"Mitch Silpa says Kristen Wiig is a lot easier to improvise with than Hitler."

By Jason Tanamor

Mitch Silpa has one of those faces that you recognize strictly by turning on the TV. Whether it is on “Gilmore Girls,” "Desperate Housewives," or YouTube, you can be sure that when you do see the comedic actor, you’ll say, “I know that guy.” Zoiks! Online took time to get to know the actor.

Q - Your background is in comedy improv. Tell me how you first got into improv?

A - When I was in college I took acting classes outside of school at the Vincent Chase Workshop. Vince offered many different classes. One of them was comedy improv with a fantastic teacher named Danny Taylor. That was when I discovered how much I loved improv. It was so playful and fun and freeing. And I loved the ability to just be able to surprise yourself playing characters you would never normally play if you thought too much about it.

It was just absolute commitment and abandonment. After I graduated from college I started taking classes at the Groundlings which I also loved. The Groundlings really offered me a more focused and structured way to improvise. I worked my way through all the classes there and eventually got accepted into the main company and I've been performing there for the past 7 years.

Q - You're originally from California. I always get this idea that people from California have relatives in show business and follow in their footsteps. Do you have a family trail in the industry or are you the first?

A - Interesting theory. And, in my case, it's absolutely not true. Nobody in the Silpa clan is in show business. I'm the only one. As a matter of fact, when I "came out" to my family as an actor, I had fears they'd disown me. They so wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer (it's almost embarrassing the stereotypes my Jewish family falls right into). But they've been nothing but supportive, even if they are understandably confused by my career choice. Although I did have an uncle who, after he found out I wanted to be an actor, responded with "Oh, that's a shame. And he's so smart."

Q - Like a lot of improv veterans, you got into TV and have been on a lot of shows. In fact, you have been on so many shows that people probably recognize you but don't really know who you are. How/why did you go about transitioning from improv to scripted actor?

A - I actually don't think acting in improv and in scripted material are mutually exclusive things. I think they both help the other. Improv teaches you how important listening and reacting and being in the moment is, and scripted material can give your improv scenes more of a sense of structure. Plus acting is acting. You should try and be as real in an improv scene as you would be in a written one. As for being recognized, I rarely get recognized from things I've done on TV. I have however found more people have recognized me from those David Blaine street magic parodies that have been on YouTube where I'm wearing a wig and have black marker on my face. So, go figure.

Q - You've been on "Gilmore Girls," and "Desperate Housewives." Is there ever animosity or jealousy toward some of your more famous colleagues in regard to fame and fortune?

A - Yes, everyone is jealous of me.

Q - Have there ever been actors with attitudes that just come across as dicks? If so, do you care to share? And what did you do to subside the feeling?

A - No, everyone is this industry has been nothing but wonderful and loving at all times.

Q - Who was the easiest person to improv with?

A - The two people who pop into mind are both Groundlings - Edi Patterson and (back when she was in the main company) Kristen Wiig. It's sort of hard to describe why. It's sort of a trust thing, but it's on a weird level. There's something about performing with a person where you know they'll just go anywhere with you emotionally, character-wise, physically, whatever. It's incredibly playful and still grounded. You just feel safe with them even when a scene is tanking. And with both of those ladies there's a look that they get in their eye where I feel like I know where they're going and vice versa. I just never want the scenes to end when I'm performing with either of them. I'm not sure if the audience always feels the same way, but...

Q - Who was the hardest person to improv with?

A - It's weird, but I often find that people whose background is just stand-up can sometimes be difficult to improvise with. And I know so many stand-ups that are hilarious. I think it's because stand-ups are used to working by themselves and going for the joke - and in improv it's the exact opposite - you really have to be a team player to make a scene work and NOT go for the joke. It's a loss of control whereas in stand-up it's all about control. Also, weirdly, I find it difficult to improvise with people I am either dating or in a relationship with. I don't know why - it just feels creepy. Oh, and Hitler was hard to improvise with for obvious reasons.

Q - Do you find yourself being typecast after being in so many TV shows?

A - No, I've actually been fairly lucky that I've gotten to play so many different types of parts so far and yet have still not become famous at all.

Q - What do you enjoy doing more, improv or acting and why?

A - Oh, please don't make me make a Sophie's Choice. I love them both the same.


Jason Tanamor is the Editor of Zoiks! Online. He is also the author of the novels, "Hello Lesbian!" and "Anonymous." Email Jason at jason@zoiksonline.com.

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