Mike Abdelsayed is the current Artistic Director of One Group Mind, a first-ever comedians union, The Titanic Players, the only 2-time winners of the National College Improv Tournament, and The Comedy Clubhouse, the highest rated comedy club in Chicago.
He was an iO coach, 6-year iO house team performer, an understudy for Keegan Michael-Key at Second City, and a member of Second City’s Outreach and Diversity Company. He is a 28-year veteran of the comedy industry and have coached over 3000 comedians, some for as long as 7 years.
Many of his students have continued successful careers in The Office, Community, Arrested Development, Saturday Night Live, Reno 911!, the Jimmy Kimmel Show, Cougartown, The Mindy Project, Man Seeking Woman, Last Man on Earth, Key and Peele, Parks and Recreation, the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and the Ellen Degeneres show, to name just a few.
His original play, Wishin’ Control, was a critic’s pick in Performink. His comedy studio was a finalist for the Chicago Reader’s Best Venue for Stand-up in 2019. His show Toasted was the Chicago Reader’s Nine Places for Laughs in 2019 (and beyond) and a Must-See Show from The Torch. His studio was named a Best Comedy Club Near You by Urban Matters and a Top 13 Comedy Club by Time Out Chicago.
Follow the Comedy Clubhouse on Facebook.
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studio in Chicago, Illinois. It’s time for Chicago Business Radio. Brought to you by firm space, your private sanctuary for productivity and growth. To learn more, go to firmspace.com. Now here’s your host.
Max Kantor: [00:00:21] Hey, everybody, and welcome to another episode of Chicago Business Radio. I’m your host, Max Kantor. And before we get started today, today’s show is sponsored by firm space. Without them, we couldn’t be sharing these important stories. And we have a great guest today. Today’s guest is Mike Abdelsayed. He is the owner and artistic director of one group Mind The Titanic Players and the Comedy Clubhouse, which is the highest rated comedy club in Chicago. Welcome to the show, Mike.
Mike Abdelsayed: [00:00:48] Hi, Max. How are you.
Max Kantor: [00:00:49] Doing? I’m good. Thanks for being on today. Excited to talk about everything that you’re doing in the Chicago community. So let’s jump right in. Tell me a little bit about one group mind. What is that?
Mike Abdelsayed: [00:01:00] One group mind is the first ever developing comedians union. So we’re basically trying to rally comedians and organize ourselves so that we can get sort of basic protections and compensation. And so we have about 150 members that each pay monthly dues. And in exchange for that, we give them training performances and opportunity to get compensation. Career building resources will bring in SAG. We’re basically trying to eliminate the the middlemen in our industry that might be taking the compensation before it trickles down to the rest of us. And so, yeah, we had probably eight or nine different spaces in the past. And in 2015 we made the move to purchase our own space and that that sort of eliminated one of the biggest middlemen being the landlord. And so we’ve been able to take a lot of a lot of steps since then in that space is the comedy clubhouse that you mentioned earlier is highly rated and basically our current venue and we hope to expand somewhere down the line.
Max Kantor: [00:02:13] So you started with one group mind first and then came the comedy clubhouse in that order.
Mike Abdelsayed: [00:02:19] Actually, what started first was the Titanic players. They’re a collegiate organization. We started that back in 1994 and they have an incredible track record of success. If you’re familiar with Sarah Sherman or Sarah Squirm, who is the recent featured player on SNL, she’s from that organization. The Titanic players existed from 94 until 2001. 2002 was the first time one group mine sort of made its appearance. And then the Titanic players expanded to four teams on the Northwestern University campus and eventually expanded to eight other campuses from University of Minnesota to Madison, Milwaukee, U of I. We had DePaul, Columbia all the way down the steps in Florida. And so yeah and it kind of one good mind kind of grew from the, the graduates of the collegiate program that sort of saw a need in the professional industry to have a specific type of theory being taught. And so we were less at that time based off of a union that was more or less looking for rights and compensation at the time. We’re we were more or less just looking for an organization that’s sort of taught one consistent improv theory.
Max Kantor: [00:03:47] It’s interesting for me to hear you describe your story and all the organizations you’re a part of, because a lot of it is you creating kind of what you wanted, you know, you creating the Titanic players or you helping create the comedy clubhouse one group mind. So why is it important for someone in comedy or in improv to have that entrepreneurial spirit?
Mike Abdelsayed: [00:04:12] Well, I mean, anyone that’s enacting anyone that’s that’s going to be a performer, they’re generally their own business. They’re, you know, they’re marketing themselves as a product and they’re trying to brand themselves. That being said, I think my motivations to start these things were a lot more predicated on a lack of opportunity for put blank people with my skin color in the industry. And so just having to create my own opportunity as is par for the course.
Max Kantor: [00:04:53] And now you’ve been in the comedy world for a really long time. What were some key lessons that you’ve learned that helped you create over time? The Titanic players one group mind in the comedy clubhouse.
Mike Abdelsayed: [00:05:08] I mean, the lessons big one is take ownership for yourself. I think too many people walk into the comedy industry looking for validation, looking for someone who might have a lot of experience or a lot of time or they look up to and they’re looking for that person to come back and say, Hey, you’re good and you can keep doing this. And all those people, you know, at the end of the day, no one can really tell you that you’re good until you tell yourself that you’re good. And so, you know, those folks that are looking for that validation, they might not get it. And, you know, you have to validate yourself more than anything. And I tell my students at Northwestern all the time that, you know, that that truism of opportunity, meeting, preparation, too often people lament that they don’t have the opportunities. And the reality is, is the opportunity is there, even if it isn’t, when it presents itself, or are you ready to go or are you not just kind of looping back a few things here? You know, at the time I performed on a team called Valhalla for six years. We became a legendary team on the team with several Second City mainstage directors and performers. And, you know, there was a show that ran at Second City that ran for right after 911, that ran for two years, sold out, which is unheard of for a Second City revue.
Mike Abdelsayed: [00:06:42] And it starred Keegan-Michael Key. If you’ve ever seen Key and Peele, they pulled them from Detroit to do this incredibly complicated, diverse role. And I found out from one of my performing friends that, hey, you should go see this show. Keegan doesn’t have an understudy. And so I went and saw the show. I absolutely loved it. And I tried to see it as often as I could, but I just couldn’t afford it. So I would stand outside in the lobby and just listen through the doors. And eventually I got to know the box office staff. And one day, you know, one of them said, Hey, why don’t you sit in Keegan-Michael Keys, understudy chair. Nobody sits there. And so I sat there and, you know, eventually learned a lot about the show. And Keegan eventually connected with me and he gave me a VHS tape and said, Don’t tell anybody I gave you this. And I took it home and I memorized it. And I looked at all the the blocking. One night I even snuck in the back to write it down. And, you know, at the time I was never in Second City. I could never afford to do Second City classes or things like that. And one day, an accident, you know, had Keegan’s wife in Detroit and he had to fly out there.
Mike Abdelsayed: [00:07:53] And they were about to cancel four sold out shows. And the cast said, Well, what about his understudy? And Second City said, he doesn’t have an understudy. And they said, well, who’s been sitting in his chair? And so they they called me at 1:00 in the afternoon on a Friday, and I saw that that caller ID, you know, and knew exactly what was going on. And once she got. Pick up the phone. She said, This is Beth. You know, I know this sounds a little bit weird. And I right away said, Hey, it’s Keegan, okay? I didn’t know if something had happened to him. And she said, He’s fine, but someone said that you’ve been watching the show. And I go, Yeah, I’m ready to go. And I went in there, you know, four shows, they two shows on a Friday. They hired me Saturday morning and two shows on a Saturday. And so I kind of asked people, Are you ready for that call when you get it? I always tell my students, Hey, if you got that call, were you ready? Do you have that portfolio? Can you just grab it and hop in a in a car and hop on a plane and see who you need to see? So. Sorry to ramble on like that, but there you go.
Max Kantor: [00:08:56] Well, so what are you doing? Because I love you know, I love what you were saying. And I think the story is so important because, yeah, you’re absolutely right. You know, you can’t just sit around twiddling your thumbs hoping that one day Second City is going to go. You know who we should call, Mike? Because, you know, if you weren’t actively going there and studying and being interested, like that’s just not how it works. So what do you do for the students that walk in the door of the comedy clubhouse? What do you do to help them build their portfolio?
Mike Abdelsayed: [00:09:28] I mean, we have an extensive training program and it’s probably, in my opinion, the best and longest and most thorough in the country. It was developed because of our collegiate system where we would have these teams together for four years before they graduated. And then we were able to, you know, take a look at a laboratory experiment across eight universities at the same time and tweak it and see what was working and what wasn’t. So, you know, what I tell people and I tell students is that, you know, that last step before success or fame is your good, you know? And so, you know, what’s what’s worse to never get the call to write for SNL or to get the call and they send you back three months later. I argue the second one is worse because you just told all your friends you’re an SNL writer, you know, and you weren’t ready, you weren’t prepared. So we teach long form improv as the basis of just getting good and getting better and getting comfortable with your voice, you know? And then we teach it as a as a common language of creation so that when we collaborate on something like script or on video, we can use common terms, you know, to describe something to be funnier, more or less funny than something else.
Max Kantor: [00:10:48] So, Mike, my, my question I ask every guest is how I close out every interview. What is the most rewarding part about what you do?
Mike Abdelsayed: [00:11:00] That’s a tough one. So I’m in a unique position. I live above the comedy club and so so I’m able to be here all the time and just getting to know certain people and comedians and the people that you’re working with, you know, you hope that you can affect change, but sometimes change has to go through a few generations of people before something actually happens. So it’s, you know, the people, you know, they’re my family. So yeah.
Max Kantor: [00:11:33] And Mike, if there are any improvisers or aspiring comedians that are listening to this, how do they get involved at the comedy clubhouse? And also, if someone just wants to come watch some of your shows, how can they do that as well?
Mike Abdelsayed: [00:11:46] Oh, cool. Yeah. So, yeah, we if you ever want to see a show, you can go to the Comedy Club Hotels.com and purchase tickets there. And in fact, if you are an aspiring improviser or a standup comedian, you can let them know at the box office and you can get in for free provided that there’s, there’s seats and yeah, I’d recommend the main stage mic and the main stage improv ensemble. The mainstage improv ensemble features a team called Tricky Micky. That’s a two person team that uses some of the most complex techniques in the industry to produce as much as a team of eight or ten would do. And then if you ever want to learn how to do this, you know, most people when they join us, they don’t have prior experience. If people think that you need a performing background, that’s not the case either, you know, so every three or six months we’ll do an audition. And once you audition, you join one group mind. It’s not like you have to re audition, but you start as an apprentice and then you escalate to an ensemble member, then a House member, then an artist and a member. And at each stage you sort of get more perks and more opportunities.
Max Kantor: [00:12:57] Awesome. Well, Mike, thank you so much for being on the show today. It was great talking to you and all that you’re doing for the Chicago comedy community.
Mike Abdelsayed: [00:13:05] Thank you so much, Max. I appreciate it.
Max Kantor: [00:13:07] And thank you for listening to another episode of Chicago Business Radio. I’m your host, Max Cantor, and we’ll see you next time.
Intro: [00:13:15] This episode of Chicago Business Radio has been brought to you by firm space, your private sanctuary for productivity and growth. To learn more, go to firm Space.com.