James Clark of Governor Jack on improv, and making a web series about a web series

Governor Jack -- a group comprising James Clark, Rollie Williams, Jason Metter, Asa Erlendson and Max Schwartz -- is campaigning to make improv a more visible part of Denver's burgeoning comedy scene. The group produces the improv show Governor Jack Watches You Sleep at Voodoo Comedy Playhouse, with material growing out of live interviews with "local celebrities" (think television-friendly lawyer Michael Sawaya.) The goal? To create a stronger presence for improv -- and maybe boost visibility of Governor Jack's own web series, aptly titled How to Make a Web Series.

After the group asked me to be a guest on Governor Jack Watches You Sleep last month, I talked with its longest-running member, about how Governor Jack came together, the status of improv in Denver, and what it plans to do with its web series.

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Westword: Can you talk a little about who you are and how Governor Jack started?

James Clark: I've been doing improv for about six years -- I moved to Denver from South Dakota, where I went to high school and college. I grew up in Washington, D.C. I went to Colorado Film School and UCD, which is what brought me to Denver.

Governor Jack kind of came about from different people in the comedy scene that I had performed with, admired and became friends with. We've gone through several iterations -- when we started, there were four of us. I'm the only remaining member. People have moved on -- three members moved to Chicago, one to New York. The group has been together about four years, and the current cast about six months.

When you sort of cycle through new members, do you approach comedians or do they come to you directly, or how does that work?

We go out and look for people who we think would fit with us -- it's just about finding people with the same vibe, same sense of humor, same comedic aesthetics. We add one member at a time; we'll bring a new comedian on and bring them into the fold and then add someone else. Jason (Metter) and Rollie (Williams) are the longest-running members other than me -- I think they've been with Governor Jack for at least two years. We just make sure to go out and see shows, check out the scene and see who we might work well with.

What attracted you to focusing on improv, say, over stand-up?

I don't know? (Laughs.) We've all done different comedic ventures. Rollie's good with stand-up, Jason is hilarious on Twitter, Max (Schwartz) is a very serious actor, I do film and sketch. I think that it's particularly freeing -- you never know what it's going to be, so there's a bit more of a gamble to it. It makes it interesting. I also think that there is a kind of a void for it in Denver -- with a lot of other big comedy towns, improv is a big part of it. Denver doesn't have that quite yet. I think that's why we've stuck with it for so long, even though I know it is kind of the stepbrother that doesn't get as much love. We want to build it up.

All of our friends who have moved to places like New York, Chicago and L.A., that is part of the reason. There's already a scene there for improv. It's already a thing. It can actually get you somewhere. Governor Jack uses a live interview of a "local celebrity" guest, in terms of what you choose to create content around. Why or how did you decide to use that formula, instead of just asking the audience questions?

I wish it were more original -- but it is kind of based off the form called the Armando, which Armando Diaz created. It's a relatively common opener, whether you choose to interview someone or have someone tell their story, and then you use that as source material. It's premise-based improv. There's not a ton of it here in Denver.

I feel like we've gotten really lucky with all of the people we've had on the show -- super-interesting people that I'm excited to talk to, whether I was talking to them on a show or not. I think there are lots of pseudo-celebrity, people-of-interest types that we've had on Governor Jack, and it makes it really fun.

We've had people like Michael Sawaya, the lawyer with the awesome late-night commercials; Ben Roy, who was really hilarious. The rapper Mane Rok was really great -- I mean, I've enjoyed all of them. We're working on a couple of athletes, a few politicians and people who have gone on to L.A. to do things to come back. But we haven't gotten confirmation yet, so I don't know if it's worth even mentioning. (Laughs.)

Can you talk a little bit about the development of your web show?

We started making our web series this year, with the first one coming out in April. Each episode will be released at our live show, Governor Jack Watches You Sleep, which is the third Thursday of every month.

We were having a difficult time, initially -- we knew we wanted to do a web series and we had a ton of ideas. But we would sit down to write it and realize they were all hokey or lame or cheesy or we had seen them before. Late one night, we had the idea to make a web series about making a shitty web series.

That's the premise -- each episode is one member pitching the web series. So you see a little bit of that idea -- and then you see why it sucks. We're making fun of ourselves and the whole institution of the web series, which is a laughable idea within itself.

Catch the next Governor Jack Watches You Sleep and the premiere of How to Make a Web Series: Episode 2 - The Hacker Pitch at 9 p.m. on Thursday, May 30 at Voodoo Comedy Playhouse. On June 8, the troupe will relaunch The Duel, an improv cage match that will run Saturdays at Voodoo. For more information, visit the Governor Jack website.

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Bree Davies is a multimedia journalist, artist advocate and community organizer born and raised in Denver. Rooted in the world of Do-It-Yourself arts and music, Davies co-founded Titwrench experimental music festival, is host of the local music and comedy show Sounds on 29th on CPT12 Colorado Public Television and is creator and host of the civic and social issue-focused podcast, Hello? Denver? Are You Still There? Her work is centered on a passionate advocacy for all ages, accessible, inclusive, non-commercial and autonomous DIY art spaces and music venues in Denver.
Contact: Bree Davies

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