Editors’ note: We are the editors of WitOut.net. We are also starting a free, weekly, stand-up comedy showcase every Wednesday at Rembrandt’s Restaurant & Bar (741 N. 23rd St. Philadelphia). So we decided to take advantage of our editorial power for shameless self-promotion. Is that okay with you? Good. Here we go.
AZ Why did we decide to start this show?
AH: You know the answer to that.
AZ: Tell me again. I like hearing the story.
AH: I think this is the type of show that Philly needs. The scene has been growing in the past few years and there are open mics practically every night of the week, and there are a lot of comedian-run monthly showcases, and I think the next step up is a weekly show where comedians can work on longer sets. I would love to do this show every night if I could, and make it like a Philadelphia version of The Comedy Cellar in New York. But until I find a venture capitalist to back that business plan, I’m going to have to stick with once a week at a bar that will let us do it for free. Philly has a lot of great comedians, and part of the goal with the show is to expose more of the public to some of the great local comedy Philly has to offer.
What are your hopes and plans for the show?
AZ: I’m really looking forward to having a show that gives Philly comics an opportunity to perform longer sets, and hopefully perform them in front of a crowd that’s made up of more than just other comics–of course we love seeing comics support one another, but we also want a “real audience” for these shows. Which brings me to my other hope for the show: that people will come. So we’re working on some creative ideas for marketing and promotion, and reaching out to people who are good at getting the word out about events in the city, and hopefully we’ll be able to show a lot of new people that Philly has a really strong, talented crop of local comedians. And if they’re introduced to them here with a free show, hopefully they’ll continue to follow and support their work elsewhere.
Can you talk a little bit more about why we wanted to keep the show free? Are we just dicks who don’t want to pay people?
AH: Well first of all, I hate that money exists and I wish I could live in a hut on an island and hunt and farm and fish for food and just be free. That sounds like a joke but I’m being serious. But, in terms of the show, since one of our goals is to raise awareness about comedy in Philly we thought a great way to do that would be to have a free show, so it’s a low-risk access point for new audiences. Doogie Horner’s Ministry of Secret Jokes was a great free show that brought a lot of people out to Fergie’s in Center City on a monthly basis, and we want to build a consistent audience of people who know that there’s going to be a great show at Rembrandt’s every Wednesday night, and who can tell people they know that they can come to the show and it’s going to be free and it’s going to be great and they’re going to have a good time. Plus we want this to be a show that has a feel, for the audience, that it’s professional and the line-up is well put together, but is also a show where the comedians should feel free to experiment a little, and work out newer material during a longer set. At open mics where there are more comics and therefore sets have to be shorter, one new joke might be the only material a comic gets to do that night.
Since we’re not getting fat pockets off the big stacks of cash we’d make if we charged people to come and see this show, what are you looking to get out of it, as a comedian?
AZ: I think it’ll be good for me to get more experience hosting shows, and I also want to push myself to write a lot more frequently so I can have something new every week. I also like how much flexibility and trust the bar is giving us in running this show–I think it’s exciting that we’re building this from the ground up, and we’re going to have this challenge of making sure it’s successful. That also makes it a little scary, and I think we’re both going to have to think really creatively and work really hard to make sure it works and really have an impact on Philly’s knowledge of and interest in its local comedy scene.
We have some of the best comics in the city on the line-up for the first show, and we’ve actually booked the rest of the month already, and that’s pretty stacked as well. How do you think being on a show with all these really exceptional writers and performers will affect your performance?
AH: Not only do I want the show to be great top to bottom for the sake of the audience, but I think it’s a great opportunity for all of us as comedians to push each other to keep getting better. It’s healthy competition–not that it’s a contest and we’re going out there to try to outshine each other every week, but I know that personally I’m going to have to bring it in order to keep up with the talent that we’re going to book on this show week in and week out. I’m never going to be able to half-ass it and mail in a set if I don’t want to look like somebody who doesn’t belong on the show. That’s how you get better–when I was a kid and I played basketball, I didn’t get better by playing against kids I was already better than; I got better by playing against older kids who were a lot better than me, and having to work to keep up. Also I’m just looking forward to being able to hang out with all of these people on a weekly basis and see them trying out new jokes, and talking about new jokes, and getting their opinion on my new material, and just all working together at getting better. #Friendship.
You and I are big supporters of the local comedy scene and we know a lot about what’s going on within it. But at this point it’s still difficult to know about Philly comedy if you’re not IN Philly comedy in some way. What do you think we–or anyone else performing in the city–needs to do to get more of the general public aware of the local talent?
AZ: I think the main thing is that if you’re putting on a show, you should never be satisfied with just getting an audience that’s only made up of your friends and fellow performers. If you’re trying to do this seriously and not just as a hobby, you need feedback from and exposure to a real audience to be able to learn and grow. Of course it’s great to be supportive of each other, but I don’t think any of us will consider ourselves successful if we’re just doing this for each other all the time. So we should be looking for as many ways as possible to expose new people to our shows. List and promote your show on local online events calendars, send out press releases, get out on the street with flyers, whatever it takes. Find new audiences, bring them in, win them over and keep them coming back–whether that’s coming back to Free For All, or “coming back” in that they find their favorite comedians at our show, and then go seek them out to see them do more at other shows, too.
Also: We all just have to be really, really good. Put on a good show that’ll live up to or even exceed the hype you’re giving it when you’re promoting it.
The First Free For All Stand-Up Comedy Showcase is tonight at 8pm at Rembrandt’s Restaurant & Bar (741 N. 23rd St. Philadelphia). For more information on the show as well as original and shared content you can check out Free For All on WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter.