The second Comedy is Liberty weekend show is this Saturday at Liberties Bar & Grill. In this promo video Alison Zeidman hosts as Steven Bryan tries to guess who will be headlining the stand-up comedy showcase.
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One of the newest open mics in town, Comedy is Liberty, is expanding next week to become a full-on Saturday night stand-up showcase. Here’s creator Mike O’Donnell talking about the mic, as well as the upcoming show with headliner Tommy Pope.
WitOut: You’re heading up a new open mic and stand-up showcase, Comedy is Liberty. Can you give a brief history of how it got started?
Mike O’Donnell: I went to the Philly CAM (Community Access Media) Christmas party. I was talking to a film producer friend of mine, Sonny Vellozzi, and he told me that a local promoter wanted to get more into the comedy scene because it’s really growing. The promoter was consulting the new owners of the bar Liberties in Northern Liberties, so we scheduled a meeting to look at the room and agreed we could work with the space. Comedy is Liberty was born.
WO: What’s the philosophy behind the name of the show?
MOD: It’s one part marketing, one part philosophy. The name of the bar is Liberties (705 N 2nd Street 19123) and the section of the city is called Northern Liberties, so I figured it would be easy for people to remember if I called the show “Comedy is Liberty.” The philosophy part is based on a quote from Oscar Wilde: “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.” Recognizing that stand-up comedy is truly one of the purest ways to express freedom of speech is important. Comedy is liberating because it often gives the audience a brief moment to suspend all of their preconceived notions and see things from a different perspective. Plus you’ll hear better dick jokes than the censors will allow on T.V.
WO: A bunch of new Philly open mics have popped up recently. What are the advantages of dropping by Comedy is Liberty?
MOD: The room and the people. I’ve been doing stand-up comedy since 2000. I’ve seen a lot of people start rooms and not every space can make it work. I would have never started this room if I did not think the space would work. And it works. The feedback I have gotten from the comics has been positive and we’re still trying to improve. We are working with the owner to provide a “set of the night” gift certificate to the comic that has the best set. I also plan on offering interesting services down the line like recording sets and animating a comic’s bit.
Most importantly, the people that are involved with the show are why people should come down. Besides doing stand-up comedy, I have acted and worked in film, and there is still a wide margin of networking that needs to happen between sections of the Philadelphia entertainment community. I have been reaching out to my writer, actor, animator and filmmaking friends to come to shows. People like Stephanie Yuhas and Matt Conant from the Project Twenty One film festival and Loren Lepre, who runs a bi-monthly short film festival out of the Trocadero. I want everyone who is involved in the arts in Philadelphia to check out the room. You’ll enjoy a great show, and just maybe end up collaborating with someone you meet there on a future project. The fact that I started the room with a film producer and a local promoter is a perfect example of this. I look at it as continuing the road that WitOut started when you organized sketch, improv and stand-up into one site that people could look for.
WO: Who are Starman and New Jack, and why do you think they’ve taken an interest in promoting the mic? [Editor's note: see promo video below]
MOD: New Jack and Starman are professional wrestlers and comedians. New Jack has been known as the craziest wrestler to ever step into the ring. Plus he scared kids straight on Maury Povich. New Jack has begun to run out of new wrestlers to kick the shit out of, so he is getting more into stand-up comedy. He has some epic stories and will be dropping by Comedy is Liberty to hone his jokes and tighten up the delivery of hilarious New Jack adventures.
Starman is a wrestler from spacewho was featured on one of Nintendo’s first Pro Wrestling games. Starman decided to make a comeback after seeing a movie called The Wrestler. He is getting back in shape to provoke the Amazon into a match and New Jack is his mentor. Starman knows that cutting promos is a big part of getting popular as a wrestler, so he plans to stop by Comedy is Liberty occasionally and work on his microphone techniques.
WO: The first Comedy is Liberty weekend show is next Saturday, February 9th, with headliner Tommy Pope. How did you book Tommy?
MOD: I met Tommy through comedian Mike Rainey and we hung out personally before I really saw a lot of his act. We were just having fun joking around over beers and then a week later I saw him do 30 minutes and was really blown away. Then he follows that up with the Bird Text videos, which are amazingly funny. Sonny Vellozzi loved his act too, and when we were starting the room he asked if I could reach out to see if he could headline the first weekend show. I called Tommy and luckily he was available.
WO: Give us your top 3 reasons why people shouldn’t miss the February 9th show.
The talent. Besides Tommy Pope I have booked Darryl Charles and Mary Radzinski, who are also hilarious. I am very proud of the talent I was able to put together. Everyone is a seasoned comedian and some of the best that Philadelphia has to offer.
The timing. It is the weekend after the Super Bowl, which is a notoriously blah weekend. Instead of being depressed that we are in the grips of winter and football is over, take control of your situation and see a show that will really make you laugh and get you involved in an amazingly fun experience.
The atmosphere. Liberties has on old time feel to it that I really like. Both the upstairs and downstairs bars are gorgeous and after the comedy show ends a DJ will start. It is going to be a party and we’re going to have a lot of fun.
SUPER CAGEMATCH is a competition improv show were each group is given 20 minutes to do improv bits with the audience then voting to determine who was funnier. The show is hosted by Ian Vaflor and the final competition of the season happened last night at the Philly Improv Theater (407 Bainbridge Street, Philadelphia PA 19147). Cagematch ran three shows back to back to back last night to determine the winner, and I was fortunate enough to catch the last two rounds.
The competition angle keeps the show moving and makes it very entertaining.
The first show featured the group Jessica Tandy (Jessica Ross and Andy Moskowitz), versus Grimacchio (Jason Grimley and Ralph Andracchio). I don’t remember how the first show determined what group would go first, but I can’t forget how it was determined in the championship round (more on that later).
Jessica Tandy went first in the 9:00 show and took the suggestion “spaghetti” from the audience to weave into their bits. They immediately launched into caricature Italian accents as mother and son immigrants coming to the new world. They went through at least five premises’ and my favorite bit was when they acted like a fighting couple with Jessica locking Andy out of the house. Jessica wouldn’t let Andy back in unless he sang her favorite Shania Twain song (which he hilariously butchered). Jessica obviously LOVES doing funny voices and accents (she didn’t do one bit in her normal speaking voice). Overall the performance was strong and would be tough to beat.
Grimacchio was up next and took a different route to working the crowd into their routine. Instead of just asking for a suggestion they pick a person out of the audience and give them a quick interview of what they do and who they are. They take this information and craft a bit out of it. The person they interviewed was a writer and photographer so they set their premise in a news room. Grimacchio’s style is to bicker over the smallest points of contention and overanalyze minutia (a la “Always Sunny in Philadelphia” or “Seinfield”). I thought the first five to eight minutes were very funny and they would probably win.
WINNER: Jessica Tandy
The 10 o’clock show featured winner Jessica Tandy versus a three person group Safe-Weird (Andrew Stanton, Kaitlin Thompson, Rob Gentile). To determine who would go first or second Ian created a double dare style physical challenge making a member from each team eat a pie with cherries in them, then spit the cherries in a cup. The team with most cherries in their cup at the end of a minute could decide weather to go first or second. This contest almost made Jessica Ross throw up on stage which in turn made me gag (but in an amusing, “wow is she gonna throw up on stage” kinda way). Jessica Tandy won the challenge and inexplicably decided to go first again.
In their second performance it seemed to take a while to compose themselves after the physical challenge. They still had a funny bit about a bee being addicted to pollen like heroin and musical chairs where the loser goes to hell, but going first after the physical challenge was a bad decision.
Safe-Weird had the strangest premises’ (which is a compliment). They seemed to care the least about what the audience thought and were just trying to make each other laugh. They got the biggest laughs out of the audience with “Irish Mayonnaise” and “CB radio truckers”. One tool that the group uses very well is turning a bit into a fake commercial where one player will simply go into a voice over styled end of an advertisement.
Overall, SUPER CAGEMATCH is a winner. 20 minutes is a perfect amount of time for small improv groups to get in, get laughs and get off. If you have never been to an imrov show before, this would be a great way for you to get comfortable with this style of entertainment. Be sure to check Philly Improv Theater for the next season of CAGEMATCH and other comedy shows. Also, if you have interest in doing improv yourself, they always have several classes you can take.
Mike O’Donnell is a writer, actor, spoken word artist and stand up comedian in the Philadelphia area. Check out his work online at YouTube and Soundcloud.