“It’s Elementary” is a monthly column every first Wednesday that asks comedians to share funny memories from their elementary school years, or “periods” (get it?? Like moments in time, but also like in school!) from those formative years that have informed their personal and comedic identities. Or, they’ll just submit some random anecdotes. Whatever they want, really.
by Dave Metter
I have long been fascinated by what has influenced and inspired other comedy writers, especially during their youths when their comedic senses were still so nascent and less judgmental. This month features writer/director/performer/tech man/backslash abuser Paul Triggiani.
Dave has kindly asked me to write about my time in elementary school for this installment of “It’s Elementary.” So, yes, I’d love to tell you about one of the darkest, most repulsive periods of my life that isn’t right now.
1st Period: The Move
When I was in third grade, my parents moved my brother and I from a private, progressive school that we had been in since kindergarten to a public school. It was the hardest, least pleasant time in my life. I’ve never spent any significant time in prison, but it was probably a lot like that (adjusted for scale of life experience and emotional preparedness).
2nd Period: From Apple Orchard-come-Commune School
The school we had up and to that point spent our entire lives at was an apple orchard-come-commune. The inhabitants of that commune didn’t want to go out and find square jobs so they just said, “Fuck it, let’s be a school.” I remember once asking a teacher how the Native Americans came to be in North America, and she just stared into the ceiling and said, “Nobody knows.” It was a really nurturing place to grow and find your emotional center, but by the time we transferred to public school in third grade, I didn’t know how to read or tie my own shoes.
3rd Period: To Public School
The next year, I transferred to public school and was immediately met with a series of sobering truths—1) the rest of the world had a shared popular culture, it extended beyond 1974, and everyone knew about it but me 2) this was not a warm and inviting place where my ideas and opinions would be welcomed by everyone; to the contrary, every word I said and every thought I decided to share would be judged and used against me by some juvenile scumbag and 3) the other students were sometimes just as bad. It was an emotionally rocky time for me, and I spent a lot of time rolling around on the ground with a jacket over my head. Not sure why.
4th Period: Kids Corner
I can’t remember much about grade school that was positive, except for Kids Corner. If you’re from the area, it’s possible that you’re familiar with the long-running children’s call-in show hosted by Kathy O’Connell and produced by Robert Drake. If you listen to the show today, you’ll hear a lot of music specifically geared toward children, but in the late eighties and early nineties, it was a very different show. From what I could tell, they had maybe ten records that they cycled through—two Dr. Demento collections, a bunch of “Weird Al” Yankovic, They Might Be Giants’ Flood and The Dead Milkmen’s Beelzebubba. So this is how I managed to be exposed to almost nothing but novelty music for the better part of a decade.
5th Period: A Weirdo Unchained
But there was also an underlying message to Kids Corner, and one that I didn’t fully recognize until I was in my late teens. It came through the music they played, but also through the guests that they chose to feature—artists, musicians, nerds of every variety. The novelty music that I was exposed to through the show helped to shape my interest in comedy and show me where my sensibilities were, but the part of Kids Corner that had the biggest impact was that they managed to say “It’s okay to be a little weird. There are weird people everywhere, and they’re doing great” at a time when I needed it most.
Dave Metter is a comedy writer, and member of sketch comedy collective Iron Potato. See Dave’s show “Your News, Philadelphia!” at the Shubin Theater today, June 5th, in the finals of PHIT’s Variety Sweeps Week. Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveMetter.
“It’s Elementary” is a monthly column that asks comedians to share memories from their elementary school years that have informed their comedic identities. Or are just random anecdotes. Whatever they want, really. This month spotlights the extraordinary Jen Curcio!
by Dave Metter
I have long been fascinated by what has influenced and inspired other comedy writers, especially during their youths when their comedic senses were still so nascent and less judgmental. Be they films or television shows, random anecdotes or funny relatives, I ask comedians to share a few experiences or works they recall notably from their elementary school years. This edition of “It’s Elementary” features Jen Curcio, member of improv troupes Mayor Karen and ApocaLIPS, and a former member of the late Hey Rube.
1st Period: Art
In 5th grade, my 3rd grade status of being hilarious was running out. I wasn’t getting the attention any 10 year old girl craves, so I found an old bottle of AquaNet (they stopped making that in ’91, so, it was old) and bought a bottle of purple Manic Panic hair dye and got some attention! First, I dyed my hair purple. Not like a faint purple tint over my blonde hair, I mean like I was not a blonde I was a purple. Then I held my bangs up in the shape of a wave (think Gwen Stefani circa ’95) and went crazy with the AquaNet until that tsunami of hair would not crash down. My parents just thought it was creative and what they get for leaving a 10 year old home alone for some small (legal) amount of time. Mrs. Graham, my fifth grade teacher’s jaw dropped when I walked in the next day. Susan, who was alphabetically required to sit next to me, refused to because of my new hairdo. A small group of girls (one girl) thought it was awesome and copied my style. It was from this day forward I knew I enjoyed getting attention for doing weird things.
2nd Period: Phys Ed
My cousin Steve lived with my family when I was in elementary school. He recognized my talent for billiards when I was 8, so naturally he started taking me to seedy pool halls in downtown West Chester, PA, to play against (he would place bets on me) large, burly men with long beards. I hate to brag, but I was pretty great at pool. I almost never lost a game. This was the first time I had to face stage fright, or really it was normal fright because I was a little kid in a seedy pool hall.
3rd Period: Indoor Recess
I was always very shy and struggled to make friends in elementary school, but one day in 3rd grade I decided to come out of my turtle shell in a grand way. I was going to go for the gold (as it was the Winter Olympics of ’94 and Tonya Harding was my idol) and make everyone in the class crack up. I walked over to the arts and crafts area in the class room and grabbed some clay to form what resembled human feces. Then I walked into the middle of the play area, surrounded by the other children, and I made a noise to get everyone’s attention. When I was certain everyone was looking at me, I dropped the clay feces from behind my back and announced that I had crapped myself. All the cool kids were rolling on the floor laughing; the teacher immediately scolded me and I acted like I didn’t care because I was a bad ass. I realized that day I could use my brilliant sense of humor to win over the cool kids and look like a rebel.
4th Period: Talent Show!
When I was in kindergarten my grandmother lived with us and would take care of me after school. She was in for a real treat every day, because after school every day I would hop up onto the step in front of our fire place (I don’t know the proper terminology because I am an interior design school drop-out) and put on a talent show. Sometimes I would tell, “Why did the chicken cross the road…” jokes and sometimes I would belt out my rendition of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song, and other times I would have a live cooking demonstration. God bless that woman for being patient, eating whatever was made during my cooking demonstrations, and for always pretending like it was a great show.
You can see Jen performing with Mayor Karen this Saturday at Philly Improv Theater at The Shubin Theatre (407 Bainbridge Street) at 8PM.
Dave Metter is a comedy writer from the Philly burbs. Check out his show Your News, Philadelphia! on May 22nd at The Shubin Theatre (407 Bainbridge Street), part of PHIT’s Sweeps Weeks. Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveMetter.
“It’s Elementary” is a monthly column that asks comedians to share funny memories from their elementary school years, or “periods” (get it?? Like moments in time, but also like in school!) from those formative years that have informed their personal and comedic identities. Or, they’ll just submit some random anecdotes. Whatever they want, really.
by Dave Metter
I have long been fascinated by what has influenced and inspired other comedy writers, especially during their youths when their comedic senses were still so nascent and less judgmental. Be they films or television shows, random anecdotes or funny relatives, I ask comedians to share a few experiences or works they recall notably from their elementary school years. This month we have the acronymically-named L.U.M.P. (which I can’t read without thinking of the band The Presidents Of The United States of America since 1995 was a banner year for me insomuch as it was the year I first made a banner). L.U.M.P. stands for Life’s Ugly Money Problem, and killer comedy.
1st Period: The Nun
When I was in the fifth grade at St. Michael’s, at 2nd & Jefferson, a Puerto Rican classmate named Peter told me to greet a nun by calling her some word in Spanish. So I did. And got suspended twice. One for what I said to the nun, the other for beating up Peter. The nun wasn’t upset with me but I had never used any swear words in English, which means the first time I cursed was in Spanish.
2nd Period: Schoolyard Wrestling
When I was in the fourth grade, I moved from West Philly to North Philly. I started at a new school and instead of fistfights, everyone “TV wrestled.” I had a record of 1-4, losing the first four, with the one win being over the schoolyard champion. My finishing move was the “perfectplex” and I retired after that fight as champ. I did not realize at the time that I would one day do stand-up, but being shy at a new school was a drag. The wrestling made me slightly cooler back then.
3rd Period: Valentine’s Day
Also in the fourth grade around Valentine’s Day everyone in our class gave each other candy hearts and love letters. I gave my Valentine and a candy heart to Liza, the prettiest girl in class. I got rejected because the heart said BE MINE but I sweated the words off after holding it all day before I gave it to her. Trust and believe that I never sweated off any candy heart letters after that. She rejected me, but we were okay after that.
4th Period: Ghostbusters
When Ghostbusters came out, my dad got me and my brother out of school and took us to the movies and we saw that movie 3 times that day. Chilling that whole day with my brother and father made us bond more. My father raised us and was always at work, so playing hooky that once wasn’t cool, but understood.
You can follow L.U.M.P. on Twitter @_LUMP, and catch him performing next at Comedy-Gasm on April 13th at the Irish Pol (45 S. 3rd Street).
Dave Metter is a comedy writer from the Philly burbs. See Dave’s show Your News, Philadelphia! at the Shubin Theater May 22nd, part of PHIT’s Variety Sweeps Week. Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveMetter.
Last night at Helium saw the return of The Bird Text Comedy Show, which featured a brand new Bird Text sketch as well as stand-up performances by Mary Radzinski, John McKeever, Doogie Horner, Tommy Pope and headliner Mike Lawrence. After the show I sat down with John McKeever and Tommy Pope of Bird Text for an enlightening conversation about comedy, the future of Bird Text and a big exciting new break for Tommy. Oh, and Doogie Horner showed up about halfway through and delivered a strong endorsement of Bird Text’s approach to comedy.
Dave Metter: What are some things that go into choosing what sketches you want to produce and whether or not you release them?
Tommy Pope: We’re not the kind of people who just rush shit out so you can see it. We want it to be good. If it’s not good we don’t put it out.
John McKeever: We won’t just rush to film something just so you can see something.
TP: Yeah, we don’t want to put a weekly video out but it’s also detrimental to our progress. Like, I also think we overthink things sometimes.
JM: We’re both busy and Luke [Cunningham, fellow member of Bird Text] is extremely busy now so production is not that easy, and we have ideas but unless they’re really good and we think it’ll make our name look better I don’t think it’s worth filming them and putting them out. A lot of people, especially sketch groups, have this idea that, “Throw enough shit to the wall, see what sticks.” We throw a lot of shit to our own wall and we’re like, “Just get rid of all the shit.” We’ve got a lot of shit that nobody’s ever seen because it’s not good enough.
DM: That you’ve shot or are only written?
JM: That we’ve shot but are not good enough.
TP: We also have stuff that’s written that we know is good enough but production…takes money. But we see other sketch groups and other people in Philly and, it’s a catch-22 because, if you don’t consistently put out people won’t seek you, they won’t subscribe, but they also won’t want to find you and what you’re doing next if you’re not consistent with quality. The next thing has to be better than the last.
DM: With most of the people coming to a show like this they’re probably expecting just stand-up, though some attending know you from your videos. I’m curious about your thoughts on how the audience adjusts between going from stand-up to a film sketch during a show.
TP: This thing we showed tonight we were looking at each other going, “That killed.”
JM: I think you’re right, it’s a curveball, and when you throw it into the middle of a show: stand-up, stand-up, stand-up, video, everyone’s like, “What the fuck?” ya know? But you get to see how an audience receives it before you release it on the internet. The first time we showed “The Real Househusbands of Philadelphia” it was here during a show and we were all in the green room and we thought, “If this doesn’t go well here then this isn’t seeing the light of day,” and that was our first real sketch and…it killed. We put it out a day or so later and it got like fifty-thousand views. So, it can be a good barometer.
TP: We were like, “What are we gonna do with all the money?! Let’s go to Wildwood and get weird!”
JM: We got Tommy and John airbrushed on a couple T-shirts.
TP: We have a lot in the pipeline always but we are very hesitant to release because we are always fearful that it’s not good enough, and to that point, it kind of hinders us and our progress. So I think we could be bigger but ya know, I think we’re a little too under the microscope.
DM: When you have an idea or premise, what’s the process of how you decide whether it’ll best fit as a stand-up bit or as a sketch?
JM: I think it’s so differentiated in my head that I know the difference between a bit, what would be good on stage, and what would be better in a sketch, and a lot of times when we think of a sketch we have 100% confidence in each other and we text each other, “Sketch idea, high-end premise” and it’ll be just the premise and if everyone’s like “haha” then we start. As far as stand-up goes, the way I’ve always written bits is I write about stuff that interests me and attaches to my other bits. But I think sketch has to be more quickly palatable.
TP: Sketches are popular because they’re popular to masses. With stand-up it’s like, it’s something popular but the intricate way of going about it makes it just yours. So for sketch, in order to break out to the masses you have to find something that people are interested in and it can’t be about some goofy fucking story about your wife or your girlfriend. You need something that people will immediately click with. There are so many [YouTube] channels doing like hacky Ke$ha parodies. We could easily find advertising dollars by being a hack-ass sketch group but we don’t want to do that, and we’re cutting our nose off despite our face, but at the same time it’s like I refuse to be that group who does Britney Spears and how it relates to the Super Bowl or whatever.
DM: How did you link up with Mike Lawrence?
JM: Mike knows Luke from stand-up in New York. Luke lived in New York for a while doing stand-up and did well there.
DM: How does Luke being back on the east coast, now that he is writing for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, affect Bird Text?
TP: Luke’s always been like the foundation of the structure of the sketches we write. He was in LA for a year but we’re excited he’s here and, it’s weird, no one recognizes his face or name from Bird Text which is unfortunate but he does a shit load of the creation of many of our sketches.
[Doogie Horner enters.]
Doogie Horner: Bird Text courts controversy wherever they go; they’re not going to apologize for being outspoken.
[Doogie Horner exits.]
DM: So you guys are thinking of doing a monthly Bird Text show at Helium?
TP: Yeah. We did a monthly thing here for four months during a summer on Tuesdays, but we hit all of the summer holidays that year which was rough.
DM: And when you’re doing monthlies you’ll be incorporating sketches?
TP: Yeah, we’d like to do three but this show date was short notice.
DM: Why was that?
JM: I don’t know, I think it’s because they always had an interest in bringing us back plus another comic cancelled the date and, I don’t know, I think they probably contacted a few headliners before they contacted us.
DM: Oh don’t say that.
JM: Oh no, in reality we were probably like sixth or seventh on the list.
TP: I love how optimistic you are, like, “Oh don’t say that.”
And the big announcement…
JM: So Luke got this thing with Fallon which is huge for us but also, Tommy is flying to LA soon to do voiceover work for Disney. He flew out for an audition, this woman saw him perform in Montreal and thought “that guy can crush voices,” brought him in, they asked him to do this mobster voice and he crushed it and they’re bringing him back.
TP: This is why everyone needs a best friend. That couldn’t have been delivered any more smoothly.
Dave Metter is a comedy writer from the Philly burbs. Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveMetter.
Call on Mister Blue, a new play directed by Harry Watermeier and performed by Tara Demmy, Luke Field, Bryan Kerr, Brent Knobloch and Craig Lamm will show this Thursday, January 31st and Saturday, February 2nd at The Arts Parlor. The show will also feature the comedic ukulele songs of Lizzie Spellman as an opening act. Lizzie put her ukulele down to talk about her comedic influences, musical background, and her parents hating her.
Dave Metter: What is your comedy background? Is musical comedy your first foray into comedy writing? Is your real name something garishly Eastern European and Lizzie Spellman’s your stage name?
Lizzie Spellman: Well I basically started in comedy through musical theatre. So I was always really into music and singing. I didn’t really know people sang comedy songs until my dad started playing me old comedic singers he used to listen to like Allen Sherman and Tom Lehrer. Lizzie Spellman is in fact my real name. Although my full name is Elizabeth Esther Spellman. Because my parents hate me.
DM: When and how did you end up learning to play the ukulele?
LS: I actually didn’t start ’til much, much, later in life. I was never that motivated to learn, but after I worked at the PA Renaissance Faire (I know, I know), where a lot of people played instruments, I thought I’d try to teach myself guitar. I was also unemployed and living with my parents so I had a lot of free time. I picked up the ukulele my second year at the Faire (I know, I know), in 2011.
DM: Do you ever perform sans-uke? (Note: Sansuke is the name of the help staff at a Japanese bathhouse.)
LS: I work as an actress (when I have work) in the Philadelphia area. I’m also an improv performer with the PHIT team Hey Rube and the indie team Apocalips. The Japanese bathhouse may account for those two years of my life that to this day I still can’t recollect.
DM: What was your first gig like?
LS: Frightening actually. When I first started writing songs I was so scared that they were terrible. It took me like two years to perform them. I was asked this past summer by Mike Marbach to perform in The Sideshow. I agreed and it actually went over really great but the whole time I was shitting my pants…not literally…I think.
DM: What led you to musical comedy?
LS: I had originally attempted to write “serious” music which only lasted a hot second ’cause it was awful. They were so cheesy, I might as well have written about rainbows and meadow frolicking. The first comedy song I wrote (“The Money’s on the Table”) was written as a joke that I had with a friend. After that I wrote a song for another friend (“The Text Message Song”) and I realized writing comedy songs was just a lot easier.
DM: Who are some of your musical comedy and…atonal comedy influences?
LS: There are a lot of girls out there now writing comedy music, especially on ukuleles. I particularly like the NYC band Summer & Eve. But my favorite comedy duo is probably Flight of the Conchords. My big non-musical influences are Carol Burnett and Gilda Radner. They’re not afraid to make fools out of themselves for the sake of comedy.
DM: What comes first, the melody or the lyric? Or the joke?
LS: The joke definitely. The way I write songs, I always need the topic first before I can start writing the lyrics. A lot of my songs are just based on weird things I’ve heard other people say. Hopefully those people haven’t figured that out yet…oops.
DM: What is your dream gig?
LS: As a comedian, I have no idea. I’ve never really been in the category of stand-up before, so I’m still figuring things out. I figure if it’s a gig that pays, that’s freaking awesome!
DM: How did you end up as the opening act for Call on Mister Blue? Have you worked with any of the performers before?
LS: I was asked by my friends Tara Demmy (who is also my roommate and teammate on Hey Rube) and Harry Watermeier who is directing. They’re big supporters of my music so I was very flattered to be asked to open for their show. It’s gonna be a fun night!
‘Call on Mister Blue’ is TONIGHT, Thursday, January 31st and Saturday, February 2nd at 8pm at the Arts Parlor (1170 S. Broad Street). Admission is $5.
Dave Metter is a comedy writer from the Philly burbs. Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveMetter.