A lot of Philadelphia comedians got their start at the Wednesday-night open mic at the Laff House on South Street. For many a young Philly comic, The Legendary Wid — long-time emcee of the Wednesday mic — was the first face they saw.
Many continue on to “the grind” or “the trenches” where they run into Wid again, witnessing his manic yard-sale pun-a-thon at suburban clubs or fire-halls. He’s induced his fair share of groans, but if you give him a chance to make you laugh, he’ll always get you with something.
Here are some tidbits about Jersey native Michael Baldwin, aka The Legendary Wid, Philly’s prop-savant comedian extraordinaire…
The Wid started out as an antique dealer in Princeton. He would entertain customers in his store by riffing on all the merchandise. He put together a two or three minutes of material for a local gong-show, and from there he was off to the races.
In or about 1999, after a comedy show on South Street, Wid was attacked by skin-heads. They called him “Waldo” and he told them to fuck off. They chased him down and beat him, leaving him with a concussion which stalled his headlining career.
Ronaldo Spettacolare, of PHIT’s house team Outside Voices, will be performing his character based/musical/performance art act Yung Creamed Currency Panty Dropper Billionaires this Thursday at the independent comedy-showcase-who-could Hey, We’re Cool.
WitOut: What exactly is the YCCPDB?
Ronaldo Spettacolare: The Yung Creamed Currency Panty Dropper Billionaires, is a one person, eight member rap group starring myself as Uncle Jungle, Hustle Sproutz, Fifi Dundutta, Pup E. Luv, Spettacoloco, Rapeshaun Biermot, Drapes, and Jozay Pesos. Makes sense, right?
So, basically, I’m all eight members of the group whether they’re live on stage on in the studio.
WitOut: Did you start doing YCCPDB before you started Improv or vice versa?
Spettacolare: The YCCPDB came into fruition roughly a year before I started taking Improv classes at the Philly Improv Theater, but it/they were created within a manner consistent with Improv. It started out with my buddy making beats on a beat machine and me rapping in different voices. We recorded it on my phone, and after laughing at the song, I decided to create names for the members and for the group.
WitOut: How does one medium inform the other?
Spettacolare: Improv and the YCCPDB have been able to complement each other immensely, both behind the scenes and live on stage.
Every YCCPDB song, since their inception, has been made up on the spot. It’s safe to say you won’t find any real handwritten YCCPDB lyrics on eBay in fifteen years going for a whopping sum of money. The entire first album (and the soon-to-be-released-because-it-isn’t-finished-yet second album) consist of songs that are all Freestyle, or “off the top of the head” if you will.
Although the songs performed at their shows are the ones you’ll find on the album, everything about the show, from the dialogue between members on stage between songs to the dance moves during them is all improvised. Being an improviser has made being on stage an even more comfortable thing, and it shows in every performance.
WitOut: How would you classify YCCPDB? Is it parody? Is it homage?
Spettacolare: The YCCPDB is pure satire. Each member is basically poking fun at the real “rappers” you’d find in mainstream music today. For example, upon seeing and hearing Fifi Dundutta first time, you’ll see he clearly spoofs Lil Wayne with his high pitched whiny voice and braided hair whereas Drapes just straight up makes fun of Drake.
Honestly, I feel as if the music that you’ll find out there today is absolutely terrible. So, the idea with the YCCPDB was to make something worse, ultimately making it so that the only option the world would have left after the YCCPDB makes their mark is to try to and make things better.
WitOut: YCCPBD is getting a reputation for larger than life performances. What should people expect when they come to see you perform live?
Spettacolare: There’s only one thing to expect at a YCCPDB live performance: ANYTHING. Yes, anything goes at a YCCPDB show, and that’s usually made apparent within the first thirty seconds. The goal for the live shows is to create a feast for both the eyes and the ears that’ll have you leaving fully satisfied with what you just witnessed.
Follow the YCCPDB on Twitter @YCCPDB and on Soundcloud . YCCPDB will be performing this Thursday at Hey, We’re Cool (8pm, L’etage, $5).
WitOut: First off, congratulations! What was the plan, thought-process, expectations, prior experiences with the contest, etc…
Matt McCusker: Hey thank you! The plan was to just try to focus on having fun and being as present as possible on stage and not be all in my head trying to remember all my jokes. As far as prior experience with the contest, I made it to the finals some years ago and ultimately lost. After my initial defeat my father brought me into our room of ancestors (the place where we keep marble busts of all of our male predecessors) and spoke to me about the importance of bringing glory to the house of McCusker. That was all I needed to see.
WitOut: What will you be doing with the thousand dollars?
McCusker: It’s been dipped into a bit. Depending on how much it costs to replace the shocks on my car I might buy myself a new pair of jeans. Anything left over will just go toward the rent.
WitOut: Tell us about your day-job. Also, a/s/l?
McCusker: My a/s/l is super secret. However, I will tell you that I currently work as a cook in a pizza shop and write for a few websites on a freelance basis. I also get permits for construction companies from time to time. I believe its called expediting.
WitOut: Who are the Philly scene comedians you looked up to, getting your start in this area, and what was your general process of getting into comedy?
McCusker: I always looked up to the Center City Comedy guys (H Foley, Cotton, Cassidy) as well as Anton Shuford and a bunch of other guys as well. I got into comedy by doing an open mic at Helium. The first joke I ever told was how I thought Chris Hanson was a glorified cock-block and snitch. I like to think that I’ve evolved a bit since then. After releasing that gem upon the citizens of Philadelphia, I started hitting a bunch of different mics all over town. After a while I got pulled into the fold of the notoriously sinister Raven Lounge open mic. For about a year I lived and died by the first half line up of that place and eventually became a regular there. The whole time I was very off and on, and I used to be known to take very long “breaks.” The longest break I took was 2 years after getting married when I was 26 and after realizing that I suck at every possible job there is I came back to comedy. That was just last year and have been loving it ever since.
WitOut: Biggest and/or best gig yet?
McCusker: Opened up for Dustin Diamond once. He was kinda a dick, but pretty cool to me which was exciting.
WitOut: Who are your favorite comedians?
McCusker: Hmm. I’ve never been big on “favorites” really. What happens to me is I find a comedian and obsess over them. I watch every clip of them on a camera ever, and then move on to another and do the same. In the past some of the comedians have been Louis CK, Bill Burr, Chris Rock, Patrice O’ Neil, and lately I’ve been liking a lot of Rob Delaney’s stuff.
WitOut: Are there any movies from this past year that you’ve enjoyed?
McCusker: I haven’t been seeing a lot of movies lately but would have to say Place Beyond The Pines was pretty tight. I can say without a doubt that my favorite move is Easy Rider.
WitOut: What musicians do you like?
McCusker: I listen to a wide array, but I can say without a doubt that my hands down favorite artist of all time would be the godfather of grunge Neil Young. Second place would be the 90′s British R&B sensation Craig David. I also like the Grateful Dead, but kinda hate their core fans
WitOut: How would you solve the current Gaza strip Ukranian conflicts?
McCusker: Honestly haven’t been following it that much. From what I think I know about Gaza you just have groups of people who have been hating each other for centuries over territory disputes. Then after so many people are killed on each side it just becomes a never ending game of “one-upmanship” which is really kind of sad. It also doesn’t help that you have major super powers like Britain and the US who have been popping in and out over there and messing with the situation to gain access to their natural resources.
The Russia and Ukraine thing, from what I’ve skimmed, is about Russia wants Ukrainians to be Russian(?) and apparently some Ukrainians do want to be Russian and some don’t so they’re all fighting now, which I’m sure is a very oversimplified explanation, but honestly I think a great deal of these conflicts (if not all) stem from one person or group trying to dominate another and the other group pushing back against said domination.
For some reason there’s a majority of people who think battles over land and resources are a thing of the past that only medieval kings did, but I think that stuff still goes on today. Only now the leaders of aggressive countries have learned to cloak their base agenda in all kinds of high minded concepts and spirituality. Like when we go into other countries and kill people so they can have democracy…
I really hope this doesn’t all sound like a crazy youtube comment.
LaughSpin has the list of this year’s New Faces of Comedy showcase at Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival. Two Philly faces — Monroe Martin and John McKeever — will be telling jokes at the industry showcase notorious for attracting talent scouts, agents, network executives and French Canadians.
We wish them the best of luck. Break legs, but don’t get all “move out of towny” on us, ya jerks!
Joe Sabatino is a funny puppeteer who has worked with The Jim Henson Company and Sprout Children’s Theater.
This Saturday at ComedySportz (2030 Sansom Street), he and fellow puppeteer David Jadico will be unleashing upon the unsuspecting home-team – The Philadelphia Fighting Amish — an unhuman can of furry, colorful smack-down.
Watch as puppets gladiatorially dismantle their less-easily-funny human opponents for your amusement. Will our Fighting Amish stand a chance against googily eyes and guaranteed steely visages immune from breaking character? (Is this too much presure on Joe and Dave?)
Visit comedysportzphilly.com for tickets to either of the shows at 7:30 and 10. In the mean time, let’s catch up Joe’s puppet bona fides.
Tell us about your experience with The Jim Henson Company and Sprout.
Joe Sabatino – I’ve done some projects with them, the times I have been there were incredible and humbling. It really is “the big leagues” as far as performing puppets. Though it’s a fast paced, talent driven place; it’s just as goofy and fun as you would expect. You get a chance to see the true artists at work and never stop learning.
As far as working for Sprout, it’s wonderful. I’m a puppet wrangler there, puppet captain and puppeteer. It’s a very young company both in terms of how long it has been around and the age of its employees. Everyone is youthful and full of ideas. It’s a great, creative environment. I’m also a builder of puppets here in Philadelphia as well as in Orlando. In Orlando I work for my puppetry hero John Kennedy and his business Hands in Art. We build puppets for tons of projects including Universal Studios and Disney!
What’s your chemistry like with Dave Jadico?
Sabatino – We play ComedySportz matches together frequently, but I have also had the pleasure of working with him on Friends of Alcatraz, which is a puppet improv show I created and Dave helped developed. I look up to him as an artist. He is no joke as to how much knowledge he has inside his brain, from vaudeville to puppetry. He’s the kind of dude that whenever he talks I just zone in and listen because I know he is going to say something to make me better. It’s nuts to be able to collaborate on a project with him. Oh, and he’s a musical genius.
Which improv games are you especially excited to render in puppetry? Especially concerned?
Sabatino - I love watching puppets act. Not just do a canned puppet voice and make vulgar jokes (even though that has its place). So there is a game we do called Laugh Out, that lets our normal ComedySportz players exercise their acting chops and play a dramatic scene trying to make the audience NOT laugh. I’m really excited to do this with puppets and have them deal with real life stuff in a super intimate scene. As far as being concerned about games I’m not too nervous about any game except for 5 Things, which is another ComedySportz staple game. It is a guessing game composed of mime and gibberish (a made up language). I’m not worried about the gibberish… but I can see how it might be challenging for a puppet to mime the difference between a hamster and a gerbil… humans can barely do that!
I’ve done puppet improv before in Friends of Alcatraz, it’s not the same as what we are trying to accomplish with our People vs Puppet show, however. FoA was a chance for the audience to see how televised puppetry was done by combining technology with old fashioned theater, giving them options as to what to watch. All under the umbrella of a long form improv show!
How did you get into puppetry? How long have you been doing it?
Sabatino - When I was a kid I had Automanonophobia (fear of puppets) and Pediophobia (fear of toys). Pretty much a fear of anything that looked alive, but wasn’t alive. It got so bad that I freaked out when I saw posters or pictures. My parents turned all the movies and books around in the house so I didn’t have to see them. It became quite a fiasco in school as well. Anyway, to make a long (and pathetic) story short, the psychiatrist told my parents to get me a puppet so I could see that I make it work and it wouldn’t hurt me. That freaked me out and didn’t work, so he told them to get me into arts and crafts to make a sock puppet. THAT worked and I never stopped with it. So, I guess I have been working with puppets and trying to improve myself for like 20 years. My grandmother was also a HUGE advocate of my creativity, so she would always be pushing me to do more and work on things with her. I love that old woman.
Why are puppets inherently funnier than people? (Are they? I think they are but I might be wrong.) Is it the same anthropomorphization that makes us giggle when a cat or a toddler tries to do something that would be mundane for an adult?
Sabatino- Haha absolutely! I think it’s kind of that kid in us that comes out and puts all of our faith into the fact that the puppet is real. So when the puppet makes real human choices and does things that you and I would do, it blows our mind! Also the dichotomy of a toy being able to walk and talk. People love that sort of anthropomorphization even with puppets. Also the contrast of something cute acting like a human with real life problems. When you see that adorable, cuddly dog puppet walk in with a cigarette and a Brooklyn accent (ie Puppets Who Kill). Or even Baby Herman from Who Framed Roger Rabbit!
Who are your comedy heroes?
Sabatino - Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Edgar Wright, John Ritter, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Ruth Buzzi, Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen, Weird Al Yankovic, Don Rickles, my brother Steve.
While we generally don’t plug classes as a matter of maintaining journalistic integrity (lol!), founding WitOut editor Luke Giordano has been kicking butt writing for Dreamworks and is back on Saturday (6/28) to drop some wisdom nuggets about TV writing in 2014.
After a stint with Nickelodeon including writing episodes of their Marvin Marvin series, Giordano has signed on to Dreamworks writing for their exclusive content deal with Netflix. The details of his new show are still under wraps, but he says, “…it’s sort of an animated boy’s action comedy with lots of smashing things. Should be fun when it comes out.”
This will be Giordano’s third time teaching the class. He’ll cover everything from how to write an episode of television, what’s the process of a writer’s room, how to get an agent/representation, and basically everything else that goes into a career writing for TV.
The one-day seminar will be on Saturday from 11:00am – 2:30pm. To register for the class, visit Philly Improv Theater.