Local sketch group The Stonewall Players just released their new album on Bandcamp on December 21st, and it’s available to fans for the low, low price of $FREE.99. (Or whatever you’d like to pay—might be nice to throw the group a few bones, right?)
Not familiar with the Players? Here’s a little background and more info on the album from team member Matt Schmid:
“The Stonewall Players are Andrew Kramcsak, Joe Pantalone, and myself. We filmed some shorts here and there after high school but never really tried to do anything live, as none of us were aware of a live sketch comedy scene until I took the sketch 101 course with [Secret Pants’] Brian Kelly at PHIT. After that we began attending Sketch Up Or Shut Up regularly which, so far, is the only live performing we’ve done of our material. We decided to record these sketches as an album because we sort of wanted to flush them out and start writing new material. I think it’s a good format for us because we have more of capacity for writing than, I’d imagine, performing. Also, jokes can be layered differently and more nuanced when you don’t have to get that instant big laugh on a stage;it can be more low key.
As for the material itself, Andrew and I wrote everything on the album and then punched up each other’s sketches. We write in a really complimentary way, he’s really good with details and specific phrasings and I really like the big picture, so it’s easy to hand off stuff. I also write a little more darker and absurd stuff and Andrew, who is very bookish, brings a sweetness and a sophistication to the characters.
We definitely look forward to performing live in the new year. I was one of the writers for the PHIT Sketch House Team The Flat Earth and it was really awesome witnessing the show come together. Watching [Secret Pants’] Paul Triggiani direct was bonkers and intimidating and an amazing learning experience, so I hope to bring what I learned from that show into our material.”
WitOut: How would you describe Secret Pants for someone who’s never seen one of your shows before?
Paul Triggiani: I would describe one of our shows as “TV sketch comedy on a stage.” We (both as individuals and as a group) come from a film and video background, so when we’re putting together a live show, we approach it the way you would sketch comedy for live (or live-to-tape) television. We try to replicate the TV experience live, even if it means building a seemingly unnecessary set piece or painting ourselves black and white. We have a lot of fun with it, and if we do it well, it can be pretty magical.
WO: Can you give a brief history of your annual Christmas show?
PT: We brought our previous variety/sketch show, Welcome to the Terrordome, to Johnny Brenda’s in 2009. We had a couple of successful shows there, and that led to Johnny Brenda’s offering us a slot a couple days before Christmas (which I guess had been historically difficult to bring in an audience for). We all agreed at the time that we might be committing event suicide, but we took on the challenge and put up our first all-Christmas show, Nobody Ever Dies on Christmas (Except Toshiro Mifune), on December 23rd, 2010. We got a good crowd that year, and more importantly, people drank a lot, so Johnny Brenda’s asked us back again. Honestly, it’s just the absolute worst time of year to put together a show, but as long as people keep showing up and Johnny Brenda’s keeps asking us, we’ll probably keep doing it. Until we finally decide to give up this silly, expensive passion project.
WO: What are you most excited about for this Sunday’s A Banner Year at the Ol’ Bender Household? (Alternatively, you can also just name everything that excites you about it.)
PT: It’s hard to name something we aren’t excited for. For starters, we’re all pretty jazzed about our set. It’s very different from any set we’ve ever done; it’s a bit of an experiment and we hope the experiment is a success. We love and respect all of the groups that are on the show— and it’s up to like, seven now—and we wish we could come and just watch instead of being in charge (sorta). We pride ourselves on putting together a show that more than delivers for the price, and we honestly don’t think that you can get more entertainment and fun for $10 anywhere else, ever. Also, PS, Mad Elf on draft.
This year’s Secret Pants Christmas show, ‘A Banner Year at the Ol’ Bender House’, is THIS SUNDAY, December 23rd at 9pm at Johnny Brenda’s (1201 N. Frankford Avenue). The show will be hosted by comedian Chip Chantry, and will also feature sketch groups Camp Woods, ManiPedi and Specific Jawns; a burlesque showcase with Randi Warhol; music from Emily and Micah McGraw. Admission is $10.
On Tuesday A Bunch of Improv at The Grape Room (105 Grape St.) returns with a show featuring improv from Nielsen, No Wait, Matt&, and Cock Hat and will be hosted by Rob Gentile. Doors open at 8pm with the show starting at 8:20.
This Friday The Arts Parlor (1170 S. Broad St.) will host The Sideshow: Short Attention Span Theater. The show will feature shorter acts (no longer than 15 minutes) and will hosts a mix of magic, stand-up, improv, sketch, storytelling, music, and more.
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 email@example.com!
The Feeko Brothers – Two Doctors
The opening to Crotch the Throne, one of my favorite shows of the year, Two Doctors is an amazing sketch both in premise and execution. Watching the Feeko Brothers (Billy Bob Thompson and Christian Alsis) say the exact same thing at the exact same time (and discover that they say the exact same thing at the exact same time at the exact same time, and discover that they discover…you get it) for an entire sketch is pure joy. The two doctors ask each other fantastically detailed questions to find out how similar they actually are, and their answers are as unexpected as they are hilarious (“I don’t drive. It’s dangerous. I power walk everywhere.”) The sketch reaches its peak as the two sing together and try to harmonize their “all time favorite, trapped on a desert island forever with it” song; The Weight by The Band.
Camp Woods – Imposters
I think it’s pretty safe to say that Camp Woods created more comedy in Philadelphia than anyone else in the past year. They challenged themselves with a monthly show at L’etage at which they promised a brand new set every month, and they more than met their goals. With that much material created I could have done a list of just my Top Five Favorite Camp Woods sketches from 2012 – but I think I talk about them enough. Imposters was a great sketch about a mother (played by Billy Bob Thompson) who throws an 18th birthday party for her daughter (Madonna Marie Refugia) and hires an Austin Powers impersonator (Pat Foy) as entertainment. The sad man slowly realizes exactly how sad his life is as he tries to hit on the girl every time her mom leaves the room to get the cake (which she keeps forgetting because she’s “fucking stupid”). He finally realizes he is living his life in the past, as all of his choices in life have lead him to his fate as a “true impersonation” of the swingin’ sixties spy character. Depressing, but hilarious.
Camp Woods – Mystery Science Andre 3000
This sketch made its debut at The Theme Show. I’ll let it speak for itself.
Secret Pants really kept peeling back the layers on this onion-of-a-sketch they performed at November’s Camp Woods Plus. The concept involved the Secret Pants of today travelling back into time to Meg and Rob’s Last Show to inform the Secret Pants of that day that it would not, in fact, be Meg and Rob’s last show. More visits from more versions of Secret Pants from more distant futures created a hilarious rapid fire back-and-forth between all of the groups that eventually lead to the discovery that even though Meg and Rob would not be gone forever Bryce would have to cry like they would, because the fate of all humanity depended on it. Thank you, Bryce, and thank you, Secret Pants.
ManiPedi – Suicide Gary
Suicide Gary is ManiPedi’s cautionary tale of a man (Briana Kelly) who, after failing to commit suicide, is left to hang under the bridge where he tried to end his life as a lesson for teens that life is worth living. It’s like an “it get’s better” campaign, only nothing ever does. A teacher (Aubrie Williams) leads a group of students (Kaitlyn Thompson, Shannon Brown, Madonna Marie Refugia) to learn from Gary and ask him questions like “does it hurt” (it does) and “how do you eat” (sometimes a bird flies near his mouth). One of the more morbid students becomes infatuated with Gary’s situation while another antagonizes and bullies him into trying to once again live up to his nickname. Neck-snappingly funny.
If you didn’t know ahead of time, you wouldn’t guess that The Clay & Calhoun Sketch Comedierie’s first show was Monday night. Despite tech problems that plagued each of the night’s performances, Clay & Calhoun put on 15 minutes of tight, well-acted sketches and videos that featured faces familiar to anyone who follows comedy in Philadelphia. Perhaps that’s because the man behind the outfit, Vincent DiCostanzo, isn’t new to Philly comedy. He’s been part of the city’s sketch scene since 2003, and in addition to Clay & Calhoun, he’s one of the writers for Philadelphia Improv Theater’s house sketch team, The Flat Earth.
Vincent led the night with a sketch that tested the limits of an NPR presenter’s willingness to stay true to the source material during banned book week. Awkward moments continued through sketches that touched on dating, the news and birthdays, before the set wrapped with Secret Pants’ Paul Triggiani on stage to help with a new take on the bit made famous by Abbot and Costello, “Who’s on First?”
I spoke to Vincent after the show and then again on Tuesday.
Peter Rambo: How do you think the debut went?
Vincent DiCostanzo: I think, all in all, the show went well. There were some tech set-backs, but you have to accept that some things are out of your control. I jokingly told Hillary [Rea] downstairs that “my set is 90% awkward silence—so the crowd will be nice and warmed up for ya.” I didn’t realize how accurate I would be. One GOOD thing, though: There was an outro and a credit sequence set to play after “Huckleberry Finn,” then I added “Happy Birthday” at the last minute to pad for time and give myself time to change clothes. The tech skipped the credits and jumped right to “Happy Birthday,” so it’s a good thing I took my shirt off before my pants or the next sketch would have been very awkward, or—awkwarder.
PR: What kind of prior sketch experience do you have?
VD: I started doing sketch comedy back in 2003—or thereabouts—with a group called SKITSoid. It started as part of the Fringe Festival and there were only a handful of shows after that, and I didn’t start writing until late in the game. As SKITSoid wound down, I started writing and producing my own work as part of The Gentlemen’s Rotary Auxiliary.
PR: And how long have you been working on Clay & Calhoun?
VD: Clay & Calhoun started making its way into my brain just over a year ago. I had a stack of sketches left over after the Gent’s Rotary’s demise and ideas just kept populating in my brain. I kept going to shows and really missed making comedy. I jumped at the chance to write for a PHIT House Team, now known as The Flat Earth, to get my legs back under me. Unfortunately, halfway though the process, my hours at work changed and I couldn’t make as many meetings, rehearsals, etc. That panic and anxiety over the loss of control over my material—which I expected to an extent—lit the fire under my ass. I had challenged myself to start writing sketches that could be performed by one person, but ended up failing at that pretty quickly. I think the only two good ones I came up with were performed Monday night. I’ve always preferred performing with other people, plus, there are too many voices in my head for a one-man show. I applied for Philly SketchFest on the last day submissions were being accepted to sort of force my own hand.
PR: What are some of the benefits and/or pitfalls of running things by yourself?
VD: Well, I haven’t been doing everything myself. When I sat down to start to dive into the work for SketchFest, I invited a few friends over for B.S. sessions. Matthew Schmid, whom I met while working with The Flat Earth, has been at my side the whole time—acting as a sounding board, cheerleader and helping hand. Also, as corny and cliched as it is to say, the comedy community is very supportive. Anyone and everyone I approached for a hand was happy to offer.
PR: So, how many people did you end up working with on Monday’s show?
VD: In total, I was able to harness the talents of nine different people—10 if you include Miss Nikki Black whose sketch was cut at the last minute.
PR: Where did the name come from?
VD: Anyone who knows me knows that I am a history junkie. Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun were the two polar stalwarts of 19th century American politics. When he was leaving the Presidency, Andrew Jackson said he had “but one regret: not shooting Henry Clay and not hanging John Calhoun.”
PR: Is it hard splitting your time between two sketch entities?
VD: It hasn’t been hard yet. The Flat Earth is on a hiatus—which gave me time to work on Clay & Calhoun material. But rumors (and email threads back and forth) have it that The Flat Earth will be starting back up soon. I don’t expect it to be too difficult, because as any good parent knows: It’s easy to tell which of your children you want to raise on your own, and which you want to give away to be someone else’s responsibility. Disclaimer: I am not a parent.
PR: What are some of the difficulties of living in New Jersey and performing in Philadelphia?
VD: Honestly—the parking.
PR: Are you looking forward to any other Sketchfest events?
VD: Unfortunately, I have to work every night this week. So here’s what I’m looking forward to regretting that I missed. Specific Jawns: watching Chip Chantry’s transformation from stand-up to sketch comedian is like watching a butterfly turn into a butterfly. ManiPedi: Their No More Wire Wangers set blew my mind. What I’m really looking forward to is when I finally have Friday and Saturday nights off: grabbing a seat 15 minutes before the first act of the night and not leaving until after the last.
PR: Do you have any upcoming shows, or anything you’d like us to plug?
VD: Currently, nothing. But I’ll let you know ASAP.
Due to the impending threat of Hurricane Sandy, all shows, classes, rehearsals and workshops scheduled for tonight (Monday, October 29th) and tomorrow (Tuesday, October 30th) at Philly Improv Theater have been cancelled. We will keep you posted with any further schedule changes from PHIT, or any other Philadelphia comedy venues as we receive news.
Last week, Rittenhouse Comedy at Noche came to an end, but those looking for a Tuesday night open mic won’t have to wait long. This week – The Tuesday Night Shitshow hosted by Steve Miller-Miller premieres at Underground Arts (1200 Callowhill St.) Signups begin at 8:30 and the show starts at 9:00.
This Thursday, Camp Woods Plus returns to L’etage (624 S. 6th St.) for a special show featuring Secret Pants and the reunion of Meg & Rob. The show will mark the first show for the sketch duo since Meg Favreau moved to Los Angeles last year. Doors open at 8:00 and the show begins at 8:30.
Episode 8 of Patrick Dodd’sComedy. Food. Sports. podcast is online and features comedian Jim Norton, who calls in to discuss his conversation with Muhammad Ali, Rachel Ray’s hips, A-Rod and Romo never being clutch and much more. The episode is available online via iTunes.