Two years ago, Justin and I packed a show at iO West in Los Angeles on Valentine’s Day – a place 3,000 miles away from our home base of New York; a place where we knew almost no one. So, how did we do it?
This particular show was to be the second stop on our first solo tour together, which spanned ten days and five cities, and the simple act of booking it was the most ambitious thing we’d ever done as a unit. To that end, we worked the press angle, pitching ourselves the only improv duo that tours the country. It worked. We got our LA show listed in LAist (LA’s version of Gothamist), and an interview published in Los Angeles magazine.
I’ll never forget that interview. For one, it was held in the courtyard at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on a beautiful sunny day in February, where we’d ordinarily be battling cold and snow back in New York. But more than the weather, we were professional and articulate, and we seized the opportunity to present ourselves and our work as the real fucking deal. To be clear, we were total unknowns at the time, but ultimately that didn’t matter. The world may not have known how great we were at that point, but we did, and we sold ourselves as such. The simple fact of appearing in the press correspondingly assigned an external legitimacy to our work. It made us want to deliver on that promise.
The press coverage raised our profile and boosted our confidence. Beyond that, our second measure of potential success with the iO West show was the fact that we were under contract with them. We were on the hook for hundreds of dollars if we didn’t deliver on audience members, and that made us really work at it. You know what made us work even harder? Beyond that audience minimum, for the first time ever, we stood a chance of actually making money to perform. And guess what? It happened. We got paid. A check arrived in my mailbox for $68. It felt like a lot more.
This all comes back to what has since become a recurring theme for our duo: the notion of expectations. We have learned many times over since then what we learned in LA for the first time: when there are raised expectations for us to succeed, we rise to the occasion, and we typically excel. Our duo was borne out of an environment in NYC where the stakes were perpetually low and the expectations practically nonexistent. In LA, that could have easily been equally true: again, no one knew who we were, and we could have easily used that fact as an excuse as to why we couldn’t bring in people. We didn’t.
Instead, we took the expectations placed on us by that media and the prospect of losing money as an opportunity to view this show as significant. We weren’t just doing any show, we were doing our show, a show we had honed and developed together over the preceding six months, that would become our signature form. This tour was our chance to introduce ourselves to the West Coast improv scene, and the Valentine’s Day show was our chance to show that we were something worth seeing. It was our chance to seize a moment for ourselves. And seize we did.