On the last Friday of every month, ComedySportz is bringing in original outside acts for their 8pm time slot, ahead of their 10pm adults-only The Blue Show. This month, ComedySportz Presents features Beatbox Philly, the Philadelphia version of a Chicago-born show that combines improv scene work with improvised raps and beatboxing. The group’s players are all also ComedySportz cast members: Alli Soowal, Darryl Charles, Sue Taney, Mark Leopold and Matt Lally. Here’s Alli to tell you more about the group and this Friday’s show.
WitOut: For people who aren’t familiar with it, can you describe what happens at a Beatbox Philly show?
Alli Soowal: We hit you hard and fast with hip-hop and comedy! Our show is 45-55 minutes and it interweaves scenic improv with freestyle rapping— including improvised beats from our very own beatboxer.
WO: The members of Beatbox Philly are also all ComedySportz players, right? How did you guys decide to come together for this?
AS: We are! Well, all of us except for Matt Lally, who is our beatboxer. I’ve known Matt for years from the comedy scene, and we produced Comedy Month together, so when we were looking for a skilled beatboxer, I approached him and Dave Terruso to give me ideas of who would be good. They both replied “ummm…you know Matt has skills because you’ve seen him perform!” As for how the rest of us came together, Beatbox started in Chicago and we have had them perform at the Philly Improv Festival, plus I’m good friends with Rene Duquesnoy—one of the co-founders of Beatbox. I had wanted to put together a hip-hop show for awhile, so I talked to Rene, and he came to Philly and offered workshops through ComedySportz Philly, including one just for CSz performers. From that, I was able to gauge interest from other company members. Rene gave his blessing to use the Beatbox name (there is also a Beatbox in Minneapolis), and Beatbox Philly was born! We made our debut at last year’s Fringe Festival, and it was so well received that we wanted to keep going.
WO: Do any of you have a rapping background? How did you learn to freestyle, and what do you do to practice?
AS: Interestingly enough, Mark Leopold is a self-produced rap artist—like hardcore gangsta style! I won’t give you his stage name because it’s too dirty for the pages of WitOut. He’s the only one, though, who comes from that world. The rest of us learned to rap from ComedySportz rehearsals and classes, as well as lots of practice alone in cars. Rene teaches a “Mad Skillz” workshop each year at the ComedySportz Championships that several of us have taken. We also incorporate rapping into our shows in some games (“Kick It,” “Elimination Rap,” “Beastie Rap,” etc.), so everyone needs to be somewhat proficient in it. When we practice, we go through a series of exercises designed to gradually pull raps out of you, and to increase your confidence. Freestyling requires hella trust in your own brain to spit out words that you can make work into a cohesive song.
WO: Do you guys have rap names? If not, do you want to make some up for everyone right now?
Darryl “Salt” Charles
Sue “Peppa” Taney
Mark “Misdemeanor” Leopold
Kevin “Left Eye” Lopez
Alli “Lady Boo” Soowal
Matt “MC Spinderella” Lally
Not performing, but also a member, is Bobbi “M.I.A.” Block.
WO: What are you most excited about for your upcoming ComedySportz Presents show? Will there be any new or special surprises for audience members who are already Beatbox Philly fans?
AS: I’m so excited to be back with this awesome crew! We had a blast with our past shows, can’t wait to do it again. As for surprises, there will likely be some special guest appearances but you will just have to come out to see it!
Catch Beatbox Philly at ComedySportz (2030 Sansom Street) this Friday, February 22nd at 8pm. Tickets are $12.
Hey Rube will perform for the final time as a House Team this Saturday night at Philly Improv Theater. The group made their debut in August 2011 and have since performed at venues all over the area and festivals including the New York Improv Festival, Del Close Marathon, and the Philadelphia Improv Festival. They were crowned Best New Group at the 2012 WitOut Awards for Philadelphia Comedy, and were nominated for Best Improv Group at the 2013 WitOut Awards. The members of Hey Rube and their director Matt Holmes took some time to reflect, and say some nice things about each other.
Aaron Hertzog on Dennis Trafny:
“Dennis blows me away every time I see him perform. The only thing I know for sure when Dennis enters a scene is that at some point he is going to totally surprise me. He can take a seemingly everyday boring offer and come back with something that is (incredibly) completely off-the-wall but also somehow makes it easy for his scene partner to react to and build with. I don’t know if it’s a natural skill or something he’s had to work tirelessly on (or a little bit of Column A and a little bit of Column B) but either way I am completely impressed. He can also bring great intensity to a character (seriously, look into those eyes), and inject some much-needed energy in a show at a moment’s notice. Of course, this also makes for extra special moments when he decides to tone it down and show us his tender, soft side.”
Tara Demmy on Mark Leopold:
“Before Hey Rube, I didn’t know Mark Leopold. He was just one of those guys with a really great name. Now I know him as one of the most talented performers I’ve ever worked with. His character work is the best (Dr. Dandelion) and he is a super intelligent and creative player, knowing when to give a set that necessary plot twist. When I’m in scenes with Mark I have trouble not just hanging out and watching him work, laughing along with the audience. One of my favorite moments was when Hey Rube was doing one of our usual group scene orgies and Mark came on and just sensually untied Jen’s shoelace. The best. Catch up with Mark playing “5 Things” at ComedySportz or doing a “props made out of only cardboard” sketch show with The Hold Up or even doing a show in the Philly Fringe (his 2012 Fringe show Archdiocese of Laughter was one of the best comedy shows I’ve ever seen—he made a rap out of my favorite hymn: Gift of Finest Wheat! Genius). See you there—I’ll be the girl in the first row wearing my ‘I heart Mark Leopold’ T-shirt.”
Lizzie Spellman on Alex Gross:
“The first time I really hung out with Alex, he took me to a gay club with a hot Asian chick. I’ve come to learn he is one crazy cat (and I’m not just saying that ’cause he owns way too many cat shirts). Alex is so fun to play with on stage. When he makes a choice he always fully commits to it. He can go super weird with a character, but it’s always grounded in truth. I think if Hey Rube were a rock band, Alex would be the guy smashing his guitar on an amp and flipping off the crowd. I tell him all the time and I really mean it, he’s become like a little brother to me. That’s why I forgive him for drunkenly walking in on me in the bathroom and proceeding to pee in the shower. But that’s another story…”
Mark Leopold on Aaron Hertzog:
“I first saw Aaron something like six years ago. I went to an open mic and did some terrible set where I impersonated Forrest Gump at one point, and I saw this big man with a big personality just own the crowd and receive their adoration with composure and charm. It was amazing. I then retreated to the suburbs for three years. When I got cast on Hey Rube, the only person I actually recognized was Aaron and I was immediately intimidated by the prospect of playing with him. My fears proved to be completely unfounded of course. Aaron is one of the sweetest, most open, gentle and loving people I’ve met. His ever-present playfulness is infectious and when you have the good fortune to be in a scene with him, it’s such a familiar feeling of silly frolicking that you can’t help but have fun. Fun. That’s really the best way to describe what Aaron is like. He’s just like someone who it’s always fun to be around and with. He has a gift for vulnerability. He is just so brave and so foot-forward, always ready to give himself to the show or scene. Whether it’s dark or emotional, serious or silly, Aaron commits totally and performing with him is so easy and simple because you know he is going to completely receive what you give and build with it. Some of the most satisfying moments of collaboration in my life have been with him. Aaron is wonderful and any city, town, or village that doesn’t leap at the chance to welcome him is just tragically stupid.”
Rob Cutler on Lizzie Spellman:
“Lizzie is commitment personified. She’s an incredibly gifted performer, but the original characters she creates and maintains are nothing short of brilliant. Whether she exhibits the child-like innocence of a three-year-old, or the decrepit bitter wisdom of a wicked crone, Lizzie will up the intensity with every passing moment. She’s a multitalented performer, whose musical prowess is displayed often with her ukulele, singing some of the most irreverent, funny, and original songs I’ve personally ever heard. She has a gift for character and her future on stage is limitless. On the personal end, I’ve yet to meet a more patient and engaging personality. She has kind words for everyone I’ve seen her interact with (even if they were complete assholes). In short Lizzie is funny as hell, sweet as sugar, with talent oozing out of every pore. We should all be so lucky as to have someone like Lizzie in our lives. I’ll miss you Rubes!”
Jen Curcio on Tara Demmy:
“I will never forget the first time I met Tara. It was at Hey Rube’s first practice. I was really jealous of her because she was prettier, cooler and funnier than me. Then I got over it. Tara is a total improv pirate and for those of you who are not familiar with the term that means she attacks the scene. She is fearless in her choices, yet fully commits to and supports her scene partners’ choices. Tara is able to play characters that have a sharp contrast in stage presence. She will support anything and add value to it. I feel so lucky to have been on a team with her, I learned a lot from watching her be an awesome improviser!”
Alex Gross on Jen Curcio:
“Oh, geez. Jen is the worst. I’m just kidding! I know that really freaked you out Jen but seriously, I’m just kidding. I swear! Jen is one of the kindest and weirdest people I know. She is always thinking of others before herself and she’s given me countless car rides home. Her paranoia and craziness are right on par with mine, which makes me feel like she’s my improv twin. I’ve done some of my favorite scenes with her and she is always a joy to work with, no matter how many times she initiates scenes with hints of a gangbang starting. Jen is an improv powerhouse who isn’t to be fucked with and I’ve had a blast working with her. Rubes for life.”
Dennis Trafny on Rob Cutler:
“Rob is the ‘Phil Hartman’ of Hey Rube: really solid in every scene and he reigns in the crazy. He never gets scared on stage and is always cooler than the other side of the pillow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him hesitate. Not once. Never. Not even for a second. No ‘uhhhh’s or ‘ummmm’s. Nothing. He’s a beast. He also plays characters smartly, and on many occasions, very cleverly ties all the preceding scenes together. He is no one-trick pony either. He has a gift with puppetry and is awesome in Friends of Alcatraz . (If you haven’t seen it, you should!) Good luck with your future projects Rob!”
Matt Holmes on Hey Rube:
“It’s sad to see Hey Rube end, but things that burn brightest snuff soonest.
I got more out of directing Hey Rube than I ever thought I would. First, I learned to get past your perfect idea for how things should go. It’s better to be flexible and make it work. It took us a few months to all get in the same room together at the same time, but that didn’t matter much.
Then, I learned all kinds of insights about improvising, telling a story in a visual medium, teaching people, using people’s strengths and working together on their weaknesses, building something together in small steps, and creating a show (style, format, framework) that is a signature.”
Hey Rube’s final show will be Saturday, February 9 at 10pm at The Philly Improv Theater at The Shubin Theater (407 Bainbridge St.) Tickets can be purchased online.
Luke Field in Adrift.
During the Philadelphia Improv Festival this year, Adrift was featured. It was pretty star studded and I remember sitting there thinking what an amazing cast I was seeing. Tara DeFrancisco, Jill Bernard, Brian McConnell, plus some of Philly’s most experienced improvisers. Then there was Luke Field. I had only seen Luke perform once before and I knew he was good, but in a boat that full of talent I was afraid he might not be up to the challenge. And for a long time, it looked like it might turn out that way. Luke sat perfectly quiet for the whole first “day” of the show, not saying a thing. The second “day” started and things were moving along at a gentle pace, when the conversation in the boat quieted and reached a natural lull. Then Luke softly spoke up with an amazing offer, “I’d just like to reiterate my offer to hear anyone’s confession if they would like to.” It made the show for me. It was just a great, simple, strong move. Good job Luke.
Kristin Finger’s in The Real Housewives of Philadelphia.
The Real Housewives also performed during PHIF. It was a great show with many awesome moments, but one stood out to me above the rest as just a fantastic moment where a performer understands the audience completely. Throughout the show, various characters would step forward and do “confessional” scenes to the audience. Kristin’s character was very masculine. I’m not sure if she was a man, used to be a man, wanted to be a man or what, but it was pretty fantastic to just get to watch her duding it around stage. At one point, she stepped forward into the confessional, sat down uncertainly on the very edge of the chair and just tucked her chin back and said, “Uh…” in the character’s deep voice. The audience immediately exploded into a roar of laughter. But that isn’t what impressed me about that moment. What impressed me was what she did next. She read the audience perfectly and simply shrugged and walked offstage, which elicited yet another roar of laughter. Perfect timing, perfect offer, perfect delivery. Great stuff.
Billy Thompson’s cartwheel.
ZaoGao plays with a lot of intensity and I’m always impressed with the effortlessness of their constant support for one another. This was never more apparent than in a show during their Fringe run. Billy Thompson had established the character of an impertinent and lazy king who had other people do things for him. As the show progressed, two other characters challenged one another to a cartwheel race. No sooner had they finished their race than Billy ran forward and commanded his minions, “I want to be in the cartwheel race!” The whole team then proceeded to cartwheel him across the stage and it was wonderful. Great job ZaoGao, great job Billy.
Kristin Schier’s clowning at Sideshow.
At Sideshow this year, we all we treated with Kristin Schier’s clowning act. I loved it. I had never seen a clown before then. Not at the circus. Not at children’s party. Not at a party for clowns where you just invite clowns because that’s going to automatically be a pretty great party. So I didn’t know what to expect. Clowns have a reputation for being either terrible or terrifying. Kristin was neither. Her clown was this wonderful child-like creature who interacted so openly with the audience it was intoxicating. Everyone in the room was on the edge of their seats the entire time. She went through a wide range of emotions during her set, but one moment in particular stood out to me. Along one side of the stage the wall was covered in mirrors with a curtain obscuring them. Kristin’s clown, exploring the space, peeked behind them and discovered that there were mirrors there and gradually pulled back the curtains with growing delight. When the curtains were finally drawn, she caught sight of herself and reacted with surprise and confusion, turning to the audience as if to say, “Is that really me?” She then turned back to the mirror and simply looked at herself, becoming sadder and sadder…as the audience came on that emotional trip with her. Just amazing patience and control and willingness to go where that moment took her. Awesome job Kristin.
If you watch commercials you’ve probably seen Tom Fowler. He’s pretty great. If you’ve come to Comedysportz you may have seen Mary Carpenter. She’s pretty terrific too. Together they performed this year as Dangerous Fools. I caught their show this year when they performed at the Shubin and it was basically a seminar on patient scene work. One moment which really stood out to me was a scene where they were playing a husband and wife, trapped in a crazy female neighbor’s bathroom after their attempt to invite her into their newly open marriage had gone wrong. She had turned out to be way too into it and things had gotten intense and surprisingly racist. They had tried the open marriage because Mary’s character couldn’t bear the thought of touching him. So while they’re trapped in the bathroom, furiously arguing with each other in frantic whispers, Tom points out that it was all her idea to begin with, to which she respond, “I don’t want to touch you, but I can’t bear the thought of anyone else touching you either!” After that offer, Tom simply looked while Mary clapped a hand to her mouth. Then they stayed like that for about FORTY FIVE SECONDS. It was amazing. It was just insane to watch two performers have the balls to just stay there, silent, and allow their characters to react emotionally to an offer. So great. Then, after the tension had built to an unbearable limit, Tom simply said, “That is the sweetest thing you have said in a long time.” Great stuff Mary and Tom!
Mark Leopold is a Philadelphia improviser, sketch comedian, employee, owner-of-a-wardrobe-full-of-plaid-shirts, 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 going to pick up some milk, Mark took some time to sit down in a tent down at Occupy Philly in his head with Philadelphia improviser and Beirdo member Dan Jaquette.
Mark Leopold: Hey Dan, it’s me Mark!
Dan Jaquette: Hi. (extending his hand for a handshake) Dan.
ML: (shaking his hand) Mark.
This joke really only makes sense to the two of them and is based on a single incident which has colored their friendship ever since.
ML: So, you’re in Beirdo now…that’s new and therefore, something we should talk about.
DJ: I’m doing it ironically.
DJ: Yes. I’m a member of the group ironically. Whereas Dennis and Kevin are both genuinely interested and committed to being in an improv group based on the fact that they have beards, I actually grew a beard and joined the group as a commentary on people who would do that sort of thing.
ML: That is…elaborate.
DJ: No one has ever accused me of being less than elaborate.
ML: I’ve heard you described as circumspect.
DJ: How flattering!
ML: Do you know what it means?
DJ: Not entirely, but honestly I find it flattering that people are talking about me at all.
ML: Any press is good press?
DJ: Something like that. I feel like circumspect means something about circles, like circumference. And the “spect” part is probably a dig about my glasses.
ML: Well you do wear glasses.
DJ: I know right?
ML: (laughing) Terrible!
DJ: Just call me Mr. Imperfect Vision.
ML: (holding up his finger to call attention to an important point he wants to make) Bad eyesight is caused by the eyeball becoming deformed and throwing off the focal point of the lens in your cornea. Fact.
DJ: And there’s other reasons too…
ML: Nope. Just that reason. That is the only reason for bad eyesight.
DJ: I find myself forced to agree with you.
ML: We’ve got quite a back and forth going here Dan.
DJ: It’s Gilmore Girl-esque.
ML: You’re Gilmore Girl-esque.
ML: …and you wear glasses!
DJ: You’re really on a roll now.
They laugh uproariously and smile…the best of friends.
ML: (extending hand for a handshake) Mark.
DJ: (raising eyebrows in a spot-on imitation of a person meeting Mark for the first time) Dan.
ML: Ah! So…let’s talk about you getting married.
ML: Has that already happened?
DJ: My marriage?
ML: Yeah, are you already married or are you just engaged?
DJ: I am engaged.
ML: To…I want to say…Helen?
DJ: Nope, still Ellen.
ML: Yeah, that’s just not sticking. Any chance we could get that changed?
DJ: What works for you?
ML: Hm. Brooke?
DJ: She doesn’t seem like a Brooke.
ML: Are you kidding? She’s smart and funny and pretty!
DJ: Easy…that’s my future wife there tough guy.
ML: Wow…you just don’t strike me as a the type of person who would say “tough guy.”
DJ: Are you kidding? I’m a rugged badass with a beard and a motorcycle, but who has also studied the works of Shakespeare at a graduate level.
ML: Hm, well I guess that settles it. Best of luck with…dammit…Elton?
DJ: Not a first name.
DJ: Someone else entirely.
ML: …well…I mean…I’m assuming most of these other names belong to other people entirely…
DJ: Not Erolton.
ML: No one’s gotten to that name yet?
DJ: Not yet. It’s fresh off the name-assembly line.
ML: It’s not terrible.
DJ: Well don’t get any ideas, we’re planning on naming our first child Erolton.
DJ: Yeah, me and…oh man…dammit.
More laughter. More friendship.
ML: (extending hand for a handshake, but unsure.) Dan?
DJ: (thinks for a moment, then points like he’s ninety percent sure) Mark.
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.”
Mark Leopold is a Philadelphia improviser, sketch comedian, employee, future-skin-cancer-victim-because-he-doesn’t-really-believe-the-scores-of-studies-linking-sunburn-to-skin-cancer-risk, 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 Rittenhouse Square with Philadelphia comedian, improviser, sketch lady, and King Friday member Aubrie Williams.
MARK LEOPOLD: Hey Aubrie, it’s me Mark!
They knuckle dap ironically.
AUBRIE WILLIAMS: Boom.
ML: So let’s just clear up the question which everyone is asking. Are you related to Alan Williams?
AW: Nope, we just have the same last name.
ML: What about my friend from college Tom Williams?
AW: Again no.
ML: And you were never married to either of them.
AW: I was not.
Mark scans his list of notes about what to cover in this interview.
ML: (making thoughtful noises) Okay then…moving right along. Tell me about your childhood.
AW: Well I grew up in the suburbs so…
A panhandler walks by them slowly with a sign reading “Out of work (line break) lost my home (line break) Anything helps” Mark becomes very interested in his notes and begins making amendments and additions which will later prove to be nothing more than a series of squiggly lines, but he assumes that the panhandler will not be able to determine the difference. Aubrie meanwhile speaks in the slow halting fashion of someone who is focusing more on a passing panhandler than on the response she is giving.
The panhandler, having passed a far enough distance away to be spoken about, is now approached by an older man around forty seven and given what appears to be five dollars. Mark ponders what his responsibility in such situations is. People always say not to give panhandlers money, but is it uncharitable not to? Or conversely, is it wrong to give them money?
ML: Would it be wrong to give him money?
AW: I don’t think so.
ML: But what if he’s like a drug addict and he uses the money to buy drugs. Am I responsible for that?
AW: I don’t think so.
ML: I read a Steven King short story once about a guy who makes like a hundred grand a year pretending to be a panhandler and now I doubt the honesty of every panhandler I meet.
AW: That doesn’t seem fair.
ML: I saw a guy down on Columbus Ave. with nicer sneakers than me.
AW: He might have gotten them before he lost everything.
ML: I think by definition, that means he hasn’t yet lost everything.
AW: Just his home and his livelihood?
ML: Yeah…but he still has some really nice sneakers.
AW: You’re a glass half full kinda guy aren’t you?
ML: I think it’s the little things in life that make it worth living.
AW: I need an example.
ML: Okay, like when you’re driving down the highway in the rain and you go underneath an underpass and there is that momentary respite from the sound of the rain hitting your roof.
AW: I don’t think these people have cars…
ML: …and they probably spend more than just a moment beneath underpasses…
ML: I imagine they live below underpasses.
AW: Do they?
ML: Yeah, they have little villages right?
Another panhandler walks by, a woman this time. Her sign is even sadder. It’s so sad I won’t even read it to you. It’s just super sad.
ML: Yeah…that sign…whew.
ML: Does it seem like there are more panhandlers now than there used to be?
ML: I don’t know, before.
AW: It’s probably because of the economy.
ML: Weird…if you lost your job would you ever consider becoming a panhandler?
AW: I’d have to be in pretty dire straits.
ML: I don’t think I could do it.
AW: Too proud?
ML: No, I just couldn’t be on my feet all day. They’re just walking up and down the same forty feet of pavement all day.
AW: Yeah, they’re actually pretty industrious if you think about it.
ML: There is a hierarchy of the laziness of the poor and I would put panhandlers at the least lazy end.
AW: Who’s on the other end.
ML: I’d rather not say.
AW: Very diplomatic.
The sad sign lady is back and we discover that the sadness of her sign compounds with each reading. Mark starts blinking a lot. Aubrie weeps openly.
ML: (clearing his throat gruffly) Well…
ML: I’m going to scoot now…
They knuckle dap sincerely, happy to share a moment of physical contact with another human being. It may be the saddest knuckle dap of all time.
Oh God, the sad lady is coming back…
Mark Leopold is a Philadelphia improviser, sketch comedian, employee, someone-who-sleeps-laying-directly-on-his-back-with-his-arms-down-at-his-sides-and-with-his-legs-straight-and-slightly-set-apart-on-top-of-a-memory-form-mattress-which-makes-him-feel-as-though-he-is-an-action-figure-in-it’s-original-packaging, 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 driving down route 1 on his way to the shore, Mark took some time to sit down on the beach in his head with Philadelphia improviser and Comedysportz teammate Alan Williams.
MARK LEOPOLD: Hey Alan, it’s me Mark!
ALAN WILLIAMS: Hey Mark.
Mark and Alan sit quietly together, watching the waves roll in. The sun directly overhead beats down upon them. Alan reapplies sunscreen. Mark checks over at Alan to see if it seems like he wants to talk. It doesn’t seem like he wants to. Mark reaches into his bag and in brings out the book he brought to the beach, mostly because the beach seems like one of those places you’re supposed to bring books. He opens up the first page and begins reading.
Mark looks over at Alan, unsure if he said something or not. He mentally weighs his options and determines that if Alan has said something it’s far ruder to seem like he’s ignoring it.
Now it seems like Alan hasn’t heard him. A wave was coming in just as Mark was saying it, so it’s entirely possible that Alan just didn’t hear him.
ML: Did you say something?
Alan, still looking at the waves, now notices that Mark is looking over at him and seems to be saying something. Alan takes his earbuds out.
AW: Did you say something?
ML: Yeah, I asked if you said something.
ML: A few seconds ago.
AW: …I don’t think so. Was I saying something?
ML: That’s what I’m asking.
AW: I was listening to a book on tape…
ML: Right…but did you say something?
AW: I don’t know.
ML: Never mind then.
Mark and Alan both turn back to the waves, rolling inexorably in to the beach. Mark returns to his book. Alan, checking to see if Mark seems like he wants to talk and ascertaining that he doesn’t, moves to put his earbuds back in.
ML: It is really hot.
AW: (abruptly stopping putting his earbuds back in) Hm? Oh…yeah.
ML: You want to go?
AW: What? Already?
ML: Yeah man, it’s terrible here.
AW: Terrible? We’re sitting on a beautiful beach, watching the waves come crashing in on a gorgeous day.
ML: It’s just way too hot.
AW: Go in the water and cool off then.
ML: What? Ew. No. Do you know how polluted that water is?
AW: It’s fine, don’t be a wimp.
ML: Ugh, all I can imagine is all the tiny microscopic things living in that water and finding their way into my body.
AW: I never knew you were such a germaphobe.
ML: It’s not just germs in there man. There are tiny fish and plankton. It’s just gross. The water is actually opaque with the density of non-water material in it.
AW: So you’re too hot, but instead of going and cooling off in the OCEAN of water directly in front of you, you think it makes more sense to drive two hours home?
ML: It would be different if the water was clear, like if we were at one of those beaches you see in rum commercials.
AW: You should have put us on one of those then.
ML: I’ve never been to one of them, I’ve only been to beaches in New Jersey and I’m serious man, it is boiling lava hot out here. Can we just go?
AW: You go, I’m going to stay.
ML: How are you going to get home?
AW: I’ll figure it out.
ML: Don’t be crazy, just ride with me.
AW: Mark, it’s fine, I’ll grab a cab or something.
ML: A cab from the shore? Do you have any idea how expensive that’s going to be?
AW: Not really.
ML: Me neither, but I’d imagine it’s probably super expensive.
AW: I’ll rent a car then.
ML: Just ride with me!
AW: We just got here. I wanted to come to the beach. You said you did too. Now we’re here and I want to actually spend a little time here before I go back.
ML: It’s too hot!
AW: What did you think it would be like on the beach?
ML: I don’t know okay? I didn’t think it out very clearly. It’s summertime and I know people talk about going to the beach and seem excited about the prospect so I thought it wouldn’t be this terrible.
AW: It’s not terrible! It’s just warm.
ML: Not warm, hot. And it’s also really sandy.
AW: So you’re complaints about the beach are that it’s hot and sandy? Congratulations, you just described what a beach is.
ML: Fine, we’ll compromise.
Mark and Alan stay at the beach, but now it’s not as hot, it’s maybe 77 degrees and the humidity is really low and there’s a nice breeze coming in. Not a strong breeze, because then that would kick sand up onto Mark and Alan and since they’re still sweating a little bit (I’m a really easy sweater okay?) if any sand got blown onto them it would stick to their skin and make it really gritty and that would be super uncomfortable. So a nice, soft, gentle breeze. And you know what, screw it, the water is clear and nice like the water in those Corona commercials. That sounds good too. Alan and Mark sit in two beach chairs facing out to the water as the waves come gently lapping onto the shore, they clink their Coronas together over a bucket full of ice and more Coronas.
ML: Now this is miles away from ordinary.
AW: Ugh, you’re the worst.
Mark Leopold is a Philadelphia improviser, sketch comedian, employee, someone-whose-affection-for-cheese-leads-him-to-buy-far-more-than-he actually-ends-up-using-and-in-the-end-probably-wastes-more-than-he-eats-and-just-really-wishes-he-had-that-part-of-his-life-worked-out-a-little-more clearly,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 95 south, Mark took some time to sit down on a Euclidian plane in his head with Philadelphia improviser and Hey Rube teammate Dennis Trafny.
Mark Leopold: Hey Dennis, it’s me Mark!
Dennis Trafny: Where the hell are we?
ML: It’s a Euclidian plane.
DT: Is this a metaphor?
ML: Nope, just a mathematical plane.
DT: I mean, does the existence of this place inside of you represent some subtle and ignored aspect of who you are?
ML: Uh…maybe. I just thought it would be a neat place to do an interview.
ML: Because it’s a place where math and physics exist perfectly. In the real world, the imperfections of matter prevent those things from being observably true.
DT: This is starting to sound a whole lot like a metaphor.
ML: It’s not a metaphor. Just drop it. I thought you would like it here.
DT: I don’t.
ML: Why not? It’s awesome…math and physics exist as a reali…
DT: Pirate ship.
DT: You should have chosen to interview me on a pirate ship.
DT: Pirate ships are in no way dumb.
ML: Okay fine.
The Euclidian plane, which was totally awesome, fades away and is replaced by a big dumbpirate ship. Mark and Dennis are now suddenly dressed as pirates, which makes no sense at all,but hey, whatever right?
DT: What the hell?
DT: These are the worst pirate outfits ever. They’re not even close to anything authentic.
ML: What did you expect? I have no exposure to pirate culture. My only reference for piracy is a news item from a few years ago and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
DT: I think you misspelled Carrbiean.
ML: Nope, I had to check with Google, but it’s spelled Caribbean.
DT: You’re sure? Two Bs in a row?
ML: It’s a crazy mixed up world Dennis.
DT: Well either way you could make us look more badass…
ML: Swiss Family Robinson.
ML: There were pirates in that movie as well, but again, they were like cartoon pirates.
DT: Whatever, let’s just shoot cannons or something while we’re here.
ML: Forget this, we’re going back to the Euclidian plane.
DT: No, come on…
ML: Hey, I’m running this interview okay? I’ll do it where I want to do it. I initially thought you’d be psyched about the Euclidian plane…
DT: Why would I be excited about that?
ML: Because you’re a doctor! I thought you’d be impressed.
DT: I’m a veterinarian.
ML: …which is like a doctor.
DT: Not really.
ML: You went to animal medical school and stuff, so it’s like a doctor.
DT: It really isn’t. I mean, when pretty much the first thing you recommend is euthanasia, it’s not exactly…
ML: …this is starting to feel really disrespectful towards veterinarians.
DT: We’re cool with it.
ML: Well you better be. I don’t need Dr. Dolittle showing up at my door…
DT: Okay, now you’re crossing a line dude.
ML: Ugh, whatever. I need to pull over and get some gas anyway.
Dennis stands there on the Euclidian plane dressed like a stupid pirate…and it makes no sense.
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.
Mark Leopold is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team codenamed Brandybuck. He is also a member of sketch comedy group The Hold Up.
How and why did you get into comedy? I initially got into comedy through sketch. I was a member of The Action Section. They brought me on to run tech and write for their Halloween show three years ago. I have always had an interest in writing and have done a small bit of performing in my life and wanted to give it another try. Things went really well with The Action Section and it was through doing sketch shows that I was introduced to improv.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I’m still working to figure out what my style is. I enjoy a wide variety of comedy from silent physical humor, like Mr. Bean and Boy with Tape on His Face, to very cerebral, verbal word-play in the vein of A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Arrested Development, Mitchell and Webb and Demetri Martin. So when I’m writing sketch, I find myself trying to write things which are clever, which is terrible. I’m constantly discovering that clever sketches are interesting, but not very funny usually. Since I’ve begun doing improv, I feel like I am learning how to write great sketches every week. Improv is amazing in how it essentially teaches you how to be funny through not concentrating on being funny. Improv has definitely made me a better writer and has made the sketches I’ve come up with stronger.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? Almost all of the shows I’ve ever done have been at the Shubin. It’s my favorite space in the city because it is so intimate. You can feel the audience hiding behind the lights and when you have them with you it’s electric. It’s just a great place to perform because despite it’s relatively small size, it’s very versatile. There isn’t much you can’t do on that stage sketch-wise.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? I love all of my Philadelphia comedy moments the same.
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? I like getting ideas from my everyday interactions. I’ve been getting better about keeping a pen and paper nearby to jot down notes and ideas about jokes and sketches I want to try out. A lot of it is situational or might just be a premise I think has merit. Then I’ll procrastinate. Weeks later, I’ll come back to the idea only to realize I didn’t manage to capture what it was about the situation or idea that I found funny, so I’ll stare blankly at the note, vainly hoping to somehow resurrect the humor from it. Eventually, I’ll abandon it and promise myself to write more thorough notes in the future. I tend to get a lot of ideas right before I fall asleep, so it’s always pretty interesting to see what my semi-conscious mind comes up with joke-wise.
What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? It’s creativity. We are able to create through these things. Even if it’s not the best thing ever, it’s still something new. Something that has never existed before. With improv, I feel like it’s unadulterated creativity. The whole skill is about simply allowing the scene to happen. Once you try to force it, or control it, that is when it falls apart for me. It just simple and fun and it forces me to be in the moment, which I don’t do very often. Sketch brings the same challenge, with higher expectations. When it goes well, I feel like a good sketch is organic and compact and lean. The characters are clear and the premise comes out early so the audience can enjoy it. The jokes are an extension of the premise without simply restating it and as a scene the sketch has a beginning, middle and end.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Matt Holmes was one of the first improvisers I ever saw. Rare Bird Show opened for The Action Section for one of our shows and I just feel lucky to have been introduced to improv by one of the best groups around. Seeing Matt Holmes and Alexis Simpson being nonchalantly hilarious remains impressive to this day. I’ve only seen a few of their sketches, but I like what Camp Woods is doing right now. I like the Feeko Brothers. I think Ladies and Gentlemen are doing some great and interesting things. There are just a lot of great people doing stuff right now, Joe Sabatino, Doogie Horner, Kelly Vrooman, Mary Carpenter, Steve Gerben, just to name a few. I think what makes them my favorites…
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Our most recent showing of “Work” didn’t go as well as I wanted. We had some tech issues, the projector shut off in mid-show and refused to come back on and some of our re-tooled re-written sketches didn’t work at all. It was a good experience overall though. I think I learned something about failure and its relationship to success or something.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? As a community, we need to push each other. What I love about Philly is how supportive everyone is, but we need to find a way to keep that while adding a sense of competition. We should all be trying to get better. We should be trying to challenge ourselves.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? My comedy goals are simple and small. I want to write more and perform more. In the past, I’ve performed about once or twice a year. That isn’t nearly enough. Putting material in front of an audience is what this is all about and I want to do as much of that as I possibly can.