Local Comedy Spotlight: DeMuth & Teeters at The Nest Theatre
Veteran improv comedy performers Joe Teeters and Jonathan DeMuth will take the stage at The Nest Theatre for two shows on December 1 and 28
Improv comedy in Columbus may indeed be approaching a halcyon. For those that love the genre, and for those who have yet to discover it, the opportunities to see strong, ambitious performances in our city are plentiful.
Even sweeter is when two talented improv veterans come together and pour their experience into a new partnership. Enter Jonathan DeMuth and Joe Teeters, who have become featured performers at The Nest Theatre in Franklinton, the same venue where the duo first met over a year ago.
“I had been doing improv for the last nine years in New York City,” DeMuth explains. “And then there was a big life moment change where we had a second child, and my wife and I were, like, ‘You know, maybe it’s not destined for us to live a life in a one-bedroom apartment with very minimal square footage with two kids, and then not have a lot of life but pay a lot of rent.’ So, both of our families are in the Columbus area, and we looked at it as an option and decided this was the place to go.”
DeMuth had been a regular performer at The Magnet Theatre in NYC with renowned improv troupes Sexy Baby and North Coast. Finding a home on stage in Columbus went hand-in-hand with his transition.
“The first thing I decided to do was to scope the scene out here and see what it had going on. I reached out to a couple of people in New York who had met a few people through improv festivals and the like, and I got a lot of forwards to Tara [DeFrancisco] and Rance [Rizzutto]. The day I moved here, I started a 101 class at The Nest, and Joe was my teacher. And throughout the class we got along and we started talking about our shared improv experiences.”
Teeters has been a fixture of Columbus improv for decades, appearing on multiple stages on his own and in collaborations with other players at MadLab, Columbus Unscripted, Hashtag Comedy, and Improv Wars. His partnership with DeMuth, however, has been a new frontier.
“Over the course of I don’t know how many months that went on, we kept talking and saying, ‘We need to do something.’ And I don’t know that either one of us had the intention of, you know, being a permanent duo, necessarily. But we jumped up and did an Improv Wars [show], and I think that was our first…? I’d been doing improv for 20 years, and the only other duo stint I’d done was with my friend George Caleodis, who I’d started doing improv with years ago. He and I performed some here and there.
But once Jonathan and I played together, it was the first time I’d been in a duo situation when it just clicked. I feel so comfortable with Jonathan on stage. And I feel comfortable with a lot of people on stage — I think I can perform with most anyone and I enjoy performing, but the connection I find with Jonathan…I feel the most free I’ve felt on stage improvising.”
“For me, the feeling is very similar,” DeMuth affirms. “It’s hard to describe, but…the way it feels is that you don’t have to take care of your scene partner. You can just perform and let the show happen. You don’t have to think about what comes next, you’re in the moment and you’re just responding. And that’s what they teach you in whatever [improv class] level you take, and you’re always, like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it.’
But when you actually are in that type of show with that type of performer, and you actually have that serendipitous feeling of ‘Whatever happens on stage is going to be fine because we’re going to figure it out together,’ it’s worry-free improv, if that makes sense.”
Successful improv shows and concepts are built around positive connections between players, which, according to Teeters, is even stronger when those relationships are personal.
“The trust gets spilled out into a broader relationship, a friendship. I’ve known Jonathan for a year now. There’s so much in performance where I think ego kind of gets in the way. We all know each other as improvisers, as performers, but we don’t know each other as people. And I’m guilty of it as well — of being ‘on,’ right? Performing as a performer, if you will. But if you can actually become friends with someone, and be yourself with someone, that carries forward onto the stage when you’re playing.”
DeMuth agrees. “With Joe, after doing a bunch of other duo shows in New York, the listening that I get from [him] is something I’ve never gotten from other duo partners. Joe’s never there to only perform or to speak for himself, he’s always there for both of us. And that’s something that’s pretty special.”
“I can look across [the stage] at Jonathan’s eyes,” Teeters interjects, “or even not look at him at all. We did one entire scene without even looking at each other at all. We were playing at entirely opposite sides of the stage, but we were still very much connected.”
Even with exceptional chemistry, improv players are still prone to the unpredictable turns a show can take when there’s no script to fall back on. But there’s skill — and joy — in working together to overcome the challenges of a scene that goes awry.
“We all screw up,” says Teeters. “But that’s part of improv. Screw-ups happen. But I know that if I [do], we’re going to be able to recover together…”
“They’re happy accidents,” DeMuth interjects. “Mistakes are gifts.”
Jonathan DeMuth and Joe Teeters perform as DeMuth & Teeters at The Nest Theatre (894 W. Broad St. in Franklinton) on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 9:30 p.m., and Thursday, Dec. 20 at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance, and $12 at the door on show night, and are available here.