After six seasons on the air, Scott Adsit and John Lutz are easily recognizable for their roles on 30 Rock as Pete Hornberger and J.D. Lutz, Liz's Lemon's reliable, put-upon producer buddy and her bumbling, sad sack writer, respectively.
Less known, though, are their backgrounds in the improv comedy world, having come up through the ranks at theaters like Second City and iO. Since 2010, the duo has continued improvising in theaters around New York and at festivals across the country as Adsit and Lutz.
This weekend, the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival brings them to Austin live and without a script.
Despite a hectic first week back on the set of 30 Rock, Lutz took some time to explain how he got started, his pure love of improv and making Matt Damon laugh.
Culture Map: Your comedy career started out with improv at iO and Second City in Chicago and later the Upright Citizens Brigade. What was it that interested you in improv?
John Lutz: When I was going to college at Valparaiso University in Indiana, a friend of mine took me to a Second City Show in Chicago. After every show, they perform an improv set. The show itself was good, but the improv blew me away. The performers made it look like the most fun you could ever have on stage. After seeing that first improv set, I knew I had to move to Chicago after college and perform there. Fun Fact: Adsit performed in that first improv set.
CM: The two of you have been on 30 Rock since it started in 2006, but didn't start your improv duo until 2010. What made you decide to do a show together?
JL: I was doing a show called 2 Square with Peter Grosz and Pete couldn't make it. I asked Scott to sit in and we had a really fun time. Shortly after, Pete moved to LA, but I still wanted to perform. I'm not 100% sure how it happened, but I think Scott and I were talking and we both kind of said, "Hey, let's do a show."
CM: How would you describe the Adsit and Lutz improv style?
JL: It's mostly character based. We get a little goofy and fun, but we aren't afraid to go into some dark areas. I think our first 10 shows all had some sort of dead kid element in it. Either we were at a kid’s funeral or I played a kid that got hit by a bus. You know, hilarious stuff like that. Since then, we’ve made a rule. No more dead kids. But don’t worry — there’s no rule about dead grandmas.
CM: What do the two of you enjoy about performing together?
JL: I like that we've been performing together long enough that we can see where the other person is heading with a scene, but at the same time we can still surprise each other. Nothing is more fun to me than making Scott break. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's joyful.
CM: What can audiences expect from the show? (Y'know, given that even you don't know what's going to happen...)
JL: Probably a scene about a dead kid.
CM: What keeps you coming back to performing improv?
JL: It's something that is purely creative. You don't have to worry about producers or networks telling you what you can or cannot do. It is what it is, with no expectations and no limitations, and that is very freeing.
CM: Your credits are a mix of writing and performing. Do you lean more toward one than the other?
JL: I love to improvise and I love to act. To me, writing is more of a job. But, I also know that writing myself parts is the best way to get to do what I love, act. Fun Fact: SNL hired me as a writer from seeing me do an improv show.
CM: Do you get much chance to improvise on the 30 Rock set?
JL: Not really. The writers take so much time and care writing every word. When they give me a great line, I don't ever feel the need to improvise. The real fun is “improvising” different ways of saying the lines they give me, which is also known as “acting.”
I remember doing a scene with Matt Damon once. I think I said the line, “Are you on Facebook?” to him 15 different ways. It was fun to see which way would make him laugh. It was also fun to see which one they picked when the show finally aired.
CM: This is 30 Rock's last season. What's your favorite memory of working on the show (thus far)?
JL: The live show we did this past April was the best! Having written for SNL for six years, it was exciting to be on the performing side of things in the same studio. I had costume changes, a fake mustache and I got to throw up on camera. It was as close to being an SNL cast member as it gets.
CM: You're also starring in a new web series, The Front Desk, that just came out in June. How did the show come about?
JL: John Solomon, a buddy and fellow SNL writer, had the idea. He thought it would be funny to see me behind a front desk having to deal with a bunch of weirdos. We really just wanted to do something fun together.
We wrote them together and then he directed and edited them. We also wanted to have a lot of our friends play the guests. We even got Will Forte to sing the theme song. Depressing fact: He insisted on being completely naked while recording it.
CM: Wow. That image is now seared into my brain. There are a lot of incredible improvisers playing at OOB who aren't known to Austin audiences yet. If there was one show that you'd encourage general audiences to see, who would it be?
JL: See Beer Shark Mice. Those guys are just plain good.
CM: Anything you're excited to do while you're in Austin?
JL: I know it's not technically in Austin, but I want to go to Salt Lick. I hear they have amazing sushi.
There are three chances to see Adsit and Lutz this weekend: Saturday, Sept. 1 at 10pm at Scottish Rite Theater with Austin's own Get Up; Saturday, Sept. 1 at 11:45pm at Scottish Rite Theater with the cast of Stool Pigeon; and Sunday Sept. 2nd at 11pm at the Scottish Rite Theater.