Sometimes in our lives; we all have pain; we all have sorrow. But, if we are wise; we know that there’s always tomorrow. Or maybe we need some advice. Unfortunately for most of us there is a lot of terrible advice out there. Comedian Mike Rainey noticed the vast amount of bad information available in the world and decided to dole out his own in his upcoming book Terrible Advice. We caught up with Mike to ask him a few questions about his credentials as an advisor.
WitOut: When and how did you discover that you would be an expert on giving out terrible advice?
Mike Rainey: I decided I wanted to dish out terrible advice after thumbing through some book on a shelf in Target whose focus was to instruct the reader on how to be happy 24/7. Aside from the absurd notion that a person should be happy all the time, the advice that the author was giving was utterly horrendous and under no circumstances could I envision their advice being able to improve someone’s life. The more I thought about it, the more I was amused by how you could sell these self-help books without needing to put any real substance on the pages. I can be an obnoxious pontificator so why shouldn’t I come up with as much terrible advice as possible and put it into book form to make some dough?
WO: How did you go about choosing what topics to give advice on?
MR: I would simply write about whatever topic popped into my head from the instant I decided when I wanted to write each day until the time I sat down at my desk. Topics range from buying a helper monkey to finding the right gal. Whatever felt funny to write is what I chose to write about. Plus, I have a paralyzing amount of failure in my background so I believed that I could offer impractical advice on literally anything.
WO: Who are your mentors in the field of terrible advice-giving?
MR: James Arthur Ray is a New York Times best-selling author and a total chimp who caused the death of two people and injured nineteen others in a sweat lodge ceremony gone awry. This is the same gentleman who authored a book entitled “The Science of Success.” So, yeah. He’s the Michael Jordan of terrible advice.
WO: What are some of your favorite bits of terrible advice you have ever received?
MR: I once read a book on business etiquette where the author instructed the reader to listen to clients and then respond by making “I” statements including personal information and incorporating the information that the client relayed. The purpose was to make the salesperson seem relatable. I was desperate for people to like me and I still have that struggle often so I started doing it. I still do it, but whenever I catch myself doing it, I stop immediately because I can only imagine how unbearable it is for whatever poor soul that has to listen to me. I was never a salesman and I never aspired to be one so I don’t know why the fuck I read that piece of shit in the first place. I guess I was so desperate to be liked that I was willing to try anything. I wasn’t far from doing pro bono snuff porn.
WO: What results would you expect someone to get if they followed all of the tips in your book religiously?
MR: If a reader follows the advice in this book, their life would gradually become a trainwreck. I would like to see at least one person follow this terrible advice verbatim. Maybe I’ll try to get ahold of one of those sweat lodge goofballs.
WO: Do you have any good advice you’d like to give?
MR: Be good to people and good things will come your way. Also, if you Google the words “child porn,” you probably won’t find what you’re looking for.
Mike Rainey is a stand-up comic and author from Philadelphia. He is also a cat lover, a great friend and opinionated asshole. His book, Terrible Advice, will be available on February 14 via download through Amazon.com ($5) or the print version ($10) can be purchased by contacting him via Facebook, Twitter, Email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or in person. Mike will be giving ten percent of all sales to St. Jude’s Pediatric Cancer Research Center.
Tomorrow night at Camp Woods Plus Meg & Rob will perform together for the first time in over a year. The sketch duo was a staple of the Philly comedy community for years until Meg Favreau moved to Los Angeles to further pursue a career in comedy. We asked Meg some questions about her time in LA, her return to Philadelphia, and her reunion with sketch partner Rob Baniewicz.
WITOUT: You’ve been in Los Angeles for a little over a year now, what do you miss most about Philly comedy, or have you forgotten about us completely?
MEG FAVREAU: I miss the sense of community the most. There’s definitely a great comedy community out here, and I’ve made a lot of friends through it. But because of the size of things, it’s a lot more splintered. I love how in Philly there is so much cross-pollination between stand up, sketch, and improv. Moreover, every time I went to a comedy show, I wasn’t just going to a show — I knew that almost no matter what the show was, I would walk in, and a bunch of my friends would be there.
I also think comedy in Philly tends to be more playful and experimental. I’ve seen a lot of great sketch since moving, but I’ve also seen so much samey sketch in LA. I think there are a few reasons — for one, a lot of people are trying to become part of existing teams and institutions, so they try to match that voice or style. And then, when they finally get on a team, it’s a bunch of people who (probably) haven’t worked together before, headed up by a director wrangling disparate voices. But I think stronger sketch often comes from what generally happens in Philly — when a group of friends decide to work together and just follow what makes them laugh the most in the way it makes them laugh the most.
To combine the two, I miss the hell out of Sketch Up or Shut Up. Not hosting it (although I did love that), but just getting to spend one night a month with a bunch of hilarious and supportive people trying things out.
WO: Tell us about the comedy projects you have going on in LA.
MF: I’m in a sketch group called Bone Mouth with fellow Philly ex-pat Alexis Simpson. It’s funny — I had moved out here so focused on meeting new people to do sketch with, and then I ended up forming a group with the person I’ve known the longest. I’m really happy with the stuff we’ve been doing. It’s super dark and absurd, and we have a great director, Brian James O’Connell, who really gets our sensibility.
I also just got cast onto a sketch team at the iO called DJ Faucet. We’ve only had a couple of meetings, but so far, it’s great — the director is really experienced and knows how to make a writers’ room feel really positive while still being critical and productive, and the other people on the team are pretty awesome too. I’m missing the first show while I’m in Philly, but I’m so stoked to write and perform with them more.
WO: How has being in LA for the past year affected your work as a comedian and writer?
MF: Overall, I think it’s made me a stronger writer and better at working with other people. I’ve had some really great experiences, and some really bad ones — for a little while, I was on a team that was just not the right fit for me, and the director wouldn’t put up a single sketch I wrote. It was really frustrating, but I came out of that surer of my own voice and the kind of work I want to do.
I’m also writing more long work — specs, and at the moment, a pilot — which is something I did a little in Philly, but always felt clueless about. I’d get halfway through a spec script and want to give up, convinced that my brain only understood short form work. But living in LA has made writing longer work feel both more necessary and more achievable, and I’m enjoying the process a lot more.
The biggest change, though, might be that I’ve moved from feeling like a career as a comedy writer is this amorphous “maybe that could happen” thing to a concrete, achievable goal. The path isn’t always obvious, but living here makes it seem very doable.
WO: How is the process of writing and working on a show when your partner is three thousand miles away?
MF: At this point, it’s actually not that different than when we lived close by. Shortly after Rob and I started working together, I switched jobs (we met when working together at QVC). We wrote almost all of our sketches at work, then emailed each other notes. Practicing will be another matter — there’s only about 24 hours between when I arrive in Philly and when this show goes up. And this is assuming that my flight isn’t delayed by East Coast Terror Storm 2012.
WO: Have you noticed a difference in Rob and his work since you’ve been gone. Do you think your absence has affected him in any ways (positively or negatively)?
MF: Well, shortly after I left, he was listening to the Pixies song “Cactus” a lot. You know, that one imploring the girl to get sweat and blood all over her dress and then send it to Frank Black. I would have sent Rob a dress, but he never offered to pay for it.
But I think that the split was hard for both of us. While we both did comedy in some form before Meg & Rob, so much of our development as writers and performers was together. It was scary to be let loose from that. The sketches I’ve read of his recently have been great though. Also, he has a wife now. I’m not saying that couldn’t have happened while I was there…but it did happen after I left.
WO: The November 1st Camp Woods Plus show will feature Meg & Rob, Secret Pants, and of course, Camp Woods — can you talk a little about what you think each of these groups brings to the table with their own brands of sketch comedy?
MF: Oh my goodness. I love both teams so much. When Rob and I started doing sketch, Secret Pants was already so strongly forged, and they’ve only gotten better. Well, I’ve been away for a year and a half, so maybe they’ve gotten worse in that amount of time. But I feel like with some groups, you see good writing hide shitty staging, or really wonderful staging hide shitty writing. Secret Pants writes smart, funny sketches and always has great acting and staging.
It’s been awesome to see Camp Woods become more and more of a super-group — they were already so good and different, and they’ve added some of my favorite comedians in the city. What I’ve seen from them recently has struck a really good balance between staying grounded and being batshit weird.
WO: What else are you looking forward to on your return trip to Philadelphia?
MF: Seeing friends and eating and drinking everything — especially 1,000 sandwiches from Paesano’s and real apple cider. Also, I’m going to do some touristy stuff I never got around to while I was living in Philly, primarily, seeing St. John Neumann. Did you know Philadelphia has a dead saint in an altar? How did I live there for six years and not go see that?!
Luke Giordano is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles, California. He used to live and perform comedy in Philadelphia, until a job as a writer on Two and a Half Men sent him west. He now works as a writer for the Nickelodeon show Marvin Marvin. He will be returning to Philly next weekend, where he will teach a workshop at Philly Improv Theater on Becoming a Television Comedy Staff Writer. We caught up with Luke to ask him some questions about the workshop, and his return to Philadelphia.
WITOUT: I’ve heard you’re mostly returning to Philadelphia so you can go to the Ruby Chinese Buffet, is this true?
LUKE GIORDANO: I am indeed excited to go Ruby Chinese Buffet, as are we all. But is it for the food or for the good times we shared there? I’m also excited for getting a Wawa hoagie. Even though there are better hoagies all around town, none will make me feel nostalgic for good old Philly like Wawa will. Plus, I’ve been trying to work out and eat decently for a while now, so it’ll be nice to have a weekend where I can eat like I hate myself again.
WO: Is the workshop going to focus more on the process of writing or the process of selling yourself as a writer?
LG: Originally, it was going to be more about the things you need to do to get a job that aren’t writing a script, but since I’ve been reading several scripts from Philly comedy people, I’ve noticed that a lot of the same problems come up. Structure is the biggest problem I’ve seen people have with writing a TV script. If you don’t know how to structure an episode of television properly, nobody who matters is going to read it. The workshop is really about arming yourself. Through a great script, through what you know, what you do to get noticed, how get an agent, what to expect in meetings, what people are looking for, and everything else. I don’t think you can teach someone how to be a good writer, but you can teach someone how to write more effectively. This workshop and seminar is really telling you everything I know about writing for television.
WO: Which of these have you found more difficult? Why?
LG: Writing is the fun part. It’s the part that makes everything worth it. To go in everyday and your job being that you get pitch jokes all day and laugh? It’s so amazing that it’s actually immoral. And on top of that, I get to make a comfortable living? It’s the best job in the world and it’s worth every ounce of struggle that you put into it. It’s worth going through all the shit and the disappointment and the rejection and the astronomical odds against you. If I didn’t get my first job when I was twenty-five, I would have gone another twenty years trying to get it. It’s a choice, really. Do you value comfort and stability or do you want to take a risk and do what you really want to do? Even though you probably won’t get it?
WO: You’ve done stand-up, improv, and sketch – how have each of these prepared you in different ways for your Hollywood writing jobs?
LG: I think all those skills go to the same place. It’s all a skill set you should develop anyway, and the more you develop that stuff, the stronger you’ll be. When you go into a meeting with a network executive, for example, you’re selling yourself — so they want a bit of a performance. You got in the room because they liked your script, so what the meeting is about is finding out if they like you and if you’re somebody they want to continue to work with. They want a little song and dance, but just as long as it doesn’t seem like you’re doing a song and dance. They can smell your desperation if it comes off that way, but the conquering of fear that comes with performing live comedy will help you to talk to these people and be funny and be yourself. The same goes for pitching jokes in the writers room. You have to sell the joke like you would on stage. You have to be behind this idea you’re putting forth to expect anyone to accept it. Performing comedy and telling jokes in front of an audience is only going to make you better at pitching a joke to a room of peers. On top of that, stand-up and sketch are only going to make your writing stronger because you’re learning how to construct jokes more effectively and efficiently. You’re writing to get a laugh and I think when you write specifically for the purpose of getting laughter, you learn to drop all the meandering bullshit. And improv is going to teach you how to think on your feet, but I think improv is all jokes, too. They’re just a little more disguised and between multiple people.
WO: How did your years as a Philadelphia comic prepare you for life as an LA writer/comedian?
LG: Most importantly, it taught me how to fail, how to deal with failure, and how to move through failure and learn from it. Failing is the single most important part of the creative process. It matures you, it makes you stronger. You can learn from your mistake, fix where you went wrong, learn your limitations, find out what’s funny and what isn’t. And when a point comes when you’re not afraid of failure (I’m in no way anywhere near this), I think you find freedom. I got fired from Two and a Half Men six weeks after I got the job. I didn’t know if I would ever work in writing again. And it was absolutely humiliating. People get fired from writing jobs for the most minuscule of reasons. Sometimes it doesn’t really have anything to do with them. They fire you because they can and because that’s the game you’re in. As I’ve learned since, every single writer in the business will get fired at some point. It’s about what you do after you get fired.
WO: We all know that LA is home to a lot of professional comedians, but how does the amateur LA comedy scene stack up to the Philadelphia comedy scene?
LG: Mostly it’s way bigger. There are a lot more people, a lot more shows, a lot more places to get up. I think you have to fully commit yourself to get noticed, even by other open micers. I haven’t gotten up as much as I would like to, so I still feel like I’m on the outside a bit. I certainly don’t think the comedians here are better qualitatively on average than they are in Philadelphia. But there is always the possibility that you’re doing a show and Patton Oswalt might walk in to do a set. It’s weird. I feel like people feel like there’s more at stake, because people come here to work and make it. So you do get a lot of people who just do stand-up to get famous or get a sitcom, in addition to the people who are actually doing it to be comedians. It’s a little strange to me. I don’t think I’ve deciphered it yet.
WO: What else are you looking forward to doing on your return trip to Philadelphia?
LG: Well, I sure am excited to perform a half hour of stand-up comedy at Philly Improv Theater! Mostly just eating awful food, seeing all my Friendship Buddies, singing karaoke, and hopefully running into people who I feel have wronged me.
You can sign up for Luke’s workshop on Becoming a Television Comedy Writer online at Philly Improv Theater. His show with Aaron Hertzog will be Saturday, October 6th at 7PM at PHIT.
Word up pizza fiends!
The Olympics are in full swing, which means the world’s finest athletes are gathered from all corners of the globe to entertain me while I eat pizza. Thanks, Olympiads, I appreciate it.
Speaking of the world’s finest, I had a chance to talk pizza-shop with one of my favorite people on the entire planet, Mr. Scott Aukerman. Scott is a lot of things to a lot of people – a television personality, a podcast super star, a Mr. Show All Star, world famous media mogul…. and now, for the first time ever, a Pizza Pal! As a fan of “Comedy Bang Bang!” and all other things “Scott” it was a thrill of a lifetime to shoot the slice with him.
Scott is coming to Philadelphia next Thursday August 9th to bring Comedy Bang Bang to us, in what is probably going to be THE single funniest thing to happen to the state of Pennsylvania this year! He’s doing the tour with a menagerie of friends, and in Philly we’ll have James Adominian, Tim Heidecker and perhaps some “special” surprises…
So what’s Scott think about Pizza?? We’ll check it for yourself:
Pizza Pal Joe Moore: How much do you like pizza?
Scott Aukerman: I’d say I like my share. And my share is usually my four slices and one of yours.
PPJM: What is your favorite pizza place?
SA: Pasadena has THE BEST Pizza Hut. It’s a little out of the way, but IT IS WORTH IT.
PPJM: Which toppings are you into, or do you prefer it plain?
SA: I prefer cheese! Maybe it’s just me, but for me – without it, pizza is just bread and tomato sauce!
PPJM: What day was “Pizza Day” in your house growing up?
SA: Pizza day was whenever Mom couldn’t climb out of the bottle long enough to throw some Hamburger Helper in a pan. So Fridays.
PPJM: What is your favorite pop culture reference to pizza (music, tv, movies, etc…)?
SA: I miss the eighties, when you would call nerds “pizza face.” I never know what to call nerds now. “iPhone face?” Boy, modern society, huh?!
Wait a second… did Scott Aukerman just admit to being a Noid? Well get a ticket and ask him yourself Thursday, August 9th at 8PM!
Among non-pizza related news, Scott also mentioned:
- Earwolf is working on a Brian Posehn podcast!
- Between Two Ferns DVD – Look for it (hopefully!) this winter!!
- You can purchase live recordings of the Comedy Bang Bang Tour so you can listen to it ANYWHERE!!!
Alright “Pizza faces” that’s all from me. Now, wipe the grease out of your eyes and I’ll see you on the 9th!!!
Joe Moore is a comedy fan and sometimes-performer. You can follow him on Twitter (@TheJoeMoore).
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.
Tomorrow night, two new Philly Improv Theater House Teams make their debut. Get to know them now before you see them on stage.
Prior to rehearsal, May 29, director Steve Kleinedler speaks with the cast of Codename: Strider
Steve Kleinedler: Jim Burns, do you have a question for Corin Wells?
Jim Burns: Yes, I do, and it’s a serious question. The name of our group happened at a party at your place, is that correct?
Corin Wells: Yeah, it did.
JB: Since I wasn’t there, could you please tell how that developed?
CW: Ok! Our name developed when Ellen, a former member of Codename: Strider, came up with it. It was thrown out there as a suggestion, and we all liked it. Unfortunately, Ellen can’t perform with us [because she's moving to Minneapolis!] so we all thought that it was fitting for us to choose the name she picked for us.
SK: Excellent way of answering the question without giving away the answer, which readers of this column will have to come see the show to find out. Corin, do you have a question of Chris Calletta?
CW: I do, I do. Chris, your hair always looks immaculate. I was wondering, do you have a favorite strand of hair?
Chris Calletta: I do, and sadly it’s not on my head. I keep it in a box in my drawer.
CW: What’s its name?
SK: I thought this was going someplace completely different. [Pause] Let the record show Corin is losing it. [Laughter]
CC: His name is Harold.
CW: [Laughing] OK. I hope to get to meet him someday.
CC: Yes, I’ll have to bring him out. He might be at the debut show.
SK: All right. So, Chris, do you have a question for Emily Davis?
CC: I do. Emily, when does your team debut?
Our new team? Our new team debuts on June 1st, and you can also see us on June 2nd. Check the website. www.phillyimprovtheater.com
SK: Nicely done. Emily, do you have a question for Andrew Stober?
ED: Andrew, we have seen you in the Philly scene before. What makes this project so exciting and different for you?
Andrew Stober: I think people are going to be blown away by the kind of movement they see onstage, the kind of tableaux and transitions. We’re bringing a new, exciting, fast-paced group improv to the stage in Philadelphia.
SK: Thank you, Andrew. Andrew, do you have a question for teammate Sue Jahani?
AS: I sure do! Sue Jahani, tell me what is the most fun thing about hanging out with your new team?
Sue Jahani: Aw, my new team is great! [Laughter.] Everyone’s super supportive and genuinely nice. I really enjoy doing warmups with my team and getting drinks afterward with my team. [w00ts in the background]
SK: Thank you, Sue. Do you have a question for Jim Burns?
SJ: Yes! Jim, I was wondering, Jim, [hums a bit] where is your favorite place to go after practice?
JB: Well, Sue, I like to go to Vargas. It’s right next door to where we rehearse, and they have a nice selection of beers. I’ve turned you into an alcoholic, I apologize.
CW: Follow up question – what’s your favorite beer to get there?
JB: That’s true, I like the Presidential beers. So anything by Jefferson, Washington, not Monroe, he’s kind of a douche.
SK: Thank you. Who has a question for me, Steve Kleinedler, the director?
CC: I do. I hear your team likes to to play pranks, and I’d imagine then you’d be the leader of this? I was wondering why do you pick on a team like Westmarch [laughter]?
SK: In the kindred spirit of newbiedom, we’ve decided to go after Westmarch, even though they just sat there like–
CW: They took it.
SK: –scared marmots. Yeah, they took it. But we respect them greatly, and their coach, and we look forward to playing alongside them for years to come. Martha Cooney, the class that she teaches — they’re like 3rd graders or something? They’re doing a show right now. She’ll be by later, and when that happens, we’ll ask her a question. So, over and out.
CW: You forgot about Maureen.
JB: He forgot Maureen.
SK: Oh. OH! We forgot Maureen. Corin didn’t forget about Maureen. We will also be asking Maureen a question. The two of them can ask each other a question. Back later.
CW: Yay! [Applause]
SK: And, we just had a great rehearsal! And we’re following up with our final questions. Maureen! Maureen Costello, do you have a question for Martha Cooney?
Maureen Costello: I do, I do have a question for Martha Cooney. Martha, what is your favorite holiday that is not a major holiday?
Martha Cooney: Not a major holiday?
MCooney: Arbor Day is a good one. It’s underrated and undervalued. But important.
MCostello: I like it, yeah, good.
SK: And Martha, do you have a question for castmate Maureen Costello?
MCooney: I was wondering, your favorite dental hygiene practice?
MCostello: Probably brushing my teeth would be A, then flossing. I like the mouthwash, but not the kind that stings.
SK: And a question for both of you. How excited are you about the shows coming up this week.
MC squared: SO EXCITED!
SK: Excellent, thank you everyone!
By: Alison Zeidman
In preparation for next week’s Duofest – Alison Zeidman has done a series of interviews with some of the groups performing in the festival. First up is Philadelphia favorites Rosen & Milkshake. Keep an eye out for a cameo appearance from another Duofest performer (I won’t ruin the surprise).
When their two other compatriots from Mr. Lizard (a 2008 Troika team) abandoned them for new lives and families down south, founding Improv Incubator members Charles Rosen and the beloved player best known simply as Milkshake decided to continue performing as a duo. After lengthy debate over what they’d themselves, they settled on a straightforward, purely descriptive new name: Rosen & Milkshake.
Alison Zeidman: So how did you guys meet?
Milkshake: I was taking a class with ComedySportz and so was Charles–I was level two, I think Charles was level three, and we met at the class show. Two and three had their show the same day I guess.
Charles Rosen: And then soon after Incubator started. We’re founding Incubators.
AZ: Is that when you decided to form your duo?
M: No, the duo didn’t start as a duo. How did Mr. Lizard start?
CR: That was a Troika group.
M: Mr. Lizard was a Troika group with Charles and two other players, both of whom have moved south. It was the three of them and then they asked me to play in one show, and then I just kept playing in other shows, and then one by one they moved off and it was just me and Charles, and I was like, this is no longer Mr. Lizard anymore. [phone rings]
M: I meant to shut this off! This is Kristen Schier, calling during an interview, and that’ s my fault, entirely. Entirely my fault, that’s terrible. [On phone] Is eveything OK?
Kristen Schier [on speakerphone]: Yeah everything’s fine. I didn’t catch what you said because a bus went past.
M: We’re doing an interview. Rosen & Milkshake are being interviewed for WitOut, at this very moment.
KS: Oh OK, well I don’t want to interrupt that!
M: Is everything OK? Can I do anything for you before I click back over to our interview?
KS: Oh no I just called to idly chat, so I will let you go.
M: OK, I’ll talk to you soon. [hangs up] …Adorable.
Alison Zeidman: So how long ago did Mr. Lizard start, and then how long have you two been together as Rosen & Milkshake?
Charles Rosen: Mr. Lizard was 2008 Troika, and that was the year that we could all pick our own groups.
Milkshake: [We've been performing as Rosen & Milkshake] I believe at least a couple years. How many shows do you think we’ve done as a duo? That’s what I want to know, because I remember the first show that we did and it was just the two of us, and I was concerned because we were expecting John Bussman [of Mr. Lizard] to be able to be there, and it went surprisingly well. I remember being very calm and relaxed, because the audience was dynamite. The audience was very receptive to whatever we were doing.
AZ: Did that influence your decision to become a duo later on, when the other members of Mr. Lizard had all moved away?
M: Well not necessarily, because we also had a really shitty show. The next time we did the duo it was not very strong, to me. I’m very critical of my own performances, and if I don’t like most of the things that I’m doing, I’m really not happy.
AZ: When you guys perform, do you have a specific format or structure?
M: We pretty much stick to a monoscene.
CR: But with a lot of ghost characters in there.
M: By ghosts we mean like, because there’s only two of us, if over in the corner someone is sitting down watching TV, and whoever’s playing that character needs to run over to the other side of the room to portray another character, that guy’s still there down in the corner watching TV. That’s what we mean by ghost characters. Not…ghosts.
CR: Yeah, that would be like the Scooby Doo format.
AZ: Charles, tell me what you think are Milkshake’s greatest improv strengths.
M: Oh, do go on.
CR: Well, he’s very good at reacting to the shit I give him. And object work, his object work is excellent. Which is definitely not the case with me.
AZ: And Milkshake, what would you say about Charles?
M: Charles can say things that nobody else could make funny. And oftentimes it doesn’t even need to be a fantastic character choice, and all I have to do is just lob things, just put objects in front of him to kick out of the field–to knock out of the park. To be specific, there was one character where we did a show at the library [as Mr. Lizard], and I’ve watched this scene over and over and over again because it was captured on video. Charles was a momma’s boy, and John was scanning items at a checkout counter at a Pathmark, and I was operating another scanner, and I was like “Oh, look who’s here, it’s the momma’s boy!” and we were like “Oh, are you here with your momma?” And he said, “actually, yes, she’s buying groceries.” And the way that it comes out of his mouth, nobody could deliver lines like this and get his kind of reation, because of his emotional quality and his cadence, the rhythm with which he speaks. There are things that are completely innocuous if they were said by somebody else, but when they come out of the mouth of Charles Rosen it’s just–it makes my job a lot easier because I just have to kind of wait for him to find something to say.
AZ: What do you guys like about performing in your duo versus performing in a group?
M: The cool thing about doing a duo is that you’re in every scene–and sometimes twice, because you have to do more in every scene. And it’s a lot of work, but that’s a lot of fun. And with Rosen & Milkshake, I think I feel particularly…in control, and not needing to be in control at the same time. It should be that way of every group, but I don’t always feel that way. So I get to be in every scene, I get to be in every scene with this guy, and that’s as close as I can get it–I feel a sense of control, without needing to be in control.
CR: It’s definitely different being in a duo. I don’t work with groups that often. I was on a group called Atomic Love which is on hiatus, and now I’m doing the [PHIT] Conservatory show, and it’s a lot different. You have a backline, and I’m so used to not being on the backline; I’m always in every scene.
AZ: Are there any challenges that you guys have as a duo?
M: It’s difficult doing one another’s character. I find Charles inimitable, and so any endearing qualities that he has, if I try to do them, I just sound like a narcissistic asshole. Every time I think the audience is going to love me doing his character, and it just doesn’t work. They don’t care. They’re pleased that the scene is still happening, but they are not pleased with my impersonation.
CR: And in our last F Harold show Milkshake was doing a Russian accent, and I don’ t really have a Russian accent, so when I was being his character–
M: Can you try? [in Russian accent] Can you do a Russian accent right now?
CR: [in "Russian" accent] I will try to do Russian accent.
M: That was probably more Ukraine. Or Ottoman Empire.
CR: So [in the show] it kind of became a little game that I couldn’t get the accent exactly right.
AZ: What are you guys looking forward to about performing in Duofest?
M: How’s our slot in Duofest? Let’s comment on that.
CR: We’re opening slot. It’s like 8 o’clock on Thursday.
M: Not a bad slot. Not a bad slot.
CR: Yeah, that’s a good slot. And it’s actually really good because my mom is giong to be able to come for it. So it worked out well. But Duofest is always a lot of fun, it’s such a great weekend. There are so many great duos coming in.
See Milkshake & Rosen perform in Duofest at the Shubin Theatre on Thursday, June 7th at 8 pm. Get advance tickets (or full weekend passes) at http://duofest.ticketleap.com/duofest-2012-thursday-8pm.
Aaron talks with Mary Radzinski about her start in comedy, her open mic Laughs on Fairmount, her status as a celebrated Twitter user and more in this week’s episode of The Witout Podcast. Listen below or subscribe on iTunes.
This week, Aaron talks with original member of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Matt Besser. They talk about improv, sketch, Matt’s upcoming visit to Philly to give a lecture at Philly Improv Theater – and Matt’s projects including his podcast, Improv 4 Humans and his upcoming movie Freak Dance. Listen below or subscribe on iTunes.