The first week of moving to New York City back in September 2010, I was perusing Twitter. I had just joined (so tech savvy!) and I somehow fell upon the twitter account of a group called North Coast. They didn’t have that many followers - a few hundred maybe - but they described themselves as a hip hop improv comedy team. Wow. I thought. I wish I could be on something like that. I only looked at the account for a moment or two, and then I moved on to check out the rest of the hot tweets rolling in. Ya know, probably something crazy controversial like “Obama Refusing to Extend Tax Breaks for the Wealthy.” Sigh… 2010.
After 8 years of working at ImprovBoston, and coming from a 2 -3 show a week regular schedule, one of my concerns upon moving was that it was going to take years until I was performing regularly again. What if I got rusty? What if, since I have to “start over,” I never performed with high level improvisers ever again? Lucky for me, ImprovBoston’s Artistic Director at the time, Will Luera, hooked me up with a show upon arrival. I got to sit-in with an awesome musical improv team called Veal in the first month of arriving in New York. How cool? I was not the only sit-in though. A guy named James Robilotta was sitting-in that night as well. And, what do you know, he just happened to be the guy that started that hip hop improv team I had peaked at on Twitter! What are the chances? Little did I know that after our Veal show together, he’d approach me that very night and ask me if I was a freestyle rapper. (My answer: “when I’m drinking!”) We immediately headed to the bar after the show and when the beers started flowing, so did I. Somehow I drunkenly freestyled my way into a rehearsal invite. And a week after that, I attended my very first rehearsal with North Coast. See? Sometimes alcohol IS the answer, kids.
My first rehearsal was not only an introduction to hip hop improv, but an introduction to the indie improv scene in New York City. In Boston, I had been on one of the very first indie teams (as far as I know. Shout outs to Improv Foundry!) But the system back in 2002 was quite different (non existent really) than the indie scene that was in place in New York in 2010. I had no idea what was happening when, after our first rehearsal, we all were reaching into our pockets to hand cash to the person coaching us. What is happening? I was used to free rehearsal space in Boston and a regular director who was at every rehearsal and a part of the team. I had never paid a coach - I didn’t even really understand what a coach was. Where was the director? What kind of cash do I owe here? Am I even capable of freestyling on this level? I AM SOBER, for starters!
Suffice it to say, that pretty quickly I was rehearsing weekly. And my fears about "not performing regularly” were immediately put to rest, as North Coast had a bunch of weekly and monthly shows - including a run at The (old) Tank theater, and at Under St. Marks. In fact, one of my first memories of my teammate Doug Widick was my birthday in 2011. We had a show at The Tank the night of my birthday (Quatro de Mayo!) and Doug showed up to the theatre with a home-baked cake AND a tray of tequila shots, that he passed around the audience. What was this family I had suddenly become a part of?
North Coast is the longest “relationship” I’ve ever had.
I won’t go through the entire history of North Coast because, let’s be honest, no one is going to keep reading as I blabber on. But I just gotta reflect, ya’ll! Besides my friends and family, North Coast is probably the longest “relationship” I’ve ever had. I have poured so much time (weekly rehearsals and shows), and energy (Emails! So many Emails!) and hard work (traveling to festivals! Teaching workshops!) into this team. It truly is the closest thing I have to a child. (Don’t tell my dog, Rosie!) At this point, we have come SO FAR - it’s unreal. The team has been going strong for 10 years and Im lucky enough to have been around for about 9 of those. No more reaching into our pockets to grab cash to pay a coach. We are the ones that get paid now. Getting paid to do improv? How is that possible? I’ll tell you how: Douglas Widick, of course! Doug (who co-founded the team pretty much) was always the one pushing us forward and telling us we could be a paid, touring improv company. We didn’t even know that was a thing - but he did. Once we started doing festivals (My experiences at ImprovBoston helped with that!)… our name got out there. Festivals led to more traveling… to private gigs… to headlining festivals, and quickly to getting paid for our work!
There were so many milestones along the way, getting paid is only one of them. When we got to hold auditions (in 2014), that was pretty incredible. And of course getting a weekly show at The PIT… that was a big one as well.
If you build it, they will come.
I remember when we first switched from a monthly to a weekly show at The PIT. We wondered how we were going to get butts in those seats!? But…. If you build it, they will come. And that is exactly what we did and what happened.
We built the skills of North Coast with weekly rehearsals.
We built the brand of North Coast - with touring to schools and festivals and getting our name out there.
And eventually, we built that brand with T-shirts! (Oh man, I remember when we first got the T-shirts and cast-mate Evan Kauufman - shout outs! - saying ‘who the hell is going to want to wear a North Coast T-shirt?” Apparently, lots of people! Also me. They’re kind of dope.)
We built the NC community by starting to teach classes - first at the Magnet Theater and at Reckless… and eventually on our own - under the North Coast Classes umbrella, a program I run today.
We built the name of North Coast by traveling around the country, and then the world - lucky enough to meet and perform with incredible performers from France, Canada, Amsterdam, Iceland, the UK… who we have also learned so much from!
We (helped) build the hip hop improv community - which is now this living and breathing thing with so many amazing hip hop improv teams (Off Top, Boots N Cats, Robopop and more! Come see all of them perform tomorrow night at The PIT’s improv fest hip hop improv NIGHT!)
I could seriously go on and on, but I’ll end with this. Tonight is the 10 Year Anniversary Show and Party Celebration at Caveat. We have 2 back-to-back shows with an incredible lineup of acts and I just can’t wait to sit back and watch and enjoy. See what we built! I teach every day that Yes And = building blocks and I think we have yes, anded our way into an incredible improv team with a ton to celebrate. I’m really proud of that.
By the way, North Coast’s twitter now has almost 2000 followers and our Facebook page has around 2500, thank you very much.
I am so lucky to be a part of this team, this family, and this growing hip hop improv community. Thank you to all of my castmates on North Coast throughout all of the years, to the beatboxers and accompanists, and especially to Robo and Doug, who truly showed me that if you love something - you can make it happen.
And if you build it, they will come.
Also thank you, alcohol, for getting me where I am today!