Devin Sanclemente is a performer as unique as the work that he creates. His journey into comedy began during his freshman year of college in 2009. After trying out various forms of comedy, Devin found his niche with improv. “I loved the challenge of making something out of nothing. I feel like it’s the best way to recycle energy in the universe, when you take an empty moment and you surprise someone in a way that makes them happy… I enjoy allowing people to find themselves at a very instinctive state of happiness- when you’re laughing, your brain fires a bunch of neurons and it’s like “simple fun!” and that’s nice if I can have a hand in bringing that.”
Although he only formally started his improv training in college, Devin has always had a creative mind. “When I was a kid, I would play a lot of imagination games with my friends, I would narrate these stories where we’d fight monsters, but there was always a theatrical element to it where I would like making my friends laugh.” In high school Devin’s screenwriting teacher nurtured this creativity through improv games to help with the creative writing process. Although Devin liked writing, it was the improv games that really sparked his interest. And even though he had no formal theater training prior, the same teacher encouraged Devin to take a theater class where eventually, he was one of 12 out of 100 kids who were accepted into a magnet program where he learned accelerated acting techniques.
In college, Devin continued improv and as fate would have it, his mom met a group from Second City while on a cruise. Upon her return she encouraged Devin to go to Chicago for a week and take a class. Devin did, and that changed everything.
“I went to Chicago and studied improv from professionals and I was like, “Wow, a support-based performance medium, this is so cool.” It’s an art form where you can create something and somebody can support you as weird or as regular as it is… And I didn’t know that, that was a school of thought, I just thought improv was a fun hobby. But then I found a college in Chicago that I wanted to transfer to and improv became more than a hobby and remember thinking, “I want this to be my identity.””
Devin originally transferred to Columbia College to study film. He was making YouTube videos as a paid partner but quit to pursue improv as he found it more fulfilling. Devin found Annoyance in December of 2014 after finishing the iO Theater program in 2013 and then went through the school at ComedySportz before finding out about the internship program at the Annoyance. “And when I [found the Annoyance], I started to go hard with their philosophy: Doing you.”
And this is where the creation of Devin’s first major solo piece began.
Devin loved the community at the Annoyance but was feeling a strong pull to be heard as who he is. “I have a hard time being myself with other people because I’m always paying attention to how most people seem (to me) to have a really good idea of who they are, they just seem effortlessly cool. So I judge my instincts, because I feel that they’re strange compared to others, for better or worse.” These issues as well as the pressure of pursuing acting through auditions and classes were pushing him to embrace his individuality.
Being at the Annoyance, Devin had the privilege of seeing people making their own material and even tried out the open mics himself. “I would try to write stand-up, but it would just end up being weird. It would start with the idea of telling a story, but the more I got closer with the Annoyance’s theory of being you and doing you, playing your notes… [a note meaning something such as a speech pattern or style] that just really resonated with me.” Devin decided to try to unload his frustrations by writing comedy unique to him. And, as his improv teacher Lilly Allison suggested, playing to the strength of whatever character he was playing, no matter how nonsensical. “I ended up just playing myself, I wasn’t playing anything.” And in that way, Devin started to use the art form to embrace himself.
Devin started to take better care of his physical well-being as well, by eating healthier foods and going running. And it was during these runs when he would start to vividly imagine all these different performance ideas. After his runs he would write down all the imaginings he came up with. Devin was eager for people to see the real him, “At one point I just got so pissed that people weren’t hearing me. People whom I thought were so cool just weren’t seeing who I was. I felt like I was getting frustrated with playing normal.”
The imaginings that Devin wrote eventually evolved to include sound ques and song remixes. “I would write and then I’d refine it and then I didn’t know what I had and then I would explain the show to my friends. I would get so emotionally fired up when I’d talk about it that people would be like “Damn. That has me in shivers. You should do that.””
And so Devin did.
He talked to Lilly Allison [who runs The Annoyance’s open mic] and asked if he could debut his show at the mic. Lilly said ok. “Then I performed it… and I never felt such a gratifying sense of relief. That was an applause that I have not heard often,” Devin remembers. “These people came up to after this show… This one lady said, “I have never seen anything like that and I don’t know what your show meant but for whatever reason I am just so happy for you.” Some other lady came up to me and said, “Hey, I’m from New York and I want to get you out there to do a short gig because people out there would think that is so interesting.” Some other dude came up to me and said “Hey, I want you to do that in a street festival- I have never seen anything like that before.” Some other dude just came up to me and smiled and hugged me and just said, “Damn” and then just walked away.”
Devin woke up the next morning with a fire in his belly to perform over and over again. In May he performed Show Your Flames seven times at shows such as Lindsay’s Calling, Holy Fuck Comedy Hour, and various other Annoyance shows.
Now, looking forward, Devin says that he wants this to become a 45-min show. “I’m writing 10 minutes each month, leading up to November, which is my birthday. I want to turn 25 and get to point with my personal voice where I’m more ok with it then I was before.”
“I’m doing this because I want to,” Devin explains “No agent is coming up to me, being like “Hey, I need you to do this audition and nail this thing.” I am challenging myself. I am trying to push my own limits and doing my own work and I want people to see that.”
Devin also explained how he is getting to the point of using “Meisner” techniques in order to bring himself to a very specific emotional state before each show. This allows it to stay fresh and feel like he’s performing each show for the first time. “It is a price I’m paying. After each show I don’t remember what I do- sometimes I’ll leave the show either feeling gratified or constantly disturbed […] but my acting teacher, Sommer Austin, said that if you’re not affected by the performance you’re doing, then it’s not that near and dear to you. But the show is near and dear to me. So I think it’s a cool thing I’m doing by throwing myself to the brink emotionally each time.”
Devin of course is not trying to harm himself emotionally or otherwise, and is taking care to properly control and distance himself from his imaginings before and after the show while still finding ways to take risks with his work.
“I think the month of May when I performed it so often I felt so relieved and proud that I was going to go bring this to audience and perform. I felt so ok with myself in a way that I haven’t before. I met so many people in a cool way. I’m just here to do me. I was able to be like “Hey, I can meet people and it will be ok but at the end of the day I can have fun with myself.” So my personal life, that’s definitely improved.”
Devin hopes that the effect it will have on audiences is for them “To react, to feel relief, to experience it…. To just see it and go “Damn. That was a lot. I should tell my significant other or friend that I love them.” I want to spread positive energy. I want this to remind people of something that lets you be yourself in front of someone that maybe you’re having a hard time talking to.”
So what exactly will you see in a Show Your Flames show? Though it’s hard to put into words, Devin carefully describes it as, “An absurd blend of spoken-word, movement, sound design, and character work that heavily examines comedy in rhythm.”
For the next couple of months, Devin is throwing himself into the writing and performing process. He will be taking a lot of risks and going a lot of places. “If there’s anything I can ask of readers out there, pay attention to what I’m about to do next, because I’m really excited to show you what I’m about to do.”
And I can guarantee, it will be nothing like you’ve ever seen.
See Devin’s solo work August 18th, 8pm at The Dark Room at the CIC Theater or August 19th, 7:30pm at Flat Iron Comedy in the Flat Iron Arts Building. For more information and additional dates, please visit: devinsanclemente.com/events
The Annoyance Open Mic happens every Saturday at the Annoyance Theatre in Chicago at 9:30pm. Visit their Facebook page for more information.
Special thanks to Anna Horn (@aelizabee) for assistance with the editing of this article.