By: Alison Zeidman
In the year 2007, during a great time of growth for the Philadelphia improv scene, one man set out on a mission to team up in one-off shows with as many of the city’s players as possible. By 2008, subconsciously fueled by short form improv experience and a particular Andy Kaufman performance he’d obsessed over in his youth, that man decided to forge a more challenging show partnership: scenes with audience members encountering him–and improv–for the very first time. The name of that man is Matt Holmes, and the name of his “duo” is Matt&.
Alison Zeidman: For people who aren’t familiar what you do, can you explain what Matt& is?
Matt Holmes: It’s a show that I do with an audience member, and I try to look for somebody who is not a performer themselves. I usually ask if there is anybody there seeing improv for the very first time ever. And then I pull them up onstage.
AZ: Is it sometimes difficult to get them to go up there with you?
MH: The rest of the audience tends to overzealously cheer them on as soon as the concept is brought up, so there’s only been once or twice where the person has been really like oh, no, I don’t want to, or just flat out refused. Then I bring them up onstage and I tell them that the responsibility is all on me for making it all work, and they have free reign to do and say whatever they want, and to purposefully try to mess me up if they want to. Then that gives me the opportunity to show off my skills and make things that for any other improv group might be sort of a stumbling block or a challenge into something impressive.
AZ: Is there a specific format that you follow for these shows?
MH: By the very nature of how it works I sort of have to be flexible, and I kind of prefer to work that way. I’ve been in a bunch of different groups and projects before, and I’m always the one who wants to keep it less rigid. So with this show even if I tried to have an idea sketched out of [how I’ll do scenes], it’s probably not going to work out that way anyway. So sometimes it’s just scene after scene with whatever pops up into my head, and sometimes it’s more like a Harold where things will come back or there’ll be patterns, but I really have to not be too precious about format.
AZ: When you’re doing these shows, do you feel more or less in control than when you’re doing a show with an actual improv group? On the one hand it’s so loose and you’re with this person who’s never done a show before, and you can’t really follow a format, but on the other hand being the only experienced performer onstage means you can drive the scenes and drive the action.
MH: Yeah, that’s one of the many dichotomies that I think is present in my show, is…maybe more than any show I’ve done, it’s exhilirating and a challenge and I still get nervous and find it thrilling, but at the same time I’m more relaxed when I’m actually doing it and it’s working and things are just falling into place. So yeah, it’s kind of yes and no, I’m both in control and allowing myself to be not in control.
AZ: Are there specific things that you like or dislike about performing with an audience member versus being in a larger improv group? You started to get into that with how you prefer the looser format, but are there any other things where having half of your group being inexperienced gives you more freedom?
MH: Yeah, I think it really falls right into place with how I like to work. I’m kind of a stage hog. I like to be out a lot when I’m in a group, and in this show I’m in every scene. And I’m not always as good at supporting other peoples’ ideas and playing well with others in any other show, but in Matt& I have to. I have to take whatever this audience member brings and utilize it. And it works best that way.
AZ: Can you think of any other ways in which performing with Matt& has enhanced your improv skills in general? It sounds like it forces you to be more agreeable and be more supportive of your scene partner. Are there any other things where you’ve really noticed it improving your skills, and where you ‘ve been able to bring back some of those things to your group performances?
MH: I think it’s helped me be truly relaxed and flexible as a performer, and also be more confident and personable hosting and introducing a show, and talking with somebody not as a character beforehand, and then playing with them and helping them through what can be kind of an awkward situation for them.
AZ: So in general, you’re more comfortable being a character in a show setting than you are being yourself?
MH: Yeah. [Laughs.] I’m not nervous at all about being in some embarrassing situation. One time I had to kind of improvise a song, one time I had to improvise a poem as a gym teacher, you know, weird, awkward, embarrrasssing things. That doesn’t bother me, because it’s not me. It’s just some weird character, so I sort of get to lose myself and hide behind that. But hosting and talking to the crowd after and being myself, that’s more of a challenge for me. And I think probably for a lot of performers, in all art forms.
AZ: Is this a little bit uncomfortable for you now, speaking about yourself and your own performance?
MH: Well no, I’m getting better at it now, from having to do it at the begining of each Matt& show. I’ve had some shows where the audience member kind of demands that we stop playing as a character for a bit, and get back to the one-on-one interview part as ourselves. There was one show I did when Penn State had an improv festival, and I got an audience member, and it started off like all Matt& shows start off, with “who am I?” and “who are you?” and getting to know each other, and then we got into a scene and that was over, and I wanted to get into another scene and play another character, and she wanted to get back to interviewing each other. So It sort of became that pattern of I have to be myself again, now I get to do a scene, now we have to be ourselves again, now we get to do a scene. And that became this great challenge where at the end I kind of wove those together into her playing my therapist, and working in factors of my own life, and the whole audience got on board with why that was so interesting, because everything that was in the show led up to it.
AZ: When you do the interview with the audience member, is that how you usually generate your material for the scenes to come, or do you get a suggestion from the audience once you have your partner up there with you?
MH: I’ll always get a one-word sgugestion to inspire the show just because I like that aspect of improv. I like exploring the scene or disecting a word or whatever that word leads to, but sometimes elements from interviewing my partner will come back later or I’ll use them. A lot of times I don’t, but it’s always good for a laugh and interesting to the scene when I do.
AZ: Has an audience member ever taken you by surprise with their adaptability, or have they ever just displayed some sort of surprising inherent improv skill, even if they’re just getting up there for the first time?
MH: Yeah, surprise is probably a big, big part of my show. Me being surprised to have to play with somebody who’s really hesitant at first, and then the surprise when they start playing along and offering things. Surprise when somebody leaves the stage and I have to figure out what that means for the story, and how to work that. That’s happened a lot.
AZ: Do they come back after they leave?
MH: One time I brought them back, and one time I kind of worked it in like I was yelling up at them in the balcony of their window, kind of a Romeo and Juliet serenade thing, and then I ended the set after that scene instead of trying to convince her to come back onstage. But yeah in terms of being surprised at how good they are, that happens a lot more than you would think. I’ve had people have these great insights into a cultural reference that we’re bringing, where they’ll bring back stuff the way that a really good improviser will, or they’ll make these jokes that you’d swear they had written beforehand. There are a lot of great surprises. The one that stands out because it’s such a “joke,” is when I was at the Del Close Marathon, my first time performing Matt& there, and the show was going really well. I was really pleased with how well it was going, and then at a certain point my audience member partner, who was not a performer and hadn’t taken an improv class or anything like that, brought up the concept of if you were to rape a prostitute, would it be rape or would it be theft? And it got this huge laugh. Afterwards I went and Googled to see if that was from some movie or TV show, but I think that, you know, it somehow came up in the story, and I think she just said it off the cuff, and it was great.
See Matt& perform in Duofest at the Shubin Theatre on Saturday, June 9th at 9 pm. Get advance tickets (or full weekend passes) online.
By: Tony Narisi
The Philly Improv Theater at the Shubin Theatre saw the last installment of the Rant-O-Wheel this Monday night. As the night got started, host Jaime Fountaine filled the wheel up with ten nouns shouted out by the audience and began bringing the finest Rant-o-wheelers in Philadelphia onstage to tell a story, real or made-up, in five minutes or less using three of these words.
First up was the pair of Darryl Charles and Sue Taney, tackling six words instead of three. Using “creamed corn,” “tortellini,” “Steve Buscemi,” “Jersey Shore,” “Skittles,” and “sabotage,” Darryl and Sue told the story of a boy who began an anti-Willy Wonka campaign. Jaime played the role of conductor and had some sadistic fun that really upped the laughs, switching the narrator every word at times or pointing to both of them and forcing them to speak in unison.
Next up was Tom Whitaker, who used “rain dance,” “lava lamp,” and “candle” to deliver a superb monologue, in the form of a video message to a recent ex, lamenting the fact that he’ll never find real love in the City of Brotherly Love. Perhaps most remarkable was his delivery, which consisted of a believable and consistently straight face and a stare into the distance, addressing his ex as “you” the entire time.
Following Tom was Larry Napolitano, who quickly breezed through his words of “donkey lips,” “nothing,” and “Dustin Hoffman” in a rant about how he is miserable regarding his aging to get to what was apparently on his mind all along—a hilarious tirade against Ferris Bueller that eventually ended in the murder and defiling of his corpse on his father’s broken car.
Next up was Hillary Rea who used “swing,” “guffaw,” and “side boob” to recount her childhood fears and embarrassments, which included earthworms being thrown at her and a perpetual fear of boys seeing her incorrectly worn Days of the Week underwear. While hearing her memories, the audience couldn’t help but laugh along with Hillary as they remembered their own rough patches in childhood.
Cara Schmidt came next, using “band,” “Jellies,” and “Aquanet” to reveal one of her deepest darkest secrets to the audience—she’s not that good at driving, as evidenced by her twelve cars in seven years. Throughout her monologue, the audience got a very funny peek into the mind of sixteen-year-old Cara and her six attempts at the driving exam, including her various attempts to sway (or bribe) the system.
Finally, Jaime herself finished the rest of the words on the wheel, using “vagrant,” “chicken soup,” “artichoke,” “yellow,” “burp,” and “Rain Man” to tell the story of Rant-o-wheel itself, in a final monologue that was both heartwarming and laugh-inducing. She then ended the show by saying that Rant-o-wheel isn’t dead, it’s just going into hibernation. So if and when the Rant-o-wheel comes out of its slumber, do yourself and these performers a favor and make sure to check it out and support some great local comics telling some very funny stories.
Last night, the seventh annual Philly’s Phunniest Person Contest kicked off at Helium Comedy Club. This year, over 150 comedians will compete in 11 preliminary rounds for the chance to move on to the semi-finals, and eventually the finals, where one will be named Philly’s “Phunniest”. Last night, James Hesky, Omar Scruggs, and Vince Patterson moved on to the next round. The competition continues next Monday, June 11 and the opening round continues on Sunday and Monday nights until August 13 (full schedule here).
This weekend marked the debut of two new Philly Improv Theater House Teams. Davenger (formerly Codename Westmarch) and Hot Dish (formerly Codename Strider) took the stage with UCB team Surfing Friday night to two sold out shows and returned to packed housed at PHIT again on Saturday night. If you missed it, you can read the two new teams introduce themselves to the world through Witout here (Davenger) and here (Hot Dish).
This weekend Philly Improv Theater will host the third annual Duofest, a celebration of improv duos from across the country. Shows start Thursday night and continue through until Sunday. Improv workshops taught by Jill Bernard, Joe Bill, Rachel & Dave, and Twinprov are also being held. Also – be on the lookout for more Duofest Interviews this week, here on Witout.
The lineup and date for the next Camp Woods Plus at L’etage (6th and Bainbridge) has been announced. Their next monthly show will be Wednesday, June 13th at 8:00PM and will feature brand new sketches from Camp Woods as well as guests The New Dreamz and Angel Yau.
Friday, June 15th, Mani Pedi will host their second ManiParty, this time at Connie’s Ric Rac (1132 S. 9th St.) Mani Pedi will welcome guests Carolyn Busa and American Breakfast. Doors for the event open at 8:00PM and the show begins at 9, with a dance party following the comedy. Tickets for ManiParty are $10 and include free ice cream.
By: Rachel Goodman
There was anticipation in the room on Saturday night, waiting for 8:30 to come at the Philly Improv Theater. This was not just an ordinary House Team night. It would be the second show for new team Davenger, followed by a performance from veteran team Hey Rube! Both teams had the audience rolling over in laughter.
Davenger came out first, receiving the suggestion of Family. After a brief moment where the troupe discussed a few stories about what the word family means to them, Hilary Kissinger and Dan Corkery stepped out and had everyone on the edge of their seats as they looked at each other and just “knew” each other’s thoughts. This continued to come back in various forms, as in the moment where Brian Rumble stepped out with Dan Corkery, attempting to read his thoughts, to no avail.
“What?” Dan’s character said after a moment of silence, followed by huge laughter from the audience. And the laughter kept coming in with Nick Mirra as the hypochondriac. His portrayal of a relative in a bubble suit at a funeral seemed so real that it almost looked as if you could take the helmet off of his head.
And then, of course, what would the mention of a funeral be without the mention of ghosts?
“I’m a medium, not a Ghost Buster!” yelled Alex Newman, as a psychic, talking to Cait O’Driscoll and Kevin Pettit, two people dealing with their aunt’s dead dogs and dead neighbor’s haunting them.
Next, Hey Rube took the stage with the suggestion of Puppy. Some of the most memorable moments of this set came from Alex Gross as the “retarded” dog who later ended up being a normal human who was playing a retarded dog so that he could get into the safe that belonged to Lizzie Spellman’s father. There was also a recurring theme where everyone was blaming their father for their shortcomings/mistakes in life and that nothing was their fault. This seemed to hold true when Rob Cutler brought home his new baby boy to Aaron Hertzog who was building a brick wall to hide from fatherhood. After Aaron’s character flicked the baby, later on in the set Jen Curcio was suddenly mooing and acting slow.
“Son. I just want you to know that it is my fault that you’re like this. I flicked you when you were a baby and that’s why you moo like this.” Aaron said, receiving a roar of laughter from the audience.
But perhaps the most hilarious thing was when Alex Gross walked in as a very reluctant character and said, “Hey… my mom said that I have to play with you again…” and proceeded to “milk” Jen Curcio’s character.
If in the off chance anyone in the theatre that night was sleeping, they were no longer sleeping once Mark Leopold walked on as a wolf-dog, screeching at the top of his lungs at Lizzie Spellman for basically everything, including breathing. Finally in a future scene with this character, the moon, his supposed lover, breaks up with him and in a heartfelt moment he begins to howl.
Hey Rube completed their set with three of the main “father blaming” characters sitting down, repeating how far back they had been blaming their paternal lineage for their problems, when Lizzie comes in to blame her mother.
“Ooops! Wrong meeting!” she says, and walks away.
Overall, watching both of these teams was an incredible experience that anyone should be sure to check out and go along for the ride.
By: Becca Trabin
Eddie Pepitone performed on Friday night at Underground Arts–an enormous, multi-purpose art space in the basement of the Wolf Building on 12th and Callowhill, where Corey Cohen Comedy Productions (C.C.C.P.) has recently been putting up comedy shows. C.C.C.P. has brought Hannibull Buress, Neal Brennan, Todd Barry, and Dave Wait to Philly since opening two years ago. With openers Lisa Yost, John Nunn and Alex Grubard, Pepitone performed to a warmed-up crowd, one that was about twice the size of the crowd at his Ric Rac show last spring.
Pepitone hit the stage dancing and kept himself and the crowd amped up throughout the hour-long set. He brought in a young, hip audience, many of whom know him from his performances on Marc Maron’s WTF. A lot of his stuff was material he did last year, but most was still as funny.
Pepitone can get away with a lot. He does characters in his bits, and each one is just him flatly barking at the back of the room with all his heart. Lesser comics might get pegged as one-trick ponies for doing the same basic yell over and over, but Pepitone kept the audience wanting more. He periodically broke character and laughed along with everyone while trying to deliver his tags. It came off as well-earned and joyful. Pepitone does his thing so well that he makes other angry comics seem like the poor man’s Pepitone.
And if watching a guy spew his well-crafted rage upon us for an hour wasn’t already fantastic, the crowd was invited to stay for experimental electronic band Black Dice’s show across the hall afterward.
Well it’s shaping up to be another Philadelphia Summer sports fans! And we all know what that means… RUN FOR COVER! The Phillies have a lot of baseball left in the season to make up for lost time and lost base runners, the Eagles are looking more and more like the grid-iron roustabouts of yester-year, and rumor has it, the Philadelphia Major League Soccer Team is doing miserably! But don’t take my word for it. Don’t be so glum chum, let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water! We’ve got plenty to be proud of – the 76ers had a Dream of a Season… but that alarm clock always gets ya!
Let’s head to the tapes and check out the highlights from Jim Grammond’s Reasonable Discourse with Jerks (and I use that term loosely).
Here is each mention of professional sports from the entire show, along with who said it:
Jim Grammond – Terrell Owens*, Arena Football, Baseball, Hunter Pence
Mike Rainey – Ref, Ball, Houston Ramblers, Starting Line-Up Figurines
Steve Miller-Miller – Interception, Terrell Owens*, Tim Cheatwood, Offensive Lineman, Matt Bahr**, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Browns, Webster Slaughter, Donovan McNabb*
Tim Butterly – Soccer, Mets*, Cowboys*, Mets*, AFL
Pat Barker – Kobayashi***, Jim Thome, Baseball Jerseys, Mets, Hockey Stick, World Wrestling Federation, Ultimate Warrior, “Wild Thing” Rick Vaughn****, “Fastball Pitcher” Bob Guiterrez*****
What a performance! If you ask me, this line up is batting 1.000! See you at the bookie’s!
** Philadelphia’s Own!
*** Considered a sport, not by me, but I don’t make the rules. Counts!
**** Almost didn’t make it, but still counts!
Gerry Bock is a freelance sports writer and former Publisher/Reporter-in-Chief for the Port Richmond Gazetteer, which he published independently for 37 years before gladly fell prey to the siren call of retirement last May.