Joey Panek entertains on stages and small screens throughout the Gulf Coast. He toured as a professional actor for 14 years, and has produced and starred in many web series. By day, he’s the Senior Producer of Suncoast View at WWSB ABC7 in Sarasota. By night, he’s the proud father of a long-haired chihuahua named Lulu.
We sat down with Panek to discuss how improvisation plays a role at his job, why he loves the art form, and his comedic heroes.
You are one of the hosts and producers of Suncoast View, ABC 7’s morning show. How does improv help you on camera and when you interview guests?
One of my favorite parts of being on Suncoast View is that we get to have unscripted conversations about “Hot Topics.” As a producer, I may have a guess about how the conversation will go ahead of time. However, once I’m in the host seat, it’s anybody’s guess. We “ping pong” off each other: Linda or Stephanie may say something that makes me think of a new idea. It’s structured and unscripted…just like improv!
Do you have a funny story where you had to improvise on screen?
One time I was doing a live shoot on location covering a red carpet for an event. The people I was supposed to interview didn’t make it to me in time, so I got the cue that I was live and I interviewed myself. The show must go on!
You’ve been doing improv for almost 10 years. What continues to surprise you about the art form?
It’s amazing to me how you can always go back to the fundamentals. I went through a period where I didn’t play much because life got busy. I felt rusty. So I signed up for classes again at FST, and I took the 101 class. It reminds me of ballet class. No one is ever too good to go back to studying the basics.
What’s most rewarding about improv?
I get such a high from the spontaneity of it. When I’m doing a scene with other improvisers and we’re all in the same groove. There’s something divine about it.
Who are some of your improv/comedy heroes?
I’ve been a longtime fan of Christopher Guest and the actors that do his semi-improvised movies.
Describe your favorite improv scene/story in two sentences.
It’s hard to pick a favorite scene, but I do have a favorite story. The night before my first improv show, I was so nervous that I quit the troupe. I told them that I would do the show as I promised, but I wouldn’t do any more shows after that.
I told them, “I’m quitting now, because I know after tomorrow night I’m going to have so much fun and I’ll say I want to stay in the troupe. But I can’t put myself through this. So I quit after tomorrow.”
I was right… I did have fun. And they didn’t let me quit.
Watch Joey Panek and other improvisers make scenes, songs, and characters up on the spot! FST Improv performs every Saturday and select Fridays in FST’s Bowne’s Lab. For tickets, click here.