Gregg Gethard has hosted Bedtime Stories, a mainstay of Philadelphia’s sketch scene, for four and a half years. Many sketch groups and comedians have met, collaborated, or had their first show at Bedtime Stories. Next month, in April, Gregg has decided the show will end its run.
What influenced your decision to make April’s Bedtime Stories the final show?
The primary reason is that I’m 33 years old. My wife and I are rapidly approaching the “let’s have a baby” stage of our lives. And as soon as that happens, then your whole priorities have to change. My wife’s not pregnant or anything, but we’re both kind of transitioning into the next stage of adulthood. As a lot of people know, I work in New York but live in Philly (thank God). But because of that, I have a lot less free time than I want. And as much as I like hanging out with everyone and doing this stuff, I like hanging out with my wife and dog and watching baseball and getting ice cream with them than anything else. I also have a lot of non-comedy friends that I love who are also at a similar stage of life. I truly love a lot of people in the comedy scene but I’m just at a different place right now than a lot of performers and there’s just a whole, “I’m losing what I had in common with these people” kind of feeling I have.
But a lot of really little things have been bubbling up the past year or so with the show that has made it not fun for me anymore. The show is logistically really hard to put together — there are 10-12 “slots” on the show, and on top of it I do my own material. I have to field all kinds of questions from everyone who wants to do the show, on top of making sure things are lined up with the venue, that we have a projector, that I do the marketing/PR, etc. It’s REALLY hard to do this and after 4.5 years, it’s become too much of a chore. I used to be willing to do the administrative work because the payoff of putting on an awesome show was so great but now it’s just not there for me.
The other thing — I’m a little bitter about how people have been treating the show. I think the show has been completely taken for granted. I think the show for a while was a “must” show for those of us in the alternative comedy scene in town. And by “must” it wasn’t just “I have to perform/watch this” but it was “This is a really awesome community that I want to be a part of.” And that spirit has slowly dwindled. I think the core group of Bedtime Stories — me, Jon Goff, Meg & Rob, Secret Pants, Jaimie Fountaine and the folks who aren’t on every show but are pretty regular– have all been doing this for a while and are all at a place where the show isn’t as exciting as it was. And there are some good new people who do the show like Hillary Rea, who does these story telling things that the show was initially built around, but a bunch of the newer people just aren’t clicking with what I want the show to look like.
Then a lot of the regular performers — who definitely know better — do some untoward things before the show. I don’t like that at all — if you need to do something “untoward” to perform, then you shouldn’t be performing. And behind the scenes there was also a move a little while ago from some people to bring it back to The Shubin. And that’s fine — both the Shubin and the Ric Rac have their good points and bad points — but one of the reasons that was repeated a lot was “It was really awesome when we were hanging out in the basement, drinking beers and getting to know each other.” I don’t think the show that I put a lot of effort into should be cherished because it’s a bar.
Also, since the show moved to Sunday, a lot of people have said they can’t commit to the show because they’re taking an improv class. And that’s fine and everything, but if you have a chance to perform in front of the biggest comedy crowd in Philly (the past bunch of shows have all had about 70 paid), and quite possibly the smartest comedy crowd in the entire country, I think that’s an opportunity that doesn’t exist outside of the show. Everyone always bitches about how hard it is to get people to go to shows and get local attention — well, Bedtime Stories gets an audience and has had national performers and has had videos that were originally done for the show go viral, so you’d think that the lightbulb would go off in people’s heads. I think you can learn more performing at one Bedtime Stories than you can taking any kind of comedy class. Please don’t take into this that the classes aren’t worth taking. But, professionally, as a journalist — I learned more in one week as a reporter than I did in taking every high school and college journalism class possible. It’s the same with comedy.
It’s fine if you can’t make the show because of a real-life commitment, but if you’re doing something else comedy wise instead of Bedtime Stories, it just shows me that you don’t appreciate all the hard work that’s been put into it to make it the best show in the city.
The show has been around for several years now — what impact would you say it has had on the Philly comedy scene?
There are three cities int he US where you can make a living doing comedy in New York, LA and Chicago. Out of the cities where you can’t make a living and need to have a day job, Philly has the best comedy scene. That’s something I’ll believe to the core. We have the most unique performers. We have really professional performers. We do a great job.
That wouldn’t happen without Bedtime Stories. The only show of the sort that was going on before Bedtime Stories was Die Actor Die. Bedtime Stories was kind of the next step from that. And with the whole show built around a unique theme, it forced everyone to think of new stuff.
If I didn’t start Bedtime Stories, I think there would be 75% less sketches written in the city.
The show also was a big reason as to how PHIT got off the ground and now they have all kinds of awesome weird shows, which creates more opportunities for people to do really great, unique stuff.
But I think BS has been the heart and soul of the Philly alternative comedy scene since it really got going strong. It’s the place that had the biggest and the best crowd, and it’s the place where performers did their best material.
How did the show evolve over the years?
The show started off as a storytelling show. I stole the idea from my brother’s “Nights of Our Lives” show at UCB in New York, which was the first place I did any sort of real comedy. The first two or three shows was a storytelling show around those themes but they weren’t any good artistically. The first show got a good crowd but the next ones after that, the only people in attendance were my wife, our friend Liza and the homeless guy who helps you park cars on South Street because he found out there was free beer.
I tweaked it to become an “anything goes as long it’s about the theme” show. And I was in the Sixth Borough back then, and we did Die Actor Die, and I met the Secret Pants guys, and then I met Meg & Rob on the Internet, and that snowballed into what it became.
And really quickly, people got it. There were just these really bizarre character pieces, tight sketches, really well-done videos, etc. Just great, weird comedy.
The first show that everything clicked at the first time was on Relationships. At one point, I was being used as human furniture by Greg Maughan [in a sketch, not literally -ed]. That was when, in my head, I realized that this was really going to work out. Then the next month was close to a sell out, and then the next month got bigger. Then we had a “Tribute to The Wire” which happened the same week The Wire was wrapping up and that got a ton of press, and one of the cast members was able to make the show.
Right when we got the show going, I had a falling out with some of the PHIT folks. The show was also selling out the Shubin and the Ric Rac was back and has a bigger capacity so I moved it there. That really helped kind of move things to a new level with a new energy, too.
I was talking with Meg once about the show and some bitching I was doing about it and she mentioned how she said it was the “community show” and that everyone had a sense of ownership of it. And that was the best thing anyone could possibly say about the show and the best part of its evolution.
Also, not a lot of people know this about me (since I don’t talk about it too much) but I’m a really devout Catholic. I go to Mass every Sunday and everything. It kind of came to me that Bedtime Stories was a great way to get in touch with my faith, since I’ve been blessed with the talents of being funny, smart and having the ability to produce a show like this. So once we moved to the Ric Rac, I started trying to give the money from the show to a new charity every month, especially one that was really local. That part has become the most important part to me.
Does a specific memory from any particular show stand out in your mind?
My favorite moment is talking with Brian Kelly and his fiance Jamie at the end of the Mental Health show. Jaime’s mom was really sick and her family was having a fundraiser to help with her bills. We passed around a bucket as well. I forget how much we raised but it was a few hundred bucks. And I was talking with them afterwards and it just hit me that everyone got it on every level, and that the people who perform and go to the show are absolutely awesome people. It was just the best feeling possible to help someone out like that.
In terms of the artistic aspect of the show, I loved this show we did on American History. It just hit on every level possible. The crowd was packed to the point where people were sitting on the stage.
That was the second time Jon Goff performed, and he absolutely killed it with his PowerPoint on “First Ladies I’d Like to Bang.” Ilana and I hosted a joint quiz bowl. Chip Chantry and Johnny Goodtimes did this incredible old-school film strip bit. This improv guy Nick Gillette was dressed like he was from the future sent back in time. Pete Celona and Chelsea Vidaurri (who have both since moved) did a bit where they dressed as the Twin Towers and had some insane rap song. And it ended with Emily and Micah McGrow doing a song called “America” and all the performers emerged from the back, in costume, and sang the chorus.
I think we’ve gotten away from that really weird style of comedy, unfortunately.
What comes next for you after Bedtime Stories ends?
I am going to take a break from performing for a little while and recharge. This won’t be too long but I definitely need one to recharge.
I think that a lot of people who I started doing comedy with around the same time have “passed” me in terms of what they’re doing creatively and in how they’re regarded. A lot of that has to do with Bedtime Stories — it was a community show, but doing that meant that I put my own material on the backburner a lot of times since I have to work on all of the logistics. So I really want to concentrate on just working on my own material for a while, and seeing what comes of that.
My new character I’ve been focusing on is Jaykob Strange, which is this street magician character I started doing a few months back that has really hit a home run. I really want to do a lot of stuff with that and see where that can go. Maybe a one man show? That’s what I’m thinking. Maybe something about my Vanpool blog? That’s another idea I’ve had bouncing around for a while.
I think I have another show in me at some point, albeit one on a smaller scale than Bedtime Stories, where I can focus more around my own material. There are also a bunch of people I’d love to work with. One of my best friend’s is this guy TJ who has started doing stand-up around town. He’s always been one of the funniest people I know. I’ve known him for about 15 years now and we’re both on the same wavelength in terms of what we find funny. He’s one of the biggest comedy nerds I know and, even though he’s still relatively new doing comedy, he just gets it in terms of style, structure, voice, etc. I also really see a lot of potential in this guy Patrick Ackerman. He’s friends with the Camp Woods guys and he has a lot of really insightful things to say about comedy. He comes from a similar angle that I do — when I write bits, I try and deconstruct things first and reassemble them. I’m also the biggest backer of Jaime Fountaine and all her bizarre characters. She’s a really great friend of mine and I’d love to collaborate with her.
One of the things that I think really defines my sensibility is that I love to mess with the structure of comedy. Not everyone got The Greggulator stuff I did, but the whole crux of I developed after reading Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up where he talked about the logic of comedy, and how he liked to screw with it. Even though it’s the show that I produce, I haven’t felt it proper to do any kind of anarchic thing at Bedtime Stories since it’s a really structured show. I think I can come up with something that will be able to provide me a chance to really challenge what can and/or can’t happen at a comedy show.
I’ve always had a hard time realizing that I’m a writer, which is really weird since I’m a professional journalist. I’m going to really focus on getting material done for a manuscript and am intent on starting to get that out there by the end of the year.
I am considering handing the show off to someone else. If there’s interest in someone else doing it, that’s fine.