get through it and do well. I think I can safely say mission accomplished.
Playing poker with Kevin Smith is a blast. He’s one of the nicest guys I have ever met, and the other players have been great, too. I’ve gushed enough about the games in my previous posts, check them out and see for yourself.
Coming in a very close 2nd (wouldn’t it be third if #1 was a tie? anyway…) would be getting to work with my friend Todd Deeken on the short film “Night Out” as part of his advancement in the “On The Lot” reality show process. I have never been on a friendlier set where everyone was dialed in and on the same page. Todd is a class guy and I would do another 25 hour day for that guy again in a heartbeat.
Q: Several Second City members have gone on to Saturday Night Live, is that something you want to do?
A: Hmmm. Yes and no. I’ve heard so many negative stories about the environment there, and I’ve seen some really funny people go there and not succeed – David Koechner and Mark McKinney, specifically. Koechner was in “Anchorman” and shows up on “The Office” occasionally and is hilarious. McKinney is part of legeandary sketch comedy team, The Kids in the Hall. Even though TKITH was produced by Lorne Michaels I still consider McKinney’s stint on SNL…have I lost a great portion of my audience with this answer?
Short answer, no to SNL but I wouldn’t turn the chance down.
Q: Don’t you take acting classes in Dallas, too? When do you sleep?
Q: Not really a question, but you must be running on fumes….
Q: What’s your schedule like?
A: I decided to combine these three questions since there almost all the same. I’ll try to cover as much ground as I can here without droning on. The last thing anybody wants to hear is someone complaining about not having enough hours in the day when they make the choice to do the traveling.
I have a day job at the City of Plano that takes up 8-5 Mon-Fri. I try to workout until 6:30 or so on Wed-Fri. I take acting class Mondays from 6-9:30 and will start another class on alternating Tuesdays from 7-9:00 next week. I try to keep Wednesday and Thursday nights open to catch up on any reading, writing or freelance work I need to do when my driver goes to bed. Fridays are reserved for pizza and a movie with my driver. Saturday morning I work out then go to lunch with my driver and hang out until I have to head to the airport around 3:30. It took some time to figure out the best way to schedule stuff so my acting pursuits don’t eat me up. It is like having a another full-time job with the weekend traveling to LA and the preparation needed for Monday’s class. I’ve just switched to the Monday night class from Wednesday nights so I can have consecutive nights “off” and only be gone Sat-Mon nights out of fairness to my driver and the pups. She’s been super supportive of this whole thing and I make sure not to disappear for days at a time or run myself so ragged that when I am here I just pass out on the couch. I also try to take the dogs on a quick mile walk around the neighborhood every night, weather depending.
Speaking of sleep, I have learned to sleep on planes and can go for days at a time with little sleep. With this weekend off, I’ve been able to catch up on sleep and Tivo.
Q: What do you do the rest of the weekend and during the week on your down time?
Well, that’s it. If you’ve stuck around for this long, thank you for your time and now go enjoy a Dr. Pepper. If you have a question that wasn’t covered then send it in and I’ll add them as they come in. The idea for the writings was to be a catharsis for me as a way to remember this whole experience if nothing ever happens beyond it, and I decided to share it with whomever stumbles upon my little baby picture strewn parcel on the web. I have met so many nice people in LA and have met people at auditions here in Dallas that recognize my name, address me as “the Second City weekend guy” and are quick to ask questions or offer a kind word. I don’t do any of this for attention or the spotlight so it’s nice to know (or think) that people see this as more than a novelty and speak favorably about it to other actors. There are so many people I want to say thank you to for their support and encouragement and it means a lot to know that I have people watching out for me and my driver.
I joke alot about the 3 people that read my little travelogues, but I was shocked to hear from so many people that had questions, kind words to say, messages of good luck or just wanted to know when this update was going to be posted. You 7 people are the best.