A Conversation with Jason Kravits

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A Conversation with Jason Kravits

February 26, 2018

By Chris Struck for Cabaret Scenes

Jason Kravits

In his review of Off the Top!, our Chris Struck wrote: Jason Kravits has the uncanny talent for improvising lyrics from almost anything, combined with his ability to connect those words to a specific Broadway writer…this dynamic parlor trick for thinking Off the Top of his head easily became one of the most hilarious cabaret shows imaginable.”

Jason, who won a 2017 Bistro Award, for this show, heads out on his 2018 World Tour, which kicks off at The Duplex in NYC, before heading off to shows in Los Angeles, London, Washington, D.C., and Adelaide, Australia.

Jason Kravits has been appearing on stage and on screens large and small for over 30 years. Perhaps best known for his long-running role as Richard Bay on ABC’s The Practice, he has had recurring roles on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Madam Secretary, Smash, The Michael J. Fox Show, Royal Pains, and Dallas, as well as turns on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Young Sheldon, The Mick, Kevin Can Wait, Hot in Cleveland, Grey’s Anatomy, Masters of Sex, Raising Hope, 30 Rock, Gilmore Girls, FriendsEverybody Loves Raymond and more. Film credits include Chinese Puzzle, The Stepford Wives, Sweet November, Morning Glory, and What Just Happened. On Broadway, he made a splash with his work in the hit musical comedy, The Drowsy Chaperone. Other stage credits include Sly Fox and, most recently, Relatively Speaking, three original one-acts by Ethan Coen, Elaine May, and Woody Allen. Kravits is a founding member of The Rumble in the Red Room writing collective, as well as the improv troupe Erasable, Inc., and he is a member of the Actors Center Workshop Company. 

Here’s our Conversation with Jason Kravits.

Chris Struck: Jason, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. We hear you are taking your show on a world tour. How exciting! What prompted you to take the initiative to bring your show abroad?

Jason Kravits: I brought the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last August and met a ton of people from around the world. I made connections with a lot of people in London and thought it would be fun to bring the show there, and then I was invited to perform at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival in June.

I love bringing the show to LA once a year, and I’m excited to bring it to my hometown of Washington, DC as well. Still trying to get a hold of the guy I met from Malta…

Chris: Your show is 100% improv correct? 

Jason: Yes. Aside from a loose skeleton to hang the show on (generally, what types of songs are done in what order), everything is made up on the spot. 

Chris: Do you find yourself anticipating what an audience might bring to a show, or do you find yourself mostly going in blind? 

Jason: I go in blind. It’s terrifying. But it’s actually easier than trying to plan or predict anything. Which would mean I’d have to actually REMEMBER things and then ACT like I’m improvising them.

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Exhausting to even think about.

Chris: In either case, is there a type of prep work that you find most helpful?

Jason: I’m rather picky about styles of songs, and I’m always trying to hone those to make them as authentic as possible. What makes a Sondheim song a Sondheim song? Same with Jason Robert Brown. Even in “standards” there are recurring tropes… catch phrase songs, swing songs, “location” songs —think “Autumn in New York,” eleven o’clock numbers, love ballads… I try to make each one very specific.

Chris: Performers find themselves practicing improv styles often, and sometimes find themselves participating in shows like yours at various clubs around Manhattan. When did you get your start and when did it click for you that this was something you were exceptionally good at?

Jason: I used to do improv in college and like to try my hand at it here and there. I also find that I sing around the house a lot, usually things that were just said to me… drives my family crazy. I was given an opportunity about 10 years ago to perform with a late-night show called Don’t Quit Your Night Job. Actor Steve Rosen asked me to do some musical improv with other folks in the show, and I did and realized I wasn’t too bad at it. Then my friend Tara Copeland asked me to perform one show with her UCB musical improv group in LA.

At one point in the show I found myself improvising an entire song, solo. I had no idea until that moment that I could pull that off. So I thought about expanding the idea from there.

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Chris: To follow up on that, do you have any words of wisdom for new performers on whether improv is right for them?

Jason: Improv is right for everybody. It’s just a matter of trusting that you know more than you think, and then just letting go. Not as easy as it sounds, but it’s as much a life lesson as an improv lesson.

Chris: Now that you’ve done a few shows, when you reminisce or review your own performance, is there anything that you think stands out in particular for you? For example, do you think it is more important to be laughing or sighing in agreement? I feel you’ve affected the audience in both ways.

Jason: The audience’s experience is its own. I just try to tell a fun, fulfilling story based on their suggestions. It’s a much more communal experience than a solo show. Because I use audience suggestions throughout the show — and I try to stay true to exactly what’s suggested — the audience becomes my scene partner for the night. There’s a real give and take.

Chris: To step away from the performance aspect and get more into you, as a performer, what is your favorite part of performing in a cabaret venue? What makes it unique for you?

Jason: Cabaret venues are uniquely personal. You are talking to these people at this time at this spot. You can only really be in the moment, because if you’re thinking too far ahead or dwelling on what just happened, you’ve lost them. 

Chris: Last question, what do you find the most exciting about your upcoming tour? Does it have to do with the new audiences, new places, or with the interesting things that might show up from the audience? Sounds challenging.

Jason: I’m excited to see kangaroos, really.

NYC: The Duplex NYC one Saturday per month: March 17, April 14, May 2 at 7 PM
LA: Upstairs at Vitello’s, Sunday, February 25 at 7 PM
London: Live at Zédel, April 7 at 7 PM
Washington DC: AMP By Strathmore, Saturday, June 2 at 8 PM
Adelaide, Australia: Adelaide Cabaret Festival, June 2018

For more info on Off The Top: https://www.offthetop.nyc
Off the Top YouTube: http://bit.ly/kforcomedy

Contact Jason Kravits at jaskrav@gmail.com or 310-717-5973 for more information

Chris Struck

Chris Struck's debut novel, Kennig and Gold, is due to be officially published in June 2019. He's written reviews for Cabaret Scenes since August of 2017. For more information about the writer, see StruckChris.com