INTERVIEW: Ayala Skopp

I’ve always been a bit of a comedy pervert.

Ayala SkoppThe first day I met Ayala, I was amazed. We both started classes at iO together and from day one, I was intimidated out of my mind. I came home and told my boyfriend about her and said, “She will be on SNL someday.” Now, I hope I’m not cursing her by saying that, but I really do believe it. Ayala is hilarious and fearless and I was more than eager to get down her story and share it with all of you. Now, I know Ayala quite well and I love her dearly, so I hope for your sake, someday you have the privilege of getting to know her a bit better too. Ladies and gentlemen, Ayala Skopp.

Why did you get into comedy?
I’ve always been a bit of a comedy pervert, so that’s why I got into it. Starting with Sesame Street, then I moved onto In Living Color and SNL when I was five or six, from there I took whatever comedy I could get my hands on. It didn’t click in my brain until I was in my early 20’s that I could pursue comedy as a real thing, or even take classes.  What physically got me into class was my childhood friend Liz, who, with the force of an interventionist, sat me down at my laptop one night and forced me to sign up for a Writing for Sketch class at the UCB in New York.

Did you always know you were going to get into comedy?
I didn’t. I didn’t grow up in a creative family–my dad was a cop in the NYPD and my mom worked in retail in the city. My (Jewish) parents wanted me to be a doctor, so I was pretty sure I would be doctor, which changed to an English teacher in college. In school I was the class clown, so I always saw myself as being able to make people laugh, but I didn’t see that as something I could do with my life.

How did you stumble into comedy? Did you study theatre in college?
I did. I minored in theatre in college, where I met my best friend and writing partner. I loved my acting classes but I struggled to be a serious actor. I auditioned for my college improv team, The Pappy Parker Players, but I didn’t get in. So I figured, I just wasn’t a performer. I went to grad school at Columbia University in New York, and after I taught for a little bit, I found the UCB, started seeing shows, and then started taking classes.

Where have you studied and what programs have you gone through?
I’ve done the improv program and the acting for sketch program at the UCB in New York, and I am doing the improv program at iO.

Which program do you think has been the most valuable and why?
Both have been invaluable. The two schools of thought on improv are different, but I think they both feed each other. iO is much more focused on slowing down and establishing and building relationships, as UCB is more fast paced and game, game, game.

Who have you studied under and what’s the greatest lesson you’ve taken from any of them?
At iO I’ve studied under Jessica Rogers, Colleen Doyle, and Bill Arnett. At the UCB, I’ve studied under Ari Voukydis, Chelsea Clarke, Mike Still, Porter Mason, Sylvija Ozols, Anthony King, Shannon O’Neill, Jim Santangeli, Nate Dern, and Leslie Meisel. This biggest lesson that I’ve learned was to get over yourself and find a way to have a good time. We’re doing this because we love it and it brings us joy, so if we’re not having fun, why are we bothering?

How would you say the comedy scene differs from New York to Chicago?
The Chicago scene feels much more generous and friendly. The New York scene feels more “be great or get out.”

Coming from a stand-up background, what would you say are the greatest differences between stand-up and improv?
Listening to the other person and letting go of being the leader are the biggest differences. Improv is all about listening to another person and reacting to everything they say, while in stand-up, you’re in your head. In stand-up you are going for the joke, going hard for the laughs and expecting a laugh after almost every line. In improv, you’re not going for the laugh–you’re striving for honesty and truth. I think the goal of both is the same, though-to get to the point where you feel totally free and open onstage.

What do you consider your biggest obstacles to overcome adjusting from stand-up to improv? Greatest difficulties?
I find myself in scenes explaining things to my scene partner–which is my stand up brain being like, “Well, you know what I think? I think…..” instead of yes and-ing my partner. My brain doesn’t naturally go “yes and.” It goes “no, here’s how I see it.” Which is so gross in improv. So my biggest obstacles are listening to the other person and going with them in a scene. All of the basic rules in improv–those are big obstacles for me. So listening hard and agreeing are things I’m working on. And to not go for the jokes. I’m used to saying “HEY, THIS IS WHAT I THINK IS FUNNY.” I’m trying to let go of that tendency.

What would you say is the one biggest thing you are working to improve?
To be as honest as possible on stage.

What aspects do you enjoy most about stand-up? Improv?
What I love most about stand-up is making people laugh. When I watch an episode of Louie in the afternoon and laugh about it the next day, I think how fucking good it is to be able to make people laugh. It feels like giving someone a gift. And when I spend time writing things to share with an audience, and they laugh, I feel like I’m doing my part in the universe. I think comedy is a healing thing. Life can be really tough, and so fucking sad, but if we can laugh for a minute or an hour with a comedian, and then the next day when we remember a joke, it’s a lightness. Being with other people who enjoy comedy, getting laughs with other people and the surprise behind it would be what I love most about improv.

Where do you find your inspiration for character development and how do you go about creating them?
Everywhere. My first character inspiration had to be my Dad, Jeffrey, because he’s the most authentic person I know. His life mantra is “Who gives a shit?” He just says whatever he thinks, no filter whatsoever. I don’t really have a specific process, it just feels like a natural thing. When I’m doing a new character, I just figure out what they’re really into–what gets them super jazzed, what they don’t like, what inspires them. I’ll spend a few minutes in character envisioning what are my desires, what I would do if nothing was holding me back, picturing myself moving through my ideal day, what I would eat for dinner on my perfect day, how I talk to myself in my head, what my sexual fantasies are…just how I experience the basic primal stuff. When I’m done, I feel like I have this character in my body and I know how they would behave.

What are your next steps in pursuing your comedic career?
My next steps are just to do more stand-up, do more improv, write more, perform more, collaborate more.

What are your long-term goals in comedy and acting?
My dream is to be a part of a repertory group of actors, kind of like Christopher Guest, and make improvised films or television shows. Mockumentaries are my favorite. I love watching people who are into things that are not that important in the grand scheme of things, taking themselves seriously. But who knows. My long-term goal is to just be happy and feel like I am doing my part in the universe. I sound like an old hippie…I’m an old hippie.

Best shows or stand-ups you’ve ever scene?
At UCB there’s this show on Monday nights called Whiplash and I’ve seen some of the most incredible stand-ups there. Chelsea Peretti, John Mulaney, Aziz Ansari, Hannibal Buress, Reggie Watts, Kurt Braunohler, Marc Maron, Dave Attell, Kyle Dunnigan, Sarah Silverman, and of course, the Don, Louis CK. But there are so many great stand ups everywhere. As for improv, my favorite show at the UCB in New York is Death By Roo Roo: Your Fucked Up Family, and at iO, I die for Improvised Shakespeare, TJ & Dave, Felt…I love it all.

What is the greatest insight you have discovered about life and comedy?
If you’re scared about something, it’s because there is an opportunity for growth, and once you do it, your fear subsides. We’re so scared to be vulnerable, but it’s scarier to not be vulnerable. The truth is, being vulnerable is the only way to grow. One of my professors in college gave me Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke and I still re-read it now. He says, and I have it memorized because I think it’s pretty important, “And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful.” I think that’s a perfect piece of advice to any young artist.

Any final comments?
If you feel a ferver for this, a passion for comedy, it excites you and you love it, you should do it. You need to follow what excites you irresistibly, because if you do that how can it be wrong? I just hope that I keep doing comedy and I don’t give up and get a normal person job.

Recommended article by Ayala: The Chase is The Thing and The Thing is The Chase

Ayala Skopp is a gal who has enjoys the same things Old Jewish Men from New York do: staring into the distance, Larry David, and tuna melts.  She uses exclamation points in most of her text messages.  She is a comedian and a writer and is doing her Morning Pages. Follow her on Twitter @LadyAyala, find her on Facebook and check out her blog, Is This Funny?

Interview conducted on August 16, 2012.

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posted on by Kiley Peters posted in Chatter, Interviews

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