As the year winds down, WitOut collects lists from comedy performers and fans of their favorite moments, comedians, groups, shows, etc. from the last year in Philly comedy. Top 5 of 2012 lists will run throughout December–if you’d like to write one, pitch us your list at firstname.lastname@example.org!
5) Christian Alsis’ song and dance about slapping a cop.
4) Secret Pants double-dutching on roller skates in honor of the death of “Roller Sketch.”
3) Rob Baniewicz’ gargle solo in “Gargle Girl.”
2) Brian Craig sawing a tree in half.
1) Pat Foy flying in “Outlier.”
For my second Coffee with Comedians, I chose to get to know Corin Wells. Oddly enough, and in spite of being in the same room as each other probably somewhere over 50 times, we had not exchanged more than “hellos” and congratulatory remarks after shows. We even went to see ” My Week With Marilyn” together, but since you have to be quiet in movie theaters and also since I got there right as the movie started, I did not get a chance to start a friendship beyond that of the facebook and twitter realm there, either. So, Corin agreed to sit down with me at the Broad Street Diner, and thus, a friendship beyond the world wide web was born!
Aubrie: You have been performing with Iron Lung for a year now in Philly! Was there a specific moment when you realized you wanted to pursue comedy? Was it always something you were interested in, or was there a distinct moment where you realized that this what you wanted to do?
Corin: I think it’s something I always wanted to do, I just didn’t know how I wanted to do it. Cause I love stand up so much but I don’t have the nads to do it, so when I came across improv I was like “Ahhhh, yeah. This is it.” And I tried it and I fell in love with it and I got addicted. Now improv is what I love.
Aubrie: That’s awesome! Did you do theater or anything before?
Corin: Yeah, I did. I did theater in school. After high school I kind of stopped doing acting and started focusing on dancing- because when I was younger I did a bit of everything only cause my mom made me do it. And I was like, “I wanna be a hip-hop dancer!” So I did that in college, and then I was like, “This is not lucrative!”
Aubrie: Maybe not lucrative, but it is awesome! If I didn’t think I’d fail immediately, I probably would’ve majored in hip-hop dancing! Where did you go to college?
Corin: Hampton University in Virginia.
Aubrie: And what initially drew you to improv? Did you find it in or after college?
Corin: After. I had finished taking regular acting classes at Mike Lemon Casting and I was like, “OK, I need to do something else and I want to try comedy.” And I had been looking at PHIT for awhile, but for some reason I was like- I think it was money reasons- that I was like, “I can’t take two classes at one time.” So right after I was done with those acting classes, I was like, “It’s time.” And I ended up taking my 1st class with Nick Gillette, which was great. And I’ve been hooked ever since.
Aubrie: What is the best comedy advice you’ve ever gotten?
Corin: There’s a lot, cause I hang out with Marbach and he’s full of comedy advice. I guess as far as improv goes, just make sure you’re having fun. That’s the best advice. Cause if you’re not having fun onstage, then why are you up there? There’s no point.
Aubrie: Any general life advice that has been helpful to you, non-comedy related?
Corin: Do what you love, and fuck the rest. Yeah, my mom has always told me that- not necessarily “fuck” the rest, but she’s like “if you’re not doing something that you love to do then really what’s the point.” She doesn’t necessarily get the comedy thing, but she supports it. She’s great.
Aubrie: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Corin: Lately, I’ve been listening to Beyonce’s “Love on Top” because it’s such a hype song, it’s such a feel-good song. But I just try to get to get in a fund mind-set, like for Iron Lung, so when we start our ritual I’m ready to jump on board. And it’s always something different, something I can dance to. Sometimes it’s gangster rap. I don’t know, depending on my mood.
Aubrie: Sweet! Do you do silly dances, or choreographed dances?
Corin: For Beyonce I do real choreography.
Aubrie: Nice. Do you do them at home or at the venue before a show?
Corin: Anywhere. If I’m walking, if I’m driving, I’ll be dancing. I’ll do it while walking down the street…it’s great when people start dancing with you!
Aubrie: What was your favorite comedy moment to witness, Philly or otherwise? This is a tough one, cause I made it so broad, but it could be anything- a TV or film moment, or something you saw onstage or that your friends did…
Corin: I think the most recent one I can remember because it was a few weeks ago was Medic had this show and they were on a bus and AJ had to crawl outside the bus for some reason and ended up getting hit by this giant bus. And Luke kept running over him with a bunch of chairs. He just kept doing it- it was so funny! It was this really giant bus and that illusion was created, and it was so great. And Emily was like, “It’s a mix between Les Mis and Speed” and it cut back to AJ crawling outside of this bus and getting hit by it. Yeah, that was a great moment. I love Medic.
Aubrie: Me too!! They do a lot of cool physical stuff. Iron Lung also does a lot of cool physical stuff.
Corin: Yeah, I love those guys.
Aubrie: On that note, do you have a favorite stage moment that you were a part of? It can be anything-dance, theater, improv…
Corin: It’s probably gonna be improv.
Aubrie: Nice! I didn’t want to box you in.
Corin: It’s hard because there are a lot coming to my head. But there was one show where we ended up doing the whole block at PHIT and we didn’t know that we were going to, but Kevin, prior to the show spilled Malt Vinegar on his pants. So the whole first half became about Kevin smelling like shit. And he had the nerve to sit on my lap. I think that’s why I loved it so much, because we were all fucking with each other, and that’s when you have the most fun. There was also one show where we had Pinocchio running an underground railroad for puppets. That was great.
Aubrie: And what’s your favorite part about improv? Is there a specific thing about it that you really love?
Corin: I think just the concept of improv. I mean, when you strip all of the rules away, you are just a bunch of adults pretending on-stage- that’s all it is. And it’s like, “I do this. I’m playing around- I’m a kid again, just smarter.”
Aubrie: If you could create a comedy dream team of anyone in the world, who’d be on it? It could be just Philly people too, to make this super-difficult on-the-spot question easier.
Corin: Oh man, that’s tough. I’m gonna do Philly comedians and say my
fantasy improv draft is Matt Holmes(QB), Amie Roe(WR), Billy Bob Thompson(RB), Andrew Stanton(TE), Emily Davis(S), Jess Ross(OL), Dan Jaquette(DL), & Tara Demy(K).
Aubrie: I hope that team one day happens, and that they all play those positions- like a football/improv mash-up! And my final question is…drumroll…are you a dog or a cat person? I ended the last interview on this note, So I’m gonna stick with it.
Corin: I am a dog person, but I like cats. Which is a new development, cause my roommates brought home a stray, and I love her. I curse her out a lot, but I love her. We had miniature collies growing up. My parents have one named Teacup. I hate that name. My dad named her that, and I was like, “Man up, daddy!” He named her that because he wanted us to get a teacup yorkie, and we got a miniature collie. So he was like, I’m calling it Teacup anyway. My other dog’s name, we called her”Puppy.” We adopted her from a shelter and her name was “Mandy,” and my mom was like, “I don’t like that name.” So she named her Puppy.
You can currently catch Corin on stage with Iron Lung and as half of the duo Ebony & Ivory, and in May she will premiere with PHIT Houseteam (Codename) Strider.
I am not, nor have I ever been a New Year’s Resolution person. Of course, every year I make an excuse to eat and drink more and call it a resolution, but this year is different. You see, at about the same time one would make a resolution, I realized how many comedians in the city I’ve never met (or at least never had an in-depth conversation with). So here, in front of you all, I state my 2012 resolution: to have coffee with comedians and get to know them better. I love coffee, and comedians, and forging friendships. Some comedians I will meet for the 1st time, and some I’ll know to say hello to and get to know them better.
My first cup of coffee (not ever…just for this project) was with Philly’s Phunniest 2011 Winner Tommy Pope. I had seen Tommy in video and on stage numerous times, but had never met him until now. We are both from good old Delco, so this interview may include a lot of “dudes”, “mans”, and “yous guys”es. Yous guys have been warned.
Aubrie: You’ve been doing comedy for awhile now, do you or did you ever have pre-show rituals?
Tommy: I remember someone telling me-I started around four years ago- and someone noted that I had all of my jokes written out. So the way my process works is I’ll bullet point some ideas in a notebook or my phone or I’ll voice record it the way it comes out naturally in the car or onstage and then I’ll put it on paper. So my pre show ritual is to blindly look at the words- if it’s a big show like Helium or something I think I’m trying to regurgitate information but it never really sinks in. So I guess it’s like nervously reading jokes that I’m not actually reading. Actually, Hesky had a good point to that- right before when Helium plays that terrible music, that sadistic jingle- I kinda black out right before I go onstage. And I always look at my set-list, and he pointed out the same exact thing- that you keep just looking at the words but you’re not reading them and nothing’s hitting. You just keep thinking about walking onstage and getting hit with the lights.
Aubrie: So it’s the same for all comedians then. I often have a moment where I forget all lines backstage, but once I step on, they come right back to me.
Tommy: Yeah, it should be.
Aubrie: So, BirdText- how long has that been going on? Because I’ve heard your name and seen your videos for awhile now.
Tommy: Luke Cunningham and I started a show about three years ago where we used to tour Delco actually and it was called Philly Pub Crawl. We went around to all the popular Delco spots because at that time I didn’t really know anyone in Philadelphia- I was getting on Helium once every three or six months so I wasn’t really entrenched in the comedy community, so the best venue option was to go towards home where you know people would show up for shows. Luke would invite some great New york comedians to come down cause he had been in New York for five years and I would bring some people in from Philly, and that went on for two years. And then I met John McKeever at the Raven Lounge’s open mic a little over a year and half ago. From there we joined forces and changed it to BirdText because Luke went back to LA and New York to do some cool stuff like writing for Norm Macdonald, and John and I took the reins with setting up some shows around here. Luke would still help us from wherever he was at the time. So it’s been about a year and half for BirdText. Now we have Darryl- he’s been in it for the past three months. He was a really good friend of ours and he started out at Helium the same time as I did, and he was great at acting and helping us out with a lot of our videos, so it was just natural fit. We’re going to kick him out next week so this is the last BirdText interview before he’s done.
Aubrie: His head is getting too big for him after all of those WitOut award wins.
(Hey, guess what yous guys!! Darryl isn’t kicked out, those were just some JOKES!! Hahaha.)
Aubrie: So how did you guys come up with the name BirdText?
Tommy: So once we decided we were gonna rebrand our “Philly Pub Crawl”, we liked that there were a lot of popular shows with two uncommon names that are just memorable and something that stands out- simple terms that I always liked and admired. We wanted to come up with something that really didn’t matter and didn’t have too much connotation to comedy or anything specific to Philadelphia or New York so it’s pretty universal and people will remember it. So, John and I do a lot of g-chats at 3 or 4 in the morning. He texted me and he has that magnum condom joke, and he said, “If I had a magnum condom on I’d have to put my cell phone in with it so that it would fit better.” And in response I said, “Yeah, but your dick would still be texting me.” And his response was, “That’s it. BirdText.” I think it was a day or two after we said it were gonna change our name that we came up with that. And now there’s a connection now with the name and our videos and our faces, and it’s working. And it’s only been a year and a half or so since we came up with that.
Aubrie: Impressive! And speaking of impressive, I wondered if any of you studied film? Your videos are great.
Tommy: No, I went to Drexel and studied IT and engineering. But me and John have very similar tastes and we just mesh. It just works, so when it comes down to the shoot day, I’d say 85% of our work is improv. We’ll see angles and then it’s almost like we speak words without saying them- we just know. And we have the same appeal of the shooting style. Sometimes when you don’t have an education in it you just create a style that works for you. I don’t want to compare it to scumbags in sales- and I know this cause I worked with a lot of them and probably was one at some point- you know, when they hired you for a new position they didn’t really care about that cause they would have to untrain you and then retrain you the way they thought was the necessary way to sell. So we came in crisp and uneducated and do it our own way. That’s also why I like stand-up- like, I never knew forms of stand-up existed til after college. I never knew about comedy clubs and all of that stuff. But you can’t mock or emulate someone’s style because you don’t have any previous exposure to it. Someone once said “You can’t worry about being too much like another comedian if you just go up there and be yourself. Always do what you find is funny.”
Aubrie: Nice, I was going to ask you the best advice anyone ever gave you next, and that seems to be pretty great advice.
Tommy: Yeah, that’s pretty much it. It was just like, do what you think is funny. Eventually it’ll be funny- you’ll work it to make it better. And you gravitate towards people who are like your style and like your humor, and that’s important to gain some confidence. You get easily kicked down but you’ve got to group up with some people that’ll support you. I’m mean, you’re still gonna beat yourself up. I’m still going to be puking in a toilet over those 3 jokes I shouldn’t have told tonight.
Aubrie: We are our own worst critics. But that is the good thing about Philly- it is such a supportive community.
Tommy: Yeah, they all pick you up.
Aubrie: And to end this interview: a note completely unrelated to comedy. Facebook tells me you just got a dog.
Tommy: I did, I just got a dog! I’ve had a couple growing up- I had a pug which isn’t a dog, it’s a toy with a heartbeat. But I loved it cause I wasn’t a human- I was like six. It worked out for both of us. Then my dad talked my mother into getting a real dog- half Lab, half Irish Setter, and she was wonderful. But the dog we got is a Vizsla- it’s a Hungarian hunting bird dog. It’s like a weimaraner, but it’s auburn. Or like a rhodesian ridgeback, but without the reversal of hair up the spine. You know, I’m not done- I have other dog associations that will bore the fuck out of you. He’s 8 weeks. Just got him. We got him from a breeder, so they take it seriously. She interviewed us- we had to pass a series of interviews. But you get a real dog. She asked if we were going to show him, and I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to show him.” To my neighbors, when I take him outside to use the bathroom.
You can find more info and videos from Tommy Pope online at Bird Text.com
Aubrie Williams is a member of improv group King Friday as well as sketch groups Mani Pedi and Local Holiday Miracle.
Mark Leopold is a Philadelphia improviser, sketch comedian, employee, future-skin-cancer-victim-because-he-doesn’t-really-believe-the-scores-of-studies-linking-sunburn-to-skin-cancer-risk, and a friend. He is a member of the PHIT house team Hey Rube as well as a new addition to the cast of Comedysportz and he does sketch comedy with his group The Hold-up. When he isn’t doing one of these things he is busy doing other things, like working and laundry, and so while he sincerely wishes he was able to be a real interviewer, the best he is able to do is interview people in his head while he drives different places. Today, while on 476 north, Mark took some time to sit down in Rittenhouse Square with Philadelphia comedian, improviser, sketch lady, and King Friday member Aubrie Williams.
MARK LEOPOLD: Hey Aubrie, it’s me Mark!
They knuckle dap ironically.
AUBRIE WILLIAMS: Boom.
ML: So let’s just clear up the question which everyone is asking. Are you related to Alan Williams?
AW: Nope, we just have the same last name.
ML: What about my friend from college Tom Williams?
AW: Again no.
ML: And you were never married to either of them.
AW: I was not.
Mark scans his list of notes about what to cover in this interview.
ML: (making thoughtful noises) Okay then…moving right along. Tell me about your childhood.
AW: Well I grew up in the suburbs so…
A panhandler walks by them slowly with a sign reading “Out of work (line break) lost my home (line break) Anything helps” Mark becomes very interested in his notes and begins making amendments and additions which will later prove to be nothing more than a series of squiggly lines, but he assumes that the panhandler will not be able to determine the difference. Aubrie meanwhile speaks in the slow halting fashion of someone who is focusing more on a passing panhandler than on the response she is giving.
The panhandler, having passed a far enough distance away to be spoken about, is now approached by an older man around forty seven and given what appears to be five dollars. Mark ponders what his responsibility in such situations is. People always say not to give panhandlers money, but is it uncharitable not to? Or conversely, is it wrong to give them money?
ML: Would it be wrong to give him money?
AW: I don’t think so.
ML: But what if he’s like a drug addict and he uses the money to buy drugs. Am I responsible for that?
AW: I don’t think so.
ML: I read a Steven King short story once about a guy who makes like a hundred grand a year pretending to be a panhandler and now I doubt the honesty of every panhandler I meet.
AW: That doesn’t seem fair.
ML: I saw a guy down on Columbus Ave. with nicer sneakers than me.
AW: He might have gotten them before he lost everything.
ML: I think by definition, that means he hasn’t yet lost everything.
AW: Just his home and his livelihood?
ML: Yeah…but he still has some really nice sneakers.
AW: You’re a glass half full kinda guy aren’t you?
ML: I think it’s the little things in life that make it worth living.
AW: I need an example.
ML: Okay, like when you’re driving down the highway in the rain and you go underneath an underpass and there is that momentary respite from the sound of the rain hitting your roof.
AW: I don’t think these people have cars…
ML: …and they probably spend more than just a moment beneath underpasses…
ML: I imagine they live below underpasses.
AW: Do they?
ML: Yeah, they have little villages right?
Another panhandler walks by, a woman this time. Her sign is even sadder. It’s so sad I won’t even read it to you. It’s just super sad.
ML: Yeah…that sign…whew.
ML: Does it seem like there are more panhandlers now than there used to be?
ML: I don’t know, before.
AW: It’s probably because of the economy.
ML: Weird…if you lost your job would you ever consider becoming a panhandler?
AW: I’d have to be in pretty dire straits.
ML: I don’t think I could do it.
AW: Too proud?
ML: No, I just couldn’t be on my feet all day. They’re just walking up and down the same forty feet of pavement all day.
AW: Yeah, they’re actually pretty industrious if you think about it.
ML: There is a hierarchy of the laziness of the poor and I would put panhandlers at the least lazy end.
AW: Who’s on the other end.
ML: I’d rather not say.
AW: Very diplomatic.
The sad sign lady is back and we discover that the sadness of her sign compounds with each reading. Mark starts blinking a lot. Aubrie weeps openly.
ML: (clearing his throat gruffly) Well…
ML: I’m going to scoot now…
They knuckle dap sincerely, happy to share a moment of physical contact with another human being. It may be the saddest knuckle dap of all time.
Oh God, the sad lady is coming back…
Aubrie Williams is an improviser on Philly Improv Theater‘s house team King Friday and her own sketch group, Local Holiday Miracle.
How and why did you get into comedy?
I saw my first improv show st UCB when I was 18, and was so impressed at how this piece could be created from just a one word suggestion. I continued to love watching improv from then on, but was scared to death to try it. I was a theater major, so inevitably we had to do some improv in classes — and I bet if you took my pulse on those days, my heart rate was equivalent to someone about to jump out of a plane. Long story short, I decided to face my fears when an improv class was offered at Temple. I quickly realized that the fear was irrational and that I now got to have playtime as an adult, which was awesome. I even started my college improv club cause I didnt want the fun to end after class did. Improv also acted as my gateway drug into sketch comedy.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that?
I guess in comedy I draw from what I like watching and find the funniest, which makes some of what I do a product of all of my influences. Stella, Tina Fey, David Cross, UCB, Gilda Radnor and anyone ever involved in a Christopher Guest movie are some of my biggest influences.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you?
I’m quite partial to the Shubin, cause it kind of feels like home now. I had my fist improv show there in ’07, and now between class shows, Sketch Up or Shut Up, and King Friday, Ive gotten to spend a good amount of time up there. It’s intimate and you get to see a lot of familiar faces. It’s like the “Cheers” of BYOB comedy venues.
As for shows, there are tons of great ones that happen monthly, but I’ll try and narrow it down. I’m going to say Sketch Up or Shut Up. It is always great because you get to see what everyone’s been up to between shows and see how an audience reacts to what you’ve been working on.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out?
For me, it was this past July at DCM (Del Close Marathon) ’12 in NYC. It was my first DCM, and I got to see Philly represent improv hard in a city where there is so much of it going on, and that was a great feeling. It was also my first time performing in NYC, and to get to do that with King Friday on the UCB stage (two hours before the original UCB performed on the same stage) was pretty freakin’ awesome and lots of fun.
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? Or a sort of method that you use to develop comedic material?
It’s funny because every time I tell a non-improviser that I have improv rehearsal, they always respond with, “How do you rehearse improv? Isn’t it all made up?” With improv, it’s important to stay in practice cause the more that you do it, the more comfortable you get in doing it, and from there I think you definitely get better at it. Also, with a group, you can really build a group mind through being around each other a lot so it’s very important to have steady rehearsals. I also like to take different workshops and revisit old notes and reread Improvise by Mick Napier and The Small Cute Book of Improv by Jill Bernard.
What is it about sketch and improv that draws you to it?
If I had to sum it up, probably the people and the laughter. It is a great community filled with so much talent, and everyone seems to be constantly inspiring each other. I love that. Also, I enjoy laughing, and if you’ve ever witnessed me as an audience member, I bet you know this.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites?
Rare Bird Show was the first Philly improv group I had ever seen, and I was so impressed. Everytime I watch them they make me want to work harder as an improviser. I am very much loving The Amie & Kristen Show and Grimmachio. Both duos are always so on and connected and present. You can learn a lot from watching great improv. Man, this is tough. I also love watching all of the PHIT House Teams (YAY to house team night for letting me do this all in one night!), BWP and Cubed who do amazing premise based improv, Whipsuit, Horner & Davis, Medic, Stranger Danger, Rosen & Milkshake, Passiones … to name a few, haha.
For sketch, I love Secret Pants, Meg & Rob, The Feeko Brothers, Camp Woods, Bare Hug, Hate Speech Comittee. Again, tough question cause there is so much awesome going on. I have many favorites.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire?
I think my first show with King Friday I was having way too much fun watching them perform that I literally had a moment where I was like, “Oh crap, I’m performing too. Get out there.” I also laughed so hard on the sidelines that I missed out on a few key details. I have since worked on not doing either of those things.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow?
I think It is at a great, promising place right now. People are really dedicated and working hard, and there seems to be a constant interest from new people in joining the comedy community as well. It’s great to see so many new faces popping up onstage all of the time, and different combos of people from various disciplines of comedy joining forces and starting new groups and projects. I think if it stays on this track, and I have no doubt it will, that we will be taking over the world in no time. Muahahahaha.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy?
I would like to do more festivals and such for both sketch and improv. With improv, I would like to continue to study and also study different forms and genres, and keep performing consistently. Just get more and more comfortable and more and more brave. I think I have in the past few months, but I know I can oush myself even further. With sketch, I would like also to perform more, but I’d like to film more sketches as well. We just shot our 1st one and had a blast, so I’d like to do way more of that for sure! I also play guitar and ukulele, and have joined forces with some other lovely ladies who do the same, so I’d like to eventually get up on stage and perform some musical comedy!