Dave Terruso is a genuinely funny guy; he hosts at Helium Comedy Club in Center City and performs stand-up frequently around the Philadelphia area.
He is also an inquisitive guy, asking his married interviewer, “Where is your wedding ring?”…and, in doing so, getting a story about the ring’s whereabouts and inscription.
We met at Urban Saloon in Fairmount to discuss his latest project, an office murder-mystery novel he’s written entitled Cube Sleuth. The book draws on elements from Terruso’s own (admittedly hated) former office job, and revolves around the main character’s search for the killer of his best friend/coworker, set against the backdrop of a typical corporate cubicle farm.
Chris Dolan: A book is a big endeavor. How did you decide to write a book, and settle on the subject matter and whatnot?
Dave Terruso: I’ve been writing books since I was 11. I wrote a short story—it was both sides of one page—about vampires. I read it to my parents and they clapped. So I said “This is what I’m gonna do for my whole life.” And then I got my own typewriter and wrote my first 100-page novel. I wrote six more before the one I just published. So it’s always been y’know, what’s the next project? When I started my job, the job that I talk about in the book, I started writing screenplays. I wrote five of those. This novel was the first one I wrote after the screenplays, so I was kind of going back to my original form. And the idea for the book just came from hating my job so much and being bored there and just thinking this would be a really strange place to set a murder mystery. Murder mysteries are usually about exotic things and characters, locations…interesting people with dark secrets. I wanted to write about boring people without anything to hide.
CD: Were any of those books you wrote when you were younger murder mysteries or was this your first?
DT: I wrote a book after Cube Sleuth which is another murder mystery. I’ve written a bunch of different things but this is the one that I feel at home with the most. As a kid I liked murder mysteries and watching all those movies. Presumed Innocent was like a big inspiration for me. It’s partly an inspiration for this book.
CD: Greta Scacchi….whoa.
DT: It’s a good movie. As a kid I recognized it as a good movie and as an adult, I read the book and knew this was something cool. I did write a murder mystery when I was 13 or 14 and I made my mom the main character. So this is kind of the adult version of that. I won’t always write mysteries. I write straight comedy things and I like sci-fi and stuff, but in general I think I’m a mystery writer. Even if I write a sci-fi thing it’ll be a sci-fi mystery. I think that’s the way the human mind works. You’re trying to figure out the puzzle of something. You go on a date with someone, you’re trying to figure them out. And you ask them questions and you listen to their answers and you learn from what they ask you.
CD: Did you solve the Cube Sleuth mystery in your mind and then work your way back? Or did you evolve the story to the point where you ended it the way you wanted?
DT: I’ve heard some mystery writers don’t have the ending when they start writing; I don’t understand that. I know. I do a ton of planning before I sit down. I knew the ending first. I have five main events that I know are going to happen that flesh out the story, and then I outline, and I leave the rest to the moment. The five events remain the same, but there are other little twists and turns. That’s the fun part for me. I’ve got to let the characters go where they want to go.
CD: There’s a line that describes a female character’s voice “like tiny marshmallows melting in hot chocolate.” Do you have turns of phrase that are in your head and you apply them to specific characters? How do you know when you want to use simile or metaphor?
DT: I try to just write the way I speak. And I usually speak in a visual sense…even the stand-up that I do I’m trying to get an idea into your head, so I compare something to something else. I could never explain how that woman’s voice sounded to me…the key or the tone of voice, but I could say it sounds to me like tiny marshmallows melting in hot chocolate. And hopefully the reader’s brain can put that together. But no, I don’t have anything prepared ahead of time.
CD: Do you have an editor?
DT: I’m an editor myself. So I do that myself. I read somewhere that you never finish a book, you just stop revising. For me, I write the rough draft, I revise it to where it’s readable and then I give it to a bunch of people that I trust—I have a lot of English major friends and editors—I let them read it. And [as it relates to the mystery] I see what they figured out and what they didn’t, and then try to scale back. I think I err on the side of giving too many clues. People [reading the draft] are like “I’ve figured it out already”…So then I scale it back.
Then there’s this thing of…like knowing you’re in love or something, you just go, “it’s done.” So I get this settled feeling in my mind.
CD: You’ve mentioned you have another book project or projects in the queue?
DT: I just finished the rough draft of the new book 3 weeks ago. So now I’ll revise it to where it’s readable and give it to my friends. I quit my job and I need to sell the book soon so this will be like a faster thing.
CD: Will you have a launch event?
DT: I will probably do an event. I was thinking about doing a show where people would pay $15 for the show and get the book for coming.
CD: So you do sketch, stand-up, writing…improv too?
DT: I did improv. When I was 24 I joined an improv group for a year. I did sketch for eight years, and then five years in I started doing stand-up ’cause I kinda knew I’d be going off on my own at some point. And now stand-up has been my sole comedy thing for the last four years.
CD: Do you still watch sketch or improv?
DT: I’m still into all forms. I’m probably going to be doing sketch again soon. Kevin Regan and Alli Soowal asked me to do something with them. Sketch is my number one love, comedy-wise. It combines the things that I do the most which is write, act and perform. Stand-up does it, too, but I like to be a character. Sketch gives me that. I’ll always come back to sketch.
CD: Apropos of nothing, I interviewed Sidney Gantt recently about the Captain Action Comedy Show and he just raved about you. Your sketch and improv abilities have definitely helped you in terms of thinking on your feet, in that particular forum.
DT: I feel like every comedian should do improv because it just informs everything you do. If you get heckled you’re like “I got this.” You can’t really throw me on stage. Because for a year I got on stage with nothing in my head except for what the audience yelled out. It’s a different kind of confidence.
CD: Who are the comics that you like and have influenced you, from any genre?
DT: My big five of living comedians right now are Patton Oswalt, Louis CK, Bill Burr, Paul F. Tompkins and Dana Gould. I got to open for Dana Gould and he was amazing. I begged the club to let me open for him. You don’t get to ask who you open for. I said I’d work for free, and I didn’t get it, but the guy who was supposed to do it was in LA and they called me. The manager of the club, Jeff, who likes to give me shit, came back stage and told the [Gould] how much I idolized him. [But] I try never to be starstruck I don’t want to make them uncomfortable.
CD: People say it’s a bummer to meet your heroes. What was that like?
DT: It’s not true. Dana Gould does this huge bit about meeting Bob Hope and how it was terrible and how Hope was a shithead to him, and [Gould] said “Don’t meet your heroes.” When I heard that I laughed, ’cause he was so nice to me, he’s a writer, he [at the time] was writing a pilot for a show…
CD: He wrote for The Simpsons, too.
DT: Yes, he’s amazing. And I was sitting backstage and editing my new book ’cause there’s so much down time. And he saw me and asked what I was writing and he said “that’s a really good idea for a book.” So he was totally cool. I haven’t been disappointed by anybody [who I’ve hosted for].
CD: Any last words about Cube Sleuth?
DT: It’s dirty in a fun way; people should know that if they decide to buy the book.
On the final Saturday of every month co-hosts Sidney Gantt and Dave Terruso bring The Captain Action Comedy Show to the Conshohocken Cafe (521 Fayette St. Conshohocken). There, comedians take the stage to perform and then are put on the hot-spot as they are interviewed by the hosts. Check out this highlight reel from the latest edition of the show featuring: Anton Shuford, Michael Donovan, Elise Thompson-Hohl, and Clarissa Gavin.
If you are a Philadelphia comedy performer that produces a podcast, web series, sketch video, humor column, or any other online content let us know by emailing us at email@example.com so we can share it!
On a chilly Saturday night I made my way to the Conshohocken Café on Fayette Street to spend a few minutes talking with Sidney Gantt – Philadelphia comedian, founder and co-host of the Captain Action Comedy Show. Gantt was busy prepping the intimate room well before the 8pm showtime. Over the course of a ten-minute interview, he highlighted the uniqueness of the Captain Action format, shared some love for fellow Philly comics Mary Radzinski and Dave Terruso, and talked about a unique physical trait shared by multiple Philly stand-ups.
Chris Dolan: The name Captain Action Comedy Show kind of begs the question: are you “Captain Action”?
Sidney Gantt: Yeah, I am Captain Action … Captain Action is a comic book character that a few people say I remind them of. He’s a comic book character from the ’70s, and all he does is punch bad guys in the face and bang chicks. That’s his whole M.O. He’s more of a vigilante, like Batman, so he has no rules.
CD: So talk about the show’s format. Where it started, how it’s come along…
SG: What we do is bring up a stand-up comedian, they perform, and afterward we interview that comedian in a game show format, where they present two lies and a truth. The audience has to guess which of the multiple choice answers is correct…so [the audience ] gets to yell out, and they use lifelines, and it’s fun. And the reason for the format, honestly, is that as a stand-up one of my favorite things to do is crowd work. But crowd work unfortunately isn’t the craft of stand-up comedy, it’s just a tool. So this gives me an opportunity to do that. I usually start off my opening set by talking to the crowd…go up cold and talk to the crowd, then do four or five minutes of material. Then I bring up my co-host which is usually Dave Terruso, and then he does some time, and he gets to come back with me later on in the show and do some improv stuff with some of the interview questions. It gets pretty crazy, it’s a pretty wild show.
CD:It strikes me that the format you just described might be fun for comedians that don’t have a lot of experience doing crowd work…this would let them evolve toward it in a more structured sense.
SG: It definitely does ’cause it’s a very controlled environment for them to do crowd work…and it might not really even be considered crowd work, what they’re doing, usually I have them give me something personal, that people can’t tell just by looking at you. And when people are talking about their personal things they kind of just loosen up a little bit. Nobody has done badly in the interview portion yet.
CD: Has the show always been that way? Or did it start as like a straight-up show and kind of evolve?
SG: No, it started out as that sort of variety show right up front, the only thing that has changed is once Dave Terruso came on, about five or six months in, his skill set just gave me the opportunity to do so much more with the questions…like, sometimes we have him do a one-man play about what you just heard about.
CD: What’s an example of one of the questions, the “two lies and a truth”?
SG: A big one, with some of the comedians – you’d be surprised — is a lot of comedians have more than two nipples. So, tonight the guy who has more than two nipples, [Note: I didn’t ask who this was] his multiple choices are a) 4 nipples; b) 3 nipples; c) 0 nipples.
CD: How long have you been doing the show?
SG: A year and two months. This is the first time the show is going to be on a Saturday. Traditionally it had been the last Wednesday of every month. But we’ve been doing well, we’ve been filling the house, and [Conshohocken Café] is looking to serve dinner more consistently, and right now the only outlet for their dinner is this show.
CD: Any memorably great shows?
SG: Every show really has been better than the last, but if I had to say one stood out I’d have to say it was when Mary Radzinski was here…’cause that was the first time Dave Terruso, his value to the show, was absolutely obvious and I was glad that I had him come along. Mary gave her answers to her question, and each answer seemed like it was just a ridiculous fact that Mary wouldn’t want to reveal about herself. So what I had Dave do, is respond to that fact, as if it were the only fact in her online dating profile…so he had to, on the spot, come up with a response email about that fact and each one was brilliant. It was pretty amazing.
CD: And Dave comes from improv, sketch and stand-up?
SG: He does; and he just gives such a different flavor to the show ’cause even when he does his [stand-up] set…the vibe of performance that he gives off is just so different that it complements the entire show. You never know what’s gonna happen at the show. I don’t know if you get this but I love Dave Terruso.
CD: Anyone that you’re looking forward to having on the show that you haven’t had on yet?
SG: Anton Shuford…I think he was 2009 Philly’s Phunniest…originally I didn’t have him on right away because he’s my closest friend and I want to avoid the idea of just putting your friends on. But we’re gonna have him for the February show. He gave me the verbal okay in between arguing about whether or not the Sixers would be good this year.
CD: Any closing thoughts?
SG: I just hope people find this type of show intriguing enough to come out, and if they want to see not only comedians that they wouldn’t expect to see on a bill together, but comedians that have something to share that you would never think they had to share, [this is the show].
Comedian Deconstruction returns to L’etage this Thursday with their annual Dirty Show. This month stand-up comedians Dave Terruso and Kricket Lee will be deconstructed by improv groups Cock Hat and Bed Savage.
The Sideshow returns to The Arts Parlor (1170 South Broad St.) this Friday with a show featuring stand-up comedy from Trevor Cunnion, improv from Cake Bear and Whisper, and necrosexuality from The Necrosexual.
Saturday is Durty Comedy Night at Durty Nelly’s Irish Pub (701 E Macdade Blvd Folsom, PA) with a show featuring stand-up from: Kricket Lee, Mike Rainey, Rick Mirarchi, James Hesky,John McKeever, and Mike Jansen.
Philly’s Comedy Underground comes to Circa 1212 (1212 South St.) this Saturday for a show featuring comics Mikey Garcia, Lou Misiano, Alejandro Morales, Pete Steele, and Caitlin Feeney.
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: Lost and Found: Andrew Whitmire
Andrew tells a story about a re-gifting incident with his mom, Velma.
Porn is everywhere. In fact, the idea that you are in front of a computer right now and reading this instead of looking at porn is somewhat amazing. Unless you have multiple windows open and you are reading this and watching porn at the same time, then I commend you for your multitasking skills. But you should pause the movie and focus on reading, because Dave Terruso has figured out everyone’s dirty little (no-so-much-a) secret – that all of us have some sort of experience with porn. All of us might not be comfortable talking about it and sometimes that makes for great comedy. This Wednesday night at L’etage Dave and some of the best comedians in Philadelphia will go on stage and talk about all things porn at The Pornologues. We caught up with Dave to ask him some questions about what you might find hidden underneath his mattress.
WITOUT: Do you think that porn is one of those things that almost everyone has a funny story about but might be embarrassed to talk about openly? Have you ever bonded with new or old friends over porn stories? Is this the purpose of the show?
DAVE TERRUSO: I think that all stories about watching porn are inherently funny when you think about them. Most likely you’re sitting in a computer chair with no bottoms on. Or you’re on your couch with no bottoms on. Or you’re in an internet cafe with no bottoms on. Even if you’re not touching yourself, you’re watching two people bonking, which is weird. So I think everyone has a funny story about watching porn, I just bet they don’t realize the stories are all funny.
Yes, I love to talk to good friends and total strangers about their porn experience, and their sexual experiences in general. The part of your brain that makes these intimate bits of information embarrassing, I was born without it. The reality of life is that we all get naked and make our genitals hum. It’s unavoidable. So why keep it a secret? In comedy and in life I gravitate toward the universal truths that unite us. I have no problem telling a bunch of people an embarrassing story about me ejaculating. I do it onstage. I do it at parties.* That’s just who I am. And that’s who many comedians are. Most of us were born without that embarrassment part of our brains.
This show was created from just such a conversation. I was at the bar at Helium talking to Ryan Carey (host of the PORNOLOGUES) and Alex Pearlman (one of the performers). We were talking about how kids today have it so easy because of the internet; they don’t know how to scavenge like we did. Life before internet porn was our version of The Great Depression. And other people around us started adding to the conversation and we were all laughing so hard. We realized there was something to this idea and that it should be a show.
*I should make it clear that I talk about ejaculating onstage and at parties. I don’t physically ejaculate at those places.
WO: Tell us about your first experience with porn?
DT: I do talk about my first experience with porn in the show, but that wasn’t really a porn, it was THE HONEYMOONERS. (What the heck do I mean? You have to come to the show to find out. It’s only $15.)
The first time I saw a porn movie was in seventh grade. I was at my friend Sal’s house. It was me and my best friends, Sal, Marc, Joey, and Matt (real names– sorry, guys). This was not the first time my friends had watched a porn in my presence. But the other times I hadn’t watched. I went into my friend Sal’s room and played video games because I thought porn was immoral. I really wanted to be a priest at the time (seriously, I wanted to be a priest until I was 14). They called me Father Dave for not watching porn with them. But this time they convinced me to watch it for the comic value. And it WAS funny as hell. And I didn’t expect that. The dialogue was so silly. The scene I remember was this woman in a restaurant talking to a man. They were both wearing business suits. And she said “Are you gonna fuck me, or am I gonna have to beat my meat?” And we all lost our minds at how funny it was to hear an adult woman say that phrase. Other than that, I remember how utterly uncomfortable it was to have a boner in front of a bunch of guys. I covered it with a pillow. (To this day I do not like to have a boner in front of other men. Going to a strip club? Guess who won’t be coming: Father Dave.)
WO: Porn and comedy seem to be forever connected. What do you think it is about the two that links them together?
DT: I’ve always wondered when jokes found their way into porn. Could it have always been that way? Did it happen when those weird Victorian porn stories first got written? I think it stems from the release of joy that happens during sex. It’s endorphin overload, and giddiness leads to spontaneous laughter. When you’re pounding your girlfriend, once you’re really comfortable with each other, things make you giggle. You keep it serious when you first start dating because you want them to be turned on. But eventually one of you will accidentally make a fart sound with your mouth against the other person’s thigh or butt or ballsack. And then it becomes okay to be silly. You crack jokes. Part of it is because it’s just funny to be naked in various Greco-Roman wrestling positions with another person. It brings you back to your animal state. No clothes. No social mores. You become a couple of feral cats playing with leaves in a forest, except the leaves are covered in pubes.
WO: What are some of your favorite stand-up bits or sketches about porn?
DT: I can’t think of a single bit that’s specifically about porn. Weird. I know there are plenty I’m blanking on. I love Dave Attell, he does a lot of it, but I can’t think of a single bit of his to reference.
It’s not technically about porn, but Patton Oswalt’s bit from Werewolves and Lollipops about cleaned-up filth in his own jokes for TV always kills me: “I’m gonna fill your hoo-ha with goof juice” never gets old.
Louis CK does a great bit on Word about how porno actors work so hard that if we put them to work doing something altruistic the world would be a better place. If only dudes could get off on seeing people do charity work: “Ohh, yeah, giving those kids a chance! Ahhh, that’s fuckin hot!”
I love the Kids in the Hall skit where the Chicken Lady calls a phone sex hotline.
And Boogie Nights, though a great art house film, has 45 minutes of the funniest lines and observations about porn ever assembled. To name just one: “I like simple pleasures, like butter in my ass, lollipops in my mouth. That’s just me. That’s just something that I enjoy. ” Thank you, Paul Thomas Anderson.
WO: Did you pick the line-up for the show based on material the comedians already have about porn, or a gut feeling like they’d be masters on the subject? If so, what made you think so?
DT: I wanted a real spectrum of the porn experience. I had a pool of hilarious comedians in my mind who I knew wouldn’t mind working blue, and from those I picked ones that fit different parts of the spectrum. So my first thought was How do I dice up porn? First, by era: magazine/VHS, then slow-loading JPEGs and MPEGs, then streaming porn. Kensil is old enough to remember the 70s and 80s. Pearlman has a great bit about waiting for a JPEG to load. And Joey Dougherty is young enough to not remember a time before streaming porn.
I wanted to have people talk about gay porn, married men and porn, black porn, what women watch and read, etc. So I filled each of those slots with someone who cracks me up. (I just said “filled each of those slots” and “cracks” in the same sentence. You’re welcome.) Some of them I picked because I’ve heard them be really dirty, like Darryl Charles and Juliet Hope Wayne, but for most of them I haven’t heard them be filthy, and knowing that they will be filthy in this show is an exciting prospect. And Mary Radzinski suggested Timaree Schmit to me, telling me that she has her PhD in Human Sexuality. That added a category I hadn’t thought of: the expert opinion.
WO: Ted Bundy blamed his addiction to porn for his violence and once said: “I’ve met a lot of men who were motivated to commit violence just like me. And without exception, without question, every one of them was deeply involved in pornograpy.” What would you have to say to Ted Bundy?
DT: Ted, I have watched thousands of hours of porn. Defiled a million tissues. And I have never struck a woman. Unless she wanted me to because we were having rough-times sex.
Ted, most killers are loners. Everyone is somewhat into porn, or at the very least naughty thoughts. Loners are obsessed with porn because it’s their only outlet for a simulacrum of human intimacy. But most loners are just nerds, not killers.
Ted, I bet every single man who perpetrates violence against women is deeply involved in eating pizza. Are you suggesting that we outlaw pizza? Are you suggesting that pizza has blood on its hands? That’s not blood, Ted, that’s sauce. Don’t be crazy, Ted.
Oh, you can’t help being crazy? That was actually insensitive of me to say? Well, I apologize.
Hey, Ted, do you need help getting that couch into that van? You probably can’t do it yourself with your arm in a sling. Here, let me get the front end of that for you…
WO: On the other hand, defenders of porn (like Dirk Diggler) say that viewers can use it as a learning tool. What have you learned about comedy from porn?
DT: [Dave Terruso has been missing for the past 24 hours. If you have any information about his whereabouts, please come to L'Etage at 8:30 on October 10.]
THE PORNOLOGUES are (as the robot filling in for the missing Dave Terruso just said) this Wednesday, October 10, at L’etage. Tickets can be purchased online.
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Much can be, and has been, said about the Ministry of Secret Jokes. I was present for the show on August 8th, and since there was no oath taken beforehand, I am free to reveal events of the evening.
Below are the first and last words from each comedian who appeared on stage:
Comedian : First word / Last word
Steve Gerben: Hello / Story Doogie Horner: Thank / Night Chip Chantry: Hey / You John McKeever: Give / Attention Micah McGraw: Hi / Yeah Baby Doug McGraw: Is / Ok Corey Cohen: Yeah / Phone Conrad Roth: Thanks / Horner Bing Supernova: More / Not David Terruso: Hello / Much Black Wexler: You / Mother Brendan Kennedy: Something / University
It should be noted, some of the performers appeared on stage multiple times through out the night. The words listed are their first from when they first spoke into a microphone, last words are final words spoken in the entire evening.