Harvey currently writes for Travel Weekly, Hotel News Now, and and many other publications and websites. He’s written about every major hotel brand and interviewed travel industry titans, including: former Marriott CEO Bill Marriott, former Starwood CEO Barry Sternlicht, current NYU Hotel School Dean Bjorn Hanson and Associate Dean Lalia Rach of University of Wisconsin, just to skim the surface.
So when I received an invitation from Harvey to attend one of his improvisational comedy shows in New York, I was intrigued and had to check it out. You see, I’ve known Harvey for 20 years, and had no idea he had been studying improv comedy for over a dozen years now.
So investigative reporter, I had to become. What gave Harvey the courage to go out into the night, on his own, and pursue improvisational comedy as a hobby and now even a second career? I implored Harvey to open up and shed some light on his underground career.
“Journalism is my full time job, but I’ve been doing improv now for 12 years. I now take an improv class at least one night a week, and perform 2-4 nights a month.”
I asked Harvey if journalism was changing so much that maybe he had become bored with travel writing. “Not at all,” Harvey replied. “Travel journalism is more fascinating than ever because people are more fascinated by travel more than ever.” He added that as in every other industry, user-generated content like blogs and review sites has dramatically transformed the information landscape.
“The perspective of the experts is still very much appreciated and needed….while on the other hand, something like TripAdvisor is an incredibly powerful form of popular input where individuals are contributing and there is more transparency.”
So back to Improv…Harvey first took acting classes when he was only 19 years old, on the Lower East Side in New York at the Henry Street Settlement House. Close to 30 years later, Harvey’s wife Janet picked up a flyer on improvisational classes while walking around in New Jersey and handed it to Harvey. He said he was simultaneously mortified and intrigued. So Harvey crept into class one night.
“The greatest fear is public speaking,” Harvey reminded me. “What’s scarier?..,” he added. “Getting on stage and making things up, now that’s scarier!” But getting down to the question of Why improv?, Harvey gets a bit more serious. “It’s all about the people supporting you. It’s all about support…and it’s about listening.”
“I interview people all day and it is all about listening. Fundamentally, improv is listening. Improvisers are all writers – mostly full script writers or partial script/sketch writers. ~ On certain movie sets there are improvised scenes that are done over and over again. Then they come out with a script – it’s improvisation, trial and error. The movie Best in Show for example, comes out of improv. Summed up, the underlying principle of improv is “Yes, and….You accept, and then add on to it. And so on….”
Stephen Colbert in a commencement address compared life to improv comedy. “Well, you are about to start the greatest improvisation of all. With no script. No idea what’s going to happen, often with people and places you have never seen before. And you are not in control. So say “yes.” And if you’re lucky, you’ll find people who will say “yes back.” RDR Public Relations and self-described fan, commented on Harvey’s improv artistry, ”Harvey makes the difficult, fast-paced and highly imaginative craft of improv look quite effortless. Above all, he’s the perfect example of “meeting your bliss half way.”
She added,”Harvey’s improv group, Lunatic Fringe, is a small but versatile team of performers that takes audience suggestions and creates skits around them on the spot…Audience participation and volunteers are key to the program, so you never know what to expect.”
Harvey also conducts improv workshops for various companies in and around New York. He works regularly with a public relations agency, Hawkins International among others, where he brings 20 people in a room for teamwork improv sessions. “Many of the younger associates never have the opportunity to look up from a computer screen, and improv gets them out of their comfort zones. I emphasize trust and collaboration.”
Jennifer Hawkins, owner of Hawkins International Public Relations in Manhattan describes the workshops as a way to encourage her team to think a bit differently and be spontaneous in contributing ideas and play off one another. “I think the benefits of hosting the improv session for the staff is two-fold: It offers everyone the opportunity to break up their day and the monotony of the everyday and work/play with their colleagues in a totally different way than the regular day. It also is a good exercise session for our more reserved or shy executives, especially the younger people, to have the opportunity to speak aloud in a group. We are constantly trying to train our staff to speak up and contribute their ideas and opinions in staff meetings, with supervisors and with clients – so this gives them a fun venue to practice speaking up and hopefully get more comfortable…”
Apparently improv and stand-up comedy are like swimming and running. There is not alot of overlap between the two. “Stand up is about the jokes and improv is about the truth in comedy,” Harvey explained.
So I finally made the connection after speaking with Harvey. The truth will eventually come out in pure improv just as it does in good journalism. At least I like to believe that is so. Either way, where do I sign up and who wants to go check out improv in your city? Let me know if you’ve tried improv or if you have some favorite haunts. If you’d like to contact Harvey Chipkin to learn more about his workshops, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Improv locations and reviews, some recommended by Harvey and others worth exploring: