Bryan McFergie and “The Las Vegas Show!”
Bryan McFergie was the first time I encountered the formation and destruction of an improv cult from start to finish. As I have explained earlier, improv is peppered with narcissists who are trying to start up little cult systems within the larger cult.
Bryan McFergie blew into town suddenly from out West. I had only been in the improv scene for a couple of years at this point. I was doing pretty well for a beginner but I had not yet encountered anyone quite like this.
Bryan McFergie, as one of my improviser friends said, looked like the guy who announces the bingo numbers. He had large manic eyes with bottleneck glasses, and a wild crazy grin. To me he looked like the Uncle you never wanted around your kids. Him and his wife were supposed to be well known producers and improvisers from the “west”. I didn’t know enough about the scene out “west” to know if it was true. For some reason I had an instant dislike for Bryan. And it seemed as though the feeling was mutual. This was the beginning of me finding myself at odds with what the group wanted.
Bryan took over Wednesday nights at the “SC” improv space with a live improvised Soap Opera called “LIVE From Las Vegas”. Yeah not too original. He brought on some of the well known improvisers in town to star in the show. There were also a few beginners he brought on that became very loyal to him.
Bryan would stand at the side of the stage with a microphone and he would direct the show from the side. He would freeze the action and say stuff like “And now they do the same scene backwards!” with the large frightening grin on his face. The show was a hit to my dismay. It received excellent reviews (probably because the improvisers were top notch). And soon he was teaching at the training centre where he proclaimed that he invented the Improvised Soap Opera Format (not true). Always beware of someone who says they invented a format and are selling classes at the same time.
The class was interesting because he would tell everyone that if they took the class they would get a shot at being on “The LAS VEGAS STAGE!” It didn’t take long for people to realize that they were somehow never getting on to the coveted Wednesday night stage. This is the common “carrot” these guys always use. First you put on the show with the improvisers everyone knows, and then you sucker everyone else into paying for your classes with false promises of stage time.
Soon the name Bryan McFergie was on everyone’s lips. He was directing all of the shows around town. People were begging him to direct their comedy shows. There was talk of him becoming the producer of “SC”. Everyone was kissing this guy’s ass. And I had no relationship with him. One time I had an interaction with him and he said something racist about Chinese people in front of several people at The Training Center.
I did actually end up in one of his shows. A friend of mine was a sucker for his bullshit. I thought it was a mistake but I wasn’t in charge. Bryan never said one word of direction to me the entire time we worked together. He talked a lot. But I don’t remember a lot of directing.
When Bryan fell he fell swiftly. People began to notice that he was a compulsive liar. Students became frustrated that they were never getting on stage. Some people from out “west” came into town and clarified that Bryan did not invent the improvised soap opera format and that he and his wife had actually left the “West” in disgrace. In short, they conned everyone.
Soon Bryan was fired from the training center for his claims that he invented the soap opera format. He then stole the stage curtain from the theater claiming it was his (it was not) and then took it to another theater where he started the show up again. It soon ran out of steam and within a few years Bryan McFergie and his wife had left town and were nothing but a strange distant memory. If you walked into the main comedy club in my town tonight and said the name Bryan McFergie chances are no one would even know who you were talking about.
To me it was such a relief that this had happened. I imagined things would go back to normal. Or at least the normal I had naively thought had existed. Bryan was only one out of many miniature cult leaders that I have butted heads with over the years. Many of the stories are much more personally disastrous for me than this particular one. But I think his story serves as an archetype for improv cult leaders. The last I had heard Bryan had left the country and was in trouble for plagiarism. Keep in mind, at one point he was the toast of the town and young performers honestly believed you had to go through him if you wanted to make it.
Improv is full of false prophets…
Next week: CASE STUDY 2: The Martina Maylee Story