Greg Maughan is executive director and co-founder of Philly Improv Theater. PHIT’s two weeks at the Shubin Theatre begin on Monday.
How and why did you get into comedy?
I first started performing improv and sketch in High School – mostly because I wanted to do something to prove I wasn’t just a goody two-shoes to the rest of my classmates (I know what you’re saying: “Who would have ever thought Greg was considered a responsible, people-pleasing, brown nose?”).
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that?
When I’m improvising I tend to try very hard to play as if whatever is being created is true, not zany. So even if the situation ends up being wild, I look for a way to have the character be realistic. But I also play in dark, twisting, seething ways – I notice that there’s a lot of anger underneath what I do on stage: characters who are trying very hard to stay in control while having having pretty black thoughts.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you?
I like performing at Philly Improv Theater (PHIT) because I started the theater, but I also really enjoy performing anywhere I don’t have to be in charge and can just focus on my performance.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out?
I really like thinking about the shows that we’ve had at PHIT that sold out and the vibe and energy they had: A Comic vs. Audience Comedy show that got put on the front page of Philly.com as “Today in Phily”, the Bedtime Stories tribute to The Wire (where most of the performers hadn’t watched the show!), Adsit & Gausas last year, the big house team in in November. I’ve also really loved shows I just go to go see: Nobody Dies on Christmas this past December was a great show like that.
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? Or a sort of method that you use to develop comedic material?
Since I do mostly improv I don’t sit down and plan what I’m going to do, but I do think that having a life outside of comedy is really important. Improvisers who do nothing but improv end up doing material that looks like a photocopy of photocopy – they’ve seen so many shows that they just base their stuff off of other bits they’ve seen. Walking around, going to new places, hanging out and overhearing other things people say: those are all little slivers of everyday life that I can use to start something when I get on stage.
What is it about improv and sketch that draws you to it?
The spontaneity is what drew me to improv, the idea that it’s rush to step out and not know what is going to happen (although I have a vague notion, obviously, that I can pull it off). A lot of the time when I’m performing on stage I’m actually incredibly nervous – sometimes all the skin on my face and hands will just go numb while I’m on stage. It doesn’t start until the moment we get the suggestion, and it goes away once the show gets moving, but it’s still there sometimes and I don’t know why.
When I was doing sketch, the draw was figuring exactly the right way to get a joke to hit – coming up with something funny and then working and working and working it until you had just the right words to convey the idea. I imagine it would be the same way if I started trying some stand-up. I encourage anyone and everyone to bother me to come with them to an open-mic. I just need a little shove, I swear.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites?
I honestly really like Brendan Kennedy because he’s so smart off the top of his head, but not in a showy way – and he just doesn’t like BS. I also love how fearless The Feeko Brothers can be — especially as The Porno Brothers. For improv, I really love Grimacchio at the moment – both Ralph Andracchio and Jason Grimley play so well together. I’m sure I’ll have some new obsession in three months though, so many people are coming up so quickly… with the improv I tend to love whoever is new, because I’m excited for them.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire?
It’s a long time ago, and it wasn’t exactly “bad” per se … but in high school I had to go to a meeting with the Principal and members of the school board over material we did in our show and it was a pretty big scandal. Apparently saying teachers were alcoholics, or sleeping with guys on the football, or had giant electric ride on vibrators was possible libel. I’m glad to say that in the last 10 years it has actually come out that everything we did on stage was accurate. Truth in Comedy: 1, Grosse Pointe South High School, 0.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow?
I think I will surprise exactly no one by saying a space. Especially for improv and sketch comedy there is a need for a real stage, a good-sized theater, where there can be performances every night of the year. For the broader community a home-base is a big deal. I’m doing everything I can, but I’m also learning it is just so much more complex than you could ever imagine until you set out to try and make it happen.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy?
I would like to start directing sketch groups to help them add that final layer of polish and professionalism to their shows. Everything in town needs just a bit more sprucing up (including the place where we are performing), because it’s sad but true that people often start forming their opinions before they hear any jokes.