Walking into the Shubin Theatre at 10 PM last Wednesday night, I had no idea what to expect. Approaching the main stage, a welcoming gift was a beer from what looked like a microwave turned into a cooler. The crowd was lively, you could tell the “regulars” from the newcomers right when you walked in. That the people were happy and talkative added comfort to watching an hour of television with strangers.
The lights dimmed and a clever intro played instructions setting the tone for the show. Paul and Rob, the hosts of TV Party came out with positive energy that matched the upbeat crowd. It was close to Halloween, so the show of choice was the Paul Lynde Halloween Special. Paul Triggiani and Rob Baniewicz took a seat and the commentary commenced. Not only were the two hosts adding in a quick jab at Paul Lynde’s choice of words, but the occasional witty comment from an audience member would make for good laughs. The best part of the show was when the musical guest came to perform. Lynde had a good eye, so none other than KISS would be on the Halloween special. Jokes were being fired off left and right from the hosts and the guests.
The name “TV Party” could not fit more perfectly.
I asked Triggiani about the show’s history. He explained that the idea around TV Party is that television was awful in the past and no one thought that it would be seen again. They were of course wrong, and now you can see a variety of hilariously awful shows dating all the way back to the 70’s twice a month at Philly Improv Theater.
I asked what some of his favorite viewings have been so far. One was a show from 1983 called Zorro and Son. The series is self-explanatory, a show about Zorro and Zorro Jr. adventuring side by side. According to Triggiani, what made this even more interesting was how hard it was to get a hold of the show. “I had to lie to the girl that ran the Zorro Fan Club and said that I started a college class and needed a copy.”
Another of his favorites included a sitcom called Heil Honey I’m Home which starred none other than Adolf Hitler. This is what TV Party is all about… bad television for good laughs.
Tonight, Triggiani and Baniewicz will pay tribute to the late Marcia Wallace, whom you may know best as the voice of Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons. In her day, she’d been all over the TV dial including the Bob Newhart Show, as well as presumably some pretty bad episodes of Hollywood Squares or whatever else the boys can dig up. Show starts tonight at 10pm @ the Shubin Theater right after Guilty Pleasures with Joe Moore. Tickets are only $5.
If you’re new to this scene, Dirtiest Sketch is consistently one of the most talked about nights in Philly comedy. In recent years, the bar had been raised (?) to such absurd proportions that nobody really has a clue what to do anymore, so you can basically expect total chaos by the least appropriate minds in the 215.
Tonight’s event will be hosted by Mike Rainey and is rumored to feature a one-night-only return of Animosity Pierre as Blangalangalang and DJ Footie Pajamas. Please be warned though–legit… this show will be unprecedentedly offensive. So no in-laws or congressional hopefuls or what-not. Just BYOB and wear a soul-condom.
8pm at the Adrienne Theater, 2030 Sansom Street.
So it’s not especially a stretch to say that it’s easy for me to love Greg Fitzsimmon’s first hour long special, Life on Stage. An award-winning writer, producer and stand-up comedian, his comedy unabashedly explores social and familial constructs. While seemingly provocative, Fitzsimmons is playfully clever in his approach to unearthing the absolute absurdity that is so often prevalent in modern American life.
You can catch him in Philadelphia November 8 and 9 at Helium Comedy Club. WitOut caught up with Fitzsimmon to talk about Life on Stage, podcasting and the past year (sort of) on the road.
WitOut: You’re out in LA now, right?
Greg Fitzsimmons: Right. I’ve been working in New York. I took the weekend off to come home for Halloween and Trick or Treat with the kids.
WitOut: How was Halloween?
Fitzsimmons: Great. It was very cute. We did trick or treating on one side of the neighborhood, changed costumes and then did the other side. My son is 13 so he’s off with his boys. You know, a real teenage party. I think that was his first one.
WitOut: I’m sure they just sat around and did their homework.
Fitzsimmons: They’re really on the edge. I don’t think they’re doing anything that wrong yet but they’re definitely thinking about it. They’re ready for it. They’re only in the planning stages.
WitOut: You’ve been all over the place this past year. How is tour?
Fitzsimmons: It’s not so much a tour as it is going out to places on the weekends, in between working on the show. This past year, I’ve definitely been on the road a lot doing shows to promote the special. But it’s been a lot of TV stuff. I was executive producer on another show earlier this fall and then just banging out these podcasts twice a week and a radio show once a week. It’s pretty exhausting. I haven’t had a moment.
WitOut: What show are you currently working on?
Fitzsimmons: I created a comedy talk show pilot for FX with this guy Josh Topaulski, who has a website called The Verge. It’s kind of a Daily Show format.
WitOut: How did podcasting make its way into your mix?
Fitzsimmons: Well, I was doing the radio show for just an hour. I was getting these really great guests and all of the sudden, the hour would go by so fast. So, my producer said that we could do another hour and put it out as a podcast. We did that for awhile and people eventually wanted more than one a week. I was on the road a lot of weekends so I started doing [podcasts] from the green room in clubs and now I pretty much just record interviews with people during the week. I’ll try to bank a few and then put those out.
This past week, I sat down with Colin Quinn and at the end I said to him, “How often do you and I get to sit down and talk, uninterrupted for two hours?” It’s very rare. It’s great. I think it started out casually–and it still feels casual– it doesn’t feel like a job. Now there is all of this advertising coming in, which is really just found money.
WitOut: It seems like you have you hands in a lot of different things. You have stand-up, podcasting and radio. You have your book [Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons: Tales of Redemption from an Irish Mailbox]. Does it feel different from when you were doing just stand-up?
Fitzsimmons: No. When I started doing stand-up, my Father was really supportive of me. He said, you know, just make sure you write. Write a lot. I think that he knew that it was going to be a tough business and that writing was something that I could always–I wouldn’t say fall back on, but something that I could do in conjunction with stand-up. I’ve always been focused on it.
I’ve always been doing something else. After I did stand-up for a couple of years, I moved to New York and did a two year acting program. So I did that and went out on the road on the weekends. Then I moved to LA and auditioned for acting stuff. I never had any luck but I did it a lot for awhile.
There have always been different directions that I was going in. When my son was born, I started writing for TV so that I could be around more. That’s been twelve years or so in between writing, doing stand-up and hosting stuff on TV.
On a good day it feels like, yeah, you have your hands in a lot of things. On a bad day you feel like you’re being pulled in too many directions. In this business, it’s a pretty good way to keep your sanity–to be able to not have all of your eggs in one basket.
WitOut: A lot of your new special deals with parenting, social class and race. Your kids go to school in LA and so you’re definitely surrounded by a lot of that. Can you speak to us about where that material comes from?
Fitzsimmons: I grew in New York and my Dad was a radio guy. He was very liberal. Very outspoken. Our family’s identity is very, I think, Kennedy Democrats. And I grew up in a place that was very economically and racially diverse.
My kids are in a Spanish Immersion program at a public school in LA. My wife grew up in the city in New York. We try to replicate something that has that same kind of diversity and we’ve been really luck with that. They’ve got a school that has very committed parents and the kids are great. At the same time–not to put down private schools–your kid can get a false sense of feeling like they’re the greatest fucking thing that has ever been born. I want my kids to feel like pieces of garbage that have to work their way out of it for the rest of their lives. That’s the drive they need.
A lot of my material comes out of guilt. I think I feel a certain white guilt with how fortunate I’ve been. Stand up, to me, is about [exploring] what are you thinking about, what makes you uncomfortable or angry, what is it that you can’t wrap your head around. For me, social class seems to be one that is just illogical. It’s the fabric of every society.
WitOut: What about the book? Is it a product of that guilt or is a way for you to kind of wear your mistakes on your armor?
Fitzsimmons: I was an English major in college and I had been writing my whole life. I wanted to write a book since I was five years old. I finally felt like I had lived enough to warrant writing a book about my life. It feel like there are two very different sides of my life and I wanted to explore that earlier part of my life. I wanted to show how it affected the second half.
I grew up very rebellious. The first half of my life, there was a lot of drinking and drugs, fighting and womanizing. It was very different from what my life is today. I just wanted to have fun and go down that road. It ended up being much more deeply about my relationship with my father.
My intention was probably much lighter than what the actual process ended up being.
WitOut: We know that you had a complicated relationship with your Father. Does talking about it so publicly affect that?
Fitzsimmons: He actually died 20 year ago. In a weird way, you still have a relationship with the [deceased] person. I think about him a lot. I think my kids feel his presence in a way. It didn’t end on good terms, really, and that’s sad.
WitOut: Does talking about it help your reconcile with that?
Fitzsimmons: I guess. On some levels, it is. I wish that I could I was that mature and that it was all reconciled. I’m still like a little baby. I definitely have more understanding [of him] now as a parent.
WitOut: You’re coming to Philly on this week. Are you looking forward to coming over here?
Fitzsimmons: (Laughs) Oh my god. Your voice just went up an octave when you asked that.
Yeah! I love Philadelphia! I think Philadelphia is great. It’s one of the few cities that I really enjoy getting up and walking around. The crowds are awesome. They’re really down to earth. There is that Italian-Irish thing there, which is always kind of rowdy and blue collar. It’s fun.
From the Desk of Chip Chantry…
There was also a grass-roots rally at FDR Park for the comedic-yet-technically-impressive pro-wrestling promotion Chikara…
The Daily Show’s Rory Albanese performs at Helium… (check out our interview).
Halloween Hangover is brought to you by High Note Humor, who puts on a great open-mic every Wednesday night at 8:00pm (sign-ups @ 7:30). Also appearing on the showcase are Matt Haggerty, Jeremy Reilly, Craig Haas and Neil Carrol. Tickets are $10 or 2/$15.
You should go to this tonight. It’s at 9pm at the Adrienne Theatre (2030 Sansom Street) . Chip Chantry welcomes hilarious sketch weirdos Rob Baniewicz and Brian Craig, as well as stand-up stalwarts Mike Rainey, Mary Radzinski, Jim Ginty, and Steve Swan. Visit the event on facebook.
And then you should get ready to attend Philly SketchFest starting on Monday at 8:00pm with Joe Moore’s Mister Monster, American Breakfast, and the John F. Kensil show. SketchFest has moved to the Adrienne this year. Stay bookmarked to WitOut for continual coverage of Philly Comedy Month.
A few years ago, Rory Albanese punched a 9/11 truther in the face.
That’s a pretty good description of Albanese’s sense of humor. He spent nine years working at The Daily Show (five as a producer) and is now setting out on a tour that stops in Philly from Wednesday until Saturday. I talked to Rory on the phone before his first Philly show…
Witout: Rory, I gotta know why you would leave such a cushy job on The Daily Show.
Albanese: Well, the job was pretty cushy and would have been for a long time, but I’m getting older and it’s like there’s this thing I gotta try cause the window’s closing. I didn’t have a map in some old journal telling me how The Daily Show was gonna play out. I’m doing this thing I wish I would have done at 22, only now it’s like a Kevin Costner movie – “Does his arm still throw? I don’t even know if he can get it up to 90 anymore boys. We’ll have to see.”
Witout: What was it like working with Jon Stewart?
Albanese: Any joke I made for The Daily Show goes through the awesome-maker, Jon Stewart. He’s saved so many of my jokes that would have flopped. You give him even a whiff of an idea and he’ll kill with it.
Witout: Your thoughts on Obamacare?
Albanese: Sure I care about healthcare, but not when The Big Bang Theory’s on. (joking) I’m right down the middle, politically, but I really feel that everyone should have access to good healthcare.
Witout: What was it like doing standup overseas, for the troops?
Albanese: Having been to Afghanistan is a real nice slice of humble pie. It makes you not want to ever wanna hear Kim Kardashian complain about anything ever again. Our veterans coming home are as badass as the “Greatest Generation” ever was and there’s no ticker tape parades for them, it’s bullshit.
Witout: So, I read on your Wikipedia page that you punched a 9/11 Truther in the face at a Jon Stewart event?
Albanese: I should have gone out the backdoor, is the lesson I learned from it. They started saying all this really terrible stuff to us, kinda like the Paparazzi do, and they started pushing us.
I’ve never punched anyone before or since, but I was here for 9/11.
Albanese’s Wednesday night set was smart, topical humor you’d expect from a Daily Show producer mixed with everything from a proctology visit, to why ‘The Right’ should actually want Obamacare, to a family vacation in which Rory and his 8 year old nephew shared similar roles. All with high energy.
Pretty much anything can happen during Albanese’s next three nights after this Philly interchange: Midway through the show an audience member called the two women behind him (who were talking through the whole show) the “C” word. The whole crowd froze. Someone yelled EAGLES. Albanese goes, “They’re not “C” words, they’re just bitches. Well played!
Rory Albanese will be performing at Helium tonight through Saturday Nov 2. For tickets, visit HeliumComedy.com.
At family reunions growing up, my cousin Michael was a bit of a handful, and my aunt used to tell him, “Michael, why do you give your sisters a hard time, you’re normally such a polite young man!” As a youth, this bothered me a bit because Michael was just an average kid. Sure, there were worse kids, but there were also way better kids–especially in the politeness department.
The Philadelphia comedy scene is getting ready to unofficially turn eight years old. Its mother and father, Phit and Helium, have given it a DIY think-tank and a stand-up main stage for the best and brightest to spread their wings. Like any eight year-old, it needs constant encouragement and reinforcement.
Are there instances where young comedy fans who list “Comedian” as their facebook job don’t come out to a small show like Something Witty at the Dive or Sketch Up or Shut Up at Phit because there’s a full DVR of Storage Wars or a PBR special in West Philly? Sure. Are there instances where someone leaves an open-mic two-people after they go up–and not just to hit another mic–but to go home satiated and dream about distinguishing themselves in some different city? Probably…
What I do know is that Philly is a city with comedy energy. Creators whose only incentives are the experience of craft and the absurd exploration of that little nugget that gets a whole room laughing.
Psychologists know the same trick my aunt used on cousin Michael. If you prime the expectations you wish to create, those behaviors will more likely become real. So when I say that taking over as editor of WitOut.net is important because Philadelphia comedians have no relent, egos, cliquishness, laziness, formulaic thinking, alcoholism, really bad on-stage coughing, or anything except ingenuity, inspiration, camaraderie, meticulous attention to detail, and a national renown for independent spirit and unpredictable hilarity…
I’m saying that because right now it’s mostly true… and some day it will be all true.
Special thanks to Dave Walk, Luke Giordano, Aaron Hertzog and Alison Zeidman for getting the ball rolling on the whole Philly Comedy pamphleteering schtick. Thanks to Greg Maughan for offering me a small stipend to keep Philly Comedy transparent. Just a reminder to everyone that I have no prior allegiance with Philly Improv Theatre, and even though they own the domain and pay for my Patco Freedom Card, WitOut is not PR for Phit. At the same time, they do produce perhaps the lion’s share of note-worthy local comedy, so if you are concerned to see them getting a lot of coverage, you may have to just reckon with that to the best of your abilities. Please help us keep our database current by reporting new or ending comedy shows ASAP.
As you may have noticed, things have been a little slower at WitOut lately. Between new, more demanding day jobs* and starting our own weekly show, Free For All*, we’ve unfortunately found ourselves with less and less time to devote to volunteering for the site. At the beginning of May we began transitioning out of our roles at WitOut, and will officially be done at the end of June. But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean WitOut is going away! As the site publisher, Philly Improv Theater is working to find new volunteers.
Thanks to all of you who have read, supported and contributed to the site in the years we’ve been a part of it. We’ll miss being in touch with you all via WitOut, but we’ll still be involved in the Philly comedy community in many other ways, so we’ll see you around!
All the best and thanks again,
Alison Zeidman and Aaron Hertzog
*Hahahahaha you thought this was our day job? We wish.