Updated: Mar 5, 2019
Let's start with when: September 2017.
“So who’s this Justin guy?” I asked Kopy Kopatich, my improv mentor, near the end of a long phone call. Justin Green had appeared out of the blue, swooping in to take on improv coaching duties at two Las Vegas High Schools; two schools that I knew could benefit from a talented mind to guide them.
“Oh, Justin is brand new to Las Vegas," Kopy said. "He just came from Buffalo, New York. He has a long background in ComedySportz, actually, and he’s looking to bring it to Vegas.”
Kopy mentioned his hometown comedy platform before, and the notion that any brand of professional improv might be making its way to Vegas was extremely intriguing to me.
“Keep an eye on him.” Kopy continued. “He’s pretty darn funny, and he’s only 22…”
Just a few short weeks later at our High School league championship day, Justin was blazing his way through a thirty-coach improv show that saw coach after coach fail to garner the same audience support as the Buffalo Boy Wonder. Justin’s charm, warmth, and smoothly, speedy wit cut through the audience effortlessly.
After being eliminated, I took a seat to enjoy the rest of the show. I grew increasingly impressed by Justin’s unflappable performance. He navigated each gimmick game seamlessly, justifying every bold decision made around him, bridging every possible moment of awkwardness. He made each moment of the show better and, deservedly, won the massive improv free-for-all.
I had to meet this guy. I wanted to pick his brain for a few minutes; to discuss improv philosophies, to absorb coaching techniques, sure… but I also wanted to ask about ComedySportz. After all, the last thing my improv mentor had told me before we ended our discussion about this new pending Las Vegas franchise was: “I think you’d be a natural for ComedySportz.”
Justin greeted the idea of meeting up with the same enthusiasm and warmth he showed on stage.
Despite my thirteen-or-so year relationship with improv, I never felt I “knew everything” about this constantly shape-shifting art form. I assumed Justin and I would each have a number of different improv philosophies, and that he would spend the majority of the conversation restructuring my mental approach to performing or teaching. Instead, I was pleasantly startled as Justin reviewed my improv lesson plan page by page and reinforced virtually every aspect of my thought process. If anything, he only “yes, and-ed” my concepts by giving me new warm-up exercises to employ with my students that he thought might enhance their understanding of what I was trying to explain to them. I was grateful for all the ways he graciously helped to round out my teachings, but I was very mindful of a specific buzzword that he had used throughout our discussion that hadn’t been a major part of my philosophies to this point: “Energy”.
“Tell me about energy,” I said, curious how he might define this seemingly most important aspect of improv performance.
Justin became more animated as he broke down what may be the backbone of ComedySportz’ electric improvisational style. Energy is the speed with which a player selects, presents, and performs his ideas. It is the intensity she puts behind those decisions, the justifications, and the reactions. It is the strength of the commitment the performer has about the ideas around and within him. Energy is everything.
All of a sudden, I recalled some of the feedback I had gotten about my own performances over the years… I was often described as energetic while performing scenes… sometimes too energetic. I recalled that in those situations I would stomp around the stage, firing my emotions down the throats of the audience while simultaneously overwhelming my fellow performers and backing them out of their comfort zones. Though this all seemed quite destructive early on in my performing adventure, I felt a surge of excitement that day as I realized that I had a lot of a quality ComedySportz might value. Perhaps, with some honing of that energy, I might finally find a place where I could naturally belong on stage… as a performer. Who wouldn’t be excited to find that feeling?
For a moment, I thought about the show Justin had so elegantly elevated and I realized that I may have stumbled upon a new perspective, capable of teaching me how to trim away the bad habits that had plagued my performances throughout my improv journey. It became immediately obvious to me: ComedySportz was my next destination.
Already sold on this league of extraordinary improvisers, I asked Justin to break down what made ComedySportz unique for its participating rosters. He wasted no time in describing a world where friends could be found across the country.
“If you’re a member of ComedySportz, you’re a member of a family,” Justin emphasized. “If your car breaks down in Boise or Portland or any other ComedySportz city, you know you have a network of friends you can call upon.”
This resonated heavily with me. Despite being a generally friendly and open person, I have often found it difficult to forge new friendships. The idea of being a part of a nationwide (and – I would learn later – international) family sounded like a dream come true.
“Oh, and you should see the annual Championship!” Justin continued. “Imagine piling into a fifteen passenger van as a team, driving together to the host city, and putting on shows with hundreds of hilarious new friends! The memories you create through ComedySportz last forever.”
Travel, camaraderie, and refined performing techniques… It all seemed too good to be true.
“But it’s not," Justin said. "ComedySportz is already a thing all across the country! We are a recognizable brand. All we need is a home field in Las Vegas - and a few other things - and we can get to it!”
Justin’s enthusiasm was inspiring. It had been years since a new perspective or a new stage had galvanized me so naturally. As a performer who wanted to find his voice, and the community and audience that would celebrate that voice, I knew I was willing to do anything to see ComedySportz get off the ground in Las Vegas.
Being the improviser he is, Justin accepted that intention immediately and progressed my goal by introducing me to his partner-in-comedy, Robert Cochrane. Robert was just as engaging and approachable as Justin was, and before long I was assigned a House Manager role on the team.
Though I was initially disappointed that I couldn’t just jump right in as a performer, I knew that a healthy part of me would enjoy a gradual progression. Let me watch, let me learn, let me practice… let me interact with these wonderful people who had so quickly come together to form ComedySportz Las Vegas. Just as Justin’s masterful performance had made even the most crowded stage of performers stronger, so, too, has ComedySportz strengthened me…
…and I can hardly wait to take the field!
- written by Warren Sprague
- Editor's note: Warren has assured me he had a lot more to say about Robert Cochrane but he simply ran out of space.