There are a lot of regular comedy shows here in Philadelphia, and in our new feature ShowFile (it’s a profile of a show!) we are going to make sure you know a little bit about what is out there for you to enjoy. Our first Shofile is on Rant-O-Wheel, an improvised storytelling show held at Philly Improv Theater at 7:00PM on the first Wednesday of their two-week runs. We asked host Jaime Fountaine some questions about the show.
WITOUT: How long have you been doing Rant-O-Wheel?
Jaime Fountaine: The first Rant-O-Wheel show was held in August 2009, at The Dive, during my Second Stories show. We’d put one on every few months or so, until July of last year, when Greg Maughan gave me the opportunity to do a monthly show at PHIT.
WO: What gave you the idea for the show?
JF: My friend Steve Martinez told me about a game he used to play when he was hanging out with some anarchists (he’s from California). They had a giant wicker wheel into which they’d woven slips of paper with various ideas and issues relating to social justice. You’d spin the wheel and then rant on the topic it had chosen for you. We thought if you shifted it from social change to storytelling, it could be a lot of fun.
WO: Explain the format of the show.
JF: At the beginning of every show, right after I make sure everyone knows what a noun is, I fill up the wheel with audience suggested words. Each contestant spins the wheel three times, and has five minutes to make up a story that includes all three of their words. The only rule is that you can’t use all three words in rapid succession and then expect to talk for another four-and-a-half minutes. Other than that, anything is fair game.
WO:Do you have any favorite moments from your time hosting the show (any especially memorable stories, or surprise guests?)
JF: One the most surprising performers was a man that volunteered under the name “Douche #7” who, instead of telling a story, warbled an off-pitch version of “I Can’t Live (If Living is Without You)”. Then he disappeared into the night.
It usually helps when shows take on themes, whether it’s because I’ve put one in place (like when Steve moved to Baltimore), because the audience has agreed on a certain theme through their noun suggestions, or because of some other factor, like the time the show turned into a hotbed of awkward sexual oversharing that just kept snowballing.
There have been a lot of great stories to come out of the show, although I think my favorite is still the story that grew out of Steve and I trying to finish half a wheel of words by ourselves and turned into the story of how we, the illegitimate children of an itinerant Native American brush salesmen, came to find each other in a desert.
WO: What are the elements that make up a good Rant-O-Wheel story?
JF: Confidence, whether or not you’re faking it, is key. If you believe that you can sell a story about scalpings, vacuum cleaner repair, and Walla Walla, Washington, the audience is much more likely to go along with you. Some people find it easier to go up there with the framework of a real-life experience or an existing story (like The Little Mermaidor Blood Meridian), but it’s not necessary. It can also help to be a little, but not overly drunk. It helps with bravado.
WO: What is it about comedic storytelling that you love? What about it is different from other types of comedy?
JF: I’m a writer more than I’m a comedian. Even when I’m doing comedy, it’s more a character telling a story than straightforward jokes. I’m a lot more interested in the backstory than I am the set-up and punchline, laying down an entire universe for the audience, and then trying to convince them to live in it for five minutes. Some people can do that with jokes, which I admire, but I need the space to sprawl out.
The Rant-O-Wheel format is especially exciting, because it’s about beating the limitations of a few words and a few minutes. It’s not exactly the stuff of OuLiPo, but it’s in a similar spirit – that a lot of fascinating things can still come out of a very controlled environment.
Since the show really depends on audience participation, the show is audience-driven in a very different way than a lot of other comedy shows. They don’t just set the tone; they’re the impetus for the entertainment. Everyone is responsible.