If you’ve spent enough time in Milwaukee, you’ve probably seen Tim Higgins. The humorist has been teaching and performing improv at ComedySportz since 1992. He’s dabbled in stand-up and acting. Perhaps he’s served as your tour guide at MKE Brewing. All those avenues failing, maybe you’re among the more than two million people who have seen him passing/receiving cans of Old Milwaukee in elaborate and altogether hilarious fashion in a pair of viral videos.
This week alone will be a testament to Higgins’ comedic diversity, as he’ll flex his improvisational muscles at Thursday night’s Voyager show at ComedySportz, then have a short film he’s featured in screen at Oriental Theatre during Sunday night’s Milwaukee Show I. Before both events, Milwaukee Record asked Higgins about his improv background, his thoughts on acting, and how he landed the Old Milwaukee “Pass Me A Beer” ad campaign.
Milwaukee Record: You’re a regular at ComedySportz. What are the shows you’re involved with there?
Tim Higgins: I started at ComedySportz then became part of the Midnight Show in 2001, and now Voyager. That’s what I do improv-wise. Oh, and Milwaukee Secrets through the new Mojo Dojo project.
MR: Okay, so doing some mental math here, if you’ve been at ComedySportz since 2001, you’ve essentially been there for about half of its existence.
TH: Actually, I started there in ’92.
MR: Oh man! What has the evolution been since then, both with that place and the overall local comedy consciousness?
TH: It’s been around for 31 years, and still some people in this town don’t know what it is. Milwaukee is small, but still big enough for things to fall of the radar sometimes. It started with Dick Chudnow and has just been a steady evolution of players coming through. Ian Roberts from Upright Citizens Brigade had a year or two at the Milwaukee ComedySportz.
MR: I’m sure you’ve had experiences with Rob Schrab and Dan Harmon too.
TH: I got to take tickets at Dead Alewives shows and with the Scud comic book, I was out in Pasadena right before they moved out there, so I got to hang with them out there. Basically, I was down on my luck and was like, “I’ll clean your house and help you ship comic books.” It was a lot of fun. I ended up really fortunate to have been a part of that group and see them grow vast amounts.
MR: To backtrack a bit, you mentioned Voyager earlier. I interviewed [Tyler] Menz about the show right before the first show. It’s essentially melding stand-up with improv, right? Doing a scene in response to someone’s stand-up set?
TH: Somewhat, yes. Ideas are cultivated from each stand-up’s 15-minute set. Improvisors watch and if an idea strikes, they can go ahead with it. It’s not directly moving on the stand-ups bits themselves, but it’s along the style of long-form improv.
MR: Why do you think it’s important that there is a marriage between the usually divergent improv and stand-up scenes? It seems like lately there are more things combining elements of both styles.
TH: Yeah, I think it’s awesome. I started stand-up, like, 15 or so years ago and it’s scary as fuck, then also it’s not. At first, I didn’t really understand the genius of it or what you need to put in to become a successful comedian in stand-up. I still do it few and far between, where I’ll do it once every two years or so. I’ve found that with improv can aid stand-up comedy and with stand-up comedy, you can get jokes with improvising and going back and expanding on what’s good. There’s no reason there should be any rift.
MR: Not at all affiliated with improv or anything, you’re in another show this weekend. You’re in Milwaukee Show I with a role in The Life & Times Of Thomas Thumb Jr. What is your role in that and how did that come about?
TH: I am Choo Choo Charlie, the owner of a bounce house emporium. I am the boss of Tom Thumb. I’m a very goofy, animated, slightly psychotic children’s playland owner. Kids have to follow the rules or else I’ll just scream at them. That came about because I taught workshops to the director, Ryan Fox, decades ago at ComedySportz. He just reached out to me out of the blue and asked if I would be interested in it.
MR: Assuming it was scripted, was it tough as an improvisor to adjust to a more rigid format?
TH: No. I’ve done a lot of theater and I love legitimate theater. That’s how I started in high school. It’s a completely different muscle you have to work. I’ve been yelled at long ago for trying to improvise everything. It’s like, people wrote this. Pay them respect to their words. But I love it because there’s repetition, which helps me become more patient with everything that I do.
MR: Maybe less legitimate film work, but a lot of our readers might recognize you from the Old Milwaukee “Pass Me A Beer” viral ads. Was that your idea?
TH: No. I was, once again, brought on by a former student, Jack Packard. I taught him in the high school leagues for ComedySportz, and we’ve stayed close for all these years. I’ve helped him with other little projects before, so he called me and said, “Hey would you be interested in throwing some beers to another guy off trampolines?” The “Pass Me A Beer” thing is so crazy because we did it so long ago. It’s like five years old, but it still comes up on Facebook and still gets shared in different parts of the country. It’s so weird. I like doing film work because you have something to remember it by. With improv, once that shit’s done, I don’t remember it because I had to think of other shit. Something with that longevity that’s made Reddit’s front page and was on Huffington Post, it’s neat.
Tim Higgins will perform as part of Voyger at ComedySportz on Thursday, September 24. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. and costs $5. He’s also featured in The Life & Times Of Thomas Thumb Jr., which is part of Milwaukee Film Festival’s Milwaukee Show I screening at Oriental Theatre on Sunday, September 27 at 8 p.m.