Interview coming shortly!
Roger Weaver is a veteran of the Philly Comedy Scene, and this will be his umpteenth year of not winning Philly’s Phunniest. Here’s his run-down of what to expect!
Tonight is the finals of the 2014 Philly’s Phunniest Contest at Helium Comedy Club (showtime 7:30pm). Before I break down this year’s finalists, here’s a little bit about me (btw, “about me” was the working title of this article). I’ve been in every Philly’s Phunniest since we took this contest over from the Indians.
Have I had any success in the Helium contest? I’m glad you asked (what took you so long?). A long time ago I did pretty well and even occasionally advanced in the contest—back when I used to have a soul. I went to the finals the first year and finished 6th, although I always tell people I finished 4th, because—like our Founding Fathers—I don’t recognize women or blacks.
I’ve been back to finals once and made some semis, but have had my share of 1st round flameouts, as well. Let the record show I am in no way obsessed with this contest. I don’t have the lineups and results of previous contests covering the walls and windows of my apartment or anything. Please don’t view this analysis of this year’s finalists as the ramblings of a broken bitter man. (It is, but please don’t view it that way.)
Remember this is the best breakdown I could do without actually leaving the house, so I clearly know more about some finalists than others. My research (reading random Facebook posts) is complete and here is my expert breakdown of the finalists in even more expert alphabetical order:
Patrick Graves: Don’t know him very well, but he’s really funny on social media which has to count for something these days. My sources (the dissonant voices in my head) tell me it’s his first time in the contest so this is a very impressive debut.
Tommy Highland: Success in this contest is nothing new for Tommy Highland, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret. He’s not even originally from Philadelphia! If he wins, I’m calling for an investigation from any Philadelphia City Council members not currently under investigation themselves.
Jake Mattera: Don’t know him, but I bet he’s got great Mattera-ial. Note: this is why I don’t advance in this contest anymore.
Matt McCusker: Is it just me or is Matt McCusker too good looking to be a really funny comedian. At his age and with his looks he should be playing a high school kid on Saved by the Bell. Saved by the Bell is still on, right?
Lou Misiano: I’d tabbed Lou Misiano to be a force in this contest a few years ago after seeing him destroy at some pretty tough open mic venues. Note: I don’t usually use the term “destroy” in a comedy context, I save it for serious things like Hamas missile strikes or Godzilla rampages but I’m trying to sound relevant.
A while back I heard Lou Misiano tell a topical joke that was almost exactly like one I’d written so naturally I think he’s brilliant.
Anthony Moore: Not personally familiar with his work, but I’ve heard some really good things about him. That also pretty much sums up my relationship with God.
Alex Pearlman: I’m an Alex Pearlman fan from way back. He once helped me during a performance with an inspired piece of improv involving Axe Body Spray (“improv” is anything you don’t rehearse, right?), so whenever I walk by a high school boy’s locker room I think of him. Alex Pearlman with a microphone is a force of nature. You know, like erosion. He’ll get to you eventually. And he just keeps getting better. Hey, just what is he trying to prove anyway?
Mary Radzinski: Mary Radzinski was just named Philly’s Best Comedian by Philadelphia Magazine which, I suppose is a good thing if you’re still into awards given by print media. On a personal note, Mary is the only finalist (besides Pearlman) that I’ve pleasured myself to. From the first time I saw her do stand-up I thought she sounded and had the presence of a professional female comedian. (Yes, I just put “female” in there because I’m a douche.)
Female comics haven’t had a great deal of success in the contest since Robin Fox placed second in its inaugural year, but if anyone can break that trend, it’s Mary.
Mike Rainey: Host of Helium’s Dirty Dozen Show and veteran of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon—full disclosure—Rainey and I once kissed during a performance at the bachelor party for a Phormer Philly’s Phunniest winner. At that moment and for the first time in my life I felt truly alive. Rainey is the Jeff Ross of Philly comedy, and I don’t just say that because he’s a doughy white guy, he’s simply the best comedian I’ve heard at roasting other comics.
I stumbled upon his setlist for the Ed McGonigal roast and to this day treat it as an archeological artifact. Many times I’ve been the victim of Rainey’s hilarious barbs, and—if you’re at all familiar my appearance—you can imagine how difficult it is to come up with anything on me.
Ryan Shaner: He was on my night of the contest last year and didn’t advance either. Pretty much confirms what I’ve said about that audience to anyone that would listen—and also to people that cover their ears and walk away singing to themselves for that matter. Ryan is very funny and, more importantly, don’t underestimate the power of the mustache. It worked for Kent Haines.
Chris Stenta: Don’t think I know him, but we’re friends on Facebook so he must be hysterical.
Erik Terrell: This guy sounds more like a defensive back than a comic to me. I don’t know him, but I’m guessing he’s one of the Helium contest’s most dangerous entrants… the non-threatening black guy. Note: If Erik Terrell isn’t a black guy (or especially if he is, threatening or otherwise) please excuse this as the crazy rantings of a racist old man and for God’s sake stay off of my lawn.
OK, that’s enough highbrow analytics for now. I have to start crafting my set list for next year’s contest. Remember, they say those that are ignorant of George Santayana quotes are doomed to repeat them. Good luck to all the finalists tonight!
LaughSpin has the list of this year’s New Faces of Comedy showcase at Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival. Two Philly faces — Monroe Martin and John McKeever — will be telling jokes at the industry showcase notorious for attracting talent scouts, agents, network executives and French Canadians.
We wish them the best of luck. Break legs, but don’t get all “move out of towny” on us, ya jerks!
This Saturday at ComedySportz (2030 Sansom Street), he and fellow puppeteer David Jadico will be unleashing upon the unsuspecting home-team – The Philadelphia Fighting Amish — an unhuman can of furry, colorful smack-down.
Watch as puppets gladiatorially dismantle their less-easily-funny human opponents for your amusement. Will our Fighting Amish stand a chance against googily eyes and guaranteed steely visages immune from breaking character? (Is this too much presure on Joe and Dave?)
Visit comedysportzphilly.com for tickets to either of the shows at 7:30 and 10. In the mean time, let’s catch up Joe’s puppet bona fides.
Tell us about your experience with The Jim Henson Company and Sprout.
Joe Sabatino – I’ve done some projects with them, the times I have been there were incredible and humbling. It really is “the big leagues” as far as performing puppets. Though it’s a fast paced, talent driven place; it’s just as goofy and fun as you would expect. You get a chance to see the true artists at work and never stop learning.
As far as working for Sprout, it’s wonderful. I’m a puppet wrangler there, puppet captain and puppeteer. It’s a very young company both in terms of how long it has been around and the age of its employees. Everyone is youthful and full of ideas. It’s a great, creative environment. I’m also a builder of puppets here in Philadelphia as well as in Orlando. In Orlando I work for my puppetry hero John Kennedy and his business Hands in Art. We build puppets for tons of projects including Universal Studios and Disney!
What’s your chemistry like with Dave Jadico?
Sabatino – We play ComedySportz matches together frequently, but I have also had the pleasure of working with him on Friends of Alcatraz, which is a puppet improv show I created and Dave helped developed. I look up to him as an artist. He is no joke as to how much knowledge he has inside his brain, from vaudeville to puppetry. He’s the kind of dude that whenever he talks I just zone in and listen because I know he is going to say something to make me better. It’s nuts to be able to collaborate on a project with him. Oh, and he’s a musical genius.
Which improv games are you especially excited to render in puppetry? Especially concerned?
Sabatino - I love watching puppets act. Not just do a canned puppet voice and make vulgar jokes (even though that has its place). So there is a game we do called Laugh Out, that lets our normal ComedySportz players exercise their acting chops and play a dramatic scene trying to make the audience NOT laugh. I’m really excited to do this with puppets and have them deal with real life stuff in a super intimate scene. As far as being concerned about games I’m not too nervous about any game except for 5 Things, which is another ComedySportz staple game. It is a guessing game composed of mime and gibberish (a made up language). I’m not worried about the gibberish… but I can see how it might be challenging for a puppet to mime the difference between a hamster and a gerbil… humans can barely do that!
I’ve done puppet improv before in Friends of Alcatraz, it’s not the same as what we are trying to accomplish with our People vs Puppet show, however. FoA was a chance for the audience to see how televised puppetry was done by combining technology with old fashioned theater, giving them options as to what to watch. All under the umbrella of a long form improv show!
How did you get into puppetry? How long have you been doing it?
Sabatino - When I was a kid I had Automanonophobia (fear of puppets) and Pediophobia (fear of toys). Pretty much a fear of anything that looked alive, but wasn’t alive. It got so bad that I freaked out when I saw posters or pictures. My parents turned all the movies and books around in the house so I didn’t have to see them. It became quite a fiasco in school as well. Anyway, to make a long (and pathetic) story short, the psychiatrist told my parents to get me a puppet so I could see that I make it work and it wouldn’t hurt me. That freaked me out and didn’t work, so he told them to get me into arts and crafts to make a sock puppet. THAT worked and I never stopped with it. So, I guess I have been working with puppets and trying to improve myself for like 20 years. My grandmother was also a HUGE advocate of my creativity, so she would always be pushing me to do more and work on things with her. I love that old woman.
Why are puppets inherently funnier than people? (Are they? I think they are but I might be wrong.) Is it the same anthropomorphization that makes us giggle when a cat or a toddler tries to do something that would be mundane for an adult?
Sabatino - Haha absolutely! I think it’s kind of that kid in us that comes out and puts all of our faith into the fact that the puppet is real. So when the puppet makes real human choices and does things that you and I would do, it blows our mind! Also the dichotomy of a toy being able to walk and talk. People love that sort of anthropomorphization even with puppets. Also the contrast of something cute acting like a human with real life problems. When you see that adorable, cuddly dog puppet walk in with a cigarette and a Brooklyn accent (ie Puppets Who Kill). Or even Baby Herman from Who Framed Roger Rabbit!
Who are your comedy heroes?
Sabatino - Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Edgar Wright, John Ritter, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Ruth Buzzi, Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen, Weird Al Yankovic, Don Rickles, my brother Steve.
Independent variety comedy show Hey We’re Cool hosted a Twitter friendship campaign, played video games and got a rousing game of D&D going at L’Etage this past Thursday night.
All photos by Cynthia Marie except where noted.
See a comedy show in Philadelphia? Send in photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.