Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Exclusive Interview with John Murray of Springsteen Prov



We are excited to present our exclusive interview with John Murray, the man behind Springsteen Prov. We mentioned John last year (along with his interview in none other than Esquire; he was also covered in Rolling Stone) when he debuted Springsteen Prov at the 15th annual Del Close Marathon in New York City. For those who aren’t familiar, the Del Close Marathon (DCM) is an annual improv festival where NYC’s premier improv theater Upright Citizens Brigade hosts three days of non-stop improv featuring performers from across the country.

John and his group of Bruce acolytes reprised Springsteen Prov this past weekend at the 16th annual Del Close Marathon. Read on for our exclusive interview, video from the performance and the full roster of performers.



Legends of Springsteen: What is your earliest Springsteen memory?

John Murray: My earliest Springsteen memory is listening to my uncle's cassette tape of Born in the USA. This was probably when it came out in '84 or the year after. I loved the album so much I made my Dad take me to a Bradleys (Remember those stores? Anybody?). They didn't have it, so my Dad got Greetings and Billy Joel's Greatest Hits. I didn't take to Greetings, it sounded so different from Born in The USA I couldn't understand it (Everyone cut me some slack I was six, I've come around to Greetings since.) We got Born in the USA the following week and the rest is history.

LOS: What is your favorite Springsteen song?

JM: This is a tough one. I'm not sure I can name a specific favorite but I feel like I usually lean towards the more depressing songs. Don't get me wrong I love the stadium anthems and the party songs but it's the quieter songs that usually hit me the hardest. There's an intimacy to them, when Bruce explores emotional pain he really brings you on the journey. So I'd say "One Step Up," "New York City Serenade," "Wages of Sin," "The Losing Kind" (wish this one was released on Tracks, great song) & "County Fair." Just to name a few.

LOS: What is your least favorite Springsteen song (if you had to pick)?

JM: You're just going to have to shoot me, I'm not answering this question. :)

LOS: Do you have a favorite Springsteen concert memory?

JM: I have a collective favorite memory. I've seen the Boss five times in five very different ways. Let me list them:

A Christmas Show at the Asbury Convention Center
MSG Playing all of The River
At the Apollo Theater being interviewed by Elvis Costello for Spectacle
A tour rehearsal at the Asbury Convention Center for the Working On Dream Tour
On the floor of MSG for the Wrecking Ball Tour

All of these different shows have stories and memories to why they’re important to me. For example for the Wrecking Ball show I waited in line all day. When I got into the show I was general admission and got to touch The Boss. Amazing, right? But that's just one memory, I wouldn't put it over any of the others. Like that Christmas show is important to me cause we were invited to that after my Dad died. It was something Bruce was doing for 9/11 victim's families. This is just a long way of me saying what I said at the top: all the concerts are great and full of awesome memories.

LOS: How did you get the idea to do Springsteen Prov? Is there anything in particular about Bruce as an artist that makes it a fit for this art form?

JM: My good friend and fellow improviser Brian Barrett (now the editor and chief of Gizmodo) and I used to joke that we should do a DCM show of bunch Bruce Springsteens performing. I could never figure out a hook but Brian was always encouraging me to submit. Last year I said, "Ah screw it, I'll submit it and figure it out." It got in and was a hit. (Sadly Brian has yet to be in it, he's too busy.) It's actually ridiculous that I sat on the idea for so long because the whole Springsteen ideology is perfect for DCM. Bruce's live shows and music are very much about bringing people together to have a good time and build something cathartic. That's what improv and DCM are all about as well, it's a time for the improv community to come together. Springsteen Prov is just an incarnation of the greater theme of DCM.

LOS: Having performed Springsteen Prov at Del Close Marathon twice now, did you notice any difference in the audience response between the two years?

JM: I would say the biggest difference was there was more of interest in participating this year than last. No one knew what it was last year. I had people asking me to be part of this year because either they saw it last year or heard about it from last year. As for the actual audience response, the audience gets to come up on stage and dance, then do scenes with us. So the response for both years is pretty positive because they're part of the show. If you're not having fun at Springsteen Prov, you only have yourself to blame.

LOS: Improv is all about specificity and details. Were you ever concerned your Bruce references would get too esoteric? How do you balance it enough to make it appeal to non-fans?

JM: Here's the thing, I feel like people have enough of general idea who Bruce Springsteen is and what he stands for. Those general ideas (like: "Fighting for the Working Man") are specific enough to build scenes. Our suggestion from the audience this year was "Unemployment Line". People get the show and are on the same page.

LOS: Was there a certain Springsteen reference that you were most proud of slipping into the set?

JM: Getting to do the call and response with the audience. You know what I mean, "NEW YORK CITY!!" crowd screams "YOU WANT'EM TO HEAR YOU IN JERSEY RIGHT? NEW YORK CITY!! crowd screams louder. It feels pretty awesome to be able to hype a crowd up like that, it makes ya understand why Springsteen is still doing shows at 64.

LOS: There's a popular Salon article that says millennials hate Bruce Springsteen, yet UCB audiences skew young. Were you concerned about the reaction you'd get? Did people see this act as paying a playful tribute to Bruce? Or lampooning him? And do you think there is any truth to millennials hating Bruce?

JM: Well first off I'm uncomfortable with that language because it generalizes, which I'm not a big fan of doing to people. I can only go off of my experience of doing this show and what I've run into the most is people just not being familiar with Springsteen's music. So it's been tons of fun when people ask me, "What should I listen to before the show to get ready?" I'm able to drop a huge list of songs and maybe get some people interested in the music. As for lampooning, that's not really what the show is about, it’s more a celebration. We're really trying to do comedy through the viewpoint of Bruce's music. Improv in general isn't about going for a quick joke, it's about commitment and bringing comedy to the scene by being truthful. Everyone who participated in the show is a committed Bruce Springsteen trying to do a scene.

LOS: How has Springsteen influenced your work outside of Springsteen Prov?

JM: Ah man, how hasn't he? I mean I'm 35 years old and started going to go to the gym regularly this year cause I read that's what Springsteen did when he was 35. My interpretation of Bruce's work and from what I can see of what he does as a person is to try and be helpful and understanding of others. That matches up with my own sense of self, which probably explains why I'm such a huge fan.

LOS: What else are you working on? Anything else coming up?

JM: Right now I'm shooting a web series with a friend Geoff Garlock. It's a web series about being married and being in your 30s. I'm always doing improv every Saturday at 9 p.m. at UCB with Death By Roo Roo. My sketch team Stone Cold Fox is always cooking up something new. In July, I'll have been hosting a show out in Williamsburg called Low Standards for a year. Low Standards is a show where we get stand ups to do a set then talk to us about their favorite bad movies. I'm gonna be on some podcast coming out. I'm always busy. Here's my website so everyone can keep up with what's going on with me: http://thejohnmurray.com



DCM 16 SpringsteenProv Cast:
John Murray, Connor Ratliff, Erik Tanouye, Brandon Gulya, Ben Rameaka, Casey Miko, Hannah Blechman, Maggie Maxwell, Mark Dowling, Jonathan Murray, Michael Drosos, Zeke Smith, Matthew Mancini, Ashley Medeiros, Orlando Olier, Mark Ledgerwood, Partrick Reidy, Kelley Quinn, Rafael Suero, David Greenslade, Chris Zalis, Matt Rubano, Jason Dewall, Chelsea Grogan, Courtney Cresap, Shenovia Large, Lisa Tanisawa, Chris Stewart, Michelle Pastor, Nicole Adsit, Joe Guzzardo, Richard Krysztoforski, Chris Schell, Julien Darmoni, Marisa Bramwell, Suzie Cho, Jeremy Chao, Par Juneja, James McCarthy, Ken McGraw Jr., Meg Shah, Matthew Mancini, Jillian Richardson, Sam De Roest, Jenna Short, Lauryn Torch, Stephanie VanDuinen, Alex Adan, Andy Bustillos.



Springsteen Prov from John Murray on Vimeo.

Video Credits: Ken Beck, Connor Ratliff, Denis Cardineau