Actor, director Terence Nance pushes boundaries of television with sketch comedy series on HBO
A 2005 Northeastern graduate, Nance experiments with absurdist comedy and social messaging in his series “Random Acts of Flyness.” He says the university’s energy and the friendships he made here helped shape his career.
Terence Nance. Photo by Kirby Griffin
Terence Nance’s “Random Acts of Flyness” on HBO has a format reminiscent of “Saturday Night Live,” with comedic sketches mixed in between music.
But don’t expect celebrity cameos and satirical takes on the news.
“Random Acts of Flyness” instead leans into the avant-garde, its sketches ranging from an interview told through stop-motion animation and parody infomercials. Each one focuses on different aspects of Black life in America.
Something so free-flowing can only come from an exposure to a range of art that Nance, a 2005 graduate of Northeastern University, got from the time of his upbringing in Dallas. His mother was an actress, director and acting coach who taught at the esteemed Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. His father was a photojournalist. His extended family — aunts and uncles — were musicians.
When it came time to pick a college, Nance was drawn to Northeastern University for its sports programs. But his visual art classes allowed him to experiment. As an art major, Nance explored a range of mediums — from sound editing to digital printing — that taught him about the act of creating.
“I felt that in general, in terms of choosing a major, I needed to do something that kept my interest,” Nance says. “Even at that time, my understanding of an art major was a collection of classes in which you would make things generally, not necessarily with the pressure to identify with any one specific medium — just training in how to be creative generally.”
Nance is returning to Northeastern’s College of Arts, Media, and Design in November as a guest speaker for the Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series.
The Baltimore resident now looks back on his time at Northeastern — including time spent studying abroad in South Africa — and recalls friends with similar creative pursuits. Even if it was just as simple as making music in their spare time in dorms, Nance points to this energy as having shaped him.
“The influence came from being around my friends,” he said. “That kind of energy was really the sustaining force of the experience, whether it was my friends or many other people who were just creative.”
While Nance never formally studied film at Northeastern, it’s where he found his niche. His directorial debut, “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty,” premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2012. Nance starred in the film and wrote the script, a tale of a man examining his romantic past and present after he’s stood up by a date.
Since then, Nance has gone on to work on other shorts before the 2018 release of “Random Acts of Flyness,” which was inspired by a conversation with his brother who had the idea of an Adult Swim-style takeover of TV 1.
“That kind of prompt gave me a way to think about what TV is as a medium,” he said. “It’s omnipresent. It influences your nervous system in sort of a subconscious way. It permeates a room or a household. Imagining the type of thing that I would want to be influencing my consciousness, that’s what the show is.”
The second season of “Random Acts of Flyness” aired in 2022, but there are no plans for future episodes due to the writers’ strike. In the meantime, Nance is working on an album, his second following the release of his debut, “V O R T E X,” in 2022. Much like his visual work, Nance’s music can’t be confined to a single genre and he has a hand in various aspects of the album, from writing to performing the tracks.
“I had been making music for many years with the energy of a hermetic hobbyist,” he said. “It sort of boiled over after many years of reining it. Releasing it became an act of respect for (the music) itself.”