By: Alexandra Levine
In “Edwardo the Crab,” a guy wakes up on a beach to find that there’s a hermit crab living in his butt. “I play the crab,” Thompson adds proudly, eyes wide. In his black leather jacket and with hair slicked to the right of his forehead, I somehow imagined him differently when I heard his voicemail answering machine the day before. “Youuu’ve reached Biiiiilly Bob THOMPSON!” Beep.
Thompson attributes his comedic sensibilities to the Muppets. While growing up in Vermont, he was an avid Muppet-follower. “I was never the class clown because I was too shy,” he admits, which is partly why he started his career as a puppeteer in New York. He now does voiceovers for three Pokemon characters including Luke, Burgh and Shamus, “and a bunch of other little creatures.” He takes a sip of his drink, clears his throat, and when he speaks he suddenly sounds like a seven year-old boy. And then, for lack of a better term, like a “little creature.” I had to restrain myself from asking him to belt the Pokemon theme song. Although Rob probably would’ve been amused, eyes glazing over from one shot too many.
At 1AM, this now-snoozy-boozy Rob describes himself as a once-hyperactive kid. “I was annoying. Insanely annoying,” he says, shooting me a skeptical look from his side of the booth. “Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad – I’d say. For two minutes. Straight.” He never played House; he and his siblings did SNL parodies instead – a nice cultural alternative! “Whenever I think about sketch comedy, I think of Jan Hooks and Nora Dunn as lounge singers, singing ‘Clang, clang, clang with the trolley’ and laughing their asses off,” he remembers, nearly breaking the table lamp this time. And now, twenty-or-so years later, this once-hyperactive child has formed his own sketch group, Meg & Rob, moved on in 2009 to Camp Woods, and currently writes for the Animal Planet hit, Tanked.
Madonna, the only woman in the group, holds her own in the booth. From Baltimore. Wavy, black hair and thick, black eyeliner. “As a kid, I did whatever the fuck I wanted,” she says nonchalantly, the expression on her face not changing from one word to the next. “My parents didn’t give a shit and they still don’t, which is why I’m doing what I’m doing.” The beauty of having Madonna’s sass-and-circumstance (and her strong theater/sketch-writing background) in Camp Woods is that her style is no different than that of the men in the group. Having written JG Wentworth and Millionaire-Billionaire, “Madonna writes and plays some of the raunchiest stuff we have,” adds Thompson. Camp Woods saw Madonna perform at the Philly Improv Theater’s open-mic, “Sketch Up or Shut Up,” and it was love at first sight.
And then there’s Narisi, with his blue zip-up and a head of regal, JFK hair. “When I was a kid I was quiet enough that people were worried about me in school,” Narisi says. “People would ask me, ‘Why are you so serious and quiet all the time?’ I just didn’t like talking, so it’s strange that I’d now do these things on stage. I always wanted to write.” But Narisi does more than simply writing for Camp Woods; he also stars in a group favorite, “Narcoleptic EMT.” Self-explanatory: an ambulance driver who falls asleep all the time. Oh, and he’s also JG Wentworth 877-Cash-Now himself.
Kennedy, beneath a sea of curly brown hair, leans his back against the arcade machine and chimes in ever-so-politely and eloquently. He seems to be the wise, older brother of Camp Woods. “I was a good student. Very polite,” he says of his high school days – no surprise there. “I was an honors student and I played sports. I liked comedy but I kept it to myself.” Until he began doing improv and stand-up, that is. Hailing from Upper Dublin, Kennedy hit the Philadelphia comedy scene before sketch had really taken off. In the interim, he was a featured guest on comic radio shows, Opie and Anthony and KiddChris. But just a few years down the road, it’s now safe to say that Kennedy’s improv/stand-up background has come in handy as a great source of inspiration for Camp Woods. “Brendan’s was one of the first groups I saw doing stand-up, and I was like Yes! That’s what I want to do,” exclaims Boudwin. “All our short videos stemmed from Brendan – his stand-up style and the way he presented his humor added a whole new dimension to our group.”
As he continues to rave about Kennedy, Boudwin’s squeezed onto the end of the booth. He leans in. Eagerly. His long, black hair cascades out from beneath his black beanie, and a very becoming amount of stubble wraps around his mouth and chin. “When I was younger, I was sent to therapy in first grade for saying everything in my brain. I went to Catholic school so they thought that was bad,” he begins. God, this guy’s awesome. And he already reminds me of Jack Black. At his Upper Darby high school, he was the TV news anchor, intent on filming and producing a “better version” of Nickelodeon’s 1990’s hit, All That. “I wanted to call it Da Bomb. Like Rob, I was an obnoxious kid trying to be a star. But to be fair, two years later, Kenan and Kel tried to name their grocery-store-turned-nightclub ‘Da Bomb,’ so I felt validated.” The guys all raise their glasses and drink because they can relate: we’re talking about the 90’s here. If only I had ordered a “Ryan Gosling’s Bathwater” to clink with Camp Woods, or with Boudwin at the very least.
* * *
Greg Maughan, founder of the Philly Improv Theater (PHIT), met each individual member before they actually became Camp Woods. He’s seen them evolve from a flopped first-show at the PHIT to a highly ambitious sketch group that “can pack a show with a young, boisterous and hard-drinking crowd,” says Maughan. “They have matured a lot.” Since 2009, Camp Woods members have hosted PHIT shows and been through the theater’s writing workshops. A few have even given back by teaching those same classes. “What honestly makes them stand out to me is their ambition. They really want to go someplace with this.” says Maughan. “I think they want to be touring the country and on TV. I admire the hell out of that and want to do anything I can to help them achieve that.”
The Philly Improv Theater was one of the first theaters of its kind to hit the Philadelphia comedy scene in 2006. Camp Woods has been extremely supportive in the theater’s efforts to get a permanent space, according to Maughan, which in turn would generate more exposure for sketch groups like Camp Woods and might increase the chances of scouts traveling to Philadelphia to see them. Either way, “I think they will certainly be one of the top group in Philly as the comedy community here continues to expand,” Maughan adds.
As far as future plans go, the group will continue traveling around the city – putting on their longstanding, monthly shows at L’Etage. They’ll also be traveling across the country to gain exposure and build up their repertoire at large-scale shows and festivals in Boston, New York, Chicago and possibly Los Angeles. “Were a set seven and we don’t have auditions,” says Thompson, in case you were as interested as I was in joining them for the ride.
Any other recipes for success? “We need to write and perform what makes us laugh,” Madonna says. “It always goes better when we’re pleasing ourselves.”
* * *
Camp Woods’ most recent press release reads, “The group blends sharp absurdism and energetic performances with homemade props, sets, puppets, and costumes to create a memorable live experience that is sometimes smart, sometimes stupid, and always fun.” The humor is described as a mixture of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Kids in the Hall, Mr. Show, and Chappelle’s Show.
But Maughan puts it even better. “Their brains are not wired the same way as everyday people,” he says. His experience at an open mic/party at their house, ironically called Hate Speech Hall, pretty much sums it up. “You really don’t get their vibe until you find yourself drunk watching them do a sketch about taking Pickleback shots at 4:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning.”
Before I leave, I ask these funny guys to tell me a joke. Rob references a scene from Ghostbusters. Narisi recounts a scene from The Simpsons. Boudwin, a great line from Futurama. Thankfully, Kennedy throws in a Dumb and Dumber quote. And finally, Thompson comes up with a classic Fozzy the Bear one-liner. Ba-dum-chhh, and out goes Camp Woods from the Comedy Dreamz after-party to an after-after-party.
Alexandra Levine is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and she is now an aspiring writer living in New York City.