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Bob Bedore is the founder and leader of the Quick Wits, Utah's oldest improv troupe that started at the Off Broadway Theatre and eventually split off with Bob at the helm. Bob is currently attempting to bring together a coalition of Utah improvisers to perform in charity events while he also manages his award winning troupe operating out of Trolley Square Live. Jesse Parent introduced Bob to some garlic burgers in order to trap him for this conversation.
Jesse: Tell me about your first interests in improv? I once heard you started doing it because you were bored in high school.
Bob: A lot of us acted at Desert Star Playhouse and the idea was to start another theater. So I found Off Broadway Theatre and invited some of my friends to come over and do it. But we knew that in reality all we were gonna be doing was the same stuff we had done at Desert Star. Basically, you know, I was writing scripts, we were directing scripts, we were acting. And that's what we were going to do at Off Broadway. So the idea was to come up with something different so we could point and go, "See, we're doing THIS, too." And I used to do a little bit of stand up comedy and to fill time we would play these little improv games. Things like that. And they were just fun and they were the same kinds of things we did in high school.
So that was just the idea… "Let's do that here." And then we'll form a troupe and that way we can perform every once in a while and we can say, "That would be our real difference." In reality, all we'd be doing is exactly what we did at Desert Star. But we'd have something different. So, Quick Wits came from that. It just became trying to convince people that we could do it. And that was, oddly enough, that was the hardest thing. I mean, trying to get people convinced that we could do it. And that's because it wasn't like, you know, today you could go, "Yeah, we could do this because look at all these other troupes doing it." At the time there wasn't that. Who's Line is It, Anyway? was only on a little bit. Excuse me, the British version. So there wasn't anything you could point to and go, "This is what we're going to do. Like this." And try to get people to do that. So very few actors would even bite on it. It was hard trying to convince them.
J: How did you get all the other actors to understand what this was? Was it, "Go watch Whose Line is It, Anyway?" or "Go read this book?"
B: It was just me kind of forcing… "Do This" and "Let's try this" and "Here's a couple of games." And our first couple of Quick Wits shows were really bizarre in the fact. Our style was more closely akin to what Knock Your Socks Off is doing now. We'd actually have, with Quick Wits, ten actors… we had, I think, one night, fourteen actors and an emcee going, "Okay, here's our next game" and then do it and come back, "Here's our next game… here's our next game…"
J: So you didn't always have the competitive style?
B: No. The competitive style is when Quick Wits took off, because that's when the show was formed. Before, it was just a bunch of goofing around. We would have games, and it was funny because it's odd to think now of the games that were our big enders. "This is the one we know that we can end with and leave the audience," are now games we don't even play any more. They served their purpose at a time, they were easy games to play. But it's odd to think now, like I said, we don't even play them.
"I'm a crunchy guy."
J: What year was it when you guys formed the Quick Wits, by the way?
B: 1994. In the summer of '94 was when it was put together.
J: Apple butter or apple sauce?
B: I'm an apple butter guy. I like to put it on the toast. I'm a crunchy guy.
J: Very weird. What was it like early on? Did audiences understand what you were doing?
B: For a while, people came and they liked us because we did a lot of ad-libbing with what we do naturally, our shows. In fact, that's one of the big reasons why we left Desert Star was the guy didn't like us to ad-lib because, I don't know, he thought the show should be this long, but don't add anything more to it. So we liked it. So I think the audience liked seeing things when we ad-libbed. And there were some good people doing it. I mean, still, some of the best people in town, that's who we had doing it. So they came because of that. And it was new. But still it didn't have anything. And it was when Utah got the bid for the Olympics. I put forth and I had gone to see a lot of improv troupes and I had seen a lot of competitive. But I combined a lot of the competitive stuff I liked and formed Olympwits. That's what we called it. It was "Quick Wits: Olympwits Style." And that was only supposed to last for, like, the summer, I think. We thought, "We'll do it for our summer break." And it just, instantly, it caught on. Because now there was synergy going, now there was stuff going on between games, and now there was this and that. And the audience was involved a lot more. And then we just never looked back from there. We just dropped the "Olympwits" part and that just became what the Quick Wits show was.
J: What is your favorite improv game?
B: My favorite game right now is Overactors Anonymous, which is just funny. And what I love to do is play that game early, because it then it just sets the tone for the entire show because now the audience accepts the being anybody, doing anything. You know, crying at the drop of a hat or something like that and they accept it. But it is a very challenging game. I mean, it isn't just being angry. It's coming up and as quick as you can suddenly build this character and because it's over acting this character can be someone who, you know, at the age of thirteen was on the streets and was picked up by Shao Lin monks and trained in arts of this and that and he bears the scars… and you know, it's just, anything you say, you can do it. I love that game.
Overactors Anonymous came from when Joe Rogan, from Knock Your Socks Off, told me about Oscar Winning Moment. And I liked that game, but I didn't like the fact that you were under the control of the emcee as to when you could break out. So basically all Overactors Anonymous is is one long Oscar Winning Moment where everyone is always on.
I'm always looking for the next game that's my new favorite game. Actually I'm working on one right now that may become my new favorite game, if it works well. It's called "Movie Mad Lib" and you just take… Every movie the preview always starts off, "In a world where duh-duh-duh-duh-duh one duh-duh-duh-duh rises up against duh-duh-duh-duh-duh." And so we'll just get the audience to fill in all these blanks and act out a scene from this movie where "In a world where cow tipping is against the law, one podiatrist rises up against the local whatever." I like the bizarre. Maybe that's what it is. It's the entertainer in me.
"These are guys who their whole goal is to make the audience laugh, and will do whatever it takes"
J: If you were trapped on a desert island with one person and were forced to eat them, who would you rather have with you: Quick Wits' Andrew Jensen or Quick Wits' Paul Weinberger?
B: Well, Paul's bigger. Plus I think Andrew is a little tougher meat. I think Paul would be better. Plus, who wouldn't want to eat Captain Sexy?
J: What led to your split from the rest of the folks at OBT?
B: If anything, the OBT saga is a huge one, and really came based on the fact that when I started Off Broadway Theatre I invited my best friends to come along thinking that it would be this Polyanna, we're all best friends, you know with the Our Gang kind of "Let's put on a show." And I put all the money into it and everything. As long Off Broadway Theatre never made any money, we all remained best friends. And then as soon as Off Broadway Theatre started making money, we became business partners, and not best friends any more. And things just went South. Screw ups I made, screw ups they made. It just went South, and it came down to a point where my two best friends that I brought into the theater suddenly decided that this was a three person thing, we vote you out, two to one. I was just like, "What?" I hope to think that never in my life will I be more shocked than I was that night. That was literally the most shocking thing I ever had happen. I wanted to keep Quick Wits so that's what I got. I gave them free license to do Quick Wits, but then they decided later that they didn't want to be beholden to me in any way even though there was no money or anything like that but they wanted to be able to show that they can do their own stuff, so they dropped the name Quick Wits.
J: Were there any problems with taking the name Quick Wits with you when you had so few of the original members come with you?
B: No. You know, and that's the thing. Yes, those guys that originally played in Quick Wits and are now in Laughing Stock are great and incredible but there are always people who want to do this. And I will tell you right now, without slighting any of those guys from the original Off Broadway Theatre days, I love the group that is with Quick Wits now. These are actors who are not worried about how they look on stage, about looking stupid, they'll put their bodies on the line. These guys are entertainers. These are guys who their whole goal is to make the audience laugh, and will do whatever it takes, and aren't frightened by new games, aren't frightened by new things. At OBT, we got into a thing where we were the only group in town. And so, you played the games that you felt comfortable doing, and you knew the audience was going to like. And there was too much caught up in the comfort factor.
"I have done Quick Wits almost every weekend for nearly nine years. And I still get excited for every single one."
J: Not enough risk taking?
B: Yeah. And now it's risk taking quite often. And I just love that. I think it makes it something… I think the audience sees… yes, they may see Crocodile Hunter for the millionth time and like it but then they'll also see Movie Mad Libs, probably, when we try it this weekend and know that we've never even really practiced it. I really don't like to practice a game. Let's just do it on stage and see what happens and these guys are all like, "Yeah, let's do it!" OBT, there would be a game like Dead People, hugely popular game, took weeks and weeks and weeks of begging someone to try it and finally it waited until a time when someone else emceed and I played. There's a couple of players there who will take the risk. But we played it one night and instantly it became one of our ender games. And it was like, didn't want to break out of the comfort factor. Again, not slighting those guys, they're truly talented people. But I just… Quick Wits now is what I wanted Quick Wits to be back then.
J: You have experimented with approaches to improv shows, most recently with your Survivor take-off. What other twists have you done or will you be doing with your shows?
B: One I want to do very quickly is a grudge match. Find two people who are having an argument about something. Maybe the two guys who both feel they own Barry Bonds' home run ball. Bring them on, each of them captains a Quick Wits side and whichever team wins, end of argument. That person won it. Obviously we're not going to get those guys, but something like that. You know? Just a couple who were fighting about something. I think it would just be funny. They could play the games, they could do whatever. They could pick their players; who's on their team. We're thinking about doing that, just a Quick Wits grudge match.
Survivor, I truly love that show. It's just a bizarre thing and it gets actors out of their comfort zone, again. But as far as where we go from here, I'm more now just into coming up with new games. The show itself… Lincoln [Hoppe] in the last [interview] said "Why would you screw with the formula, if it's working?" I disagree. Obviously, it's a nod that we shouldn't be messing around with what ComedySportz is, because I think everyone has their own opinion of what's best. How Quick Wits is working right now, I like, it is a good show. So now it's only keeping it fresh with new games. I think the Grudge Match, Survivor was a thing… and who knows. We thought about trying to maybe do Survivor a little differently, and make it more of an American Idol kind of thing.
J: What are three words or phrases you would never say?
B: Let's see… phrases I would never say.
"No, Charlize Theron, I will not go out with you!"
You know, I have done Quick Wits almost every weekend for nearly nine years. And I still get excited for every single one.
J: You recently sold the Quick Wits Clearfield venue. Do you think this will cause some confusion?
B: I don't know about confusion. And I never really sold it, I just gave it to a guy who I thought would run it better than I could. Because it needed to be someone 24 hours a day and in Clearfield and trying to do something in Salt Lake, I couldn't. So I gave it to a very able bodied person and he's doing some great stuff there. So I don't think confusion, more or less. A lot of the actors will kind of go back and forth, it's just Quick Wits and that's, again, by doing the show. Their only thing is that they have to do the Quick Wits show. They can't suddenly turn it into something else and still call it Quick Wits. They are free to drop it. My goal… I would really love to see what ComedySportz became, what TheatreSportz became. I would like to see some Quick Wits in some other areas. We have looked into the possibility of getting into some other college towns.
"It is what improv should be. That is, unsure of what your next step is."
J: You have probably been the most active collaborator in the Utah improv community, doing shows with members of Knock Your Socks Off, Skinny Lincolns, Laughing Stock. How do you feel collaboration is viewed in general by Utah improvisers?
B: I think those that are smart, and there are plenty of those, realize that this is the best way to make it work, because again, you're out of the comfort zone. Playing with somebody else, all of a sudden… I can play with Andrew Jensen a hundred times and know kind of where he might go with something, but I play with someone from Skinny Lincolns or Knock Your Socks Off, anything like that and all of a sudden it's, "Wow, I never would have thought of that!" And it's just great! It is what improv should be. That is, unsure of what your next step is. If improv starts to look like the scene was rehearsed too much, then that's bad. And that's why it's fun when the actors now who are realizing that and start to just go out of their way to something that they've never done before. And you see it on the sidelines when the other actors just fall off their chairs and they're just going "Oh my gosh, what was that?" But then they're some who collaborate, and I hope that there's not many, I have not run into these. But I am worried that there are some who collaboration is more of a, "Let's see which of us is better." And it should never be that. Improv is always team.
J: "Which of us is better" from an individual standpoint?
B: Or a team. I mean it's weird. Nine years ago, there was no improv competition, there was no anything. And now it is a big thing, all of a sudden there's all these troupes on a given night you can go see and within a thirty mile radius you can probably see seven different troupes. That's a double-edged sword. That's great! And I think makes us every bit as viable as a Chicago or L.A. To anyone who really knows what improv is, we are easily as good as those towns. But I think until everyone starts to collaborate more people will not see it as that. That was one of the reasons I put together Improv Survivor. And still it's pulling teeth to try to get other troupes besides [Quick Wits and Knock Your Socks Off] to be involved in it.
J: Do you miss performing with your wife? (Star 102.7's Laura Bedore)
B: Um… I perform with her still…
J: Hey! Let's keep it clean!
B: She still performs, a bit. She is great. She is one of the best female improvisers I have seen. But now that she's famous and has to get up early she doesn't get the chance to come out and do it as much any more. The thing that's true about improv, too, is that "buddy zone." Of knowing the people you're on stage with and what they do. She feels now sometimes, when she comes and does it, that she's now out of that loop, because she hasn't done it very often.
But, yeah, I miss it. Anyone who doesn't like female improvisers is hugely mistaken, they add so much to the show. A medium female improviser is much better than an above medium male improviser in what you can do on stage. Because now there's this different dichotomy of what can happen and what can go on. Whereas, you know, it's so hard being, "All right, which one of us is going to be the female?" And not be able to really speak from the female perspective. So I do miss that, and that's why I always try to have female players, even though there aren't that many that push it and want to do it.
J: What are your guilty pleasures? Things people wouldn't know you are into?
B: Most people who know me know I am way into wrestling. That's probably my biggest guilty pleasure.
J: You going tonight?
B: I'll be there tonight. In fact we're dragging Laura. So wrestling is probably my guiltiest of guilty pleasures. Even to the point of I'm in internet wrestling leagues and I actually write all the matches and things like that. So I'll not go to sleep at night because I'm writing six hours straight to write a six match card.
J: [Mocking laughter]
B: If I could, I would drop almost everything and write for professional wrestling. Other than that, my guilty pleasures… I don't have that many to have time for. Video games, I still love. I'm still very much a kid. Game designing, I love designing games and stuff, card games and stuff. That and the other ones just aren't guilty, someday hope to make the break in terms of a script I've written or something.
"Teamwork, and not dwelling, and having fun: that's really all improv is to me."
J: Why is there so much fascination with your hair?
B: I have no idea where that came from. Actually, I think [KYSOff's] Jen Weeks was the one who made that such a big thing. But I have no idea where that came from. In improv, you take whatever people have given you to make your bit and go with it and mine is my hair and my ego.
J: [Knowing laughter]
B: Those were okay, but lately now it's my waistline. My brother-in-law [Quick Wit's Drew Keddington], in Hecklers, is always keen to point out a spare tire or something. I don't know about the hair. I think if someone would have told me when I was 19 or whatever that at 38 people would be giving me a hard time because I've got a lot of hair I think I would have though that that's okay with me. So I guess it still is.
J: [Uneasy, balding laughter] You run a clean show, but has there ever been a time when you thought, "We could have gotten away with being dirty, tonight?"
B: Yeah. That happens a lot. The audience, even a majority of the audience, a lot of times will want that. Especially at the late shows. The thing is, it's going up to that line and letting the people who want it to be dirtier imagine it dirtier in their minds. You can do that without saying the things. We've done private parties where people have really wanted us to go bigger, so we'll do it then. And it's funny, because then the actors will have a hard time doing it. On stage, they're whispering the dirtiest things you can imagine to each other, but at a private party, when you let them go, "Okay, do whatever you want." They're like, "Uhh… umm… uhh…." and you're like, "You guys…! You can whisper it to each other... you guys should be doing this!" You know, it's really weird.
One thing I think is amazing, my take on all of this, is that if you're told that you've got total freedom, it would seem like your creativity is boundless, but I seem to think of it the other way around. If you're told, "This is your boundary. Do as much as you can within this boundary," you stretch yourself more to touch all of the walls. Whereas if you were told, "There are no boundaries," you just kind of go, "Oh, that means I should say this, and that means I should say this, to prove I've got no boundaries." But like I said, if you're stuck in this cage, you will examine every inch of that cage. Whereas if you're roaming free, you will go find a place you like and stay there. It's like lions in a zoo. They know that cage backwards and forwards but if they're on the Savannah they know their pride rock and that's about it.
J: You've taught a lot of students about improv, what's the one thing you always try to make sure they understand.
B: Couple of things. One is teamwork. There is no "one best improver." And even if there is, he can't do it on his own, still. He's got to have the second and third best improvers behind him. But there is no "one best improver." So it's all team concept. If you think you can't go on stage with someone because they're not your equal, then I really don't want you as part of Quick Wits. Because if you think you're that good, make them look good. So it's a team thing.
The other thing is just not to try to overanalyze what you're doing. When I was researching it all, I started putting together my list of improv rules. And I really just knocked them away, one by one. You can't take back what you said, so you got to go with it. And yeah, if you're any good at all you'll realize, "Okay, that didn't work. So next time I won't do this." But there's nothing you can do to stop the fact that you've already done it. So go with it.
Other than that, it is just, have fun. There is no reason to be doing improv if you're not doing it for the fun with it. And that's why, like I said, nine years later I'm still… I wish tonight was Friday so I could do the show tonight, because that's what I love, whether I'm emceeing or playing or whatever. Teamwork, and not dwelling, and having fun: that's really all improv is to me.
And then, that's the base, and then it's how do you expand from that, how do you make yourself better, how can you add more to the things. When you first improv a lot of the times you're just being yourself, and improv-ing. But then, you have to realize that, what Bob does, the choices Bob makes is different then what another character or side of me can do. So instead of being Bob in this skit I am going to be this character. So I will answer all my questions differently that are brought to me.
"I would tell him to punch low and often."
J: Where do you think improv in Utah is heading?
B: Hopefully, bigger. Which again is that big thing of a long time ago Quick Wits had no competition, and now there is a ton of it. But I really think if we can meld it together… I really would like to see us be known as much for improv as, like I said, Chicago and L.A. And I think it can happen if we can just make a go and if shows become about this and not just be happy with their little niche. Which is great. But now we need to combine more, we need to be doing as many charity-esque shows that we can do. Let's try to bring everyone together for one big show. Let's raise money for this, let's raise money for that. And if that kind of stuff happens, people see what is going on, I think improv in Utah will become huge. And I would be thrilled.
I was so amazed last year when City Weekly had a category to vote for best improv troupe. I thought, "How far have we come, that there are enough troupes and enough people who are fans of each of these troupes, that they're going to put it as a category?" Whoever wins, it doesn't mean that they're the best troupe, but I think the big picture is the fact that there is a category. And that shows you how far we've come. I mean it would be neat to have, somewhere down the line, who's your favorite…
B: Improviser… but, I mean, who's your favorite long form troupe, who's your favorite this troupe, who's your favorite social improv troup. I mean that would be pretty interesting down the line. Quick Wits will always remain pure entertainment. We're not out for anything else. We're the McDonald's of improv comedy. So we'll always go for that. There is so much other kind of stuff you can do. And yeah, I may experiment outside with some of that stuff, but Quick Wits will always be what it is. And that's all right with me.
J: If you were a sensei and had to send Jon Hamilton out to battle rival sensei Eric Jensen's student, Russ "The Eliminator" McBride, what advice would you give to Jon?
B: Bulk up! First of all, I probably wouldn't send Jon in that thing, because I like Jon and Jon would just get killed. Russ McBride is a monster. And I mean it in the good kind of monster. I would tell him to punch low and often.
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