An Interview with Adal Rifai from Whirled News Tonight

Adal Rifai is one of the hardest working improvisers in the Chicago area. He couldn’t get enough of New Orleans the first time around during the Chicago Invasion as part of Pudding-Thank-You in September, so he’s back again as part of the improv collective Whirled News Tonight. As part of Whirled News, he improvises news stories into smart satire pieces. Adal drops some improv knowledge, while expressing his thoughts on the City of New Orleans and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

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This will be your second time visiting New Orleans in less than a month. What about the city appeals to you or is this just by pure happenstance? 

Mostly it’s because I’m a huge food guy so I jumped at the chance to come down here twice in a month just so I can eat as much as possible! Plus this city is just ridiculously amazing. The music, the history, the people, etc. I honestly feel like if I wasn’t so settled in Chicago I would move to New Orleans in a heartbeat.

How did you get involved with improv in Chicago and what about the art form appeals most to you?

I moved to Chicago to pursue acting and ended up receiving a scholarship to Second City. While there some of my classmates mentioned that I should check out iO so I enrolled in classes right away and got placed on a few teams after graduating. The thing that most appeals to me about improv as an art form is that you’re working with a collective of people, all with their own thought process, their own life experiences and their own points of view, and together you are able to create something so much more powerful and creative than if it were just one person throwing out ideas. It’s this amazing group mind activity that leads to a heightened level of thinking that I wish I could always operate on.

What piece of advice would you give to improvisers that are just starting out?

Don’t spread yourself to thin. Take on a few teams that you really love and enjoy and focus on them. You don’t want to get burnt out. Also watch all levels of improv. In Chicago I think there is this want to only see the best of the best. I think in order to learn and grow as an improviser you have to see the full spectrum of improv. You can learn just as much or more from seeing a bad or mediocre show.  Finally, speaking of bad shows, don’t beat yourself up. Nobody ever perfects improv. It’s a constant learning experience. Be humble after your good shows and don’t get too down about the bad. If you bomb, you can be upset and reflect for the same amount of time that the show lasted (20 -30 minutes) and then move on.

As part of Whirled News, what are your thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street protests? Is there a lot of comedy in there to be had? Will that be a big inspiration for your upcoming show?

I think there is comedy gold to be mined from Occupy Wall Street but there’s also been so much done on it already with the Daily Show, Colbert and most late night talk shows that people may be getting worn out on it.  Whirled News improvises entirely off of the articles the audience selects, so if someone posts an Occupy Wall Street article I’m sure we’ll tackle it with aplomb but usually audiences stay away from giving us news that’s been thrown at them ad nauseam.

Is there anything you are working on specifically in improv right now?

I do a ton of coaching and teaching in Chicago right now so my biggest struggle is to get out of a coaching/teaching mindset while performing. I can sometimes slip into analyzing the piece during the show and thinking “oh this should probably happen right now!” rather then being the person to make that happen. That and being better about not breaking during scenes.

Where can we find you performing in the near future in Chicago or elsewhere?

I perform at iO with the harold team Revolver every Friday night,  at the Playground Theater with MORT, around Chicago and the country with Pudding-Thank-You and of course at iO with Whirled News Tonight every Saturday. I also coach the ridiculously talented team, Sears Tower (ed’s note: also appearing at Hell Yes Fest), at iO!

Buy a ticket to see Whirled News Tonight right here!

Interview and intro by Mike Breese, writer and improviser at The New Movement Theater in Austin, TX.