Getting back to a state of play. That has always been the quest for improv comedian Brent Tubbs. During the past 11 years, he has encouraged people to hop onstage and use their imaginations to come up with different characters and stories.
In May, he will open up this experience to Lodi residents who want to learn and practice the art of improv at Hutchins Street Square.
"If you really let yourself go, you can go to places that you never imagined, that are creative, inspiring and funny," Tubbs said.
He has consistently performed improv around the country, as well as overseas in Holland and Belgium, for more than a decade.
At the age of 27, he has already worked with some of the cast members of "Glee," gone to school with a "Saturday Night Live" cast member and tried to bring the world of improv to as many people as possible.
"The biggest rule is, no one is allowed to judge anybody — and that includes yourself. You are not allowed to get up there and think you look silly," he said.
Tubbs will host a class starting May 7 that will go for four weeks on Saturdays at Hutchins Street Square. After that, he will do another three sessions going through August. He said people can sign up for all four sessions, because improv is an art that will only get better with practice.
As a kid, Tubbs grew up watching Mike Myers, Chris Farley and Adam Sandler on "Saturday Night Live." He realized he wanted to pursue improv as a senior in high school when he started performing for ComedySportz in Rock Island, Ill. The troupe sets up two improv teams that then compete in challenges that include referees and penalty flags.
Tubbs moved to the West Coast to go to Califonia State University, Fresno because he knew he wanted to eventually get to Los Angeles. He started training his college friends, and eventually created an improv group in Fresno called Improver Behavior.
He also started teaching high school students in Clovis and Fresno, including Chris Colfer, who plays Kurt Hummel on "Glee."
"Being able to share the stuff I knew and seeing it stick with people is really cool," he said.
He participated in a Los Angeles summer program the university offered that went all day for two weeks, and realized he needed to be in Los Angeles pursuing his passion.
He tried out for The Second City conservancy, and spent a year and a half going through the program. Big names in comedy like Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris and Steve Carell have also performed with The Second City.
While there, he graduated with Bill Hader, who is now on "Saturday Night Live" and recently did a skit impersonating Charlie Sheen. Tubbs said he has always enjoyed when Hader impersonates Al Pacino.
"(Hader) is the nicest guy in the world. L.A. is full of a lot of scum bags, and people who do not necessarily deserve the success that they have, and he deserves everything he received," he said.
While in Los Angeles, he also received a personal call from Jane Lynch, who plays Sue Sylvester on "Glee." She wanted Tubbs to be in a short film.
"I thought, 'Let me pick my tongue up off the floor,'" he said.
He toured with the Reduced Shakespeare Company, which is well-known for taking all of William Shakespeare's abridged works and condensing them into 90 minutes.
While touring with them overseas, he received an expensive long-distance call from his wife, Sara, letting him know she was pregnant.
"That is a phone call I'll never forget, or never stop paying for," he said.
The two met while he was doing a workshop at Fresno State, and soon discovered they both lived in Los Angeles. Once their son Parker, who is now 3, was born, they decided to leave Los Angeles and move to Lodi, where Sara is from.
Tubbs admits it was hard to leave the improv scene in Los Angeles.
"It was a hard time to break into the business. I said I'd rather have a good life for our son than keep pursuing something that may never happen. At least I tried to do it," he said.
But as Tubbs was moving back to Lodi, his improv career came full-circle when a ComedySportz, like the one he started with in Illinois, opened in Sacramento.
He performs there once a month, but realizes that not everyone wants to drive 40 miles north to see a comedy show. He plans to have community shows at the end of each four-week session, and hopes it will fill a void because there is nothing like it around here.
In the class, Tubbs hopes his students reach the moment when their mind goes blank.
"One of the biggest obstacles of improv is thinking too much. What I'll teach is how not to get there. Don't think about what you are doing. Say what you feel and trust yourself," he said.
Tubbs also hopes no one thinks they will get a stand-up comedy routine, because the goal is to be spontaneous and respond to fellow classmates.
"We grow up as adults, and we build up all these walls to protect ourselves from being judged. We might say, 'I look silly,' or, 'I don't want to say that because I might sound stupid.' All of these walls mean you are not reaching your full potential," he said.