Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz are masters of improv comedy. But if you ask them, the secret to that weird and wonderful art form is easier to demonstrate than it is to explain.
According to Middleditch, “You just gotta have it, kid.”
The pair’s set of three full-length comedy specials under the name “Middleditch & Schwartz” debut April 21 on Netflix. TheWrap sat down with the pair over Zoom to find out how it’s done.
“I think one of the basic things that people talk about is, you start out with an idea and you say, ‘Yes, and,'” Schwartz said. “It’s a hard thing to explain — it’s more exciting to be in the room where it happens.”
He was interrupted by Middledtich bursting into the song “The Room Where It Happens” from the musical Hamilton.
“It’s starting with nothing, and then we build off each other until we’ve grown out this entire world and we can play within the world. But I think Thomas explains it in mostly ‘Hamilton’ songs,” Schwartz said.
“Typically, when I wanna take it outside of Hamilton, which I sometimes do, when someone’s like, ‘Hey, how do I do improv?’ I light a cigarette, and I go, ‘You just gotta have it, kid,'” Middleditch said.
“And I flick it at their chest, and then I do a D-X from ’90s WWE, and then I bring in a Wolfpac from WCW, I’m doin’ em all. And then I ride away on an electric skateboard, which is pretty cool.”
All joking aside, what Middleditch and Schwartz pull off over the course of an hour-and-20-minute show is a complete story arc they create out of thin air. It involves several emotionally complex characters with interwoven storylines — and all of their inspiration comes from briefly interviewing audience members about their lives.
“In the first five minutes of the show when we’re trying to figure out what it is, we want to have it so flexible that it can be whatever it needs to be,” Middleditch said. “It can be a lot happening, where people are going up into each other buttholes to go back in time… or we can have a show that’s literally just one scene about two brothers in their beds talking about their lives before they go to sleep,” he said. “The story comes out of putting obstacles in people’s way and then concluding their paths, and then everything else is for fun.”
“We put obstacles in people’s way, and then it’s up to us to see if we can run the obstacle course of random s–t we’ve thrown out there. Cause we’ll throw out stuff that’s insane,” Schwartz added. “Sometimes it’s harder to get around, and sometimes it makes a perfect bridge to get from one to the other, and other times it’s a weird slidey thing.”
And, of course, instead of answering this interviewer’s question as to how they met, the pair made up a story on the spot involving an old painting from Schwartz’s father that had a treasure map on the back, which lead him to Middleditch’s home town of Nelson, British Columbia, at which point they ate porridge together with several dwarves and decided to go on an epic adventure.
Watch the full interview above.
All three episodes of “Middleditch & Schwartz” premiere April 21 on Netflix.