They may have been busy with lending their talents to the TV universe over the better part of the last decade, but with nearly 40 years of combined experience in improv, don’t call it a comeback for Ben Schwartz and Thomas Middleditch. They both return to their comedy roots Sunday night (June 24) as they bring the unexpected to The Wilbur Theatre for a pair of shows.
While the duo of Middleditch and Schwartz is most known for roles of Richard Hendricks on Silicon Valley and Jean-Ralphio Saperstein on Parks & Recreation, respectively, their rise to stardom in the comedy scene started on improv stages: Middleditch with Theatresports while growing up in Canada, and later with Second City in Chicago, and Schwartz with Upright Citizens Brigade in New York and LA in 2003. So it should come as no surprise that a full tour of completely unscripted shows brings the tag team a certain level of not just excitement, but pure, unbridled joy.
“We wanted to take the long-form type of improv that made it exciting for us to begin with, and kind of make it our own,” Schwartz tells Vanyaland. “It’s always been something that makes both of us really happy, and it helps us be more creative when we get to create with each other, so we’ve been very lucky with the shows we’ve done so far.”
Adds Middleditch: “Something you have to realize is that almost 99 percent of improv is unpaid. So that’s how you can tell that it’s something that people just love doing, being able to tell jokes and do scene work, as opposed to set-ups and punchlines.”
Aside from the laughs they get from audiences, Middleditch looks at improv in a higher regard than screen acting because the feedback he and Schwartz receive while performing, especially in larger venues like Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, leads both he and Schwartz down a nostalgic path that only fuels the energy of an entirely unique performance.
“For me, a lot of the excitement in improv is the feedback you get from performing in a live setting,” says Middleditch. “In television, the best feedback you get is the director coming up to you after each take, and telling you something was good while he also tells you it was bad. But now that Ben and I are doing these shows, and especially in bigger venues, it really hits you when you get on stage, and you remember what got you started in performing. That exchange you get with the crowd can’t be replicated on a TV set.”
Part of the appeal is the inherent uniqueness of Middleditch and Schwartz live appearance, and for the crowd, there’s no chance to see the material in advance. “It’s great when you get that first laugh from the audience, but it also feels great because it’s me and Thomas working together to create something that a crowd will only get to see once,” adds Schwartz. “There aren’t any videos or photos of our shows, so when you come to our show, it exists just for you, and we create it just for you, and we’re in the experience together.”
The amount of support Middleditch and Schwartz have received after posting only two dates to begin with blows the duo away. It came as a pleasantly unexpected surprise to them to see the type of reaction the shows got, in terms of ticket sales and general interest, and they can’t wait to hit up the city. Not only for the fact that Sunday’s late show is the only show on their East Coast portion of the tour that hasn’t sold out yet, but because the response they received shows that there is a significant hunger for improv.
“We can’t wait to get to Boston,” says Schwartz. “There’s just something about coming to both shows because they’re just not going to be the same. Outside of the actors in the show, everything is going to be completely different. It’s also exciting to be doing two shows in a different city, because it gives us a chance to see how differently the two crowds will react.”
MIDDLEDITCH AND SCHWARTZ :: Sunday, June 24 at The Wilbur, 246 Tremont St. in Boston, MA :: 7 p.m. (sold out) and 9:45 p.m., $37 :: Advance tickets :: Wilbur event page :: Featured image by Sela Shiloni