On Music, Improv, and Writing What You Want
A chat with Andrew Baldwin of Shamilton and Baby Wants Candy ⭐ 🎵 👶🍬
If you’re new, welcome! I’m Caitlin, a writer and comedian. Each week I share my favorite content from across the world, plus insight from comedy’s rising stars. Think of it as a toolkit to help you start the week laughing. 💜
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This weekend was hot as hell in the northeast USA, and I hope you’re staying cool wherever you are! Thankfully Asylum NYC has air conditioning, so I was able to not die of heatstroke while thoroughly enjoying North Coast’s musical improv show ‘Anybody’ on Saturday. If you’re in New York, check it out. It made me realize just how much I miss doing musical improv. On that note, if anyone feels like making up silly songs and doing some on-the-spot choreography with me, just call 💃🏻
🔎 Comedian Spotlight: A Chat With Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin is a Chicago-based musician, writer, and improviser. He hosts the podcasts We Die First, Up Next, and Excuse Me, I Have a Masters and is currently performing in Shamilton and Baby Wants Candy at Second City Chicago. 🌆
This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity.
Caitlin Briody (Me): How would you say your musical background influences your comedy?
Andrew Baldwin: I went all the way through a master's degree in music; that pretty much sums up my life. There are a lot. I think [having a musical background] helps a lot with teaching more so–I'm a teacher at The Annoyance. But I also teach jazz improv, so you know, they are the same. They're not even parallel, right? It's like, you have to listen. You don't want to step on people's toes.
And it's easier to tell with teaching because the same mistakes I make improvising in a[n improv] scene, I probably make improvising in a band. But I am, at least, more aware of other people's mistakes.
And then a lot of the same exercises, like when I was teaching band camp pre-pandemic, I made them do a lot of exercises I learned from Second City, the “take the focus” exercises: you're all gonna walk around a room, but only one person can walk at a time and you have to give the focus, like eye contact, all that shit. Really just being a better listener. And then I think just [in] the arts, if you can work together with people in a chamber piece […] you also learn how to deal with people you don’t like. Cause you're going to improvise with people you fucking hate…Hate's a strong word. I don't hate many people I come across, but [sometimes I’m] like, I don't like how you improvise. But I'm like, I'm going to do it. We're on this team or on this gig. So many parallels.
How about for musical improv in particular, have you found that having a music background has been helpful?
I think that's the only thing that got me into Shamilton, because my rapping has gotten better, but it was not good. Like I'm not a freestyler in the slightest. But I have an impeccable sense of rhythm [laughs] and I hear harmonies really well. I have a good ear, so I can add interesting harmonies and I can make nice melodies. Will I rhyme all the time? Definitely not. And also, especially going through The Annoyance program, focusing on mostly montages and shit, but maybe trying to do more through-line stuff. I haven't done too much long form, let alone narrative improv. So Shamilton and Baby Wants Candy was my first time music improvising real long form and then narrative. So that was a long way of saying yes, music helped me only because I make interesting melodies.
And then the improvising for me came second because everyone else can [improvise], you know, there are a lot of good improvisers on a lot of music improv teams. They're not the best singers. They're not God-awful or else they wouldn't be there. But, it's definitely like improv is their strength and then they just need me to set a beautiful sound and hook and that's it.
And at least with Baby Wants Candy, they’re really into, you know, not everyone can do everything. Maybe you're the one person that's like, “I'm the chorus master. And I'm going to make sure everyone is like, this is what we're doing now.” And I appreciate that. That's an improv thing, right. Not everyone has to do everything all of the time, which I learned after five years. Has it been five years? No. It hasn’t. [Laughs]
What's a joke, a bit, or a sketch of yours that you're really proud of, and how did you come up with it?
I wrote this this bit called “slave labor of love.” And it's a dating show. Like the seventies, like a blind date dating show. The plantation owner's daughter was the date-ee [...] It was mostly Black people. And then, it was a White woman playing the plantation daughter. Then we had contestant number one like, “My name is Kunta Toby.” And then I was the second contestant, Edwin Freeman. And then the last guy was a White guy and he was just a different plantation owner. So he was just like, really, really ridiculous [...] I wrote him so gross. The [actor’s] name was Matt. He was really, he was a good sport about it. So I was proud of that one, because if there were not enough Black people in the audience it wouldn't hit it all. I mean, like, cause you know, it made White people so nervous to laugh.
All the buttholes tightening.
Yeah, so many tight buttholes. But when there was a Black audience, it killed.
Did you do it in front of both types of crowds?
Yeah. Well, it also didn't help too that we just put it up in one of the training center stages in Second City. So the first night, it was pretty good. The second and third night was a pretty small crowd, also mostly White, which didn't help. But I think what was more of a thing is that it was a small crowd. And they’re [looking around] like, “they'll know I laughed at that.” But then the last night, the little theater sold out. So like fifty-ish people, but a lot of people of color in that. So [the sketch] just, like, was stupid. But I'm very proud of that one. It's very dumb.
Do you find when you write that you're thinking more towards what audience […], or do you kind of just like, write whatever you feel? Do you feel like there's code switching happening, or do you feel like you're kind of like, “Yeah, whatever”?
I write what I want. I'm well aware [that being] in the improv sketch community [means] that this will go up probably in front of mostly White people. Also that sketch was, that was the last thing I did before the pandemic. That show ran every Thursday in February of 2020. And we'd billed it as like, a Black History Month show. And then Second City made us change the name because they had like “the Black History Month show.” So we had to change it to something else. That was the bit; we wanted people to accidentally buy tickets to our show!
Wait, you couldn't have “Black History”–what, did they own “Black History Month”?
Well, I don't know if you heard what happened shortly after, but yeah, they had some reckonings.
Yes they did.
But yeah, I’m proud of that [sketch]. And I write what I want.
Okay, rapid fire. Improv or sketch?
Oh God, fuck. Fuck. Uh, Sweeney Todd.
Most overrated musical.
Fuck. [Laughs] Hamilton.
You can see Andrew in Shamilton on Fridays and Baby Wants Candy on Saturdays, both at the Second City (Donny’s Skybox theater), as well as upcoming shows this summer at The Annoyance. Follow him on Instagram @andrew_on_drums for comedy show dates, or reach out for drum lessons at andrewbaldwinpercussion.com 🥁🪘
🎭 SNL Recap
Natasha Lyonne hosted the SNL season finale and it was…aight. Lyonne seemed like a bit of a strange choice to host, given that the second season of her Netflix show Russian Doll premiered over a month ago, but it quickly became clear during the rambling monologue that she’s an insider with multiple connections to the show. Her performances were strong, and she blended so in effortlessly with the cast that you almost forgot she was the host.
News broke on Friday that Kate, Aidy, Kyle, and Pete are leaving the show, which was nice to know ahead of time–especially compared to last year’s finale, which was full of heavy-handed hints at major cast departures that never materialized. For some reason I expected their sendoffs to carry equal weight, but in reality the magnitude of each’s tribute was directly proportional to their relative stardom. Pete’s celebrity has far eclipsed that of his colleagues due to a string of high-profile relationships, and the optics of his departure were carefully managed through a Weekend Update appearance in which he thanked the show and Lorne Michaels specifically for giving him his big break. Pete also starred in a cut-for-time music video paying tribute to Michaels, which struck me as a bit–how do I put this without being crass–self-serving of the show to include, but I guess that’s “the biz” for ya 🤷🏻♀️. Kate’s Mrs. Rafferty character got a nice sendoff in a cold open that was enjoyable for its nostalgia but could’ve used a little more of an unexpected twist. Aidy’s goodbye took the form of a more recent bit, which surprised me a little, but she was clearly having fun and that’s always nice to see. Kyle had no goodbye moment, and I have no idea if that was his choice or not.
Worth a watch: After High School was well-structured and unexpected, and Women’s Commercial will be relatable to anyone else who grew up in a hippie town (just me?). Mr. Dooley gets points for silliness and because the cast was clearly having a great time, although the ending was abrupt.
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📖 Recommended Reading
“They are spinster teachers, and these children are the elementary and middle school winners of the diversity and inclusion essay contest, and the grand prize is dinner at Applebee’s.”
This quick list makes its point through increasingly absurd scenarios that heighten with precise cadence, delightful specifics, and fun callbacks. 🍎
📚 Become Less Dumb
Lately I’ve been enjoying Jessica DeFino’s beauty-critical newsletter The Unpublishable. It’s a well-researched, thought-provoking look into the social and economic forces that shape our ideas of what is beautiful, and the moral undertones those ideas hold. As someone in the image-obsessed world of entertainment (while I’d love to believe I could become successful solely from my jokes, I’m also not stupid: I won’t even film a TikTok without a full face of makeup) it’s been especially helpful for me to remember that beauty is a concept constructed and reproduced with the sole aim of selling us things. DeFino covers a diverse range of topics–today’s piece critiques climate activism in the beauty industry–and I learn something new with each piece. 💄
Speaking of beauty, I recently stumbled across this 2018 interview with comedian Michelle Wolf on Oprah.com, in which she’s asked the following:
Q: As a woman, do you feel pressure to talk about beauty and your appearance in your stand-up?
A: No, it's just naturally part of my life. This whole trend on social media—women of every shape and size posting pictures, talking about how they're confident—that's great, but it's still focusing on how we look rather than on our abilities. If you need to feel beautiful, super. I hope you do. But also, let's get good at math. Let's become computer scientists. Even though it's nice that we're heading in the everyone-is-beautiful direction, I wonder, do we really need to be beautiful at all?
Immediately below this quote? Six beauty products that Michelle uses, starting with a $62 Dior foundation. I laughed out loud. 🤭
Stay classy and stay alive!
Caitlin, Frank, & Bud 💁🏻♀️🐈🐈⬛
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