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!
The Musical Brilliance of Doogie Horner – Anyone who has seen Doogie Horner perform stand-up before has probably seen him emulating R&B backup singers or singing depressing Irish folk music. In 2012, I had the pleasure of seeing Doogie both freestyle rap and jam out with a celebrity. In January at the Raven Lounge, on an evening where there was a sketch group dressed like Rabbis (or Rabbanim if you will) who rapped about being Jewish for 10 minutes and got zero laughs, Doogie had finished his set and as host Tom Cassidy walked up, Doogie decided to freestyle rap about Tom Cassidy’s zipper on his sweatshirt. You’d think this would be just as strange as Rabbis rapping about being Jewish, but Doogie had the entire room laughing. Nine months later, after doing a week with Doogie at Helium, Craig Robinson (The Office, Hot Tub Time Machine) who was in the area doing a gig set up his keyboard in the bar area after the club closed and jammed out. While singing “Papa was a Rolling Stone” Doogie stepped in and sang some impromptu lyrics, and had Craig, his band, and the entire room laughing their asses off.
Keith Purnell and the Nudists – By far one of the weirdest gigs I did all year was emceeing a show at a Nudist camp. There were about 80 nudists, who were all senior citizens, sitting on folding chairs facing the stage (spread-eagle I might add). I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t weird, and it visibly threw me off my game a little bit. Keith Purnell was the headliner, and he handled it like a pro. It was an outdoor gig but the stage was covered by a tarp, and it started to rain VERY hard. The nudists didn’t flinch, because they didn’t have any clothes on they were worried about getting wet. Keith performed for an hour including doing an ENCORE set, which included completely nude soaking wet men joining him on stage every five to ten minutes to try and get rain water out of the tarp covering the stage. At one point one of these men started to pretend to hump Keith from behind in an attempt to get a laugh, to which Keith responded “Do I look like a heroin addict? Then get that needle dick off stage.”
Becca Trabin on the Risk Podcast “Live from Philly” – I have only seen Becca perform stand-up twice and they were both at open mics at Helium. The first was over a year ago, and the second was last month, where she had noticeably improved and has obviously become a hell of a performer. However I received a recommendation from someone to check out the “Live from Philly” episode of the Risk podcast, which is not a comedy podcast but a podcast where people tell true stories, and Becca was featured. I won’t ruin it for anyone who hasn’t listened to it, but even listening to it in podcast form and not seeing it live, it is one of the most impressive performances of any kind I’ve ever heard. As someone who considers them self to be a pretty emotionless robot, it knocked me square on my ass. You’re doing yourself a disservice by not checking it out.
Kevin Ryan gives a math lecture in Delco – If you haven’t gotten a gig in Delco where you try and tell jokes to drunken Delconians in the type of bar where the average number of teeth per mouth is seven, well you’re missing out on a unique comedy experience. Some of those shows end up being fantastic, however an equal number of those shows end up being a nightmare. One particular nightmare featured an early act from a cross-dressing 250 pound hairy man doing slam poetry about being a lesbian and how much he/she enjoyed oral sex with women. If anyone is wondering what the absolute best way to turn off a comedy show audience would be…it’s that. Kevin Ryan however completely flipped the audience back into comedy mode and took a bullet for every comedian that went up after him. After five minutes of stage time where the bar was simply not listening, Kevin started berating the audience for not listening and threatened to spend the rest of his time on stage giving a math lecture since “no one in the audience had obviously finished grade school.” It was hilarious to everyone, including the very people he was insulting, and it was also the night I learned some audiences love abuse.
Greg Lynn in Roxborough – This one is going to sound counterintuitive to everything you may think a comedian SHOULD do on stage, but Greg Lynn walked half of a 12 person audience…and it was the funniest thing I saw all year. I should point out this was a show that was supposed to be headlined by someone who cancelled his appearance, started an hour late, and the half audience that Greg walked didn’t particularly want to be there and frankly I’m not sure why they were. After a few comics bombed, Greg brought energy to the stage that was seriously lacking all show, and had every comedian and the half of the crowd who stayed pissing in their pants. You may think the comedians who went after him were mad half the audience left, but I was one of those comedians, and it completely changed the energy of the show in a positive way. Somehow Greg Lynn walking half the audience with his demented comedy from hell saved the show.
Rob is a regular at Helium Comedy Club and co-host of the witout nominated best podcast Bob & Dave are Terrible People. You can follow him on twitter at @RobDComedy
By: Becca Trabin
Twinprov is an improv duo whose show consists of forty-five minutes of improvised rapping and scene work.Twin brothers Clint and Buck Vrazel are in town from Oklahoma this weekend, performing tonight and teaching a workshop at Duofest tomorrow. I talked to Clint about how in the world he and his brother freestyle a forty-five minute improv show.
How did you come up with rapping as your format?
We like a lot of different things– we’ve done a Shakespeare show, relationship comedy, a musical, we even do a show that has no words, so rap is just one thing we do. But rap is just a thing that really took off. We did it through lots of trial and error.
We weren’t allowed to listen to rap music as children, because we’re from small-town Oklahoma, and that’s just the way it was. MTV was banned from the town. So we discovered hip-hop in eighth grade, and before that wed only heard Weird Al Yankovic. So our exposure to quick, intelligent music that rhymed was from that tradition of Monty Python and Weird All. And we were like, “Oh, you can make up your own words and it can be better than the original music.” So we’d make up songs.
I couldnt rap at all five years ago, and three years ago we couldnt keep any beats going. It was a lot of teaching ourselves and our friends. We thought, “We should be able to do this. We can do it for a few seconds, so we can do it for longer, right?” We did the wrong thing for a lot of years, cos we learned improv from watching Whose Line Is It Anyway?, until we finally got exposed to Chicago and the greater improv culture.
But we tried The Hoe Down and we would do Irish Drinking Songs and all these games, and it turns out that thats not how poetry or lyricism or shakespeare, thats not the best way to channel it. That’s not even how your brain works. My brother and I are very interested in patterns and psychology. I have a math degree, he has a psychology degree, and we love to teach. And so we discovered all these ways our brains do work. It was a lot of trial and error, a lot of research. And we can get people rapping now in about an hour and a half if theyre improvisors and about three hours if theyre not. So the exercises we came up with for other people became our own practice.
We didn’t know that we weren’t supposed to be able to do this. We didn’t know, you shouldn’t be able to do a forty-five minute improvised rap concert. We just loved it so much we just kept going. Now it’s like a language that we speak and teach.
You said you were exposed to Chicago. Was there a certain school or teacher who influenced you?
CV: It was 2005, we had a teacher who came down to Oklahoma from Toronto–he’s trained at Second City, he had a degree in Improv and English–you can study that, I guess, in Toronto. He came to Oklahoma for a literature program. He never thought he’d find improv in Oklahoma. He found us messing around in like a food court at the University of Oklahoma, and he said, “Oh, you guys are trying short-form. Here’s how to do it well and here’s how to make improv art.” He taught us long form and got us to go to the Chicago Improv Festival.
He got us to take a workshop, as part of a college thing, and I took a workshop from Andy Carey from the Beat Box, and that really inspired me, and I did a rap battle that really inspired me. Because I’m not mean at all but my first opponent was this little black girl who’s like 4’10”, and here I am, this nerdy, white-guilt oppressor guy, and I’m like, “What’s my suggestion?” And they’re like, “Your opponent is your suggestion.” And I can’t make fun of somebody. I didn’t get into improv and storytelling to strip all that away and make fun of poeple. And so I went down in flames but with my integrity intact, and I’ve since rapped circles around people who try to go negative. Definitely the Beat Box with Andy Carey was very inspirational.
How does freestyling feel different from just improvising regular scene work?
It’s not about thinking rhyme to rhyme. You can stump an improvisor by saying, “Say something funny.” There’s no improv exercise called the Say Something Funny Exercise. There’s a million exercises you can do, but there’s not one called Be Funny. In rapping there’s a million things that often you can do, but not like, “Rhyme.” Rhyming is like, “I have a wish, to eat a dish, that is my fish.” You can sell yourself out really quickly for a rhyme just like you can sell yourself out for a joke. The challenge and fun of rapping is you get to be very expressive and you actually have no time to think. In improv you can take pauses. With rapping that time is reduced so you get to paint more pictures with your words.
It’s great to move into that heightened realm– it makes it more magical and brings the ernergy up even further. As long as you don’t sell yourself out the rhyme can serve you and make something memorable.
Once we go out and we hit that first song, it feels pretty easy. We can’t do any wrong after that. The energy is so high. We’re still truthful, we have points of view, we have characters– you just can’t sell yourself out.
What’s it like having your twin brother as your partner?
It’s as much an advantage as a disadvantage. I trust him to always be with me. But if I’m really out there, it’s like, “Wait I’m the same as you, where did that come from?” I don’t recognize that.” We also push each other. When I look at him I see myself. I say, “Oh, I should be able to do that”. Even though we know we have intrinsic differences. We know I’m the Andre 3000, he’s the Big Boi. Our competitiveness really helps. As far as life experience and stuff, it’s hard to be more varied. It’s like, “Oh, we covered that. He took mine.” We’ve always stolen each others’ stories as twins.
Your show has picked up a lot of steam lately. Do you have any plans for expanding your show beyond a stage show?
We are working on our first album right now. We have, as you might imagine, hundreds of improvised songs now– many demos. And every time we go to a festival we get super charged with energy and we rap in the car all the way there and all the way back. We’ll come with a musician who’s got a little banjo or ukulele or we’ll have Pandora or something. We have so many car recordings that that’s basically our studio. So we’re working on our first album, or albums really, because we have enough for multiple stuff, and we’re looking to start releasing that.
Our stage show, we’re looking to expand. We’ve gone in front of bands and freestyled with them– you know, “You be The Roots and we’ll be the rappers.” We’ll play parties. Sometimes we come in as motivational white rapper speakers and tell kids to stay in school. (Laughs). So we would love to have an album and have some cool music videos and travel more with it.
The Out of Bounds Comedy Festival is now accepting online applications from improv groups, sketch groups, and stand-up comics. The festival will take place in Austin, Texas from August 28 to September 3 and will feature comedians from all over the country. A few performers from Philadelphia attended the festival last year, one of which was Becca Trabin, who had these things to say to encourage more of our city’s finest to apply for this year’s festival.
The Out Of Bounds Comedy Festival is accepting submissions for their 2012 festival, which takes place Labor Day weekend in Austin, Texas. I attended last year as a stand-up and half of the improv duo Get A Room, and I can’t recommend this festival enough. You get lots of perks for a tiny submission fee, Southern hospitality, adventures in a kooky city, and access to legit Mexican food (get the fish tacos at Chupacabra). The people are charming and the after-parties were some of the best I’ve been to– one was a house party with a taco truck in the driveway, and another was a swanky karaoke bar with a TV next to the dance floor hooked up with Super Nintendo. We drank, danced, sang, and played Mario Kart. Great festival. Highly recommend it. And do the mini golf tournament.
Online applications are now open for the 2012 Out of Bounds Comedy Festival. Submission fee is $20 until 3/27 and $30 until the 4/30 deadline.
Becca Trabin is a stand-up comedian and member of improv groups Mayor Karen and Apocalips. She will be performing at Mayor Karen Presents this Friday at Plays and Players.
Becca Trabin is a stand-up comedian and improvisor living in Philadelphia. She is a member of Philly Improv Theater house team Mayor Karen and the host of Town Hall, a monthly show featured on The Sideshow.
How and why did you get into comedy? When I was about eight years old, I went on vacation to North Carolina with my extended family. We went to a huge, fancy seafood restaurant, about fifteen of us, and when the check came, the grown-ups were all a little taken aback. I said, “SOMEBODY’S gonna be doing dishes!!!” which is a joke I’d obviously heard on TV. Everyone lost it, and I was floored by the feeling that gave me. Later I realized they were laughing in part because, why would an 8-year-old say that? But I think that specific moment triggered something for me.
That’s the why. The how is that even though I was shy, I took a sketch-writing class at PHIT with Kevin Allison a few years ago, where you put together a show at the end, and performing in front of an audience immediately broke me out of my shell. I used to be so shy that I was afraid to call out a suggestion at improv shows. Seriously. Now I can’t get enough.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I feel like it’s kinda different every time and always growing. People have described my stuff as silly, cerebral, dark, weird, self-deprecating. I want it to be all of those things dynamically. I’ve definitely struggled in my life and have something to say, and am okay with making myself vulnerable to an audience.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? Well Shubin shows feel like home. I also like the adventure of taking on new rooms and new stages. They’re fun in an exploration sort of way, while Shubin shows are fun the way having a party at home is fun, plus you don’t have to clean up afterwards. I’ve tried to clean the stage several times after messy shows involving confetti and iced tea and whatever, and was told to stop. So that’s nice.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? Not really. Lots of good times. Stuff I wouldn’t post online.
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? With stand-up, I usually come up with ideas accidentally when I’m hanging out with my friends or walking around, and then I flesh it out later. Many times, I’ve come up with the best parts of a bit right before I’m about to go up, because in my nervous energy I think of a great line or two.
What is it about stand-up / sketch / improv that draws you to it? I do mostly improv and stand-up, and I’m drawn to them over other kinds of comedy because you can get your idea out there without much rigmarole. Stand-up and improv counterbalance each other for me. With stand-up I have to be egotistical and with improv I have to let go again and become a small part of a whole. It’s therapeutic and cathartic and keeps me feeling happy. Improv and yoga are proactive measures against mental or physical unrest for me, and they help me stay centered and present.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Yeah, and they know who they are. I love watching comedy that’s grounded and honest and makes no apologies. I continually love watching performers highlight these small details of human behavior that I hadn’t consciously noticed before.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? I did a set a year ago at a gay variety show at a nightclub. I had to follow a larger-than-life drag queen who wore foot-tall platforms and a foot-tall wig and sang and danced and was delightfully hysterical. I wasn’t confident, and I pretended not to mind somebody heckling me, and I bombed really hard. Jess Carpenter bought me a drink afterwards and then I walked across town to do an improv show, and I cried for a minute in the bathroom and thanked god for improv. My team was like, “Let’s do your favorite warm-ups!”
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? I think one of us should just ask Tina Fey very nicely to make a donation for a permanent space for PHIT. Right? We need to shoot more videos and put more content online, and branch out to work with other venues and arts organizations. Gain more allies, to borrow activist parlance. We have to take fundraising more seriously and get better at it. Some improvisors are already generating ideas to get diversity programs started, so that, among other things, it’s not just white kids who get to do improv in Philadelphia. I’m sure other folks would like it too. Improv is weirdly white. Stand-up is just weirdly male. Anyway. We need a popcorn machine.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? I want to do more stand-up in character, more stand-up in general, put together some shows, keep an updated website, do projects with my favorite people and continue to grow and open up and have fun.
This week, Comedy Month wraps up with the first annual City Spotlight, a week showcasing many of Philadelphia’s diverse comedic talents. Tonight, the Old Comedy Buffet features all comedians over 40 for a night of classic Philadelphia comedy. Later this week, Pat House hosts In The Beginning…, where comedians will show a video from their early days of comedy and roast themselves making fun of how far they’ve (hopefully) come. Friday night features Broad Comedy, an all female show hosted by Mary Radzinski and Carolyn Busa.
This Tuesday, Face Time with Chip Chantry returns to Helium Comedy Club. This month’s show will feature James Hesky, Brendan Kennedy, Darryl Charles, Glen Tickle, and as always will feature co-host and house band Amir Gollan and Chip Chantry doing the news.
Philly Improv Theater will feature a week of shows they are calling “Pilot Week” which will showcase all new shows looking for a permanent spot in the PHIT lineup. Tonight, Becca Trabin presents Town Hall a debate show in a mock town hall meeting format. Tuesday will feature True? The Roger C. Snair Interview Show hosted by Brendan Kennedy‘s Guilty Pleasures sidekick. Wednesday will be the debut of a new panel comedy show A Few Answers Short.
This Thursday and Friday The Feeko Brothers will present a new show at Philly Improv Theater. Billy and Christian, fresh off their second consecutive Dirtiest Sketch in Philadelphia victory will share the stage with New York sketch group Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting. Tickets can be purchased in advance online.
Twenty-four is an improv show in real time. There are no cuts or edits, no jumps in time or space. All of the action takes place in one location in the same amount of time it takes to watch the show. The format leads to the actors being able to portray rich characters and develop deep relationships in the twenty four minutes they are together on stage. Last night, the cast of this Philly Improv Theater Fringe production put those skills on display expertly.
Twenty-four is a two act show, with the cast performing two separate monoscenes. Last night’s performance featured two halves that showed off the cast member’s range of styles and characters. The first scene took place in a hospital where a cast of characters all waited for their mutual acquaintance, played by Emily Davis, to give birth to her child. The story revealed a busy career woman, eager for her baby to arrive so that she may return to work and the people in her lives effected by her lifestyle. Her sperm donor (Mike Marbach) was curiously present at the hospital, while it was later revealed by her sister (Cait O’Driscoll) that there may be something more than just a one time donation going on. The future nanny of the child (Jessica Ross) handed out balloons and worried if she would be a good fit to take care of the child. The “facilitator” of the sperm donation (Bobbi Block) continued her role in the hospital as she calmed people down and was there to lend a helping hand in all the madness. The mother-to-be’s assistant (Becca Trabin) came to deliver a present from the office, and ended up delivering something far more important (the baby!) All the action took place while an in-over-her-head candy stripe (Corin Wells) raced around a hospital she seemed to be the only employee of.
The strengths of the first act were in the strong character choices made by the cast. Each improvisor brought their own idea to their character and stuck with it to the end. Emily Davis showed the non stop work ethic of her career driven character even in the last moments of pregnancy. Mike Marbach did his best to remain supportive of the mother of his child even while those around him questioned their relationship. Corin Wells was overworked and exhausted as the seventeen-year-old candy stripe just trying to get community service hours so she can graduate. Becca Trabin portrayed the do-all assistant of a powerful business woman hilariously, showing how prepared one would have to be to be the right hand woman of a non stop workaholic.
The second act begins with director Steve Kleinedler telling the audience that a character of their choice will return for the second scene, and all the other actors would portray someone new. Becca Trabin’s character was selected by one audience member, to cheers of approval from others. The second scene took place in a beauty salon while the patrons prepared for their prom, or “practice wedding” or were just there to have their hair done by the saucy salon staff. The first act of last night’s show had characters entering and exiting the scene fluidly, changing focus and centering on different relationships at different times while the second act had more convergence. The scene began will all but one character (Marc Reber‘s salon worker – who would soon enter) on stage. Most of the performers were all on stage and in the scene at the same time, and the cast members handled the crowded scene excellently. Most of the time the conversation took place between a few characters while the rest of the cast patiently waited, flipping through magazines, or styling hair – but a few times, the stage was full of action with multiple conversations happening at once. The performers were adept, not letting the conversations become just a jumble of noise, but speaking up and quieting down to let the audience key in on the funny parts of what they each were saying.
Twenty-four is a sharply put together show with a diverse, skilled cast of improvisors that will make you care about the characters, draw you in to this moment in their lives, and make you laugh along the way.
There are still three chances to see twenty-four, tonight at 5pm, Tuesday, September 13 at 7pm, and Friday, September 16 at 830pm. All shows are at the Mainstage of the Adrienne Theater. Tickets can be purchased online.