Getting to Know You: Ian Schempp

Hi! My name is Ian Schempp and I am an improviser.

I started improvising in 1997 in high school. As a full-fledged drama nerd, I was part of an after-school drama club. This was back in the days when Comedy Central only had about 4 shows and one of them was the British version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? A few like-minded friends and I decided to create and after-after-school-drama-club-improv-club where we emulated the things we saw on that show. In retrospect, it was probably some of the most toe-curlingly awful improv humans could have done. In the moment, however, we were improvisational geniuses, cracking each other up and loving every second of it.

Sisters of Sal group photo

Sisters of Sal, 2006 – photo by David Wahl

Soon after, I headed off to college to pursue a degree in mathematics. Luckily for me, the local improv group performed at our orientation and happened to mention that they were having auditions. On a whim, I tried out and made it in. In all likelihood, this will be one of the most important moments in my life, as I’m sure it changed pretty much everything from here on out. I fell absolutely in love with improv and spent as much time as possible doing it, much to the chagrin of my GPA. My sophomore year, the new director of the group (we had a new one each year) decided the gloves were going to come off. We pushed ourselves much harder than apparently the group ever had: going to shows at The Groundlings and even hiring improvisers from The Groundlings and iO West to come do workshops for us. My senior year, I ended up not only directing the group, but doing an independent study course that involved teaching a class in improv and writing a rudimentary textbook on the subject.

After college, I moved here to Seattle, naively thinking I would pursue higher education in mathematics. That lasted for almost exactly one year. After getting out of the grad school game, a friend from college took me to a Monday night improv free-for-all, co-quasi-lead by our own Joel Dale. I met a lot of great improvisers there, and ended up joining a group called Sisters of Sal. We did montage-y long form stuff, mostly at Seattle’s now-defunct Cage Match. About this time I also auditioned for and got in to Jet City Improv, which has been my improv home ever since. Sisters of Sal whittled itself down into a duo (doing some of my favorite work) and eventually stopped, but JCI continues strong. That’s where I teach, where I rehearse, and where I do 90% of my improv now.

Unspeakable Horrors poster illustration

Poster art for Unspeakable Horrors by Sean Patella-Buckley

While at Jet City, I’ve had the opportunity to create and direct several great shows: Shades of Gray, This Improvised Life, Unspeakable Horrors, Explorer’s Club, and most notably (at least for me) Funbucket. I’ve also had the opportunity to teach many classes and a couple workshops through the theater. I’ve studied a lot under a lot of great improvisers, but a lot of who I am as an improviser is due in large part to three great teachers: Jill Bernard, Joe Bill, and Asaf Ronen. Go buy their books. I hear Joe will have one eventually.

And now, here I am: writing about improv, the non-human love of my life, for this blog. I really do hope we get a chance to argue and agree loudly about things in the surprisingly-for-the-internet civil and intelligent comments section here. Thank you for reading and hopefully for writing as well.

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