G.L.O.C. JILL BERNARD is taking her solo show DRUM MACHINE to Charleston for the Charleston Comedy Festival. Let’s hear from this Illinois native about her show, her comedic inspirations and the ups and downs of running her own theatre in Minneapolis.
Where did you grow up?
Downers Grove and Evanston, Illinois
Was comedy in your blood at a young age? What is your first memory of making someone laugh?
My brother remembers when I was about five I sang a little song in the bath. “No L, No L, the first CTA strike” which is funny if you know CTA is the organization that runs the “L” which is the subway system in Chicago.
Who inspired you to go into comedy?
I don’t think I’d be as successful as I am if my brother Dan wasn’t so funny. I was always trying to be like him. He was on the high school newspapers and in plays, so I was too. He liked David Bowie and U2, so I liked David Bowie and U2. I think maybe I went into improv because it’s the only thing at which I’m better than he is.
Did you have any other career aspirations at any point?
I like to send away for brochures about nice, sensible-sounding careers, but I never do anything with them.
What was your first paid gig in comedy?
I started working for ComedySportz in 1993. I know we didn’t get paid all the time, but we did get a little bit of money. Back when I was starting, none of us cared, we just did it for the love.
What was your impetus for starting your own theatre? What’s the best/worst part?
I started a theater with my friends Butch Roy and Nels Lennes. We did it because Minneapolis is filled with great performers who have no regular place to play. There’s no permanent home for scenic improvisation. There are great places to see game improvisation, like ComedySportz and Stevie Ray’s, but scenic improvisation (also called long form) has been relegated to off-nights and late nights; improv sets tacked on to the end of the Brave New Workshop’s sketch shows, or student performances. It’s catch-as-catch can. There were so many talented improvisers, but no place for them to play on a regular basis. That was the real impetus to open a theater. We know wonderful groups — Fingergun, Mustache Rangers, Splendid Things, to name a few — that we want people get to see every week. Also, we wanted the shows we produce, like “Ka-Baam” and “Overheard in Minneapolis,” to have an 8:00 slot on a weekend, like a mainstage show should.
The best part is getting to see the great shows. The worst part is wondering about how to pay rent.
Can you talk about Drum Machine? What is it? How did you come up with the idea? How long have you been doing it?
Drum Machine is a one-woman improvised historical epic musical. The idea is a combination of a number of things. I was inspired by Lisa Jolley – she does an improvised one-woman cabaret. I was also inspired by all the things I like to do in improv: create characters, improvise songs, weave narratives. I also love history, so the show ended up being a combination of all those things that I love. I’ve been doing it for about nine years.
How do you prepare before a show?
For Drum Machine, I use the whole day to warm up. I make sure I’ve sung an original song, and belted a song, I do four scenes with the same first line, I play one-word-story and What Are You Doing with myself, I stretch out a little bit, and I lip-sync a pumpin’ jam in a mirror.
What has your crowning achievement been to date?
I went to teach and perform in Norway, and now I feel like an international superstar.
What was the most useful advice anyone ever gave you about your career?
My acting professor, Michael Pufall, said that too many people go into acting, so if you can do something else and be happy, do that. I have extrapolated on that to give me permission not to move to New York or LA, because I can be happier in Minneapolis.
Do you think there’s a divide between men and women in the comedy world?
I can’t speak to the comedy world, I can only speak to the improv world. There’s no divide, we all like to play together. You see some problems in high school or college improv where the dudes are being dudes and making it rough for women to improvise with them, but by the time they’re men they’ve grown out of it.
What advice would impart to ladies wanting a career in comedy?
If you read interviews with Tina Fey or Amy Poehler or Susan Messing you’ll see a trend. None of the really talented women comedians care about the “gender issue.” They just do what they’re going to do because, like my boyfriend’s dad says, the world is too lazy to stop them.
What ladies are you watching these days? Who do you think has a strong comedic voice both on a large and small scale?
I only know about the Minneapolis scene. There are two groups, the Minneapples and the Bennets that are all women – young women – who are really kicking it hard.
Now check out JILL in action from the Black Box Improv Festival in Atlanta, GA.
If you’re attending the Charleston Comedy Festival you can catch JILL at the Eye Level Art 103 Gallery on Friday, Jan 21 & Saturday, Jan 22 at 10pm.
You can find out more about JILL on her website.