October 14, 2015 by Speakers' Spotlight
Improv Couples: Matt Baram & Naomi Snieckus
A power couple of Canadian comedy, Second City Alums Naomi Snieckus and Matt Baram are the creators of The National Theatre of the World, a six-time Canadian Comedy Award winning troupe offering unique appearances and interactive workshops to help people “learn with laughter.” Whether hosting a morning conference or an evening gala, or leading training sessions that incorporate the invaluable lessons of improv, the duo is guaranteed to give your team an unforgettable, rewarding–and hilarious–experience to remember. People and Chairs caught up with them to talk about their unique brand of chemistry, both on and off the stage:
P&C: How and when did you meet?
Matt: I was just coming back from a west coast swing with the Second City Touring Company. In fact I had to leave the tour early because my mother had passed away. And at the same time, I found out that the rest of the Touring Company had been let go and replaced. And when I came back to work, I saw Naomi’s headshot on our touring manager’s desk and I was intrigued to find out who the new firecracker was. Because I knew everyone else but I didn’t know her.
Naomi: Right, because I crashed the auditions. I happened to be in town visiting friends. So you wouldn’t know me. And we ran into each other outside of Second City.
Matt: And you had told me that your-
Naomi: My grandmother passed away that morning.
Matt: And so there was an immediate um…
Matt: Right. And I told her I was going to get a coffee, did she want one?
Naomi: And I thought that was lovely. I don’t know why I was so moved.
Matt: Had anyone else asked you?
Naomi: Nobody else has ever asked me if I wanted coffee before that.
Matt: In your life?
Matt: There you go. And so there we were in front of Second City with our coffees. Both of us dealing with so much. Naomi having just moved to Toronto from Vancouver. Her grandmother just passed away. And there I was, all of my friends had just been let go and I was about to meet my new company, and my mother had just passed away.
Naomi: Little did we know, we were about to start this new chapter together. A partnership that would take us to where we are today. Baram and Snieckus.
P&C: When did you know you liked each other?
Matt: Well we started doing Main-stage and we discovered our chemistry together. We started to create more and more together until it became annoying to others in the company I’m sure.
Naomi: We began to build up this stockpile of relationship material. If there was a relationship scene at Second City from 2003 – 2006, chances are, we were in it. If someone else wanted to do a couple scene, we would come and say, no!
Matt: Yes, we would come and we would threaten them. Relationship premises was our turf.
Naomi: We slowly realized that we had gone through the entire evolution of a relationship together in the sketches we were developing.
Matt: That’s right. There was the First Date Couple, Couple Running Out Of Gas, Proposal Couple, Sleeping Together Couple, Anniversary Couple, Dominatrix Couple. We even did a sketch where we played two dogs falling in love.
Naomi: And we would spend all that time creating together. And performing together on stage. And so in a way, the audience knew that we were in love before we did.
Matt: It was a complicated time beyond belief because we were both in committed relationships. We both loved our partners deeply but we also couldn’t ignore how special our relationship was becoming. It was literally the best of times and the worst of times.
P&C: Wow. So, what’s the funniest moment you’ve had onstage together?
Matt: For me, I think it’s hard to think of the funniest moment we’ve had because we are so invested in the moments and it’s hard to step back and really enjoy them. But that being said, we also record a great deal of what we improvise for the purposes of developing our ideas further. And I can remove myself enough from the moment then and really enjoy the stuff we’re doing. And the stuff Naomi has done has made me lose it on many occasions.
There’s this one sketch that’s in the current show called “Make A Wish” where Naomi’s character is attempting to stop me from wishing aloud because it won’t come true if it’s wished aloud. And she demonstrates how to wish without speaking and it makes me howl every time.
Naomi: We used to do this show called The Carnegie Hall Show and Matt had just proposed to me the night before. And we had agreed that we weren’t going to tell anyone until we got married. I think it was Matt that insisted that. And then we were doing the intro bits and Matt says, “Uh… I proposed to her last night.” So we told our audience before we told many of our friends.
Matt: It’s weird that way. You just get so used to the audience being there for you that you end up feeling comfortable sharing everything with them.
Naomi: I’m not sure you had told your brother yet.
Matt: Still haven’t.
Naomi: Anytime you have a mustache onstage, I can’t help but laugh.
Matt: You too.
P&C: You perform together a lot. How has improv helped (or hindered) your relationship?
Naomi: We get to play a lot together. And be together more often than other couples do. Because we have this company together. Also it doesn’t surprise me that I would fall in love with an improviser. Because when you are first in love you say yes to everything. You want that person to look good. You say yes to all of their ideas. You laugh at them.
Matt: It’s not until you really feel comfortable with someone when you can really filter in the “no”s and the “you’re on your own”s and the “I’m not going to go along with that”s.
Naomi: But you still make me feel like the funniest woman in the world.
Matt: We laugh at each other a lot. And Naomi is an easy laugh.
Naomi: Are you calling me a laugh slut?
Matt: I’m saying you give good laugh.
P&C: What impact has improv had on your careers?
Naomi: I would say that because I’m an improviser and because my husband is one too, my comedy muscles are always limber. Which is good for auditions, hosting, gigs, and son on. I don’t have to gear up my funny bones to get ready all the time.
Matt: I agree and there are many gigs that require you to punch up scripts on the fly.
Naomi: We’re always punching each other up.
Matt: That sounds violent.
Naomi: It’s how we do.
Matt: You don’t talk like that.
Matt: Also we create our own work through improvisation. So it has not only been a tool for writing and collaboration but it’s also been the main focus for us for that last several years with The National Theatre of The World. Impromptu Splendor, The Carnegie Hall Show, and The Script Tease Project are all improvised premises.
P&C: What inspired your new sketch show?
Naomi: Well, Theatre Passe Muraille asked if we wanted to be a part of their Guest Company Series. And not ones to turn things down, we jumped at the chance. To have a space offered to you like that is a real gift.
Matt: And there’s no greater gift for an artist than a deadline. We basically made ourselves find the time to write and rehearse this.
Naomi: And we spent months thinking of what kind of show we wanted to do. We came up with a half a dozen improv formats we wanted to try.
Matt: But then we also realized that over the years, we’ve created so much work that evaporates into the ether. Because it’s improvisation and unrepeatable.
Naomi: So he had the idea that we build up our sketch catalogue.
Matt: And we’re always writing based on improvisations that we do in front of audiences. Based on suggestions. And recording them. And so we decided to take those kernels and flesh then out.
Naomi: And that’s when Kurt Smeaton, our director, came on the scene. He helped us flesh some things out and helped distill our sketch list down to a cool ten or so.
Matt: I mean the type of stuff he, Scotty, and Jim have been doing with Falcon Powder has inspired us for sure.
Naomi: And we have enough material for a couple of shows.
Matt: But one at a time.
Naomi: That’s right.
Matt: We hope Baram & Snieckus: You And Me Both is the first of many.
Naomi: What are some future titles we were thinking of?
Matt: Heels over Head?
Naomi: And there was the “Reunion Tour” idea.
Matt: Right after we break up and get back together.
Naomi: They’re Still Alive!
Matt: That should be a fun one.
Naomi: I hope we’re both alive.
Matt: You and Me Both.