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?
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.