“The way to improve is to reject everything you’re doing. You have to create a void by destroying everything; you have to kill it. Or else you’ll tell the same fucking jokes every night.” – Louis CK
The path of a comedian is one of growth and change. We are constantly trying to write new jokes, work on new material, and develop fresh ideas. All in the hopes of getting better. We are constantly looking ahead, to what is next. What is the next step in our careers? What is the next goal we want to achieve? Where do we go from here? This Wednesday, at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater as part of Comedy Month’s City Spotlight, a group of Philadelphia comedians will do just the opposite, they will look back.
In the Beginning…is a show from the mind of comedian Pat House which will showcase comedians taking a look at video footage from an early point in their careers, and roasting their former selves on their comedic talents (or lack thereof.) It is a show that aims to celebrate the growth and development of Philly comics in a way most comedians are comfortable with…by making fun of themselves. We had some questions for House on his own growth as a comedian, and what he sees in his peers.
Why are you making comedians relive their painful sets of years’ past? Because comedy isn’t tortuous enough. Just kidding!! I’m fascinated by the process of stand-up comedy. Nobody starts out great, and the evolution comedians has always interested me. I think it’ll be fun to laugh at how new and inexperienced we were, and it’ll be great to relive some of those gems we all had when we first started.
Tell us about the first time you thought you were getting good as a comedian. Though there are plenty of things in my comedy that really need improvement, I guess I first thought I was on the right track between a year and two years in, when I started getting hosting spots and guest sets on the weekends.
How much have you grown and changed since? What would you say to yourself then?
Great question. For starters, I would love to ask myself “So, you think you’re being discrete by taping a setlist to your water bottle and looking at it between every joke? Because you’re not.”
For me, growth as a comedian seems to be long plateau periods and every once in a while I will hit a bit of an upswing – how do you see patterns in your growth? I would definitely agree with that. Plateaus are very common, but the longer I do comedy, the more I realized how beneficial the plateaus are. When you’re doing the same jokes night after night, it’s redundant and sometimes boring, but looking back, you realize those jokes got tighter and better. You don’t always realize that on a day-to-day evaluation.
I see patterns in my growth every year. I used to judge myself on what seemed like a daily basis and I’ve learned that I absolutely cannot do that. The everyday grind is rough, but if I gauge myself every six months to a year, that’s where I see the most improvement.
How do you think that compares to other comedians? Every comedian plateaus, but every comic gauges their comedy in their own way. A lot of newer comics tend to be in the moment and think they’re either good or that they suck right off the bat. The more you hang around comedy, the more you realize it’s about the bigger picture. I just hit my seventh anniverary in comedy last week, and I can definitely say that I’ve learned more between years five and seven than I did my first five.
What is your favorite thing about watching different comedians evolve and grow? My favorite thing about watching other comics grow is that in itself (does that even make sense?) I can name dozens of great comics I’ve known since the beginning of their career, and watching them evolve to where they are now has been one of the best parts of the ride. We’re all in this mess together.
Do you have any specific favorite moments of seeing a comedian “find their voice”? Just the other day I watched the 1995 HBO Young Comedian’s Special with Louis CK and Dave Attell. They were great, professional comics at the time, but sixteen years later, both of them are (obviously) significantly better and have a solid grip on their voice.
It was really interesting to me – with Attell, a lot of the jokes he does in the HBO special, he did on his first album six years later, and the jokes are light-years better on the album. He honed those jokes for years. With Louie, it was almost like you could see where he was going with his voice, it was there, it just hadn’t come out yet.
Attell and CK are two of my all-time favorite comics, and seeing that special made me feel a lot better about my material. They were great then, and incredible now.
Have you seen any dramatic changes in someone’s style, either suddenly or over time? What have you liked or disliked about them? I really can’t recall any dramatic changes in someone’s act. I feel with a lot of my friends, any changes over time were just the natural progression of becoming a better comic.
How do you think your style has changed since you started? My style has changed immensely since I started; I am a completely different comedian. When I first started, I had a lot of shock value one-liners; terrible, fictitious jokes that were God-awful. Back then, the thought of being personal on stage didn’t even occur to me. About two years or so in, I started to get a little personal with jokes about my life at the time (college and drinking), and from there, it progressed slowly into what I do now, which is becoming a mostly personal act.
Do you have any plans or goals as far as changing your style or writing habits for the future? My main goal for the future is to write more. I tell myself to everyday, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty lazy with that. Reading helps me a lot too. I find that when I’m going through book after book, I’m writing a lot more, and I seem to notice more things around me as well.
In the Beginning…will play at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater (2111 Sansom St.) this Wednesday, October 19th at 8:00PM. Tickets can purchased online.
This week, Comedy Month wraps up with the first annual City Spotlight, a week showcasing many of Philadelphia’s diverse comedic talents. Tonight, the Old Comedy Buffet features all comedians over 40 for a night of classic Philadelphia comedy. Later this week, Pat House hosts In The Beginning…, where comedians will show a video from their early days of comedy and roast themselves making fun of how far they’ve (hopefully) come. Friday night features Broad Comedy, an all female show hosted by Mary Radzinski and Carolyn Busa.
This Tuesday, Face Time with Chip Chantry returns to Helium Comedy Club. This month’s show will feature James Hesky, Brendan Kennedy, Darryl Charles, Glen Tickle, and as always will feature co-host and house band Amir Gollan and Chip Chantry doing the news.
Philly Improv Theater will feature a week of shows they are calling “Pilot Week” which will showcase all new shows looking for a permanent spot in the PHIT lineup. Tonight, Becca Trabin presents Town Hall a debate show in a mock town hall meeting format. Tuesday will feature True? The Roger C. Snair Interview Show hosted by Brendan Kennedy‘s Guilty Pleasures sidekick. Wednesday will be the debut of a new panel comedy show A Few Answers Short.
This Thursday and Friday The Feeko Brothers will present a new show at Philly Improv Theater. Billy and Christian, fresh off their second consecutive Dirtiest Sketch in Philadelphia victory will share the stage with New York sketch group Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting. Tickets can be purchased in advance online.
is a stand-up comedian who started in Philadelphia, has since moved to New York, but is still around Philly quite a bit. He is also the host of the upcoming In the Beginning…
a City Spotlight show that will present some of Philadelphia’s top comedians showing videos of their early performances, while roasting themselves along the way and (hopefully) showing how far they’ve come.
How and why did you get into comedy? As a young kid, watching comedy on television intirgued me. I was too young to understand the jokes, but I remember loving the fact that these people were just making other people laugh. When I was in high school, the “Comedy Central Presents…” series launched (as well as “Last Comic Standing”) and I watched an ungodly amount of stand-up. I took notice of a lot of comics, their individuality and developed some favorite comedians. Then, during my freshman year of college I saw Dave Attell, Lewis Black, Mitch Hedberg and Mike Birbiglia at the Tower Theater and I was blown away. This night literally changed my life. I was laughing like I had never laughed before, and I distinctly remember thinking “I HAVE to try this!” I imagined me being on stage, getting those laughs and I knew I just had to at least try it – even just once. It became an obsessive thought. Then on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2004, I went to the Laff House for their open mic and have not stopped since day one.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I have no idea. I started off with set-up/punchline type-jokes that were completely fictitious, then once I became more comfortable on stage, my set-up/punchline jokes took a more personal angle. Now, I still have some set-up/punchline type of jokes, I have a few stories, I have some observations. It’s a mess. I’m influenced by so much comedy that whan it comes down to it, I have no idea what I want to do, so I’m trying different things until something clicks.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? I love performing at Helium. It’s my home club and they have been nothing but amazing to me. Helium is the place where I’ve built my entire act. From open-mics, to guest sets, to hosting to featuring. I learned more there than anywhere else. When that room is sold-out, the electricity is unreal. Because of Helium, I have literally opened for most of my favorite comics – Attell, Alexandro, Giraldo, Fitzsimmons, Maron – and dozens of others. Helium is literally my second home. If I have a free night, I’m there.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? I think I’ll go with the first time I was asked to host a full week at Helium. I hosted a few open-mics there, but getting the full week was like getting called up to the big leagues. It was like So wait…you WANT me to open for Nick DiPaolo?!? AND you’re going to pay me for it?!?
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? Or a sort of method that you use to develop comedic material? I don’t really have a creative process, I usually just jot down random ideas and come back to them later. Lately, I’ve been going to the library for an hour or two a day. No computer, no phone, no iPod – just my notebook. I’ve been making more of an effort to carry a notebook with me at all times, I think that helps a little. I find that the more I read, the more I write. When i’m going through book after book, I always feel I have more ideas and I seem to ‘notice’ more things, as opposed to when I’m not really reading and kind of in a lull. So because of that, I read as often as I can, but sometimes the laziness wins. I still think some of the best lines are the ones that just come to you. You have an idea, something clicks and it works immediately.
What is it about stand-up that draws you to it? It’s a rush. It’s euphoric. It’s addicting. There is absolutely nothing like having a killer set. I always want to perform. If I have a bad set, I want to get on stage again and redeem myself. If I have a great set, I can’t wait to get on stage again and hopefully re-create that feeling. There’s no middle ground, I always want to get on stage. I feel the most comfortable on stage. I know it’s totally cliche, but I feel that I can be myself on stage. The freedom is unlike anything else.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Chip Chantry is my favorite joke-writer. He’s constantly running creative and original ideas by me and usually they’re solid jokes from the start. Chip has a natural talent for joke-writing. Whether it’s material, roasting or a specific project, he always has the ability to crush with solid jokes, delivery and commitment. Steve Gerben is an incredible performer. I love his ability to take his deeply personal experiences and make them hilarious. He’s animated, he really sells his bits and he’s always working on something – new material, short videos – I love his creativity. Mike Rainey…I don’t even know where to begin. I think he’s the only comic in Philly that has actually made my cry laughing. Like, actual tears running down my cheeks. The whole Philly scene is incredible. There’s so much I could say about everyone.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Every show has gone smoothly and according to plan!
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? I sincerely believe that being supportive, being nice and helping others does wonders. The support in the Philly comedy scene is astounding and I miss it immensely. There’s no shame in asking for help or giving another comic friendly advice. As long as ever-yone tries their best, take risks and is there for each other, on stage and off, that’s all it needs.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? I just want to do comedy full-time. I’m not looking for celebrity status or to have my name up there with Pryor or Carlin. My ultimate goal is be a full-time working comic. If comedy can pay my bills and provide a comfortable/fun lifestyle, I’d be more than happy.
Tomorrow night at 8pm at the Urban Saloon Mary Radzinski and Carolyn Busa will celebrate six months of their Monday night Laughs on Fairmount Open Mic with their first LOF Showcase. The two co-host the mic, held every week in the back room at the bar across the street from Eastern State Penitentiary and have now expanded to include a weekend showcase. The first show will feature comedians Sean Preston, Nicole Yates, Noah Goldstein, John Kensil and will be headlined by Pat House. The hosts of the show had a few words to say to encourage you to attend:
Carolyn: Hey, Mare, I’m super excited about this Saturday’s six month anniversary show of Laughs on Fairmount! I really need something like this to look forward to, especially after the dentist appointment I just had.
Carolyn: I hate you.
Mary: No you don’t.
Carolyn: Why don’t you go get a spray tan?
Mary: Oh gosh, Carebear, not until Saturday morning. I want a fresh glow for the show.
The first Laughs on Fairmount Showcase will be held Saturday, September 17th at 8pm at The Urban Saloon (2120 Fairmount Ave.) Tickets are $10 at the door. More information can be found on the Facebook Event Page.
A packed crowd at Helium witnessed the cream-of-the-cream of Philadelphia comedy last night during the finals of the Philly’s Phunniest Competition. Beginning almost 2 and a half months ago with 165 comedians, the field had been whittled down to 10 Finalists, who took the stage in order to see who would walk away with the title. The was a true spectacle – each comedian was worthy of raucous laughter, wild applause, and probably a $1,000 prize, but there can only be one winner. Surely those who missed out on this will be kicking themselves for a long time… for those unfortunate souls, here’s a taste of what you missed:
Below are the first and last words spoken on stage by each of 2011’s Philly’s Funniest Finalists:
(Comedian – First Word // Last Word)
Host Dave Smith – Thanks // Night
Pat Barker – Thank // Thanks
John McKeever – Hey // You
Chip Chantry – So // Everybody
Gary Vider – Thanks // Evening
Andy Nolan – Alright // Much
Mike Rainey – Alright // Rainey
Tommy Pope – Hey // Thanks
Gordon Baker-Bone – Yeah // Night
Pat House – Thank // Night
Darryl Charles – Yay // Everybody
Headliner Big Jay Oakerson – Thank // Around
Congratulations to all ten finalists, but a little extra congratulations to Tommy Pope who deservedly was named winner of 2011’s Philly’s Funniest. And to everyone who missed the show – you’re welcome!
The results are in from the first of two semi final rounds of Helium Comedy Club’s Sixth Annual Philly’s Phunniest Person Contest.
Moving on the the finals, which will be held this Wednesday at 8:00 PM are:
John McKeever, Pat House, Mike Rainey, Gordon Baker Bone and Gary Vider
The second semi final round will be held tomorrow night, where 15 more comics vie for the last five spots in the finals. You can get tickets for tomorrow’s show, and Wednesday’s finals online.