Michelle Drozdick is a renowned stand up comedian and improviser whose shows have been recommended by the New York Times, and described as “Wildly funny, it’s an intimate and thoughtful show” by All About Solo and “Very few talents can achieve a show of this nature. Michelle Drozdick does so with ease” by Stagebiz.com. Now she’s bringing back her highly praised improv show The Gimmick And You to the New York stage, and here she talks about it’s return, what she loves about improv, the biggest challenges she’s faced, her plans for the future, and how she’d like to change the cutthroat element of the industry.
Comedy To Watch: You’re bringing back your improv show The Gimmick And You, what can you tell us about it, and what can people expect to see on the night?
Michelle: It’s hard to say what people can expect to see, since it’s a completely improvised show! There are some things that always stay the same, though. The show always starts with a stand up opener, then I interview a guest that has some connection to the comedy community– typically an NYC-based stand up comedian and/or improviser. We’ll talk about their lives, their childhoods, what they’ve been up to, random philosophical questions, opinions on television… it varies!
After about ten minutes, I’ll end the interview and then, using what we talked about (as well as drawing on the stand up’s material), I’ll perform a full-length solo show. None of it has been planned or structured in advance, and I never know what kind of format the show itself will be until I’m actually doing it.
CTW: You originally performed the show monthly for two years, is that something you’d like to do again? Or will it be just occasional performances?
Michelle: Doing Gimmick monthly for two years was an absolute joy and such a wonderful experience. That being said, it is exhausting doing a solo show every month, especially considering how different each one is, and especially because towards the end of the run I was also putting up scripted solo shows! Doing it on a more occasional basis has helped me recharge a bit, and avoid any potential burnout. I’ve also been using that time to put up soloprov showcases, where we have really great rotating lineups of both new and experienced solo improvisers. It’s been such a blast to see more and more people getting involved in something that’s been so niche.
CTW: And have you ever considered launching the show as a podcast, so it can reach an international audience?
Michelle: It’s occurred to me, but part of the joy of live improv (at least for me) is seeing it unfold in front of you. There are some truly wonderful improvised podcasts out there, but a huge chunk of the joy I get from doing Gimmick is that connection with the audience. It may be unspoken, but there’s such a push-pull going on between an artist and their audience whenever they’re onstage.
CTW: What do you prefer about improv when compared to scripted comedy?
Michelle: I love both so much, but one thing I really love about improv is the fact that it can truly go anywhere. It’s literally a bunch of adults playing make believe, and there’s something so pure and sweet about that to me. You want to be bits of moon dust drifting together into space and contemplating what love truly is? Then that’s what you’re doing. To me improv is getting reclaim a bit of childhood but with the mindset of an adult. For however long you’re on that stage, the world can be anything.
CTW: Last time we spoke to you about the highlights of performing the show, but what have been the biggest challenges when doing it?
Michelle: I started doing this show with about a year and a half of improv experience and no solo experience, which was very ambitious and quite possibly insane of me. I suppose my biggest challenge was growing as an improviser and as a solo performer with the show, but I also consider that a highlight because it’s been such a fulfilling journey.
CTW: And have you ever had to deal with a heckler while performing improv? If so, what happened, and how did you respond?
Michelle: Never with Gimmick, thank God, and never directly, though I was recently on a show around Halloween during which a very drunk audience member heckled every single stand up and every improv team except my own (no idea why he liked us!) and eventually got thrown out when he wandered into a set and hugged a woman he didn’t know. They handled it perfectly, for what it’s worth– didn’t acknowledge him at all and just kept the set going as he was escorted out. It was a really good set, to boot!
CTW: You also teach improv, what would you say is the one best piece of advice you could give to someone just starting out?
Michelle: I do coach soloprov! The advice I give the most is to not stress so much about the destination, but the journey itself. It’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way, and I think that’s pretty universal, but enjoying each step is such a healthier way to live than obsessing over what lies ahead. Otherwise what’s the point of doing any of this to begin with?
CTW: If you could change any element of the comedy world, what would it be?
Michelle: I hate how cutthroat it can get, but I think that’s bound to happen with anything people are passionate about. Doing comedy should be something you enjoy because, again, what’s the point of doing it to begin with otherwise?
CTW: What one piece of underrated comedy do you wish more people knew about?
Michelle: Dustin D’Addato is an incredibly talented writer and performer. I’ve seen three solo shows he’s done and they’ve all been incredibly poignant, touching, heartbreaking, and utterly hilarious. I’m lucky to call him my friend and want the world to know about the stuff he’s doing.
CTW: And apart from The Gimmick And You, what plans do you have for the future?
Michelle: I recently got added as a sketch writer at the Armory, a really wonderful comedy program here in New York, and I’m so excited for the season ahead. I’m also working on a webseries (the concept of which I actually briefly mentioned as my dream project in our last conversation)! Just working on finalizing the scripts and coordinating some other pre-pre-production stuff before moving ahead into the early logistical planning stages, which is terrifying and exciting! Some of the cast is already locked in and I’m really excited to work with some truly wonderful people I really, really admire and respect on this.
I’m also doing more scripted solo shows! I’ve retired Message in a Bottle, my main show, but I have other things in the works and I’m excited to see where they go.