If you’ve seen Matt Cole perform, you probably walked away impressed and a little scared. He’s a dynamo on stage — he jumps around, bounces into walls and has no fear when it comes to physicality, creating accents or even nudity.
In his last performance with his sketch comedy group, The Bright Side at the Push Comedy Theater, he performed a sketch in which he (alone) acted as multiple muppets interacting with each other. He raced across the stage and switched accents to hold an entire conversation as the Swedish Chef, Kermit, Animal and Miss Piggy.
Recent to that, I’d personally seen him perform as a stripper (in a thong), a “bubble boy” during a Nationwide commercial parody, and get smothered in fried chicken and mashed potatoes during a Sketch 101 graduation show at the Push Comedy Theater.
Cole sat down at Cogan’s pizza with us a few days ago to talk about his arts journey, what he’s doing now and what’s coming up.
“I started off as a performer doing community theater plays at the Little Theater in Virginia Beach,” he said. “Little Theater in Norfolk, Venue at 35th, etc. I went to ODU and TCC and I did theater at first, but eventually got my Bachelors in Psychology in 2009.”
Theater can take up a lot of time, which is why Cole had to take a break around 2008.
“I got a little burned out and I needed to finish a degree of some sort, which was not going to happen if I kept doing theater stuff,” he said. “It’s hard to be a student AND an actor. Some people can do it successfully, just not me.”
Cole partially regrets that break, however, as it delayed his introduction to a number of people in the theater community he calls friends now. That community, in part, includes a contingent of people who teach, take classes and perform at the Push Comedy Theater in the NEON District.
“I actually auditioned for them originally years ago (probably 2006),” Cole said. “I was really young, I couldn’t legally drink or anything. [I wasn’t cast] And then, I kept on doing community theater stuff and if you fast forward to working at EVMS (in 2011) …”
Cole works at EVMS now as a standardized patient – he’s the guy who helps train doctors.
“… The Pushers had kind of dropped off my radar. April Threet, my cofounder and producer of my group, On the Fly, was the original stage manager for the Pushers, but I wasn’t involved with them at all. So I’m at EVMS, and Brad McMurran [one of the founders of the Pushers] was there too. It’s actually funny, he was recruiting people for classes at the Muse — He enticed me by saying ‘You should check it out, there’s some really hot girls.’ I don’t want to say that he lied… but he exaggerated a bit. But, I started taking the classes.”
Cole hadn’t taken any improvisation classes previously. While he had experience with the basics (classical, mime, even scriptwriting, which he says he wasn’t very good at at the time) he hadn’t actually taken improv.
“When I was acting, it was lot of reading lines that had been written and there’s only so far you can go with that,” he said. “But when there’s improv, you get to create more. I was taking the classes and having fun and writing, still doing the community theater stuff. Slowly, it’s kind of tipped in the other way now. I do more improv, comedy, writing and directing now.”
Cole’s first group, Nerd Alert, formed during the Norfolk Comedy Festival in 2012. He joined them soon after they formed, and they were together until early this year. After, Cole and a few others created a new sketch and improv group, called The Bright Side.
Cole has been doing a lot of improv – he’s currently on house teams (Harold and short form) for the Push, performs with The Bright Side, and most recently, founded a short-form improv group called On the Fly–which, disclosure, I’m also a part of–with his former Nerd Alert member, April Threet.
“I had known April from Nerd Alert, we knew each other in passing prior,” he said. “So when Nerd Alert dissolved, there were still people I wanted to work with. And we were in sketch class together at the Push. What I like about April is that she comes from the same kind of background; she knows who she wants to work with, the general stage managing skills, theater basics. So we’re in sketch class together and I knew she was always talking [in Nerd Alert] how she wanted to do more short form improv – she had a previous group called ‘Off the Top’ and they only did short form. I wanted to work with her and help her get that show back on the stage, and I knew we worked well together. I like being busy, and I thought it was a great idea.”
Short form and long form are two different styles of improvisation- long form is what is taught in places like Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade. Long form is seldom seen on TV- it’s hard to follow and is best experienced live. Short form, however, is pretty visible to the American public – “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” began in the US in 1998 and ran through 2007, (it was renewed with a new host in 2013). If long form improvisation is like a basketball game, short form is like a game of HORSE.
Cole and Threet held auditions for On The Fly in April.
“The thing is, at auditions there was so much talent from all over. We have the best of the best. SO many of them have taken classes at the Push (over half) or were previously involved in the Panties in a Twist Show, or even are former members of Off the Top. There’s 13 of us now [including Threet and Cole].”
On the Fly is preparing for their debut show this weekend, and it’s intense. We’re currently together every weeknight, and have been meeting every weekend since auditions.
“We practice every weekend. We’re getting together and honing our skills so we can create a really high quality show,” said Cole.
With working, his group The Bright Side, performing and taking classes at the Push, and his new group On the Fly, he’s got plenty to do and lots to look forward to.
“Performing, everywhere and anywhere, anytime,” he said. “I want to do at least one show a month. It’d be nice [for On the Fly and The Bright Side] to be recognizable in the community.”
You can see Cole performing this weekend with On the Fly at the Venue on 35th (Friday and Saturday at 8 and 9:30) and the Generic Theater (Sunday at 8 pm). Event information can be found here and the group can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. On the Fly: Facebook and Instagram. The Bright Side on Facebook.