Becca Trabin is a stand-up comedian and improvisor living in Philadelphia. She is a member of Philly Improv Theater house team Mayor Karen and the host of Town Hall, a monthly show featured on The Sideshow.
How and why did you get into comedy? When I was about eight years old, I went on vacation to North Carolina with my extended family. We went to a huge, fancy seafood restaurant, about fifteen of us, and when the check came, the grown-ups were all a little taken aback. I said, “SOMEBODY’S gonna be doing dishes!!!” which is a joke I’d obviously heard on TV. Everyone lost it, and I was floored by the feeling that gave me. Later I realized they were laughing in part because, why would an 8-year-old say that? But I think that specific moment triggered something for me.
That’s the why. The how is that even though I was shy, I took a sketch-writing class at PHIT with Kevin Allison a few years ago, where you put together a show at the end, and performing in front of an audience immediately broke me out of my shell. I used to be so shy that I was afraid to call out a suggestion at improv shows. Seriously. Now I can’t get enough.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I feel like it’s kinda different every time and always growing. People have described my stuff as silly, cerebral, dark, weird, self-deprecating. I want it to be all of those things dynamically. I’ve definitely struggled in my life and have something to say, and am okay with making myself vulnerable to an audience.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? Well Shubin shows feel like home. I also like the adventure of taking on new rooms and new stages. They’re fun in an exploration sort of way, while Shubin shows are fun the way having a party at home is fun, plus you don’t have to clean up afterwards. I’ve tried to clean the stage several times after messy shows involving confetti and iced tea and whatever, and was told to stop. So that’s nice.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? Not really. Lots of good times. Stuff I wouldn’t post online.
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? Or a sort of method that you use to develop comedic material? With stand-up, I usually come up with ideas accidentally when I’m hanging out with my friends or walking around, and then I flesh it out later. Many times, I’ve come up with the best parts of a bit right before I’m about to go up, because in my nervous energy I think of a great line or two.
What is it about stand-up / sketch / improv that draws you to it? I do mostly improv and stand-up, and I’m drawn to them over other kinds of comedy because you can get your idea out there without much rigmarole. Stand-up and improv counterbalance each other for me. With stand-up I have to be egotistical and with improv I have to let go again and become a small part of a whole. It’s therapeutic and cathartic and keeps me feeling happy. Improv and yoga are proactive measures against mental or physical unrest for me, and they help me stay centered and present.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Yeah, and they know who they are. I love watching comedy that’s grounded and honest and makes no apologies. I continually love watching performers highlight these small details of human behavior that I hadn’t consciously noticed before.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? I did a set a year ago at a gay variety show at a nightclub. I had to follow a larger-than-life drag queen who wore foot-tall platforms and a foot-tall wig and sang and danced and was delightfully hysterical. I wasn’t confident, and I pretended not to mind somebody heckling me, and I bombed really hard. Jess Carpenter bought me a drink afterwards and then I walked across town to do an improv show, and I cried for a minute in the bathroom and thanked god for improv. My team was like, “Let’s do your favorite warm-ups!”
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? I think one of us should just ask Tina Fey very nicely to make a donation for a permanent space for PHIT. Right? We need to shoot more videos and put more content online, and branch out to work with other venues and arts organizations. Gain more allies, to borrow activist parlance. We have to take fundraising more seriously and get better at it. Some improvisors are already generating ideas to get diversity programs started, so that, among other things, it’s not just white kids who get to do improv in Philadelphia. I’m sure other folks would like it too. Improv is weirdly white. Stand-up is just weirdly male. Anyway. We need a popcorn machine.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? I want to do more stand-up in character, more stand-up in general, put together some shows, keep an updated website, do projects with my favorite people and continue to grow and open up and have fun.
Mark Leopold is a Philadelphia improviser, sketch comedian, employee, an uncomfortable-complimenter-when-the-other-person-has-complimented-him-first-because-it-feels-like-the-only-reason-he’s-complimenting-them-is-to-make-them-even-no-matter-how-sincere-his-compliment-may-or-may-not-be, and a friend. He is a member of the PHIT house team Hey Rube as well as a new addition to the cast of Comedysportz and he does sketch comedy with his group The Hold-up. When he isn’t doing one of these things he is busy doing other things, like working and laundry, and so while he sincerely wishes he was able to be a real interviewer, the best he is able to do is interview people in his head while he drives different places. Today, while on his way to work, Mark took some time to sit down in an interrogation room in his head with Philadelphia improviser and Comedysportz teammate/teacher Jason Stockdale.
MARK LEOPOLD: Hey Jason, it’s me Mark!
JASON STOCKDALE: Hey man!
ML: Good times! Stockdale!
ML: Okay, shut up, let’s do this. Greatest fear?
ML: Greatest strength?
JS: Left shoulder.
ML: Best way to get into your apartment without a key?
JS: You go through the large window in my bedroom. It doesn’t latch and there’s no way to lock it.
JS: Full disclosure, there is a pit full of spikes directly inside and below the window.
ML: Home Alone style.
JS: That would have been a very different movie if Kevin had ended up killing the burglars with his first couples of traps.
ML: I’d like to see that movie. It probably just becomes a courtroom drama.
JS: And the creepy neighbor testifies against him.
ML: That neighbor…man. It sucks that he got a bad rap just for carrying a snow shovel around…in winter…after it had recently snowed.
JS: But he also had a beard, and he squinted quite a bit.
ML: Now who’s testifying against who? Who? Whom?
ML: I thought whom had something to do with having a direct object.
JS: Yep, but we should move on. I’m sure your readers aren’t that interested in the finer points of grammar.
ML: Ouch. I’ll have you know that I cater to a very high-end readership.
JS: Even so, this is pretty dry stuff. They can just buy a grammar book.
ML: Favorite grammar book?
JS: Strunk and White, okay moving on!
ML: Favorite chapter of Strunk and White?
JS: Chapter 13: Colons and Semicolons. Okay! So…Mark, what do you like most about Philadelphia?
ML: It’s proximity to my house.
JS: You’re being a real asshole.
ML: It was a joke Jason. This whole thing is a joke.
JS: Don’t do that. Don’t write it to make me seem like the jerk here.
ML: Jason, just calm down. Be reasonable.
JS: (standing up and overturning the table) I’ll be as unreasonable as I want damn it!
ML: (hands out, placating) Jason…easy.
JS: (…and here comes Jason’s famous switchblade) Shut up!
ML: Jason come on…put down the knife.
JS: (grabbing Brooks and putting the knife to his throat) No!
ML: Jason. Jason. Look at his neck Jason. Look at his neck. He’s bleeding Jason.
JS: (breaking down into tears and dropping the knife) I’m…I’m sorry…I just…
ML: I understand.
JS: I can’t go back.
ML: I know.
JS: I’m sorry.
ML: (turning to Brooks) Brooks, get out of here. (…but Brooks is already gone) Brooks?
JS: (sniffing) Brooks?
Mark and Jason look at each other with unspoken realization. The camera slowly pans up to the wooden beam overhead where there is an inscription carved into the wood. The inscription reads, “Brooks was here…but got really bored when they started talking about grammar.”
“The way to improve is to reject everything you’re doing. You have to create a void by destroying everything; you have to kill it. Or else you’ll tell the same fucking jokes every night.” – Louis CK
The path of a comedian is one of growth and change. We are constantly trying to write new jokes, work on new material, and develop fresh ideas. All in the hopes of getting better. We are constantly looking ahead, to what is next. What is the next step in our careers? What is the next goal we want to achieve? Where do we go from here? This Wednesday, at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater as part of Comedy Month’s City Spotlight, a group of Philadelphia comedians will do just the opposite, they will look back.
In the Beginning…is a show from the mind of comedian Pat House which will showcase comedians taking a look at video footage from an early point in their careers, and roasting their former selves on their comedic talents (or lack thereof.) It is a show that aims to celebrate the growth and development of Philly comics in a way most comedians are comfortable with…by making fun of themselves. We had some questions for House on his own growth as a comedian, and what he sees in his peers.
Why are you making comedians relive their painful sets of years’ past? Because comedy isn’t tortuous enough. Just kidding!! I’m fascinated by the process of stand-up comedy. Nobody starts out great, and the evolution comedians has always interested me. I think it’ll be fun to laugh at how new and inexperienced we were, and it’ll be great to relive some of those gems we all had when we first started.
Tell us about the first time you thought you were getting good as a comedian. Though there are plenty of things in my comedy that really need improvement, I guess I first thought I was on the right track between a year and two years in, when I started getting hosting spots and guest sets on the weekends.
How much have you grown and changed since? What would you say to yourself then?
Great question. For starters, I would love to ask myself “So, you think you’re being discrete by taping a setlist to your water bottle and looking at it between every joke? Because you’re not.”
For me, growth as a comedian seems to be long plateau periods and every once in a while I will hit a bit of an upswing – how do you see patterns in your growth? I would definitely agree with that. Plateaus are very common, but the longer I do comedy, the more I realized how beneficial the plateaus are. When you’re doing the same jokes night after night, it’s redundant and sometimes boring, but looking back, you realize those jokes got tighter and better. You don’t always realize that on a day-to-day evaluation.
I see patterns in my growth every year. I used to judge myself on what seemed like a daily basis and I’ve learned that I absolutely cannot do that. The everyday grind is rough, but if I gauge myself every six months to a year, that’s where I see the most improvement.
How do you think that compares to other comedians? Every comedian plateaus, but every comic gauges their comedy in their own way. A lot of newer comics tend to be in the moment and think they’re either good or that they suck right off the bat. The more you hang around comedy, the more you realize it’s about the bigger picture. I just hit my seventh anniverary in comedy last week, and I can definitely say that I’ve learned more between years five and seven than I did my first five.
What is your favorite thing about watching different comedians evolve and grow? My favorite thing about watching other comics grow is that in itself (does that even make sense?) I can name dozens of great comics I’ve known since the beginning of their career, and watching them evolve to where they are now has been one of the best parts of the ride. We’re all in this mess together.
Do you have any specific favorite moments of seeing a comedian “find their voice”? Just the other day I watched the 1995 HBO Young Comedian’s Special with Louis CK and Dave Attell. They were great, professional comics at the time, but sixteen years later, both of them are (obviously) significantly better and have a solid grip on their voice.
It was really interesting to me – with Attell, a lot of the jokes he does in the HBO special, he did on his first album six years later, and the jokes are light-years better on the album. He honed those jokes for years. With Louie, it was almost like you could see where he was going with his voice, it was there, it just hadn’t come out yet.
Attell and CK are two of my all-time favorite comics, and seeing that special made me feel a lot better about my material. They were great then, and incredible now.
Have you seen any dramatic changes in someone’s style, either suddenly or over time? What have you liked or disliked about them? I really can’t recall any dramatic changes in someone’s act. I feel with a lot of my friends, any changes over time were just the natural progression of becoming a better comic.
How do you think your style has changed since you started? My style has changed immensely since I started; I am a completely different comedian. When I first started, I had a lot of shock value one-liners; terrible, fictitious jokes that were God-awful. Back then, the thought of being personal on stage didn’t even occur to me. About two years or so in, I started to get a little personal with jokes about my life at the time (college and drinking), and from there, it progressed slowly into what I do now, which is becoming a mostly personal act.
Do you have any plans or goals as far as changing your style or writing habits for the future? My main goal for the future is to write more. I tell myself to everyday, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty lazy with that. Reading helps me a lot too. I find that when I’m going through book after book, I’m writing a lot more, and I seem to notice more things around me as well.
In the Beginning…will play at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater (2111 Sansom St.) this Wednesday, October 19th at 8:00PM. Tickets can purchased online.
is a stand-up comedian who started in Philadelphia, has since moved to New York, but is still around Philly quite a bit. He is also the host of the upcoming In the Beginning…
a City Spotlight show that will present some of Philadelphia’s top comedians showing videos of their early performances, while roasting themselves along the way and (hopefully) showing how far they’ve come.
How and why did you get into comedy? As a young kid, watching comedy on television intirgued me. I was too young to understand the jokes, but I remember loving the fact that these people were just making other people laugh. When I was in high school, the “Comedy Central Presents…” series launched (as well as “Last Comic Standing”) and I watched an ungodly amount of stand-up. I took notice of a lot of comics, their individuality and developed some favorite comedians. Then, during my freshman year of college I saw Dave Attell, Lewis Black, Mitch Hedberg and Mike Birbiglia at the Tower Theater and I was blown away. This night literally changed my life. I was laughing like I had never laughed before, and I distinctly remember thinking “I HAVE to try this!” I imagined me being on stage, getting those laughs and I knew I just had to at least try it – even just once. It became an obsessive thought. Then on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2004, I went to the Laff House for their open mic and have not stopped since day one.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I have no idea. I started off with set-up/punchline type-jokes that were completely fictitious, then once I became more comfortable on stage, my set-up/punchline jokes took a more personal angle. Now, I still have some set-up/punchline type of jokes, I have a few stories, I have some observations. It’s a mess. I’m influenced by so much comedy that whan it comes down to it, I have no idea what I want to do, so I’m trying different things until something clicks.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? I love performing at Helium. It’s my home club and they have been nothing but amazing to me. Helium is the place where I’ve built my entire act. From open-mics, to guest sets, to hosting to featuring. I learned more there than anywhere else. When that room is sold-out, the electricity is unreal. Because of Helium, I have literally opened for most of my favorite comics – Attell, Alexandro, Giraldo, Fitzsimmons, Maron – and dozens of others. Helium is literally my second home. If I have a free night, I’m there.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? I think I’ll go with the first time I was asked to host a full week at Helium. I hosted a few open-mics there, but getting the full week was like getting called up to the big leagues. It was like So wait…you WANT me to open for Nick DiPaolo?!? AND you’re going to pay me for it?!?
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? Or a sort of method that you use to develop comedic material? I don’t really have a creative process, I usually just jot down random ideas and come back to them later. Lately, I’ve been going to the library for an hour or two a day. No computer, no phone, no iPod – just my notebook. I’ve been making more of an effort to carry a notebook with me at all times, I think that helps a little. I find that the more I read, the more I write. When i’m going through book after book, I always feel I have more ideas and I seem to ‘notice’ more things, as opposed to when I’m not really reading and kind of in a lull. So because of that, I read as often as I can, but sometimes the laziness wins. I still think some of the best lines are the ones that just come to you. You have an idea, something clicks and it works immediately.
What is it about stand-up that draws you to it? It’s a rush. It’s euphoric. It’s addicting. There is absolutely nothing like having a killer set. I always want to perform. If I have a bad set, I want to get on stage again and redeem myself. If I have a great set, I can’t wait to get on stage again and hopefully re-create that feeling. There’s no middle ground, I always want to get on stage. I feel the most comfortable on stage. I know it’s totally cliche, but I feel that I can be myself on stage. The freedom is unlike anything else.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Chip Chantry is my favorite joke-writer. He’s constantly running creative and original ideas by me and usually they’re solid jokes from the start. Chip has a natural talent for joke-writing. Whether it’s material, roasting or a specific project, he always has the ability to crush with solid jokes, delivery and commitment. Steve Gerben is an incredible performer. I love his ability to take his deeply personal experiences and make them hilarious. He’s animated, he really sells his bits and he’s always working on something – new material, short videos – I love his creativity. Mike Rainey…I don’t even know where to begin. I think he’s the only comic in Philly that has actually made my cry laughing. Like, actual tears running down my cheeks. The whole Philly scene is incredible. There’s so much I could say about everyone.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Every show has gone smoothly and according to plan!
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? I sincerely believe that being supportive, being nice and helping others does wonders. The support in the Philly comedy scene is astounding and I miss it immensely. There’s no shame in asking for help or giving another comic friendly advice. As long as ever-yone tries their best, take risks and is there for each other, on stage and off, that’s all it needs.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? I just want to do comedy full-time. I’m not looking for celebrity status or to have my name up there with Pryor or Carlin. My ultimate goal is be a full-time working comic. If comedy can pay my bills and provide a comfortable/fun lifestyle, I’d be more than happy.
After a recent pizzadventure, I took a few minutes to shoot the breeze about pizza, comedy and pizza with prolific improv-ist Thomas J. Whitaker. Thomas has an affinity for acting, a knack for laughing, a quick wit, and has an emotional attachment for a movie from the 90′s featuring both Ninja’s and Turtles. He also used to sneak pies when his mom wasn’t looking… Hell yeah Thomas!! Thomas and his fellow improvsarios in Rookie Card are all over the place for Philly’s Fringe Festival. Be sure to check the out this Friday at their Philly Fringe Festival HOUSE PARTY!
Here’s the good stuff:
Pizza Pal Joe Moore: How much do you like pizza:
Thomas J. Whitaker: I love pizza! When I was a kid, my mom never let us have it because it was so fatty. But when she went out of town, my dad would grab a large pie for my brother and I.
PPJM: What is your favorite slice in Philly?
TJW: Mad Greek in West Philly.
PPJM: How often do you eat pizza?
TJW: Once a week, I will eat a large pizza in an evening.
PPJM: Are you into plain pizzas or toppings? Which toppings?
TJW: Pepperoni has always been my default, but I love black olive, mushroom, and anchovy.
PPJM: What is your favorite use of pizza in film, television or music?
TJW: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, when Mike and Don do the funeral music when they find the rotten pizza.
PPJM: Did your family have a pizza day? What day was it?
TJW: Friday, when everyone said “To hell with cooking!” or Tuesdays when mom was out of town.
Brendan Kennedy is a stand-up comedian, a member of improv groups Hate Speech Committee and The Hendersons, sketch comedy group Camp Woods, and the host of the Philly Improv Theater show Guilty Pleasures.
How and why did you get into comedy? When I was a kid my dad and uncle would always show me episodes of Monty Python’s Flycing Circus, and I loved it. I would make comedy videos on my parents’ S-VHS camcorder with my cousin. In high school I was one of the kids that ran the tv studio and I’d make comedy videos that I’d show during the morning show. I continued my refusal to be serious about anything by going to film school and while there I made almost nothing but comedy videos. Then eventually I got the balls to do stand-up, which to me is the purest form of comedy and expression out there.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I’d describe my style as a stand-up as selfish. If you don’t like what I do, then I don’t care to entertain you. And I hate comics that try to be what they think everyone wants them to be. There are billions of people on the earth, enough of them will have similar interests and sensibilities to me, and those are the people I want to speak to.
Plus, stand-up is an inherently selfish endeavor, so claiming you have some greater goal is at least 50% bullshit. And I say 50% because out of that desire for immediate self-gratification (the selfish 50%) you can reach people who otherwise might feel isolated, because they haven’t found a way to express themselves or people who think and feel the same way they do. But you can’t reach them by pretending to be something. You can only reach people by being honest with yourself and about yourself. That’s what I love about stand-up, and that’s the type of stand-up comic I try to be.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? I loved performing at the Khyber because it was dirty and grimy and shitty and you had to really want to see comedy to go there. Which made the audiences there great, and I felt the most comfortable there. I enjoy doing stand-up at the Ric-Rac, the Shubin, and any place where people have come to specifically see the people who are performing. People who go to comedy shows not knowing anything about who they are going to see baffle me. And I lack the ability to relate to them. I can entertain them, but only if I do a bunch of crowd work. It’s like I’m the host of some awful party that a bunch of random dopes showed up to, like the one Rick Moranis throws in the first Ghostbusters. And most times I am doing crowd work I am fantasizing about a demon dog crashing the party and making it more interesting than, “You do that job? Well you should talk to other guy I just talked to, he does a job that if combined with your job would be really funny!”
That being said, I really enjoy the open mic at noche that Jack Martin and Paul Goodman run. Those two guys are smart guys who run a good room, and are really supportive of everyone who shows up there. (If you’re thinking “I don’t think they are supportive.” You’re thinking that because you’re an asshole, and you’ve behaved in a way that makes it impossible for someone to be supportive of you.)
For sketch and improv I like theaters.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? Anytime Roger C. Snair crushes in front of an audience that has never seen him and doesn’t know who he is. I use how people interact with Roger as a bit of a litmus test, because he’s so overwhelmingly and unflinchingly positive. It is my opinion that you have to be a piece of shit to not like him. Anytime a room full of strangers gets him and accepts him it makes me feel more optimistic about the world.
I’m friends with Roger, we do a monthly show together, but I’m also his number 1 fan. I’d love nothing more than to see Roger have a talk show on television, just to see some of the douchiest celebrities squirm in their seats, not knowing how to handle him. Talented, funny, decent people, if put in that same scenario will come out looking amazing. For example, I had last month’s guilty pleasures be somewhat a talk show, and one of the guests was Andy Moskowitz. Roger kept asking him about his sexuality (Roger is rather immature in regards to his opinions on sex), and Andy handled everything so amazingly that he ended up becoming the hero of the show. It was so funny and genuine that I felt like I was interrupting when I had to chime in to have us read a script.
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? Or a sort of method that you use to develop comedic material? For stand-up, I always just write about whatever I’m currently obsessing about.
For sketch, I write basically two types of sketch. Quick, one joke sketches that are bookended with title cards. And 2 character stream of consciousness sketches. The short sketches, which are basically blackout sketches, are just based around a joke I think of that I like. But I write them to be very very short, because I think sketches that are 5 minutes long but only have one joke are stupid. If you have a sketch that’s just one joke, then just tell the one joke and end the sketch. It’s not a college paper, there’s no minimum length sketches have to be.
The longer sketches I write are always me trying to write interactions between two people that are more absurd and honest than most real life interactions, because to me the funniest parts of life are the moments in which someone is being really honest, and at the same time really odd.
What is it about stand-up / sketch / improv that draws you to it? Comedy allows you to discuss topics that are just too sad or taboo to talk about casually with people. Its not creating any solutions, it just helps people stress less and be more ok with the world they live in. That’s what has always drawn me to comedy.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Roger C. Snair for reasons I’ve already mentioned.
Steve Gerben for his willingness to be honest with himself and about himself onstage and his abilitiy to make his own personal struggles, physical and mental, hilarious.
Andy Moskowitz for the same reasons.
The people in the groups with me, (Hatespeech-CampWoods-Hendersons) for too many different reasons to list.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Recently I ended a set at a bringer contest by saying, “That’s why I think we should burn down churches.” Most of my bad experiences with comedy show stem from my inability to accept people who I’ve decided are shitty. That, and tech problems.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? More of what it already has. More people who are passionate about performing comedy. More people who run good rooms. More people supporting each other’s shows and rooms. More original ideas.
The first three are obvious. The 4th seems like it should be obvious, but its apparent to anyone who’s watched comedy before and is seeing shows in the city now that its not. You can’t stop random people from showing up at open mics and doing other people’s material. But you can make sure not to book them ever. You tell internet jokes, you tell Bill Hicks jokes, you tweak internet jokes and then tell them, you tweak Bill Hicks jokes and then tell them, you don’t do shows. That should be the rule that everyone follows. Hacks (thieves are a type of hack) aren’t going to kill the surge in popularity that comedy is experiencing in Philly right now, but eventually they will. That was one of the main killers of the comedy boom. You can listen to countless interviews with comics who were part of that and they all talk about how there were so many opportunities to get onstage in front of large paying crowds that people started taking shortcuts to take advantage of it, and comedy suffered as a result. Crowds started staying home because there was no point in going out to see a show if you were just going to see comics telling jokes that they saw on tv.
If you see someone doing stolen material, yell at them, tell them to go fuck themselves. They are insulting the art form you love, and they are being a self-serving asshole.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? I want to just keep getting better. That’s my only real goal. That and to make Roger C. Snair famous.
Photo by Ben Snitkoff
Steve Kleinedler is an improviser and director who recently joined the Philadelphia scene after working at ImprovBoston. He is currently directing the PHIT Fringe Festival show twenty-four.
How and why did you get into comedy? I was always interested in theatre, and I slowly slid into comedy in high school in the early 80s when I took part in a program for teenagers affiliated with the Flint Community Players. Every Saturday for 2 years, about a dozen of us would play around, and we gravitated toward improv without fully even realizing it was improv, per se. I don’t think I got into comedy intentionally, it just sort of happened.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I’m a verbal player. I’m quick to make connections and see patterns verbally, and I have a good command of the English language. I’ve done several hundred radio interviews for work, and I can talk fluently at length on many subjects. Doing improv is an extension of that skill.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? After a while, venues blend together. Essentially they’re all rooms with an audience, so it really makes no difference to me as long as they’re acoustically sound. My favorite show was not one I was in, but one I directed: Backstory, up at ImprovBoston, in which the story unfolded backward in time, like the movie Memento. The actors spent eight weeks rehearsing and then had an eight week run, and it was really intense, and they nailed every single performance. All the actors attended every single rehearsal (except for one person who missed one week because she was in Ireland), so it was insanely tight. Favorite shows I was in is my two-person show with Harry Gordon: Directions with Steve & Harry.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? The first time I did Adrift (PHIF 6, I think), I literally met Kelly Vrooman about 2 seconds before we went onstage. We took our places in the dark, the lights went up, and she and I locked eyes and *immediately* had a fully fleshed out backstory and we were both on the same page. Without saying anything! It was amazing. And then I got to make out with Kristen Schier. It was quite a show.
My favorite moment that I wasn’t a part of involves Mary Carpenter, both in Dangerous Minds at Duofest 2, and in Matt Nelson’s Stage Fright. I can’t narrow them down, but it’s a joy to watch her act.
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? Not a conscious one. By now, it’s just sort of ingrained and I just sort of do it.
What is it about improv that draws you to it? When it’s on fire, it’s one of the most gratifying things to watch as an audience member. As a director, when you see your cast hit it, it’s also immensely gratifying.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Right now, I’m going to say the entire cast of 24 (the fringe project I’m directing for PHIT).
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? I did this outgig — a Christmas party at the police union up in Boston. They were in a mood to party and they were NOT in a mood to watch a show; additionally, the three guys I performed with had gotten into an accident on the way there. (I got a call from them — I was stuck in the traffic behind the accident they were a part of!) When we saw how hostile the site was to us, we immediately cut our 45 minute set down to about 20 minutes. We played ‘Interrogation’ — and when we asked for a crime that had been committed, one person responded from the back of the room: “Ate a crap.” That pretty much sums up the night. It was awful.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? I moved to Philadelphia four months ago because I’m completely jazzed about the scene. When I decided to move on from Boston, I could literally have moved anywhere in the country I wanted to, and I chose Philadelphia in large part for the comedy scene that so many people from so many backgrounds have worked hard to create. The opportunity to perform here is greater than in most cities (mostly because rental spaces are so plentiful and relatively inexpensive), and it’s so nice to see performers and producers take advantage of that.
As the different groups and organizations work together more and more, the stronger the community will become. A rising tide lifts all boats. I see so many encouraging signs that everyone wants a vibrant comedy scene in Philadelphia. There’s plenty of room for all of the existing organizations (and then some). The movers and shakers behind PHIT, PHIF, ComedySportz, to name just three, all deserve a huge deal of credit for bringing the city to its current level of comedy offerings, and the addition of newer umbrella organizations like Polygon just point to the vibrancy of the scene. I can’t imagine doing this in any other city. The trajectory is definitely on an upswing.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? My only goal ever, was to be in an opening credits sequence. I did some video sketch comedy in the late 90s, so I hit that goal. I am fortunate that I have a good day job, which leaves my evenings and weekends free to pursue theatre. My focus is on directing and coaching, so what makes me happy is helping other improvisers continually improve.
Mark Leopold is a Philadelphia improviser, sketch comedian, employee, driver-who-talks-on-his-cell-phone-but-is-constantly-scanning-the-road-for-police-officers-because-then-he’ll- totally-just-drop-his-phone-into-his-lap-and-pretend-he-was-just-resting-his-head-on-his-hand- and-they’ll-never-even-have-a-clue, and a friend. He is a member of the PHIT house team Hey Rube as well as a new addition to the cast of Comedysportz and he does sketch comedy with his group The Hold-up. When he isn’t doing one of these things he is busy doing other things, like working and laundry, and so while he sincerely wishes he was able to be a real interviewer, the best he is able to do is interview people in his head while he drives different places. Today, while on 476 north, Mark took some time to sit down in a very quaint coffee shop in his head with Philadelphia comedian, improviser, sketch guy, and Hey Rube teammate Aaron Hertzog.
MARK LEOPOLD: Hey Aaron, it’s me Mark!
AARON HERTZOG: (laughing) Hey Mark.
ML: I’m glad you took the time to sit down with me today.
AH: I’m happy to do it Mark.
ML: So let’s just dive right in, who are you and what have you done with my son?
Aaron laughs and Mark joins him. Aaron stops laughing and looks at Mark expectantly.
ML: Do you want money? Is that it?
AH: I don’t have your son, I didn’t even know you had a son.
ML: I don’t in real life, but I do here.
AH: Here in your head?
ML: Yes. Here in my head at the coffee shop which, now that I stop and think about it for a second, is just the coffee shop from Inception where Leonardo DiCaprio explains the premise of the movie to Ellen Page.
AH: You want to make everything explode? This is your day dream after all.
ML: Get real Aaron! That would be so derivative.
The coffee shop explodes but, since my memory isn’t great, the way it is rendered leaves a lot to be desired.
AH: That was fun.
AH: You didn’t think that was fun?
ML: The whole thing just felt forced.
AH: …okay then.
There is a moment of uncomfortable silence as Mark looks at a speck of something that is floating in his coffee. He hopes it’s just a coffee ground, but with all the explosions and everything, it seems more likely to be a piece of debris. He picks it out of his coffee and wipes his fingers on a napkin. Aaron tries to force small talk.
AH: I don’t drink coffee.
AH: No, I don’t like the taste.
ML: Yeah, I could see that.
AH: I guess I’m not an “adult.”
ML: Do you still like the smell of gasoline?
ML: Me too, but not as much.
AH: That’s weird how you grow to like some smells when you grow up and you stop liking others. You always hear about acquired tastes, but you don’t hear much about acquired smells.
ML: Like body odor.
AH: I don’t think that’s true.
ML: I think I read somewhere that Matthew McConaughey doesn’t wear deodorant because he thinks women like the way he smells naturally.
AH: I bet he smells like vanilla.
ML: …but like, really manly vanilla.
AH: That wouldn’t work out as well for me.
ML: Yeah, me neither, I’m an Old Spice man now. I made the switch. It took a little while for my armpits to stop burning when I put it on, but I think the nerve endings are dead now. So it was tough, but hey, I really like their commercials.
AH: Well you had no choice then.
ML: True. Op! This is my exit Aaron, I gotta run.
AH: See you! Friendship!
The coffee shop re-explodes.
Andrea Kuhar and Aubrie Williams are the one-two-punch-in-the-chops that make up Philly comedy tour-de-force Local Holiday Miracle. At Aubrie’s suggestion, LHM and I sliced it up at Lickety Split, and we talked about Ninja Turtles, Pizza on English Muffins, and their show Thursday August 4th at the Shubin Theater, at 8:30 PM. If you’ve ever wondered about how pizza works into the LHM magic, read on:
Pizza Pal Joe Moore: How much do you like pizza:
Andrea Kuhar – I live in Philly for a lot of reasons, Pizza is one of them.
Aubrie WIlliams – I consider it a religion and practice it… religiously!
PPJM: What is your favorite slice in Philly:
AK: I’m partial to Lorenzo’s, but if I’m feeling fancy – Pizzeria Stella!
AW: I’m gonna say Lorenzo’s cause there is so much cheese on a single slice, and the more cheese the better!
PPJM: How often do you eat pizza?
AK: If English Muffin pizza counts, weekly.
AW: Anywhere from 4-7 times a week. It’s my go-to pre-rehearsal, pre-show eat.
PPJM: Are you into plain pizzas or toppings? which toppings?
AK: Every veggie – no black olives!
AW: I enjoy both plain and toppings equally. MY favorite toppings are mushrooms and olives.
PPJM: Favorite use of pizza in Film, TV or Music:
AK: Das Racist – “I’m at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell”
AW: NINJA TURTLES (movies cause I always want to eat it straight from the screen)
PPJM: Did your family have a pizza day, what day was it?
AK: Yes! Way back, we got pizza on Friday and then watched TGIF! “Step by step, day by day…”
AW: It was always Friday night, and Friday at school was also pizza day… so Friday was a great day all around
The Gross Show is a sick and twisted view on the world of “trash talk shows” from the mind of Alex Gross. It makes its return to Philly Improv Theater in its new time slot this Friday at 11:30PM.
WITOUT: Explain the format of The Gross Show.
ALEX GROSS: The Gross Show is just your regular live theater comedy talk show. We have guests, we drink some beer and we have some good old fashion fun.
WITOUT: Where did you come up with the idea to do an improvised “Trash Talk Show”?
AG: Growing up I didn’t watch the Price is Right when I faked being sick to stay home from school. When my Mother would leave for work I would race down the stairs and turn on Fox to watch nonstop Springer and Maury action. It was (still is) almost everything I hate about humanity and I could watch it without having to actually deal with it. I would scream at my TV until I was red and get really involved. I don’t think I actually enjoyed it, I think I really enjoyed fucking hating people on TV which is why I imagine people watch the Jersey Shore and other corny reality shows (hopefully).
Last fall I was bumming around my apartment with nothing to do until I saw Jerry Springer was on. I hadn’t watched it in years. The exact same feeling rushed into me as when I was a kid. I had so much fun watching and I thought about how I wanted to host a show like it someday. A few days later I saw Greg Maughan and realized I could host a show like it now! I had already pitched several ideas to Greg with no success but he was on board almost immediately with The Gross Show.
WITOUT: Who is your favorite Trash Talk Show Host? Do you pull your hosting style from any one person or do you try to grab bits and pieces of different people that you like?
AG: Jerry Springer is the best day time talk show host of all time. Oprah can suck it. Originally I tried to pull my style from Jerry but as shows went by I realized that it sort of sucks for me and for the show. It’s way too laid back and I felt like my audiences as a whole were too polite at times. Now I’m doing whatever seems right in the moment while still being kind of laid back.
WITOUT: What is your favorite segment of Trash Talk shows? (is it paternity tests? someones cheating on somebody? I’ve got a secret to tell you.? I’m a bad kid who’s getting sent to boot camp?) What do you like about it so much?
AG: On Jerry Springer, the cheating segments are classics. They are consistently sad, depressing and funny as hell. The guests show raw emotion which draws me to the edge of my seat, the fights are entertaining and the twists are awesome. I believe every time a man cheats on his wife with a tranny, that he wasn’t aware had a dick, an angel gets their wings. On Maury, the “I’m eating myself to death” fat segments are too much for me to handle. I love to hate it. You have people dying of hunger around the world but here in America we cry over fat kids who can’t stop eating and have half eaten roast beef sandwiches under their mattresses. I just can’t wrap my mind around it.
WITOUT: Your show has moved time slots a few times, do you feel like you are getting the “Freaks and Geeks” treatment or is it just something to add to the lore of The Gross Show?
AG: I think I was getting the “Greg Maughan is scared to have the cops show up” treatment after we got threatened by the neighbors at the first show for making too much noise. Good news though! Last month Greg called me after the Hopper Brothers decided to end their show and asked if I was interested in going to Fridays late night for good. With no thought I said yes and after being lectured about what I still can’t do on the show, The Gross Show has Friday shows until at least the end of the year!
WITOUT: You play a pretty straight-forward host on the show, do you ever get the itch to get down and dirty and gross with your guests?
AG: In the worst way. Before the first show I couldn’t wait to be weird, crude, strange, disgusting and offensive but while in the planning process I had a reality check. I realized I had to be the straight man or at least the audience’s point of view and a single tear rolled down my cheek. It was really heart breaking.
WITOUT: Is anything off limits? Has anyone come to you with a segment idea that is just too much to put on stage? Will the day ever come? Where is the line?
AG: Nothing is off limits, no idea is too much and there is no line. Example, I couldn’t get the actress for Friday’s show but I was really close to having Zombie Amy Winehouse throwing (fake) ketamine on audience members. My Father said it wasn’t funny but what does he know.