On That Time Ben Schwartz Got Jane Fonda to Join His Improv Troupe
As saccharine and schmaltzy and lazily cobbled together as This Is Where I Leave You may have been, you can’t deny the power of its amazing cast. I would rather just sit quietly in a room with that cast, watching them do nothing than watch that movie again. So this story about Ben Schwartz (who really is fantastic in that bland-ass movie) getting Jane Fonda to do improv for the first time, is extra heartwarming and feelings-inducing. Jean-Ralphio was giving an interview to Vulture when this incredible story came up.
I’ve been doing UCB, Upright Citizens Brigade, for about 11 years now, and one of the shows I do, which is my favorite one, is called Snowpants. It’s me and a bunch of old-school improvisers, people who’ve been doing it for at least ten years, so it’s usually me, Thomas Middleditch from Silicon Valley, Horatio Sanz from SNL, Zach Woods from The Office, so some arrangement of the four of us and then I get two guest stars who have never done improv before. And one of them usually has a background in comedy in some way and the other one, is someone who literally has never done improv before. So, I was doing This Is Where I Leave You and I was talking to Corey Stoll about it because Corey, who’s amazing in the movie and an amazing actor, did end up doing my show and I was talking to him and then Jane had heard about it and she talked to me about it. When I told her what the show was, she goes, “I would like to do that.” And I seriously was like, “really?!” She had the best line. I don’t know how old she is, she looks like she’s frickin’ only 45, which is insane because I know she’s older than that, but she said, “At my age, you can’t get comfortable with things, you have to do things that scare you, that push you or what’s the reason of doing stuff?” And I was like, “oh my God, that’s so brilliant and smart.” And she goes, “this scares me and it sounds like fun and I would love to try it.”
This was one of the easiest people to ask to do the show because she was so into it and then once she got there she was backstage and she said she was nervous but she wanted to do it. I mean, the woman has accomplished everything. She’s written a million books, she’s been an icon, she’s acted, she’s produced, she’s won every award, and it’s pretty extraordinary that she, because it’s not filmed, it’s for a 100-person, punk-rock-type comedy venue and she just wanted to push herself, she just wanted to try something that she’d never done before and that made her a little bit scared and what a cool mantra for life. Man, what a cool moment when I introduce Jane Fonda and you’re unsure if the audience — who is mostly 20-year-olds or early 30-year-olds and a very cool comedy crowd that understands improv — how they’re going to receive her and she comes out and they go bananas. And they appreciate her, they love her, they cheer for her when she through these big moves and she took risks onstage and they all paid off.
And yeah, that’s Paul F. Tompkins crouched in the corner. So it’s good to know what the best night of my life could have looked like.
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