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Working Things Out with Off Book’s The Zach and The Jess


Interview by The Jared and The Mikayla

Photos by Bells and Whistles Productions

I love all comedy… stand-up, sketch, roasts, satire, absurdist, puppet, uh- Ok, so I love most comedy.  Hands down, more than anything, and above all else, improvised comedy is my absolute favorite, so much that it makes me redundant. I simply believe it is a higher form of comedy and the most obvious way to recognize the funniest and smartest people in the comedy industry. I’m sure that didn’t make anyone feel alienated…

Austin’s Moontower Comedy Festival is primarily a stand-up comedy event, and they 100% do it right, year after year, with brilliant comedians that are funny even if you aren’t half in the bag. But once in a once they sprinkle on a little bit of improv, usually by way of live podcast recordings or special shows that call for crowd work or other on the spot wit and humor. This year’s standout improv show was, Off Book: The Improvised Musical Podcast.

While covering the fest The Vent Jr. had the chance to sit down with Zach Reino and Jessica McKenna, the stars of Off Book and work out some issues, and I think the Vent Sr. may have learned a think or two along the way.

The Jared: First off, can we all agree, no Avengers spoilers in this interview?

The Jess: I agree. We haven’t seen it.

The Zach: It would be very difficult for us to spoil it.

The Mikayla: Ok, so this one is Jared

The Jared: And that one is Mikayla

The Zach: This is Jess

The Jess: This is Zach

The Jared: That’s my dad.

The Mikayla: How are you guys enjoying your time in Austin at the Moontower Comedy Festival?

The Jess: So far so good. Super fun. I’ve been to Austin a handful of times.

The Zach: It’s my second time. Earlier today we got some really good tacos

The Jess: And I rode a scooter…

The Mikayla: For the first time?

The Jess: No, but I do like riding it here because it’s flatter than L.A. So, I appreciate my ability to actually ride them.

The Jared: This is a two-parter. Do you like actual musicals or do you two just like singing? And… what’s your favorite musical staring a Marvel character – real or made up?

The Jess: Great question… we do actually like musicals.

The Zach: We do actually like musicals, is there another actual musical staring a marvel character that isn’t Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark… That’s the only one that I can think of, that’s not my favorite.

The Jess: Mine would be like… Hulk: Hulking Around.

The Zach: Hulking Around is good. I’m a big fan of… Thor and the Multicolored Rainbow Bridge.

The Mikayla: How long have you been doing improv – solo and as a team?

The Jess: We’ve both been doing improv in some way since high school and then seriously since post college. Then we met in 2011 and performed as part of a larger team and then slowly became a writing duo, and perform just the two of us for Off Book, our podcast, and then still on bigger teams.

The Zach: Over a decade.

The Jess: Yeah, a long time.

The Jared: My dad says musicals and marvel movies are gay, but he says when his generation says that, it has nothing to do with homosexuality. Thoughts?

The Jess: I would say, you still can’t say it. I would say, dad, you can’t use it.

The Zach: Sorry if that word was like, fun, I get it, but we can’t anymore.

The Jess: Yeah, we don’t get to subject a whole people to being a pejorative. You know, we’re not gonna hold you for the crimes of the past, but we’re gonna move forward and I would say neither are a category of people.

The Mikayla: For people who aren’t familiar with your podcast… what’s the best way to check it out?

The Zach: The best way to check out our podcast is to download it and listen to it and do it. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s an improvised musical. We have an accompanist who is very very talented and also improvising and making everything up on the spot. We have a guest most of the time. It’s just called Off Book: the Improvised Musical and it can be found on your phone – if your phone is a smartphone and capable of downloading podcasts…

The Jess: Or on a computer

The Zach: Or on Spotify.

The Jess: I would say, if you wanna just scroll and see if you see a title that jumps out at you or a description or…

The Zach: or a guest you know.

The Jess: …or a guest, and that might be your way in. The guest might be different for anybody so…

The Zach: Yeah, if you know like SNL, Terry Gilliam did one recently. If you watch The Good Place, D’Arcy Carden did one. If you watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rachel Bloom’s in there. See what sparks joy for you.

The Jess: Yeah.  Marie Kondo it. 

The Jared: I’m 20yo and just started improvising with my troupe at UT last year… My dad says I’m getting too old to be so into marvel movies? What do you think?

The Jess: Never too old for a Marvel Movie…

The Zach: This is the last one ever though, it’s the end of the game and there is no more.

The Jess: They’re definitely not making more…

The Zach: They’re not gonna make more.

The Jess: They’re definitely not going to continue to make billions of dollars here and overseas.

The Zach: So I don’t think that choice is up to you, it’s being made for you. This is the last Marvel movie. 

The Jess: Yeah, it’s definitely over now.

The Mikayla: Tell us about the Calendar Album and do you have a favorite line from one of the tracks ?

The Jess: The Calendar Album, is Zach and I’s first album of written music that we’ve put together that is representative of both the 6-7 years we’ve been working together and also some tracks we wrote specifically for the album. My favorite line might be: You can live on luck and wit and Irish charm, but you’ll die in a fire without a smoke alarm. 

The Zach: I think mine is: Not all houses are mansions, but every single mansion’s a house. What is a blouse?

The Jess: What is a Blouse?

The Jared: I still don’t know to this day.

The Jess: It’s a mystery we’re trying to solve.

The Jared: Have you ever overheard your dad talking to his friends and he’s all like – “yeah, if I didn’t have kids I’d at least be a staff writer on some Aaron Sorkin show by now but I guess writing this local magazine is ok.”  Has that ever happened to you?

The Zach: Uh, no, but I feel like your dad might be putting undue pressure on you.

The Jess: Yeah.

The Zach: I just want to encourage you to sort of separate…

The Jess: …make your own path. Don’t hold any guilt for being in your dad’s life.

The Zach: I feel like a lot of the people who wrote for Aaron Sorkin shows probably do have kids. So maybe that’s not the issue. 

The Mikayla: Well, we wanna thank you for your time…

The Jared: So, how many years is it ok to blow off going to your kid’s school plays to -quote- “work on my book” ?

The Jess: No years.

The Zach: No years.

The Jess: No years.

The Zach: What play was it?

The Jared: It was The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

The Jess: OH, NO YEARS!

The Zach: You gotta see it.

The Jared: And I was Barfée.

The Jess: AH, COME ON!

The Jared: Seriously, it’s been like 5 years… where’s the book dad!? WHERE’S THE BOOK!? [The Jared Storms off.]

Look for Off Book anywhere you listen to podcasts and if you aren’t listening to podcasts on the regular, seriously, start… NOW!

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