Improv veteran and recent performer in Wayne Brady’s Making %@it Up Matt Donnelly is throwing his hat back into the Las Vegas improv comedy ring with a unique new show playing July 20 and 21 at The Town Square Theater. Matt Donnelly's Celebrity Tarot Lounge will blend comedy, mystery, improv and a key Las Vegas ingredient: celebrity secrets.
Teller of Penn & Teller, prop comedian Carrot Top and Neil Gaiman, author of Coraline and the Sandman series, will all step up to the stage for tarot card readings from Donnelly, which will spin off into improvisational sketches. Guest improvisers include James Asmus, writer for the X-Men series, and Kristen Schaal from HBO’s Flight of the Conchords and The Daily Show.
How did you come up with the concept for the Tarot Lounge?
When I was younger, I was doing a show called the Neutrino Video Project in Scotland. So, we were in Edinburgh and I went into this old bookshop and I picked up a [tarot] deck and a book. I was just curious. I put the idea away for a while. In New York City, what was happening was a lot of shows that were just improvised but had no hook were dying out…I needed my own hook, and I was going through my stuff and I stumbled upon my old tarot deck and my old book.
How did you decide to include Neil Gaiman in the celebrities whose tarot cards you’ll read?
I just wanted people whose names would be recognized. Even though Neil Gaiman isn’t widely recognized, his fans, if you do know who he is, you love him. Neil Gaiman is so prolific in his areas of expertise. I came to know Neil Gaiman not from reading his work, but from directing a talk show called The Comic Book Club, which was all about comic books… I had only read Batman as a little kid, and everyone said to read The Sandman For me, to have someone who is prolific in his own art, you can’t go wrong. It’s going to make for an engaging interview and tarot reading.
How long have you been with the Wayne Brady show and are you still there?
I did the show for six weeks. I’m not still there. It was never official that I was there. He called me his “experiment.” I went and auditioned for him and he liked me, but ultimately he just does a two-man improv show with a guy he has been working with for 15 years.
What was that audition like?
It was great. Wayne is a really approachable guy. He takes a lot of pride in his work. He ran the whole audition himself. He started out with about 40 improvisers and it got narrowed down to four. Then he said he was going to make his decision from there. He gave me a shot about three weeks later. He told me to come in one day; he told me to come in the next day, and he just told me to keep coming in. It was very casual, but I learned a lot from him, which made me much more ambitious to get a show going in Vegas myself. It was just a very fun experience.
How would you describe the rush you get from doing live shows?
It’s a thrill. It feels like a mental high wire act of sorts. When you’re in the groove it feels like what you’re doing is quite simple, and when it goes wrong you really feel the danger of it. One of the best things about doing improv, in particular, is it is usually done in a theatrical environment and the intimacy you have with the people who are in the room.
How does improv compare to your other theatrical experiences?
When I was younger, a little hotshot, I just loved performing and being funny. As I get older, it’s more about connecting with the audience and things like that. Because you’re going to do it – and you’re going to hope it’s great – and then you’re going to throw it away forever. It’s one of the only forms of theater that’s really just about the people who show up that night.
What is your role with the actual performance aspect of the Tarot Lounge?
I am a host and a performer. … It’s scene based. We are going to be doing a lot of rapid-fire scenes. It’s more like a really good episode of Saturday Night Live than Whose Line is it Anyway?
What will the celebrities’ roles be in all of this?
I’m going to hold out a deck of tarot cards, and they’re going to draw a card. We’re going to read them the meaning of that card; we’re not going to divine them ourselves. It’s really a cool way to ask celebrities a question about themselves that might not typically come up in a regular interview. Rather than get a broad introduction of any celebrity, the tarot card is going to force us to go to a very specific area of that celebrity’s life. We will not – we refuse as improvisers – arrange any kind of prep for the tarot.