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USSRR recently turned five years old. As a part of our celebration, we took some time to answer a few questions. Here are former crew member Phillip Mottaz’s responses. Enjoy!
Name: Phillip Mottaz
Code Name: The Mouse
How long have you been improvising? Sixteen years. Jeez, really? Jeez. . .
When/How did you join USSRR? I auditioned at the general audition for iO West. I was told that there weren’t enough players to make a team, but my name would be put on the reserves list. Then I got an email from then-coach Laurel Coppack to sit in on a USS rehearsal and that’s that.
What are 3 of your strengths as an improviser? Listening, game play and puns.
What are you most afraid of on stage? Desperation. There’s two kinds of sweat you can have as a performer: one from working hard, and the other from working too hard to force things into some other form. I’ve always tried to look like I’m not desperate, even though I probably am.
What is one of your favorite moments on the team? This is a long story.
A few months after joining the team, I was part of a mild disagreement where I said I didn’t think we were worthy of the title of “great.” Some in the group was kind of throwing around the term, and I disagreed. It was the kind of a-hole idealism I thrive at, but I went on to say that in my entire comedy career, there’ve only been a handful of shows I’ve done that I’ve thought were undeniably great. And we just hadn’t done it yet.
Flash forward about three years (Jeez. . . ), we did the show where Tony was the main character the entire time, and we all fed his character’s rise and fall. It was what we’d been working on and striving to hit for a long while, and it felt great. I remember jogging out the back door and turning the corner to the iO front door, right behind Annie, who was part of the original disagreement and smiling as wide as I was, and I thought, “This is one of them.”
What makes USSRR different for you? They work hard. That’s it. They ONLY want to do improv shows, and they want to work hard to do it really well. And they work really hard to define what “do it really well” means. It all sounds obvious, but it doesn’t happen everywhere.
What inspires you now artistically? I’ve been writing more and more, and the thing driving me now is figuring out the puzzle aspect of story. Seeing how to hide exposition in a joke or a moment only to pay it off later in the story. And that all comes from character. Setting up their emotions and their reactions and then putting them through the ringer and letting them react.
Why do you do improv? I’m a big ham and I don’t like memorization.
Who do you look up to? Anyone who was a single parent. And I mean ANY of them.
Are you an artist or a comedian? Sigh. . . an artist. I’m type-sighing because it’s my true nature, and I’m a cynic. I can’t help it.
Below are a list of random words. Write the first thing that comes to mind (a word or a phrase) as you read each.
Ensemble – greater than the sum of its parts.
Tony – secret weapon.
Wolves – timber.
Theme – big picture.
Erica – solid.
Laugh – gold.
Riki – wave.
Coach – Meredith (this actually WAS my basketball coach in High School).
Story – board.
Bryan – hydrant.
Opening – image.
Pardo – my French (see “Strengths as an Improviser”).
Dave – uh. . .
Character – relationship.
Annie – zip.
Style – points.
Levin – reach.
Ego – boost.
Perfection – connection.
Harold – rhythm.