Comedy and Improv with a Big Heart: My Interview with the Masterminds Behind Heart of La Crosse Comedy Troupe


Heart of La Crosse


I am super thrilled to announce that I had a fantastic interview with a couple of wonderful people recently! Their names are Lisa and Todd Olson, and they are the masterminds behind The Heart of La Crosse Comedy Troupe.


I’d been fascinated by the art of comedy for so long within the realm of presentations and public speaking. Then I saw Lisa’s profile on LinkedIn, and did some investigation on their comedy troupe. At that moment, I knew I had to learn more about them.


Being a presenter and public speaker, I’ve always been curious and intrigued with how people can do comedy and humorous speaking in front of an audience. It only made sense to get to know them better and find out more about what they do.


Heart of La Crosse


Check out their website here! The Heart of La Crosse Comedy Troupe


I was so fortunate to be able to secure some time with Lisa and Todd on a Friday afternoon for this podcast interview. They were so gracious and kind enough to let me in on some of their secrets, as well as offer outstanding insight on what makes their comedy troupe so successful.


What made this interview so great was that we talked about many things related to the art of comedy and how any one of us can incorporate it into public performance. Besides that, they had me laughing so hard at times with their answers, it was difficult to stay on track with my questions. But we got through it just fine. These are truly hilarious people!


I also wanted to mention that they have an amazing performance coming up soon. Be sure to check out “Ed Setra and the Hash Tags: An Improv Rock N’ Roll Reunion Show” at the Pump House Regional Arts Center.


Here’s the banner below:


Heart of La Crosse


Ed Setra and the Hash Tags: An Improv Rock n’ Roll Reunion Show

April 6-8, 2017 – 7:30 PM

Pump House Regional Arts Center

119 King Street, La Crosse WI

Phone: 608-795-1434



The transcript of the podcast is right here. Enjoy!


NJ: Welcome! This is the official podcast of Your number one source for valuable information and content on presentations and public speaking. I’m your host NJ Lechnir, and today I am speaking with Lisa and Todd Olson of The Heart of La Crosse Comedy Troupe. Welcome Lisa and Todd, and thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day to join me! How are you today?


Lisa: Speaking for myself, I’m awesome, and it’s not my busy day. I did get my laundry caught up.


Todd: And since I am married to Lisa, I will just let her answer as to how I’m doing today, ’cause she will anyways.


Lisa: You’re pretty good, and you’re looking forward to taking me out tonight.


Todd: Yes, I guess I am now.


Lisa: Thanks for having us here!


NJ: You’re welcome! First, let me start by asking, how did The Heart of La Crosse begin? How did you start your group? Walk me through a history of how it began and what you folks actually do. (I stumbled quite a bit on these first questions because I was so nervous. But oh well. It got better as the interview went on.)


Lisa: The Heart of La Crosse began as a comedy troupe started back in the mid 80’s and one of the cast members that we still have is Brad Williams, and if you’ve ever looked up “Mr. Google,” you know he is in local radio and such, he is a very interesting guy.


He was in the very first group, and it was very college based, and they did 8 mm films and showed those during shows. So think that way and how much it’s evolved to what we do now.


Todd: It was basically a local Saturday Night Live. There were people like Kenny Brown and Dan Lee who wanted to take the things they saw on T.V. and apply it on a local level and ya, they did a lot of super 8 and 16 mm films and some stage and stand-up scripting things.


They were very popular, and it just kind of played out until the later 80’s, and I think what happened is, once the staff got older and grew up and life kind of him ’em in the face, they went “Well, we have kids to take care of. We can’t go chasing this.”


And it kind of went by the wayside for 5 or 6 years until Dan said “I’m not interested in performing anymore. I’d like to direct.” And he did a fantastic job at reviving it and moving more towards the scripted performance rather than the filming.


But Dan had a great approach in that his shows weren’t just comedy. He always loved to inject some irony or some pathos into the show too. So a lot of times, there were very touching things like the Christmas Ornament sketch, which is one I remember seeing. It was basically two Christmas ornaments that were discussing Christmas between each other.


Lisa: They were the last ornaments chosen. It was an angel and a broken candy cane. It was played by two of our cast.


Todd: And it became a very touching scene.


Lisa: And by accident. You know, comedy can have its moments. You have to have your ups and downs in it. But stating back to how we got into the troupe in 1999, I was in the singing group called Apple Annies, the goodwill ambassadors of La Crescent. And one of my co-Annies said “We need another female. Come over and see what this is about.”


I was like “I don’t do comedy. I don’t do any of that.” Well, it turns out I do. I think we all do, and I can get into that some other day. But it turns out I loved it and it worked, and I am a writer. All of that poured out of me, and it was like finding a home — finding my real home.


So, now more recently, I’ve been with it since 1999 and now it is my troupe, I run it and deal with the cast wrangling, butterfly training, and taxes, and all that fun stuff. I’m the nag — I’m the mom. I tell them what to wear and things like that. Todd is the Director.


Todd: We’re the kids. We don’t listen to her.


Lisa: Ya, and you’re the Director though, so…yes there is direction — there is directing in improv. On the side, I do speaking. I do keynotes, and it’s humorous keynotes and things like that. And I’ve done embarrass-a-grams. You can hire me to come to your company and do the…


[NJ: Do you wear a gorilla suit?] Not a gorilla suit. Well, that would cost extra. I shouldn’t say no. But I love to do that. I’ll blend in with the staff maybe, and be like the annoying server. I will do a full-on poem for the person after I pick on them.


NJ: That’s awesome. Thank you very much for that detail. I can definitely relate to what you’re saying because I’m a huge fan of like Saturday Night Live for many years, SC-TV, stuff like that. You know there is a lot of influence out there with comedy. It’s been around forever and you wonder how these things evolve over time.


SNL has been one of my favorites, and I even remember back — I’m not a young kid anymore — and I can remember watching Bill Murray and John Belushi when they started out and how it’s evolved. They went with their low points too as far as cast members, and then they kind of had a rebirth in the early 80’s with Eddie Murphy and some of these other rising stars.


And now you had Chris Farley and Adam Sandler, and all these other ones that have grown up with the cast over time. And then now these new ones, I don’t even know who they are anymore. I don’t watch it anymore.


But I still have huge influence from people like Steve Martin, and all who have done stand-up as well. And Jim Carrey has never been on Saturday Night Live, but he is a huge influence on my life, as someone who is just kooky, and he just loves what he does and I love what he does too.


Now, let me ask you this. You touched on something really good here. Auditioning of cast members — Who does the auditing?


Lisa: Oh we don’t often have auditions. We harvest. When you talked about Saturday Night Live, you mentioned the cast that had been tight for a long time. If you think about SNL now, it’s ever-evolving. I can’t name them either. I believe I can say Kristin Wiig, and I really don’t know who else, because she is a mainstay.


When you keep switching players and becoming new, that’s a different art form. With Heart of La Crosse, we write all year. You know, we’ve got an April show coming up that’ll be fully improv. But it’s a themed improv with audience participation. In the fall, it’s sketches, song parodies, and all that. So, when we’ve added members, it’s been rare.


Todd: It’s people that we see. It’s people that we experience out there. We’ve added new two members and wow, those people were the first we added in 10 years, since I came along. And one happened to be a server at our favorite restaurant at [Lisa: “Give ’em a plug.”] Buzzard Billy’s. It’s a great place to go [Lisa: “222 Pearl Street!”]. Very nice. Lisa will be getting a kickback later on. The Olson Margaritas.


Anyway, she was a server that was very engaging, very intriguing, and was young enough to be our daughter. But she had a lot of class and she could hold herself up. She was an amazingly intelligent person. And we got her up onstage one night for an improv gig and found out that she was amazing. And then when it came to sketch comedy, she fit right in.


Lisa: And the thing is, she was told she is not funny. She has two sisters that are wicked funny. She was always told she’s not funny.


Todd: You could say they’re wicked funny, but they’re also heavily medicated. So, there’s a little bit of a difference there.


Lisa: Ya, that’s okay. It’s covered under their HMO. But what we learned with Taylor is — and I hope I’m getting this right — is that she told us “I don’t perform and I’m not funny. I can do this with you.”


And then to have her play with us and be free, and then to let her creativity flow, and she’s got great writing ideas and great characters — it turns out her mother always told her she wasn’t funny, which was a joke within a joke, and she took it as all kids do “I can’t sing” and whatever.


She had a hit song with us in the last fall show that was to Ed Sheeran, and she sang about cows, and people would moo at her! It was hilarious.


Todd: We thought they were booing one night on stage, until we listened to it, and they were mooing from the audience.


Lisa: So, it’s just that — I know we went long on that answer of “This is what we see in somebody” and so we don’t hold open auditions. We used to when we strictly had an improv troupe off to the side.


But now, Heart of La Crosse is also our improv troupe, and we do parties — we’ll travel, and perform a whole hour of strictly improv for parties — very interactive — it just makes it fun for any event.


NJ: Thank you very much. I wanted to touch on some points too that you made. Being a member of Toastmasters, I’ve been in this for a little over a year and I can definitely relate to the idea that people have been told certain things throughout their life, and if they are told these things enough times, they start to believe them.


And this is something that I’ve always struggled with too. Maybe I AM funny. Sure, I am funny in my own social circles and when I have a comfort level, but what if I push myself past that point and I have a comfort level in front of an audience to be funny?


I think that is one experience that I think everyone should at least try to have in some way. Maybe not with comedy in front of an audience, but to just push past their comfort zone to the point where they can believe it themselves because they see social proof. And so you touched on another thing too here where you said you run…


Todd: Can I just back up real quick? You said something that I thought was very very valuable. You know when you talked about getting out of your comfort zone and doing something that you might not be familiar with.


What I would encourage you to think about when you’re talking about Toastmasters is that when you’re giving a speech, one of the biggest fears anyone has beyond financial ruin or death is public speaking. That’s it. 85% of people out there freak out about it.


Typically what people think is that they’re being judged and that’s why they’re afraid.  What I would encourage you to think about is people want to hear about what you’re going to say.


If you are in front of them, there is a reason that they’re in the audience and you’re onstage. You already have some legitimacy and there’s already an unspoken level of comfort because they want to hear what you’re going say.


And if you can get into a public speaking situation realizing that you’re there for a reason, not to be judged, it changes your perspective and your comfort level a little bit.


So, when you are performing, people already want to hear what you have to say. You have some legitimacy. And if people look at it from that perspective, it tends to take away some of the judgment people feel. It’s just a perspective.


Lisa: And you had mentioned that too — a little bit about your hesitation with speaking and getting into that more, and that is why we just here in our underwear today – to make it easier for you.


Todd: But I’m wearing her underwear and she’s wearing mine.


Lisa: So you didn’t have to visualize it, I thought if we just put that out there, it would help you be at home here in this coffee house.


(Now, because I was doing a podcast, you won’t ever be able to see my face at that particular moment when Lisa said that. It was one of complete shock at first, and then I was laughing so hard before my next question that I had to pull myself together quickly before I spoke again. Nice zinger you put in there, Lisa!)


NJ: Absolutely, because when I started this podcast just now, it happens every time I get up to speak or do something that I’m required to perform in. I have anxiety levels that are just shooting right through the roof, but fortunately for me I have a couple of great guests here, so I am so happy that you’re here.


So I want to pick your brain a little bit deeper now and I want to ask, what do you think based on your experiences and influences in life, what is the secret to great comedy and how do you keep your material fresh and relevant all the time?


Lisa: Have you ever been going through traffic and someone cuts you off or whatever and you want to give them a dirty look? There is a look that Todd does that’s called the Midwest. He’s going to show you now.


Todd: Well, when you’re out in California — unfortunately you can’t do this over the podcast — when you’re in California, people tend to give you the finger and they swear, and when you’re in New York, they shake their finger at you. And when you’re in the Midwest, they just give you the dirty look.


Lisa: It’s a stern jaw set…


Todd: And that’s the worst thing you can get when somebody drives by you. They give you that – it’s not even a frown – it’s just a flat line in their mouth that’s spread across their face, and they just give you that intense look, and a little shake of the head, and I’m like “I’m an idiot, man.”


Lisa: And you can realize that and think of that. On my way here, I just went through a dark yellow light…


Todd: Dark yellow??


Lisa: It was dark yellow! It wasn’t red yet. And so I was cutting through quickly to turn left onto this busy street and I cut somebody off. It was his turn to go straight, and he was animated. His hands were flying and he’s giving me the what for, and I just smiled.


It was somebody I used to work for at the radio station. So I don’t know if he recognized me, but my point is [Todd: Oh, I’ll tell him later on] – Oh, I will tell Mike Hayes that I cut him off in traffic, but I wanted to be here, and I’m more important today. But the point is, I just shared a story that is relatable.


You were nodding your head yes and you chuckled a little bit. That’s the root of comedy – to make it relatable. I wouldn’t share this story with Kindergartners – you know – because that wouldn’t make sense, and so you’ve got to think of who your audience is.


So if I am performing for a group of women, my content is way different than if it’s a group of male security guards, which is a true example of what I’ve done. So your stories are going to be so different. 


You first of all want to be relatable, and you want to get to know your audience, and you want to be real, and then say – the first think I’m going to say is – I am not the genius of this topic. I’m learning with you. So let’s talk about this together, and so now we’re all the same. That’s what helps me.


Todd: No, I can’t — What she said.


Lisa: Enough out of you.


NJ: So, another thing we said previously was that some people tell you that you’re not funny. Believe me, I get told this by my kids every day of my life, so there’s another confirmation in the wrong direction. That’s what I’m trying to change.


What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an actor, comedian, speaker, or presenter, but they suffer from severe speech anxiety, stage fright, whatever you want to call it?


Listen to the podcast to find out Lisa and Todd’s answer to this question and also the rest of this amazing interview. They have many more fantastic tips and a goldmine of advice you’ll want to hear about comedy and speaking in the last 10 minutes!


Again, don’t miss their performance “Ed Setra and the Hash Tags: An Improv Rock N’ Roll Reunion Show” on April 6, 7, and 8 at the Pump House, 119 King St, La Crosse, WI. The show starts at 7:30 PM!


Heart of La Crosse


Check out their website here! The Heart of La Crosse Comedy Troupe


Check out their Facebook page here! The Heart of La Crosse Facebook Page


Heart of La Crosse


Special thanks to JavaVino for providing us with a kick-butt conference room in the back (the extent of Lisa’s influence) and for coffee that is out of this world! No wine, unless you count me complaining about my contest fail two weeks ago!


Heart of La Crosse

Lisa taking a selfie of us after the interview. She caught me on a wave, so I look like I have a flesh colored boxing glove, and I am going to punch the phone. Not sure what Todd is doing with his mouth… either it’s a huge canker sore or he is not quite fully committed to “The Godfather” look. 


Be sure to listen to the rest of the podcast. Todd does a full out impression of Corleone! I talk about a butt-whooping that I took in a speech contest. And Lisa thinks I am a glutton hot dog eater!


Also, be sure to visit Buzzard Billy’s in downtown La Crosse for the most excellent New Orleans style Cajun-Creole fare, and 1950’s style cocktail lounge and restaurant (where they met comedy troupe member Taylor Gruzska).



Publications About The Heart of La Crosse Comedy Troupe:


Heart of La Crosse: “Ed Setera & The Hash Tags”


Going straight to the ‘Heart’ of La Crescent


Comedy group eager for audience interaction


Heart of La Crosse show ready to surprise


Getting at the ‘Heart’ of improv sketch comedy


Heart of La Crosse puts the audience in charge



Thanks for joining us!


This is the official podcast of Your number one source for helpful content on powerful presentations and public speaking. I hope this article and podcast has been helpful. I’m your host NJ Lechnir signing off. Until next time, I want to remind you to always keep leaping forward!


More great articles on research, interviews, writing, design, presentations, and public speaking are coming your way. If you liked this article, comment, subscribe, and SHARE it with your family and friends on your favorite social media app.




18 Comments on “Comedy and Improv with a Big Heart: My Interview with the Masterminds Behind Heart of La Crosse Comedy Troupe

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    1. Completely my pleasure Lisa! I had so much fun and can’t wait to do it again as well. You and Todd were so gracious and down to earth. Your stories and advice were so helpful and insightful. I hope the readers and listeners take away a ton of value from your material. Again, thank you and we’ll talk again soon!

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