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Spotlight on a Group: Camp Woods

Camp Woods is a Philadelphia sketch comedy group comprised of members Rob Baniewicz, JP Boudwin, Patrick Foy, Brendan Kennedy, Sam Narisi and Billy Bob Thompson. They will be performing a brand new show this Thursday and Friday at Philly Improv Theater at the Shubin Theater, 407 Bainbridge St. We caught up with some members of Camp Woods for this installment of our Spotlight on a Group series.

WITOUT: Tell us how Camp Woods was formed (originally, and the addition of newer members).

SAM NARISI: The group was in its embryonic phase when they asked me to join. That happened because I had been in a video that Pat made in college. I lived with Pat in college. Boy, we had some crazy times. But anyway, Pat asked me if I’d do some more stuff. And boy did I do some more stuff…

PAT FOY: The first Camp Woods video we shot was a remake of a video I had done in college. I asked Sam to reprise his role as this Stephen Hawking-type guy who was confined to a wheelchair because his beard had crippled him.  He was so funny in the re-shoot we asked him to become a permanent member of the group afterwards.

SN: Then Brendan came along, which was mostly a matter of all of us being into his standup. He told us he had sketch ideas and we were like, “Niiiiiice.”

PF: I think Brendan was excited to collaborate with other like-minded people, and we knew him as one of the funniest comics in the city, so we were more than happy to have him join.  It was his idea to start doing videos with title cards at the beginning and end, which has become sort of a calling card for us.

SN: Billy threatened to blow up a train if we didn’t let him join. Actually, I guess what happened was that we needed an additional cast member when we went down to a festival in North Carolina so we asked Billy, and it was cool.

PF: As I remember it, the train thing was part of some performance art piece Billy was working on.  Really edgy stuff.  We were so impressed that we asked him to join Camp Woods.

SN: As for Rob, he joined one night while drunk and didn’t remember it the next morning.

ROB BANIEWICZ: JP had mentioned to me after Meg left about joining up.  I didn’t know what I was going to go comedically so I thought I’d just write a sketch or two.  Then one night I was very drunk and Brendan asked me to join flat out while he was also very drunk.  I remembered but he was surprised afterwards when he was sober that he would ask me that.  But I’ve hung around long enough that everyone else seems to be ok with it.

WITOUT: I know that you guys have some rules when it comes to writing sketches (no doctors office sketches or cashier and customer sketches, etc) can you talk about why you made these and how you think it helps you stand out or in your process?

SN: We’ve had a bunch of rules, like no doctor’s offices, no parody/reference things… basically stuff that’s easy that you see too much of already. Lately, though, we’ve had a lot of fun breaking those rules. Like, we recently did a doctor sketch – Dr. Stephen Tyler PHD.

We also have a live sketch called Big Friendly Baby, which has a lot of Silence of the Lambs references. But one of the characters is a giant baby, so it’s not something where people are like, “Oh, I’ve seen this before.” I hope not, anyway.

So I guess the point is, the rules helped us in the beginning to figure out what we did and didn’t want to do, but now I think we’ve grown up to a point where we know what we like and we can just do whatever we think is funny.

WITOUT: Tell us about your writing process.

SN: There are occasional times where we’ll all sit in a circle and write a sketch from scratch together – but the result is usually a big, big mess. You know, too many cooks or whatever. So most of time someone will have a draft printed out and then we’ll all read it and say things like, “Yo, what if this happened ….” Then sometimes, we change the sketch so that what the person said should happen happens. That’s a really boring answer, so feel free to imagine these meetings taking place while we also have to diffuse a bomb that’s about to blow up the White House. Like, “It’s okay, Mr. President, we’ll get you out of this thing alive. Also, Pat, I don’t think the joke at the top of page 2 works as well as it could.”

WITOUT: Do you approach writing an entire show differently from writing a single sketch (do you try to build on themes or make connections) or do you just focus on one sketch at a time?

RB: Sketches are like women.  You need to work on them one at a time.  To pull a bunch of women into a bedroom at the same time and have them find what they have in common with each other is just a mess — especially when they’re in various states of undress — so I use the same rules when I approach writing a sketch.

SN: When we started out, we tried to write shows that were these big narrative productions … and it was pretty insane. They took a long time to write, and they were completely unadaptable to a setting other than a full 25-minute set in a theater. I liked them, but we probably also bored a lot of people. I don’t know, we have some ideas for those things (they’re basically half-hour plays, I guess) that we might do at some point.

PF: We tried to run before we could walk.  Those early shows were pretty ambitious conceptually, but we had to go back and learn how to write actual sketches since we are, after all, a sketch comedy group.

SN: But basically now we focus on the individual sketches one at a time, and use them to build the show by creating transitions or adding some kind of through-line. There’s also been talk about doing some more theme-intensive shows, like a show that’s all about pizza. So that’ll be a thing where the idea for the show comes first and we write sketches to fit it. But yeah, I think it’s about time to start getting people hyped on this pizza show. So hey people: Get hyped.

PF: We found early on that making connections and coming up with themes and through-lines was the easy part.  Creating the building blocks, the actual sketches, was harder.  You know, the funny parts of a show.  So we focused on getting better at that.  Also, if we ever do the pizza show, we are probably going to give out free pizza to the audience.

WITOUT: How has your style evolved in your time together? Has the addition of new members changed your style or dynamic at all?

PF: I’ve started writing parts tailored to certain members of the group.  Like, I recently wrote a sketch based around a character thinking, “Brendan will play this guy.”  It’s a really dark sketch, but Brendan can play dark with this certain amount of insane goofiness that, hopefully, will allow us to get away with how dark it is.

SN: What’s weird is that after working with people for a while you start to here their voices in your head while you write – like, you imagine the other dudes liking or disliking something. So you get that kind of influence from everyone else in the group even when you’re by yourself. Unless I’m actually just insane and this is a weird thing that only happens to me.

PF: I’m also writing a sketch about a schizophrenic guy, who will be played by Sam because he clearly suffers from schizophrenia.

WITOUT: What are each of your roles in the group? How do you see yourself and the other guys?

RB: Someone else can answer this… although actually that’s my role.  Getting someone else to do my work for me and taking the credit.

SN:  My role is basically “one of the guys without curly hair and a beard.” Rob and Billy are my reinforcements. Before they joined, all the sketches were about guys with curly hair and I couldn’t be in any of them.

PF: Billy, I think, is the only one of us who wasn’t brought up Catholic.  He’s our diversity hire.  It’s about time a white guy from New England got a break in this world.  Rob is the oldest member of the group, so he’s like the father figure.  Or at least the pervert uncle who walks around muttering “pussy party” under his breath.  Brendan is our bullshit-detector.  He tells us who or what is bullshit, who is full of shit, who should go fuck themselves, and who should go get fucked.  JP is the Social Chairman; he’s all charisma and charm and he’ll never settle down.  Sam is the muscle of the group.  He’s got 1-8-7 skills.  Like, one time he couldn’t make it to a show, and didn’t tell us why.  The next day they announced that Osama bin Laden was dead.  I’m the guy who gets naked the most often.  I also do all of JP’s and Brendan’s stunts.

You can find out more about Camp Woods on their website, Twitter and Facebook page. Their videos can be found on Vimeo.

Spotlight on a Group: Secret Pants

Secret Pants is a fitting group to kick off WitOut’s new Spotlight on a Group Series. A fixture in the Philly sketch scene, Secret Pants has been filming and performing live sketch comedy since 2004, have created some of the most memorable moments from Bedtime Stories (now The Theme Show) are regulars in the yearly Philly Sketch Fest and have produced their own sketch show extravaganza Welcome to the Terrordome as well as multiple successful shows at Philly Improv Theater. They found viral success with their man on the street gameshow Bush or Batman, and their Booty Shorts for Men sketch was mentioned as a favorite by Justin Timberlake on his Twitter. We asked members of Secret Pants some questions about the group, and they appointed member Larry Wiechecki to answer them.

Witout: How and when did you get together?

Larry Wiechecki: Secret Pants has been together since Spring 2004.  A majority of the members had taken a comedy writing class at Temple together. Sam, Brian Kelly and I(Larry) didn’t go to Temple.  BK and Sam both had friends who were in the class and invited them to a meeting.  I lived with BK at the time, he invited me.  The first initial meetings were basically meet and greets.  Bryce and Steve both had butt cuts, Brian Craig may have had one too.  Steve definitely had a visor.  We started out with 13 members, we are down to 7.

WO: How have you seen your style evolve in the time you’ve been together?

LW: I don’t think our style has evolved too much as far as our ideas and writing.  With all of the years of experience together, we know what works and what doesn’t.  As well as who’s good at doing what.  In that sense, we may have matured/evolved.

WO: What are some of your favorite shows or moments from shows?

LW: For me, it was easily our 5th Anniversary show at the Actor’s Studio.  All of us had been drinking and we sat backstage, we were behind a screen, making each other laugh and generally having a good time.  We were very loose that night, going out of our way to make each other laugh while performing.  During a sketch Brian Kelly surprised me with a Greek accent and I could barely deliver my lines I was laughing so hard.  Also, any Bedtime Stories at the Shubin was always a lot of fun and not because of the show.  Not that the show wasn’t fun, but hanging out with the other performers in the basement is/was my favorite part of doing shows.

WO: Do you approach your live sketches and filmed sketches differently, and how?

LW: I wouldn’t say that we do.  There aren’t many sketches that we have that we couldn’t perform either way.  We put as much detail into our live sketches as we do our video sketches.  We’ve always gone that extra mile for our live sketches to real set the scene.

WO: How have you seen the Philly sketch scene evolve in the time you’ve been around?

LW: There are definitely a lot more groups.  It seems a lot more people who are involved with the Philadelphia Comedy Scene, whether it be stand up or improv, are trying their hand at sketch.  Also, with the PHIT providing sketch writing classes and doing Sketch Up or Shut up at the Shubin, it seems it will keep evolving with new, young faces.

WO: Have you ever had an idea for a sketch that you loved, but the rest of the group didn’t? Tell me about it. Did you end up scrapping the idea, or using it somewhere else? Did it work out for the best?

LW: YES, yes there is one sketch that I always wanted to do, but no one else wanted to.  It was called “Fight the HIV with Magic.”  I can only assume no one wanted to do it because it consisted of me wearing blackface, top hat, cape and Magic Johnson basketball jersey.  Magic was hosting a telethon to collect money, not for HIV awareness, but to save his own life.  He’d say repeatedly “You don’t want me to die, do ya? Give your money.”  Then when we shot and performed live the Juggalos sketch, I had to put my money where my mouth is and put on blackface.  I can now never run for President.  There was also “Forklift Academy” which was just Police Academy with forklifts.  That was never written or shot because of my own laziness.

Secret Pants can be found online here, on Facebook and members of their group are hosts of regular Philly Improv Theater shows Sketch-up or Shut-up and TV Party.