On a chilly Saturday night I made my way to the Conshohocken Café on Fayette Street to spend a few minutes talking with Sidney Gantt – Philadelphia comedian, founder and co-host of the Captain Action Comedy Show. Gantt was busy prepping the intimate room well before the 8pm showtime. Over the course of a ten-minute interview, he highlighted the uniqueness of the Captain Action format, shared some love for fellow Philly comics Mary Radzinski and Dave Terruso, and talked about a unique physical trait shared by multiple Philly stand-ups.
Chris Dolan: The name Captain Action Comedy Show kind of begs the question: are you “Captain Action”?
Sidney Gantt: Yeah, I am Captain Action … Captain Action is a comic book character that a few people say I remind them of. He’s a comic book character from the ’70s, and all he does is punch bad guys in the face and bang chicks. That’s his whole M.O. He’s more of a vigilante, like Batman, so he has no rules.
CD: So talk about the show’s format. Where it started, how it’s come along…
SG: What we do is bring up a stand-up comedian, they perform, and afterward we interview that comedian in a game show format, where they present two lies and a truth. The audience has to guess which of the multiple choice answers is correct…so [the audience ] gets to yell out, and they use lifelines, and it’s fun. And the reason for the format, honestly, is that as a stand-up one of my favorite things to do is crowd work. But crowd work unfortunately isn’t the craft of stand-up comedy, it’s just a tool. So this gives me an opportunity to do that. I usually start off my opening set by talking to the crowd…go up cold and talk to the crowd, then do four or five minutes of material. Then I bring up my co-host which is usually Dave Terruso, and then he does some time, and he gets to come back with me later on in the show and do some improv stuff with some of the interview questions. It gets pretty crazy, it’s a pretty wild show.
CD:It strikes me that the format you just described might be fun for comedians that don’t have a lot of experience doing crowd work…this would let them evolve toward it in a more structured sense.
SG: It definitely does ’cause it’s a very controlled environment for them to do crowd work…and it might not really even be considered crowd work, what they’re doing, usually I have them give me something personal, that people can’t tell just by looking at you. And when people are talking about their personal things they kind of just loosen up a little bit. Nobody has done badly in the interview portion yet.
CD: Has the show always been that way? Or did it start as like a straight-up show and kind of evolve?
SG: No, it started out as that sort of variety show right up front, the only thing that has changed is once Dave Terruso came on, about five or six months in, his skill set just gave me the opportunity to do so much more with the questions…like, sometimes we have him do a one-man play about what you just heard about.
CD: What’s an example of one of the questions, the “two lies and a truth”?
SG: A big one, with some of the comedians – you’d be surprised — is a lot of comedians have more than two nipples. So, tonight the guy who has more than two nipples, [Note: I didn’t ask who this was] his multiple choices are a) 4 nipples; b) 3 nipples; c) 0 nipples.
CD: How long have you been doing the show?
SG: A year and two months. This is the first time the show is going to be on a Saturday. Traditionally it had been the last Wednesday of every month. But we’ve been doing well, we’ve been filling the house, and [Conshohocken Café] is looking to serve dinner more consistently, and right now the only outlet for their dinner is this show.
CD: Any memorably great shows?
SG: Every show really has been better than the last, but if I had to say one stood out I’d have to say it was when Mary Radzinski was here…’cause that was the first time Dave Terruso, his value to the show, was absolutely obvious and I was glad that I had him come along. Mary gave her answers to her question, and each answer seemed like it was just a ridiculous fact that Mary wouldn’t want to reveal about herself. So what I had Dave do, is respond to that fact, as if it were the only fact in her online dating profile…so he had to, on the spot, come up with a response email about that fact and each one was brilliant. It was pretty amazing.
CD: And Dave comes from improv, sketch and stand-up?
SG: He does; and he just gives such a different flavor to the show ’cause even when he does his [stand-up] set…the vibe of performance that he gives off is just so different that it complements the entire show. You never know what’s gonna happen at the show. I don’t know if you get this but I love Dave Terruso.
CD: Anyone that you’re looking forward to having on the show that you haven’t had on yet?
SG: Anton Shuford…I think he was 2009 Philly’s Phunniest…originally I didn’t have him on right away because he’s my closest friend and I want to avoid the idea of just putting your friends on. But we’re gonna have him for the February show. He gave me the verbal okay in between arguing about whether or not the Sixers would be good this year.
CD: Any closing thoughts?
SG: I just hope people find this type of show intriguing enough to come out, and if they want to see not only comedians that they wouldn’t expect to see on a bill together, but comedians that have something to share that you would never think they had to share, [this is the show].
Love wings, crowds and competitive gorging but not so keen on the Wing Bowl? Or are you just a big fan of alternative comedians eating way too much and talking trash on each other as they do it? Man oh man, have Hillary Rea and Thunderfoot Larry got a show for you.
WitOut: Who came up with this amazing thing?
Thunderfoot Larry: Hillary Rea has had a burning urge ever since she was a young lass to be a competitive eater. Unfortunately, she does not eat the flesh of the beasts therefore she was shunned from many eating competitions as a youngster. Then the revived vegetarian movement of the late 1990s came along enabling many militant veggie groups to start their very own binge eating competitions. Within the last year, the burning urge has returned to her. She voiced her desire to train for competitive eating on the social network. Whenever someone says they want to try something challenging my first instinct is to personally challenge them in whatever it may be. I really don’t know why, I’m an idiot. I once burnt my eyebrows off because my friend wanted to be a sword-swallower/fire-breather for the circus… So I challenged Hillary to an “eating duel.” She accepted—well at first she didn’t reply, then I cornered her at a gallery art auction. I spat out all the weird (Double Dare game show influenced) daydream ideas I had for if we were to put together our own eating competition. We both love comedy and eating stuff so much and we wanted to make our Veggie Wing Bowl event the complete opposite of the original stadium stripper Wing Bowl in South Philly. So after some emails and Facespace messages we had a meeting at this awesome place that sells coffee and beer at the same time. As we both left the meeting a beautiful sparrow flew over our heads in a figure-eight formation. At that point we both made eye contact and simultaneously blurted out “1st Annual Veggie Wing Bowl Comedy Spectacular!” Then we held hands and skipped down the street (to the tune of the Perfect Strangers theme song) to Adobe Cafe and booked the muthafuckin’ show! That’s the long answer.
Short answer: Hillary secretly always wanted to be a competitive eater; I secretly have a weight problem and love food. We both are involved in and love comedy. Put ‘em together and what do ya get!?…Sprinkle in a Man-Pageant, Alagazambo! The Veggie Wing Bowl Comedy Spectacular. HOLLA!
Hillary Rea: The 1st Annual Veggie Wing Bowl Comedy Spectacular started as a bit of a joke. I am not jokingly obsessed with the real Wing Bowl and this year tickets went on sale and sold out in the same day. I was so upset. I missed it last year because I was performing at the NCCAF. But the previous two years I went and was horrified/amazed/excited/impressed/obsessed with what I saw. Larry joked about doing a veggie wing-off one day on Facebook and then I contacted Adobe Cafe on a whim (they have wonderful seitan wings) and the owner was super agreeable to our idea.
WO: Why veggie wings? Is real chicken too expensive?
TL: If we went with real chicken wings there might have been a strong concern there for a minute.
Hilla is a vegetarian person and I wanted to be able to eat the same thing she is in the competition. Good news, no bones to worry about. Plus it goes with being the total opposite of the original Wing Bowl ,which uses real chicken wings. It does not bother me; I’ll eat anything as long as it will not kill me. Can’t eat strawberries, I am allergic; if I were to eat strawberries my throat would close up and I would get plate-sized welts on my body. That sucks. Other than that I’ll eat anything: vegetables, unknown aquatic life, bugs, cow eyes, duck hearts, pussy, pig intestines, exotic fruits, the list goes on.
HR: According to the owner of Adobe Cafe, Mariano, seitan is actually incredibly expensive. He was concerned initially with the number of wings we were going to eat.
WO: This show has a lot going on—rounds of competitive eating, stand-up sets, hecklers, a beauty(?) competition…how do you plan to bring all these things together for one beautiful, continuous flow of delicious entertainment?
TL: A.D.D and the power of funny people.
HR: I’d like to think the event will just ebb and flow organically. But Larry and I as hosts will make sure that everything weaves together into a seamless show. Well…there might be some seams. But they will be funny seams. Seams that burst at the seams with funny.
WO: Who is judging the wing bearers for the Mr. Wing Man 2013 competition? What sort of criteria will they be using, and what do you think the individual competitors can do to make themselves stand out?
TL: You should be the judge. Mr.Wing Man should be a sophisticate, a charmer…The Man should be able to clean my pool thoroughly without fucking my wife. And the guy has gotz to have talent.
HR: The Mr. Wing Man 2013 competition will have both a talent portion and a Question and Answer portion. The individual competitors should really look to the Wing Bowl’s Wingettes for advice and inspiration.
WO: Follow-up question: Who came up with the term “wing bearers”? And why do I love it so hard?
TL: Ghostface Hilla came up with that one, she’s so smart.
HR:Ha! The term popped into my head one day and I asked Larry if he thought it was cool. And he said yes. I am glad you love it!