The Dive is an aptly-named hole-in-the-wall bar on 7th Street and Passyunk Avenue. It’s one of the few bars in the city where smoking is still allowed, and references to Futurama, obscure punk bands, and pictures of naked breasts line the walls. If you enter The Dive at 9 pm on the third Friday of any month, and ascend the narrow, dingy staircase to the second floor, you will find Something Witty, a stand-up showcase. It’s extremely fun, loose, and equally as entertaining to a comedy new-comer as to the cluster of comics gathered in the back of the room by the bar.
The show is held in a small, intimate room, and this past Friday I had the pleasure of sitting in and watching eight solid comics including John Nunn, Alejandro Morales, Mikey Garcia, and Brendan Kennedy work their craft from the space of the floor between the tables and the bathroom referred to as “the stage.” All comics get about 7-10 minutes of “stage” time, paced by the continuous hosting of the show’s creator and booker, Alex Pearlman.
After the show, I caught up with Alex to talk about what it takes to make Something Witty:
Matt Aukamp: So tell me about your show. What’s this thing about?
Alex Pearlman: Basically, it’s a simple comedy Friday night showcase, and you can smoke at it. It’s the comics that I want to see do more time—do longer sets.
MA: How long has it been running?
AP: Since last November.
MA: What sort of acts and features do you look for?
AP: I look for people that make me laugh. People who don’t do hack material. People who, when I watch them, I don’t go, “Oh, I see what you’re doing.” I look for people I enjoy, people I want to see, and I try to find a good balance for what I think the crowd will be on that night. I want to give the crowd a good show, and also make it a show that I would want to be at. I’ve done shows in the past where, as a smoker, I’ve been able to walk out during acts to “get a smoke”—and I’ve never walked out on an act here, ever. I always make sure that I stay in the room because I want to enjoy them as much as anyone else. Again, these are the comics I want to see have 10-12 minutes. Guys who I see get 4-5, I want to see get 10-12. So I want to see their best set times 3.
MA: What sets it apart from other shows?
AP: It’s on a Friday. [Pause] Next question. No, just kidding. Basically, it’s the booked first half of your favorite open mic. I book Philadelphia acts. Occasionally I’ll do a favor and bring in a New York act that I’ve at least been able to watch YouTube videos of, but I don’t go out of my way to book New York acts.
MA: What, ultimately, would you like this show to become? Where would you like this thing to go?
AP: I would just like this show to be fun. And I would like it to be a showcase of the best talent in Philly. Not alternative. Not club. Just the best talent. I don’t like the terms “alternative” or “club.” I feel like some people think I run an alternative show, but the club comics do just as well as the alternative comics. As you saw tonight. Robert X was amazing, and he did just as well as John Nunn, who does clubs all over New York, and just as well as Doogie Horner, or Omar [Scruggs], or Jack Martin, John McKeever… I like the guys who can cross that line. They can play a club, or they can play a coffee shop at 6 o’clock in the evening. This show is for the NPR listener who switches over to MMR when NPR asks for money. And it’s also for the guy who likes to eat a Tofu Cheesesteak Whiz Wit.
MA: Are there any stand-out moments that occur to you from the show’s run so far?
AP: Well, let’s see…a couple comics actually getting laid from this show. And getting hammered after a show with people and just hearing what they like and what they don’t like [is great]. I’ve had more [positive] feedback from this show than any other show I’ve ever done. And just seeing comics who I know don’t get booked often, where sometimes it’s these comics’ first bookings, and seeing that light when they’re done, like, “Oh my God. I had a good show. I was booked. They counted on me doing well. They put me in a position in the line-up where I could knock it out of the park and I did. Oh my God, that’s amazing.” Also, no one’s ever run my light. And by no one, I mean Brendan Kennedy did on the first show, but it was great—we sang “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” at the end of his set.
MA: Any horrible moments?
AP: The best line-ups I’ve had have had the worst attendance. The comics where I was like, “These are comics I grew up with and have been waiting to book for my whole life” have performed for no one. And other comics where I’m like, “This guy’s been doing this for 3 months and I enjoy him [so I just want to try him on the show” have had a great night.
MA: Anything else?
AP: I hate promoting this show because I feel like it’s a good show and I wish people would just trust me on who I book. And I’m actually surprised by who I get sometimes—I mean, I haven’t gotten anybody who’s been on Marc Maron’s podcast, but I’ve gotten the top names in Philly because I’ve been in Philly for 10 years and I know who’s good. And always…at least three quarters of the show is going to be awesome and the other quarter of the show is going to be people you’ve never heard of, but you’re still going to want to stay in the room. Case in point: Young Guns 3 and Robert X, who are newer comics. It’s a weird mix of people who have never been booked and guys who get booked everywhere. And yeah, you gotta sit through a lot of people, but every single one of them is going to give you a different perspective, and they’re comfortable, because I booked them. They’re comfortable because they go, “Well, if you’re gonna fuck around, I’m gonna fuck around,” or they’re like, “Oh, this is Pearlman. We wanna do a good show.” It’s loose, but professional.
Something Witty at The Dive (947 E. Passayunk Avenue) occurs on the third Friday of every month at 9 pm, and will be celebrating its 1-Year Anniversary Show on November 16th. Admission is free.
Matt Aukamp is a writer, performer, and occasional improviser (The Win Show). You can usually find him bothering the world on Twitter at @mattaukamp.