Interview with Michael Jastroch of Victrola

Victrola is a weekly comedy podcast produced by ColdTowne founder and senior faculty member, Michael Jastroch, who recently appeared in the 2017 SxSW comedy lineup. In this post, we discuss Victrola’s start, the cast and their selection as finalists in the first annual Improv4humans/Earwolf competition.

How did you get started with Victrola?

Funny. I just had a facebook memory come up for this. Bryan Roberts posted in 2013 the phrase “Car Bits, Seriously.” It refers to a road trip we took to OKC along with Josh Krilov and Steve Donovan to perform sketch. The way there and back, we improvised dumb audio bits for seven straight hours – basically pretending to prank call us and it was maybe the hardest I’ve ever laughed.

Josh, Bryan and I started getting together to record audio bits from time to time with the intention of turning it into something –  a podcast or a stage show – but nothing ever came from it. Mostly because of lack of know how and proper equipment.

I have a few recordings from that time, and I may release some of them someday as curios. There’s a bit – unedited – we did that I eventually cut up into an audio add for ColdTowne. I can’t find the finished version, but the unedited clip is pretty solid.

A few years ago, I got fed up with doing shows and having no record of my work or “product” to sell. A decade of shows, and the only thing to point to was some vague memories. The kicker was one night doing a show one night with Irene White that may have been the best thing I’ve ever been involved with and realizing that even though 50 people saw it, it’d be forgotten in two months.

Film is challenging, because you need a lot of people to make it happen and having relied on goodwill and favors for most of my creative life, I knew it’d be difficult to put stuff out consistently. With podcasting, at the end of the day, if it doesn’t happen, I’ve only myself to blame.

So I bit the bullet, dropped $500 on audio equipment and podcast hosting, taught myself some basics, and made myself a rule. I’d never miss a deadline, even if I put out crap, I’d put something out. Recording sessions are deliberately kept fun and casual, so people never have to feel like a dick for not making it  – although everyone in the cast makes 9 out of 10 sessions. And here we are.

My only regret is Krilov moved so he can’t bit out with us.

Bryan Roberts, Jericho Thorp, Dalton Allen

Recording: Bryan Roberts, Jericho Thorp, Dalton Allen

What do you think each of the cast members brings?

I casted the thing mostly based on a history of hanging out and doing bits. How easy does this person play and get what makes something funny? So they all have that in common. Plus, they all have a few voices up their sleeve. We all make each other laugh, and that’s important.

Lance Gilstrap – the perfect straight man. Very few people can maintain that much anger on stage and keep the ball rolling. It’s a skill I envy.

Molly Moore – such great character work. You never know what’s going to come out of her mouth, completely sincerely, as whatever nutball she’s playing.

Bryan Roberts – perfect timing and delivery. He could make a phone book funny. He’s also great at constructing actual jokes on the spot.

Bob McNichol – plays three dimensional chess while the rest of us are playing checkers. He doesn’t say the most, but everything that comes out of his mouth is funny on another level. Plus, he’s got that amazing dry delivery that sounds so sweet on podcast.

Cortnie Jones – is such a great character actress and she swings for the fences with

Molly Moore

Recording over a weekend retreat in west Texas: Molly Moore (foreground). Michael Jastroch and Bob McNichol (background).

whatever she’s doing. If Molly plays the affable loons, Cortnie plays all the sociopaths.

Jericho Thorp – One of the best character improvisers in the city. Such a great listener and so wonderful at making even the nuttiest stuff grounded in truth.

Me – I don’t know anymore.

Also, Dalton Allen, who helps with the editing and is unofficially now in the cast has a wonderful dry wit.

What do you think is the biggest deal about Victrola as a comedy podcast?

The great thing about podcasts is they are so easy to start. The horrible thing is they are so easy to start. Meaning, it’s real easy to assume you’re charming enough to carry on unscripted comedy – scenic or banter. But the truth is, that’s not only difficult to do, if you’re not a known quantity, no one gives a shit.

I didn’t want to do another four dudes talking around a microphone podcast. That niche is filled. So what makes us a big deal is when we put stuff out, the extra effort has been put in to make it as funny as it can be every time. Otherwise there’s literally no point in us existing.

If you could have one special guest superstar, who would it be?

All of Superego, who are huge inspirations. We were doing these bits and thinking about releasing this before we heard Superego, but they showed us the way forward.

What’s up with Improv4Humans and Earwolf?

Yeah! We are among the top three finalists in the Improv4Humans Contest4Humans. Which is awesome, because locally and nationally we were up against some heavy hitters. It’s a real honor and very validating to make it this far.

We’re recording a set on Tuesday the 28th. If we win, we get flown to the Del Close Marathon in NYC to record with Matt Besser. Which, given that we’re laboring in obscurity far away from industry or celebrity, would be very validating and hopefully expose us to a wider audience.  We don’t do this to be famous, but so much work goes into the thing, audience is nice.

How many sandwiches have you eaten at once.

More than 2, less than 6.

What do you have strong opinions about?

Everything. It makes me a better teacher and director, but occasionally paralyses me as a performer.

On the podcasting tip, one thing I hear all the time is how awesome Victrola sounds. Which to me is nuts, because I literally have no idea what I am doing and basically watched two youtube videos.

Which means if your podcast sounds like shit, you don’t care enough to watch two youtube videos. If you’re going to phone it in, isn’t there a better way for you to spend your time?

Recording: Lance Gilstrap and Molly Moore.

Recording: Lance Gilstrap and Molly Moore.

ALSO – I support crowd funding thing as a concept, but I think we’ve gone too far. What happened to – you know – paying your dues. I’m annoyed by people who have never made anything asking for handouts for friends and family. Make a few things on your own dime before you start begging for funds. You’ll learn more.

If Victrola wins and gets to go to DCM, what are you going to do to celebrate?

Go to New York on Matt Besser’s dime is all the improv reward I need. Maybe finally get one of those fancy VIP DCM wristbands so I don’t have to wait in line 6 hours to watch shows I used to be able to just pop into back in 2005.

Victrola records for the Improv4Humans finals tonight at ColdTowne at 10pm.  Check out the Facebook event here. Even better, subscribe to the podcast for weekly goodness.

Heavy Metal Drummer: Michael Dolan of Rezuranger

Michael Dolan is a Level 2 student at ColdTowne and currently featured in our MainStage show, Rezuranger. He shared with us how he happened into classes, and–eventually–his role in our Saturday MainStage production.

On July 22, 2016 I visited ColdTowne Theater to see my friend, Lisa Williams (Family Meeting), perform with her troupe The High Five at a CageMatch (now Throwdowne) show vs. Rezurangur. That was the first time I got to see Chris Baldenhofer and Delaney Jo Hernandez perform. I was so impressed that night by Chris and Delaney to make two person scenes much fun! I didn’t realize it then, but Delaney and I had actually been camp counselors in 2008 for a youth retreat, and it was awesome to reconnect with her. I also remember thinking Kevin killed it that night during the performance with The High Five.

That show made me realize I wanted to do improv and couldn’t keep putting it off. I was still unsure about signing up for classes. I remember the two reasons I went ahead and did it: 1) I met Michael Jastroch during the 10 year anniversary weekend and remember thinking he was super witty and his characters were amazing. He’s a great teacher. 2) Kara King told me I wasn’t that funny in the ping pong/domino room at the Grand, so I had to prove her wrong. I signed up for Level 1 in the Fall 2016 class start.

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Dolan in Rezurangur press photo.

Towards the end of my Level 1 class, I saw that Rezurangur: An Improvised Heavy Metal Odyssee was looking for improvers and musicians with a specific request for a good drummer. It was the perfect show for me since I’ve been a drummer for almost twenty years and played in a metal band called Uglytwin for almost 3 years. I knew it was my destiny.

After a very nerve-wracking audition with Kristin Henn and company, I was very unsure about getting into the show because I didn’t talk much during my multiple person scenes. Like everyone, I’m my own worst critic. On top of that, I saw a ton of excellent performers at that audition.

About a week later I remember getting the e-mail from Kristin announcing that I had been cast for the show. I was so ecstatic that I immediately started to send friend requests to every member of the show on Facebook, just to see who all was in the show with me. When I saw Chris, Delaney and Kevin, I was super excited to work with all of them, since they were all part of the reason I invested in classes at ColdTowne. I had the chance to see a lot other cast members in Rezurangur perform at ColdTowne, and now—having had a chance to work with them—I’m certain this is one of the best groups of people I’ve ever had the chance to share a stage with.

Now, as a Level 2 student, and about to move into Level 3, I am so excited to keep going through classes, and eventually graduate. I love this community of people and always enjoy watching every show especially Missed Connections ATX, Loverboy, and Damn Gina. Come see Rezurangur: An Improvised Heavy Metal Odyssee!

Michael Dolan is an Austin native and has been a student at ColdTowne since 2016. He’s a drummer with 20 years’ experience of many different genres. He’s a beauty school dropout, graduate of Texas Bible Institute and doesn’t use any of that knowledge at his job doing Software Quality Assurance.

He’s performed in the Bit Show and now with Rezurangur: An Improvised Heavy Metal Odyssee Sat. nights at 8:30pm only at Coldtowne Theater from March 4th through April 8th. $10 online, $12 at the door. Buy tickets here.