Horatio Sanz said he may sound a little like Mickey Mouse during his performance Friday at the Dirty South Improv Festival.
But it's not a part of his routine.
The event will be his first time on stage following surgery for sleep apnea, and he said the procedure might affect the voice that fans know from his impressions of people like Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il on "Saturday Night Live."
Sanz, a cast member of SNL from 1998 until last year, will perform at the Cat's Cradle Friday night as the featured guest at DSI Comedy Theater's Dirty South Improv Festival this week. The festival began Tuesday and runs through Sunday with performances at the Cradle, The ArtsCenter, and DSI Theater and DSI Studio in Carr Mill Mall.
Some 450 performers in 60 ensembles from throughout the nation will gather in Carrboro for the festival this week. Organizers are calling it "Carrboro's Comedy Block Party."
Sanz, a founding member (along with fellow SNL star Tina Fey) of the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy troupe, said his performance Friday will be quite different from what he did on SNL. For one thing, fans probably won't see his impersonations of Ozzy Osborne or Elton John.
"Probably all of it will be stuff never seen before," he said.
He'll do a fully improvised act, along with five other performers, and will ask for audience participation at the beginning of the set.
Zach Ward, DSI executive producer and artistic director, said Sanz is the biggest name yet to grace the festival's lineup. He met Sanz at an improv festival in Chicago in 2003 and said he had since managed to coax Sanz to come to Carrboro.
"The short answer is that I was stalking him on MySpace," Ward said.
Ward said Sanz's performance at the festival will introduce many people to the North Carolina's alternative comedy scene.
"He was on SNL on Saturday and will be in Carrboro on Friday, so it's a pretty exciting jump for the festival," Ward said. "It's just awesome. I don't know what else to say. It's just so rock star."
Sanz got his start in improv in his hometown of Chicago, where he saw his first improv show at the age of 19 and took a class a year later at the ImprovOlympic, now called iO Theater.
He took a stab at straight theater but soon returned to improv, joining Chicago's famed Second City comedy theater group, a breeding ground for many SNL cast members.
In 1998 Sanz became a featured player on SNL and was soon promoted to a full repertory member
The comedian said improv is a very different sort of comedy than the sketch comedy on SNL, although each has its own attractions.
"They're just two different things," he said. "There's a lot I prefer about writing sketches and putting them up, but there's some freshness just having it made up in front of the audience."
In addition to touring and performing at festivals, Sanz is directing a series of shorts for an Internet show and is interested in producing for television.
"I think TV is still a very cool thing to pursue," he said. "I'm not dying to be a movie star. I'm happy to be on TV, as long as I can have a little control over it."
His all-time favorite show, he said, is "The Price is Right."
He said it was fun for a while watching shows like "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," and Fey's "30 Rock," each of which portrays a fictional look behind the scenes of a TV series, but he has since lost interest.
"It is kind of like if you worked at a doughnut shop and you'd say, 'They don't make doughnuts like that,'" he said.
He said the shows don't reveal any SNL trade secrets.
"The thing about '30 Rock' is they kind of focus on Tina [Fey] and the characters and the relationships to each other instead of the going-ons of a show like 'Saturday Night Live,'" he added. "'Saturday Night Live' is still as mysterious as it was. You're not going to get any insight."
Sanz said he doesn't typically do a great deal of preparation for his shows, and his performance at this week's Improv Festival will be no different.
"I drink a lot of coffee so I have energy, so people aren't bored when they watch me," he said. "And that's about it."
Afterward, he said, he likes to unwind by going to a local bar, where he said he often meets a lot of people who want to be comedians.
He said he has one piece of advice for would-be improv comics.
"My tip for that type of people or any type of people is to just keep that on the backburner," he said. "I don't think anyone should think about getting discovered while they're performing. Improv is hard enough without worrying about all that other stuff."
The Dirty South Improv Festival began in 2001. That first show was held on the UNC campus; since then the event has become a national festival.
Sanz's visit will be his first performance at the festival and his first foray into North Carolina.
"I was in South Carolina last year for a show, but I've never been [to North Carolina]," Sanz said. "I'm excited to go anywhere for the first time. I'm looking forward to it."
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