By: Alison Zeidman
To teenage girls, they’re The Beatles. To Hasidic Jews, they’re lobsters wrapped in bacon burning Israeli flags and eating cheeseburgers. To us, they’re Gross Butler. They’re not trying to offend you; they’re just gonna fuck with you a little bit. And in the end, they really just want to rock your face and steal your heart.
Alison Zeidman: How did you guys meet, and then how did you decide to form your duo?
Alex Gross: Like a year ago Greg [Maughan] would just ask me to ask improvisers to do a show that was supposed to never be seen again, just on Sundays if he needed a group to perform. And so the one day he asked me on Sunday, and I texted about fifteen people, and they all told me maybe, except for Mike; he was like, “YES I’ll do it!”
Mike Butler: I think it was the Saturday before, he asked me. And I don’t know how long before that Greg told you to put together a group. I just assumed that he told you earlier in the week and you just decided on Saturday to start putting it together.
AG: No it was definitely that Saturday, that day.
MB: So Alex said do you want to be in a group, and I said fine, because I knew Alex from Incubator. And he had seen my [PHIT] 101 show earlier in that year as well.
AZ: So you guys did that show together, and just decided to keep going?
AG: Yeah, it was actually a really really good show because uh…yeah, I was just really surprised and Greg was surprised, and we had this sixteen-year-old girl in the audience who was just non-stop laughing. And I was just like, OK, that’s our basic dmeographic.
AZ: Is that semi-serious? Do you guys cater to maybe…a less mature audience?
MB: Oh no, actually our stuff really is mature, a lot of people enjoy it, but on some level I guess sixteen year-olds do really like it. Though Greg told us that at our first performance, there were four Hasidic Jews who had come to the Shubin to see the show, and then walked out in the middle of our performance.
AG: Like the second scene in!
AZ: Can you think of what you might have said or done that would have made them leave?
AG: We were going very religion-heavy at some point.
MB: I thought it was the scene where we were in prison and you peed on me.
AG: That might actually have been it.
MB: And they just kind of walked out, and they didn’t take their money back either. So we have that distinction: Our first performance ever, four Hasidic Jews walked out.
AZ: Is that typical for you guys, to have scenes that are more controversial, or maybe even vulgar at times?
AG: I think it’s a lot about how the audience is responding. Because we’re definitely very much reliant on the audience.
MB: Overall, it’s not like we go out and say, “hey, we’re gonna have the dirtiest show ever.” It’s just our personalities, and we just go wherever it takes us.
AG: Yeah, I don’t think we try to be dirty. I think our show is just dirty because we’re dirty people.
MB: And if you try to be dirty you’re going to fail at it; it’s going to seem forced. But if you’re just naturally…
AG: Fucked up.
MB: I wouldn’t say dirty or fucked up. I like to say aggressive.
AZ: Can you explain what you mean by that?
MB: Usually you see an improv show and if stuff starts to get dirty or raunchy, that wipe comes through, and with us we take the scene for another two or three minutes.
AG: Yeah we’re very patient. The majority of our shows are all five- to six-minute scenes.
MB: We’re lucky if we get to go back to our earlier scenes.
AZ: Do you guys follow a specific format?
MB: We don’t necesarrily have a format. We just start doing scenes and then if we feel like it we go back to an earlier scene.
AG: I feel like the one thing I want from this group is–Philadelphia is very fast. A majority, like my team Hey Rube, we play patient in the beginning but it’s still not long enough. I like to do slow improv, so the one thing I wanted from Mike and I was just to do like five- to six-minute scenes. So that’s our format; we just want to do long scenes. And that’s the only thing that I can say our format is, just being patient.
MB: Yeah, we’re very patient. We just take scenes and go right up to their logical end, even if there’s something dirty in a scene, it isn’t over. It’s like no, we’re going to explore that some more.
AZ: And can you talk about your Krav Maga-inspired inspired opening?
AG: One night I was at home and I was reading an interview with The Vines, and when they were a shitty band and they were just starting out, most of their shows would end with all the bandmates just getting in fistfights, and the audience loved it. And I was like man, I want to get in a fistfight! And so I just was like oh, I’ll do that with Mike, forgetting that he’s trained in MMA.
MB: Yeah, he messaged me at work one day and says “Hey Mike, do you own boxing gloves?” And I said “why yes I do, why?” “I wanna do something where we start off the show boxing each other. ” And I’m like, “OK, that’s fine,” and we worked out how it would work, where we do the clover leaf while we’re punching each other, and I’m like, “OK great, which show do you want to do this on, Tuesday night? Usually I can’t do Tuesday night because I have Israeli Krav Maga class, but that’s fine.” And then he Wikipediaed it really quickly and said “oh my god, you’re a killing machine!”
AG: It’s awful, I hate it. There’s nothing like getting to your first scene and you’re already out of breath and your face hurts.
AZ: So you guys are really boxing each other?
AG: Oh he hits me pretty fucking hard.
MB: I hit him hard enough. I don’t want him to be knocked out and then I have to do the rest of the show alone. But we’re not tapping each other. I’m looking to put a little mustard on each punch and let him feel it, and the crowd gets into it because apparently everybody loves watching Alex get punched.
AG: The first part of the clover leaf is just like warming up, the second one’s really
vicious, and then the third one I’m losing my breath, my face hurts, and most of the time
by the third one my helmet’s ripped off.
MB: Yes, I provide him with a helmet, because I’m used to getting punched in the face and he’s not. So by that third one he’s forgetting the words and I have to remind him which word we’re on.
AZ: So it sounds like even during that you’re still very supportive of each other: You’re helping him remember words, you’re offering him a helmet. What other things, once you get into the meat of your show with scenes, do you think make you guys a good pair?
AG: I like to throw like curve balls–and just for the record we do shows way better when we’re not fighting each other at the beginning, because I sort of…nothing’s like doing an improv scene where your whole left side hurts, and you’re just sort of like fuck you, Mike. I don’t want to be onstage with you anymore, I fucking do not feel like doing this anymore.
MB: But yeah, he likes throwing me curve balls. At our last Grape Room show we were doing a father son bonding scene and he’s like, “yeah, now give me fifty pushups!” and I proceeded to do fifty push-ups onstage, with everybody counting.
AG: And me shooting my hunting rifle in the air. A funny thing about that, it shows you that in improv it’s not all about comedy, it’s just doing the task at hand. You “yes, and”-ed my fifty push-ups, and it ended with the whole crowd fucking applauding the shit out of you for like thirty seconds. They fucking loved the shit out of you after that.
AZ: Is that a recurring thing for you guys, to set your partner up in a scene for something that’s going to be challenging, and maybe even impossible? Is that a conscious game, or does that just happen?
AG: It just happens.
MB: Yeah I don’t think we try, it’s just the way we were trained. I took [PHIT] 201 with Mike Marbach and the main thing I took out of that class was, as Mike would say, “go out on stage and fuck with people.” And that just means go out and have fun with your partner, have fun with your team.
AG: I also know that Mike isn’t going to bail on an idea. If I tell him to be King Tut, he’s gonna be the best King Tut that he can be, and that’s really good. It shows….definitely shows a certain kind of maturity. A lot of [beginner] improv students, you’ll tell them to do something, and they’re so self-conscious, that they’ll either be a really shitty King Tut or they’ll just be like, “I’m not King Tut, I’m an astronaut!” [It's like saying] fuck you man, I hate your decision. And Mike always accepts it, no matter what.
AZ: Are there any challenges that you feel in performing, either just by the very nature of being in a duo, or for your duo specifically?
MB: The challenging thing about being in a duo is you’re in every scene; you’re always working. I think being in a group, if you’re on the side you can pick up patterns or little extra things more easily, but then when you’re in a duo you’re doing everything at once. But that’s what makes being in a duo fun. And I guess that’s why we have Duofest.
AZ: What are you guys looking forward to about this upcoming duofest?
AG: Free shit. T-shirts. Drink tickets at the bar.
MB: I wanna rock peoples’ faces. I want people coming out of our show going “yeah, fuck yeah, I like these guys.”
AG: Yeah, it’s nice [to be a part of it]. I tried to get into the first Duofest and I didn’t get in, and it’s nice getting into this one, and I appreciate all of the producers for picking us. But it’s just another show. It’s not like I’m more nervous to do this show than any other. Just time to play.
MB: Yeah. Just go out and have fun, just go out and play. That’s what Kristin Schier taught me in [PHIT] 101. So go out and play….go out and fuck with people…and now in the 301 class [with Greg Maughan], don’t throw chairs.
AG: Yeah, Greg Maughan’s a wet blanket.
AZ: Is it OK if I print that?
AG: Add that I love him, too.