If you’ve been paying attention to Philly’s improv scene in the last few years, by now you’ve probably heard of Bed Savage. Starting out as an independent team coached by Kristen Schier (The Amie & Kristen Show/The Kristen & Amie Show; Director of ZaoGao; Artistic Director of The N Crowd), they’re now the house team for two shows produced by stand-up and improviser Jess Carpenter: Comedian Deconstruction and The Not Just Comedy Show. If you want to learn more about the team, their form, and recent additions Claire Halberstadt and Jeff Kremzier, read on.
WitOut: How did Bed Savage come together?
Bed Savage: A bunch of us met in PHIT classes together (Grimley 101 and Edmondson 201). We included Dan Jaquette before he got all famous with Beirdo and Mayor Karen then retired like Jordan at the top of his game to become an adult, get married, and start a family (lame). RJ Payne was into it because he just broke up with his girlfriend, and everyone knows chicks dig comedians. Steve Klarich (retired) was into it because it was an excuse not to hang out with his girlfriend at the time. Anthony Fedele (retired) planted the seed, along with Sean Landis and Caroline Rhoads. They helped secure a great coach and consummate professional in Kristen Schier. Kristen’s experience and insight as a coach made the group easy to launch. Although some of the original cast retired/furloughed due to personal commitments, we have had the good fortune of bringing in other talented performers (Claire and Jeff). The team is now a 6-person totem pole consisting of Sean Landis, Caroline Rhoads, Nick George, R.J. Payne, Jeff Kremzier and Claire Halberstadt.
WO: You guys are the house team for both Comedian Deconstruction and The Not Just Comedy Show. How’d you land those gigs?
BS: Jess invited us to do Comedian Deconstruction and we absolutely loved it. Then we deconstructed him for the F Harold festival last year. It was around that time Jess decided to put a ring on it, and make Bed Savage the house team. Jess was initially looking to form a house team for the Not Just Comedy Show, and asked us to fill in until he did that. We did the first show, loved it again, and Jess and Bed Savage got married for a second time! Jess Carpenter is the mastermind behind these gigs. His energy and effort to find local comedy legends and get buns in the seats make the shows work.
WO: For those shows, you deconstruct a stand-up comic’s and a musician’s set, respectively. When you’re not deconstructing, do you have a regular improv form that you use, like a Harold or Armando? If so, how did you choose that form, and which do you prefer—that form, or deconstructing?
BS: When we’re not deconstructing we perform a Leonardo, which is a loose Armando mixed with some Harold. So that entails a monologue from one of us to start the show, then some follow-up questions on the monologue (mostly just to make fun of whoever told the story), some scenes, some games, some more scenes, some more games then a blackout.
Every one of us really likes deconstructions. It’s probably because our parents never let us take apart our Legos after we’d built something. If you wasted a set on some stupid block tower, oh well, you had to live with that forever. Now we’re making up for all that pent-up aggression to break things down by deconstructing amazing comedians such as Chip Chantry and Mary Radzinski. Doing the deconstructing is really fun because you have the advantage of seeing the audiences’ reaction to different jokes and you have the freedom to put your own spin on the scene and incorporate the stand-ups’ punchline or premise. It also allows for some great callbacks to jokes that the audience may have overlooked or didn’t quite catch. Oh—and our deconstructions are not “classical” deconstructions as known by many in the improv world.
WO: Claire (of Suggestical and previously ZaoGao) is the most recent addition to the team, correct? How was she recruited, and how has it been working with her so far? What do you think she brings to the team?
BS: We don’t know how we landed Claire. We kinda fell ass-backwards into that one. It was like wait, she’s into it? Really? Why?? She brings so much to the team though, like a creepy basement with a mattress in it, or huge bags of snacks that have both salty snacks like chips AND sweet snacks like chocolate, or bags of wine for us to slap. Oh, and she’s an amazingly talented improviser and performer who brings energy, creativity and general awesomeness to the team. She provides a great level of intensity onstage and really commits to each character and scene. She brings her “A” game every night and it’s fun trying to keep up with her.
Jeff Krezmier is also a recent addition to the team. Jeff has some great characters and voices that often end up sounding like Kermit the Frog. Sometimes things get a little weird on stage.
WO: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m assuming your name has something to do with Ben Savage. So…Can each of you describe either your favorite episode of Boy Meets World, or the influence the show/Ben Savage has had on the team or its members personally, spiritually and/or comedically?
BS: Our name is a play on the duality of man, reflecting our animalistic origins, while commenting on our addiction to materialistic comforts and predetermined departure from nature. Who the hell is Ben Savage?
But Jeff is definitely a Fred Savage fan. He’s still trying to unlock the secret of how Fred landed Winnie Cooper.
You can see Bed Savage next at ‘The Not Just Comedy Show’ TONIGHT at The Grape Room (105 Grape Street, Manyunk) at 8pm. Admission is $5.
Philly comedians aren’t just funny—they’re consistently up on current events and super well-informed on what’s going on in local and national news. Or at very least, maybe they bone up a bit when they’re about to be guests on Jim Grammond’s monthly panel show Reasonable Discourse with Jerks. Here’s Jim with more details on the concept, how he puts the show together, and this month’s jerks:
WitOut: To be honest, I get most of my news from your Twitter feed. What drives you to turn current events into jokes?
Jim Grammond: The misguided belief that I can turn making jokes about news into money.
WitOut: Is some of that joke writing “research” for topics that will end up on Reasonable Discourse with Jerks?
JG: Honestly, the joke writing process for the show is so much better than how I write for stand-up or anything else. I take a news story or interesting bit of trivia, try to come up with a funny headline for the PowerPoint presentation, and then make bullet points that are jokes about the topic. It’s methodical, whereas my regular, daily joke writing is more stream of consciousnesses, which means a lot of my regular, daily writing is garbage.
WitOut: This month’s panel is Jess Ross, Alex Grubard, Paul Triggiani and Mike Rainey. How did you assemble that line-up? And what makes each of them a jerk?
JG: Actually, Paul Triggiani had to cancel because he has a prior engagement that probably involves him dressing as a Nazi, so Philly’s Phunniest™ 2012 James Hesky will be taking his place. Jess is a fellow member of The Flat Earth and a stand-out funny improvise, Alex is a very funny, very loud comedian, Rainey is one of the best of people with one of the darkest (and best) of senses of humor, and Hesky is a dynamo in the sack.
Everyone in comedy is a jerk in one way or another. Either we think we’re better than most people, or we use humor as a weapon on people who don’t deserve it. A lot of us are paranoid and insecure, which makes us lash out in weird, jerky ways. Liz’s high school reunion episode of 30 Rock is the best reference material for this.
WitOut: I don’t want to ask you to give too much away, but can you give us a preview of what might come up at this Wednesday’s show?
JG: You can’t give away what you don’t know. I almost never come up with the topics until the day before and the day of. I’m always putting the presentation together up until near show time.
WitOut: Are there any news items that have come up between the last show and this one that you’d love to talk about, but aren’t recent enough? If so, can you give it the RDWJ treatment here? Or just pick any historical event you want—e.g., how would RDWJ break down the War of 1812?
JG: One story that broke earlier this month that I would’ve been all over but is too far gone is that Vladimir Putin hired Boyz II Men to play concerts in Russia explicitly to get Russians in the mood to procreate. I don’t know if it’s 100% accurate, but that doesn’t matter because it sounds so great and believable. I can just picture Putin getting on the jumbotron at the concert, taking his shirt off and having women oil him up, saying “Da, you in crowd, you do like me now, okay? Pants removal now. Go on, Moscow, get freaky.” Also, unlike his policies on breakaway Russian republics, I guarantee in nine months we’ll see that this plan worked.
The next ‘Reasonable Discourse with Jerks’ is this Wednesday, February 27th at Philly Improv Theater at The Shubin (407 Bainbridge Street). Show starts at 8:30pm. Tickets are $10 at the door; $8 online in advance.
Captain Action Comedy Show‘s Sidney Gantt and Center City Comedy‘s Kevin Ryan have joined forces to bring you their very own show—and possibly also to publicly embarrass some of their best friends and favorite comedians. Here they are to tell you all about it!
WitOut: Kevin, you co-hosted Sidney’s Captain Action Comedy Show last month. Is that where the idea for this partnership got started, or have you guys been wanting to work together on something new for awhile?
Kevin Ryan: We actually decided to work together a couple months ago when we realized we were both looking to do a monthly show in the city. There were a couple months of leg work to find the right venue—so I know we’re both happy that the show is this week.
WO: The promo materials for the show say each comedian will do their set, then tell their most embarrassing story. How did you develop that concept?
KR: I actually have to give credit to Sidney for this twist. He plays a quiz show with his comics on the Captain Action Comedy Show—and when I was on the show, I had a lot of fun and the audience loved it—so we are trying to create the same fun atmosphere.
WO: Do the set and the story have to tie together? And are you guys more interested in one over the other—hearing the jokes vs. getting to know the comedian on a new level?
KR: They don’t have to tie together necessarily, but I feel like they are going to. I just think it’s cool that the audience gets to see two different sides of the comics that are performing on show.
Sidney Gantt: The comedian performs first so you get a sense of who they are through comedy. So even if the story is different from their set it will still be an extension of what we just learned about them. No matter what, we will learn more about them as human degenerates.
WO: As they tell their story, the two of you will be breaking it up with some comedic analysis. Can you explain what that means, exactly? Will you be pausing them to make jokes and offer different perspectives? Or maybe pointing out which parts of the story might lend themselves to a new bit?
KR: All of the above. I’m good friends with all the comics on the show, so I’m really excited about making fun of them in front of an audience. For the most part I’m sure we will just be questioning and judging them for their actions in the story—but I hope that someone is able to write a bit about their story.
SG: It’ll be more structured than comedians sitting around riffing because we have a goal which is to get through the story. But it’ll be a lot looser than conventional storytelling because all those times in a story when you think, “Why in the hell would a person do that?” you get to find out the answer.
WO: This first show’s guests (Alex Grubard, Mary Radzinski, John Nunn and H. Foley) are a mix of Philly and New York comedians. Is it a goal for you guys to continue to draw in acts from other cities?
KR: I would love if each month we were able to get talent from other cities—but I think in the near future we will probably focus on our friends in Philly and New York. Booking the first one was tough because there are so many awesome comics in the city—I started to get excited about the line-ups for the next few months.
SG: The Philly comedy scene has a diverse group of high-level talent so we want to showcase that as much as possible. But when we have the opportunity to bring a talented comedian from other places we’re not going to pass it up.
The first ‘Tough Stuff Comedy Show’ is this Friday, February 22nd at The Headhouse (122 Lombard Street) at 8PM. Tickets are $10.
As regular followers of WitOut may have already read, the Philly Improv Theater is currently accepting applications to their Improv Conservatory class that starts this spring. It is an intentionally small class (eight students) that takes place over eight weeks, followed by a four-show run at PHIT over the course of one month. The class will be taught by Hot Dish director and PHIT teacher Steve Kleinedler. I asked Steve a few questions about the class and how it works.
Matt Aukamp: So you came to Philly from ImprovBoston. How did you get involved with PHIT and the Improv Conservatory class?
Steve Kleinedler: The Harold team Marjean was one of many projects I was involved with at ImprovBoston. We came to Philadelphia for the fourth Philadelphia Improv Festival. There, I met a lot of people in the Philadelphia improv community. Marjean came back to three more PHIFs, and we were invited to one-off shows at the Actors Center with the N Crowd and for a special intercity Troika. Every time I came down I met more people and I’d run into them at other festivals, so when I was looking to leave Boston, Philadelphia was very appealing to me.
Right before I moved, I met with Greg Maughan and Mike Marbach, and they put me in the pipeline to teach classes at PHIT based on my experience teaching at ImprovBoston. I started teaching at PHIT shortly after I moved here in 2011. Mike started up the Conservatory last fall and was the instructor for the first one, and he’s asked me to take on the second one this spring.
MA:Could you explain how the program works and the differences there will be between last year and this year?
SK: I was teaching class during the time of [last year's] class shows so I didn’t have the opportunity [to see them.] However I’ve worked with many teams over the years to help them create a show or a format that showcases the strengths of the players as individuals and their groups as a whole. I have a lot of experience in helping groups develop unique structures.
PHIT’s improv program is designed to impart a variety of improv skills and techniques. In the Conservatory, the students use those skills to create a show of their own making. The goal isn’t to create an independent team. Rather, the goal is to give people the experience of team building and working with a coach to create a show.
Mike Marbach, as the Education Director, and I will go over the applications and discuss students with their previous teachers to see which group of students would get the most out of working together to create a show. Everyone must be available for all the classes and all the performances.
Benefits to the Conservatory include a smaller class size—seven or eight students, which means more individual attention and stage time. The shows are recorded and shared with the class so students can go over performances with their instructor.
So although each Conservatory creation is different, the underlying concept of what the Conservatory is is the same from session to session.
MA:How can performers expect this process to work? Especially performers used to learning traditional forms rather than inventing unique styles of play?
SK: In the first week, we simply have them play together and together we analyze how they play together and what their collective strengths and weaknesses are. From that we work together to develop a structure that plays into their strengths. It’s not that they are developing a unique style of play. Rather, they are using their style of play to develop a unique format.
The development is usually pretty organic, and I’m there to help the process along. Usually there are different options that can be explored, and we’ll go over all of those, and then when we have a rudimentary framework, we’ll rehearse that structure and make tweaks along the way.
MA:What qualities are you looking for in applicants? What would you say to encourage someone who fits the requirements and is considering applying to your class?
SK: Improvisers who have been through the PHIT program have been taught a variety of techniques, and I’m looking for people who are interested in putting these techniques to work to create something new. There’s no better way to learn how to build up a team and have that team make its mark than by rolling up your sleeves and actually doing it. If people are considering it, I encourage them to go ahead and submit an application, because although it’s a lot of hard word, it’s going to be a lot of fun and intensely rewarding.
MA:The conservatory runs for eight weeks, after which, the class will be doing a run of shows at the PHIT for one month. What are your hopes for this show? What do improv fans have to look forward to?
SK: My hopes are that the students will have an enjoyable, fulfilling run while discovering how all the individual skills they’ve learned fit together.
Improv fans can look forward to four solid, entertaining, funny performances. Everyone wins!!
This Friday, Mike Logan teams up with fellow local stand-ups Dan Scully, David Piccolomini and Setoiyo to present an action-packed showcase of stand-up and sketch comedy. It’s going to be just like Four Brothers, only with comedians, I assume, based partially on the fact that there are four of them involved but mostly just because I will use any opportunity I can to reference the movie Four Brothers (starring Andre Benjamin, AKA Andre 3000), a movie I have never actually seen. Has anyone else seen it? Please post your reviews and plot summaries in the comments.
Anyhoo, here’s Logan answering some questions about the show in a manner he described as “pretty douchey” but also “perfect.” Just read it—he’s a swell dude.
WitOut: What made you and your fellow producers decide to start your own show?
Mike Logan: Really simple. They just wanted to do their own thing. There aren’t many stand-up showcases going on right now, so they figured this was a prime opportunity to get one going. I haven’t been working with the show since it’s inception, though. I was brought in a little later, a sort of “out-of-retirement-but-I-never-actually-retired” type deal. Some real action hero shit. I was more than happy (after I passed through my jaded-action-hero-in-retirement phase) to come in and help these guys out. Piccolomini and Setoiyo had already been working together to put a show on, then Scully was brought in. Then everything smoothed into all four of us working together to put on a show at O’Neal’s.
WO: We Can All Change is being described (by you guys) as “a comedy revolution.” What exactly does that mean? And what is it you hope to inspire us all to change about ourselves?
ML: I honestly don’t know why it’s called that. Setoiyo made the event and just called it a comedy revolution. I think when I asked him he said something along the lines of “you Philadelphians love revolutions,” which is 100% true. More than likely, he was playing a bunch of Assassin’s Creed 3 at the time. Actually I’ll be that’s exactly what it was.
WO: There’s a lot going on in this city on Friday nights, especially around the show’s venue (O’Neals) on South Street. What are the top five reasons people shouldn’t miss We Can All Change?
ML: 5? No problem. Well, one, I’m in it. I mean, hey now. That’s reason enough.
Two, it’s gonna be a crazy show. We’ve written the show in a cool way to blend sketch and stand-up into one non-stop laugh train of, uh, laughter. Instead of “it’s a stand-up show broken up by sketches” it’s “it’s an awesome laugh-tastrophe of awesomely funny awesome.”
Third, we have 4 of the most different people working on the show, putting this together, writing it. To me, that makes it special, because it’s a really unique group of people.
Four, I’ve already seen the show, so I can tell you now, it’s good. Trust me. I know. I have insider information. Because I helped write it.
Five, the line-up. We stacked the deck here. The four stand-ups we booked (Pat Barker, Jared Rosado, Elise Thomson-Hohl, Lou Misiano) are fantastic performers and will really bring their A-game because we told them to. Not that we had to, we just needed to make sure.
WO: Rumor has it there’s a way to get a discount on admission to this show. Please explain.
ML: Allow that rumor to be fact. We’ve been handing out flyers for the show for two weeks. Mostly at O’Neals, but some other bars too. At the bottom on the flyer is a little line that says “Hey! Keep this flyer for $3 entry!” Real marketing stroke of genius, I think. And you know what, you don’t even need the real flyer. Print out the picture from our Facebook page, I don’t give a shit. Fuck it, write “We Can All Change” on a napkin with “$3 entry” scribbled on the bottom, I don’t care. Just show up.
Also if you’re a comedian and we know you it’s $3. And we probably know you.
WO: Wow! What a deal! Without giving away too many brilliant marketing secrets, what are some other creative things that you think you—and other shows in Philly—can or should be doing to reach new audiences?
ML: I think an untapped market here is actually talking to people. (What that’s crazy!) Yes. Comedians are “generally” pretty anti-stranger. I know I am. But I think if you go out and meet people, and talk to them, tell them a joke, hit on them, whatever, and hand them a flyer and say “Hey we’re doing a show here in two weeks, come hang out with us, keep this and get $3 entry,” it could go a longer way than plastering a bar with a flyer that people are going to use as a coaster instead.
Also, start a community [online] and keep them involved. Upload content, pictures, videos whatever. Anything to keep the name fresh in their heads for when it’s time to actually come out and support you.
The first ‘We Can All Change’ is this Friday, February 22nd at O’Neals Pub (611 S. Third Street) at 8PM. Admission is $5, or $3 with flyer, printout of flyer or bar napkin crudely disguised as flyer.
On the last Friday of every month, ComedySportz is bringing in original outside acts for their 8pm time slot, ahead of their 10pm adults-only TheBlue Show. This month, ComedySportz Presents features Beatbox Philly, the Philadelphia version of a Chicago-born show that combines improv scene work with improvised raps and beatboxing. The group’s players are all also ComedySportz cast members: Alli Soowal, Darryl Charles, Sue Taney, Mark Leopold and Matt Lally. Here’s Alli to tell you more about the group and this Friday’s show.
WitOut: For people who aren’t familiar with it, can you describe what happens at a Beatbox Philly show?
Alli Soowal: We hit you hard and fast with hip-hop and comedy! Our show is 45-55 minutes and it interweaves scenic improv with freestyle rapping— including improvised beats from our very own beatboxer.
WO: The members of Beatbox Philly are also all ComedySportz players, right? How did you guys decide to come together for this?
AS: We are! Well, all of us except for Matt Lally, who is our beatboxer. I’ve known Matt for years from the comedy scene, and we produced Comedy Month together, so when we were looking for a skilled beatboxer, I approached him and Dave Terruso to give me ideas of who would be good. They both replied “ummm…you know Matt has skills because you’ve seen him perform!” As for how the rest of us came together, Beatbox started in Chicago and we have had them perform at the Philly Improv Festival, plus I’m good friends with Rene Duquesnoy—one of the co-founders of Beatbox. I had wanted to put together a hip-hop show for awhile, so I talked to Rene, and he came to Philly and offered workshops through ComedySportz Philly, including one just for CSz performers. From that, I was able to gauge interest from other company members. Rene gave his blessing to use the Beatbox name (there is also a Beatbox in Minneapolis), and Beatbox Philly was born! We made our debut at last year’s Fringe Festival, and it was so well received that we wanted to keep going.
WO: Do any of you have a rapping background? How did you learn to freestyle, and what do you do to practice?
AS: Interestingly enough, Mark Leopold is a self-produced rap artist—like hardcore gangsta style! I won’t give you his stage name because it’s too dirty for the pages of WitOut. He’s the only one, though, who comes from that world. The rest of us learned to rap from ComedySportz rehearsals and classes, as well as lots of practice alone in cars. Rene teaches a “Mad Skillz” workshop each year at the ComedySportz Championships that several of us have taken. We also incorporate rapping into our shows in some games (“Kick It,” “Elimination Rap,” “Beastie Rap,” etc.), so everyone needs to be somewhat proficient in it. When we practice, we go through a series of exercises designed to gradually pull raps out of you, and to increase your confidence. Freestyling requires hella trust in your own brain to spit out words that you can make work into a cohesive song.
WO: Do you guys have rap names? If not, do you want to make some up for everyone right now?
Darryl “Salt” Charles
Sue “Peppa” Taney Mark “Misdemeanor” Leopold Kevin “Left Eye” Lopez
Alli “Lady Boo” Soowal Matt “MC Spinderella” Lally
Not performing, but also a member, is Bobbi “M.I.A.” Block.
WO: What are you most excited about for your upcoming ComedySportz Presents show? Will there be any new or special surprises for audience members who are already Beatbox Philly fans?
AS: I’m so excited to be back with this awesome crew! We had a blast with our past shows, can’t wait to do it again. As for surprises, there will likely be some special guest appearances but you will just have to come out to see it!
This Saturday’s ComedySportz shows are being billed as a “Battle of the Sexes.” That’s right, it’s guys vs. gals! The 7:30 show will feature the refereeing talents of Kristin Finger; voice talents of Noah Herman; and dudes Langston Darby, Todd Rodenhiser and Sean Curran against ladies Sue Taney, Danna Young and Alli Soowal. The 10pm show will have Noah back, this time as the ref; Alli Soowal back to lend some sweet vox; boyz from Round 1 Sean and Todd will return as well, this time with Kevin Regan; and the girlz for Round 2 will be Sue and Danna once again, with Kristin switching out of her ref jersey to play in with them.
As the level-headed officials for the first and second matches, respectively, we knew we could count on Kristin and Noah to answer a few questions about what fans can expect on Saturday—without TOO much smack-talk. (Although, honestly, we were kinda trying to get some going. Fight! Fight! Fight!)
WitOut: Do you know which games you’ll be playing? Are there any games in the regular ComedySportz rotation that you feel could be particularly suited towards highlighting the strengths of either team?
KF: As ref for the 7:30 show, I’d love to challenge them to the game of “Story,” but perhaps with an added twist! And the classic, “I kissed a blank.” These games shall test their wits equally!
NH: You can be sure that we’re going to play some of our debate style or elimination games, such as “Objection” or “Story. “If you were hoping for a Girls vs. Boys “Elimination Rap Battle,” your wish just might come true.
WO: What do you think makes either gender/team better than the other when it comes to comedy—or just life in general? Hyperbole encouraged.
KF: I bet you want me to answer this with a whole lot of “men suck” attitude, well that’s not gonna happen! They are an equal opponent, but to quote the amazing Tina Fey, “Know what? Bitches get stuff done.”
NH: I’m not going anywhere near “what makes your gender better than the other when it comes to comedy?” But in terms of how the gender battle will affect this Saturday’s ComedySportz match, in my experience women have to pee much more than men. Will that affect their ability to play on Saturday? Who knows!
WO: Is there anything riding on this match? E.g. will the losing team have to wash the other team’s ComedySportz jerseys for the next month, or anything like that?
KF: I’ll put it on the table right now, when the ladies take the win, the boys must bow to us Wayne’s World style and say, “we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy, we’re scum…” in front of the entire audience!
NH: Is there anything riding on this match? Nothing but pride and back rubs!
You can see ComedySportz shows this and every Saturday at 7:30pm and 10pm at The Playground at The Adrienne (2030 Sansom Street). Tickets are $17 for adults; $14 for students.
Sometimes in our lives; we all have pain; we all have sorrow. But, if we are wise; we know that there’s always tomorrow. Or maybe we need some advice. Unfortunately for most of us there is a lot of terrible advice out there. Comedian Mike Rainey noticed the vast amount of bad information available in the world and decided to dole out his own in his upcoming book Terrible Advice. We caught up with Mike to ask him a few questions about his credentials as an advisor.
WitOut: When and how did you discover that you would be an expert on giving out terrible advice?
Mike Rainey: I decided I wanted to dish out terrible advice after thumbing through some book on a shelf in Target whose focus was to instruct the reader on how to be happy 24/7. Aside from the absurd notion that a person should be happy all the time, the advice that the author was giving was utterly horrendous and under no circumstances could I envision their advice being able to improve someone’s life. The more I thought about it, the more I was amused by how you could sell these self-help books without needing to put any real substance on the pages. I can be an obnoxious pontificator so why shouldn’t I come up with as much terrible advice as possible and put it into book form to make some dough?
WO: How did you go about choosing what topics to give advice on?
MR: I would simply write about whatever topic popped into my head from the instant I decided when I wanted to write each day until the time I sat down at my desk. Topics range from buying a helper monkey to finding the right gal. Whatever felt funny to write is what I chose to write about. Plus, I have a paralyzing amount of failure in my background so I believed that I could offer impractical advice on literally anything.
WO: Who are your mentors in the field of terrible advice-giving?
MR: James Arthur Ray is a New York Times best-selling author and a total chimp who caused the death of two people and injured nineteen others in a sweat lodge ceremony gone awry. This is the same gentleman who authored a book entitled “The Science of Success.” So, yeah. He’s the Michael Jordan of terrible advice.
WO: What are some of your favorite bits of terrible advice you have ever received?
MR: I once read a book on business etiquette where the author instructed the reader to listen to clients and then respond by making “I” statements including personal information and incorporating the information that the client relayed. The purpose was to make the salesperson seem relatable. I was desperate for people to like me and I still have that struggle often so I started doing it. I still do it, but whenever I catch myself doing it, I stop immediately because I can only imagine how unbearable it is for whatever poor soul that has to listen to me. I was never a salesman and I never aspired to be one so I don’t know why the fuck I read that piece of shit in the first place. I guess I was so desperate to be liked that I was willing to try anything. I wasn’t far from doing pro bono snuff porn.
WO: What results would you expect someone to get if they followed all of the tips in your book religiously?
MR: If a reader follows the advice in this book, their life would gradually become a trainwreck. I would like to see at least one person follow this terrible advice verbatim. Maybe I’ll try to get ahold of one of those sweat lodge goofballs.
WO: Do you have any good advice you’d like to give?
MR: Be good to people and good things will come your way. Also, if you Google the words “child porn,” you probably won’t find what you’re looking for.
Mike Rainey is a stand-up comic and author from Philadelphia. He is also a cat lover, a great friend and opinionated asshole. His book, Terrible Advice, will be available on February 14 via download through Amazon.com ($5) or the print version ($10) can be purchased by contacting him via Facebook, Twitter, Email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or in person. Mike will be giving ten percent of all sales to St. Jude’s Pediatric Cancer Research Center.
The growth of the Philadelphia comedy scene has not been limited to the city proper. Comedians are taking to the stage in greater numbers and, as a result, more mics and showcase opportunities are opening in the suburbs. Mics in Delco, Montco and Bucks serve both to bring comedy to suburban audiences who might not venture in to the city, and to provide stage time to the comics who seek it out.
Tuesday nights in Doylestown, the venue Puck Live hosts a comedy open mic at 8pm, presented by LawnBoys Comedy. LawnBoys co-founders Ben Fidler [who hosts the mic most nights] and Jimmy Williams [writer of LawnBoys Comedy videos] sat down to talk about the origin of their group and their early video work; the Puck Live Tuesday night open mic; and video collaborations with the B.a. Comedian comedy troupe.
Chris Dolan: Talk about LawnBoys…what the LawnBoys are, how LawnBoys Comedy got started…
Ben Fidler: Jimmy [Williams] and I went to college together. We were in the same fraternity and we never really hung out that much in college. Then I think we were talking on Facebook or something the year after we graduated and I mentioned I’d been trying to get back into stand-up [after college]… I’d been doing a couple sets at Helium once in awhile, and he had mentioned he liked making stupid videos for the Internet and I said, “Hey, me too!” And we met up. I had tried to start a comedy group with my buddy in college called the Jokers Wild but when I moved down here it just kind of fell apart.
[At this point the interviewer takes Ben & Jimmy through a brief, painful primer on the decades-old Jokers Wild game show.]
So Jimmy didn’t live that far away, he came over one day and we were just kicking around ideas. And the first thing we ever filmed was a Gatorade commercial [parody] with Keith Jackson.
Jimmy Williams: It’s a couple years old but it’s about the origins of Gatorade with University of Florida scientists…So we made “Baterade” for lonely university scientists…helps replenish protein and hydrates…
BF: And Jimmy did the Keith Jackson voice. I remember it’s a two- minute clip and we probably had forty minutes of tape. And when we were done I was just laughing so hard, and I was on this endorphin high. We just had a blast.
CD: So did you write it before the fact or did you write as you go?
BF: We had it written out, you [to Williams] had pretty much written it; it was his idea and he wrote it, and I was just sticking in [ideas] with some of the lines. And I was the actor. We started doing more and more…webisodes, with recurring characters, we were just screwing around, hanging out and having fun. Right around the time the webisodes ended was when we started doing the open mic here.
CD: Is it just the two of you, or are there more LawnBoys? Officially or unofficially?
BF: Officially there’s more but…one of our buddies Jerry lives in Scranton. And our other buddy Al left. But we’re like the two band members that are always kind of there.
CD: The Mick and Keith.
BF: Yeah. We’re the two that have just stuck with it. It’s been so much fun just getting back into it.
CD: How did the mic [Tuesday Nights at Puck Live in Doylestown] come to be?
BF: I could not afford to go to Helium. That was before they had the internet sign-ups, so I’d drive down. I’d have to leave at 4. I’d sign up, find out at 7:30 I wasn’t on, watch the other comedians, get home at 11 and have to work the next day. It was like forty bucks (per trip) for parking and gas. I’d been moonlighting here [at Puck] for awhile …in the back, cooking. And I thought the venue would really work for comedy, but [at the time] it was just music. After I stopped working here, my buddy still was working in the kitchen. He mentioned that new management was coming in and they were looking for fresh ideas, so a year ago this past August they said “We’ll give you one Tuesday every month, for three months, to show us if you got something. And if that works we’ll extend it for another couple.” So we got Alex Grubard, Alex Pearlman…I padded the first open mic with some names. Started the show with just the five comedians that were going on that night, but ten people ended up going up. Everybody had a great set and people (in the audience) left going “this is great that you’re doing this.” Facebook and social media were such a huge help getting the word out. It built up and this past July we started going every Tuesday. And just this past January we got the last Thursday of every month for showcases.
I find I really enjoy putting together the comedy [shows], organizing them. I don’t have as much time to write as I’d like but just being involved in any way is just so fun. Meeting new comics, getting comics to come in…seeing different styles.
CD: So you’ve done “city mics” and “suburban mics”…What’s the contrast there that you think about?
BF: City mics, for me, when I was at Helium…[it's a great room, but] coming down from outside the city, I kind of felt like a stranger. Everybody knew everybody. Here [at Puck] I’ve tried to cultivate an atmosphere of, like, anybody who wants to go up, give it a shot, try it. I don’t think we’ve ever cut anyone from the list.
JW: It’s a great place for people to try stuff that they might not be comfortable taking downtown. We get a lot of first-timers who come out and say, “Hey, I want to try [stand-up],” and they might not want to try it in front of people who are doing stand-up every day.
CD: It’s funny, there are more and more younger people doing stand-up, and the first time they make the sign-up list at Helium it’s a big deal.
BF: The first time I made the list [at Helium] I was just like “Oh, shit.”
CD:[to Williams] So do you do stand-up too?
JW: No, I don’t perform on stage. [Both laugh.]
BF: He’s the funniest bastard I know. His stories just kill me. He can’t get up on stage though.
JW: Maybe one day, we’ll see.
BF: He’s said that if he goes up on stage, we’ll have to have an ambulance on standby because of the amount of alcohol he’d need [to go through with it].
CD: How’d the B.a. Comedian video collaboration come about?
BF: Tim Raymus was the first one to come up to the mic. I thought he was funny. He started bringing Dan [King] and Brian [Six…Andrew [Sposato] came up a couple of times. And they’re just really cool guys. And I’ve always wanted to cultivate a bunch of people getting together and being creative. And one of our problems, even when we were a [bigger] group [as Lawnboys], was just limited numbers. One of us would have to play two roles, or we didn’t have someone to hold the camera. Dan mentioned that he had a sketch…
CD: “Cards on the Table.”
BF: Right. We filmed it in a day. He edited it and threw it out there and that was it. And I find, with those guys, it’s almost like the more cooks you have in it, the better the broth, just because you keep each other rolling, you don’t procrastinate.
And [for the latest video, "Magicians are Dicks"] Lou Misiano came in. And now the ideas are coming faster and now that we’re producing stuff a lot of other guys are willing to jump in and try stuff out. Tonight we’re filming something that Daren Martinez wants to try out so people have been calling up and asking if we want to help out. I just love getting out there and working. It’s just fun.
CD: Anything else?
BF: Come on out, check out Puck. I’d love to see new comedians and get people for our showcases.
Check out the LawnBoys open mic at Puck Live (1 Printers Alley, Doylestown, PA) every Tuesday at 7:30pm, and their showcase show every last Thursday of the month.And now, for your viewing pleasure, here are “Cards on the Table” and “Musicians are Dicks.”
Last night at Helium saw the return of The Bird Text Comedy Show, which featured a brand new Bird Text sketch as well as stand-up performances by Mary Radzinski, John McKeever, Doogie Horner, Tommy Pope and headliner Mike Lawrence. After the show I sat down with John McKeever and Tommy Pope of Bird Text for an enlightening conversation about comedy, the future of Bird Text and a big exciting new break for Tommy. Oh, and Doogie Horner showed up about halfway through and delivered a strong endorsement of Bird Text’s approach to comedy.
Dave Metter:What are some things that go into choosing what sketches you want to produce and whether or not you release them?
Tommy Pope: We’re not the kind of people who just rush shit out so you can see it. We want it to be good. If it’s not good we don’t put it out.
John McKeever: We won’t just rush to film something just so you can see something.
TP: Yeah, we don’t want to put a weekly video out but it’s also detrimental to our progress. Like, I also think we overthink things sometimes.
JM: We’re both busy and Luke [Cunningham, fellow member of Bird Text] is extremely busy now so production is not that easy, and we have ideas but unless they’re really good and we think it’ll make our name look better I don’t think it’s worth filming them and putting them out. A lot of people, especially sketch groups, have this idea that, “Throw enough shit to the wall, see what sticks.” We throw a lot of shit to our own wall and we’re like, “Just get rid of all the shit.” We’ve got a lot of shit that nobody’s ever seen because it’s not good enough.
DM: That you’ve shot or are only written?
JM: That we’ve shot but are not good enough.
TP: We also have stuff that’s written that we know is good enough but production…takes money. But we see other sketch groups and other people in Philly and, it’s a catch-22 because, if you don’t consistently put out people won’t seek you, they won’t subscribe, but they also won’t want to find you and what you’re doing next if you’re not consistent with quality. The next thing has to be better than the last.
DM: With most of the people coming to a show like this they’re probably expecting just stand-up, though some attending know you from your videos. I’m curious about your thoughts on how the audience adjusts between going from stand-up to a film sketch during a show.
TP: This thing we showed tonight we were looking at each other going, “That killed.”
JM: I think you’re right, it’s a curveball, and when you throw it into the middle of a show: stand-up, stand-up, stand-up, video, everyone’s like, “What the fuck?” ya know? But you get to see how an audience receives it before you release it on the internet. The first time we showed “The Real Househusbands of Philadelphia” it was here during a show and we were all in the green room and we thought, “If this doesn’t go well here then this isn’t seeing the light of day,” and that was our first real sketch and…it killed. We put it out a day or so later and it got like fifty-thousand views. So, it can be a good barometer.
TP: We were like, “What are we gonna do with all the money?! Let’s go to Wildwood and get weird!”
JM: We got Tommy and John airbrushed on a couple T-shirts.
TP: We have a lot in the pipeline always but we are very hesitant to release because we are always fearful that it’s not good enough, and to that point, it kind of hinders us and our progress. So I think we could be bigger but ya know, I think we’re a little too under the microscope.
DM: When you have an idea or premise, what’s the process of how you decide whether it’ll best fit as a stand-up bit or as a sketch?
JM: I think it’s so differentiated in my head that I know the difference between a bit, what would be good on stage, and what would be better in a sketch, and a lot of times when we think of a sketch we have 100% confidence in each other and we text each other, “Sketch idea, high-end premise” and it’ll be just the premise and if everyone’s like “haha” then we start. As far as stand-up goes, the way I’ve always written bits is I write about stuff that interests me and attaches to my other bits. But I think sketch has to be more quickly palatable.
TP: Sketches are popular because they’re popular to masses. With stand-up it’s like, it’s something popular but the intricate way of going about it makes it just yours. So for sketch, in order to break out to the masses you have to find something that people are interested in and it can’t be about some goofy fucking story about your wife or your girlfriend. You need something that people will immediately click with. There are so many [YouTube] channels doing like hacky Ke$ha parodies. We could easily find advertising dollars by being a hack-ass sketch group but we don’t want to do that, and we’re cutting our nose off despite our face, but at the same time it’s like I refuse to be that group who does Britney Spears and how it relates to the Super Bowl or whatever.
DM: How did you link up with Mike Lawrence?
JM: Mike knows Luke from stand-up in New York. Luke lived in New York for a while doing stand-up and did well there.
DM: How does Luke being back on the east coast, now that he is writing for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, affect Bird Text?
TP: Luke’s always been like the foundation of the structure of the sketches we write. He was in LA for a year but we’re excited he’s here and, it’s weird, no one recognizes his face or name from Bird Text which is unfortunate but he does a shit load of the creation of many of our sketches.
[Doogie Horner enters.]
Doogie Horner: Bird Text courts controversy wherever they go; they’re not going to apologize for being outspoken.
[Doogie Horner exits.]
DM:So you guys are thinking of doing a monthly Bird Text show at Helium?
TP: Yeah. We did a monthly thing here for four months during a summer on Tuesdays, but we hit all of the summer holidays that year which was rough.
DM: And when you’re doing monthlies you’ll be incorporating sketches?
TP: Yeah, we’d like to do three but this show date was short notice.
DM: Why was that?
JM: I don’t know, I think it’s because they always had an interest in bringing us back plus another comic cancelled the date and, I don’t know, I think they probably contacted a few headliners before they contacted us.
DM: Oh don’t say that.
JM: Oh no, in reality we were probably like sixth or seventh on the list.
TP: I love how optimistic you are, like, “Oh don’t say that.”
And the big announcement…
JM: So Luke got this thing with Fallon which is huge for us but also, Tommy is flying to LA soon to do voiceover work for Disney. He flew out for an audition, this woman saw him perform in Montreal and thought “that guy can crush voices,” brought him in, they asked him to do this mobster voice and he crushed it and they’re bringing him back.
TP: This is why everyone needs a best friend. That couldn’t have been delivered any more smoothly.
Dave Metter is a comedy writer from the Philly burbs. Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveMetter.