Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer
Mike Kauffman and the rest of the News N’at team, like the local papers who inspire them, are figuring out how to leverage a print product with digital presence in today’s world.
“We might have to say, ‘We’re going to take online articles, so tweet an article at us” or ‘Share something with us and we’ll bring it up.’ We might have to use a projector and bring it up on the screen or something. These are all things we’re thinking about,” he says.
News N’at is a monthly improv show at Steel City Improv Theater in Shadyside, using news articles from local papers as inspiration for longform improvisational scenes.
As a local journalist who does improv, this show panders to me specifically.
I first began my improv journey last year after taking a free sample class at SCIT, hoping to turn my irreverent and increasingly unbearable Twitter presence into something more productive. As I took classes and performed with house teams, I learned that improv informs my abilities as a journalist. I’m able to quickly establish emotional relationships with sources, which is important when covering intense situations. I can come up with better questions on the fly. I’m more confident throwing myself into potentially dangerous situations in the name of journalism, like riding the Steel Curtain. Improv has made me a better person and communicator, and thus a pretty decent journalist.
The News N’at form is different from traditional improv forms. Instead of giving the performers a suggestion, audience members pick clips from a table — sometimes printed out, sometimes cut from the papers themselves — and pin them to a closeline hanging on a stage wall before the show. After performing an opening scene — the second show featured slo-mo running while sweaty, blazer-clad performers held newspapers, which is very accurate to what happens here at the Current — the performers grab the clips from the wall and read the headline and story until someone initiates a scene by walking onstage.
News N’at is truly a show by improvisers with local news in mind. A Post-Gazette story about bikelines mentioning Mayor Bill Peduto’s monikers of “Bike Lane Billy” and “Bicycle Bill” turns into a scene about new nicknames for Peduto in order to rebrand. A story about property tax increases in the North Hills leads to the improvisers riffing on the IRS. Even I’m not safe from the show, where my story about a Downtown dream-inspired art show is turned into a meta dream-within-a-dream scene.
Although there are some local stories that are inherently funny — take the alligators in Carrick or the saga of Darlene Harris, for example — those stories end up being the hardest to execute, according to Kauffman.
“When you have something that is already funny, you don’t want to act it out exactly as the story goes,” he says. “You have to be extra clever and try to add your spin on it or take it in a different direction that the audience didn’t expect.”
Kauffman has reached out to other local journalists to see the show, but allegedly I am the only one who has shown up. According to Kauffman, he hopes that changes.
“I hope that no one thinks that we’re we’re poking fun at their journalism,” he says. “I think all we’re doing is using their journalism to inspire comedy and find the comedy in and in these articles.”
The show uses local journalism to make it more appealing to audiences, Kauffman says, so they can have a truly unique experience.
But, as a local journalist watching the show, it’s nice to see that your work has an impact, even in a small way. It’s even nicer to see local journalism being championed and appreciated at a time when it’s not. And, as a local journalist who does improv, this improv show about local journalism is a mix of my two passions — comedy and journalism — that sometimes seem at odds with each other. I never thought I’d be taken seriously as a journalist if I was funny. It works with News N’at, which means it can work for me, too.