Upcoming Shows

  • August 2, 2014 7:30 pmComedy Sportz Philadelphia
  • August 2, 2014 8:00 pmCrazy Cow Comedy
  • August 2, 2014 9:30 pmThe Comedy Works
  • August 2, 2014 10:00 pmComedy Sportz Philadelphia
  • August 2, 2014 10:30 pmImprov Comedy: PHIT House Teams
  • August 7, 2014 8:30 pmFigment Theater: Sessions @ Studio C
  • August 7, 2014 9:00 pmThe Comedy Attic
  • August 8, 2014 7:00 pmThe Comedy Works
  • August 8, 2014 8:00 pmCrazy Cow Comedy
  • August 8, 2014 8:00 pmThe N Crowd
  • August 8, 2014 8:30 pmFigment Theater: Sessions @ Studio C
  • August 8, 2014 9:30 pmFigment Theater: Sessions @ Studio C
  • August 9, 2014 7:30 pmComedy Sportz Philadelphia
  • August 9, 2014 8:00 pmCrazy Cow Comedy
  • August 9, 2014 9:30 pmThe Comedy Works
  • August 9, 2014 10:00 pmComedy Sportz Philadelphia
  • August 9, 2014 10:30 pmImprov Comedy: PHIT House Teams
  • August 14, 2014 8:30 pmFigment Theater: Sessions @ Studio C
  • August 14, 2014 9:00 pmThe Comedy Attic
  • August 15, 2014 7:00 pmThe Comedy Works
  • August 15, 2014 8:00 pmThe N Crowd
  • August 15, 2014 8:00 pmCrazy Cow Comedy
  • August 15, 2014 8:30 pmFigment Theater: Sessions @ Studio C
  • August 15, 2014 9:30 pmFigment Theater: Sessions @ Studio C
  • August 16, 2014 7:30 pmComedy Sportz Philadelphia
AEC v1.0.4

It’s Elementary with Dave Metter: Elise Thomson-Hohl

“It’s Elementary” is a monthly column every first Wednesday that asks comedians to share funny memories from their elementary school years, or “periods” (get it?? Like moments in time, but also like in school!) from those formative years that have informed their personal and comedic identities. Or, they’ll just submit some random anecdotes. Whatever they want, really.

by Dave Metter

I have long been fascinated by what has influenced and inspired other comedy writers, especially during their youths when their comedic senses were still so nascent and less judgmental.  This month features stand-up comedian and writer Elise Thomson-Hohl, so nice they named her thrice.  Elise is a rule-breakin’, convention-shirkin’ rebel and has opted to share a wonderful lil’ anecdote instead of a few even lil’er ones.

THE FIRST TIME I DID STAND-UP/WHY I GAVE UP MUSTARD IN THE NINETIES

BY ELISE THOMSON-HOHL (PEN NAME ETH)

ETH

“I can’t find my lunch,” I yelled back to Mrs. Pegler and the rest of my first grade class from the cubby as I continued to rummage through my Jansport backpack.

It was the spring of 1995 and I was in the first grade; by this time I was already aware that my classmates referred to me as weird, so I spent the majority of my time at school trying to go unnoticed.

I felt my brown paper bagged lunch smashed below my binder at the bottom of my bag.

Bingo.

I sorted through my packed lunch until I felt my sandwich, and began tearing off the aluminum foil.

I had calculated about three minutes of time before Mrs. Pegler would come look for me in the cubby, which left me about two minutes to eat my entire mustard and cheese sandwich in peace.

The concept that eating certain items of food at lunch made you cool or un-cool was alien to me, until I began noticing that I was eating at the last seat at the end of the table.  From my observations, it was the COOLEST to buy lunch, the second COOLEST to bring Lunchables, and socially acceptable to eat peanut butter and jelly on white as long as you had name brand snacks to accompany the sandwich (Cheetos and CapriSun).  I had started eating my lunch as privately as I could around Christmas; kids were teasing me for eating ‘WEIRD’ sandwiches, and the possibility of buying lunch or bringing ‘cool’ food wasn’t ever going to be an option.

“SHE’S EATING A MUSTARD SANDWICH”.

I stopped dead in my Jelly’s, impregnated with dread. I turned to see Yi-Ming standing at the mouth of the cubby, pointing at my sandwich.

“No I’m not Yi-Ming.”

I crossed my arms, with a thousand years of indignance, tightening my grip on my sandwich.

Yi-Ming began beckoning our fellow classmates over.

I was dead in the water.  I weighed my options; not only did I have a good amount of sandwich left, but there was also mustard all over my hands, making it impossible to shove the rest of the sandwich in my mouth and hide the evidence. I was looking at a minimum of two to three months of mean nicknames, with solitary lunch confinement indefinitely.  I needed to make a decision fast.

“Hey Yi,” I stammered, as I realized that all eyes were on me, “I think there is something on your pants”.

Yi paused, he had to be smart about his next move, it was winner take all.

“Oh yeah?” Yi answered coldly.

“Yeah, a MUSTARD SANDWICH,” and with that I ripped apart my sandwich and winged it across the cubby hitting him mustard side down squarely in the thigh, Yi burst into tears and everyone cheered.

As I was escorted down to the principal’s office, I passed by the lunchroom, everyone stared at me, and I waved happily and confidently, I realized my first truth that day, when all else fails, draw a large crowd of first graders around you and make someone cry.

Dave Metter is a comedy writer, member of sketch comedy collective Iron Potato and creator of the fake local news show,“Your News, Philadelphia!” Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveMetter.

It’s Elementary with Dave Metter: Paul Triggiani

“It’s Elementary” is a monthly column every first Wednesday that asks comedians to share funny memories from their elementary school years, or “periods” (get it?? Like moments in time, but also like in school!) from those formative years that have informed their personal and comedic identities. Or, they’ll just submit some random anecdotes. Whatever they want, really.

by Dave Metter

I have long been fascinated by what has influenced and inspired other comedy writers, especially during their youths when their comedic senses were still so nascent and less judgmental.  This month features writer/director/performer/tech man/backslash abuser Paul Triggiani.

 

Dave has kindly asked me to write about my time in elementary school for this installment of “It’s Elementary.” So, yes, I’d love to tell you about one of the darkest, most repulsive periods of my life that isn’t right now.

1st Period: The Move
When I was in third grade, my parents moved my brother and I from a private, progressive school that we had been in since kindergarten to a public school. It was the hardest, least pleasant time in my life. I’ve never spent any significant time in prison, but it was probably a lot like that (adjusted for scale of life experience and emotional preparedness).

2nd Period: From Apple Orchard-come-Commune School
The school we had up and to that point spent our entire lives at was an apple orchard-come-commune. The inhabitants of that commune didn’t want to go out and find square jobs so they just said, “Fuck it, let’s be a school.” I remember once asking a teacher how the Native Americans came to be in North America, and she just stared into the ceiling and said, “Nobody knows.” It was a really nurturing place to grow and find your emotional center, but by the time we transferred to public school in third grade, I didn’t know how to read or tie my own shoes.

3rd Period: To Public School
The next year, I transferred to public school and was immediately met with a series of sobering truths—1) the rest of the world had a shared popular culture, it extended beyond 1974, and everyone knew about it but me 2) this was not a warm and inviting place where my ideas and opinions would be welcomed by everyone; to the contrary, every word I said and every thought I decided to share would be judged and used against me by some juvenile scumbag and 3) the other students were sometimes just as bad. It was an emotionally rocky time for me, and I spent a lot of time rolling around on the ground with a jacket over my head. Not sure why.

4th Period: Kids Corner
I can’t remember much about grade school that was positive, except for Kids Corner. If you’re from the area, it’s possible that you’re familiar with the long-running children’s call-in show hosted by Kathy O’Connell and produced by Robert Drake. If you listen to the show today, you’ll hear a lot of music specifically geared toward children, but in the late eighties and early nineties, it was a very different show. From what I could tell, they had maybe ten records that they cycled through—two Dr. Demento collections, a bunch of “Weird Al” Yankovic, They Might Be Giants’ Flood and The Dead Milkmen’s Beelzebubba. So this is how I managed to be exposed to almost nothing but novelty music for the better part of a decade.

5th Period: A Weirdo Unchained
But there was also an underlying message to Kids Corner, and one that I didn’t fully recognize until I was in my late teens. It came through the music they played, but also through the guests that they chose to feature—artists, musicians, nerds of every variety. The novelty music that I was exposed to through the show helped to shape my interest in comedy and show me where my sensibilities were, but the part of Kids Corner that had the biggest impact was that they managed to say “It’s okay to be a little weird. There are weird people everywhere, and they’re doing great” at a time when I needed it most.

Dave Metter is a comedy writer, and member of sketch comedy collective Iron Potato. See Dave’s show “Your News, Philadelphia!” at the Shubin Theater today, June 5th, in the finals of PHIT’s Variety Sweeps Week. Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveMetter.

James Hesky’s Top Ten CheaPodcast Moments

by: James Hesky

As a lot of you know, Darryl Charles and I decided to bring CheaPodcast to a close this week after 125 episodes. A lot of people (Mostly just superfan Chris Curtis) have been asking us questions like “Why?” or “How could you do this to me?” or “Oh, that’s cool, you have a podcast? I don’t really listen to podcasts, but congrats man. Or I’m sorry. I don’t really know what to say in this situation. Everything cool between you guys?”

We started the podcast as a way to promote our monthly show “Cheap Laughs” at the Raven Lounge. Unfortunately, that show died a sudden death when it became clear that we had no clue how to run a show and the bar found out that we weren’t nearly as lucrative as bachelorette parties. Still, we decided to keep rolling with the podcast, putting out an episode once a week because we had nothing else to do and it made us feel like we were real comedians.

Now everything is different. Darryl is in ComedySportz, got married and has a house (I think I’m putting that in order of importance, but you’d have to check with Darryl), I’m the phunniest person in the city, and we both get booked enough that we don’t need a podcast to cover up whatever darkness we have deep down inside of us that makes us force strangers to listen to our thoughts.

It was a good run, but all good things must come to an end. And so must mediocre things that were kind of fun but starting to get tiring.

We’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of great guests from the Philly comedy community (And some of the headliners and features at Helium), so here are my ten favorite moments from our two-and-a-half year run.

10. I pass out mid-episode

Episode 13—“Episode 8”

At this point in the podcast, I was working a 60-hour-a-week job that I hated. We recorded on a Friday after I had worked closer to 80 hours in five days. I was exhausted and looking to get liquored up. So I got myself a bottle of iced tea vodka and a 2-liter of lemonade and made some drunk Arnold Palmers. All was going reasonable well for the first 30 minutes or so, but then that fourth drink and the entire week hit me and I started to fade. Darryl did a great job of leading the podcast, and I did my best to hang in there, but I came up just short. As we were closing, Darryl looks over at me and sees that I’m asleep and calls me out on it. I say the only thing that I can think of which was “I feel bad.” It was true in every sense of the phrase.

I told Darryl I wasn’t comfortable putting that up, so we re-recorded the episode later that weekend. Five weeks later, Darryl and a respiratory infection and I was working so I couldn’t record with anyone else, and Darryl posted the original episode 8 for the week.

9. Little Cat ends the first episode

Episode 1— “A Series of Tubes”

As much as I would like to say that we had a plan for the first episode, we didn’t. We knew we wanted to do a podcast and we were going to tie in weird news stories with a theme. That’s it. And we definitely didn’t know the danger of letting my roommate’s cat sit on my leg for the last few minutes of the podcast. I forgot that if I moved slightly or there was any noise louder than a light breeze, he did this thing where he buried his claws deep into my flesh. So our first podcast ends with me just screaming in pain, trying to detach a cat from my thigh muscle.

8. Joe Doc deals with joint custody

Episode 36— “I’m Sorry You Have to See This”

As some of you may remember, Darryl and I got into a little bit of a fight following a series of articles on Witout called “The Great Debate” (Round One, Round Two, Round Three)Looking back on it, it’s so silly that it almost looks completely staged. But it totally wasn’t. It’s not like we got into a fake fight then had no idea how to end it so we just went deeper into the argument to see just how much yes anding we could do.

It all came to a head when we had on Joey Dougherty and decided that we couldn’t stand to be in the same room with each other, so we did the first half with me, and the second half with Darryl hosting and forced Joe to decide who he liked better. It was a shameful moment for both of us.

7. The worst transition of all time

Episode 54—“TWENTY NINE and a half MEN” 

Oh boy. This one was pretty bad.

If you’ve ever listened to our show, you know that we like to come up with transitions between the articles. Usually it’s a giant stretch and we just make fun of the other person for failing, but if it goes well, it’s usually our favorite part of the podcast. Well we had H. Foley, Chris Cotton, Conrad Roth and Tom Cassidy (All from Center City Comedy) on for the show, and the theme for the episode was roommates. We were wrapping up an article about a motel with a shitload of registered sex offenders, and the next article had something to do with kids. So in my brilliance, I decide to go for the transition without telling anyone, so in the middle of a conversation about pedophiles I chime in with “Well, kids love attention…”

I know now that I was wrong, and I’m sorry. Let’s just move on.

6. Finding out that we suck at recording

If you listen to our first 50 episodes or so, you may notice that the sound quality sucks. Anyone who spoke too loudly would max out the mics and everything sounded a bit grainy. We did everything we could to mess with the sound. We adjusted the mixer, we put the mics in different places, we downloaded new recording software. It didn’t matter, we couldn’t fix it.

It turns out that’s because we were recording directly into Darryl’s computer mic, not the mics hooked up to the mixer. After that, we just started recording directly into my digital recorder, because we suck at trying things that are difficult.

5. Brendan Kennedy gets blackout drunk then does the podcast

Episode 28—“I’m Sorry I Broke The Internet, Computer”

For a brief period, Darryl and I (Along with our good buddy Mykal Carter-Jackson) ran a Sunday open mic at Connie’s Ric Rac (Among other places), which was right across from the famed Hate Speech Hall. Somewhere along the way, Brendan Kennedy found a bottle of whiskey and a jar of pickle juice and drank all of both, then did our podcast.

I love this entire episode, but some favorite moments include:

• Starting off by talking about how hot dogs are from heaven

• Having to delete an entire five-minute chunk because Brendan kept talking about Darryl’s job

• Brendan wanting to rename C-sections “Don’t block my shine, shorty.”

Give it a listen.

4. Getting John Oliver and Kurt Metzger to do our podcast

Episode 52— “I think I’m Sad Again with John Oliver and Kurt Metzger”

We had already had some great local comics on (Chip Chanty, Mykal Carter-Jackon, Sue Taney, and Luke Giordano just to name a few), but we realized we were being idiots for not including some of the headliners who we were opening for at Helium. I remember being nervous to ask Jeff (One of the managers at Helium) if it would be okay to ask the headliners to do the podcast. He said it was fine, but he was curious to see how it went because no one’s ever asked before. I could easily imagine this turning into a conversation where I was told that I was suspended from Helium for a year and a new “Hesky Rule” would be put in place where no one could ask the headliners to do a podcast without going through their agent first.

Luckily the first week we had the opportunity was with Kurt Metzger and John Oliver: Two of the nicest dudes in comedy. We spoke way too fast while doing it, and the interviews are practically unlistenable, but at the end of the John Oliver one, you can tell that Darryl and I are both celebrating the fact that we will probably get to do this again sometime because it went just well enough.

3. Watching the Cleveland Bus Driver video on repeat for 10 minutes

Episode 92— “You Goin to Jail Now!”

I remember in 10th grade getting so high one time with a friend, that he made a dumb observation about milk cartons and we laughed so hard and for so long that I legitimately started to worry that I would never be able to stop laughing. I thought I would have to just go through the rest of my life laughing. It would be going on at school, during graduation, whenever I met people at college, and while I was getting married.

This is the only time I’ve laughed harder than that. For a solid ten minutes we watched the video of a bus driver uppercutting a woman who refused to pay her fare then pushed the driver. It’s the most amazing video I’ve ever seen. If you haven’t seen it, here it is. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbRYTLzkd04

You’re welcome.

2. The Hangovercasts

Episode 3 – “Say It loud”

Episode 51 – “Hangovercast”

Episode 103 – “The Internet is Better Back Here”

I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but I know that at some point we decided that it would be a brilliant idea to record on New Year’s Day 2011. My roommate and I had gotten a quarter keg of Miller Lite and needed help finishing it, so we invited Darryl and Lori over to help us drink beer (And bloody marys). The podcast was a bit of a clusterfuck, as you would expect it to be, but it was fun.

So the next year, we decided to do it again. This time we invited a bunch of comedians and some fans of the show to take part. We were in just as much pain, and I had to leave in the middle to go help Johnny Goodtimes move a keg that was responsible for breaking his rear window the night before.

Then this year, we had big plans, but it all went to shit until our good buddy Pat Barker came through and helped guide us through a particularly rough hangover (For me, at least.) It was a great tradition, and now I have to find out what else I’m supposed to do to nurse my New Year’s Day hangover.

1. Todd Glass and Geoff Tate get Brendan Kennedy-level drunk and do the podcast

Episode 95 – “We’ll be Right Back With Todd Glass and Geoff Tate”

I opened up for Todd Glass out in Phoenixville for a one-nighter at PJ Ryan’s. After the show, Todd had a fair amount of whiskey but had already agreed to do my podcast. We ended up at Helium and ran into Geoff Tate (Who was featuring that week) who was just as drunk, and they both decided to jump in and do the podcast. It turned into one of the greatest moments of my life. I’d add to that, but just listen to the first 15 minutes, and if you don’t start crying at the 8:50 mark, you have no soul. Don’t turn it off there either, just keep listening and Todd keeps being Todd. It’s the best.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

You see? I was right. And you’re welcome.

James Hesky is a Philadelphia stand-up comedian and reigning winner of Helium Comedy Club’s Philly’s Phunniest Person Contest. He asks that you follow CheaPodcast on Twitter for more updates in the upcoming week’s on the show’s favorite guests and episodes. You can listen to the final episode of CheaPodcast online.

For the Love of the Duo: A Tribute to Duofest (June 6-9)

by Kristen Schier

Roughly four years ago an idea was dreamed up by me and my best friend and duo partner Amie Roe that found not only tremendous support but a home with the Philly Improv Theater. This year Duofest has talent coming from Austin, LA, Vancouver, Toronto, DC, London, Detroit, Boston, NYC and also SCOTT ADSIT! It has grown to be a truly exciting international event and I am proud that its home is in Philadelphia.

You might wonder what is so wonderful about improv duos that we need to go ahead and make a whole festival about it.

First, I think most duos may experience difficulty getting into festivals. It is often the case that some festivals have performer fees attached to participation that sometimes skew there taste towards, well, groups with more performers. We wanted to give duos a place to play.

Second, a duo is an amazing way to power-boost your improv skillz and work your improv muscles. When Duofest first started there were only a handful of two-person teams to speak of in Philly.  It makes my heart happy that a ton of duos have since formed because it can put improvisers on a fast-track to growth and maturation. A small part of this is that when there are only two of you to wrangle you find that organizing rehearsals and shows is easier, and by virtue of that you find yourself practicing and playing more than you might if you had to rally a larger team. Furthermore, in a duo you learn very quickly that you are not just onstage all the time, you are also in every scene. Talk about scene reps, man o man. You learn by duo-ing. Ha.

A two-person show also forces you to recognize and refine your style as an improviser.

First, there is the task of choosing who you’re going to play with. When selecting a partner you probably consider folks whose work you admire. That requires a certain level of understanding and reflection. In addition to determining on a partner, you also are 50 percent of every show. Having far more responsibility and influence over the direction of a show exposes what you bring to the table. Gaining that type of insight can be invaluable to one’s evolution.

Let’s take a moment and say that even deciding to form a duo in the first place takes balls.  You’re all like “We can make up a show on the spot that will be worth seeing, just me and my friend.” Yeah, that is undeniably ballsy— and a big part of improvising is, well, having the balls, or tubes (holla atcha ladies) to step out there in the first place.

Thirdly, a duo exemplifies key elements of improvisation—collaboration and, of course, the two-person scene.  The boundlessness of what you can create as an improviser never ceases to amaze me. It is part of the magic of live performance. This really comes to the forefront in a duo in a way that is different from team, or even solo performance. It has some of the “limitations” that give a thrill to solo performance while maintaining the collaborative element that makes a larger team so enjoyable to play on. In short, you can do anything a larger improv team can do with fewer people and all while having a more intimate feel to your creative process. In this way the duo embodies trust and challenges the possible.

Besides all that, at the heart of all good improv shows is one thing: the two-person scene.  No matter what the form, the playing style, the philosophy – if you can do an amazing two-person scene, you have got me hooked.  I don’t care what you call it; every improv form is like a showcase for a great two-person scene. A form is a house for funny engaging dynamic two-person scenes to live in. A great duo is the necessary, or a most essential version of this house. In that way a great duo is like a great poem. There is only what you need, but there is everything you need.

Duofest is June 6th-9th at The Shubin Theatre (407 Bainbridge Street). Click here for tickets for individual shows in Duofest 2013 and here for Weekend All-Access Passes.

Discussing a Bit with Matt Holmes – Kill Your Darlings, but for improv

by Matt Holmes

Writers are advised with the axiom “Kill Your Darlings,” which should be traced back to Sir Arthur Quiller-Crouch. The idea is that writers should not to be too precious about their creations.

If you craft something that you love, you might shun any criticism or advice. Even if it’s perfect and beautiful, you might include it where it doesn’t belong. You might like it, but will your audience get what you mean? Your terrific turn of phrase might be one word too long for your limit; what can you do?

Maybe you don’t hit delete and instead save it to be used elsewhere (Will and Grace started as traditional wacky neighbors until they became the main focus). Whatever you do with your work, you must not coddle it.

Writers usually work in private and alone; they spend time on their work and don’t know what the readers think until long after publishing. Improv, in contrast, is usually a group effort done in the moment with a public, immediate response.

In improv, the equivalent of this concept might be “Love Your Garbage.”

Sometimes, you’re blessed with good stuff that magically, automatically falls into place. That stuff takes care of itself. If you know what you’re doing, even the mediocre stuff gets heightened and used. The tricky part is the bad stuff.

Make the mistakes part of the pattern. You can’t edit anything out, so you have to make it so you wanted it to happen for some reason. Make it seem on purpose.

If you’re embarrassed that those words came out of your mouth, make them important and meaningful in retrospect. Make the beginning work because of the ending. Now is the time to make your partner look good. Make their dumb move into a brilliant choice. If you do something stupid, do it again and figure out why.

When we watch improv, we want to see your brilliance, but we also like to see the  tightrope wiggle a bit. Let it wiggle, let us see the process of you using your skills. Then make something good out of it.

 

Matt Holmes is an improviser in Philly. He performs a full improv comedy set with a complete stranger from the audience in Matt& (“playful and winning” –TimeOut Chicago). He also teaches improv, coaches improv groups, and co-founded Rare Bird Show (“Top Shelf Improv” –The Apiary, “arguably the best improv group Philly has ever produced” –AV Club).

Look for the next installment of “Discussing a Bit,” Matt’s monthly WitOut column, on July 1st.

Have a comedy issue or theory you’d like Matt to examine? Email alison@witout.net.

Gregg Gethard Has Some Ideas About Girl Parts

by Gregg Gethard

I was at an open mic recently when no less than six straight comedians did a bit about vaginal smell. This is not uncommon. Every open mic has a lot of comics who talk a lot about vaginal smell.

This is a problem.

Here are the reasons why this is problematic:

  1. If at least half of the performers are doing material about a topic, you should probably not do material about that topic. The main point about open mics is to get better and to find a way to get booked at an actual show. You think doing the same exact thing as everyone else is going to get you there?*

  1. If the material is something a doofus high school kid would say in the locker room, you should probably not do material about that topic. (I put something on my Twitter about this. A response from someone: “What, is everyone in Philly comedy 16?”)

  1. Doing bits about vaginal smell essentially boils down to saying “girls are icky.” Confusion about sex is a great concept for a bit that’s incredibly relatable. However, the joke should be about how confusing it is for both parties (or, even better, the performer). The joke shouldn’t be about vaginal smell. You’re just coming off like some creep wanna-be lothario bragging about doing a sex act.

  1. I put something about this on my Facebook wall. Here is a comment my friend Alanna (a girl and not my wife) said about vaginal smell jokes: “Anecdotally, I have found that men who trash women and their vaginas the most are the men who seldom have the opportunity to get inside one.”

    Just a head’s up as to what a girl who frequents comedy shows thinks about your jokes about girl parts.

  1. Making a joke about smelly girl parts is making fun of someone’s body. Would you make a joke about someone in the crowd who is overweight? I would hope not.  And I’m not saying this to be sensitive or PC. I’m saying this because making fun of an overweight person (or something similar) is just bullying.

  1. Stage time is precious. Open mics give you, what, five minutes at the most? You’re going to use five minutes of stage time to talk about something almost everyone else is talking about that most men have stopped talking about when they hit college? Be better than that. Respect the stage. Try to do something different and unique and new. That’s why I love going to comedy shows.

I’m not god’s gift to comedy. I know this. I’ve done really well at some shows and I’ve bombed at a lot more. But anytime I get on a stage I try to do something that the audience hasn’t seen or heard before that reflects my personality. You really want to tell a group of mostly strangers that your personality largely revolves around high school lunch humor?

* To show I’m not a PC prude – there have been a lot of pro-gay marriage bits lately. I support gay marriage. But again – if 10 people are talking about gay marriage, do you really want to talk about gay marriage?

Vaginal smell jokes are not a problem as serious as rape jokes, which has become the dumbest controversy in modern comedy because it shouldn’t be a controversy since no one should tell a rape joke. I have to applaud the Philly open mic community because the amount of comics telling rape jokes at one point approached the 50 percent mark. It’s now down to roughly 25 percent, and it appears that most of the comics telling jokes about committing sex crimes with punchlines at the expense of victims are new to the scene.**

**I talked with a young comic who had a rape joke up front in his otherwise pretty brainy set and told him he (and hopefully he took it in the right way – I was trying to offer advice and hopefully I didn’t come off like a dick, but I probably did) should get rid of it because he was better than that. He seemed to agree with my statement. But he said he was nervous since the night was sort of dead and he knew that he’d get a laugh. I get that – god knows my earliest comedy used shock nonsense (and probably a rape joke) as a safety blanket. But then I learned the difference between a shock laugh and an earned laugh and I think this kid will get that difference soon. Respect.

Gregg Gethard has been performing comedy in some form since 2007 and is best known for hosting/producing the long-running Bedtime Stories and co-hosting The Holding Court Podcast. He will be hosting A Comedy Tribute to Boston on Sunday, June 23 at L’Etage (624 S. 6th Street) at 7 pm. He will also appear live on the Used Wigs podcast on May 21st at 8 pm (also at L’Etage). He can be followed on Twitter @holdingcourtpod.

It’s Elementary with Dave Metter: Jen Curcio

“It’s Elementary” is a monthly column that asks comedians to share memories from their elementary school years that have informed their comedic identities. Or are just random anecdotes. Whatever they want, really.  This month spotlights the extraordinary Jen Curcio!

by Dave Metter

I have long been fascinated by what has influenced and inspired other comedy writers, especially during their youths when their comedic senses were still so nascent and less judgmental.  Be they films or television shows, random anecdotes or funny relatives, I ask comedians to share a few experiences or works they recall notably from their elementary school years.  This edition of “It’s Elementary” features Jen Curcio, member of improv troupes Mayor Karen and ApocaLIPS, and a former member of the late Hey Rube.

1st Period: Art

In 5th grade, my 3rd grade status of being hilarious was running out. I wasn’t getting the attention any 10 year old girl craves, so I found an old bottle of AquaNet (they stopped making that in ’91, so, it was old) and bought a bottle of purple Manic Panic hair dye and got some attention! First, I dyed my hair purple. Not like a faint purple tint over my blonde hair, I mean like I was not a blonde I was a purple. Then I held my bangs up in the shape of a wave (think Gwen Stefani circa ’95) and went crazy with the AquaNet until that tsunami of hair would not crash down. My parents just thought it was creative and what they get for leaving a 10 year old home alone for some small (legal) amount of time. Mrs. Graham, my fifth grade teacher’s jaw dropped when I walked in the next day. Susan, who was alphabetically required to sit next to me, refused to because of my new hairdo. A small group of girls (one girl) thought it was awesome and copied my style. It was from this day forward I knew I enjoyed getting attention for doing weird things.

2nd Period: Phys Ed
My cousin Steve lived with my family when I was in elementary school. He recognized my talent for billiards when I was 8, so naturally he started taking me to seedy pool halls in downtown West Chester, PA, to play against (he would place bets on me) large, burly men with long beards. I hate to brag, but I was pretty great at pool. I almost never lost a game. This was the first time I had to face stage fright, or really it was normal fright because I was a little kid in a seedy pool hall.

3rd Period: Indoor Recess

I was always very shy and struggled to make friends in elementary school, but one day in 3rd grade I decided to come out of my turtle shell in a grand way. I was going to go for the gold (as it was the Winter Olympics of ’94 and Tonya Harding was my idol) and make everyone in the class crack up. I walked over to the arts and crafts area in the class room and grabbed some clay to form what resembled human feces. Then I walked into the middle of the play area, surrounded by the other children, and I made a noise to get everyone’s attention. When I was certain everyone was looking at me, I dropped the clay feces from behind my back and announced that I had crapped myself. All the cool kids were rolling on the floor laughing; the teacher immediately scolded me and I acted like I didn’t care because I was a bad ass. I realized that day I could use my brilliant sense of humor to win over the cool kids and look like a rebel.

4th Period: Talent Show!

When I was in kindergarten my grandmother lived with us and would take care of me after school. She was in for a real treat every day, because after school every day I would hop up onto the step in front of our fire place (I don’t know the proper terminology because I am an interior design school drop-out) and put on a talent show. Sometimes I would tell, “Why did the chicken cross the road…” jokes and sometimes I would belt out my rendition of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song, and other times I would have a live cooking demonstration. God bless that woman for being patient, eating whatever was made during my cooking demonstrations, and for always pretending like it was a great show.

You can see Jen performing with Mayor Karen this Saturday at Philly Improv Theater at The Shubin Theatre (407 Bainbridge Street) at 8PM.

Dave Metter is a comedy writer from the Philly burbs. Check out his show Your News, Philadelphia! on May 22nd at The Shubin Theatre (407 Bainbridge Street), part of PHIT’s Sweeps Weeks. Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveMetter.

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Discussing a Bit with Matt Holmes – The Secret to Improv

by Matt Holmes

I learned improv in a way that wasn’t helpful for me logically or in the moment. Eventually, I boiled it down to a simple, underlying 3-step process.

How to Answer
The first lesson I learned for improv was “Yes And.” You agree (saying Yes) and add (starting with And). This made sense; you can’t waste time arguing about invisible stuff, and you can’t have a scene without moving forward.
 
This had some problems, though. The theory was all about responding. This was step two. What do you do first? I, and my partner, needed something to agree with. Plus, it was so verbal. We were just standing there talking and agreeing. 
 
Also, this led to a lot of concern and pressure about being agreeable. I was worried that I might be doing it wrong; it almost felt like I was a bad person or “didn’t play well with others.” 
 
Saying “Yes And” to everything and anything led to a lot of starts that didn’t go anywhere and tangents that either derailed or fizzled out. 
 
Accepting the facts of the situation is important, but I wanted to know how to begin, and I wanted to get somewhere with it. 
 
First What to Say
Then I learned to get the Who, What, and Where in the first three lines, including names and relationships and a kernel of conflict. This made sense, too. It was a checklist, a to-do list.
 
The problem for me was the pressure of getting all those details right away. Plus, the end result was a lot of awkward exposition, and I still wasn’t sure what to do next. 
 
It felt like the whole scene was puked out in the first three lines and I was still stranded, but now with a lot of facts nobody cared about. A lot of the information seemed unimportant, too. Sometimes, the location doesn’t really matter. Sometimes, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re playing sisters or just best friends.
 
I went from “What do I do?” to “What do I do now that we’re twin pirates at the DMV?” 
 
Thinking about Playing
Then I learned “Finding the Game.” How you find it and what exactly a game is were both a bit mysterious. 
 
Jumping on the first unusual thing that happened and asking, “If this is true, what else is also true?” worked and led to some really clear-cut scenes. It was almost like sketch comedy that we made up on the spot. 
 
I had something for the scene to be about and stuff to do based on that premise. I learned that plot was bad and game was good, because plot got people “in their heads.” 
 
The only problem was that I still got stuck in my head thinking about what was also true and what to do next; only now I was confused by the mystic nature of the theory. Plus, I found that every scene was about an usual thing. 
 
It still felt like scenes worked just by luck. I knew what a game was and why to play it, but it was always a challenge to create the rules and play them. 
 
What’s my Motivation?
Then I learned about some real acting. I tried to give my characters a “deal” or a “want” and figure out what my partners were giving their characters. I tried to play real people with back stories and core characteristics.  
 
It was confusing. I was thinking too much. In improv, there’s no time for secrets, especially ones that never get divulged. 
 
This might be helpful for working with a script or improvising to develop one, but if your technique in every improv scene is focused on a want, then that’s what every scene will be about. It’s a good exercise, but it’s not a technique to use every time.
 
So what do you do to do it?
I boiled down all these elements into three simple steps that I could follow.
 
  • 1. Do something.
 

It doesn’t matter what. You can choose to be witty or physical or emotional. You can come up with an idea or just be a character. You can purposefully decide specifics or let them emerge later.You, and your partner, and the audience all just need

something.Start the scene and keep it going. It’s okay if it feels vague and uncertain. The audience doesn’t need every detail right away, and they’re more patient than you’d think.

 
  • 2. Do it more.
 
In improv, you start with a blank slate and draw in some details. When we all have some idea of what’s going on, then we just want to invest in it and get something back. 
 
If you start over or shift gears, it’s like reading the first page from a few different books instead of getting through one story. 
 
  • 3. Do it bigger.
 
Even when something is working and making sense and getting laughs, it needs to go somewhere. Comedy is built on surprise. You can stay on track, but change it up a bit. Grab people by doing what you’re already doing, but bigger in some way.  Go to the Nth degree with whatever it is. 
 
Improv can be trivial and ephemeral. Part of the show, even a really good one, is the aspect that it’s being made up in the moment. You give improv a point and a purpose by picking out something to explore and use.
 
  • Imagine if Beethoven only did one “dah-dah da-DAH!” You’d want more.
  • Imagine if he did it exactly the same way ten times. You’d want it a little different, bigger, softer, played on a flute; not exactly repeated again and again.

3 is Funny, Conclusive, & Ingrained

“Omne trium perfectum” means every set of three is complete. In comedy, we just say that things are funny in threes: the rule of three. Thrice is nice.Two is the smallest number of points needed to establish a pattern with an expectation to follow. Doing something more and then “bigger” satisfies that expectation while still being some kind of surprise.
 
This is the ‘how.’ The ‘what’ is up to you.
You can follow this technique at any level, no matter who your partners are, no matter your energy level or mood, and it’ll work.
These are the underlying basics. Everything else is personal taste and preference. You can still “Yes, And.” You can still find the game. You can play real or clever or silly or whatever you like, but you can do it with a plan for how.
 

What you choose to play becomes the game, without having to think about it. You don’t have to find something or hope for anything. You can actively create, just by repeating any choice.Any details missing from the scene aren’t necessary or can be added in later as clarification or a reveal.

Sometimes, you don’t need stakes or emotions or a setting or names, so long as something else is strong enough to fill that void.Sometimes, improvisers patiently explore, listen, agree, and add until they get a good idea. Then, on that good laugh, they edit and start over, grasping at straws again. It’s so much easier to make the first thing that happens into something great and stick with it. There’s less dead air, less to keep track of, and fewer dead ends.

 
In a story, the plot is created by having characters do something more and bigger. In a game, the moves are repeated (done more) and heightened (done bigger). Even when a scene or sketch takes a turn, that’s just something else that’ll be done more and bigger also. 
 

In improv, you might only see pieces of a larger narrative. If the show doesn’t complete a traditional structure, wrapping up a climax and resolution, the audience won’t care too much, as long as the pieces they saw were good. By repeating and heightening something, you create the slices of a larger pie.Plot asks, “What happens next?” Game asks, “If this is true, what else is true?” Deal asks “Who are these characters, what do they want, and how do they try to get it?” I think this 3-step framework answers all these questions in a pragmatic, practical way so improvisers can relax and play.

 
You’re not lost; you have a map. Take a step in any direction and keep going.

Matt Holmes is an improviser in Philly. He performs a full improv comedy set with a complete stranger from the audience in Matt& (“playful and winning” –TimeOut Chicago). He also teaches improv, coaches improv groups, and co-founded Rare Bird Show (“Top Shelf Improv” –The Apiary, “arguably the best improv group Philly has ever produced” –AV Club).

Look for the next installment of “Discussing a Bit,” Matt’s monthly WitOut column, on June 1st.

Have a comedy issue or theory you’d like Matt to examine? Email alison@witout.net.

It’s Elementary with Dave Metter: L.U.M.P.

“It’s Elementary” is a monthly column that asks comedians to share funny memories from their elementary school years, or “periods” (get it?? Like moments in time, but also like in school!) from those formative years that have informed their personal and comedic identities. Or, they’ll just submit some random anecdotes. Whatever they want, really.

by Dave Metter

I have long been fascinated by what has influenced and inspired other comedy writers, especially during their youths when their comedic senses were still so nascent and less judgmental.  Be they films or television shows, random anecdotes or funny relatives, I ask comedians to share a few experiences or works they recall notably from their elementary school years.  This month we have the acronymically-named L.U.M.P. (which I can’t read without thinking of the band The Presidents Of The United States of America since 1995 was a banner year for me insomuch as it was the year I first made a banner).  L.U.M.P. stands for Life’s Ugly Money Problem, and killer comedy.

1st Period: The Nun
When I was in the fifth grade at St. Michael’s, at 2nd & Jefferson, a Puerto Rican classmate named Peter told me to greet a nun by calling her some word in Spanish. So I did. And got suspended twice. One for what I said to the nun, the other for beating up Peter. The nun wasn’t upset with me but I had never used any swear words in English, which means the first time I cursed was in Spanish.

2nd Period: Schoolyard Wrestling
When I was in the fourth grade, I moved from West Philly to North Philly. I started at a new school and instead of fistfights, everyone “TV wrestled.” I had a record of 1-4, losing the first four, with the one win being over the schoolyard champion. My finishing move was the “perfectplex” and I retired after that fight as champ. I did not realize at the time that I would one day do stand-up, but being shy at a new school was a drag. The wrestling made me slightly cooler back then.

3rd Period: Valentine’s Day
Also in the fourth grade around Valentine’s Day everyone in our class gave each other candy hearts and love letters. I gave my Valentine and a candy heart to Liza, the prettiest girl in class. I got rejected because the heart said BE MINE but I sweated the words off after holding it all day before I gave it to her. Trust and believe that I never sweated off any candy heart letters after that. She rejected me, but we were okay after that.

4th Period: Ghostbusters
When Ghostbusters came out, my dad got me and my brother out of school and took us to the movies and we saw that movie 3 times that day. Chilling that whole day with my brother and father made us bond more. My father raised us and was always at work, so playing hooky that once wasn’t cool, but understood.

You can follow L.U.M.P. on Twitter @_LUMP, and catch him performing next at Comedy-Gasm on April 13th at the Irish Pol (45 S. 3rd Street).


Dave Metter is a comedy writer from the Philly burbs. See Dave’s show Your News, Philadelphia! at the Shubin Theater May 22nd, part of PHIT’s Variety Sweeps Week. Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveMetter.

Discussing a Bit with Matt Holmes – The “Best” Thing on ‘SNL’ Recently

by Matt Holmes

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez died on Tuesday, March 5. On Saturday, March 9, Saturday Night Live opened with host Justin Timberlake impersonating Elton John as he sang a dedication of “Candle in the Wind” at Chávez’s funeral.

The lyrics were altered, as Elton John did after the death of Princess Diana, but to include bizarre facts about Chávez’s life, including his radio show Aló Presidente, hat-wearing parrot, and comments he made about capitalism destroying a civilization on Mars.

I think this sketch was the best thing on SNL recently.

  • The sketch used the host’s talents. He sang it well, and I think played the piano part too. He sold the jokes and did a good impression.
  • The sketch was topical. The live aspect of SNL allows—if not demands—that current events be used in the humor.
  • The sketch was funny. It had clever rhymes, good pacing, and insight about the subject.

It’s the combination of these things that makes it stand out for me. It’s SNL being SNL.The show has certainly had some other funnier stuff, but funny is subjective. What’s funny is based on personal taste, awareness of the subject matter, how well it pans out, even your mood at the moment you’re watching it.

Saturday Night Live is a live sketch-comedy show with a celebrity host who performs in sketches. SNL‘s DNA is funny, political, timely, edgy, and flavored by the guest host. With the right mix and balance, you can watch it live or 30 years later and love it just as much.

There’s a certain timely element that gives an added impact in the moment. (You can’t even find this sketch on Hulu or NBC.com/SNL because of music rights; you actually had to watch it live.) But if something’s well-written and well-performed, it’ll hold up later.Look at the Sarah Palin sketches or Dan Aykroyd playing a hemorrhoid-suffering President Carter, outlining his plan against inflation: Preparation I.

And certainly not every sketch is going to be that mix of current events and host talents. It shouldn’t be even if it could be. There are other aspects of SNL that make up its identity.

  • My point is to know thyself and be the best you.

Comedy—and art in general—are often spoken of in mystical terms. There’s an extra something that makes it all come together as more than the sum of its parts. That magical spark; it’s you. It’s the comic or group or show, etc., having a self-awareness and producing material that is representative.

There are ways to get people talking around a water cooler or tweeting, ways to get more video plays, ways to get remembered or imitated. Too often, though, these formulas can lead to comedy that is formulaic. It’s more important to be a good example of yourself.When Chappelle’s Show was about to come out, network executives said they weren’t sure if the sketch about a blind Klansman who doesn’t know that he’s black would be a good representation of the show overall. Dave Chappelle said it was a perfect representation. 

When Bill Prady, showrunner for The Big Bang Theory, was working on Dharma and Greg, he woke up in the middle of the night with a perfect story, but the perfect story for Star Trek: Voyager. He got in touch with them and handed it over.

Even if something’s good it has to fit and feel right. Comedians should become tailors.

It’s a lesson to learn from any outstanding piece created out of knowing not only the message, but the medium.

Matt Holmes is an improviser in Philly. He performs a full improv comedy set with a complete stranger from the audience in Matt& (“playful and winning” –TimeOut Chicago). He also teaches improv, coaches improv groups, and co-founded Rare Bird Show (“Top Shelf Improv” –The Apiary, “arguably the best improv group Philly has ever produced” –AV Club).

Look for the next installment of “Discussing a Bit,” Matt’s monthly WitOut column, on May 1st.

Have a comedy issue or theory you’d like Matt to examine? Email alison@witout.net.