Tap City is a brand new sketch project from stand-up comic/improviser Aaron Hertzog and improviser Luke Field, two of the most modest fellas you’ll ever meet. They have zero confidence in their abilities as sketch writers (or possibly all the confidence in the world, and this entire interview was a sham). Their debut show is this Wednesday at Camp Woods Plus, and there’s a strong chance that anyone, everyone or no one who comes and laughs will get a big fat kiss from Luke.
Alison Zeidman: How did Tap City start?
Aaron Hertzog: I started doing stand-up as a way to get into sketch, because I thought I would like sketch more. That’s kind of backwards I guess, instead of just starting a sketch group. I was like, I’ll do this, and then meet people to do sketch groups with, and then it got away from me. I liked stand-up more than I thought I would. And then eventually I wanted to do a sketch group, and Luke was the first person that I thought of that I wanted to work with and who wasn’t already in a group.
Luke Field: I come from a pretty strictly improv background, and I wanted to…expand my horizons…comedically. We were originally working with a few other people, a lot of busy people, and it kind of petered out. Then we just found that we were writing some things that were almost exactly similar in tone and style, so we just started meeting together.
AZ: How did you come up with the name Tap City?
LF: We went to a website of old hobo slang.
AH: We went to a bunch of websites. That wasn’t the first one we went to.
AZ: OK, what was the step before the hobo website?
AH: We were kicking around ideas, things that we liked, words, phrases, random things, just trying to keep together a short list of ideas. And I think we both liked the ring of the word “city,” but never went back to it, and when we finally had to come up with a name we were looking up old slang websites—
LF: I like old people.
AH: Yeah, we both like old-timey slang and stuff like that. So we found one that was old-timey hobo slang.
AZ: And what does it mean?
LF: It means you’re broke. It’s a really thrilling story of discovery and excitement.
AZ: Through Google.
LF: Which is modern day Indiana Jones.
AZ: Can you talk about what sketch does for you in terms of creative fulfillment that you don’t get out of stand-up or improv?
AH: I like working with other people, and bouncing ideas back and forth. I love the writing process in sketch. Like if I come up with an idea and I write a first draft, and then Luke will read it and give me ideas and jokes, and things to tighten up. I love the collaborative creative process of coming up with something together. Some of my ideas come from improv scenes that I want to make better. It’s like the core of it was good, and now I want to strengthen it.
LF: I’m doing improv 3 or 4 times a week, and it’s sort of disposable, but you’re generating a lot of material. And I just wanted to challenge myself, too, because I had never really done any writing. Also it’s just a really good way for us to just beat ourselves up emotionally, and hate the work that we’re doing.
AH: It’s good pressure to put on yourself…
AZ: What kind of pressure do you feel with doing sketch?
LF: In improv, the audience gives you some leeway to fail, I feel. Even though you don’t want to. You want to get up onstage and put on a great show. And ultimately a great improv show will feel and sound like a sketch show. You’re basically writing a sketch on your feet. I feel like if we’re presenting this material that we’ve been working on for months and months and months, though, an audience is going to scrutinize it a lot more. So that makes for me an added level of anxiety.
AZ: Do you feel those expectations from an audience when you’re doing sketch, when you’re actually performing? Can you get a sense of that with the laughs or whatever feedback you’re getting from a sketch audience, versus an improv audience?
AH: I think so. It’s gotta be a lot tighter than an improv scene.
LF: I know for stand-up and especially for me for improv, we’re trained to just hear that laugh and follow it. Well I know it’s not like part of the training, but for me the first thing that I hear a laugh from, I think that’s probably something interesting that can be repeated and done over again, explored more. And even with stand-up it becomes a rhythm—I guess. I don’t know anything about stand- up. But it’s a little bit tougher when we’re just sitting together by ourselves.
AH: Yeah, to know what’s funny. Stuff that makes us laugh might not make a crowd laugh and that’s something that I’ve learned through doing stand-up for almost six years, that everything that I think is funny a lot of people aren’t going to think is funny. And it’s just trying to figure it out before you get onstage, and also doing stuff onstage that fails, too.
LF: That’s why Sketch Up [at Philly Improv Theater] is so great.
AH: Yeah, for stand-up I have open mics. I can go to open mics almost any night a week if I have a new joke and try it out, and it’s less pressure because it’s just an open mic and if it doesn’t go well it’s probably just for other comedians. But with sketch, other than Sketch Up there’s no real way to test stuff. We have a sketch in the show on Wednesday that we just did at Sketch Up because we wanted to see how a crowd would react to it, and it was good because we were able to cut the sketch down and tighten it up.
AZ: When do you feel like a sketch is finished, or in a finished enough state to be presented for your show? Do you feel like a crucial step is getting feedback from an audience and then going back and editing?
AH: Just from watching sketch and being around it, you know the beats of it and you know like an outline…you know where you want the sketch to go and how you kind of want it to end, but I don’t know, as far as knowing when something is completely ready, I never feel like something is completely ready. I hate everything I do [laughs] and I work on it forever.
LF: I feel like a total fraud giving this interview.
AZ: If you hate everything you do, what drives you to keep doing it?
LF: Just a lot of self-hate.
AH: Yeah, I need the self-hate to keep going. Because I need something to hate myself about.
LF: It’s the Dunning-Kruger effect. People who feel they’re really good at something are usually going to be the worst at it, and then the people who [are actually good at something] will never be totally satisfied because they also [know enough about it to know] how much better it can be.
AH: So what we’re trying to say is that we’re really good because we don’t think we’re good. Right?
LF: We’re determined…and it’s nice to have some great sketch comedy in the city to kind of look to. and is something to strive for.
AZ: Are there specific goals that you guys want to reach as Tap City? Or is there just a general sense of always striving to be better?
AH: I don’t know, I don’t think we set any goals other than to just have good shows.
LF: Yeah, the goal was July 25th. And then after that it was kind of…we’ll see what happens. But for me I want to just get stronger as a writer. Get in the habit of writing every day, or more than I already do, and maybe find a style. I feel like every sketch group in the city, the ones that have been around for awhile, all have their own style and voice.
AZ: And you feel like you guys are still working on yours?
LF: Yeah, we have nothing.
AH: We have things that we wrote that we thought were kind of funny, but I don’t feel like there’s a coherent voice yet. And like Luke said, I also want to use it as an opportunity to just make myself write all the time, every day, and to put stuff out in front of people even if it’s just Luke. Even if it’s just sending it to Luke and getting notes and rewriting. I’m not a good rewriter, so that’s something I want to work on. I write something and then I get stuck in it and it’s hard for me to change it.
AZ: This might be a really weird question and might not make any sense, but I’m going to go for it. Is it important that you know a sketch is funny when you’re writing it? I feel like in improv you’re told “don’t chase the laugh,” and just commit to your character and commit to the relationship in the scene, and the humor will come out; you’ll discover the humor or the audience will discover things that they find humorous just because you’re committed and you’re playing the scene. With sketch, do you feel like you could just write a scene, and not necessarily write jokes, and still have it be funny? Or is it more deliberate, that it has to be funny?
AH: I think it deliberately has to be funny. I’ve seen some sketches from groups where it’s like there’s a character sketch and the joke to the audience is supposed to be either you know a person like this or it’s a crazy person and look at how crazy they are, and there’s not a lot of hard jokes in it, and it falls flat. I think for sketch, it has to have jokes in it and it has to be more than just—because there are a lot of funny ideas, but translating it to sketch has to have the jokes. I think I have a lot of funny ideas and premises in my head, but turning them into sketches that are actually funny is the hardest part.
LF: In improv, you might start from a real place and you can get away with that in improv, but I think in sketch you have to heighten it. Yeah, you know somebody like this, but we want to push it to the max.
AH: Yeah, I think in improv you get away with it more, or it’s more acceptable, because you’re making it up. But in sketch, all of the things you’re supposed to be thinking of in improv, like heightening things, or “if this is true, then what else is true,” since you have the time to write that out and actually think of it and prepare, you have to do it. If you don’t necessarily do those things in an improv scene you can get away with being a funny character or working the relationship or the situation and it can be kind of stagnant and not go anywhere and still be funny, but in sketch if you try to do that it’s just…yeah.
LF: I’ve seen a lot of improv shows and been like, “oh that was interesting.” But if I’m seeing sketch I don’t want it to be interesting, I want to think, “oh that was fucking funny.”
AZ: So you can have a good improv scene that isn’t necessarily funny but with sketch it has to be funny.
LF: Ultimately I think the goal in most improv–and I’m sure there will be people who disagree with me–but you’re trying to make the audience laugh. And with sketch it’s even more of that. At least with sketch comedy–I don’t know if sketch really lends itself to tragedy.
AZ: Maybe that could be the niche you guys are looking for.
AH: It’d probably be a lot easier. And we might get more laughs, too. If we’re just being serious, deadpan…I think you just helped us develop our voice.
AZ: So without revealing too much, what kind of things can people expect from you on Wednesday?
LF: You’re going to see two charming, gee whiz, aw shucks fellas do their best, even though they’re green…
AH: Don’t sell us short, Luke!
LF: I think it’s going to be…OK…
AH: Well, what do we expect or what should other people expect? Other people will expect to see a good show from Camp Woods, and a first show from Tap City.
LF: Tap City: We’re first.
AH: Tap City: the openers. But no, I’m excited, I like all of the sketches that we’re doing. They’re all things that we have sort of tested at Sketch Up or other open mics or things that we’ve both taken into the sketch writing classes at PHIT, but a lot of them [aren't things we've performed] with each other, which will be interesting.
LF: I’m just ready to have fun. And until that moment when we get onstage, I’m going to be tearing my hair out in agony, and self doubt, and…
AH: I’m not going to eat, between now and the show.
LF: I just ate my last piece of food, a brownie from Cosi. By the way, plug for Cosi: The brownies are great, you should get the one with cheesecake in it.
AZ: Cosi brownies: the official dessert of Luke Field from Tap City.
LF: I have a lot of official desserts.
AZ: Just send me a list, and we can run it alongside the interview.
See Tap City this Wednesday, July 25th at CAMP WOODS PLUS!, 8:30 pm at L’etage. Tickets are $10 at the door.