Brendan Kennedy has a dream. That dream includes getting drunk and making web videos in which he heckles people’s family photos while wearing a Batman mask. All dreams come at a cost; the price tag on Brendan’s reads “$10.00″. In order to help him achieve his goals of making Drunk Batman Heckles Your Family Photos a reality Brendan turned to Kickstarter, the online fundraising tool used by artists to raise money from people who support and believe in their projects. But Brendan was denied. The site that recently helped TV and movie-star Zach Braff raise over $3 million to produce a film told Brendan his project “…does not meet our guidelines.” Brendan once again is turning to the internet for help; creating a petition where he is asking supporters of his to tell Kickstarter to “stop acting like Drunk Batman Heckles Your Family Photos isn’t all that.” We contacted the former Philadelphia comedian by email to ask him about his current situation.
WitOut: Can you please take a moment to describe your vision for your project Drunk Batman Heckles Your Family Photos.
Brendan Kennedy: I’d like to make a webseries in which i get drunk and make fun of weird old family photos I find on google image search. When you’re trying to be a standup in LA, you’re just another face in a sea of almost good looking faces. So i’m gonna put a mask on and talk shit on people who I don’t know. I will make up backstories for these people and then claim they wronged me, or someone I know, who may or may not be real, depends upon the week.
WO: From my understanding after an initial proposal Kickstarter asked you to revise your campaign after which you were denied the opportunity to raise funds using their services. What were your thoughts on receiving news of your rejection? How have you handled it since?
BK: I thought it was predictable and disappointing. I revised my proposal per their suggestions (even though I was NOT in violation of their guidelines) and re-submitted. Then they just flat out rejected it, claiming that my project didn’t fit within their guidelines. Which would be fine if I was in violation of their guidelines, but I am NOT. They made a judgement call. Either my goal of raising 10 dollars to buy an adult batman mask seems too silly for their super serious website. (A website that people use to raise money to make board games and concept albums.) Or 10 dollars wasn’t enough money for them to waste their time, since after all, they take a percentage of the money raised. (Ya know, because they’re good people who want to help…)
WO: How do you feel about sites such as Kickstarter in terms of giving artists without an “in” to big-budget financiers an opportunity to raise funding to help make their dream projects become a reality?
BK: I think they are a money making scheme. Zach Braff is already famous, that’s why he’s able to raise almost 3 million dollars. They remind me of the commercials on tv where the old man asks you if you think you are good at drawing, and then for money he will send you a test to see if you really are good at drawing. The people themselves are the ones raising the money, it’s just an easier way to tell people about the project that you are trying to raise money for than making your own blog and paypal set up. I thought that maybe, even though they take some of the money you raise, they were still a good company that just needs money to operate. Now I just think that they are just a company that wants money.
WO: What are your thoughts on the recent wave of more high-profile celebrities and projects (Zach Braff, Veronica Mars) using Kickstarter as a way to raise funds from their fans to create projects? (To play Devil’s Advocate some would argue this lets fans feel like “a part” of the production – and that paying to see a movie in the theaters is even similar to donating to the cause – just after the fact…)
BK: It’s a publicity stunt. Which is why I wanted to use it! I figured that whoever gave me the 10 bucks to buy the mask would watch at least the first episode. Donating to help fund a movie is similar to buying a ticket, except that after you donate to help have the movie made, you still have to pay to go see it. I just checked, you have to pay 30 dollars to get to see Zach Braff’s movie without paying any more money. Also, letting people feel like they are part of something in exchange for their money has been part of many great scams in the past. For example, the whole buy a star and name it craze.
WO: Usually Kickstarter campaigns give some benefits or rewards to donators; if your project does eventually get approved what can those who give to your project expect to receive as tokens of your appreciation?
BK: I had it set up so that for 5 bucks, I’d let you pick a photo that i’d make fun of in one episode. And for 25 dollars i’d mail you an autographed photo of drunk batman. Despite the fact that I only wanted 10 dollars, kickstarter suggested 25 as a good starting point for rewards. (because they just want people’s money!!)
WO: How far do you think Drunk Batman Heckles Your Family Photos can go if just given the chance?
BK: I’m not gonna bullshit people and claim that this kickstarter will change the way webseries are made, because that would be stupid. Also, it’s stupid to claim that people donating money to get a movie made will change the way movies are made!! So i’ll just be honest, if given a chance, Drunk Batman Heckles Your Family Photos can go all the way to YouTube! Or maybe Funny or Die, I haven’t decided yet.
WO: Finally, let our readers know why they should sign the petition so Kickstarter will let you raise money on their site. And also why they should donate if you finally do get approved.
Cause fuck Kickstarter
. This site is bullshit, and people need to know it. They found a way to profit off of fundraising. It’s like if you wanted to buy a hot dog at a baseball game, and you handed your money down the aisle and a guy in the middle demanded one of your dollars, or he passed all of your money to the hot dog guy, but then took a bite of the hot dog that was passed to you. Kickstarter
is just a crummy middle man who only goes to baseball games to steal bites of other people’s hot dogs. But now they’ve tasted some big celebrity hot dogs, and no regular person hot dog is going to satisfy them anymore. Donate if you want to see me drunkenly making fun of weird family photos in a shitty batman mask. Probably I’ll just use one of their competitors sites that don’t take any of your money. But in the mean time, sign the petition so Kickstarter
gets an email from change.org
just to let them know they’re assholes.
Cait O’Driscoll: Ready, guys?
Andrea O’Driscoll (AKA Mom): Oh, here we go. We’re getting interviewed. I think I need a smoke first. So, you’ll have to wait.
Steve O’Driscoll (AKA Dad): Do I need to leave the room then?
SO: I thought we were doing it separately. I object. I want to do it separately.
AO: I’ll be right back. I have to get stoked for this.
CO: Do you think I’m funny?
AO: It depends on what day it is.
SO: Monday, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Not so much on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
CO: All right… That went well. Let’s move on.
AO: It depends on whether I’m being your mom, or going to see you in something.
CO: Was there a moment when I was growing up that you thought, “Hey, this kid might one day think she’s a comedian?”
AO: Every night at dinner from the time you were about… Oh, I guess a year… you would wait, everyone would sit at the dinner table, and you would stand up in your high chair and say, “It’s showtime.”
CO: Do you have anything else to add, dad?
SO: Always. Right from the beginning.
AO: Before you were even here, it was a joke. You were one of God’s little jokes. Should we get into that? Do you want to tell that story?
SO: No, don’t.
CO: Explain the Harold.
AO: Harold who? No. I know there’s beats. What do you know about it?
AO: The Harold.
SO: The Harold? I don’t even know what we’re talking about.
AO: The type of improv she does. There’s three sections and so many beats to each section, but I can’t figure it out from watching it. I need a drum to find the beats.
SO: Can I say anything about the other?
AO: Organic’s too noisy.
SO: I like it better than the other.
CO: How do you feel about improv?
AO: I like it. Some’s funnier than others. We can go back into that again…
SO: I think it’s really hard when you have 5 or 6 people on stage not to end up with one or two people who dominate… to be honest.
AO: I still don’t believe that you don’t use stuff that you did in rehearsal. If it’s failing and flailing and you have good stuff that you did in rehearsal. Why not use it?
CO: We don’t.
AO: Well, then I guess I just don’t get the rehearsals. But yeah, I like improv, I come see you all the time. Some nights are funnier than others, just like some days you’re funnier than others. I could have said it depends what side of the bed you woke up on.
CO: Do you have a favorite Davenger moment?
SO: I think there’s been a lot of funny moments. The only thing I can think of pointing to is always your first improv show is the best, because you don’t really know what to expect and it’s better than what you expect it to be. That’s the only way I can put it.
AO: The show where Hilary played Hans and you were in relaxation therapy, but you were afraid of rubber bands and they kept stressing you out with them; that was the therapy. Then you were doing bumper cars and Kevin made you kill a child, and the show ended with Hilary saying, “You’ve been Hans-ed.”
CO: When you brag about me to your friends, what’s the first thing you say? When answering, please remember this is a comedy article that all my funny friends will see (so maybe say something about how hilarious I am).
SO: I don’t know, I just say you’ve been performing on stage since as long as I can remember. What was she 7 or 8? And we’ve always enjoyed…
AO: I was always stunned when she started doing improv because I was always thought she was a drama queen.
SO: Oh no, I think she should do stand up comedy. That’s the natural extension.
AO: I’d always seen her in dramas and the first time I saw her in a role when she was funny, like overtly physically funny, all the physicality, expressions, timing. I was blown away by it. And the role in that play was dumb, so you took it to the absurd, and it was really funny.
CO: What do you think about me performing comedy?
AO: I’d like to see you push it more. You still look to me like you hesitate, and you allow other people to continue when I know there’s something hidden behind your little smile that’s probably funny.
SO: Well, I’ve always liked some of the more physical humor, like Dick Van Dyke, or people that do physical, Jack Tripper, people that do physical comedy. And I remember at the last show I went to, that was the remark I made to Dan the way, out of the blue, he does this contortion with his body. I think that the expressions and the actions are as important as what comes out of your mouth sometimes.
CO: Do you think I should try stand up?
SO: Yes. Absolutely. What are you waiting for?
AO: I think you should because I think you’re a good writer, and I think if you put your mind to it… but sometimes you’re lazy.
SO: A lot of people that do stand up comedy are afraid of the audience. A lot of them. I remember distinctly Johnny Carson was afraid of crowds.
AO: Oh boy, Dad’s gonna give you a history lesson. I think it’s hard for females. A guy can get away with any raw comment, but when a female does it…
CO: What do you think my opening joke should be?
AO: One time at band camp… No.vDon’t say the lawn mower joke, Steve.
SO: No, you don’t do jokes. You do more like something that happened to you on the way to the place… or…
AO: Let me tell you about my mother…? That’s always a good place to start. Here’s to the mothers, it’s their fault.
SO: You could open it with the two girls in diapers.
AO: No idea what you’re talking about.
SO: Dogs in diapers it’s a funny image.
AO: Oh, the girls.
SO: To me part of doing stand up is relating stories about people that you know.
AO: Well, God, you better know funny people than. She’s up shit’s creek then.
CO: Who’s your favorite comedian? Other than me guys, geeze, you’re making me blush!
SO: Uh, so I’m just gonna say you to get it out of the way then. Current comedian? Probably, Lewis Black. I like Seinfeld.
AO: I pick Robin Williams.
AO: Yeah, I like Robin Williams. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
SO: Oh yeah, Tina Fey.
CO: Anything else you want to add?
AO: I think you should push it. I think you should pursue it.
SO: You could create a character like um… what’s her name did… SNL… Gilda Radner.
AO: Oh, I know who I love, Gilda Radner’s husband, Gene Wilder.
SO: When you can develop something where you get into character, you can really go with it, rather than standing there and telling jokes, you can be in character.
AO: You do that well. I can see your acting experience. I like when improv has a connection to the acting.
Cait currently improvises with Philly Improv Theater house team Davenger directed by the amazing Maggy Keegan. She can also be seen in improv duos DupliCate and Mr. and Mrs.
If you are a Philadelphia-area comedian who’d like to interview one (or both) of your parents send us an email to email@example.com for more information. Go ahead, do it. You should really call your parents more anyways.
In our series, “You Should Call Your Parents,” comedians interview their parents to find out how they feel about their offspring’s pursuit of the stage.
Jeff Soles: Did you ever think I’d become a comedian?
Kitty Soles: No because it’s too scary. Getting up in front of strangers and having to think of jokes real quick. What if they don’t laugh?
JS: Have you seen me bomb?
KS: One time. Down in Philly. I was with Aunt Mary and was like, “They’re not laughing!” when you first started. I wanted to cry. Nobody was laughing. I thought, “Let’s laugh real loud and then they’ll laugh with us.” I wasn’t embarrassed, I was scared for you. My hands were all sweaty.
JS: What was your first reaction when I told you I wanted to do stand up?
KS: I was surprised. I thought you were crazy. You’re so quiet. To get up in front of people you don’t know and try to make them laugh.
JS: Do you think I’ll ever get married and have kids?
KS: Probably not. Cuz you’re too fussy. Too picky. You have to be nice to a girl. And you don’t like to do that for very long. You’d be a good father. But I don’t know about married.
JS: What if I just knocked somebody up and brought home a baby and asked to move back home?
KS: Oooohh. After I got over the shock and went to confession to see the priest (laughs). You know I’d accept your baby because it’s my grandchild. But don’t expect me to raise it. I’m getting too old for that. I’m not taking care of your mess.
JS: What if I start going to NY by myself? To make it?
KS: I know, but it’s better than Philly. I watch the Philly news. I don’t watch the NY news. So I won’t know.
JS: Are you ashamed to tell your friends and family that I do comedy?
KS: No. I love it. They always ask me what jokes you do and what you talk about on stage. I try to do your jokes but I will either forget how it goes or mess it up. Then they just laugh at me. But you were on Comcast on demand and we went to Aunt Anne’s to watch it and I thought she was going to piss her pants laughing. You did a joke making fun of us for watching the lottery and all that and she was laughing because she does the things you were making fun of. She got a kick out of that.
JS: Who do I get my humor from?
KS: I think both sides of your family. Our side always jokes around and laughs and has a good time. Your dad always likes telling jokes. Whenever we visit relatives they always ask him if he heard any new jokes. But he just tells the same jokes that we’ve heard a hundred times. But we still laugh.
JS: Do you remember the first joke I ever told?
KS: Yes you were about 5 or 6 years old. Out of nowhere you came up to me and said, “Have you seen Dolly Parton’s new shoes? …. Neither did she.” And I was in such shock and I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t yell at you. My little baby was telling a dirty joke. That coming out of your innocent mouth was just too funny. You always went around telling people jokes from your little joke book. Your favorite one you told during dinner was, “What do you call a fish with two knees? …. A two-knee fish!” It was cute. We had a good laugh.
Jeff Soles is a Philadelphia-area stand-up comedian and member of sketch comedy group IdRatherBeHere. He can be seen performing at a fundraiser show for CONCERN on Friday, May 17 at the Willow Grove VFW.
If you are a Philadelphia-area comedian who’d like to interview one (or both) of your parents send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Go ahead, do it. You should really call your parents more anyways.
OK, here’s the situation… Anyone familiar with the DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince hit song (or Leslie Knope’s tribute to it in Parks and Recreation) knows that it is generally believed that “parents just don’t understand.” This can seem especially true for comedians and other people that choose to pursue their interests in the arts. But maybe some of our parents understand us a little more than we may think. In our new series, “You Should Call Your Parents,” comedians will interview their parents to find out how they feel about their offspring’s pursuit of the stage.
Kristen Schier: What did you think when you found out I was performing comedy?
Marilyn Schier: My first thoughts when you said you wanted to perform comedy were: “Gosh, I hope she doesn’t want to move to New York,” closely followed by, “she still needs a ‘real’ job to buy food.”
KS: Are there things you remember about me growing up that explain why I became a comedian. Or is it a total surprise to you?
MS: When you were growing up I knew you were destined for the stage. I remember one time when you and your sister (you were about 3) performed a rain dance on a piano bench for everyone at Doris’ house. Your sister played the piano (not well, she was 4) and you interpreted the music through dance. Then there was the time we were driving back to Emerald Isle from Wilmington, NC and you had me laughing so hard in the car that I missed the turn and ended up on a very dark road in Camp LeJeune with guys dressed in camouflage and carrying M-16’s. I told you not to say another word until we got back to the beach house.
KS: In your own words, explain to me what it is you think I do?
MS: I am pretty sure I know what you do, I am just not sure how you do it or where it came from. Neither your father or I are very funny, but you, my dear, are hysterical. Even when I come down for breakfast or lunch, you usually say something while we are driving around that is either mildly offensive or makes me laugh.
KS: Who are some of your favorite comedians?
MS: Well, I love early Bill Cosby. Lots of those older comedians whose names I can’t remember and they are all probably dead now anyway.
KS: What do you wish I was doing with my life?
MS: My dreams for you have come true. You are doing something that you love doing and that’s the best job in the world. I am, have been, and always will be very proud of you.
Kristen Schier is one half of the Philadelphia-based improv duo The Amie & Kristen Show/The Kristen & Amie Show, as well as a Philly Improv Theater instructor; improv instructor at University of the Arts; director for PHIT House Team ZaoGao; and Artistic Director for the short-form Philadelphia improv group The N Crowd.
If you are a Philadelphia-area comedian who’d like to interview one (or both) of your parents send us an email to email@example.com for more information. Go ahead, do it. You should really call your parents more anyways.
By: Peter Rambo
I went into Roosevelt’s last Thursday knowing one person and having been in the audience of exactly one open mic before that night.
Before sign-ups were supposed to start, comedians gathered in a small room tucked away in the recesses of the bar, commenting on the handmade curtains and the absent bartender. (She was there by time the mic started.) It didn’t take long for the room to fill, largely because it only holds a handful of people.
Jess Carpenter is one of the five founders of the new weekly event, now named R Open Mic. He wasn’t hosting, so he had plenty of time to talk to me about the mic, which he thinks holds promise, both as a place to debut new material and as a place to film polished stuff.
Peter Rambo: So tell me about this open mic. How did it come about?
Jess Carpenter: Actually, I told Brian that I was looking for a room ’cause, I’m sad to say, I was getting sad going to open mics and seeing the same comics tell the same jokes. So I was telling Brian that I wanted to do a room where we would have a theme, and every week or every two weeks, we could have a list of words or a list of subjects and people could do [jokes inspired by that.] It gives them a reason to write.
So we decided we’re going to do that once a month, and just have the mic as a regular mic [the rest of the time]. He found the room, ’cause he does Quizzo here, and it looked pretty good. It looks small enough. It’s small enough to where it’ll feel full, and the comics can also be out here [in the main room] to talk. Most comics, after they get off stage, they have that adrenaline going, and you don’t really want them in the mic talking during someone else’s set.
PR: Yeah, you can’t really hear anything [out here]. You can’t hear them in there, and vice versa.
JC: That’s what I like about it. It’s a great little room. We’ll see how it works though.
PR: There’s not a whole lot of seating.
JC: No, 18 people [are on the list] so far, and there’s standing room. And there’s the pole there. That pole is actually a great place–I put the curtains up so you can actually film here, and since it’s a small enough room it’ll always feel like [you're getting nice applause].
PR: Is there a rotating cast of hosts?
JC: Yeah, the third Thursday I won’t be here cause I have my other show.
PR: Comedian Deconstruction?
JC: Right. There’s five of us, so we’re always going to just try and take [turns with] hosting. To be honest, I could care less about hosting. I just want to see new jokes.
I want to see Philly become a hotbed. Boston was a hotbed in the ’90s I think, and that’s where comics were coming out with the new concept of comedy. Why can’t Philly be that?
PR: Do you know the other hosts very well?
JC: Yeah, they actually do B.a. Comedian. Brian and Andrew are B and A, and Tim is the musical part. He does guitar. And Dan and I are literally opposites. He does jokes about being a straight guy that seem really gay, and then I love to follow him ’cause I’m a gay guy who seems really straight. If I make it, he’s going to be my opener. It just works out really well.
It was really nice, because we met at an open mic, we were very-like minded and liked talking after. We liked going outside and talking during the mic while other people were doing their sets. And just going and popping in to see the people we liked. And that’s what so good about this room, you can do that. You can pop in and out.
PR: This mic is really close to the Raven Lounge. How do you think that’s going to affect the night?
JC: It’s great, ’cause we want to make sure people can get to both. I think it’s like eight or nine minutes to get from one side to the other. Maybe 12 minutes. People can do both. If you can have comics hit multiple mics a night, you can have a comic totally screw up a joke or a set and they can make a note and try that set 15 or 20 minutes later, versus waiting a week or two weeks to try it again.
And this is a bar, they’re fine with staying open, so people can either go here early and go there late, or vice versa.
PR: When’s the first theme open mic?
JC: The second Thursday of the month.
Dan King: We’ll give ourselves two weeks to do it, and then on the second one …
JC: Yeah, so on the first Thursday, we’ll come up with five different subject matters, and then the second Thursday, that’s when they can do jokes. You don’t have to, but you can choose to. I think we’ll go out of a hat, so people can put suggestions in. We pull five because we don’t want a bunch of comics feeling that they just wrote the same joke another comic wrote, but it shows that there’s less stealing than people think. There’s a lot of ideas floating out there that people just grab.
It’s funny because, Jerry Corley, who’s one of my favorite comedy coaches out there, says every day, just write stuff from the newspaper, even if you’re never going to use it, but if you write a good enough one and you’re watching TV and you see it, you know you’re on the right track.You see a lot of that on Twitter.
I see Chip [Chantry] doing a lot of that. I like the way Chip tweets, ’cause he makes it condensed. Brevity is everything when it comes to comedy.
PR: Do you have any words of wisdom for someone who’s just starting? Like at this open mic? Like me?
JC: Respect the light. Always respect the light. Always thank people. It sounds corny, but they remember you. You’re going to meet more comics at open mics that are going to get you work, than you’re going to meet by calling people. If you like another comic’s stuff, tell them, “That’s a great joke.” Don’t offer advice out of nowhere. It could be good advice, but some comics can’t take advice. But if they ask, tell them.
Oh, rule number one. Rule number one. Don’t say “good set” if it wasn’t a good set. Don’t say anything. But don’t say “good set.” If someone had a shitty set, and they walk off stage, do not say “good set.” They know they had a shitty set. But if they had a good set, and you said “good set,” but you never said good set or shitty set [before], they know that you meant it. “Good try,” say that, but don’t say “good set.”
PR: It sounds a little patronizing.
JC: Yeah, you don’t want to sound patronizing. But you’ll see it, trust me, you’ll see it. Actually, watch. [Turns to Hillary Rea] Hey, do you hate when someone says good set and you had a shitty set?
Hillary Rea: I don’t tell people that if I didn’t like it. I just run away or walk away. And if I feel like I did shitty, it’s just … Irish Goodbye.
JC: See! Ah, it’s horrible. ‘Cause, your tail’s already between your legs, and someone says good set and you’re like …
PR: Were you there?
JC: Were you just there? I’m bleeding here.
PR: Do you use open mics to farm talent for other shows?
JC: I’ve been starting to do virgin comics at Comedian Deconstruction. I might take an opener from here and bring them over there. I think what I might start doing is one of the five things that we pull out of the hat, I might make one of those one of the themes we do at Deconstruction that month. If it works here, it gives me a week to put them on the show. I think that could work. If I have a theme and someone does a really good joke about it, and they have three or four minutes to follow it with, why not give them a real show to play with. There’s nothing better than that feeling of being in a show. It’s like, real claps, you know? Better than a bringer.
I got on stage for the first time as a stand-up and told six jokes in less than three minutes. The crowd laughed, probably because they knew it was my first time, and I felt good. I’ll try not to exit on that high note.
R Open Mic happens every Thursday at Roosevelt’s at the corner of 22nd and Walnut. Sign-ups are at 7:30pm and the show starts at 8pm.
Peter Rambo is @gunnarrambo and is part of American Breakfast. They receive likes at facebook.com/americanbfast.
Tonight, Center City Comedy at The Raven Lounge is celebrating its fourth anniversary. The open mic has consistently provided a full room for comedians to work on their acts and test new material in front of always-eager crowds. The spot has earned a reputation from out-of-town acts visiting Philly as a place to hang out with local comics, or even get a late-night set in after their shows. The Center City Comedy crew (Chris Cotton, Conrad Roth, H. Foley, Tom Cassidy, Ryan Shaner, Kevin Ryan, Chris Whitehair) have branched out to working on producing online video content (Babe Ruth Time Traveller, We Rent). We asked H. Foley, one of the early members of Center City Comedy, some questions about the past four years, and the future.
WITOUT: At a time when open mics come and go within a few months, you have kept Center City Comedy at The Raven Lounge alive and kicking for four years – what do you think are the keys to your success?
H. FOLEY: Well, we always put the audience first. We promoted the show as much as possible and we were very lucky to be surrounded by so many talented comedians. It was really built on a lot of hard work and dedication, not just from us but the community as a whole.
WO: What are some of your favorite moments from the open mic over the past four years?
HF: I asked the boys this question, and everyone said all the anniversary shows really stuck out in their minds. Plus, the night Patrice O’Neal came by, and the night we had to pull Conrad from hosting because he got so wasted and took his balls out.
WO: Do you think Center City Comedy has had an influence on the Philly comedy scene? How do you think you’ve left your mark?
HF: That is a tough question. I hope so, but you would have to ask the comedy community that. It was never our intention though. We just wanted to create an environment where the city could see how funny the Philly comedy community is, and it worked because it is.
WO: You’ve passed the hosting duties of the weekly mic down to new groups of comics a few times – how do you decide who you’d like to take over as hosts and when do you feel like it’s time to bring in new blood.
HF: We look at who is working hard, and who really wants it, and who we think would fit into this little dysfunctional family. Right now Ryan Shaner is in charge, and we recently brought Kevin Ryan into the mix, and it is really working out. Tom Cassidy has ran it for the last year and did a great job. Tom has been a big part of our group, and he is someone I love and consider to be a part of our family.
WO: How did you transition from hosting open mics and shows around the city to producing comedy videos for the web?
HF: It was always our plan, we were never just about running an open mic. We know what we want to do and just keep taking steps to make it happen. We now film all the time and are writing scripts and trying to just keep moving forward.
WO: Since the show has started, some of you have moved to other cities, but have stayed loyal to your roots, what keeps you coming back to Philly for more?
HF: I mean that is what it is all about, remembering who we are and where we are from. We love Philly, and realize how lucky we are to be a part of the Philly scene.
WO: What’s next for Center City Comedy?
HF: We just want to keep working hard and chasing our dreams. I do want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has performed with us over the last four years, and especially want to thank Alex Gross of Superdps.com who is helping us to take the next step. I also want to wish you, and all of our friends who have the heart to push to the next level, the very best of luck.
The Center City Comedy Four Year Anniversary Show is tonight, at 9:00pm, at The Raven Lounge (1718 Sansom St. Philadelphia).
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.
If you have an upcoming event you’d like to see profiled on Witout, please send your information to firstname.lastname@example.org
Myths and Monsters director Nick Gillette
Philly Fringe is just around the corner. This annual festival brings the world’s newest and most cutting-edge cultural experiences to our city, amplifying the vibrancy of Philadelphia as a renowned cultural center. Philly Improv Theater contributes to this vibrancy with an entire month of special programing that will certainly entertain and entice, including the upcoming improv show, Myths & Monsters.
Myths & Monsters improvises theatrical tales by spontaneously performing stories of heroic transformation. The improv group moves and breathes in tandem. Each member depicts a monstrous beast or terrifying deity amidst trials and transformations.
This team finds inspiration in stories that trace back to King Arthur and beyond and have been reincarnated in films such as The Matrix and the Star Wars trilogy. The hero myth is a personal journey full of dragon battles, night sea journeys, impossible trials and supernatural aid. Each night of performance, the ensemble will reach deep into their collective unconscious and draw forth two new fantastical tales of heroism and adventure.
Directed by Nick Gillette, the cast of Myths & Monsters is: Ben Grinberg, Nikitas Menotiades, Brian Ratcliffe, Jess Ross, Kristen Schier, Molly Scullion, Adam Siry, Jess Snow, and Alison Zeidman
Director Nick Gillette is a local actor and PHIT instructor who began performing improv in 2002 with his Colgate University team Charred Goosebeak. He’s made appearances at Skidmore College’s National College Comedy Festival and the Del Close Marathon in NYC. He has studied under Armando Diaz, Keith Johnstone and Joe Bill and is currently improvising with several groups, including the unabashedly uninhibited gang, Medic. Nick is also a founding member of the PHIT house team, Mayor Karen.
Nick’s non-comedy adventures include performances with the 1920′s-inspired burlesque troupe Cabaret Red Light, giving tours at Eastern State Penitentiary and, his longtime hobby, playing 2nd edition Shadowrun, a science fantasy role-playing game where he pretends he is a cybernetically enhanced hacker hiding out in Central America. He’s currently a student at the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training.
Nick took a little time out from his busy schedule to answer some questions about his upcoming show.
WO: The concept of Myths & Monsters is very smart and unique. How did you come up with it? What sparked the initial thought?
NG: This all came out of a conversation with Cubby Altobelli. We were talking about his work in Commedia dell’Arte and how there are these immortal archetypes for characters. It reminded me of Joseph Campbell’s ideas that there are immortal forms for stories too, and since I have improv on the brain almost constantly, the show sort of presented itself.
WO: Besides a clear influence for the performances narrative, what else makes M&M unique from your average improv show?
NG: The myth is the form, but the monsters are the crazy cool part of the show. We’ve spent a ton of time really working the ‘group mind’ of the performers. Moving as one, supporting a choice instantly without even knowing where it’ll lead. I have to hand it to the cast for the inventiveness and commitment to these creatures, some of them have been hilarious, some have given me true chills, all of them are incredible to watch.
WO: You mention Star Wars and The Matrix as modern examples of hero’s tales. Should fans expect to see some modern references as well?
NG: Nah. I chose those as recognizable examples of the hero story format, but I always feel like pop-culture references punch a hole in a show by winking and saying “hey, look at us improvising.” I want the performers and audience to get swept up in these stories, really drawn into the worlds, just in the way we can get sucked into a really good book and forget ourselves. If you want a film comparison, it’ll probably be closer to Jim Henson style stuff. Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, those sorts of fantasy worlds.
WO: You and your cast have been in rehearsal for some time. What has been your biggest challenge in putting this together?
NG: I don’t know how hard I can push my cast without being a bully. I want them to take real risks in performance. I want them to dig deep, to trust that they’ve got each others backs, to perform to their fullest. At the same time, I don’t know how much I can legitimately ask of them as volunteers. It’s a weird mix. We say things like “don’t go for the joke” and “truth in comedy,” but asking a performer to be honest and vulnerable on stage is another matter.
WO: As the director what has been the biggest surprise to you during this process?
NG: I was amazed at how quickly the cast got it. I would propose a kernel of an idea and see them pick it up and run with it in surprising and exciting ways. For instance, I saw Alison Zeidman, a not terribly imposing looking person, stare down and tame an enormous, threatening storm demon. It was epic, and I’m not using that word in its watered-down internet sense. I think maybe that’s the point of this show. We’re bringing epic back.
A PHIT production, Myths & Monsters can be seen as a part of the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe at the Adrienne Theater , 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103 at 7:30pm from September 6, 2012 -to September 9, 2012. Tickets can be purchased online through Leap Ticket.
By: Alison Zeidman
Back in July at Joe Gates’s apartment, I met with the producers of Polygon
(Joe Gates, Marc Reber, Milkshake and Rick Horner via phone) to talk about how they got started, how they’ve blown up, and what’s next for their beloved monthly variety show. During our chat, Joe offered me cherries he’d received in the mail from his mother, Rick was interrupted several times, Milkshake shared his views on circumcision, and I learned that the men of Polygon have a…special…place in their hearts for my own improv team, Malone.
Alison Zeidman:Can you guys tell me how Polygon started?
Joe Gates: My group Rintersplit, which is Marc Reber, myself and Matt Akana, and Rick Horner with Claire Halberstadt as Suggestical, a little over a year ago had a show out at Milkboy in Bryn Mawr, and then we went out to a diner afterward and we were talking and it was like hey, it would be really great to start something up for people coming out of classes who really want to perform and really want to form a group, but aren’t finding spaces.
AZ: Is that still the primary goal, or mission, for Polygon? To be a place for new groups, or groups that struggle to get shows elsewhere?
Rick Horner: I might say our purpose is to encourage new comedic technique and encourage the performances of groups that are in the Philadelphia area at a pretty professional level, and focus on group dynamics as opposed to individual abilities, and really kind of provide a framework for the administrative operational side to encourage the integrity of the folks that are performing to perform in a professional way.
JG: We’ve actually been doing the Polygon show for over a year now; our birthday was back in April. We started out at another venue and ever since we’ve moved to L’etage we’ve just sort of upped the ante. I have more of a theater background [and at L’etage] we can just run it like a theater show.
AZ: Where were you guys before, and why did you move to L’etage?
JG: We were at Tabu before, a sports bar, and it was more of a…it was difficult to work with the sound of the bar behind us and it was a converted area that was sort of a stage but not quite, and we thought well we could get a place with an actual stage, and that’s where L’etage came in. We have a tech booth there, and we can do lighting, so instead of waving a phone madly at somebody to be like you have five minutes left, we can actually dim the lights and make it very professional. Originally we were only improv, but we saw a lot of things like storytelling really growing, and sketch, so we thought let’s include everybody.
AZ: Do you do most of the outreach to find those performers and groups, or do they come to you?
JG: Originally it was more of us doing the outreach, but we started to post on Facebook and just kind of put the word out there. So some of it’s kind of coming from the community now, now that we’ve kind of established ourselves a little bit.
AZ: So it’s new groups, developing teams, and also people trying to test things out a little bit.
JG: Yeah. I mean we’re not an open mic [laughs]. It’s different from an open mic in that you don’t get just three minutes and then somebody cuts you out. Again it’s more professional; we’re trying to make this like an actual show.
AZ: And where does the name come from?
RH: I think there was a strong push to make it Voltron because of the idea that Voltron is a bunch of pieces that get pushed together, but I thought that was just a little bit too straight on the money, so we kept discussing it until we came up with Polygon, which is just many different facets of something that’s all one thing.
AZ: Rick, you’re involved with so many different projects, your own groups, and F Harold, too. What do you feel sets Polygon apart, or what’s different about it for you as a producer?
RH: I think Polygon is just another piece of the puzzle. I would say that these things, whether it be Incubator or F Harold or Polygon, these are all levers that are designed to provide growth, whether it be with a mentor, or a venue. Whatever type of thing is needed. And I think for Polygon it’s really switching the lever of connecting folks and exchanging ideas and information with a bunch of people who are actively involved in the sketch community and the improv community and the stand-up community. So it’s a meeting point, and some of our shows have been really fluid like that, but it hasn’t always been that way. Thus far we have sought people out; it’s just now that folks are realizing that we’re more than just a monthly show, and they’re starting to seek us out.
AZ: And it seems like as much as it is for the community, the Polygon shows that I’ve been to usually have a lot of non-performers in the audience, so I’m curious about how you guys go about marketing your shows.
RH: Marketing is definitely a big focus for us. It’s fun to perform, and it’s more fun to perform for an audience, but given a choice between an audience of your peers, who are also doing it, and people who have never seen you before, it’s more fun and yet more challenging to perform for people when they have really no idea what to expect.
JG: I think the last Polygon we had maybe thirty people who were non-performers.
AZ: And why do you think that is? I work for the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and I know from communicating with Marc that you guys are advertising on Phillyfunguide. Has that been successful for you guys? Or maybe it’s not just that, but do you know how these outside people are finding out about you?
Marc Reber: We had a bunch of people mention that they’d seen us online, and Phillyfunguide does come up high when you search on Google.
RH: I think we are working on market research and figuring out who’s coming to our show and who our target audience is, but we’re kind of locked in on what we feel like people might be willing to pay, and frankly I think that it’s less than what is being charged at other theaters. I feel better about having a well-attended show that costs less, as opposed to a medium-sized show that costs more.
MR: And I think the last three months, we’ve tried to branch out our marketing, and I think it has improved things because we’ve definitely seen more and more people, who aren’t just improvisers.
AZ: So besides Facebook and Phillyfunguide, if you were going to make a recommendation for somebody else trying to market their show, could you say more about what’s worked for you guys?
MR: I think the next step is seeing what actual advertisement does. The online stuff is very voluntary–like someone has to actually be looking to go to an event to happen to be on Phillyfunguide, as opposed to seeing an advertisement as they’re reading a newspaper or something. But either one of those, the online or the advertising, is just a way to expand your audiences.
JG: I think opening up Polygon to more than just improv has helped the numbers, too. I spoke to a couple at the last show and they said we’re just here to have a good time. We have no idea what’s going to happen, we just like to get out of the house. And I was like, this is the perfect place for you.
MR: And I want to second that to the extent that opening up to all forms of comedy in Philadelphia has made it easier to find acts, and that leaves more time for things like marketing.
AZ: Do you think the venue has anything to do with it?
MR: Yeah, it’s just a really great venue. It’s hard to deny that. And the bar is right there, it’s a very nice bar, it’s just a pleasant…it’s a total experience. And that venue has always been very popular, so we’re very lucky to be in that space.
AZ: Can we get into the specifics of what it takes to put on your own show? What are some of the technical challenges of just producing the show the night of, or leading up to it?
JG: Getting a variety of acts to come in, that’s the main challenge I think. And I think one thing that people talk about often on the Philly Comedy Network on Facebook is getting the shows to start on time, so curtain is always at 8:05 just as a courtesy, but performers have to be there ahead of time. So call time is at 7, and then doors open at 7:30, and you let people in and really I think the call time for the performers was the most difficult thing, but it was also the best thing for the show in terms of structure. Because they have time to warm up, sort of situate themselves, look at the stage instead of coming in maybe five minutes after one group has already started and seeing oh that stage isn’t going to work for us, or the lighting is wrong, or we need more chairs. So getting everybody there ahead of time, it just makes everything work kind of like clockwork. And definitely getting a space that you love and other people love coming to and love performing at, that’s pretty important. And I guess just kind of organizing the groups is kind of fun too. You want something really powerful and awesome, you want something that people have never seen before but will really make them think about coming back, and you want new people too. We love new people, we love their lovely faces. And I think [your team] Malone is an excellent example of that; you guys are kind of really climbing the ladder.
RH: Yeah don’t forget to mention Malone, say something about how great they are.
JG: Malone is one of the most attractive…
Milkshake: They’re really good looking, is the thing. It’s hard to compete. No matter how good your team is, you have to compete with the fact that Malone is a very, very fuckable team.
MR: And there are more than five of them, so.
Milkshake: There’s more to choose. As if you needed to choose. Any one of them, male or female, they’re all..
AZ: One of our members is under 18…I’ll just point that out.
Milkshake: I don’t care! I don’t discriminate!
MR: Let’s say very kissable.
Milkshake: Very kissable!
JG: I would hold hands with any member of that team, on a date, in a meadow.
AZ: Let’s talk about what upcoming things you guys have planned.
JG: Well I’m really looking forward to the October show. October is one of my favorite months. I grew up with ghost stories and things like that, so I want to get Rintersplit to perform in October because we’re kind of more ghost-oriented, and there are a couple of storytellers I would really like to get in and tell some gnarly ghost story stuff.
AZ: Do you usually try to do themed shows?
JG: I’m getting more into it. Like our last show we had at Tabu, it was all ladies’ night, lady-oriented, and it was Mani Pedi’s first show and they are fantastic.
MR: But that’s not really our point, our point is more just to have a show that everyone can enjoy, that performers can enjoy, and an opportunity for us to perform, because we are among the independent comedy community. So if the theme works out great, and if there are opportunities like October and Halloween, then it’s like hey, why not go for it.
AZ: Can you guys talk a little bit more about some of the new components of the show, like Philly Secrets?
MR: Well Milkshake is the director and he had the idea of doing something along the lines of Post ecret, where the idea is that people send in their secrets and essentially they’re shared but still secret because they’re anonymous. And to the extent that these are very moving pieces, they provide a lot of emotion and a lot of background, things that are all in improv.
Milkshake: I think just one nice thing about the Secrets show is that the source material itself, the secrets that we use, particularly when they come from PostSecret it’s a very visual experience, it’s a quick snapshot of somebody’s situation that they’re having difficulty dealing with. So they create this anonymous art, and they send it to Frank Warren in Baltimore and they get it off their chest and they share it with other people. Just those in and of themselves are so interesting that to do theatrical work that’s inspired by that, wow, you’ve got a great diving board into a beautiful swimming pool to kick off from.
AZ: Are you using the secrets from PostSecret, or are you soliciting your own?
Milkshake: We’re soliciting secrets from Philadelphia, however the method by which I had chosen to do that was insufficient and I wasn’t getting the responses that I need. We’re still working on acquiring more, but yeah, the first two performances were entirely reliant on secrets from the PostSecret website. And I have no beef with that, but I want to do the show about secrets of people from Philadelphia. And the scenes that we see can be usually funny but not necessarily, especially with somebody like Kristen Schier on the team, who loves any opportunity to do improvised dramatic work. And a nice thing that was pointed out to me is when you take a secret that’s difficult to deal with, like one that’s about abuse or addiction, that usually won’t be a funny scene, but the scene after that, as long as it’s remotely funny, the audience is so ready to laugh that the response is usually pretty explosive.
AZ: How was it determined that Phily Secrets would be a good feature for Polygon?
JG: It’s so fresh, and so new, and it’s a very rich format and it’s laden with dramatic scenes.
Mlikshake: And there’s a lot of sexual ones. There are a lot about penises.
JG: [whispering] This is going in the paper!
Mlikshake: Well, she’ll snip and cut. Edit.
AZ: I don’t want to snip and cut any penises…
Milkshake: Don’t, no! Don’t do that, it’s not necessary. It has no medical benefit. But I was going to say, I would like to do an entire Secrets performance where we’re free to choose the sexual material if we want to, but not have it foisted upon us. And that’s kind of my job as host and curator, to choose the secrets that we’ll work from. But then I think to myself, it would also be cool to have a show where every scene is of a sexual nature.
JG: I’m going to go back and try to answer the question that you asked. I think another one of the reasons that we picked Secrets as kind of a Polygon mainstay is because there’s so many different things that come out of it that we don’t really see in improv, and that’s kind of what we’re all about, the new stuff, the fresh stuff.
AZ: And it sounds like Secrets also has this level of built-in theatricality and drama, and sort of that elevated level of theater that you’re trying to present with Polygon.
JG: When I was a student of dramaturgy, three of the questions that we always asked ourselves of a play where why this play, why now, and why this audience?
Milkshake: We did go over those questions. Did I answer them well?
RH: You answered them. I don’t know how well.
Milkshake: Were you dissatisfied, Rick, with my answers? Do you remember dissatisfaction?
RH: Well you seemed dodgy and unconfident, that’s all.
Milkshake: OK, that sounds like me.
JG: You mentioned at many times during your presentation that people are fascinated by real people’s lives. But also these people are opening themselves up to us. And kind of trusting us with a secret.
Milkshake: And in turn I feel like the work the cast is doing by improvising a scene is kind of metaphorically putting their arm around that person and embracing them. We’re exploring it and experiencing it with them, sort of, to the best of our ability, through theatre.
AZ: So just to wrap up, Polygon is once a month at L’etage, and the best way to book a show is to…
JG: Contact Joe or Mark.
AZ: And if you have a secret that you want to see explored in Philly Secrets?
Milkshake: The best way is to go to formspring.me/phillysecrets.
MR: And Polygon is once a month, at L’etage, but we’ll also be part of Fringe again this year, and I’ll let Rick talk a little bit about that.
RH: We’re finalizing the venue, but I expect that this year there’s going to be some good surprises, which I’m not certain I’m ready to divulge quite yet. I might describe the Fringe this year as more opportunities for people to get involved. And there’s likely to be some sort of a process specifically to submit to the Fringe shows which will be coming out pretty soon, so people will have slightly more control over their involvement.
JG: So look for updates online, and if you have something new and beautiful and need a space to do it, we’d love to check you out.
The next Polygon show is Tuesday, August 14th at 8 pm at L’etage (624 S. 6th Street). Tickets are $5.
When he’s not logging hours as Philly Improv Theater‘s Education Director or piddlin’ away time on conversations with comedy unknowns like Rich Talarico (improviser and writer who’s worked on a bunch of stuff no one’s ever heard of like Saturday Night Live) and Greg Proops (from another show no one’s ever heard of, Whose Line is it Anyway?) for his Gettin Close with Mike Marbach podcast, Mike Marbach‘s other regular gig is producing The Sideshow at The Arts Parlor. We sat down before Mike had to coach a practice for PHIT house team Asteroid (yep, he does that, too) to talk about what goes into producing a successful comedy showcase, and what’s next for Sideshow this season.
Alison Zeidman: How did Sideshow start? Give me the origin story.
Mike Marbach: I [originally] wanted to do it in Chicago. In Chicago I was part of a group called Club Group Team, and we did a form that was very organic, very much like ZaoGao does now, a form called Punchline. And then there was also this form that somebody would do called Kumate, which was an improvised martial arts thing, and then what I wanted to do was have a revolving third spot, which would be something else that was completely different. It wasn’t picked up. So, when I moved to Philly, I still had the idea in mind and because PHIT only has The Shubin two weeks out of every month, and I wanted something to fill that space, because I teach a lot, and I had a lot of students in classes that weren’t seeing shows. There would be some weeks where there were zero improv shows to see, and I hated that. So that’s one of the main reasons I started Sideshow, just to fill the in the gaps between PHIT weeks, so there would be at least one improv show to see each week.
AZ: But the idea is that it’s its own entitity, too, right? It’s not just something to do because you can’t go to PHIT?
MM: Right. It’s not an extension of PHIT. Your [free student] pass is no good at Sideshow. Because one of the other reasons I started it is that I wanted to have a low-cost place that allowed me to just give the money back. I don’t make anything from doing Sideshow. The Arts Parlor costs very little to rent, and then any money above that goes right back to the performers, so it’s pretty much whoever they can get to come out, because I don’t do much in the way of advertising. Actually I didn’t used to, now I’m starting to do a little bit more, becuase of course the more people that come to the show, the more money the performers make.
AZ: So are those the primary goals? More opportunities to be able to see comedy and see improv, and also more opportunities for performers to make a profit?
MM: Yeah, and there’s a few other things to it too. There were groups that were popping up and premiering their act at places like CAGEMATCH or a festival, like the Philly Improv Festival or F Harold Festival or Duofest, and that’s cool and all, but if I was improvising in those gorups I would definitely not want my first show to be in a high-pressure environment such as a festival. I’d much rather do it in a more controlled, fun, supportive environment—not to say that those aren’t, but I mean, you can pack this place with as many people as you want, with your friends, with your family, and you have a lot less control like that at other shows.
AZ: So people can use it as a testing ground.
MM: Yeah. And that was one of the main ideas especially at the start, definitely more experimental. I really envisioned it just being more of a show for performers, rather than a show for anybody else. I didn’t think it would grow the improv scene by any means, I just wanted a place where people could cut loose and do something that was different. Then that started growing pretty fast.
AZ: Have you ever had to turn someone down, if they pitched an act and it was just too weird?
MM: No, nobody’s ever been turned down. People have been postponed, because [it's become very popular], but I’ve never turned anybody down for it.
AZ: Since it’s an extension of the improv scene and a place to see more performances but also a place for people to workshop things, who would you say is the primary audience? Is it more insular, or open to the general public?
MM: At first the main idea was that it would definitely be an insular show for performers, but even after the first show I quickly learned that that wasn’t really the case. Maybe because of the fact that it all comes down to the money of things, that people know that the more people they bring to the show the more money they walk away with. But we definitely do get a lot of performers too, because as friends of each other we love seeing people step out of their comfort zones and do things that they don’t normally do, or be in a space that they’re not normally in.
AZ: Yeah it’s interesting, whenever I’ve come to a Sideshow it’s always been really packed, even though you’re saying historically you haven’t done too much marketing for it. But you said you’re starting to try to do some more of your own promoting, instead of just leaving it to the performers?
MM: I could, but I kind of like leaving it to the people. I mean I produce the show, and I book the acts with the help of the guys from Beirdo, but it started off mostly just people that were in the shows doing the publicizing, and it kind of remains that way. I like the producing of it, the booking, but beyond that I don’t really want to have that much to do with it. I don’t know, it’s done well so far without me pushing anything: We’ve gotten the attention of different papers, different online blogs and things like that, and we’ve been able to do partnerships with Troika that have been really successful…plus, there’s only so many chairs.
AZ: Can you talk a little more about what really goes into putting on your own show? What you’ve learned, or maybe what advice you might give to somebody who wanted to start their own thing?
MM: Find a place that’s cheap enough, because there may be nights when you’re not going to make the rent. Don’t pick a place where you’re going to consistently lose money—and that’s where the Parlor’s been fantastic.
AZ: How did you find this place?
MM: Asteroid has practiced here weekly for about two years, and there was a group I used to coach called Leo Callahan who used to do shows here about once a month before they split, so I just kind of picked it up after they were done. Um…what else…ask admission. Ask people to pay for your shows. Free shows are cool, but I really feel that what we do has value, and maybe I’m only putting the value of $5 on it, but that’s also because I want it to be super accessible. Plus it fits the space. This isn’t a theater; this is a converted, sweaty dance studio. And really think about what kind of show you ‘re trying to put on. Think about if you want to do a variety show, or if you really just want to do an improv show. And vary up the acts within that as well. On Sideshow I’m not going to book three duos in a row, not just because duos can bring in less people—that’s one of the reasons, sure—but also because I wouldn’t want to sit and watch three duos in a row. And just make sure it’s a good show, make sure it looks good. People that know me know that I’m very big on dress code. I’m not asking people to wear suits and ties when they come to a Sideshow show, but I want them to step up, I guess. Make it a production, just raise the production value. I have to do whatever I can do because of the fact that this is a sweaty dance studio, so I want to make sure that that atmosphere of a show overtakes the crappiness of the space.
AZ: Do you have any tips for somebody else who might be dealing with a crappy space? Does that come in with lighting, or hosting, or…?
MM: Yeah, hosting is huge. Make sure people can host. I’m not a good host, which is part of the reason why I don’t want to be up there. And look at what you can do with the space. If you can clean it up, clean it up. If you can flip some things around and make it so you can control the lights, do that. When they were doing shows in here before, there were no blackouts, everybody ended their own shows. I’m very big on light pulls, when I’m doing a show, [because] my sense of timing in a show is not good, and I don’t want to have that worry. So do what you can do with the space that way, as well.
AZ: What do you mean? Did you guys get the circuits moved or something?
MM: [Laughs] No, we just moved the space. Like when you look into the room, where the curtains are [on the side], that’s anticipated as the stage. And they have like six lighting switches on the far back wall [on the same side as the curtains], so we changed it so that when you walk in, all the chairs are facing the front [and then we have access to the light switches]. And I block the windows during the summer so that the sun doesn’t come in, and I have just the front two lights on. It’s a very cheap way to go about doing it, but when you walk in you wouldn’t really know that it’s a cheap way to go about doing it, you’re not thinking about it, it just looks better than it really is.
AZ: So you said you’re trying to be hands-off with marketing and not really trying to make the show appeal to outside audiences, but it does seem like there’s a lot of thought and professionalism being put into this. Is that just because this is the way you want your show and these are your personal standards, or do you feel at any level that you have to compete with what else is out there?
MM: No, I’m not really trying to compete at all. It’s just something that kind of now has…it’s just kind of associated with me, so I just want it to be as good as it can be. When I say I’m hands-off for the most part, that’s the night of. But leading up to that I do everything I can to make sure the show is going to be good. And even though I say I don’t really do any marketing stuff I do make all the Facebook pages, and I contact different news people out there from time to time to try and get some things, but beyond that, not too much more.
AZ: We already covered this a little bit with the mission of the show and the benefits it has for performers, but is there anything you feel sets Sideshow apart from other shows in the city, even if you’re not necessarily trying to compete with them? Something that’s just a different element that you have, from the audience’s viewpoint?
MM: It’s going to be a well-balanced show. You’re going to see at least three different acts, whether that’s a stand-up, a sketch and an improv group, or three very different improv groups, you’re going to get a good sampling of comdy that night. There’s going to be something that you like. And it’s just the atmosphere in that room, in that sweaty dance studio, when it becomes Sideshow, which is so extremely supportive of people. We’ve had different teams debut there, we’ve had teams debut new forms there, and the mood is just kind of electric.
AZ: And where did the name come from? There are a lot of things that I could guess contributed to it, but is there an official backstory?
MM: Well, the original main idea was to show acts that you weren’t really going to see anywhere else, lots of new or weird things, almost like a carnival sideshow. People doing things they wouldn’t normally do, types of improv you wouldn’t normally see. Just weird concept things that people just wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else, that maybe aren’t quite right for PHIT.
AZ: Do you have an example?
MM: A lot of the Troika stuff. Troika in general—a lot of those things tend to be more concept-heavy, so that turned out to be perfect for Sideshow. So yes, it just goes back to seeing weird and different things. Which I’m still looking for. It’s not necessarily the prime directive anymore, so much as just giving people just another space to perform, and just making sure there’s a show once a week. We’ve been on a long hiatus because I also don’t want to take away from any shows that are happening. So when F Harold was going on I canceled a show, then PHIT had six weeks of shows, then we had Duofest, then more PHIT weeks, but now we’re back. And we’ve got the show this Saturday which I’m calling Short Attention Span Theater. You get up to 15 minutes to do whatever the hell you want to do. If you want to spin plates you can spin plates. If you always wanted to do a one-person improv set, or attempt stand-up, sing a song, whatever people want to do, they can do it.
AZ: What do you have scheduled as of right now?
MM: Right now it’s a little improv-heavy. I’m reaching out trying to get people to really vary up what we’re doing, to make sure we have some of that balance I was talking so much about.
AZ: From purely a producer’s standpoint, other than just scrambilng to fill in more acts right now, has there been any big challenge, or something that went wrong, that was a good learning experience? Or just a fun disaster story?
MM: Um, hm….not really. I guess I’ve been kind of lucky with things. It’s a very well-liked show, and there haven’t really been any problems.
AZ: How about any favorite moments?
MM: I’ve seen a lot of teams have their best shows here, which is awesome to be able to say.
AZ: Do you think that comes from the low-pressure environment?
MM: Yeah, I think that’s definitely one of the reasons, plus they get a crowd that’s full of people that they are bringing, so it’s all people who are there to support them. One of the days, if I remember the date exactly, it was November 18th, 2011—
Luke Field [coming in for Asteroid rehearsal]: Never forget.
MM: Yes, never forget. Iron Lung was debuting, there was the team Bed Savage having their first show, Get a Room also performed, and I think maybe Kristen [Schier] was doing some clowning. And there were about 100 or so people, and each team walked away with $85, and that was just the icing on the cake, because each team had awesome shows, in front of a fantastic crowd. So that was one of my favorite moments. Plus all of Troika, and I’m sure this Saturday and all of the rest that we’ll have will also be favorite moments.
AZ: Anything new that you’re planning for this season? It sounds like you’re really trying to push people to experiment.
MM: Yeah. We did a one-act play, Hidden in This Picture, which I directed last year, and this year I want to get some plays written by Philly people. That one was written by Aaron Sorkin, but I want to get some more original stuff so that we put on plays that were written, directed and performed by Philly comedians. So that’s one big goal this year to finally make happen, and also just to continue to put on some well-balanced shows and watch people continue to learn and grow. And to do whatever I can to keep Luke Field out of here.
LF: Did you get that on tape? He’s out to get me.
Look for updates on The Sideshow at http://www.facebook.com/#!/SideShowImprov and see the first show of the season TONIGHT (July 14th) at The Arts Parlor, 1170 South Broad Street (at Federal Street). As always, the show is just $5.