Mike Mongiardi on improv and Toronto’s podcasting community

We’re at the Fox & Fiddle in Greektown. We’re drinking gin martinis that are, in my opinion, very bad. How’s yours?
Uh, it’s fine. I’m not blown away either. But I don’t drink martinis super often so when I do, it’s like a nice treat. I’m not a martini expert like you are.

[Laughs] Oh, right. Well anyway, let’s get into it! You’re very active in the Toronto podcasting scene.
Yes, I would say so. I have a show called That’s How I Remember It with three of my best improv buddies in Toronto: Sharjil Rasool, John Richardson and Raul Delgado.


What’s the show about?
Have you ever seen that Michel Gondry movie Be Kind, Rewind? The premise of that movie is they own a video rental store and there’s some kind of electromagnetic storm that wipes out all their tapes so they need to remake the movies. They need to make their own versions of them. And I think that’s where John got the inspiration for the show.

So, basically, you guys improvise what you remember a movie being about. And it’s absolutely never correct. It derails…
…immediately. Yeah. The way we describe it to people is sort of like “we improvise a dumber version of that movie”. Dumber in the sense of we’re just dumb dumb-dumbs dumbin’ around. But we’re using the movie as inspiration. So we’ll take iconic characters or scenes or ideas/themes from the movie and weave that into our own narrative but, yes, often it is very much derailed from the real narrative. We realised early on we had to drop all ideas of following the original narrative because that’s when it stops being fun. Find your own story, find your own narrative. There’s still something satisfying about throwing in an iconic quote. Like if we’re doing Terminator, someone at some point is going to say “I’ll be back” and there will be robots and time travel. We still follow the basic themes.

Tell me about the other hosts, your friends.
Sharjil is one of my closest friends. I met him on my first day of improv class at Second City in 2010. He’s now on Second City Mainstage so he’s the famous one. He’s the celebrity of our group.
John—we’ve also been friends for a long time. I’ve known him just about as long as Sharjil. John came up with the name of our troupe—The Nice Guys. The three of us actually started the podcast together.
We didn’t introduce Raul until later. We had him on as a guest in episode 8 or something. We did Die Hard. Then, we got a letter from a fan… (I hate the word fan)…We got a letter from a listener which was really glowingly positive about that episode in particular. So, since we all liked Raul and Raul does great impressions [Mike kisses his fingers like an Italian chef], we decided to invite him to host the show permanently.

His impressions are like a spicy meatball. Mwah.
Exactly! You get it.

When did you start the show?
In 2013. At Christmas-time. So we’ve been going for—what is that? 5 years now? Oh my god, that’s crazy. I never really thought about it like that.

Time flies when you’re having fun!
Yeah, time flies, and dammit, I’m having fun!

What’s a good episode for new listeners to start with? Or your favourite episode?
Um, they’re all very good. [Laughs]. Just kidding, I don’t mean that. “They’re all great!” [Laughs].
A great episode to start with is “The Sandlot” with Jess Bryson as the guest (the academy director at Bad Dog Theatre). Jess is incredible, and the episode was so dumb and fun and it all came together in a very wild and satisfying way. So that’s a great place to start.
I would say we have definitely gotten better at it, but, I also look back at our earlier episodes with a very nostalgic view. I just remember us hanging out in John’s basement and recording some dumb shit and it was so much fun. I miss that feeling where nothing really mattered.
Now we have to get a podcast out every week and we have advertisers and we have to make sure we can all get together. Before it was like we would hang out all day. Just drinking and doin’ pods.

Well, even in the newer episodes it definitely still sounds like a bunch of friends hanging out and having fun.
Yeah, I guess I’m saying when I think of my favourite episodes I think of earlier ones. We are still very close friends. It’s different now but we still all hang out aside from doing the podcast and it’s great.
Let me just stuff my face with this pig anus.

Right, I should explain that we’re eating pig anuses.
They’re deep fried so it’s fine. You deep fry anything and it’s great.

Yeah, they taste just like calamari.

Anyway, my favourite podcasts tend to be improv-based. Improv seems to make for the most fun shows. For me, anyway.
Yeah, that’s definitely subjective, but I would agree with you. There’s just something about improv where you can create any fantastical world that you want. But, there’s also an element of risk because you’re making it up on the spot. The listeners give you a bit of lenience. You know, if you can tell a story and weave together all of the subplots to wrap it up, you don’t have to really nail everything. They know we’re making it up on the fly. But when it wraps up nicely, there’s something magical about that.

You’ve done a lot of improv. And you have a new show now! Tell me about Harold Night.
I’ve always loved Harolds. People say it’s the “grandfather of improv”—which is a term that I hate. But people say that.
Simply put, a Harold is when you’re telling a bunch of stories of different characters, you’re expanding the world of those characters, and then in the end you show those characters’ lives somehow colliding in a way that wraps up the story. It’s a very structured format. It’s hard to do really well but when you see a really well-done Harold it’s always such a beautiful thing. Harold is often compared to an episode of Seinfeld, which was very much written in that way.

And you do this every Tuesday.
Yup, every Tuesday at 10pm at Bad Dog Theatre.

Mike Mongiardi, improv, stage

You’re also in an improv troupe called Jibber Jabbar, part of The Assembly.
Yeah, we were formed by Second City years ago. Second City had a longform improv program that they don’t do anymore. The Assembly is a local Toronto improv theatre company that was basically formed as the phoenix rising from the ashes of the old Second City program. So it’s a lot of the same people.
There’s another team, Grim Diesel. That’s the team I coach. They’re my beautiful babies and I love them for all time.
The Assembly also run classes for longform improv. It’s a great program. It’s all very much formed around the love of improv. It’s a great community.

Awesome. Let’s talk about The Sonar Network. You started a podcast network with Cody Crain from Spooked! Podcast.
Yeah, Cody was a guest on our podcast and then, as we often do when we record a podcast, we just sat around and drank in John’s house for the remainder of the day. And I remember Cody said something like “We should start a network.” And I had always thought of it. It wasn’t something I would’ve done by myself, really. But once he suggested it, I was like “Great! There’s someone else who’s thinking about this too.” It felt like it’s what the community in this city needs. I listen to a lot of podcast networks in great communities in different cities and I felt that there was an untapped space in Toronto.
We’ve been doing Sonar for about a year now and the number of people who approach us with “I started a podcast!” has doubled. It’s crazy. It’s becoming like—my parents are listening to podcasts. It’s become a ubiquitous thing.
The Sonar Network is a hub for people to go to when they’re looking for Toronto podcasts. It’s a hub of like-minded people who interact with each other and they guest on each other’s shows. Network is the perfect word for it.

And you guys are winning awards! Like the Canadian Podcast Awards.
Yeah, the Canadian Podcast Awards were in February and we took home a bunch of awards for the network and for different podcasts on the network. I think we took home 6.

You got one yourself. For Best Male Host?
Yeah, Best Male Host.

It’s good that men are finally being recognized for hosting podcasts!
[Laughs] Yeah, well, we also took home Best Female Host! For Erin Pim, who hosts The Bed Post Podcast. And no one deserves it more than her. She is amazing and she deserves everything.
But yeah, We’re Totally Not OK got one, The Backline got one for Best Educational Podcast.
We won a lot. It was an honour.

Killed To Death was also nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award.
Yeah, the voting closed yesterday, but I really hope they win! It’s a great show!

Yeah, I love them.
So, to finish up our interview I have some random questions that have nothing to do with any of this. Ready?
Yup, let’s do it.

Ok, do you have any weird talents?
Um, I can do this. [Makes a funny face].

You’re just making faces.
Uh, I don’t have any significant talents beyond just being very charming. [Laughs]

When was the last time you laughed really hard?
Yesterday I was watching a YouTube video and it made me laugh a lot. I discovered this series of videos called Music-less Music Videos. They take out the music but they put in the sneaker squeaks. I was watching one yesterday and I lost my mind laughing. It was so stupid and funny.

Ok, for this one you have an option. You can hit me with the meanest insult OR the nicest compliment you can think of.
Um, I would choose the compliment because I feel like the meanest insult can take us to a dark place. So let’s be positive—let’s be happy, nice people.

You are one of The Nice Guys. And I’m very nice AND cool.
Yeah, you’re nice and cool. That’s it! That’s the compliment! [Laughs]
No, but, I’ll say this. It’s a compliment someone once gave me. Someone said to me before that they really trust me. As a friend, as a confidante. And it got me. It’s very sweet and I’m glad to have that closeness with someone. It’s the nicest compliment I can think of. Is that the right answer?

Ok, so you’ve seen Patch Adams? At the end of the movie, there’s an old lady whose dying wish is to wade through a pool of cooked spaghetti. So, if you could wade through a pool of something that was not water, what would it be?
Money? Do I get to keep it?

Absolutely not.
Oh, nevermind then. The only thing that comes to mind is what would happen to my body if I swam through a pool of vodka?

Pretty sure you’ll get drunk. And very quickly probably.
Ok, I’ll check with a doctor first. If the doctor gives me a thumbs up I’ll do it. But if not, then Jell-O.

Jell-O shots?
Jell-O shooters babyyyyyy!

Ok, I have one more question!
There are two types of people in this world. What are they?
There are two types of people in this world: people with the first name Brian and people without. Think about it. How does it feel to have your mind blown?

Wow, felt pretty good actually.
You’re welcome.

So, that’s it! Do you want to plug things?
Yeah, every Tuesday night at 10pm my team does Harold Night at Bad Dog Theatre.
That’s How I Remember It!
The Sonar Network!
Those are the big things. And also, if you’re in Toronto and you’re thinking about taking improv classes, check out The Assembly, check out Bad Dog Theatre. Second City and The Social Capital have a lot of great classes too. The comedy is beautiful, the community is amazing and supportive and inclusive. So be a part of it! If you want. Or don’t. I dunno, I’m not your mother. Do whatever you want!

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