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For many, public speaking is a terrifying prospect. Performing improvisational comedy is unthinkable. But not for Daniel Chai. For him, it’s cathartic.
Meet the Kwantlen Polytechnic University journalism grad, working reporter, and co-founder of the Vancouver-based comedy improv troupe The Fictionals. He is a man who thrives on being in front of a crowd.
“Improv for me is a great creative outlet, a way to let loose and have fun and be creative in a safe and fun environment,” says Daniel. “I think people get meaning through comedy. It can put serious topics into perspective. It’s almost cathartic for us to act out these situations and for audiences to laugh at it.”
In addition to regularly performing with The Fictionals, Daniel teaches an improv class at KPU every Monday night for students, staff and the public. The workshop is free for students, thanks to funding from the Kwantlen
The environment, much like Daniel himself, is relaxed and inviting. Daniel leads a check-in where everyone shares how they’re doing, followed by warm-up exercises. After that everything goes. The goal for each workshop is for participants to feel a little more connected not only
to others, but also to themselves.
“Each week has new discoveries for both the students and myself,” says Daniel. “A lot of times in class, there are students with an internal block. They’re trying to find the right idea or the right words, but in improv everything is right. Failing is totally fine and failing can lead to
Being given permission to fail also gives permission to take risks, a skill that is extremely useful inside and outside of the improv workshop. The classes also teach flexibility and innovative thinking.
“In yesterday’s exercise we did a fun storytelling exercise called change,” says Daniel. “Students were partnered up and had to tell a story. The listeners then would tell their partners ‘change’ and the storytellers had to change an element of their story. To change up your ideas on the fly is something that can work really well outside of the improv workshop. It helps open us up to more possibilities whether we’re applying for a job or studying for an exam.”
Changing up his perspective is something Daniel does frequently. In addition to his improv work, he’s the Events Writer for online news outlet the Daily Hive’s Vancouver and Calgary editions. Previously he was a reporter for the Surrey Now newspaper.
He’s also a working actor and has appeared on TV shows including DC Legends of Tomorrow, and on the recently debuted Telus STORYHIVE-winning web series Geoff and the Ninja.
“I get to play the lovingly-annoying next door neighbour Liam,” laughs Daniel, who sports a comical gold tooth in the series preview. “It’s about what would happen if your roommate was a ninja?
While Daniel’s career has taken many twists and turns – he’s been a reporter, teacher, communications professional, actor and comedian – the common thread has always been storytelling.
“For me, my goal was always to discover stories and to help tell stories,” says Daniel. “Moving from journalism to improv and becoming an actor was just a continuation of those goals. I get to continue telling stories, but now I also get to make up those stories.
“No matter where my career has taken me, or will take me I’ll be forever grateful for the grounding my education gave me. That base knowledge that I can reach back to in whatever job or situation I’m in. I’m grateful to have had that time at Kwantlen.”
What would you take if you went back to KPU? If I went back now I would become more involved in student politics. I run the [improv] workshops in collaboration with the KSA. The KSA works very hard to run programs for students. If I could go back, I’d be involved in that to give back more.
What was the biggest benefit of your education? The benefit of studying at Kwantlen for me was the experience of the instructors. Many of them are still working and can guide the students in a real modern way. All of my instructors had great knowledge that they passed on. I’m very thankful for that.
What new projects are you working on? I’ve recently started studying the art of voiceover. I’m taking courses and I’m excited to explore another creative outlet.
Favourite memory of KPU? One of my favourite memories of Kwantlen back in the day was a photography journalism course because that for me really ignited my love for photography. With the Fictionals, I do a photographic series on social media. One is showcasing Vancouver street art and the other is the lovely scenery Vancouver is home to. The course showed me how to look at the world in a different way. Now though I take photos with my smart phone [laughs].
Which faculty member had the biggest impact on you? All of my journalism instructors. Mark Hamilton was one of them and is still teaching at Kwantlen. My teachers arrived earlier so we could work on projects. Their doors were always open to help us find solutions. They had years of experience so to be able to tap into their experience was really inspiring. Talking to current students, it seems like it’s still the same way. I try to take some of those teachers’ passion and encouraging techniques, and incorporate them into my teaching as well.