This guy... this guy right here that you are about to meet is one of the coolest guys I know. I first met him wayyyy way back during my brief stint with the Group That Shall Not Be Named. I could, of course, name the group. But since this is my blog, I don't have to, so there. Anyway, I first met him there and thought he was super cool way back then. Years later, when I came to join The Blacklist, I met him again, and was reminded of what an interesting and thoroughly enjoyable guy he is. He's a blast to watch onstage and he'll surprise you every time. Oh, and he JUST so happens to be one of the founding fathers of The Blacklist. Yep.
Without further ado, let me introduce to you Travis Shepherd.
me: Who are you, in your own words? (whatever that means to you)
(Aloof. Great word.)
me: As a kid, what did you dream of being when you grew up?
travis: As a really young kid I wanted to be everything. I think I first shared in preschool that I wanted to be a clown or a strongman at the circus. I also wanted to be an actor or a baseball player even though I really didn't care for sports. I think I wanted to be a cop. I still to this day kind of want to be a monster truck driver even though the only thing that really interests me about it is the part where they smash cars (there is actually more stuff to it than that). Up through high school I even wanted to be a broadcaster for professional wrestling. I used to love that stuff and I still love the old school matches but can't stomach it anymore. (Old school wrestling is still the best. Brutus the Barber Beefcake? Jake the Snake? Superfly? Come on!) I still give it a try every couple of years and can never make it more than 5 minutes into a TV program. Nowadays I can't figure out if the stuff on TV changed or I did. I think wrestling changed, not me, which kind of makes me sad to think that I haven't grown up more.
(Growing up is totally overrated. I decided I'm not going to grow up. Wanna join me?)
me: When did you first learn about improv?
travis: I went to see some local improv group with a friend when I was in high school. I can't remember the name. Something about sporks. Sporks....comedy....comedy spor....yeah, I don't remember.
(Weird, I remember seeing some improv group when I was in high school. Sporks sounds close to the name...)
me: What is it that made you say 'Hey, I think I wanna do that.'?
travis: It was one of the guys of that group who came to my school and showed us some improv exercises in an acting class and asked me to audition. I was only 15 and you had to be 17 so I waited and then joined the group and was with them for over 10 years, which makes it even more awkward that I can't remember the name of it. So yeah, I was just getting into acting and stuff.
me: How long have you been doing improv?
travis: Minus the little hiatus I have taken, I guess you could say 13 years.
(You should stop hiatusing. We miss you. Just sayin'.)
me: You are one of the founding members of The Blacklist, which is amazing! What has this meant to you?
travis: To be honest, it is something I will always be proud of. (You should be! It's an amazing thing. Wait, I think I said that already.) The opportunity came at a really good time in my life when I was just transitioning back to the area after living abroad for a few years (and by abroad I mean “in Galesburg”) (Ha!). I had just had a bad experience with that other improv group I belonged to, god, I can't remember the name, (Dramedy Sporks? Was that it?) and was essentially blacklisted so it was great to have a new group to focus my energy on. Like many things in life, with something negative came a tremendous and positive opportunity that I will always be thankful for. I gained so many new friends, created a little buzz here in the Quad-Cities (Hell yeah!), and I think the Blacklist is here to stay (Damn skippy.) (with the help of the awesome dinner theatre company Circa '21). It also gave me the opportunity to coin the phrase “Founding Father” for myself, which actually isn't meant to be egotistical at all. I just see a lot of similarities between myself and John Adams who also never got enough credit for what he did, was fat, bald, easily irritated, and helped create one of the most important things ever. Come to think of it, we actually don't have much in common except for one of those characteristics...maybe two.
(I imagine you looking a bit like Hulk Hogan if you ever go bald. Haha... ahem. Sorry. Next question.)
me: What is one of the hardest things about improvisational comedy?
travis: I think it is actually just coming up with a format that people like. Sure the actual improv can get difficult and sometimes downright crappy, but overall if you have a good presentation, people are more willing to forgive and enjoy.
me: I hear you really love to play a game called "We Can Make ____ Do Anything"...
travis: WELL YOU HEARD WRONG!
(Hahaha! Okay, so obviously I know how much you don't like that game. But we all love watching you play it! Hey, wanna play Zombie?)
me: What is one of your favorite things about doing improv? Least favorite?
travis: Most favorite would be the fact that the whole experience, at least with The Blacklist, just feels like one big party. I am actually not one of those “students of improv” that like to analyze and examine all these different aspects. I like it because it's fun. Don't get me wrong, every performer needs to continue to learn but when it comes down to it, the one thing that made me continue doing it all these years, and especially with The Blacklist, was leaving the stage and feeling like I just gained a bunch of new friends in addition to all the other friends I have made throughout the years. (One of my favorite, favorite aspects of The Blacklist. Amazing, hilarious, down to earth guys who like having a great time.) After a show I'm sweaty and typically embarrassed from all of the obscene crap I have to do in the final game but seeing the smiles on peoples faces, getting to hang out with everyone after the shows, and knowing I get to come back and do it again makes it all worth it. Least favorite...hmmm, after thinking about it I guess it's the uncertainty. Seems kinda weird since all improv is uncertain. It really goes for any theatre because it depends on the mood and the type of audience we have. Of course, once you hit the stage there is no time to think of that, so the buildup to the show can be a bit of a pain.
(We do get some of the best audiences out at our shows! And you know what they say... once you go Black(list), you always go back! Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's a saying.)
me: "I've seen those guessing games you improv people play, and you must be cheating somehow." I know we've both heard people say things like this, or that they thought we had to have some secret code. How would you explain the magic that happens in games like "Chain MurderMystery" and "Five Things"?
travis: God, I would have to think about it for a while. Basically it comes down to knowing the people you're performing with. Their mime may be horrible but pretty soon you start to understand it better and can see what they're getting at. Sometimes it is just knowing the audience and what disgusting things they will throw at you. Of course, there are times when those games have fallen so flat you're frustrated and you look to the MC and say, “Really, I was supposed to know who Patrick Dempsey is?” I think the coolest thing would be someone after the show saying, “Wow, that was so great. So how do you get those things, are you listening or does someone run out and tell you?” They honestly thought we were faking the whole thing and they still had an amazing time but once they understand it is truly improv, they are blown away.
(That has been one of my favorite aspects about improv. Getting to know your friends onstage and knowing what references will work with each individual. Guessing games are one of my very favorite!)
me: Have you ever thought of trying your hand at stand up? I could see it working...
travis: Ha. I am not much of a standup guy. I like the occasional comic and have thought about it but it's not my thing.
me: What makes The Blacklist different from other improv groups? Okay, I know we only have one other major group in the area, but the question still stands.
travis: Our performers are more bottom of the barrel? Nah, I touched on this in a previous answer but despite the formal attire that is often used for religious conversion, our show is just one big party. A lot of times we throw out the rules at the audience's demand. We are truly improv and sometimes the show has gotten so far off track it has bit us in the ass but usually we will go wherever the audience wants to be taken. Trust me, I shower in scalding hot water after every show.
(I've been there myself. Good. Lord. I have no idea where some of these people dig up these suggestions. Actually, I do, and now I think I'm gonna have to go take one of those scalding hot showers...)
me: Lincoln or JFK?
travis: You're asking a history guy this question? (Yes!) You probably wanted a simple “one or the other” response. (Absolutely not! I know you just a little bit, Travis, and knew that this question would elicit an amazing response. And it did...) Well you ain't gonna get it. Both are overrated. JFK especially. His legacy wouldn't be nearly what it is if it wasn't for him being young, charismatic, having a beautiful family, and dying prematurely. I'm not trying to trivialize the tragedy of his death but Lyndon Baines Johnson was a far more effective president. OK, so of course he had the Vietnam War (which the Kennedy administration pushed) which is too big to count for a “mulligan” (I'm not going to google that so I'll just assume I used that term correctly)(Another great word, and prfrect usage. Bravo, sir.). Domestically, Johnson pushed for Civil Rights when others were too timid. He didn't just strengthen the social safety net but he built it with steel and lowered the poverty rate by 10 freakin' percent. So I will choose Lyndon Johnson....or Theodore Roosevelt who declared a ton of national parks, reserves, and all sorts of things that would be gone without him. He also took big business to task. Or maybe Jimmy Carter who got crapped on but came up with a lot of ideas that most people now think we probably should have followed through on (renewable energy, using war as a last resort), but won't admit it because Jimmy Carter promoted it. So I will choose those three...oh, and John Adams.
(Still need to challenge you to the Presidential Spout Off and see who can name them all off the fastest. I'm thinking it's gonna be a close one, but I'll go easy on you.)
me: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into improv?
travis: Just do it. Stop talking and get it done.
Amen, brother. (If you just read that like Hulk Hogan you are now that much more awesome to me.)
Travis Shepherd, everyone. Crazy smart, crazy talented, crazy... uh, yep. And that's why we love him!
As always, thanks for reading! Oh, and in case you have assumed otherwise, please feel free to leave any comments or questions you have for me or Travis below. I'll be sure to forward the questions and get the responses posted back to you in a timely* fashion.