INTERVIEW: Colleen Doyle

I think everybody is funny, with notable exceptions.

Colleen Doyle

Colleen Doyle is one of the most respected comedians in the industry. She has been all over the world performing and writing and is insanely humble about all of it. I was fortunate enough to have her as a teacher at iO and she was kind enough to meet me before class one day to sit down and share her thoughts on the bravery of improvisers, how she happened to fall into this world, where she hopes to go next and my sweatshirt dress.

Oh, this is my giant sweatshirt dress.
It’s my favorite.

It’s from Anne Taylor Loft.
(gasps) In stores now?

Yea. They just had a huge sale. 40% off. Sold.
I have to touch this real quickly.

It’s super comfy and it has pockets.
Nope. Those are my things. Those are my main things. Done. Sorry, this is actually super important for my life right now. Ok, sorry, ready.

Alright, here we go. Did you always know that you wanted a career in acting or comedy?

Yea. It’s that typical story-I loved to goof off and be the center of attention, but I never thought it was practical. I loved acting and I loved being funny, but I never thought that I could do that, because you know…that’s not what regular people do.

So, how and why/when did you get you get into comedy? When? Why?
My last year at Vanderbuilt, I had not pursued theatre or the arts for the reason I mentioned, this practicality issue. When I was faced with following the route I had perceived I was going to take, which was to be a high school English teacher, and it came time for me to do my student teaching, I bailed. That last semester I auditioned for everything: the a cappella group, a musical, everything of the arts. I can’t sing, I should note that. And just by luck, we had a short form improv group on campus. I auditioned for that and that was the one thing that I got. So I did improv that semester and I loved it. It was just fortuitous. My mom sent me a clipping from our hometown newspaper in Cleveland that Second City was opening a training center in Cleveland, so she pushed me really hard to do it and she paid for my first class. So I did that the summer after college.

Ok, so summer after college and then what?
Then I took training classes at Second City, Cleveland. I took all of the classes that were offered. Once they opened a theatre, I was cast do to shows at Second City, Cleveland. I was in the inaugural cast out there and I got my dream when I was 24 years old. I did a two revues in Cleveland and then my time there ended. The theatre ended up closing and I knew then, that I wanted to pursue this because I loved it and I knew the best way to do that was to move to Chicago.

Ok, so when did you move to Chicago?
I’m about to celebrate my nine year anniversary. So September of 2003. Before we knew we were moving- I moved with four other people- the summer before we moved, we started taking classes at iO. We were all excited to jumpstart our careers and get our lives started, so we’d get up at like 6am every Sunday, drive out to Chicago, take class and then drive back to Cleveland that same day. It was insane. I did that for the first two levels of classes before I moved.

So from moving to Chicago up to now, I know there’s been a lot happening. Could you give us a brief history of your comedic career?
I finished classes at iO and got put on a really great team right away. I did a couple independent ensembles that I’ll always be proud of called Chairs and Show Pony. We did barprov and festivals and we were sleeping on floors at these places, but it was great. I did a cruise contract for Second City and understudied there. I also did Improv Acadia in Maine, which was a lot of fun. I’ve done a lot of cool stuff. I’d say I just found my own way and then my boyfriend, Jason Shotts, and I started performing together independently as Dummy and we’ve done Dummy shows in a few different places and now this nice, healthy run at iO.

When did you start Dummy?
It was a long time ago. TJ and Dave were gone in New York for the summer and Charna [Halpern] has this idea one summer where she wanted to do a run of improv couples. It was called “The Better Half.” Jason and I had never really improvised together before and she asked us to do it. We had a lot of fun together. So we did a lot of one-offs. Off and on, we’ve probably been doing it for three years.

Ok, through all of those experiences, which would you say has been the most influential or made the biggest impact on your life and why?
Objectively, from where I am right now, I’ve gained the most confidence and I’ve progressed the most by doing Dummy every week at iO. Doing a two person show can really expose your weaknesses and it’s a unique challenge to other ensemble based shows. Which are still ridiculously great and chanllenging in their own right, but doing a two person show has really forced me to examine where I’m at as an improvisor. Working with my boyfriend has been…a unique challenge. We share the highest highs and the lowest lows.

Do you have a favorite performance thus far? If so, which one and why?
I’ve had so much fun with everyone I’ve ever played with, but the first thing that jumps out at me is a Dummy show that Jason and I did at the Del Close Marathon in New York about three years ago. We did our show there and I just remember, top to bottom, it was a really strong show. We walked away just elated. It was at the Hudson Guild Theatre and doing it in New York was just fun and different.

Outside of your initial practicality issue, was there ever a moment that set you back and made you question this career path? And if so, how do you move past that?
That happens every day. Every single day, I have a moment where I ask “What am I doing with my life?” I think every improvisor and actor feels the same way-that you’re only as good as your last performance. So every single time you have a bad or mediocre show, you question if you’re any good at it and if you should keep going. I think that happens all the time and you just keep doing it because you love it. And once you lose that love, you just stop doing it.

Who have been your greatest comedic influences?
The Muppets, for sure, from when I was a little girl up to today. Steve Martin, Madeline Kahn, Carol Kane. I really like kind of ridiculous people and I think that shows in the things that I do on stage. Just the more ridiculous the better. As for contemporaries, I love Amy Poehler, Will Forte and Bill Hader.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from those you’ve studied under and performed with?
There have been a wide array of different things I’ve learned and everyone has a different angle on how maybe to be the most successful at this. i had a director once tell me “be the asshole you are at the bar on stage,” which I perceived to mean to bring more of myself on stage and to approach this less as what I should be doing on stage and just try to do what I do well. This whole idea of “fuck your fear.” Your fear wont get you anywhere. I never got to take a class with Mick Napier, but I feel like I’ve been inspired by him second hand through stuff.

I emulate my peers and I emulate anyone that I get to perform with because everyone has differnet strenghts, so I think just being exposed to different performers makes you a better performer all the time.

Are there any specific characters you enjoy playing?
I have to put this to bed a little bit, but I tend to play, neurotic, damaged, broken people. Clingy, desperate, loud, screamy types. So it’s my wheelhouse and I wouldn’t even say it’s my favorite anymore. It’s a nice challenge to play characters with status, are strong willed and put together, cause those are really fun. I love playing men. I really enjoy when I’m able to play men on stage.

In terms of your character development, where do you find your inspiration and how do you go about creating new characters?
In terms of improv and from being a teacher, I try to make a physical choice at the top or to be inspired by what physical activity I do on stage and to let that inform me a bit as to who I am. I am always trying to find ways to play someone who is emotional in some way. I like the dialogue to be reactive.

What do you consider to be the greatest difficulties in improv, both for you and that you’ve noticed in general?
People trying to do it “right.” Not trusting themselves. Not trusting that they, themselves, are funny or have an interesting point of view. Playing to the audience. All of these things relate to me as well. I will still sometimes get lost in trying to figure out what the scene or show is as opposed to just being in the moment and I can always be a better listener.

What do you consider to be the most important golden nuggets to remember when improvising?
Make your scene partner important to you. Look for your opportunities to react in your scene. Always look for those. Make a choice for yourself at the top, so you’re not a victim being dragged along in the scene, but instead you have a point of view and a drive, so you’re giving yourself that opportunity to react on stage.

Many people seem to think improvisers are “so brave” for doing improv. What would be your response to that comment?
Aren’t we though? (giggles) I think it’s a different art form. It involves both public speaking and not knowing what you’re going to say. I wouldn’t argue against that it’s brave. If people’s biggest fear is public speaking, which has been said for quite some time, you exacerbate that by losing your notes right before you have to go up. If you do this for any length of time, it become less scary and I think that’s because you’ve failed a bunch. The people I know who have been in this forever, don’t get scared anymore. You just get more excited by the prospect of not knowing what you’re going to do.

What are some of the best shows you’ve ever seen?
My favorite show, probably of all time ever that will live on and on is a show when I moved here [Chicago] called Foursquare. It was Dan Bakkedahl, Rob Janas, John Lutz and Peter Grosz. I’m not sure if I’ve ever laughed harder or more consistently than watching those guys improvise. Baby Wants Candy, I watched that show almost every week when I moved here and my friends in Cook County Social Club are so fantastic.

What other areas of comedy have you or are you exploring outside of improv?
I wrote a solo show, so that’s been terrifying. I also wrote a pilot. I’m trying to do more writing and be more disciplined. I think improvisers tend to be painted with a lazy brush and I think that’s true for a lot of people. Not everyone- but a lot. I think the next thing that I’m going to challenge myself to do is some stand-up. Yea, I’m going to be doing some terrible stand-up around the city at some point in the near future. Oh dear…

Really? Well, make sure to let me know! Alright, but as of now, where and with who are you currently performing?
I perform at randomly at iO with the Harold team, Ringo Starr. I perform with Dummy every Wednesday at 10:30pm, Virgin Daiquiri Wednesday at 8pm, and I’m doing my solo show, Big Mistake, Thursday at 10:30pm all at iO.

You said next up, you’re challenging yourself with stand-up. What else is next for Colleen Doyle?
I’m really going to try and pursue writing and get this pilot off the ground.

What are your hopes for this pilot?
All the way baby. We really want to get it in the hands of someone who can pay us money. Obviously, we would love to have it made. I’m going to continue to write a pilot, a step script and a screenplay. It’s all rather ambitious, because those are all big projects, but I would really like to write something and sell it.

Can I ask what it’s about?
You know, I would love to tell you, because everyone thinks it’s such a good idea. But it’s such a good idea that I’m a little reserved. It sounds so pretentious and terrible, but I can’t tell you. So, let’s call it a mystery project. Look for it on FX in the next couple of years.

Mystery project. Alright, Colleen, where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?
I’ve had such an amazing time in Chicago, but sometimes you just gotta take your shot, so I don’t know. It would be nice to be working and having a career in comedy. Whether it’s in Chicago or LA or New York, but I really want to have a career in some way, shape or form, be it in writing or performing, which is the ultimate golden ring for everybody. Just to pay your bills. It would be nice to be writing. I think that’s a nice, tangible challenge.

What is the greatest insight you have discovered about life and comedy?
I think everybody is funny…with notable exceptions. It’s very humbling to meet so many smart and funny people all the time. There are many capable, very talented people in the world who are completely capable of doing what I do on stage. It’s absolutely opened up my mind, it sounds so cheesy, but it’s led me to be more accepting, more generous and less judgmental. Most of the time. (giggles)

Most of the time. Ok, any final comments?
Don’t try to do this for a living. No, just kidding. I just feel super lucky to do what I do. I feel really blessed that I’ve found this dumb thing.


Colleen Doyle grew up, and became terrified of professional sports, in Cleveland. There she wrote greeting cards and performed with The Second City. Since then she has had the good fortune to play all the way from Maine to Ireland to the waters of the Caribbean. Currently Colleen can be seen with the ensembles Mountain Dawn, Dummy, Ringo Starr and Virgin Daiquiri. She is very happy to teach at iO and grateful for all those who’ve gently shoved her along the way. 

Interview conducted on August 16, 2012.

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posted on by Kiley Peters posted in Chatter, Interviews

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