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.
Roger Weaver is a veteran of the Philly Comedy Scene, and this will be his umpteenth year of not winning Philly’s Phunniest. Here’s his run-down of what to expect!
Tonight is the finals of the 2014 Philly’s Phunniest Contest at Helium Comedy Club (showtime 7:30pm). Before I break down this year’s finalists, here’s a little bit about me (btw, “about me” was the working title of this article). I’ve been in every Philly’s Phunniest since we took this contest over from the Indians.
Have I had any success in the Helium contest? I’m glad you asked (what took you so long?). A long time ago I did pretty well and even occasionally advanced in the contest—back when I used to have a soul. I went to the finals the first year and finished 6th, although I always tell people I finished 4th, because—like our Founding Fathers—I don’t recognize women or blacks.
I’ve been back to finals once and made some semis, but have had my share of 1st round flameouts, as well. Let the record show I am in no way obsessed with this contest. I don’t have the lineups and results of previous contests covering the walls and windows of my apartment or anything. Please don’t view this analysis of this year’s finalists as the ramblings of a broken bitter man. (It is, but please don’t view it that way.)
Remember this is the best breakdown I could do without actually leaving the house, so I clearly know more about some finalists than others. My research (reading random Facebook posts) is complete and here is my expert breakdown of the finalists in even more expert alphabetical order:
Patrick Graves: Don’t know him very well, but he’s really funny on social media which has to count for something these days. My sources (the dissonant voices in my head) tell me it’s his first time in the contest so this is a very impressive debut.
Tommy Highland: Success in this contest is nothing new for Tommy Highland, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret. He’s not even originally from Philadelphia! If he wins, I’m calling for an investigation from any Philadelphia City Council members not currently under investigation themselves.
Jake Mattera: Don’t know him, but I bet he’s got great Mattera-ial. Note: this is why I don’t advance in this contest anymore.
Matt McCusker: Is it just me or is Matt McCusker too good looking to be a really funny comedian. At his age and with his looks he should be playing a high school kid on Saved by the Bell. Saved by the Bell is still on, right?
Lou Misiano: I’d tabbed Lou Misiano to be a force in this contest a few years ago after seeing him destroy at some pretty tough open mic venues. Note: I don’t usually use the term “destroy” in a comedy context, I save it for serious things like Hamas missile strikes or Godzilla rampages but I’m trying to sound relevant.
A while back I heard Lou Misiano tell a topical joke that was almost exactly like one I’d written so naturally I think he’s brilliant.
Anthony Moore: Not personally familiar with his work, but I’ve heard some really good things about him. That also pretty much sums up my relationship with God.
Alex Pearlman: I’m an Alex Pearlman fan from way back. He once helped me during a performance with an inspired piece of improv involving Axe Body Spray (“improv” is anything you don’t rehearse, right?), so whenever I walk by a high school boy’s locker room I think of him. Alex Pearlman with a microphone is a force of nature. You know, like erosion. He’ll get to you eventually. And he just keeps getting better. Hey, just what is he trying to prove anyway?
Mary Radzinski: Mary Radzinski was just named Philly’s Best Comedian by Philadelphia Magazine which, I suppose is a good thing if you’re still into awards given by print media. On a personal note, Mary is the only finalist (besides Pearlman) that I’ve pleasured myself to. From the first time I saw her do stand-up I thought she sounded and had the presence of a professional female comedian. (Yes, I just put “female” in there because I’m a douche.)
Female comics haven’t had a great deal of success in the contest since Robin Fox placed second in its inaugural year, but if anyone can break that trend, it’s Mary.
Mike Rainey: Host of Helium’s Dirty Dozen Show and veteran of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon—full disclosure—Rainey and I once kissed during a performance at the bachelor party for a Phormer Philly’s Phunniest winner. At that moment and for the first time in my life I felt truly alive. Rainey is the Jeff Ross of Philly comedy, and I don’t just say that because he’s a doughy white guy, he’s simply the best comedian I’ve heard at roasting other comics.
I stumbled upon his setlist for the Ed McGonigal roast and to this day treat it as an archeological artifact. Many times I’ve been the victim of Rainey’s hilarious barbs, and—if you’re at all familiar my appearance—you can imagine how difficult it is to come up with anything on me.
Ryan Shaner: He was on my night of the contest last year and didn’t advance either. Pretty much confirms what I’ve said about that audience to anyone that would listen—and also to people that cover their ears and walk away singing to themselves for that matter. Ryan is very funny and, more importantly, don’t underestimate the power of the mustache. It worked for Kent Haines.
Chris Stenta: Don’t think I know him, but we’re friends on Facebook so he must be hysterical.
Erik Terrell: This guy sounds more like a defensive back than a comic to me. I don’t know him, but I’m guessing he’s one of the Helium contest’s most dangerous entrants… the non-threatening black guy. Note: If Erik Terrell isn’t a black guy (or especially if he is, threatening or otherwise) please excuse this as the crazy rantings of a racist old man and for God’s sake stay off of my lawn.
OK, that’s enough highbrow analytics for now. I have to start crafting my set list for next year’s contest. Remember, they say those that are ignorant of George Santayana quotes are doomed to repeat them. Good luck to all the finalists tonight!
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.
Pat Barker is a Philly area native who we lost last year to the clutches of Los Angeles. As happens all too often to our best comedians, Pat suffered a flash of self-awareness in which he realized just how funny he is. And though I’ll bet he’s too classy to admit it outright, he knew–probably for just a moment before relapsing into every comedian’s professional-grade self-loathing–that he’s every bit as funny as the average professional touring comedian.
This may not sound like a blurb-worthy compliment, but you have to realize just how funny and regularly killing-it a comedian needs be in order to really work. Pat performed in Philly for a handful of years; I’ve seen him maybe a half dozen times. Whether it be a coveted hosting gig at Helium, upstairs in the attic of Fergie’s pub at The Ministry of Secret Jokes, or a dude’s 40th birthday party-show at Connie’s Ric-Rac… Pat never phoned it in. He always completely and totally destroys.
WitOut: Is there anything unique about doing comedy in Philly, as opposed to your new home on the west coast?
Pat Barker: As far as the actual performing, it’s similar. Crowds are a little more sensitive out here, but not insanely so. The biggest difference is really in the approach you have to take to move up the proverbial ladder. In Philly, it’s really simple. There’s one main club, you do open mics and contests there, you get better, you get asked to work there, and that’s it. It’s a well-defined meritocracy. Out here, it’s a little bit different. I was naive at first and thought that it worked the same way and I could just show up and start doing mics and just do the #comedygrind or whatever the fuck and it’s just not the way it works. I’ve had to refine my approach a little bit.
WitOut: Do you think you’ll be staying in L.A.?
Barker: Life is really good for me right now. I love California a whole lot and I don’t have any plans on leaving any time soon. Not to say it won’t happen at some point, but I’m definitely going to be out here for the near future. There are still a LOT of taco trucks that I haven’t hit yet. My work here isn’t even close to done.
WitOut: What’s the fanciest gig you’ve ever humble-bragged?
Barker: The most impressive logistically was probably the time I opened for Frank Caliendo at the Borgata Music Box, just because it was a 1,000 seat theater. I was only like two years into comedy at that point and stumbled across the gig, and I really wish that I had gotten it a few years later when I was better and could have really crushed. I never include that part in the humble-brag though, I just say it was a 3,000 seat theater and move on.
WitOut: What types of stuff is fueling your post-pharmacy joke-writing? How’s the writing process been in general?
Barker: The writing process has actually been easier post-pharmacy. When I worked for CVS, I went out of my way to not write jokes about it. The job made me so miserable that I couldn’t see any humor in it, and I had trouble turning it into a good bit on stage. Now I have a day job that I love at some warehouse that nobody’s ever heard of, and I get to have more bullshitting conversations with people my own age. That leads to better ideas for bits, or at least it’s seemed that way so far.
WitOut: What are you going to name the CD? Can WitOut hold a contest to name it?
Barker: The CD is going to be called “Nice Jokes”, which is a reference to one of my more popular bits. You can hold a contest to decide who I thank in the liner credits. Please avoid Satan, Hitler, and the New York Mets. Other than that, go nuts. [Submit your credit to our contest on Twitter with #BarkerCDthanks. The winner will be selected on Tuesday 6/24]
WitOut: Why do you perform comedy? Do you love it? Why or why not?
Barker: I originally got into comedy to meet girls. Now that I have one and I keep doing it, I figure there must be something else I like about it. I like making people laugh, I guess. Simple answer, but true. As far as loving it, I’ll say this – I love every second I’m on stage. I don’t love all the other shit that goes along with comedy. I don’t love sitting around at mics or sending e-mails to bookers or feeling obligated to keep up a funny social media presence at all times. I hate that shit. But it’s worth doing so that I can keep doing what I love on stage.
WitOut: Who is the funniest Philly comedian who is also not a scene favorite? (I.E. a non helium-regular etc.)
Barker: I forgot literally everyone in Philly the second I moved. Next question. (The answer here is actually Carl Boccuti. He performs comedy like three times a year and is amazing at it.)
WitOut: Why do you hate pharmacies so much?
Barker: I don’t hate all of them, just CVS, where I used to work. I hate them because they spent years making me miserable. Being a store manager there is pretty much the worst thing in the whole world. Just take my word for it. I didn’t even realize how brutal it was until I got an amazing job. I had no idea happiness at work was even a thing. It’s pretty great.
WitOut: How is it going keeping the weight off?
Barker: Shockingly well. I lost 130 pounds initially, gained 30 back after ACL surgery last year, and now I’ve re-lost 20 of that in the last few months. It’s a lot easier to be active out here since it was like 70 degrees every day in December. Hiking is the shit, by the way. Mountains are really cool. You guys should look in to getting some in Philly.
WitOut: You have a prolific cache of throw-back Thursday photos. Could I feature them on the website? What was it like growing up such an unfathomable winner?
Barker: Yes you can feature them. Looking back on my #tbt pictures makes me understand why I felt the need to get into entertainment to pick up girls. It was a rough 20+ years. Thank God things turned out okay.
WitOut: If you were to open your own comedy club, what would it be like? And what would it be called?
Barker: It would be like every successful comedy club – low ceilings, all seats facing the stage, long seating instead of deep seating, funny shows at 90 minutes apiece, national headliners. And it would be called Laff House 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Pat’s CD taping will be on Tuesday June 24th at 8:00pm. Tickets are $10.00, get ‘em now. Don’t forget to submit a really absurd liner-credit with #BarkerCDthanks. Pat’s a man of his word, let’s take advantage of him!