New improv production company Figment Theater kicks off their season this Thursday with the first edition of the Vagabond Sessions, a show that’ll be put on every two weeks, but never in the same place twice. Here’s Figment Artistic Director Maggy Keegan with more about this show as well as other plans for the theater.
WitOut: What do you think are some of the advantages of doing a series of pop-up shows like this, as opposed to a regular show at a set location?
Maggy Keegan: One of the reasons we chose to do pop-up shows is that we liked the idea of improv being ephemeral; something that we create for a moment and then it’s gone. So we wanted that concept to echo throughout everything we did from our venues down to the name of the theater itself. It’s the idea that what we do—from our longer-running season to our one-night shows—all have this sense of being in the moment.
WO: Will the format for the Vagabond Sessions always be the same—AD Showcase, then a special guest, and then the Table?
MK: We wanted the Vagabond Sessions to be a place for improvisers and ensembles to take risks so the structure of the line-up hopefully pairs risk-taking and exploration along with really fun, strong work. For the Table, I wanted to bring together a group of improvisers who I really admire and who I thought might work well together in a particular form to anchor the night. And the AD Showcase is the Artistic Director’s Showcase, which essentially is just me playing with different people each time. There are tons of improvisers in Philadelphia that I really would love to play with so the AD Showcase is my selfish wish to do that in action. I don’t know that this will always be the same structure. Mostly I am in for whatever makes sense for the night and whatever is feeding that sense of pushing the boundaries of what we think we can do and how it can make us better at what we do.
WO: The group you’re playing in for this session’s AD Showcase is Rowbit. Was that a group formed just for this show, or do you guys plan to perform regularly?
MK: Luke Field, Alex Newman, Emily Davis and I formed Rowbit because we all love game-based improv and we wanted to put together a group that could study it together. We have our first performance Thursday and then we are going to get to perform again in May at PHIT. I am incredibly excited. I have admired the three of them for a long time in terms of their intelligence and moves they make on stage and so I can’t wait to play with them.
WO: This is the first official show for Figment Theater. Can you describe the mission of the theater, and some of your long-term plans?
MK: The official mission statement of the theater is: “…to cultivate and nurture quality improvisational theater with artists and audiences through shared experiences rooted in fearless performance and nimble innovation.” We see comedic improv as an art form so for us this means that we want to provide a place for improvisers to explore whatever this art form means to them through different improv forms (such as the Deconstruction or Close Quarters), with people they’re interested and excited about working with, and within constructs that we find interesting to us, such as an Improvised Slasher Movie or by pairing improvisers we would love to see together with our Courtship Series in the Summer. I would also have to add that for me the audience is an integral part of why we do what we do. So, with all the risk-taking and boundary-pushing we’re interested in doing, we’re equally interested in creating work that is accessible to the audience. I am proud to be an improviser and I would like to introduce more people into that. It’s one of the major reasons I moved back to Philadelphia from Los Angeles.
WO: What are some other things coming up for Figment that you’re excited about?
MK: I’m really excited about some of the projects improvisers have sent me for the Vagabond series. There is some really cool innovative stuff that is happening. I also am excited for our season; Matt has some wonderful things planned for that in terms of the summer and fall. I can’t wait to see and be scared by the improvised Slasher movie.
But mostly, I have to say that I am incredibly excited to be working with some wonderful people. Matt Nelson, who is the Managing Director for Figment, is an incredibly talented producer and he’s wonderful to work with. We have a wonderful Board who has been helping us shape who we are more fully—Mary Carpenter, Jen Curcio, and Brian Rumble and their thoughts and insights into how we do what we do have been really important. We also have Hilary Kissinger and Kate Banford helping us with Marketing and Kate Banford and Cait O’Driscoll have been finding us really fun spaces to play. The fact that they take time out from what they’re doing to be a part of this is incredible and what they bring has been integral to the launch and the vision of what we’re doing. Theater is a collaborative art and being able to work with talented, committed people is what energizes and excites me about the theater.
Figment Theatre’s first ‘Vagabond Sessions’ is this Thursday, March 28th at Fleisher Art Memorial (719 Catherine Street). Show starts at 8PM. Admission is $5.
Tomorrow night, comedians, friends, roommates and ragtag group of rapscallions Alex Grubard, Joey Dougherty, Lou Misiano and Tommy Touhill bring you three shows in one: Comedy Bonfire at The Fire. For seven greenbacks, you get a stand-up showcase hosted by Alex (featuring Ryan Shaner, Mary Radzinski and Dave Topor); a live taping of the Trailer Trash Podcast (with Joey and Tommy as guests); and to close the night, the ComeDIYorDIE open mic hosted by Lou. Here they are answering some questions about Comedy Bonfire, comedian-produced comedy shows, and living together:
WitOut: Alex, you used to do a different show at The Fire, right? What’s bringing you back?
Alex Grubard: It was called All Ages Comedy. Why you gotta bring up old shit? The Fire is a simple, solid rock venue so their showroom is separate from the bar. We thought Northern Liberties could use more comedy. Also it’s down the street from the house we live in so it’s easy to get to for all of us. What Joey doesn’t understand is that some of us don’t have bikes.
WO: Is this going to be an ongoing show? And if it is ongoing, will you always do the three-shows-in-one format?
Lou Misiano: March 26th is a one-off show to start out, but the idea is to keep the three shows for $7 aspect. It’s a comedy night at a rock venue. The shows could change, sure. We’ll likely first play around with the 11PM time slot, but who knows what kind of unique but done-to-death show it could wind up being? What Tommy doesn’t understand is that there are plenty of open mics and no one will miss one that doesn’t exist yet.
WO: You live with the other three producers of this show. What’s it like living in a house full of comedians? Do you think working with the people you live with will put any stress on your home life?
Joey Dougherty: Living with comedians is great as long as you’re also a comedian. Non-coms are always like, “Why does every ‘touring comedian’ seem more like a ‘homeless person crashing on our couch for two weeks?'” What Lou doesn’t understand is that comedy is hard, shelter is harder.
WO: The open mic portion of the show is called “ComeDIYorDIE.” Can you explain why/how you feel a DIY aesthetic/attitude lends itself to stand-up comedy? What do you like about independent comedy and comedian-produced shows?
Tommy Touhill: There’s pros and cons to doing things yourself. There are four of us running Comedy Bonfire so it’s more like just a great pun to call it an open mic. Stand-up comedy does have the benefit of making comedians feel like individuals and a part of a community at the same time. Writing and performing stand-up comedy is about as DIY as you get, but finding people who you work well with is important. A comic’s ability to bounce around projects and try different things with different people besides performing alone on stage is a powerful resource. What Alex doesn’t understand is that it’s more than an image; it’s a business model.
WO: Please pick a soundtrack for the evening using only songs that have the word “fire” in the title and/or lyrics written around the theme of “fire.”
“Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash
“We Threw Gasoline on the Fire and Now We All Have Stumps For Arms and No Eyebrows” by NOFX
“If You Love Someone Set Them On Fire” by Dead Milkmen
“Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis
“Firestarter” by Prodigy
“Light My Fire” by The Doors
“Fire On The Mountain” by The Grateful Dead
“Lake of Fire” by The Meat Puppets
“I’m On Fire” by Bruce Springsteen
“Sleep Now In The Fire” by Rage Against The Machine
“Sex On Fire” by Kings of Leon
That Billy Joel song.
“Into The Fire” by Bruce Springsteen
“Fireflies” by Owl City
“Dig For Fire” by Pixies
“My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” by Willie Nelson
‘Comedy Bonfire’ is this Tuesday, March 26th at The Fire (412 E. Girard Avenue). Show starts at 8PM. Admission is $7.
by Chris Dolan
Dave Terruso is a genuinely funny guy; he hosts at Helium Comedy Club in Center City and performs stand-up frequently around the Philadelphia area.
He is also an inquisitive guy, asking his married interviewer, “Where is your wedding ring?”…and, in doing so, getting a story about the ring’s whereabouts and inscription.
We met at Urban Saloon in Fairmount to discuss his latest project, an office murder-mystery novel he’s written entitled Cube Sleuth. The book draws on elements from Terruso’s own (admittedly hated) former office job, and revolves around the main character’s search for the killer of his best friend/coworker, set against the backdrop of a typical corporate cubicle farm.
Chris Dolan: A book is a big endeavor. How did you decide to write a book, and settle on the subject matter and whatnot?
Dave Terruso: I’ve been writing books since I was 11. I wrote a short story—it was both sides of one page—about vampires. I read it to my parents and they clapped. So I said “This is what I’m gonna do for my whole life.” And then I got my own typewriter and wrote my first 100-page novel. I wrote six more before the one I just published. So it’s always been y’know, what’s the next project? When I started my job, the job that I talk about in the book, I started writing screenplays. I wrote five of those. This novel was the first one I wrote after the screenplays, so I was kind of going back to my original form. And the idea for the book just came from hating my job so much and being bored there and just thinking this would be a really strange place to set a murder mystery. Murder mysteries are usually about exotic things and characters, locations…interesting people with dark secrets. I wanted to write about boring people without anything to hide.
CD: Were any of those books you wrote when you were younger murder mysteries or was this your first?
DT: I wrote a book after Cube Sleuth which is another murder mystery. I’ve written a bunch of different things but this is the one that I feel at home with the most. As a kid I liked murder mysteries and watching all those movies. Presumed Innocent was like a big inspiration for me. It’s partly an inspiration for this book.
CD: Greta Scacchi….whoa.
DT: It’s a good movie. As a kid I recognized it as a good movie and as an adult, I read the book and knew this was something cool. I did write a murder mystery when I was 13 or 14 and I made my mom the main character. So this is kind of the adult version of that. I won’t always write mysteries. I write straight comedy things and I like sci-fi and stuff, but in general I think I’m a mystery writer. Even if I write a sci-fi thing it’ll be a sci-fi mystery. I think that’s the way the human mind works. You’re trying to figure out the puzzle of something. You go on a date with someone, you’re trying to figure them out. And you ask them questions and you listen to their answers and you learn from what they ask you.
CD: Did you solve the Cube Sleuth mystery in your mind and then work your way back? Or did you evolve the story to the point where you ended it the way you wanted?
DT: I’ve heard some mystery writers don’t have the ending when they start writing; I don’t understand that. I know. I do a ton of planning before I sit down. I knew the ending first. I have five main events that I know are going to happen that flesh out the story, and then I outline, and I leave the rest to the moment. The five events remain the same, but there are other little twists and turns. That’s the fun part for me. I’ve got to let the characters go where they want to go.
CD: There’s a line that describes a female character’s voice “like tiny marshmallows melting in hot chocolate.” Do you have turns of phrase that are in your head and you apply them to specific characters? How do you know when you want to use simile or metaphor?
DT: I try to just write the way I speak. And I usually speak in a visual sense…even the stand-up that I do I’m trying to get an idea into your head, so I compare something to something else. I could never explain how that woman’s voice sounded to me…the key or the tone of voice, but I could say it sounds to me like tiny marshmallows melting in hot chocolate. And hopefully the reader’s brain can put that together. But no, I don’t have anything prepared ahead of time.
CD: Do you have an editor?
DT: I’m an editor myself. So I do that myself. I read somewhere that you never finish a book, you just stop revising. For me, I write the rough draft, I revise it to where it’s readable and then I give it to a bunch of people that I trust—I have a lot of English major friends and editors—I let them read it. And [as it relates to the mystery] I see what they figured out and what they didn’t, and then try to scale back. I think I err on the side of giving too many clues. People [reading the draft] are like “I’ve figured it out already”…So then I scale it back.
Then there’s this thing of…like knowing you’re in love or something, you just go, “it’s done.” So I get this settled feeling in my mind.
CD: You’ve mentioned you have another book project or projects in the queue?
DT: I just finished the rough draft of the new book 3 weeks ago. So now I’ll revise it to where it’s readable and give it to my friends. I quit my job and I need to sell the book soon so this will be like a faster thing.
CD: Will you have a launch event?
DT: I will probably do an event. I was thinking about doing a show where people would pay $15 for the show and get the book for coming.
CD: So you do sketch, stand-up, writing…improv too?
DT: I did improv. When I was 24 I joined an improv group for a year. I did sketch for eight years, and then five years in I started doing stand-up ’cause I kinda knew I’d be going off on my own at some point. And now stand-up has been my sole comedy thing for the last four years.
CD: Do you still watch sketch or improv?
DT: I’m still into all forms. I’m probably going to be doing sketch again soon. Kevin Regan and Alli Soowal asked me to do something with them. Sketch is my number one love, comedy-wise. It combines the things that I do the most which is write, act and perform. Stand-up does it, too, but I like to be a character. Sketch gives me that. I’ll always come back to sketch.
CD: Apropos of nothing, I interviewed Sidney Gantt recently about the Captain Action Comedy Show and he just raved about you. Your sketch and improv abilities have definitely helped you in terms of thinking on your feet, in that particular forum.
DT: I feel like every comedian should do improv because it just informs everything you do. If you get heckled you’re like “I got this.” You can’t really throw me on stage. Because for a year I got on stage with nothing in my head except for what the audience yelled out. It’s a different kind of confidence.
CD: Who are the comics that you like and have influenced you, from any genre?
DT: My big five of living comedians right now are Patton Oswalt, Louis CK, Bill Burr, Paul F. Tompkins and Dana Gould. I got to open for Dana Gould and he was amazing. I begged the club to let me open for him. You don’t get to ask who you open for. I said I’d work for free, and I didn’t get it, but the guy who was supposed to do it was in LA and they called me. The manager of the club, Jeff, who likes to give me shit, came back stage and told the [Gould] how much I idolized him. [But] I try never to be starstruck I don’t want to make them uncomfortable.
CD: People say it’s a bummer to meet your heroes. What was that like?
DT: It’s not true. Dana Gould does this huge bit about meeting Bob Hope and how it was terrible and how Hope was a shithead to him, and [Gould] said “Don’t meet your heroes.” When I heard that I laughed, ’cause he was so nice to me, he’s a writer, he [at the time] was writing a pilot for a show…
CD: He wrote for The Simpsons, too.
DT: Yes, he’s amazing. And I was sitting backstage and editing my new book ’cause there’s so much down time. And he saw me and asked what I was writing and he said “that’s a really good idea for a book.” So he was totally cool. I haven’t been disappointed by anybody [who I’ve hosted for].
CD: Any last words about Cube Sleuth?
DT: It’s dirty in a fun way; people should know that if they decide to buy the book.
‘Cube Sleuth’ is on sale in paperback at createspace.com and for the Kindle via Amazon.
Chris Dolan is a stand-up comic who lives in the Montco burbs. He’ll be appearing in the Comedy Showcase at Puck Live! (1 Printers Alley, Doylestown) on March 28th.
This Saturday, Mike “Trailer” Bauer and Garrett “Trash” Smith bring you All Bets Are Off, a comedy showcase they threw together at the behest of the good folks over at World Cafe Live. Here they are to tell you more about it and teach you some new hashtags and emoticons.
WitOut: Putting on a show at World Cafe is a pretty sweet deal. How were you guys approached for it? Why do you think they wanted you to do something, and why were you only given two weeks?
Garrett Smith: It is a pretty sweet deal 😉 It’s a pretty lucky, sweet deal, LOL. World Cafe had a cancellation last minute that they couldn’t fill because every band from Philadelphia is on the road finishing up their SXSW gigs (ROFL), and it just so happens Baurer and I are friends with one of the ladies that books their shows. I guess she figured we couldn’t possibly put on a show that was worse than them not putting on a show at all, even if we did only have two weeks to put it together :-() And that’s how Baurer came up with the name, ’cause with only two weeks to book great Philly comics, All Bets Are Off, OMFG!
Mike Baurer: What Garrett said.
WO: You’re doing a live taping of Trailer Trash for Comedy Bonfire at The Fire on March 26th, but not for this, your own show. Why not?
GS: Well we already had the show at The Fire booked a week or two before we got offered the World Cafe slot, BTW, so we wanted to set it apart from that show. 8====D~~ We also thought, we just got offered this big, great venue, let’s give some comics we love who are far more experienced than us the opportunity to get on that stage and stretch their legs a little.
MB: What Garrett said.
WO: Will the two of you be on this show in any other way, e.g. as hosts?
GS: Baurer is going to introduce the show and then I will host the showcase, sure to be full of many ROFLcopters.
MB: What Garrett said except I will be behind the curtain when I introduce the show but OMG am I nervous.
WO: I know you were originally hoping to get some live bands on the show to supplement the comedy showcase. Have you been able to book anyone?
GS: No 😀 Due to the aforementioned SXSW tours, we weren’t able to find any bands that would be all, BRB, we </3 comedians and gotta play this comedy show, LOLz. So instead we’re having a short open mic hosted by Joe Bell (Nyan Cat!), featuring some more comedians we like after the showcase.
MB: What Garrett said.
WO: The downstairs stage at World Cafe is pretty huge. How would you encourage the comedians on the show to use/take advantage of that? Lots of pacing?
GS: We hired Rick M0ranis to bl0w them up s0 that they’re more appr0priately sized for the stage, haha jk.
MB: What Garrett said but also drink lots of water and eat your veggies. NOTE to all the comics on the show: The time it takes to get from backstage to the mic also counts towards your time. Thanks. -Staff
WO: The room itself is pretty huge, too. Do you think you can fill it? What have you been doing to encourage people to come, and what would you say now to get WitOut readers there?
GS: Ermahgerd, we haz lot$ of flyRz, upcoming pre$$, and memeZ for the interwebz, LOLcatz.
Your #readers will be happy to see the great line-up of #comics we have: Dan Scully, Sidney Gantt, Alex Grubard, Alex #Pearlman, Aaron Hertzog, and Doogie Horner. And they’ll be #happy to see a #cheap $7 ticket for World Cafe Live. RT!
MB: In all seriousness, this show is going to be so much fun! Why not spend a Saturday night at a new venue for us to do a comedy takeover at. World Café Live is a great spot and they have amazing food and drinks, so make a night out of it. This might be our only chance to do something like this so I would love for it to be a speical night for everyone involved. I think we gathered some of the best comics for the showcase and have put together an amazing open mic to follow. There is no possible way you will be disappointed when you leave this show.
‘All Bets Are Off’ is this Saturday, March 23rd, Downstairs at World Cafe Live (3025 Walnut Street). Doors are at 7:15PM; show starts at 8:00PM. Admission is $5 plus a $2 ticketing surcharge, and tickets can be purchased online.
OK, here’s the situation… Anyone familiar with the DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince hit song (or Leslie Knope’s tribute to it in Parks and Recreation) knows that it is generally believed that “parents just don’t understand.” This can seem especially true for comedians and other people that choose to pursue their interests in the arts. But maybe some of our parents understand us a little more than we may think. In our new series, “You Should Call Your Parents,” comedians will interview their parents to find out how they feel about their offspring’s pursuit of the stage.
Kristen Schier: What did you think when you found out I was performing comedy?
Marilyn Schier: My first thoughts when you said you wanted to perform comedy were: “Gosh, I hope she doesn’t want to move to New York,” closely followed by, “she still needs a ‘real’ job to buy food.”
KS: Are there things you remember about me growing up that explain why I became a comedian. Or is it a total surprise to you?
MS: When you were growing up I knew you were destined for the stage. I remember one time when you and your sister (you were about 3) performed a rain dance on a piano bench for everyone at Doris’ house. Your sister played the piano (not well, she was 4) and you interpreted the music through dance. Then there was the time we were driving back to Emerald Isle from Wilmington, NC and you had me laughing so hard in the car that I missed the turn and ended up on a very dark road in Camp LeJeune with guys dressed in camouflage and carrying M-16’s. I told you not to say another word until we got back to the beach house.
KS: In your own words, explain to me what it is you think I do?
MS: I am pretty sure I know what you do, I am just not sure how you do it or where it came from. Neither your father or I are very funny, but you, my dear, are hysterical. Even when I come down for breakfast or lunch, you usually say something while we are driving around that is either mildly offensive or makes me laugh.
KS: Who are some of your favorite comedians?
MS: Well, I love early Bill Cosby. Lots of those older comedians whose names I can’t remember and they are all probably dead now anyway.
KS: What do you wish I was doing with my life?
MS: My dreams for you have come true. You are doing something that you love doing and that’s the best job in the world. I am, have been, and always will be very proud of you.
Kristen Schier is one half of the Philadelphia-based improv duo The Amie & Kristen Show/The Kristen & Amie Show, as well as a Philly Improv Theater instructor; improv instructor at University of the Arts; director for PHIT House Team ZaoGao; and Artistic Director for the short-form Philadelphia improv group The N Crowd.
If you are a Philadelphia-area comedian who’d like to interview one (or both) of your parents send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Go ahead, do it. You should really call your parents more anyways.
Brandon Gorin, David Piccolomini and Ryan Crawford are putting on Nervous Breakdown at PhilaMOCA this Friday, a show that will feature stand-up comics (Ryan Shaner, Chris Wood and Tommy Pope), live-tweeting (Steve Miller-Miller), and possibly angry tears. Read what Ryan has to say about the long, strange adventure it’s been to set it up, then be there on Friday to find out what happens. It sounds like it’s going to be a real shit show—in a good way, though.
WO: The description for this event is “a comedy show, but tonight it’s OK to cry.” Do you expect the audience to be moved to tears? Or are the comedians on the show really sad about something?
Ryan Crawford: At this point, I can make no confident predictions about the type of emotions Nervous Breakdown will dredge up for people. But I’ve come to a place of acceptance about that. Cry, cheer, make love in the aisles at our comedy show. Whatever happens I’ll be by the side of the stage smoking a cigarette, all like, “Cool.”
Here’s the deal. This is the first creative collaboration between Brandon (T.) Gorin and David Piccolomini, unless you count how Brandon used to get up on stage and explain to people why Dave was bad at comedy. (They keep telling me they’re friends, but I’ve never seen any proof.)
Around the time we started discussing doing a show, Brandon had been thinking a lot about contemporary art and watching too much professional wrestling. He earnestly wanted to put on something that was part Dadaist performance piece, part SummerSlam. On the other hand, all of Dave’s cultural references consist of podcasts produced by marginally successful comedians. He just wanted to make a fun, goofy Friday night out for people. And me, I’m a gambler. The prospect of combining these two visions and actually pulling it off made me all tingly and breathless, because it struck me as the longest long shot in Comedy Town.
So we booked some fantastic stand-ups like Ryan Shaner and Tommy Pope. That was a big win for Dave. However, Brandon is still dead-set on chewing razor blades while he screams about the meta-modern art of CM Punk. The last time he showed me this trick, he actually sliced himself pretty bad, so – I’m just going to let people have their own reactions. Go ahead, cry. No judgments.
WO: Can you explain the format for the show? There’s a line-up of stand-ups, but you mentioned in an email you also want the show to have a premise and arc.
RC: It’s a stand-up comedy show followed by a Billy Cosby dance party. For those without any game, Bill Cosby did record several musical albums. And yes, they are totally danceable.
We got ambitious with the parts in between stand-ups. We started asking questions like, why do you have to have an affable host keeping the crowd warm between acts? Why do skits? Why not have two guys working out their very real creative and personal differences, live in front of strangers? When we asked these questions, we were drunk, and they were rhetorical. And now it’s too late for anyone to answer, or stop us.
WO: What can we expect from the other component of the show: “The projected thoughts of Steve Miller-Miller”?
RC: All three of us are big fans of Steve Miller-Miller. Brandon is particularly a fan of Miller-Miller’s workman-like approach to mocking Dave. We’re having him live-tweet the event from the booth, and projecting the tweets onto a screen behind the stage.
WO: All three producers are going to share the hosting duties, correct? How will you guys be splitting that up?
RC: Well, initially Brandon and Dave were set to co-host. Honestly, I think three hosts is a bit crowded. But a few days ago Dave texted me and asked whether I’d be comfortable possibly replacing Brandon. The same day Brandon called and begged me to replace Dave. So yes, all three of us will be sharing hosting duties, and we will be allocating those duties according to who is the least butt-hurt at any given moment.
Full disclosure: Brandon and Dave aren’t currently on speaking terms. They had a blowup when we visited the venue, PhilaMOCA, the other day, in which Dave got so mad he stormed off into a North Philly sunset, abandoning his own car on Spring Garden with Brandon and me still sitting in it. Brandon said he was proud of Dave for finally standing up for himself. Then he stole Dave’s spark plugs, and we took the Broad Street Line back.
WO: Have you ever had a nervous breakdown? And/or do you expect/hope to have one by the end of this show?
RC: Do I hope to have a nervous breakdown? Sure, the same way I enjoy grinding my teeth in my sleep. Lady, this is my life. But yes, putting together this show has been a major stressor. Odds are that by show time we’ll all pull together under the symbol of mental instability for laughs, but I want it on the record that organizing this hasn’t been pleasant and the experience is getting filed under the broad category of suffering for one’s art.
Other odds associated with the show:
3.5-1 The comics band together and storm the projector to stop Steve Miller-Miller’s tweets.
4-1 Dave secretly hopes that Brandon cuts himself.
10-1 Brandon cuts himself.
15-1 Brandon cuts himself, and it turns out to be hilarious.
30-1 Dave gets his spark plugs back.
100-1 People make love in the aisles during the show.
1000-1 The people making love in the aisle aren’t two desperate comedians.
Even money someone cries.
‘Nervous Breakdown’ is this Friday, March 15th at PhilaMOCA (531 N. 12th Street) at 8PM. Admission is $10.
Like watching live improv comedy, but hate paying for it? You’re in luck, ya cheapskate! The first Tuesday of every month, Rob Gentile hosts Free Improv at Connie’s Ric Rac, which is an accurate name for an event that is a free improv show at Connie’s Ric Rac. And though the price is cheap, the laughs sure ain’t—some of Philly’s most talented, out-there and experimental groups have played on the show.
Tonight, head to Connie’s and catch Deleted Scenes; Those Two Nice Ladies; Cake Bear; Bad James; DupliCate; No Wait; Dennis, Frank, Caitlin, Stills & Nash; and Kait and Andrew+. But first, read on to find out what Rob has to say about the show:
WitOut: How long have you been doing Free Improv at Connie’s Ric Rac? What made you decide to start it, and why did you want to keep it free?
Rob Gentile: Free Improv at Connie’s Ric Rac has been going for about a year and a half. I started it mostly because I know a lot of performers and at the time there was a need for it. I base a lot of what I do on a free show I hosted at “The Spot” in Chicago. The mantra has always been the same, a free show where 8 improv groups each get 15 minutes to do whatever they would like.
Yes, the show is free. I know. I’m a crazy man!
This is definitely a point of controversy for some people. When I started putting this show together I had anticipated the audience would be mostly performers. At this point the show has become something people really enjoy. We have great crowds, great teams, AND I am going to keep it free. The original intention was to have a place where every improviser in Philadelphia could see a little bit of what everyone else was doing without having to spend so much money. That being said, I’m not some kind of crazy comedy communist. I pay to see shows all the time and I think everyone should support the scene as much as they are able to. This show is an interesting anomaly. Without help from Frank Tartiglia who runs Connie’s Ric Rac the show would not be what it is today.
WO: You typically have groups do shorter sets (15 minutes). Is that just so you can fit more acts on each show, or is there something you like in particular about shorter formats?
RG: I like the 15-minute sets for a lot of reasons but it’s no secret that this helps to bring a bigger crowd in. I think the audience appreciates the variety and I feel like it is a little more accessible for people who don’t regularly go to improv shows. It’s also a great length of time for groups to try something new or challenging. The other half of that is the networking aspect for performers. I’ve always wanted Free Improv to be a place where improvisers get better acquainted with other improvisers. SO, pack the place with improvisers.
WO: The show is known for hosting a lot of new groups and experimental material. Is that something you intended and encourage, or has it just evolved that way?
RG: I love the new and experimental stuff. I want the show to be a place where you can meet other performers, work on new concepts, push boundaries, and get “weird.” I encourage people to collaborate on shows or do funky one-off shows with large casts. It’s fun as well as funny. It definitely keeps me on my toes and I think it does the same thing for other improvisers. I’m always open to new shows and if you have an idea and ask me for a spot, I usually put you on stage. I think the relaxed atmosphere makes it easy for people to jump up and do something out of the ordinary. I love the stuff that seems like a silly gimmick, but then works. Funny is funny and taking the risk is one of the more exciting parts about it. There is always a chance you try something and it fails. However, when the crowd gets into the moment with you and everyone enjoys whatever weird thing may be happening, the pay off is amazing.
WO: What are some of your favorite out-of-the-ordinary teams/concepts/moments you’ve seen on the show?
RG: There is a lot of great weirdness this show brings out in people. For example, Rick Horner as Monsterlogues has done some amazingly weird improv as a werewolf in the dark and over the phone. Dave Piccinetti of Sleep Walker has done an improv “magic” show, dressed up as a Christmas present, and has done improv with a fish-shaped balloon as his scene partner. Alex Gross put together an Election Day collaboration in which some of the funniest improvisers in Philadelphia did a set dressed as our nation’s greatest Presidents. It is hard not to mention things like Skyrim-Prov, Kait and Shan-drew, and Placeholder (which is always random people selected last-minute). Every month I try to pack in as much as I can. I want the show to be an experience that people want to be at.
WO: What are you most looking forward to about this Tuesday’s show?
RG: This Tuesday is going to be awesome. In addition to all the teams, we have artist Elizabeth Reindl from Temple University. She will be drawing cartoon versions of some of the improv scenes over the course of the night and it is going to be great.
The next ‘Free Improv at Connie’s Ric Rac’ is TONIGHT at Connie’s Ric Rac (1132 S. 9th Street) at 9pm. Admission is $FREE.99, obvi.
Tomorrow night, New York-based-but-Philly-improviser-at-heart Andy Moskowitz returns to our fair city to debut his new one-man show, Andy, Please! Here he is to talk about why he’s venturing off on his own, how he’ll do it, and what he’ll eat if it doesn’t go well.
WitOut: You’ve been in groups (Fletcher, ComedySportz Philly) and a duo (Jessica Tandy), and now you’re performing solo. What happened? Do you not like people anymore?
SELF-DEPRECATING ANSWER: Actually, it’s the opposite. I love my friends so much that I’m sparing them the pain of working with me. This show is an act of mercy.
NO, BUT SERIOUSLY THOUGH: I’ve been amazed by solo improv since seeing Jill Bernard in Drum Machine at the ’09 Del Close Marathon. She built a believable, fully populated world using only her voice, her body, and a few chairs. It was incredible and looked impossible, but it planted the seed. Since moving to New York, I’ve seen beautiful solo work from Andrew Yurman-Glaser (Upstate), Shaccottha Fields (One Deep) and many others at the Magnet Theater. Somewhere along the line, I decided to stop day-dreaming and start practicing. That was about five months ago.
WO: What’s it like working with Rick Andrews as your director? How did you guys find each other?
SELF-DEPRECATING ANSWER: Every second I spend with the brilliant Rick Andrews is a painful reminder of my own mediocrity. My mother picked him for me so I’d never forget my natural limitations.
NO, BUT SERIOUSLY THOUGH: I’ve known Rick since the first Duofest. He’s a true professional. As a performer, his work is consistently excellent. As a director, he’s really helped me get over bad habits like thinking and pre-planning. (You wouldn’t believe how easily solo improv can put you back in your head— even if you’re an experienced performer.) Working with Rick, I’ve been able to surprise myself just by reacting naturally to own my choices. It’s a great feeling, and apparently it’s pretty fun to watch, too.
WO: How many characters do you think you can handle playing at once? Do you have a certain number as a goal?
SELF-DEPRECATING ANSWER: I can do parodic and satirical versions of myself, so two. I can also do decent impression of me, but I don’t have the voice down yet. (It’s nasal and Jewy but weirdly feminine—a heinous mix.) So two-and-a-half?
NO, BUT SERIOUSLY THOUGH: There’s no set goal, but I tend to play five. In one practice set I managed six, although the sixth guy was just a river cop who sped by on a water-Segway. The show is a monoscene in a single location, but it’s structured like a Harold in that I start with scenic “beats” featuring pairs of characters. Ultimately I try to pull things together, and that’s usually when unexpected characters pop up.
WO: Why did you choose Philadelphia as the city to debut this new show?
SELF-DEPRECATING ANSWER: If the show bombs, I can drive to Geno’s and eat my shame.
NO, BUT SERIOUSLY THOUGH: I love PHIT and still feel deeply connected to the theater and its community, even though I don’t live in Philly anymore. Debuting this show anywhere else just wouldn’t feel right. Also, I’m only half-joking about Geno’s.
WO: What are you most looking forward to about doing a show all by yourself—and what about it most scares you (if anything)?
SELF-DEPRECATING ANSWER: I’m so relieved I won’t have to face any disappointed teammates after the show. (I’ve already covered up my mirrors!)
NO, BUT SERIOUSLY THOUGH: I’ve made a conscious decision to feel zero anxiety about the show. Looking back on my best practice sets, I was never worried about where the show was going—I was just having fun exploring my characters, listening to myself and responding honestly. As long as I do that, the show takes care of itself. As Jill Bernard recently told me about solo improv, “ain’t nothin’ to it but to do it.” It’s so true.
‘Andy, Please’ is this Tuesday, March 5th at Philly Improv Theater at The Shubin (407 Bainbridge Street) at 7pm. Admission is $5 online in advance; $8 at the door.
Philly Improv Theater sketch house team The Flat Earth will be performing a brand new sketch comedy revue at PHIT beginning tonight with four dates between now and Friday, March 8. Their first sketch revue premiered at last year’s Fringe Festival to much success, earning it encore performances at PHIT as well as a nominations from their peers for “Best Sketch Group” and “Best Short-Run or One-Time Show” at the 2013 WitOut Awards for Philadelphia Comedy. We asked the actors and writers of The Flat Earth to tease their favorite moments from their upcoming show to help whet potential audience members’ appetites. As you’ll see, they (and you) have a lot to be excited about.
“The opening sketch of the show features Molly Silverman and Jacqueline Baker doing some of the most brilliantly subtle yet insanely funny acting I’ve seen in a long time. The ease with which they pull every possible laugh out of the script is incredible.”
“Really happy with the strong female roles in this show. A lot of sketch you see is all dudes, sometimes one chick. And if there is a chick she’s a naggy girlfriend/mom/boss. Our girls have some of the funniest moments in the show and I’m really proud of them and to the writers for giving them such fun parts to play.”
“My favorite part of the upcoming show is I get to eat during two sketches.”
“One of my favorite new additions for this show is the sketch Garrote. It’s got a smart yet silly vibe, with some good old fashioned slap-stick moments. It will definitely get laughs with Brent Knobloch and Luke Field dancing around on stage. The next prop would have to be for Molly Silverman in our opening sketch. I don’t want to say the title as it would give away some jokes, but she plays a mother consoling her daughter on her wedding day. Molly has some hilarious deliveries and we can all thank Sean Landis for writing one of the silliest yet hard to say lines in sketch… close parenthesis.”
“The opening sketch of the show makes me laugh every time. Molly’s delivery of the lines is perfect as a very specific retro mom. And I appreciate all references to the halcyon days of my tweenage years.”
“Our latest sketch revue has a lot in common with the Pesto Shrimp & Avocado Crostini appetizer from Romano’s Macaroni Grill: textured pesto bits, frou-frou shrimpy accents, a crunchy crostini restaurant battle, and a colorful and gooey avocado finish. The old Macaroni Grill slogan “Run By Chefs. That Explains Our Food” is our comedic ethos and a godawful slogan. Seriously, who coined that garbage? Not one of our writers, that’s who. ”
“My favorite moment is the way Molly Silverman performs the final line in our password sketch. The line itself is already a well-written final joke to the sketch. But the first time I heard Molly perform the line, I was so surprised by her choice that I laughed for, like, a minute straight.”
“I love the costumes in our opening sketch, and Luke Field’s drumming skills send my heart aflutter.”
“Its tough to play favorites, but I will say there is one sketch in particular that has tested my ability to keep a straight-face on stage. Jacqueline Baker’s kooky monologue cracks me up each time. I laugh every time, without fail.”
“My favorite part of the show is a sketch that Sean Landis wrote which stars Molly Silverman and Jacquie Baker. There’s so many great lines in it and Jacquie and Molly really hit each one out of the park. I’ve seen the sketch about 40 times during rehearsal, it still cracks me up each time.”
“My favorite thing about the show is the variety of styles in it, and how receptive everyone is (writers, actors, and our director Paul Triggiani) to each other’s inputs. That really takes the sketches to the next level.”
The Flat Earth’s Second Sketch Revue is February 28 – March 1, and March 7 – 8 at 8:30pm at Philly Improv Theater at The Shubin Theater (407 Bainbridge St.) Tickets can be purchased online.
by Chris Dolan
On Saturday, February 23rd, Comedy Corner at Broad Axe Tavern in Ambler hosted another show in its ongoing series of comedy showcases featuring regional comedians. The show, a sellout, was headlined by Andy Nolan, and featured performances from Jim Ginty, Caitlin Feeney and host Alex Pearlman. Each month also features a performance from Dave Topor, the show-runner of Comedy Corner at Broad Axe. A highlights reel of the show is available here.
Dave Topor sat down for a conversation the week before the show to talk about the evolution of Comedy Corner at Broad Axe Tavern and his personal comedy.
Chris Dolan: Talk about how you got started with shows at the Broad Axe.
Dave Topor: I guess it just stemmed from an idea that there just wasn’t enough comedy in the suburbs…at least, a traditional show that’s [performed] the way it’s done in [Philly], just, outside the city. I looked around and knew Broad Axe had done some renovations and got lucky.
CD: So do you know anybody at Broad Axe..?
DT: I didn’t. I saw the third floor [where the shows are performed] and kind of knew that was a space I didn’t want to pass up, and I set up a showcase before I set up an open mic. [Author’s Note: ‘Comedy Corner at Broad Axe’ has also hosted periodic open mics.] [Broad Axe management] were cool with it…luckily enough, they were like, “we’ll try it out,” and then, from there, it worked out really well.
CD: How long ago was the first show?
DT: April 27th of last year …and then the idea behind the first show was that it was gonna be a [one-time] thing and we’d see what happened. Just because of the success and the popularity, after I saw it come to life, I said that this is something I need to continue.
CD: Who was on the first bill and how did the show flourish?
DT: I was just getting back into comedy myself, and my network was actually smaller, so I had to do a bit of research. So I went to Helium, and at that time they were having the finals of the March Madness competition. I saw Alex Grubard there, Gordon Baker-Bone…I picked them up. And I was going to open mics so [I approached] some people that I saw who were working consistently and had a polished look to them…again, a lot of luck involved, but the ones who I picked were able to bring it and did really well.
CD: How involved was the venue in terms of promotion and getting the word out versus you and your network getting the word out?
DT: At first, [Broad Axe] was kind of just “do your thing and we’ll see what happens.” I think when they saw what was developing, it didn’t take long for them to move quickly in terms of their involvement. They saw the benefits of having a show—a good show—and I think the first three shows they were letting me do my thing, then they started to do small things like put up table tents, send their own email…but they definitely are involved, they promote the show and they like it.
CD: How big was the audience for the first show?
DT: To capacity. We sold out the first show; I would say we probably had about 95 people in the room. Y’know I’m always fiddling with the seating and stuff, trying to get it just right.
CD: Any particular shows that stand out?
DT: I learned a lot after the first show. And maybe stuff that I knew but it wasn’t [top of mind]; I learned about what makes a strong line-up. Positioning comics…how positioning comics can make them have a better chance for success…the way you seat the room. Little things like that, that maybe audience members don’t really notice, but it really adds to the show. Once I was able to seat the room better, put my comics in better spots in a line-up to really make them succeed and really make all of the stuff run smoothly. Every show from there on was really great. Not that the first show wasn’t, but every show…I was lucky to have some of the best comics in Philly do the show. Tommy Pope, Chip Chantry…now I’m just trying to continue to grow, ’cause it’s gained a lot of momentum.
CD: Talk about the crowds. What do you notice about variability in age—local versus coming from a ways away…
DT: I’d say I’ve definitely been surprised. One thing stands out, I tend to tag a lot of the comics in posters and things like that. And David James had some fans that followed him out from Jersey. That was pretty cool. And there are a lot of people that attend from [the local] area. Some people have told me they’ve seen the promo inside [The Broad Axe], wanted to make it out to a show, and are glad they did. One lady came in September, October, November […and all subsequent shows].
CD: So talk about your own comedy…you’d mentioned that you were in it for a while then got out. What took you away and brought you back in?
DT: I’ve been back at comedy now for about a year…putting a lot of work in since last February. And before that I’d been on hiatus since, like, 2006 or 2007. I’ve been on stage since then, but no real commitment. Between ‘04 and ‘06 I was on a real strong run, doing a lot of clubs and [performing] with a lot of guys like Chip [Chantry], Pat House and Aaron Hertzog. I guess the moment that got me to stop comedy at that point was I lost a booking, my first major booking. I got booked to do five shows, and the club I got booked at got closed down. And that took the wind out of my sails. I dropped out for a little while—well, not a little while [laughs]—came back last year and I’m glad I did. I started this show, and it started the gears moving quickly too. It gives me stage time, and allows me to perform with some of the better comedians in the city, see what they’re doing. If you’re on a great show it’s always a great experience.
CD: How has your material evolved from your first run at comedy to now?
DT: I think as a more mature comic now I try to pay a little more attention to joke structure. As a younger comic, I think my material was a little more all-over-the-place. Now I pay more attention to premises and punch lines…the science part of it. As well as staying outside the lines when it’s appropriate.
CD: What I’ve found is a lot of guys will—while it’s important to find your own voice—want to tell a story the way that you would standing around having drinks…versus developing the science, as you called it.
DT: I’ve tried to pay attention to how concise my ideas are, and that’s something I try to alert myself of, when I see an idea start to run on too much…and that ideology has allowed me to get better jokes, and I’ve even “refurbished” some old jokes.
CD: Cool. Anything else you want to say?
DT: Just thanks to the whole Philadelphia comedy community for supporting the Comedy Corner at the Broad Axe, and me…and I think this show is good for everyone; I’m excited to have a bunch more people come and perform.
The next ‘Comedy Corner at Broad Axe Tavern’ is March 23rd at Broad Axe Tavern (901 W. Butler Pike, Ambler). Doors open at 7:30pm; show starts at 8:30pm. Admission is $10 online in advance; $15 at the door.
Chris Dolan is a comic who lives in the Philly burbs. He’ll be performing at the Taproom Sportsbar in Morton PA on Thursday, Feb 28th as part of the Trulove Entertainment Totally Free Comedy Show II. Follow him on Twitter @CMDolan99.