Martha’s Vineyard comedian Dave Sawyer, a member of the sketch comedy team Sawyer and Hurley, will be performing at the 11th annual Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival this March 3-13. The Martha’s Vineyard Times caught up with Mr. Sawyer to look back on his successful career, and how it has been influenced by his Island roots.
How did you get your start in comedy?
When I was growing up on the Vineyard (I went to the Tisbury school as a kid and graduated from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School), I got involved with the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse. Through there, I became involved with a teenage improv group called Teenprov, and eventually became a teacher for them later on.
The improv group we eventually formed, WIMP, started performing shows for the public. We had a 10-year run, and we would perform sold-out shows at the Grange Hall.
Improv teams can have short lives — they do some shows, have some laughs, and then dissolve. The unique thing about WIMP was how long it lasted.
Editor’s note: The improv group WIMP was later revived as a youth theater and improv program. More information can be found at imp4kids.com.
Were there any influential Vineyard experiences that helped shape your interest or style?
Where Tropical Restaurant is now, there used to be a place called Winter Tide Coffee House. It used to be a place where artists could perform. It had a small stage, and it was charming. This is where we [WIMP] cut our teeth and built ourselves up.
That time was hugely influential to me, because I learned how to make people laugh [and] how to get a feel for different crowds, which is really important in improv.
At Winter Tide, we also performed a show called “Troubled Shores,” which was a mock soap opera about the Island and Islanders. We wore different costumes and represented different personas. It was a lot of fun.
How did your career progress after you moved off-Island?
After building up my performing run, I moved to Boston and joined the main-stage performing group there, Improvboston. This is also where I met Dennis Hurley. The two of us started bouncing ideas around, and decided we wanted to start our own two-person sketch comedy show, Sawyer & Hurley, which we started performing in Boston and expanded outside the city.
Is there a big difference in how you go about improv comedy, versus sketch comedy?
With sketch comedy, it’s about having a specific idea and specific dialogue, while improv comedy is about discovery, about creating an original experience for that room, that audience, that theater.
When you’re not onstage, you’re a web developer. Does that occupation interact with your comedy at all?
It’s very common for people in comedic occupations to have a day job. The reality is that there’s not a ton of money in it. When you meet other sketch artists and comedians, you meet people from all walks of life.
Web development uses a very analytical or logical side of your brain, but comedy doesn’t follow logical rules. For me, it’s an escape or release from the kind of thinking I do during the workday.
You teach improv as well?
Teaching improv is helping people realize that everyone has ideas to offer. It’s encouraging people to collaborate with others to create something fun.
You watch people discover it for the first time. Someone who’s never done comedy can say, “I made people laugh out loud! I did that!” And it makes people feel good.
Through WIMP, we also established the theater company IMP for teens. Those groups are now in their second and third generation, and I like to think we’ve created an ongoing legacy for this for the Vineyard.
For more information, visit sawyerandhurley.com.