Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Interview: The Groundlings' Michael Churven Throws It All In To Keep Grounded in The U.S.A

pixeltracker

The Groundlings’ latest Friday/Saturday night show A GROUNDLING ON ELM STREET began previews back on The Groundlings stage live September 18th

BWW Interview: The Groundlings' Michael Churven Throws It All In To Keep Grounded in The U.S.A

The Groundlings' latest Friday/Saturday night show A GROUNDLING ON ELM STREET began previews back on The Groundlings stage live September 18, 2021.

Had the chance to chat with one of The Groundlings hilarious company members, the always funny Michael Churven on his Groundlings history, his tendency to slip into his Australian drawl, and his Superman stint that kept Ed O'Neill breaking up.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Michael!

My pleasure! Thank you for having me.

What cosmic comedy forces first brought you into The Groundlings universe?

The first time I ever saw a Groundling perform was on the British version of the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? when Karen Maruyama was in the cast. She was side-splittingly hilarious, and I promised myself that if I ever made it from Australia to Los Angeles, I would make a beeline for The Groundlings. When I finally did make it to Los Angeles and saw a show at The Groundlings for the first time, it was love at first sight!

BWW Interview: The Groundlings' Michael Churven Throws It All In To Keep Grounded in The U.S.A How long did you perform with The Groundlings before you were promoted to Main Company Member?

My first class in Basic Improv was with the amazing Kevin Berntson in 2011 and I was invited into the Main Company in 2016, so I trained for five years in total.

Did you start writing your own sketches right away? Or did you begin by supporting your fellow Groundlings' sketches?

The skill we hone at The Groundlings is to write your own character-based sketches that you will perform in. So you start writing your own sketches right away in the Writing Lab and Advanced Lab levels at The Groundlings School. It's an exhilarating process because the aim is to write something that only you can perform and that you have as much fun as possible doing in front of a live audience.

Do you have a notebook or tape recorder to note the crazy, normal events of the day as possible sketch subjects?

Absolutely! I have a notebook, an audio recording app on my phone, and I surreptitiously take pictures and videos of people on my phone's camera that all serve as inspiration for creating characters or moments between people that can be the seed for a sketch. They are all just little snippets and I do it all from a distance so hopefully no one knows that they're being recorded! But you never ever know where the next piece of inspiration is going to come from, and you have to record it or it disappears from your mind. Most if not all my best characters come from observing real people and relationships.

BWW Interview: The Groundlings' Michael Churven Throws It All In To Keep Grounded in The U.S.A When did you become a Groundlings teacher?

I first started teaching in 2016, shortly after being invited into the Main Company.

Was it your idea to teach a Groundlings workshop at 16th St. Actors Studio in your home country?

Not at first. 16th Street Actors Studio already had a great relationship with The Groundlings because an incredible founding member of The Groundlings Phyllis Katz had previously taught there. I happened to be back in Melbourne one year and the opportunity came up to teach while I was there, so it was a happy accident, but now whenever I go back to Australia, I love to let 16th Street Actors Studio and other improv and theater schools in Australia know that I'll be there because I love to bring The Groundlings style of improv and sketch to Australia. I think Australians have such a relaxed and playful attitude towards improvisation and characters. Australians just love to take the piss, so The Groundlings style works extremely well with the Australian sense of humor.

Do you slip into your Australian drawl whenever you're with your fellow Aussies?

Yes, and I love it. And it's not just the accent. When I'm back in Australia teaching or performing, suddenly I have access to a whole vocabulary that I can't really use in the U.S. because no one would know what the hell I'm saying. So, it's a joy to let all those references and cultural allusions fly.

BWW Interview: The Groundlings' Michael Churven Throws It All In To Keep Grounded in The U.S.A What spurred you into coming to the U.S. in the early 2000s?

The adventure. And I wanted to be in a place where there was a critical mass of improv and sketch theaters that I could really dig into. I'm still on my adventure decades later.

Who were your comedy idols growing up?

In the early 90s, there was a TV show in Australia called Fast Forward. It only ran for four seasons but it's probably the best sketch comedy show to ever come out of Australia, and every episode is burned on my brain. The performers were brilliant: Steve Vizard, Jane Turner, Gina Riley, Magda Szubanski (the three of whom went on to do Kath & Kim), Marg Downey, Michael Veitch, Peter Moon. They were like the Australian Saturday Night Live and I still feel inspired by them.

How old were you when you decided you wanted to be on stage?

I think I saw a blank stage at a shopping mall when I was six and instinctively got up on it.

What is the one thing a teacher or director told you that you adhere to to this day?

BWW Interview: The Groundlings' Michael Churven Throws It All In To Keep Grounded in The U.S.A I had Jim Rash as my director in Writing Lab at the Groundlings, and he had this extraordinary way of taking simple information and making it hilarious when it was put through the lens of a character. I remember thinking, "Oh, you don't have to push the information and write witty dialogue. If you just write something simple and truthful, the characters and the relationship and the emotion can take care of the comedy."

Your "Breakfast in Bed" sketch in GROUNDLINGS ROYAL WEDDING had me holding my sore stomach from all the laughter your non-verbal reactions caused. Do you have an especially favorite sketch that you wrote that went exceptionally well beyond your wildest imaginations?

Thanks! I wrote 'Breakfast in Bed' with Patty Guggenheim, and I love writing with her because we tend to write these intense relationship sketches together that don't need much dialogue. Probably my favorite sketch is called 'Jazz' about a man who is performing a variety show celebrating jazz at the Hampton Inn when suddenly in the middle of his act he can't get the lid on his CD player to close. It's another sketch with minimal dialogue and it's a fun character to play because he's really going through a tough moment but has to sing and dance through it which gets the audience on board. When I first started writing the sketch, all I knew was that I had a busted old boom box from Goodwill, but I've since performed the sketch at The Groundings and at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal. I could never have predicted that!

BWW Interview: The Groundlings' Michael Churven Throws It All In To Keep Grounded in The U.S.A In GROUNDLINGS HALLOWEEN, you closed the show with "Song Improv." Channeling The Doors' Jim Morrison, you wonderfully sing an improv-ed version of "This Is the End," topping off your rocker act with gymnastic flips and tumbles. Is gymnastics one of your special skills on your resume? What other special skills do you have?

Yes, I love to throw in gymnastics whenever I can because it's so surprising to the audience if you can make it organic to the scene. You have to throw whatever you can at it to make the audience laugh! Ball skills, juggling, pratfalls, none of which I can do! But I love to sing and dance, so those are skills I love to throw at it.

Any plans for a new edition of THE GALE?

Yes, I'm hoping THE GALE comes back soon. Chris Eckert does an amazing job of directing that show so I'm excited for the new edition.

Would you share some good memories of your Superman stint on Modern Family?

BWW Interview: The Groundlings' Michael Churven Throws It All In To Keep Grounded in The U.S.A It was such a juicy line that the writers had written for my character and when we came to rehearse it with me dressed up as this sad classically trained actor in a Superman costume doing a kids party, Ed O'Neill kept breaking. The writers had fun with the character and brought him back several more times to place him with the other families on the show, so it was such a joy to play such a sad man several times in the Modern Family world!

Thank you again, Michael! I look forward holding my sore stomach again with you on stage.

My pleasure! Thank you and see you at The Groundlings.

For tickets to the live performances of A GROUNDLING ON ELM STREET through November 20, 2021; log onto www.groundlings.com


Related Articles View More Los Angeles Stories

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

From This Author Gil Kaan