Ode to a Queen Bee in a Hive of Stingers


Threat @ The PIT (Feb. 1, 2007)
This is probably my favorite photo of Rebekka Johnson. It’s simple, quiet and clean, which is pretty much the complete opposite of her style of improvisation. But if you know Rebekka, then you know there’s a river of comedic-hot lava bubbling under the surface, waiting to erupt into: “Diiiicks!!!!” In honor of Candy Apple’s (and Beej’s) departure for Los Angeles, I asked a bunch of people to send me their thoughts about the Queen Bee of Improv, and how she has affected them as improvisers. Here’s what they wrote…

Ptolemy Slocum

Photo: Ptolemy Slocum

Phil Wells: Seeing Rebekka’s group Possible Side Effects in Montclair years and years ago was what got me into longform improv to begin with. Back then it was clear that Rebekka (and everyone in that group) was a big fish and that good things were going to happen for her. I was part of a little college shortform group and all the members went out to Montclair one by one to see what these guys were doing, and we switched formats using them as a template. Rebekka’s a great coach; one of the best. She coached SidViscous! for a long time and gave tough notes because she really cared about the success of that team. She sees what’s good in a performer and will poke, prod, push, pull, or do whatever it takes to get it out of them. I’ve been coached so much by Rebekka that it’s hard to pinpoint just one improv skill she sharpened in me; she improved every facet of every skill. Most importantly, I learned how to take direction and try to see in myself what she saw in me. She sets tangible, achievable goals and set me up to win and become the confident swaggering jagoff I am today. Also, Rebekka is a total crybaby. And she’s making a big mistake.

Matthew Love: A rehearsal with Rebekka is like taking a bath in feisty sunshine. Smart, feisty sunshine that judiciously burns off the moles you think look suspiciously like cancer. (When improv malinoma takes me, we will know it is because she has been in L.A. for too long.)

Matt Garrett: Rebekka was my first introduction to the PIT when I took Level 1 Improv w/ her. I just remember thinking, “This person really cares about what she’s doing and has passion.” She took an interest in each and every one of us and showed us that improv is not a tool for actors but its very own art form. I remember telling her that I wanted to be on a House Team one day and play on that stage. She gave me the confidence to truly entertain the thought of attaining that goal. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say I owe every show, class, practice and friend I’ve made at the PIT to Rebekka. I want to stress how much respect I have for her as a performer, teacher and peer. I think one idea will sum this up. Rebekka told our Level 1 class one day that women in improv do NOT have to always play teachers, moms, and flight attendants. Fly the fucking plane! Run the board meeting! She always encouraged fairness and support and that has stuck with me always. You will be sorely missed my friend. Best of luck in all endeavors and knock ’em dead!

Kurt Braunohler: Rebekka has repeatedly impressed me with her commitment to her craft, her amazing improv abilities, and her willingness to give me “bend-over-humpies” at any time. I’ve known and performed with Bekka for going on 9 years now, and I am still excited to this day when I remember/realize/understand that we will be playing together. Her ability and willingness to edit has saved countless shows, her willingness to literally go anywhere and do anything on stage has always inspired me, and her innate ability to see immediately what is important about a scene and how to play that make me so happy to have known her for this long. I’ll miss you, Bekka. Also, I’ll probably see you soon.

Ashley Ward: Rebekka is such a talented performer and so much fun to watch and play with on stage. She is also incredibly open and willing to sit and talk with improvisers, new or old, about issues they are having with improv (or otherwise, really).  That generosity of spirit is something I so admire in her and aspire to possess for myself.  She is also one of those rare people who is absolutely going to tell you what she thinks but is also totally open and cool to having you disagree with her.  Rebekka rocks and is going to be sorely missed.  Her shoes will have to sit empty, because there is no one around who can adequately fill them.

Brett Wean: Rebekka Rebekka Rebekka / She an improv trifecta! / Inspiring perform-a / Now she goin on tour-ma! / East coast, west coast / She always be a great coach / Packed with riches as an actress / Got mad improv bills / Stashed inside her mattress / She my Apple Sistuh / From anotha mistuh / We gonna miss huh… / We gonna miss huh… / We gonna miss huh… / Word, word, word / We out.

Teresa Bass: It’s been wonderful getting to know Rebekka and Beej over the last year.  Both of them have contributed to how much I’ve enjoyed being part of The PIT, and it’s going to suck not being able to work closely together anymore.  But the reality is I can’t be entirely sad to see them go because I know truly amazing things lie ahead for them.  Plus, it’s cold as balls here in NYC, and it’s nice and sunny in LA. I wish them all the luck in the world, and I know with complete confidence that they’re going to continue making people laugh and helping people grow regardless of where they call home.

Pat Shepherd: Rebekka Johnson is one of the best improvisers I’ve ever seen, not to mention had the pleasure to perform with on countless occasions. There is a moment when you’re in a scene with her and she gets this look in her eye and you know something amazing is about to come out. Your best move then is to step back and let it happen because nothing you were about to say would have been as engaging, dynamic, weird, hilarious and heartbreakingly true as what she is about to blow you away with. I’m lucky not only to have performed with her hundreds of times, but to also call her one of my best and closest friends.

Chris Grace: There are not many people I can say this about: I have enjoyed every second that I have spent in Rebekka Johnson’s presence, onstage and off. She’ll be sorely missed in this time zone.

Matt Donnelly: I’ve had the pleasure of improvising with Rebekka for over decade and after all these years there is no one I’d rather share the stage with.  Rebekka is obscenely talented as an actor and improviser.  Very early on in her time in improv, she started drawing comparisons to Amy Poehler.  At first I thought this was because of her height.  Amy Poehler was the best improviser I had ever scene.  Long before her SNL fame, Amy improvised like none other.  She played so many diverse characters, could shine in any tone and type of show, razor sharp editor, fun story teller, charming host, always called the end of a show with precision and enthusiasm, smart when taggging in and adding to a scene, dynamic pattern player.  Its is amazing to me all these years later that Rebekka Johnson encompasses all these qualities and more.  To this day Rebekka is the only performer who puts me on my heels because I know if I give her room, she will always do something funnier than what I would have done with the scene.  She is a disciplined, dominant, and fierce performer.  Always fun… always an absolute blast to share the stage with.

Ben Masten: Rebekka’s passion for improv is contagious. She has a pure, crazy love for this art form that drives every performance she gives, every class and workshop she teaches, and every kind word she shares with you at the bar after your own show. She refuses to let anyone give anything less than their best on stage, and leads by example every step of the way. Los Angeles improvisers have no idea how lucky they are.

Greg Portz: Rebekka Johnson is attractive.  Let’s face it, her face is symmetrical as all hell, she’s got great legs, and hair for days.  Unlike most attractive people- she has personality.   I remember after one of my first class shows ever, she said something really nice to me and I think about it every time I feel like a failure on stage. Also I enjoy the fact that she doesn’t take shit from people and does not spell her first name traditionally; things I try to incorporate into my day-to-day life.  – Greg “Gkegk” Portz

Rhea Ramey: Rebekka and I have been super-friends for a long time now.  Sometimes it is like we share a brain.  That, for me, is an honor.  To be able to peek inside that hilarious, smart, intensely good and talented mind.  She is jazzy both onstage and off.  Her honesty in life is lived onstage. What you see is all her; no wonder her character work is brilliant.   Performing with Rebekka is as fun as the funnest thing you can possibly imagine.  It literally makes me giddy to do scenes with her.  She can instantly bring the energy of a scene to new places, and take all of us with her. Last night we were reading through some old Possible Side Effects program.   It was amazing because, in her bio, she had written that in ten years (from 1999), she wanted to be improvising, acting in tv and film, and starring in her own music/dance group.  Holy #@%&!!!   Here we are in 2009, and those are the exact things she is doing.  Old timey Rebekka was a soothsayer!   She’ll be wherever she wants in another 10 years.  I love her like a sister, admire her infinitely, and can’t wait to share many LA adventures with her.

Jamie Cummings: The Wilhelm was very fortunate to be coached by her. She gives the notes you need to hear w/o being a dick, even when she thinks she may be. Plus, I fall a teensy bit more in love w/ her every time I see her perform.

Grace Helbig: Rebekka was the first person to show me what it means to be a strong, confident female on a stage full of dudes.

Chris Griggs: Rebekka has meant a lot to me through the years for her feedback, cheery smile and onstage example.  She’s a great performer and will be missed.  It’s hard to think of the PIT without her there.  I know you will go on to do great things but at least come back to NY for an Apple Sisters show once and while.

Liz Quinn: Rebekka will be the first to say that we shouldn’t be looked at as funny women, but rather just plain funny and that gender does not matter when it comes to comedic talent. But I do need to say that seeing a very funny woman on stage every week and OWNING that stage with talent, confidence and humor has been very inspiring to me, personally. As far as coaches go, she is among the best of the best. She is tough and she pushes you but it always comes from a place of truly wanting you to be the best improviser you can be and she is very generous with her knowledge, energy, and time. Rebekka, you are an incredibly funny person – see, I didn’t say woman:) – as well as talented, sweet, and a real powerhouse on stage. I will miss you terribly but I’m glad I got to work with you these past couple of years. I wish all the success and happiness you deserve!

Kevin Scott: Rebekka always impressed me as someone who was both very serious about improvisation as well as just damn funny. I totally respect anyone who can get very nerdy discussing improv forms and tactics and then jump on stage and just rock the house with the funny; that’s Rebekka. She’s also deceptively adorable, so your not ready for her biting wit when it comes out of her mouth. It was always a thrill to step on stage with Rebekka because I knew something genuinely fun and surprising was about to happen.

Michael Newman: Rebekka was the first teacher I had at the PIT (I took Tom Ridgely’s Level One class, but she filled in for him for the first class). I had her for Level Four and I loved her. She kicked my improv butt into shape. She is supportive and tough. She inspires me to be a better performer. I remember in class, after we did a mediocre free form, the first thing she said (screamed) was, “CARE!” We were floundering because we weren’t making any strong investment in our partners or ourselves. It has made a big difference in my work to decide to make a strong choice to love, hate, reprimand, flirt, tease, etc. After a class show, she gave me the VIP award for Best Callback line – I swooned! Sometimes I still blush when I think about her giving me this award. She is beautiful, funny, and intelligent. I am always excited to see her perform because she knocks me out of my socks every time. I am proud to say she was my teacher. I look forward to her doing great things.

Jen Curran: From the first moment I saw Rebekka play, she always inspired me to be more free with my improv. She’s not necessarily someone who does a ton of super wacky characters or uses incredibly bizarre and complicated plot points; she is free, open, and able to react on a dime – and I’ve always loved that about her. Because even when she is creating a simple character with an archetypal story line, she always invests so completely in what she’s doing, and that, to me, is incredibly watchable without fail. As an audience member, you feel taken care of when watching her perform. As an improviser, you feel inspired. By her example she’s taught me to listen with my whole self and react simply, freely, and emotionally to my partner, throwing as many gifts their way as possible. I will definitely miss seeing her around The PIT.

Jacob Brown: There are few people I’ve met in my life whom I admire as much as I do Rebekka Johnson.  Not just as a performer and improviser, although she is a brilliant one; not just as an instructor, although she is one of the best teachers I’ve had in any subject; not even just as a friend, although I have fun every time I’m around her.  Rebekka is so many things I want to be myself – genuine, sensitive, dedicated, free of any trace of ego or artifice.  When I watch her onstage, it’s often nothing short of thrilling – Here is a person truly in her element, completely assured and graceful, playing make-believe like a kid and having the time or her life.  It’s that spirit that I love most about her, to the point of an envy bordering on madness.  If I could eat her heart and gain her strength and intelligence, believe me I would.  But then, she would probably give it up willingly anyway, because that’s just how generous she is.  I consider myself lucky to know her, and it’s gonna be a different place around here without her.  Good luck out there, kid.

Desiree Nash: The easiest way to describe my feelings about Rebekka is to simply say:  I am jealous of Rebekka Johnson.  She is fearless, smart, quick, and gorgeous.  She always challenged me to think differently and made me feel like I deserved to be on the stage.  She’d be proud if i used a metaphor right now, so I will.  In a hive of stingers, she’s the Queen Bee.

Yang Miller: Rebekka teaches through actions and truly practices what she preaches.  She is able to be two things at once in improv and life.  She is generous and fearless, creative and clear, small and mighty.  Also, she is very easy on the eyes.  Rebekka Johnson is a diamond in New York’s comedy crown and she will be sorely missed.

Geoff Grimwood: When Rebekka pointed at me during an Apple Sisters show and said, “There’s my friend Geoff!” it made me very proud. Sure, she was in character, but she’s the coolest. I’ve seen Rebekka in dozens of shows and taken a couple of her classes. They don’t get better or more talented. I wish she could stay in town.

Julie Ann Dulude: Having Rebekka as a friend and teacher these past few years at the PIT has made me push myself to my highest potential.  Any thought or idea I go to her with she makes me feel like I was ready for it yesterday.  All my hesitation and doubt evaporates.  She is a fearless artist who inspires me to leap and dive down my own path, laughing all the way.

Andy Costello: Rebekka has challenged me as my teacher — and inspired me when she performs — to extend myself beyond my normal comedic comfort-zone. For me, she is the quintessential improviser and I strive to have a tenth of her versatility. She’s equally great in grounded scenes and on the outskirts of Crazytown — and she can play the straight-person or the lunatic, high status or low status, young or old, ugly or sexy, happy or sad, smart or dumb, man or woman, rich or poor, drunk seahorse or racist hoagie. Rebekka is like a basketball player who can play every position on the court. She’s the less-AIDSy Magic Johnson of improv. I will miss her terribly, but she has influenced such a large portion of this community with her talent and passion for improv that, in a way, part of her will always be here.

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9 Responses to Ode to a Queen Bee in a Hive of Stingers

  1. Amy says:

    Here here! She is jazzy, that one.

  2. rebekka says:

    Sitting outside of an in and out in this strage city I can’t help but cry reading this. Thanks to everyone who took the time to write something about me. I will miss all of you terribly.

    DICKS!!!
    Rebekka

  3. keithhuang says:

    cheers big ears ! we really miss you much

  4. Beej says:

    Amazing! So earned. It’s really nice when someone so deserves something and is given just that. Thanks Rebekka and thanks Keith!

  5. Pete Byrne says:

    And what she doesn’t know about hockey! Just ask her. Anything! A rinkrat!

    Pete

  6. Drewsel says:

    It is fun reading of the comments about someone I have looked up to my whole life, my sister. Rebekka has always felt comfortable being herself in the public eye no matter how weird that may be at times. I know she will do well and be happy because she is doing what she loves the most!

    I wish you and The Beej the best in the land of spectacularity! I will miss u both!

    Please get rich and famous so you can buy me an apple farm! haha!

    I love you!

  7. Mom says:

    I’ve always known you are beautiful inside and out . It’s wonderful that so many others know as well.

    I love and miss you already (don’t cry!)

  8. jeff says:

    that episode on prankville at the party store was the best.

    see u in the funny pages, rebekka

  9. Michael Bergman says:

    I work on the technical side as a sound man for TV, specializing in audio for hidden camera shoots, so I’ve had the pleasure of working with many improv actors. Doing shows with Rebekka (like the Party Store on Prankville) was always fun, professional and entertaining.

    Hidden camera is like real life, only it’s not, but it is. And she gets that. It’s like watching her canoe down a crazy river while always maintaining control of her craft; knowing when to lay back and let the river take its course and when to paddle like mad to make the canoe go just where she wants.

    Good Luck Rebekka!

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