As the year winds down, WitOut collects lists from comedy performers and fans of their favorite moments, comedians, groups, shows, etc. from the last year in Philly comedy. Top 5 of 2012 lists will run throughout December–if you’d like to write one, pitch us your list at firstname.lastname@example.org!
#5 – Sue Taney in Mother Truckers at Troika
03.09.2012 | Sideshow at the Arts Parlor
The concept for this Troika trio was pretty clear: Square Meg, Sweet n’ Sassy Cassidy & Star-Spangled Sharlene were three truck-driving, sass-talking long haulers who conversed via CB radio. The characters were great, and the costumes were a sight to behold. But what really made this show something for the books was Sue’s character and her obsession with snack foods. Planting herself in the bucket seat of her trusty big rig, Sue had packed a ridiculous number of munchies into a bag, which she proceeded to chow down on, dialogue be damned. This series of side-bits heightened to the point that Sue genuinely got her hand stuck in a tube of Pringles while diving for the last chip. A good part of the show was spent with a can shaped nub, and the resounding and so-satisfying pop that came with the eventual release of her hand was then instantly topped once more by Sue licking the Pringles seasoning off her arm.
#4 – Davenger at PHIF8
11.07.2012 | Prince Music Theater
As one of the newest house teams from PHIT, at this point I’d only had occasion to see Davenger a handful of times. Having been a fan of their coach Maggy Keegan for years, I knew this team was going to have “Harold” drilled deep into them, but I was hardly prepared for what would happen on the opening night of PHIF8. Shows like this remind me why the term “beats” is so spot on. Constructing their piece, they had a rhythm, pitch and level of synchronicity that is normally reserved for groups that have been playing together for years. All of these disparate moments became anchored to and eventually informed by a fantastic group game. Every cast member was leaning so far into every moment, that it felt like they couldn’t even be bothered with gravity.
#3 – Aaron Hertzog at BCCAF
09.09.2012 | ImprovBoston Mainstage
Admittedly, this one may be a bit of a cheat, as it took place in Boston; but it featured (then-Philly resident) Aaron Hertzog, and to be honest, this moment transcended any particular place we might have been, because we were no longer in this world. The night before, Aaron had featured at The Brattle (the largest venue of BCCAF). I was in the All-Star set right after and got to take in most of his current act. It was a great set, and he lived up to the stage. But this wouldn’t be his crowning moment. The following night IB had a showcase of comics featured throughout the week. Good stuff from Mary Radzinski, Pete Kuempel and many others. And they had to earn every bit of it… this was the last show on the last night of what had been a long festival. Even the locals had mostly bailed, and we were left with a few die-hards, staff, other comedians and a few randoms. Anyone who was feeling zapped and pulled thin was about to unknowingly receive a comedy face slap courtesy of Mr. Hertzog. Aaron came out and from the top injected more energy than I’ve ever seen from a comic not fueled by coke and living in the ’70s. It’s hard to describe what I heard and saw that night, but he went totally through the roof and off the rails in all the best, most captivating ways. I’ve never before or since seen a comic jump start and hold firm dominance over a room like Aaron did that quiet little Sunday night in Cambridge.
#2 – Kristin Finger’s Ref debut at ComedySportz
10.13.2012 | Playground at the Adrienne
This entry is great example of what can happen when an improviser and an audience member create a perfect storm that you wish could be bottled (then hidden in a trunk and locked away forever). Kristin has been a ComedySportz player for years now, but made her debut as a Ref only two short months ago. The night had gone well… player challengers, ref challenges, 5-things… the teams had battled and laughs were flowing. As you might imagine, many family, friends and fans were in attendance on this particular night—but fortunately, so was a random man. A random man with a random suggestion. At one point towards the end of the show, she asks the audience for a noun, and this man shouts, “black!” Now, granted this fell more into the adjective category, but Kristin shrugged it off and took it, for a game called 185. Which she had already announced as the next game. For those unfamiliar with the game, this means nothing to you. For those that do, and most of the audience in attendance that night, what almost came to pass is quite clear. You see, the setup of 185 is a groaner-style punchline game where improvisers take a suggestion, and fit it to a pre-established formula: 185 suggestions walk into a bar. The bartender says “we don’t serve suggestions in this bar,” so the suggestions reply “pun punchline.” Now go back and fill the blanks with that man’s suggestion. The whole place lost it, especially as we saw the full scope of pending doom and shocked reaction crawl across Kristin’s face. It was a show-stopper. After about two minutes of trying to gain the composure of eye-tearing laughter from everyone in the place, Kristin decided to get a new suggestion.
#1 – Kait & Andrew at PHIT
12.02.2012 | Shubin Theatre
My top spot goes to a show that probably had the smallest audience of any on my list. A few short weeks ago Kait & Andrew did a 7PM show at the Shubin, sharing a bill with Matt&. Kait & Andrew had a pretty decent show, punctuated by their classic fourth wall-breaking banter that makes them so endearing and honest. It was fun, but not exceedingly stand-out—until the last scene, where everything changed. Kaitlin started the scene off by coming unglued at Andrew… startlingly so. Andrew came right back at her. The scope of the argument was that he had spent 8 years training to be a hide-and-seek champion, meanwhile she’d felt completely neglected in their relationship. In turn, he felt she wasn’t supporting his training, which he was doing for the betterment of their relationship. Over the course of the next few minutes, the two would spew accusations at one another, managing to pull out callback after callback of damn near every element of the show up until then. From fantastical gifts like Mayan Bee Fighting to seemingly insignificant expressions and sighs, everything was ammo. And during this escalating vitriol volley, neither forgot for a moment to ground everything to the characters, their shared relationship and raw emotions. It was like the first 20 minutes were merely a set up to this moment of explosion. The slow fade to black as Andrew moved to cover his dog’s eyes left me with shivering excitement and disbelief at the high-stake magic I’d just been witness to.
Matt Nelson is Executive Producer of the Philadelphia Improv Festival and Managing Director of Figment Theater. In addition to running the annual improv competition Troika, Matt can be seen performing in the touring show Adrift. You can follow him on Twitter at @ma77nelson.