Jethro and Kristy Nolen are the Creative Directors at Arcade Comedy Theater. They perform as the improv duo “Dinner with the Nolens” and are a married couple IRL. Given said experience, I posed some questions to the Nolens about love and comedy.
How long have you both been doing improv?
Kristy: I started to take classes at the Second City in 1994. I started teaching improv in 1996. Since then I’ve mainly taught and performed in Chicago, L.A., Amsterdam, and now Pittsburgh. So, in 2019 it will be 25 years.
Jethro: 25 years. I started at college (Texas A&M) before moving to Chicago.
How long have you been married?
Kristy: We were married right here in Pittsburgh in 2002.
Jethro: Although it seems longer.
Did you meet doing improv?
Kristy: We did. I was invited to come join an improv team by a woman who quit two weeks later. I could immediately tell it was a very talented group, so I just kept showing up, and luckily they didn’t kick me out.
Jethro: Actually, before that, Kristy was on another team with a college buddy of mine. We met at a bar after the show briefly. But our first regular contact was when she joined the team that I was on.
Kristy: He loves to remind me that I don’t remember meeting him at the bar. The bar, The Gingerman, is still around and so are we.
Do you think your natural romantic chemistry gives you an advantage as a comedy duo?
Kristy: I think chemistry either on stage or on screen is about one person being “all in” for the other person, fully listening, fully supporting, fully engaging and not being so totally focused on themselves. If I wasn’t performing with my husband, I’d be in the front row cheering, because I’m his biggest fan. People really appreciate the comedy we are creating but the chemistry part is watching the delight in playing with your partner and vice versa. I’m entertained by his performance as much as the audience. I think that energy draws the watcher in.
One of the things we talk about when teaching improv is the idea of group mind, being on the same page when you are performing, knowing what your partner is going to do before they do it. This kind of ensemble work can only be achieved when you’ve worked and played together for a long while and when you really care about your stage partner. It makes for great improv and great shows. And a great marriage.
Jethro: Everything Kristy said is right about chemistry, but for me it was our comedic chemistry that gave us an advantage as a romantic duo. We knew and performed together for a while before we ever started dating. After a while, it got more intimate. I think two people being into one another, whether from a comedic or romantic perspective, is generally a positive. It’s also way more fun being married to someone who can make you laugh every day.
Explain “Dinner with the Nolens” for someone who's never heard of it.
Jethro: Four people jump off a cliff and build a plane on the way down. Four great comedic performers go out on stage with no idea about what will happen next, get a single word from the audience for inspiration, and just create. Magically, it always works. It’s engaging, challenging, and funny. It’s the most urgently present experience I’ve ever been a part of.
Also, Irony City is our opening act; they are a fantastic group that has been performing in Pittsburgh for 10-plus years. They are phenomenal.
Kristy: The show is the part the audience sees. We really do take our improv guests out to dinner before the curtain goes up to get to know them better and catch up over a meal. Downtown Pittsburgh’s restaurant scene is exploding with awesomeness, and we fully take advantage of what’s just a short walk from the theater. Grab dinner or a drink before the show … you may run into us!
Any upcoming shows the good people of Pittsburgh should know about?
Jethro: Thanksgiving with The Nolens is at Arcade Comedy Theater on Wednesday, Nov. 21 at 8 pm. It’s chock full of our favorite people to play with. You will want seconds. Plus, you can avoid your family by hanging out with ours.
Kristy: And we’d love to see you at two of the Arcade’s longest running and most loved improv shows: “Dinner with the Nolens” and “The Arcade Hootenanny.”