What I Learned by Doing Improv at a Soap Opera-Themed Restaurant

Each room in the restaurant was themed after one of the locations from one of the shows—there was even a surgery room from "General Hospital" you could eat in.

Oct 26 2016, 5:00pm

I worked at a restaurant in the California Adventure Park at Disneyland that was based on different ABC soap operas. Each room in the restaurant was themed after one of the locations from one of the shows—there was a surgery room from General Hospital you could eat in. There was a main entryway, a gazebo, and a wharf.

We were a group of improv actors that would come in once an hour, dressed like characters from these soap operas. We'd be doctors in scrubs and lab coats, or dressed as a millionaire with an ascot and smoking jacket. And for some reason there was a 1930s cop—it made no sense. Every one of us always scrambled to be the doctor because then you were just dressed in scrubs and it was like being in pajamas. We could come in and use people who were seated for dinner in an improv scene. Me and a girl would come in, and we would argue because we were ex-lovers, and I would say, "How dare you say that in front of my wife Monrovia?" and I would grab the shoulders of some woman sitting down at dinner and make her my wife. It was so stupid and people would love it and it was the easiest job I'll ever have.

We weren't the actual waitstaff. The waiters were wearing the same costumes as us, but they didn't do any of the improv. I don't think they ever liked us because, for us, it was a union job and it paid 20-something bucks an hour with benefits; but for them, it was just kind of a sad food service job. They were great people, but I think after a while they were like, "Oh God, not these guys again, telling the same jokes and I'm just trying to do my job here." And I can't blame them.

I remember the wharf being such a strange set. It was hard to go out there and not talk about throwing a body into the water. What's a doctor in his surgery outfit doing on a wharf but getting rid of body parts?

The restaurant was expensive enough that there weren't a lot of families—it seemed like it was more adults and couples. But we would often get these celebrities coming through. I remember John Stamos came one time and he was super up for playing along—he loved it. And then Bruce Willis came and he was very respectful, but you could just tell he didn't want anything to do with it. He just sat there with an awkward smile on his face.

Most of the customers—99 percent of the time—absolutely loved it. And it wasn't anything to do with how good we were, they just loved the idea of it.

For the most part, we all stuck around. Erinn Hayes was there—and now she's on the show Kevin Can Wait—and Chris Tallman from the The Thundermans. There were some really talented people there. The competition was high and the only downside was the drive to Disneyland.

The restaurant didn't last very long—it was really expensive and the park opened right after 9/11, so attendance never really was strong in the first place. For the first month or two we'd come in, we were supposed to start at 11 and they'd say, "You're first shift is at 5. Just go hang out in the park all day." And we would be paid!

When the restaurant closed I was bummed. I'd probably still be there! Most of us went on to do other shows in the park. I made lifelong friends there—I miss it in a wonderfully nostalgic way. It was silly and goofy and stupid and I loved it.

As told to Alex Swerdloff. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Matt Gourley is an American actor, comedian, and podcaster best known for his work on the Superego podcast, Drunk History, and as a Volkswagen spokesperson.