by Chris Dolan
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.”