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Interview: Rob Riggle

What attracted you to doing the AltCom! festival?

 They were nice enough to ask me! I’ve heard good things about it, and when I saw some of the people they were inviting - there are so many people on the show who I respect and admire. So when they asked me to be part the festival, I was honored. a

You got your start doing improv with the Upright Citizens Brigade - also on the AltCom! shows this weekend. Can you talk a little bit about differences in the skill sets required to do improv, versus stand-up, versus scripted ensemble material?


There are certain elements that are the same for each. But I heard Christopher Guest say one time that analyzing comedy is very dangerous to do, and I believe him.


With standup it’s just you up there. It’s instant feedback. With improv, you don’t know where a scene is going. You’re up there supporting each other, trying to do the best bits you can do. It’s an ensemble thing, and you really depend on each other. I love doing scripted stuff because there’s a lot more freedom in the performance. When I know who the character is and what he is trying to accomplish and what he’s supposed to say, I can find ways to personalize him.


I am loving standup, but what I cut my teeth on, how I grew up in comedy, was through improv. I will always do improv, until the day I die, or until everybody’s like, "Give it a rest, old man." It’s an absolute passion of mine. I love it, it’s what I came up doing. I spent 10 years at UCB, studying, teaching. I love it. If I’m in New York, I will def pop in and do an ASSSSCAT. If I’m in L.A., I’ll pop in and do whatever show they have going.


You spent several years in the military before deciding to pursue comedy as a career. What was that transition like?


Comedy has been part of my life since I was in grade school. I remember watching Eddie Murphy Raw, and Delirious, and those things changed my life. I would go into school the next day and repeat his material for my friends. I loved it. I really loved it. I was voted most humorous in my senior class, and then I was a theater and film major at the University of Kansas. But when you graduate with those degrees, you tend to be a waiter, or a bartender if you’re lucky.


While I was an undergrad, I had my pilot’s license, so I decied to join the Marines after school and start flying for them. But, the further I got along in the Marines, I realized, "I’m going to do this for the rest of my life, and never try comedy, and I’ll always regret that." So, I stopped [flying].


When I made that decision, I had to go to defense information school [to finish my military contract]. I went to North Carolina for three years, and while I was there fulfilling my ground contract, I went to night school and got my graduate degree in public administration, but was thinking about comedy, trying to write bits. I had no idea what I was doing.


As I was leaving the Marine Corps I was going to move to Chicago and study at Second City, but the Marines asked what would it take for me to stay in the Corps. So, I said if they could get me to New York City or Los Angeles, I’d extend my contract on active duty. And the next morning, they had orders for me to go to New York. I did my job in the Marines from 8 to 5, and then at night I’d go do comedy.


I literally didn’t know what I was going to do [comedy-wise], I just wanted to try it. I tried stand-up, and I remember that I didn’t bomb, but I don’t remember much else because I was having an out of body experience, I was so nervous. I remember thinking I made a mistake [in deciding to pursue comedy] because I was terrified, and I didn’t know if comedy would be that painful all the time. I didn’t know if I made the right decision. But then I went to the UCB and saw ASSSSCAT, and knew, this is it, this is exactly what I want to do.

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