Lizzie Spellman is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team Codenamed Brandybuck. They make their debut this Friday at 8:30.
How and why did you get into comedy? I was a weird ass (can I say ass?) kid. I was the one running around (in school) literally dressed in clown costumes. It wasn’t even that I wanted attention, I just wanted to have fun. My parents immediately got me into theatre, and I quickly discovered that comedy was what I liked best.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I think I’m pretty character driven. When improvising, I sometimes tend to gravitate toward playing the dumb girl, old lady, or little girl characters because they just make me laugh in the real world as well. It’s also fun to come into a scene later as a big loud football player. I love seeing female comedians playing polar opposites of themselves (Tracy Ullman and Amy Poehler specifically). It makes their characters all the more surprising. I strive to be that creative.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? I really haven’t lived or performed in Philly long enough to have a favorite performance spot yet. There are so many different venues I wanna check out!
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? The first Philly show I ever did was The Gross Show, where I played a rape victim who was strangely okay with it. I like to start things off classy when I move to a new city.
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? When I see a person that has some sort of quirk to them, I like to write it down in a little black book I carry around. I also like to write down weird things people will randomly say. These little things can help shape an amazing character that I might not have originally came up with off the top of my head. It gives that character a little extra that might make the audience say “Oh, I totally know a person just like that!”.
What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? Honestly, I just like being funny and I like to play. It’s almost like therapy for me. Even if I’m having a crummy day, if I practice or perform improv later on I feel a million times better. There’s no way you can feel like crap after a night of laughing and making other people laugh. It’s my yoga.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Discovering the comedy scene in Philly has been amazing. There are so many talented performers that have blown me away. I really enjoy the Amie and Kristen Show, as well as Jessica Tandy. Both of these duos are so smart and creative, and I am blown away every time I watch them perform.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Hmmm…well I first started improvising in New Jersey with this one improv group of dudes that had been around for a while, who decided that they needed a girl in their group. Anywho, one night they decided it would be a good idea to smoke (yes children, illegal kind) before a show. I, being a silly college kid at the time, went along with it. BIGGEST MISTAKE OF MY LIFE!!! I surprised I even made complete sentences. The first short form game we did, I think I repeated the same word 10 times in a row! It was absolutely one of the most embarrassing moments I’ve had on stage, and I totally learned my lesson.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? What’s great is that so many people are getting out there and creating new shows and finding all kinds of ways of showcasing their comedy. I think that is the best way to continue the growth.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? I would love to start writing more. I would definitely want to take a stab at sketch or stand up. Eventually, I wanna know that I’ve at least tried different aspects of comedy. Who knows….I could be a genius! (but probably not).
Aaron Hertzog is a member of new Philly Impov Theater House Team codenamed Brandybuck. He is also the host of stand-up comedy showcase Hey Everybody! at PHIT, as well as a member of Hate Speech Committee, Get a Room, and The Hendersons. He is also a co-host of The Holding Court Podcast (editors note: “he” is also “me” and that’s why I linked to all my stupid projects…)
How and why did you get into comedy? I started doing stand-up in 2006 after a long flirtation with the idea of doing comedy. I always wanted to be a writer, and still do – and started because I had a friend (Pat House) who had been doing comedy for about two years who finally made me get up and do it. I thought stand-up would be a good place to meet people to write with and work on sketches and other projects. I started improv earlier this year because I thought it would be a good place to work my mind muscles to help come up with stand-up material, and it also looked like a lot of fun. So far, it’s been both.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I would say my style is silly. I think anybody who’s ever seen me perform would say I’m pretty much a big, silly, idiot. I like that. I’d also like to say it’s smart idiocy, but I can’t say that about myself. If somebody else would like to say that I would appreciate it. No? OK.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? Philly has a lot of different great places to perform, and I like them for different reasons. A packed, jazzed-up crowd at Helium might provide the most energy – but there’s also something awesome about the kind of response at an alt room, like a PHIT show, or The Ministry of Secret Jokes. I think, for me, my style is more alternative, so in a way it feels better when I do well in a more mainstream room. I expect people in an alt room to like what I do – I write for them – but when I make a room full of people I don’t think I have anything in common with laugh – it makes me feel good – and also a little like a judgmental asshole because I doubted them.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? There are moments every now and then that stand out, and they always involve some sort of variety show where a lot of people are on it, and we all hang out after the show. Like when Chip had the Moon sketch contest, or any of the roasts, or Doogie’s bachelor party Ministry of Secret Jokes. That’s the best part about doing comedy here, the #friendship!
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? For stand-up, I like to write about things I think are weird, or things that scare me or confuse me (which are a lot of things.) I like to explore a topic and keep adding stuff to it to the point where my joke is way too long. I think I’m the same way when I write a sketch (which is less often). I’m still too new at improv to say that I have a process – my process right now is observing other people and trying to figure out what their process is and what I like about it that I can try to incorporate into my performance. I like to “reverse engineer” material. If I see a joke someone else does that I like, I try to think of how the person wrote it, where the idea came from, and how they got from the observation to the joke – then try to apply that line of thinking when I’m trying to come up with material.
What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? Making people laugh is what has always drawn me to comedy. It’s an incredible feeling, and I’ve always searched for it. It’s how I tried to get people to like me when I was younger and it’s how I try to get people to like me now. Sometimes it even works.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? My favorite stand-ups are Brendan Kennedy, Doogie Horner, Chip Chantry and Luke Giordano (does he count anymore?) Brendan is my favorite to watch because he’s just an animal – you never know what he’s going to do and he’s just so quick and that kind of silly-stupid-smart (I hope you know what I mean by this…) that makes up my favorite kind of stand-up comedy. Doogie and Chip are inspirations because they are just constantly working and writing and coming up with great material. Luke is a great writer, and his ideas are always ones that I wish I thought of – thoughts that I’ve had that I just didn’t recognize to turn into bits. I think his style as a stand-up is closest to mine so the fact that I like him a lot might also be a bit narcissistic. The Feeko Brothers are my favorite sketch group, and I think they make me laugh more than anybody else in the world. My favorite improv groups to watch are Medic!, Matt&, Mayor Karen, and any other team that starts with the letter “M” apparently.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Bombing is always terrible, it makes me feel dead inside – but my worst show experience was when I had to take the side of Inspector Gadget against Batman in a “who is the better detective” debate at the Raven Lounge. I won the debate, and then picked up the microphone and berated the audience for being persuaded that in any universe Inspector Gadget could be considered a better detective than Batman. I felt like I betrayed myself. I don’t know how I’ve been able to sleep since.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? Like most people will probably say, we need a permanent space – a place that’s going to be open every day that the public will know is a place they can trust to come see great comedy all the time. The performers are here, we have great people doing great things, we just need to build an audience of non-performers who trust local comedy. There are a lot of comedy fans in Philly, people go out to see shows of big-named acts all the time. We just need to get them to know that the local acts are good, and worth coming out to see.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? Ultimately, my goal is to make my living from comedy, so my short term goals are all doing things to work towards making that happen. Which is really, just getting on stage as much as I can and writing and working on material all the time. Not a bad way to spend my time.
Billy Bob Thompson is a Philadelphia based comedian originally from Vermont. He does stand-up, writes sketches with The Feeko Brothers and Camp Woods, and performs improv with Hate Speech Committee and the new PHIT House Team codename: Shadowfax. He is also the voice of Burgh on Pokémon: Black and White.
How and why did you get into comedy?
How: My entire life, the only thing I’ve ever taken seriously was comedy (that’s how my auto-biography is going to start). I first realized that comedy was something I would like to pursue, when I was in a barbershop quartet called “The Half Steps” during high school. We would perform super cute little comedy bits between songs which I wound up enjoying more than the actual singing itself. Fast forward a few years, blah, blah, blah, and now I’ve become extremely successful at being an unsuccessful comedian.
Why: Crippling anxiety, the strange desire to be liked by people I don’t know, and dirty butt sluts.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I’m not sure how to describe my style, but here’s some stuff I’ve heard:
“Billy Bob Thompson is the closest thing Philadelphia has to Paul Rudd.” -–Pat Ackerman
“Billy is like a white Steve Martin.” – John McKeever
“You look like that Carey guy! Can I get some change for the bus?” – Guy outside of a 7/11
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? I’ve had the most fun on Chip Chantry’s “One-Man Show” and Doogie Horner’s “Ministry of Secret Jokes.” Anything goes on those shows, you knows! These two fine gentlemen have created even finer shows that are an absolute pleasure to perform on and watch. If you want a crash course in what is actually going on in Philly Comedy, go to these shows. Quick side note: If you run a show or a venue, please don’t throw hissy fits in front of your performers. It puts them on edge and makes you look unprofessional. The performers are there to help you. Stop it. I’ve seen this baby behavior happening all over the city. You’re being bad. Bad!
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? For me personally, it’s either doing stand-up at Helium’s Philly’s Phunniest OR “A Slow Day at the Dildo Factory”:http://youtu.be/6i_DlJzsc7w But I’d have to say that “The Roast of Meg Favreau” was one of my favorite moments in Philly comedy. Everyone on the dais MurderDeathKilled with their sets! It was one of the funniest shows I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with. See for yourself: http://www.witout.net/2011/03/23/video-of-the-meg-favreau-roast/ Luke Giordano’s Roast was alright too, I guess.
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? I use the 3 Ps* method.
What is it about stand-up / sketch / improv that draws you to it? I’m drawn to stand-up because to me it is hands down, the hardest of the three. When you’re alone on stage and it goes bad, it feels terrible. But when it goes well, it’s one of the greatest things in the world. I’m drawn to sketch the most because it fits me the best. There’s more creativity involved in putting together sketches which is why I think I gravitate towards it. I’m drawn to improv because it takes the least amount of preparation, and fucking around with your friends on stage is always a good time.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? HOW DARE YOU MAKE ME PICK WHICH OF MY FRIENDS I LIKE MORE!!! Okay, I pick Emily and Micah McGraw. They’re a married comedy duo that sings hilarious songs, every one of which is PURE GOLD. I love everything they do and you should too. Man, I wish I had a husband I could sing comedy songs with. WIFE! I MEANT WIFE! I’m also a gigantic fan of everyone I work with on a regular basis. Like the Camp Woods blokes and the Hate Speech Committee crew!!! We roll deep. But my super favorite would have to be my comedy husband, Christian Alsis. Awwwwwwww. He makes me laugh shit. There, I mentioned you, Christian. Are you happy now?! No? See! I told you you’d never be happy.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Of course! But wouldn’t you rather watch a video of it? Here’s a well-shot video of The Feeko Brothers bombing at the late great Bedtime Stories: http://youtu.be/-RB3mPVh9pI Enjoy! I know we didn’t.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? There needs to be more crossover within the comedy scene. HEY, YOU! Do you only perform stand-up and think improv is “gay?” Well, crowd-work is improv so that means you’re “gay” too! Go see an improv show! Do you only do improv and have never heard of Secret Pants? Well, there’s something wrong with you! Go see a sketch show! Do you only perform sketch? Good, keep doing it. There needs to be more people doing sketch. It’s much better than stand-up or improv, but also go see an improv or stand-up show anyway! Crossover within the scene will give everyone more exposure. Get out of your bubble!
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? My goal is to hopefully make the transition from a Volunteer Comedian to a Paid Comedian. I already treat comedy like a job so all I’m looking for is a promotion and maybe a raise. Dental would be nice. I’d also like to be Mr. January in the “Beef-Cakes of Philly Comedy” Calendar, but it would be an honor just to be nominated.
*Paper, Pens, and Pot.
Rob Cutler is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team codenamed Brandybuck. He also performs with The N Crowd, Dumdumstupiddumb, and is in the upcoming Fringe Festival puppet improv show Friends of Alcatraz.
How and why did you get into comedy? I always loved to make my family laugh. My father had a great dry wit, and I just tried to keep up with him growing up. Plus, the majority of the work I’ve been able to do in Philly as an actor has been comedy related, and its been something of a niche for me. As I got older, I found that nothing quite matches the experience of performing before a group of people you don’t know and having them truly enjoy what you are doing.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I tend to go darker. I like walking the line between uncomfortable and funny. Andy Kaufman was a huge influence on me. I can’t touch his level of creativity, but his work informs my style. I like playing with taboos and social norms and turning them on their head. That said, I don’t think I’m very funny, as I tend to play the “every” man or straight man in most of my scene work.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? I love working with Ladies and Gentlemen if only because the work we put in during rehearsals really shows in the performances. Musical improv is incredibly challenging, but when its done well it can be amazing. In terms of venue, I like the ones that serve alcohol.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? I thought Banana Breakup’s set at duofest was pure genius. Meg Favreau’s roast was hysterical. For me personally, I had a great set during Stage Fright, where I got to play the killer and strangle Ali Soowal on stage, I suppose that was a highlight.
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? I read a newspaper everyday. (not online) It keeps me up to date on pop culture stuff I would otherwise be oblivious to, and it gives me an idea of what’s going through the world’s collective consciousness. It helps to keep tuned in, even to things I don’t find particularly interesting, in order to relate to your audience, regardless of what walk of life they come from.
What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? As an actor, its a great opportunity to experiment with new characters, physicality, environments, etc. It keeps you sharp. The bonus is that its the most actively supportive “scene” in Philly. The talent level is enormous and deep, there are constantly new faces, and the is ALWAYS something going on. The people involved are what keeps me going, even when I feel like I’ve hit a creative wall.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Matt Holmes. Rare Bird Show was one of the first things I saw and I immediately thought “that is someone I want to work with.” (Yes, he’s the director of my team and this may seem like brown nosing, but its true)
I get to work with a ton of my favorites with the N Crowd, Ladies and Gentlemen, Superheroes Who Are Super, dumdumstupiddumb, and Stage Fright, so I’ve been really lucky to work with incredibly talented people.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? I block them from my memory. We all have bad shows, but dwelling on them only hurts you in the long run. You figure out what went wrong, work on it, and move on. If I had to name one, I suppose playing a show to 6 people in a 200 seat room in New York was rough. One of them was asleep by the end of our set. Also, my first audition for PHIT, back when they were doing the first round of house teams. I had the flu and had to run to the bathroom of the Shubin to throw up in between scenes. I remember wretching to the sounds of laughter coming through the wall.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow?
A permanent home. Having a dedicated space will do wonders for this blossoming community
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy?
I want to do sketch. I have a ton of half finished scripts, but I don’t have a group to work with. I’d like to try standup, but sketch is the priority.