My name is Duncan McKenzie, and I’ve been involved with and fascinated by improv for more than thirty years. I’m from England originally, but my family emigrated to Canada in 1975, and I’ve lived here ever since, aside from a year in Hong Kong.
I first discovered improv in 1987, at Toronto Theatresports (now Bad Dog Theatre Company), which used to offer free beginner workshops in Toronto’s Harbourfront area. Back then, I was mostly interested in comedy writing, but I thought taking improv classes might connect me with comedy actors who could perform the comedy material I’d written. (Not such a crazy idea – quite a few of those performers went on to successful comedy careers – but it isn’t typically how things work.) But I soon found that improv, and the idea behind it, was a good deal more interesting than I’d expected.
I formed a comedy troupe from people I met at Theatresports, and we ended up performing both improv and sketch comedy, and eventually writing comedy for radio and TV. I wrote and was story editor on five seasons of the history-comedy series History Bites (over 100 episodes), and was showrunner for an evening comedy-drama, Train 48, which was improvised from outline scripts, and shot and aired in the same day. That ran for over 300 episodes. In more recent years, I’ve worked on shows like That’s So Weird and Baroness von Sketch Show. But even when I was working on scripted material, I’ve usually had one foot in the improv puddle.
Some years ago, my wife and I decided it would be good if our kids could take improv, so we started a company in Oakville where I teach and very occasionally perform. It’s a great place to experiment with different forms of improv and try new approaches. I’m constantly amazed by what an effect learning improv seems to have on people. It is common to hear people say “Improv has changed my life.” I’ve even had people say that improv has saved their life – two different people. How can teaching people to do comedy scenes on stage have such a huge effect? But it does. Improv builds a muscle that connects to other forms of creativity. It seems as if the longer I spend on improv, the more interesting it becomes.