Side Pickle is an improv duo comprised of Joe McGowan and Phil Schramm. Based in Minneapolis, the two are regulars on the national improv-festival circuit, and will be performing on Saturday night at the inaugural 321 Improv Festival. In this spotlight interview, McGowan and Schramm talk about the Minneapolis improv community, interpretive dancing, and the intimacy of small-group improv.
What’s your favorite thing about the improv scene in your city?
Phil: The scene in Minneapolis is inventive and risk-taking. There are always unique and interesting shows (as well as more traditional ones!) that are always pushing the boundaries of how we normally think about improvisation.
Joe: Improvisers in our city do it for one reason and one reason only: BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT! They get energy from it and it help makes their lives better. No one here is trying to be seen or make it to a larger stage. What they have is enough and that translates to fantastic shows that show every ounce of their passion.
How would you describe your approach to improv?
Phil: Supportive and committed. I don’t back down on a choice (even if you see me judge myself in the process).
Joe: I enjoy highlighting what is unsaid in a scene to find discoveries while still maintaining a fun playfulness.
What do you think makes small group improv unique?
Phil: Improvising with only a few people (or alone) is one of the most intimate and revealing ways to do improv. There is no time to relax, and that pressure leaves you to rely purely on your instincts..
Joe: Complete and utter trust in yourself and your partner. There is no backline. There is no place to “take a break”. You are two people holding hands walking into a dark cave, knowing no matter what happens you will get to the other side.
What’s your favorite memory from a trio, duo, or solo show?
Phil: My first-ever festival remains a highlight. I thought we were in way over our heads, and it turned out to be an amazing show.
Joe: To close a show once Phil and I did an interpretive dance to the “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. It was a magical moment.
Where’s the most peculiar/unusual place you’ve ever performed?
Phil: A park? It’s not all that weird, but outdoor improv is such a different beast when you are used to enclosed spaces. The sun is worse than any light a theater can shine on you.
Joe: We once performed in a coffee shop in St. Paul. Phil went behind the counter and started talking to customers during the show. It was great!!!
What do you typically do to get yourself ready for a show? Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Phil: I like to be calm and allow myself to just be as blank of a slate as possible. The less any outside influences can affect me, the more inspired I feel.
Joe: I make Phil touch my face.
What sort of compliment do you like to get or give after a show?
Phil: I like when we alter the minds of people watching the show. When someone tells me, “I never thought you could do that in improv,” I know that I have opened a new world of exploration in their mind. That is a rewarding feeling.
Joe: Our Side Pickle sets evoke memories from our viewers on occasion. I love to hear people's stories that we help bring to the surface.
Why is Terminator 2 the best Terminator movie?
Phil: Molten steel thumbs up. That’s all you need.
Joe: The bar scene hands down is the best thing I have ever seen in cinema.