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A Conversation with Chris Griswold

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Chris Griswold wants you to laugh -- at him, at yourself, at your fellow Pittsburghers. For three measly bucks, you can catch the 26-year-old Shadysider at Friday Nite Improvs, the late-night improv-comedy game played in the University of Pittsburgh's Studio Theatre. He'd be the one hosting Showcase, the featured-performer section of the night -- a duty he picked back up after honing his craft for a year in New York City at the Upright Citizens' Brigade Theatre. If three bucks is too rich for your blood, check out his blog Overheard in Pittsburgh (http://overheardinpgh.blogspot.com) for eavesdropped local culture, moderated by Griswold.

 

 

How'd "Overheard in Pittsburgh" get started?

Years ago I was introduced to a Web site called inpassing.org. I believe it's the first site that did something like this, where it was just collecting overheard dialogue from off the street of Berkeley, California. About two years or so, Overheard in New York started up, and that's the big one. There's also Overheard in Dublin. There's a lot of them. It's funny, because when I started it, people were like, "Oh, it's a ripoff of Overheard in New York," but the thing is I never even thought that, because it was inpassing that always made me think about this. Sure, I read Overheard in New York. I don't think of it as a rip-off as much as one of an emerging genre of Web sites. There's a lot of stuff that's just collecting bits of peoples' lives.

 

What are the criteria for submission?

The things that don't get in, I think I mentioned in the [online] submission guidelines. This woman was talking about these two retarded people on the bus with her. She couldn't even remember what they said. It was just that the retarded girl was talking to her retarded boyfriend and she starts talking about a new nightie she bought to wear for him and that's it. She's just like "retarded people, right?" You know, like, it didn't reveal anything about those people, it just told me about her prejudices. And I don't really want that.

 

So what kind of day job does an improv impresario have?

I work at the Bagel Factory. I have to wake up at 5 in the morning to go to work there. These aren't necessarily bad jobs -- they just aren't good jobs for me, because I don't have to think as much. I'm really good at making sandwiches, though. I've been told that many times.

What's next for you?

I'm actually trying to put together a sketch comedy show at CLO Cabaret [Downtown], Thursday nights after the plays all let out so we could get some of that audience. Cabaret theater, I thought that was perfect for improv. I've been thinking a lot about [how] years ago I had a variety show in mind that I wanted to do at the Penn Avenue Theater and then that closed, [but] now with this open and available to me, possibly, I can do a lot of things. I just want it to always be comedy. I don't want to do improv games, like at Friday Nite Improvs. Those are kind of restricting. I want to do long-form improv, which I learned a lot more of in NYC, where you get one suggestion and go for 45 minutes.

 

How is long-form different?

It's a lot more about giving the actors, the improvisers the tools that they need to do what they can do instead of, "Oh look how good I can do this trick." The thing is, when you have a group of people that are comfortable together, you can do 45 minutes and have many different threads that eventually all tie together, and these are things that improv lends itself to. I want to try to bring improv to the city that it's never seen before. I created a form that's an improvised radio show so I would like to finally do that. That was something I couldn't do in New York but I'll finally do it here.

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