TOM SOTER: A LIFE
Writer, Editor, and Improv Teacher
Choose one: Tom Soter (1) is seen every week as the host of the satirical Weak Previews movie review show, reviewing movies that were never made; (2) has been an improv teacher since 1987; (3) has been an editor at Habitat magazine, since 1982; (4) is the author of two books, Bond and Beyond: 007 and Other Special Agents and Investigating Couples: An Analysis of The Thin Man, The Avengers, and The X-Files ; (5) is six-foot-seven and built like Hulk Hogan.
If you chose No. 5, then you obviously have never seen Sunday Night Improv, the long-running comedy jam at the Soter/Lee Blackbox Theater of which Soter is the producer, emcee, and most regular performer. As for Choices 1-4, they’re all true ? which means that Tom Soter leads a very busy life.
The five-foot-nine, spectacled comic was born on October 23, 1956 in New York City.
He began improvising 12 years later when he and his friends and family made audio tape “radio shows” without scripts (the first was called The Lethal Camera; later programs included Planet of the Nuns and West that Wasn’t.) He soon began appearing in improvised Super-8 action movies, created by pal Christian Doherty (the most bizarre was You Made Me Hate Myself). By 1981, he was producing a cable TV access comedy show called Videosyncracies.
In the meantime, he was also pursuing a career as as a writer. In 1978, fresh out of Columbia University, he worked as an editor at Firehouse, a monthly publication for firefighters. By 1982, he had begun his long association with Habitat, which is about cooperative living, not hamsters.
Over the years, he has also written for New York Newsday, Entertainment Weekly, Muscle Media, V, Video, Video Times, View, Shoot, The New York Observer, Diversion, Starlog, Scarlet Street, Southwest Spirit, Britain’s Empire: The Movie Magazine, Movieline, The Dial, Nostalgia, INTV Journal, The San Francisco Chronicle, World Screen News, and The New York Times, among others.
In 1981, he began his long love affair with improvisation. He saw a performance of New York’s Chicago City Limits and was soon taking classes with CCL founder George Todisco, as well as David Regal, Linda Gelman, Chris Oyen, Bill McLaughlin, and Carol Schindler of CCL, and Del Close of Second City.
In 1984, he started performing with his own successful improv group, the New York Improv Squad at night spots around New York, including The Original Improvisation and Folk City. He also co-founded the improv troupe Improv DaDa, which won first place in Freestyle Repertory Theatre’s 1991 city-wide improv competition.
He started teaching improvisation in 1987. His graduates include most of the Chainsaw Boys, former Chicago City Limits cast members Larry Bell and Sean Conroy, Gotham City Improv’s David Storck, Beth Littleford of TV’s The Daily Show, and Denny Siegel of TV’s Whose Line is it Anyway?
Five years later, he took over the long-running improv jam, which he rechristened Sunday Night Improv. “I love teaching and I love the jam,” he said recently. “I guess I love keeping busy. I hope I can continue doing this until they carry me away.”
N.Y. Improv Squad at 1985 Festival of Street Entertainers.
TS interviews Raymond Burr
Soter, with SNI cast members, 1995.