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.