And you know what that means—they’re entering the “terrible twos”! Actually, my mom always said age 3 was the roughest. So watch out next year, when this gang is toddler-aged. If the developmental patterns of early-stage humans are any indication of behavioral phases for improv groups, it’s gonna be tantrum city!
Anyhoo, in honor of their two-year anniversary, the members of Iron Lung have taken a moment to feel some feelings about one another:
Corin Wells on Kevin Pettit:
“Everyone who has had the opportunity to both befriend and improvise with Kevin can notice parallels in who he is on stage and who he is off stage. On stage, he supports his scene partners whole heartedly. He listens intently. He’s patient. And he’s a goof. But you can go to any of his shows to see what a great comedian he is (Hot Dish and Davenger at PHIT, Feb. 2nd at 8:30PM). I’m going to talk about Off-Stage Kevin. All of those on stage attributes come from who he is in real life: a supportive, caring, loveably huggable, hilarious teddy bear. He’s been Iron Lung’s keystone, making sure that we not only practice, but that we hang out and have fun together. He’s always the first to suggest we get a drink after practice or Bar-B-Q at someone’s house. He’s the first to volunteer to help you move, even if it’s for the 7th time, or suggest making turkey burgers for a Game of Thrones viewing night. He’s the first to offer a bottle of wine and a listening ear when some guy is being a douche. Kevin is a big part of the reason that I joined Iron Lung and being Jersey-ites, I think we both pushed each other to make the smart move to Philly. I am super lucky and blessed to have had Kevin on my first-ever improv team not only because he’s a fantastic improviser but because he’s an even better friend. I owe him so much. Watching him grow from amazing to phenomenal in these two years by getting cast on Witout Award-winning Best New Act Davenger and going back to school is so rewarding and inspiring. I wrote a Tanka/Acronym poem to better express all that I feel for him:
Kevin Petitt, oh
Even still I smell your brown,
Vinegar stained pants
In that small black box theater
N’er will I ever forget“
Kevin Pettit on Jess Carpenter:
“Jess Carpenter might be the nicest person I know. Literally. He is probably one of the most honest people I’ve met as well. The thing I love most about Jess is that he is always learning something, always trying to make himself better and trying new things. I’m so glad we got to spend the last two years cracking each other up!”
Jess Carpenter on Dennis Trafny:
“Dennis is one of the first people I met in improv class. He is very physical and can make anything creepy, ANYTHING. I am in awe sometimes when I see what he comes up with from the offer. He can take the most mundane scene and make it a roller coaster ride that everyone in the room can enjoy. The audience is always in on the joke when he is on stage and his playful characters are easy to like. Even the psychopaths…which are numerous.
My favorite thing he does is refers to his characters’ hair—and never a lack of it. [Editor's note: Dennis lacks hair.] I don’t think he’s ever actually played a bald character, but on the other hand, some of his female characters have had beards.
I am lucky to have shared the stage with him the many times that I have. Did I mention how creepy his characters can be? And funny fact: He loves to dance, but it’s in a kind of an interpretive style!”
Dennis Trafny on Maureen Costello:
“M is for her alter-egos, Marlene and the Million Dollar Man
A is for aficionado, of the donut variety
U is for umlaut; she has an amazing German accent (and a lot of others as well)
R is for ratty; in most of her solo photo sessions she morphs into disgusting characters
E is for eccentric; you know she’s about to say something weird when she starts laughing to herself and then you can’t understand her for the next 2 minutes while she laugh-speaks her idea.
E is for ebony; she is very pale.
N is for number 1! She is a great improviser, friend, blogger, tweeter, lady, American, human, stalker, photographer, vegetarian, Jack Russel owner.”
Maureen Costello on Tara Demmy:
“Tara Demmy and I first bonded over our mutual love of cheese fries and I like to think that we haven’t looked back since. Over the last two years I can fully state that I’ve learned a lot from her as an improvisor and not just a lover of cheese and potatoes. Tara is definitely a pirate. She is fearless on stage and will commit to the most ridiculous of scenarios. Whereas if I was playing a dinosaur with daddy issues, I would probably say “Maybe I won’t dye my head scales pink and pierce my dino navel,” but not Tara—Tara would go all the way. Tara would go out with her dino friends and steal cigarettes from an improvised 7-11, then give you the finger when you’re trying to use the crosswalk like a normal dinosaur just trying to get to work on time. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that Tara can commit to what she starts and when she does it, she’s like an improv tornado, both majestic and beautiful but with the intense power to turn scenes upside down (in a good way, not a natural disaster way, maybe I shouldn’t have compared her to a natural disaster). Tara is a lot like the Lincoln assasin—OK, I’m done. Tara is spectacular. I’ve learned so much from her and am glad to not only call her a teammate but a friend. I don’t know what I’d do with out her. Tara, never leave me!”
Tara Demmy on Carly Maurer:
“Carly is the master of commitment. That girl knows what she wants in a scene and she gets it. She is a super intelligent and cognitive player, but does not let that get in the way of her yesAND-ing her fellow Iron Lungers’ outlandish initiations. Carly’s facial expressions (whether it be a tired kitten or a disappointed yoga teacher or a young teen boy picked last for basketball) are the best, especially when they are accompanied by a long pause—genius. Watch out Harold Pinter!”
Carly Maurer on Simon Burger:
“Simon is all about commitment. When he steps out with a character or physicality you have to jump on board because you know he’s going to stick with it. He has a way of really engaging his scene partner which helps bring the scene to life. Simon also brings his own brand of wit and intelligence to the group which keeps us all on our toes.”
Simon Burger on Corin Wells:
“I took my first improv class with Corin, and she has improved more than anyone else in that class, by far. Corin is a fountain of hilarious experience and a powerhouse on the stage, and I would put her on my improv super band.”
Is there such a thing as a sophomore slump for improv teams? We may never know, because clearly these guys love each other and have their ish together, and I’m sure we can look forward to spectacular scenes from this group for years to come! Decades, even. They could be the Rolling Stones of improv groups! Only with less drug use. Or maybe more! Time will tell!
See Iron Lung this Friday at ‘Sideshow Presents: Iron Lung’s 2-Year Anniversary Show/PARTY’ (featuring a special announcement—hopefully it’s not that they’re breaking up, or I’ll have to take back everything I just wrote about their potential to be an immortal supergroup!). Show is 8pm at the Arts Parlor (1170 S. Broad Street). Admission is $5.
Want even more Iron Lung? Check out the latest episode of the Gettin’ Close with Mike Marbach podcast!
As the year winds down, WitOut collects lists from comedy performers and fans of their favorite moments, comedians, groups, shows, etc. from the last year in Philly comedy. Top 5 of 2012 lists will run throughout December–if you’d like to write one, pitch us your list at firstname.lastname@example.org!
I started losing my hair in high school. All of the fun things I got to do in the 1980s with hair dye are long gone. On top of that, I never had to shave regularly until I was in my late 30s. In the late 1980s all I wanted was cool sideburns, and I had to wait until the trend came back around a couple years ago to almost be able to take advantage of it. I didn’t even have armpit hair until I was in my 20s. I spent most of my teen years too mortified to wear a tank top. I view most men with hair and the ability to grow facial hair wistfully. They have something I’ll never have.
Whenever I see these five guys, I can’t help but think about their hair. And how much I want to possess it.
5. Vegas Lancaster (improv team The N Crowd)
His hair has super powers that I cannot begin to comprehend. If you encounter Vegas in a dark alley, you are simultaneously frightened and awed.
4. Jp Boudwin (sketch group Camp Woods)
He can go from full-on French Canadian couch-surfing drifter to slightly more respectable French Canadian couch-surfing drifter simply by getting a hair cut. Also, when he gets his hair cut, he loses ten pounds in one whack.
3. Jess Carpenter (improv team Iron Lung, Comedian Deconstruction)
If I had the ability to rock full-on Wolverine facial hair like Jess does, I would be an unstoppable sex machine. I would do so much with that superpower, but it remains unattainable.
2. Dennis Trafny (Philly Improv Theater House Team Hey Rube)
Dennis gets the nod over his [improv team] Bierdo brethren because with his bald head and piercing eyes, his head shots make for the best meme generation.
1. Chris Calletta (Philly Improv Theater House Team Hot Dish)
Chris has the perfect hair of every actor in every hair product commercial and/or Francis Ford Coppola film from the early 1970s. Chris, you probably think I’m constantly cruising you, but really, when I’m staring vacantly at you, I’m for real just coveting your hair.
Steve Kleinedler started doing improv in 1982 and studied and performed off and on in the 1980s and 1990s. He began performing at ImprovBoston in 2001 and teaching and directing there in 2004. He performed with IB’s Harold Team Marjean for three years. Steve directed numerous improv troupes and shows at IB, including The Family Show (2004-2007), Backstory (a ‘Memento’-inspired improv show, which he reprised with Hot Dish for the Philly Fringe festival in 2012), and IB’s sketch ensemble The Ruckus (2007-2010). He’s directed numerous one-person shows and scripted plays. At PHIT he currently directs PHIT house team Hot Dish and has appeared onstage in numerous guises, including Half-Life with Nathan Edmondson. He is also a founding member of Shattered Globe Theatre in Chicago.
This is a love letter to Philadelphia, and by extension, to the comedy scene that you have all created here and welcomed me into.
Philadelphia is where I actively chose to live after considering a wide array of options. Performing as a vistor in PHIFs, a Troika, some N Crowd shows, and several one-off shows exposed me to what Philadelphia has to offer. Inexpensive rehearsal and performance spaces mean that anyone with an idea and the drive can start a production. In addition to the established companies, numerous successfully produced shows in bars, empty store fronts, galleries, and the like, make Philadelphia’s scene reminiscent of the theatre scene in Chicago in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Discussions with Mary Carpenter, Greg Maughan, Matt Nelson, Alexis Simpson, Alli Soowal, Kristen Schier, and Jason Stockdale spurred me to move to Philadelphia 16 months ahead of schedule, and I’m glad I did.
The creative spark here is very strong. Across numerous companies and troupes, hundreds of people perform regularly. Groups of like-minded friends can form troupes (like Iron Lung, Malone, and Nielsen did) and what’s more important, they can get gigs. The structural framework of PHIT, ComedySportz, the N Crowd, and other existing companies in combination with the opportunities provided by the producers of Polygon, Comedian Deconstruction, Sideshow, and the Grape Room, to name just a few, means anyone with an idea or drive can get stage time. There aren’t that many cities that allow for this kind of opportunity—space is just too expensive in most cities—and people who take advantage of everything there is to offer have helped create a comedy calendar where something is happening almost every day of the month.
For my second Coffee with Comedians, I chose to get to know Corin Wells. Oddly enough, and in spite of being in the same room as each other probably somewhere over 50 times, we had not exchanged more than “hellos” and congratulatory remarks after shows. We even went to see ” My Week With Marilyn” together, but since you have to be quiet in movie theaters and also since I got there right as the movie started, I did not get a chance to start a friendship beyond that of the facebook and twitter realm there, either. So, Corin agreed to sit down with me at the Broad Street Diner, and thus, a friendship beyond the world wide web was born!
Aubrie: You have been performing with Iron Lung for a year now in Philly! Was there a specific moment when you realized you wanted to pursue comedy? Was it always something you were interested in, or was there a distinct moment where you realized that this what you wanted to do?
Corin: I think it’s something I always wanted to do, I just didn’t know how I wanted to do it. Cause I love stand up so much but I don’t have the nads to do it, so when I came across improv I was like “Ahhhh, yeah. This is it.” And I tried it and I fell in love with it and I got addicted. Now improv is what I love.
Aubrie: That’s awesome! Did you do theater or anything before?
Corin: Yeah, I did. I did theater in school. After high school I kind of stopped doing acting and started focusing on dancing- because when I was younger I did a bit of everything only cause my mom made me do it. And I was like, “I wanna be a hip-hop dancer!” So I did that in college, and then I was like, “This is not lucrative!”
Aubrie: Maybe not lucrative, but it is awesome! If I didn’t think I’d fail immediately, I probably would’ve majored in hip-hop dancing! Where did you go to college?
Corin: Hampton University in Virginia.
Aubrie: And what initially drew you to improv? Did you find it in or after college?
Corin: After. I had finished taking regular acting classes at Mike Lemon Casting and I was like, “OK, I need to do something else and I want to try comedy.” And I had been looking at PHIT for awhile, but for some reason I was like- I think it was money reasons- that I was like, “I can’t take two classes at one time.” So right after I was done with those acting classes, I was like, “It’s time.” And I ended up taking my 1st class with Nick Gillette, which was great. And I’ve been hooked ever since.
Aubrie: What is the best comedy advice you’ve ever gotten?
Corin: There’s a lot, cause I hang out with Marbach and he’s full of comedy advice. I guess as far as improv goes, just make sure you’re having fun. That’s the best advice. Cause if you’re not having fun onstage, then why are you up there? There’s no point.
Aubrie: Any general life advice that has been helpful to you, non-comedy related?
Corin: Do what you love, and fuck the rest. Yeah, my mom has always told me that- not necessarily “fuck” the rest, but she’s like “if you’re not doing something that you love to do then really what’s the point.” She doesn’t necessarily get the comedy thing, but she supports it. She’s great.
Aubrie: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Corin: Lately, I’ve been listening to Beyonce’s “Love on Top” because it’s such a hype song, it’s such a feel-good song. But I just try to get to get in a fund mind-set, like for Iron Lung, so when we start our ritual I’m ready to jump on board. And it’s always something different, something I can dance to. Sometimes it’s gangster rap. I don’t know, depending on my mood.
Aubrie: Sweet! Do you do silly dances, or choreographed dances?
Corin: For Beyonce I do real choreography.
Aubrie: Nice. Do you do them at home or at the venue before a show?
Corin: Anywhere. If I’m walking, if I’m driving, I’ll be dancing. I’ll do it while walking down the street…it’s great when people start dancing with you!
Aubrie: What was your favorite comedy moment to witness, Philly or otherwise? This is a tough one, cause I made it so broad, but it could be anything- a TV or film moment, or something you saw onstage or that your friends did…
Corin: I think the most recent one I can remember because it was a few weeks ago was Medic had this show and they were on a bus and AJ had to crawl outside the bus for some reason and ended up getting hit by this giant bus. And Luke kept running over him with a bunch of chairs. He just kept doing it- it was so funny! It was this really giant bus and that illusion was created, and it was so great. And Emily was like, “It’s a mix between Les Mis and Speed” and it cut back to AJ crawling outside of this bus and getting hit by it. Yeah, that was a great moment. I love Medic.
Aubrie: Me too!! They do a lot of cool physical stuff. Iron Lung also does a lot of cool physical stuff.
Corin: Yeah, I love those guys.
Aubrie: On that note, do you have a favorite stage moment that you were a part of? It can be anything-dance, theater, improv…
Corin: It’s probably gonna be improv.
Aubrie: Nice! I didn’t want to box you in.
Corin: It’s hard because there are a lot coming to my head. But there was one show where we ended up doing the whole block at PHIT and we didn’t know that we were going to, but Kevin, prior to the show spilled Malt Vinegar on his pants. So the whole first half became about Kevin smelling like shit. And he had the nerve to sit on my lap. I think that’s why I loved it so much, because we were all fucking with each other, and that’s when you have the most fun. There was also one show where we had Pinocchio running an underground railroad for puppets. That was great.
Aubrie: And what’s your favorite part about improv? Is there a specific thing about it that you really love?
Corin: I think just the concept of improv. I mean, when you strip all of the rules away, you are just a bunch of adults pretending on-stage- that’s all it is. And it’s like, “I do this. I’m playing around- I’m a kid again, just smarter.”
Aubrie: If you could create a comedy dream team of anyone in the world, who’d be on it? It could be just Philly people too, to make this super-difficult on-the-spot question easier.
Corin: Oh man, that’s tough. I’m gonna do Philly comedians and say my
fantasy improv draft is Matt Holmes(QB), Amie Roe(WR), Billy Bob Thompson(RB), Andrew Stanton(TE), Emily Davis(S), Jess Ross(OL), Dan Jaquette(DL), & Tara Demy(K).
Aubrie: I hope that team one day happens, and that they all play those positions- like a football/improv mash-up! And my final question is…drumroll…are you a dog or a cat person? I ended the last interview on this note, So I’m gonna stick with it.
Corin: I am a dog person, but I like cats. Which is a new development, cause my roommates brought home a stray, and I love her. I curse her out a lot, but I love her. We had miniature collies growing up. My parents have one named Teacup. I hate that name. My dad named her that, and I was like, “Man up, daddy!” He named her that because he wanted us to get a teacup yorkie, and we got a miniature collie. So he was like, I’m calling it Teacup anyway. My other dog’s name, we called her”Puppy.” We adopted her from a shelter and her name was “Mandy,” and my mom was like, “I don’t like that name.” So she named her Puppy.
You can currently catch Corin on stage with Iron Lung and as half of the duo Ebony & Ivory, and in May she will premiere with PHIT Houseteam (Codename) Strider.
Writer and comedian Ryan Carey posted this detailed ranking of 17 George Carlin albums on his blog. Carey gives each album two ratings, one based on laughs and one based on philosophy. 17 albums is a lot to dig through, but this type of stuff is right down Ryan’s alley.
Tonight at L’etage, the second monthly Camp Woods Plus will feature the namesake group plus Philly favorites Secret Pants as well as visitors from New York Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting. Doors open at 8 and the show starts at 8:30. You can hear Camp Woods talk more about their comedy in last week’s inaugural episode of The Witout Dot Net Podcast.
Tomorrow at L’etage marks the return of improv showcase Polygon. This month’s show will feature sets from Gross Butler, Apocalips, Rintersplit, and Angry People Building Things. Doors open at 7:30 and the show starts at 8:00.
The lineups for the first annual NYC Improv Festival have been announced and several Philadelphia teams have made the cut. The festival, which will take place from March 21-24 will feature Philly groups Mayor Karen, King Friday, Asteroid, Hey Rube, and Iron Lung.
This Wednesday will mark the debut of the Philebrity Showcase, a free monthly evening of comedy and music, hand-selected by the Philebrity staff, at Fergie’s Pub. This month’s show will feature comedian Tommy Pope along with music from Ladies Auxiliary.
Also nominated for Best Improv Group (1-3 Members) Beirdo is comprised of Kevin Pettit, Dennis Trafny and Dan Jaquette, three bearded men performing improv.
One of the two new Philly Improv Theater House Teams, Hey Rube is made up of members Aaron Hertzog, Alex Gross, Dennis Trafny, Jen Curcio, Lizzie Spellman, Mark Leopold, Rob Cutler, Scott Shepherd, and Tara Demmy.
Also nominated for Best Improv Group (4+ Members) Iron Lung features members Corin Wells, Carly Maurer Kaufman, Kevin Pettit, Maureen Costello, Jess Carpenter, Dennis Trafny, Simon Burger, Tara Demmy, and Ellen Qualey.
Nielsen is a group that formed after taking Andy Moskowitz’s level one improv class at Philly Improv Theater featuring members Abigail Bruley, Bran Zinn, David Brookstein, Jacqueline Baker, Katie Monico, Meredith Weir, Molly Silverman and out-of-towners John McGrory and Rachel Nichols, original members of the group who join them when they can.
The second of the new Philly Improv Theater House Teams, ZaoGao is a group comprised of AJ Ortiz, Billy Thompson, Brian Ratcliffe, Claire Halberstadt, Erin Pitts, Karen Coleman, Matt Akana, Nathan Edmondson, and Scott Hinners.
Asteroid! is a House Team at Philly Improv Theater comprised of members Aaron Unice, AJ Horan, Bert Archer, Brent Knobloch, Caitlin Weigel, Caroline Rhoades, Jessica Ross, Lara Magaldi, and Luke Field. Improv comedy for the end of the world.
Fletcher is a House Team at Philly Improv Theater featuring members Zac Chase, Emily Davis, Andy Moskowitz, Gillenne Nadeau, Dan Rich, Joe Sabotino, Kristen Schier, and Andrew Stober.
Hate Speech Committee
Hate Speech Committee is the self described “laziest supergroup in the world” and features members from the Philadelphia sketch, improv, and stand-up communities Aaron Hertzog, Billy Bob Thompson, Brendan Kennedy, Christian Alsis, Darryl Charles, JP Boudwin, Rob Baniewicz, and Sue Taney.
Medic is a fantastic five person improv group with members from many other of Philly’s best groups featuring AJ Horan, Emily Davis, JP Boudwin, Luke Field, and Nick Gillette.
Iron Lung is a multiple time Cage Match Champion featuring Corin Wells, Carly Maurer Kaufman, Kevin Pettit, Maureen Costello, Jess Carpenter, Dennis Trafny, Simon Burger, Tara Demmy, and Ellen Qualey.
Dennis Trafny is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team codenamed Brandybuck. He is also a member of independent group Iron Lung.
How and why did you get into comedy? I got into comedy because my family doesn’t think I’m funny. Look who’s on a funny website now, family! I will do anything for spite.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I’m influenced by everyday werido’s, they are my muse. Someone described my style of comedy as “funny”, which felt good. I liken my style to a wolverine stuck on a raft at sea…even if you could rescue it, would you?
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? I really like performing at the various developing independent comedy scenes in Philadelphia, such as Sketch Playground! at Tabu Lounge & Sports Bar or The Sideshow at The Arts Parlor. I also like to tell jokes at my place of employment because they have to laugh at what I say.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? I had a transcendental moment a few months ago during a performance. I remember actively thinking during the scene, “What life choices am I making? Why am I allowing a grown man to rub saliva on my face?”
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? Process? I just regurgitate my head vomit
What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? I’m no better than anyone else, I do it for the money, women and fame….
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? One of my favorite improv groups is Asteroid! They have a nice ensemble and exemplify the team concept. In the realm of sketch, I was super impressed with The Hold Up as they are very smart and try to get the “harder” laughs. I also genuinely love watching any new-to-stand-up comedian performing/tanking. Very real & very funny. There are some cool, local concepts being filmed in comedy too, such as the Brendan Keegan Show.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? One of my first improv shows, while getting the suggestion from the audience, I started making sexual innuendos out of nervousness. As you can probably guess, in the opening scene I was a fish looking for genitalia to bite. I try to be bland and straight forward at the top of the show now and it has made for far less genitalia scenes.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? Somehow, this city needs a face, like Batman.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? I want to live in lore. Next uproar I cause, I am going to immediately head for the exit to never return.