ack in 2002, during Landon Kirksey’s orientation at The Second City Conservatory in Chicago, the first piece of advice he and his fellow upstarts received was this: Don’t worry about being funny.
It was an unexpected tip from a venue whose alumni include comedy luminaries like Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Tina Fey and Steve Carrell, to name just a few. But to be there at all already implied you were funny. The conservatory had bigger goals in mind for its newbies.
“They told us the point is listening,” says Kirksey, a Bruceling who studied radio-television-film at UNT in the early 2000s and hosted shows for the university’s improv group Cold Turkey, “and creating something with somebody else."
Maybe that’s why in the years since, Kirksey has found his niche in two areas that require a knack for listening and collaboration — teaching and podcasting. Currently, Kirksey is an improv instructor at M.i.’s Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica, California, and the co-host of ImprovCast, which delves into the benefits of improvisation.
He landed his first teaching gig in 2009 at the comedy club Four Day Weekend in Fort Worth. Kirksey says at the time he was just a “plucky young idiot” who had recently moved back to Dallas from New York, but because of his Second City experience, the club tapped him to be an instructor.
“The majority of the people I taught were not actors — they were coming from places like Azle. There’s not exactly a big showbiz community in White Settlement,” he laughs. “But it doesn’t matter because this stuff is totally relevant to your life no matter what you’re doing. Similarly, at the theater I teach at now, there aren’t a lot of actors. It’s all kinds of people — lawyers, doctors, engineers, retired people, young professionals. It runs the gamut.”
Kirksey came up with the idea for ImprovCast as a way to supplement his students’ learning, discussing improv not just in terms of performance but as a universally applicable skill. An established voiceover artist featured in spots for companies such as Samsung, Lexus and Universal Orlando, he’d already acquired audio and editing equipment over the years. Why not invite some friends over and fire up the microphones, he thought?
In the Know
Kirksey is encouraging people to seek out online comedy shows as a way to support comedy clubs struggling in the wake of the pandemic. A list of upcoming shows at comedy clubs including Four Day Weekend, Dallas Comedy House and others, can be found on his website landonkirksey.com.
“It makes it a little bit easier to spin up the podcast machine,” Kirksey says, “when you’ve got funny people around.”
Some of those funny people include his ImprovCast co-host Jay Sukow and guests like Jaime Moyer, a fellow Second City alum, and Briane Goodrum from the Chicago comedy show EbonyEssenceJet. But ImprovCast also features people from outside the comedy realm — one past episode, of which there are now 80-plus, features a neuroscientist discussing how improv affects the brain. Kirksey also previously hosted a Bachelor-themed podcast called Broses Before Roses, that recapped the absurdity of ABC’s matchmaking monolith.
“Podcasting is one of those things where you do them, you send them out, and you hope for the best,” he says.
While podcasting is helping him reach a wider audience, he’s also recently found a more expansive student base as COVID-19 meant his improv classes transitioned to an online format. He calls it a “weird, awesome silver lining.”
“I taught an intro class the other day that included students from Las Vegas, Oregon, Alaska — they were from all over the place,” he says. “If you’ve never done improv, doing an online class is a really cool way to get involved. It’s super low stakes — you’re just sitting in your house. It’s a good way to meet people in a fun environment.”