Becca Trabin is a stand-up comedian and improvisor living in Philadelphia. She is a member of Philly Improv Theater house team Mayor Karen and the host of Town Hall, a monthly show featured on The Sideshow.
How and why did you get into comedy? When I was about eight years old, I went on vacation to North Carolina with my extended family. We went to a huge, fancy seafood restaurant, about fifteen of us, and when the check came, the grown-ups were all a little taken aback. I said, “SOMEBODY’S gonna be doing dishes!!!” which is a joke I’d obviously heard on TV. Everyone lost it, and I was floored by the feeling that gave me. Later I realized they were laughing in part because, why would an 8-year-old say that? But I think that specific moment triggered something for me.
That’s the why. The how is that even though I was shy, I took a sketch-writing class at PHIT with Kevin Allison a few years ago, where you put together a show at the end, and performing in front of an audience immediately broke me out of my shell. I used to be so shy that I was afraid to call out a suggestion at improv shows. Seriously. Now I can’t get enough.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I feel like it’s kinda different every time and always growing. People have described my stuff as silly, cerebral, dark, weird, self-deprecating. I want it to be all of those things dynamically. I’ve definitely struggled in my life and have something to say, and am okay with making myself vulnerable to an audience.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? Well Shubin shows feel like home. I also like the adventure of taking on new rooms and new stages. They’re fun in an exploration sort of way, while Shubin shows are fun the way having a party at home is fun, plus you don’t have to clean up afterwards. I’ve tried to clean the stage several times after messy shows involving confetti and iced tea and whatever, and was told to stop. So that’s nice.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? Not really. Lots of good times. Stuff I wouldn’t post online.
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? With stand-up, I usually come up with ideas accidentally when I’m hanging out with my friends or walking around, and then I flesh it out later. Many times, I’ve come up with the best parts of a bit right before I’m about to go up, because in my nervous energy I think of a great line or two.
What is it about stand-up / sketch / improv that draws you to it? I do mostly improv and stand-up, and I’m drawn to them over other kinds of comedy because you can get your idea out there without much rigmarole. Stand-up and improv counterbalance each other for me. With stand-up I have to be egotistical and with improv I have to let go again and become a small part of a whole. It’s therapeutic and cathartic and keeps me feeling happy. Improv and yoga are proactive measures against mental or physical unrest for me, and they help me stay centered and present.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Yeah, and they know who they are. I love watching comedy that’s grounded and honest and makes no apologies. I continually love watching performers highlight these small details of human behavior that I hadn’t consciously noticed before.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? I did a set a year ago at a gay variety show at a nightclub. I had to follow a larger-than-life drag queen who wore foot-tall platforms and a foot-tall wig and sang and danced and was delightfully hysterical. I wasn’t confident, and I pretended not to mind somebody heckling me, and I bombed really hard. Jess Carpenter bought me a drink afterwards and then I walked across town to do an improv show, and I cried for a minute in the bathroom and thanked god for improv. My team was like, “Let’s do your favorite warm-ups!”
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? I think one of us should just ask Tina Fey very nicely to make a donation for a permanent space for PHIT. Right? We need to shoot more videos and put more content online, and branch out to work with other venues and arts organizations. Gain more allies, to borrow activist parlance. We have to take fundraising more seriously and get better at it. Some improvisors are already generating ideas to get diversity programs started, so that, among other things, it’s not just white kids who get to do improv in Philadelphia. I’m sure other folks would like it too. Improv is weirdly white. Stand-up is just weirdly male. Anyway. We need a popcorn machine.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? I want to do more stand-up in character, more stand-up in general, put together some shows, keep an updated website, do projects with my favorite people and continue to grow and open up and have fun.
Alejandro Morales is a comedian, writer, and storyteller in Philadelphia. He is a co-host of Philly Improv Theater storytelling show Rant-O-Wheel as well as Camp Tabu and a producer of the upcoming QComedy Fest.
How and why did you get into comedy? I’ve always been a comedy fan. When I was just a kid, I used to watch hours of comedy on TV, like the original “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” “The A-List” with Sandra Bernhard, and “The Kids in the Hall.” I got my degree from the University of the Arts in Screenwriting and Digital Filmmaking, but I’ve learned since that making movies costs several dollars while doing stand-up is pretty much free, bar tab notwithstanding. I got my official start doing stand-up at Philadelphia’s “Gayborhood Games” in 2009, where I botched my chance to be the funniest guy for six blocks. I lost again in 2010, and at the 2011 I cemented my position as the undisputed Susan Lucci of the Gayborhood Games. I stay involved in comedy because there’s really nothing else in the world for me.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I’m at my funniest when I’m just talking to friends at house parties, so when I’m on stage I try to get as close to “me at a house party” as possible without slurring or coming on to someone in the audience. I generally avoid topical humor or celebrity humor in favor of telling first-person stories, because while anybody can make a joke about the president, nobody can tell a story about accidentally flashing a room full of people quite like I can. I don’t think I’ve come myself 100% as far as a particular style just yet; I’m still learning a lot about what works and what doesn’t during live performance. My comedy mentor, Brad Loekle, told me it would take ten years for me to find my voice — I’m a quick study, though, so I’m a try to get that down to five. My primary influence is alcohol, usually vodka because it’s low in calories.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? My favorite show is the one I host, of course. It’s called Camp Tabu, and I host it along with “The Hysterical Christine Meehan” at Tabu Lounge & Sports Bar every second Friday of the month. Other than the obvious reason that it’s my favorite ’cause it’s my show, I also think that the upstairs lounge at Tabu is a great performance space, and the diversity of the crowd makes it special as well. A lot of gay/queer comics and audiences are put off by other shows where they’ve encountered retrograde attitudes and ugly language about our community, so my approach is to try to screen out the pighead homophobe douchebag element in advance. I’m proud of the audiences and performers we’ve put together, and on the 14th of October we’re celebrating our one-year anniversary along with all of our favorites, including Carolyn Busa, Jaime Fountaine, Erin Mulville, and Andrew Nice Clay. Oh my gosh so excited for that.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? The first Tabu show we ever did, in the fall of 2010, was on the same night as a Phillies game, and when the game was over a group of rowdy guys came upstairs from the sports bar to watch the show. Soon after, Brendan Kennedy went onstage to do his set, and one of the guys hit on him from the audience, saying things like “LET ME IRON YOUR SHIRT” and “I WANT TO BITE YOUR FACE.” Then the guy brought Brendan a shot of tequila and the two had a dance-off on stage. Brendan handled the whole thing like a pro and the encounter ended without anybody having to be dragged out of the bar. It was a good night for the Phillies and a good night for us.
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? Most of my best ideas occur to me out of nowhere, nine times out of ten when I’m trying to sleep. I try to write things down as they come to me, and then build around them later. Mostly, though, I just keep my ideas in my head, and build on them and memorize until I have a complete set. Then at some point I sit down and write out my set in full, to cement the memorization. I’m sort of lucky to just be generally oblivious and lacking in common sense, because funny things tend to happen to me that wouldn’t happen to smarter people.
What is it about stand-up / sketch / improv that draws you to it? I enjoy stand-up because it allows me to be completely self-reliant, and I get to grind my axes publicly. There’s always something that I wish I would’ve said to to the folks who’ve done me an ugly turn, and stand-up lets me get that out of my system. It’s so righteous! Not only that, but some stories are too good to keep to myself. Right now my favorite set is about this guy I almost dated — I Googled his phone number after we met and discovered his escort profile, complete with X-rated photos. The phrase “Your taint is on the internet next to your phone number” has got to be the best grouping of words in America since “cellar door,” seriously. Lately I’ve been taking improv classes, and it’s starting to grow on me. What I like about improv is the riffing aspect of it. When the chemistry is right, there’s absolutely nothing like bouncing off of other people.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? I really like Erin Mulville and Carolyn Busa because they are so bold and fresh, and I’m naturally gaydisposed to prefer lady comics. I also like Alex Gross, because of his gentle demeanor. As far as groups, I am a die-hard fan of the Dumpsta Players. They give themselves entirely to what they’re doing, and they channel John Waters like nobody else in this town.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? I went to New York City to do a Sunday night show at a gay bar hosted by Brad Loekle, where I was completely ignored by the audience for almost the entirety of my set. They perked up briefly for one joke about Rachel Zoe, but that was it. After my set was over the bottom fell out of my sneakers and I literally oozed off the stage into a nearby rum bucket to no fanfare whatsoever. The good part is that nobody shouted at me to get off the stage, presumably because for that to happen someone would have had to have noticed that I was up there.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? I think that if the players in the comedy scene continue to reach out to each other and support one another’s endeavors the way they have been doing, that can only be good for the scene at large. A rising tide lifts all boats and whatnot.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? I’m forever hoping that through performing I can get the right set of eyes on my screenwriting work and maybe get a script or two produced. Also I recently did an out of town show in Lancaster, and it was such a blast. I would really love to travel more. Making some money doing this would be nice, too, while we’re wishing and hoping.
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.
Brendan Kennedy is a stand-up comedian, a member of improv groups Hate Speech Committee and The Hendersons, sketch comedy group Camp Woods, and the host of the Philly Improv Theater show Guilty Pleasures.
How and why did you get into comedy? When I was a kid my dad and uncle would always show me episodes of Monty Python’s Flycing Circus, and I loved it. I would make comedy videos on my parents’ S-VHS camcorder with my cousin. In high school I was one of the kids that ran the tv studio and I’d make comedy videos that I’d show during the morning show. I continued my refusal to be serious about anything by going to film school and while there I made almost nothing but comedy videos. Then eventually I got the balls to do stand-up, which to me is the purest form of comedy and expression out there.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I’d describe my style as a stand-up as selfish. If you don’t like what I do, then I don’t care to entertain you. And I hate comics that try to be what they think everyone wants them to be. There are billions of people on the earth, enough of them will have similar interests and sensibilities to me, and those are the people I want to speak to.
Plus, stand-up is an inherently selfish endeavor, so claiming you have some greater goal is at least 50% bullshit. And I say 50% because out of that desire for immediate self-gratification (the selfish 50%) you can reach people who otherwise might feel isolated, because they haven’t found a way to express themselves or people who think and feel the same way they do. But you can’t reach them by pretending to be something. You can only reach people by being honest with yourself and about yourself. That’s what I love about stand-up, and that’s the type of stand-up comic I try to be.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? I loved performing at the Khyber because it was dirty and grimy and shitty and you had to really want to see comedy to go there. Which made the audiences there great, and I felt the most comfortable there. I enjoy doing stand-up at the Ric-Rac, the Shubin, and any place where people have come to specifically see the people who are performing. People who go to comedy shows not knowing anything about who they are going to see baffle me. And I lack the ability to relate to them. I can entertain them, but only if I do a bunch of crowd work. It’s like I’m the host of some awful party that a bunch of random dopes showed up to, like the one Rick Moranis throws in the first Ghostbusters. And most times I am doing crowd work I am fantasizing about a demon dog crashing the party and making it more interesting than, “You do that job? Well you should talk to other guy I just talked to, he does a job that if combined with your job would be really funny!”
That being said, I really enjoy the open mic at noche that Jack Martin and Paul Goodman run. Those two guys are smart guys who run a good room, and are really supportive of everyone who shows up there. (If you’re thinking “I don’t think they are supportive.” You’re thinking that because you’re an asshole, and you’ve behaved in a way that makes it impossible for someone to be supportive of you.)
For sketch and improv I like theaters.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? Anytime Roger C. Snair crushes in front of an audience that has never seen him and doesn’t know who he is. I use how people interact with Roger as a bit of a litmus test, because he’s so overwhelmingly and unflinchingly positive. It is my opinion that you have to be a piece of shit to not like him. Anytime a room full of strangers gets him and accepts him it makes me feel more optimistic about the world.
I’m friends with Roger, we do a monthly show together, but I’m also his number 1 fan. I’d love nothing more than to see Roger have a talk show on television, just to see some of the douchiest celebrities squirm in their seats, not knowing how to handle him. Talented, funny, decent people, if put in that same scenario will come out looking amazing. For example, I had last month’s guilty pleasures be somewhat a talk show, and one of the guests was Andy Moskowitz. Roger kept asking him about his sexuality (Roger is rather immature in regards to his opinions on sex), and Andy handled everything so amazingly that he ended up becoming the hero of the show. It was so funny and genuine that I felt like I was interrupting when I had to chime in to have us read a script.
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? For stand-up, I always just write about whatever I’m currently obsessing about.
For sketch, I write basically two types of sketch. Quick, one joke sketches that are bookended with title cards. And 2 character stream of consciousness sketches. The short sketches, which are basically blackout sketches, are just based around a joke I think of that I like. But I write them to be very very short, because I think sketches that are 5 minutes long but only have one joke are stupid. If you have a sketch that’s just one joke, then just tell the one joke and end the sketch. It’s not a college paper, there’s no minimum length sketches have to be.
The longer sketches I write are always me trying to write interactions between two people that are more absurd and honest than most real life interactions, because to me the funniest parts of life are the moments in which someone is being really honest, and at the same time really odd.
What is it about stand-up / sketch / improv that draws you to it? Comedy allows you to discuss topics that are just too sad or taboo to talk about casually with people. Its not creating any solutions, it just helps people stress less and be more ok with the world they live in. That’s what has always drawn me to comedy.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Roger C. Snair for reasons I’ve already mentioned.
Steve Gerben for his willingness to be honest with himself and about himself onstage and his abilitiy to make his own personal struggles, physical and mental, hilarious.
Andy Moskowitz for the same reasons.
The people in the groups with me, (Hatespeech-CampWoods-Hendersons) for too many different reasons to list.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Recently I ended a set at a bringer contest by saying, “That’s why I think we should burn down churches.” Most of my bad experiences with comedy show stem from my inability to accept people who I’ve decided are shitty. That, and tech problems.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? More of what it already has. More people who are passionate about performing comedy. More people who run good rooms. More people supporting each other’s shows and rooms. More original ideas.
The first three are obvious. The 4th seems like it should be obvious, but its apparent to anyone who’s watched comedy before and is seeing shows in the city now that its not. You can’t stop random people from showing up at open mics and doing other people’s material. But you can make sure not to book them ever. You tell internet jokes, you tell Bill Hicks jokes, you tweak internet jokes and then tell them, you tweak Bill Hicks jokes and then tell them, you don’t do shows. That should be the rule that everyone follows. Hacks (thieves are a type of hack) aren’t going to kill the surge in popularity that comedy is experiencing in Philly right now, but eventually they will. That was one of the main killers of the comedy boom. You can listen to countless interviews with comics who were part of that and they all talk about how there were so many opportunities to get onstage in front of large paying crowds that people started taking shortcuts to take advantage of it, and comedy suffered as a result. Crowds started staying home because there was no point in going out to see a show if you were just going to see comics telling jokes that they saw on tv.
If you see someone doing stolen material, yell at them, tell them to go fuck themselves. They are insulting the art form you love, and they are being a self-serving asshole.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? I want to just keep getting better. That’s my only real goal. That and to make Roger C. Snair famous.
Photo by Ben Snitkoff
Steve Kleinedler is an improviser and director who recently joined the Philadelphia scene after working at ImprovBoston. He is currently directing the PHIT Fringe Festival show twenty-four.
How and why did you get into comedy? I was always interested in theatre, and I slowly slid into comedy in high school in the early 80s when I took part in a program for teenagers affiliated with the Flint Community Players. Every Saturday for 2 years, about a dozen of us would play around, and we gravitated toward improv without fully even realizing it was improv, per se. I don’t think I got into comedy intentionally, it just sort of happened.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I’m a verbal player. I’m quick to make connections and see patterns verbally, and I have a good command of the English language. I’ve done several hundred radio interviews for work, and I can talk fluently at length on many subjects. Doing improv is an extension of that skill.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? After a while, venues blend together. Essentially they’re all rooms with an audience, so it really makes no difference to me as long as they’re acoustically sound. My favorite show was not one I was in, but one I directed: Backstory, up at ImprovBoston, in which the story unfolded backward in time, like the movie Memento. The actors spent eight weeks rehearsing and then had an eight week run, and it was really intense, and they nailed every single performance. All the actors attended every single rehearsal (except for one person who missed one week because she was in Ireland), so it was insanely tight. Favorite shows I was in is my two-person show with Harry Gordon: Directions with Steve & Harry.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? The first time I did Adrift (PHIF 6, I think), I literally met Kelly Vrooman about 2 seconds before we went onstage. We took our places in the dark, the lights went up, and she and I locked eyes and *immediately* had a fully fleshed out backstory and we were both on the same page. Without saying anything! It was amazing. And then I got to make out with Kristen Schier. It was quite a show.
My favorite moment that I wasn’t a part of involves Mary Carpenter, both in Dangerous Minds at Duofest 2, and in Matt Nelson’s Stage Fright. I can’t narrow them down, but it’s a joy to watch her act.
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? Not a conscious one. By now, it’s just sort of ingrained and I just sort of do it.
What is it about improv that draws you to it? When it’s on fire, it’s one of the most gratifying things to watch as an audience member. As a director, when you see your cast hit it, it’s also immensely gratifying.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Right now, I’m going to say the entire cast of 24 (the fringe project I’m directing for PHIT).
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? I did this outgig — a Christmas party at the police union up in Boston. They were in a mood to party and they were NOT in a mood to watch a show; additionally, the three guys I performed with had gotten into an accident on the way there. (I got a call from them — I was stuck in the traffic behind the accident they were a part of!) When we saw how hostile the site was to us, we immediately cut our 45 minute set down to about 20 minutes. We played ‘Interrogation’ — and when we asked for a crime that had been committed, one person responded from the back of the room: “Ate a crap.” That pretty much sums up the night. It was awful.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? I moved to Philadelphia four months ago because I’m completely jazzed about the scene. When I decided to move on from Boston, I could literally have moved anywhere in the country I wanted to, and I chose Philadelphia in large part for the comedy scene that so many people from so many backgrounds have worked hard to create. The opportunity to perform here is greater than in most cities (mostly because rental spaces are so plentiful and relatively inexpensive), and it’s so nice to see performers and producers take advantage of that.
As the different groups and organizations work together more and more, the stronger the community will become. A rising tide lifts all boats. I see so many encouraging signs that everyone wants a vibrant comedy scene in Philadelphia. There’s plenty of room for all of the existing organizations (and then some). The movers and shakers behind PHIT, PHIF, ComedySportz, to name just three, all deserve a huge deal of credit for bringing the city to its current level of comedy offerings, and the addition of newer umbrella organizations like Polygon just point to the vibrancy of the scene. I can’t imagine doing this in any other city. The trajectory is definitely on an upswing.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? My only goal ever, was to be in an opening credits sequence. I did some video sketch comedy in the late 90s, so I hit that goal. I am fortunate that I have a good day job, which leaves my evenings and weekends free to pursue theatre. My focus is on directing and coaching, so what makes me happy is helping other improvisers continually improve.
Alex Gross is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team Codenamed Brandybuck – who make their debut tonight at 8:30. He is also the host of PHIT improvised trash talk show The Gross Show.
How and why did you get into comedy? Buy the right meat. For juicy burgers, get ground chuck with a fat content of at least 18%. Lean and extra-lean meat make tough, dry burgers. Also, the more freshly ground the meat is, the more tender and flavorful the burger. If your store has butchers, ask them to grind the meat fresh for you. (Or just grind your own!)
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? Mix in salt very, very gently. The more you handle the meat, the tougher your burger will be. In a large bowl, pull the meat apart into small chunks, add salt, and toss gently with fingers spread apart until loosely mixed.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you?Use wet hands to form patties. This keeps your hands from getting sticky. It also allows the meat to come together faster and prevents overhandling.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? Make patties thinner in the center. Divide the meat into 4 equal portions and form patties about 3/4 inch thick at the edges and 1/2 inch thick in the center. They’ll shrink and even out when cooking.
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? Keep meat cold until it goes on the grill. Put the patties in the fridge while the grill heats up. This helps more of the flavor-carrying fat stay in the meat.
What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? Use a clean, well-oiled, preheated grill. Bits of debris encourage sticking, as does an unoiled surface and too low a temperature; you want your burgers to quickly sizzle, firm up, and release from the grill.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Keep grill at a steady high heat (you can hold your hand 1 to 2 inches above grill level for 2 to 3 seconds). If using charcoal, you want ash-covered coals to produce even heat. With a gas grill, keep the lid down while cooking; with a charcoal grill, leave the lid off.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Flip burgers once and at the right time. Constant turning will toughen and dry out meat, and if you flip too soon, burgers will stick. Cook 2 minutes per side for rare, 3 for medium-rare, 4 for medium, and 5 for well-done.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? Don’t press on the burgers while they’re cooking. The juice that seeps out holds most of the flavor and moisture.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? Let burgers rest a few minutes before eating. This allows them to finish cooking and allows their juices, which have collected on the surface during grilling, to redistribute throughout patty.
The real secret to comedy: Grind your own meat.
Scott Sheppard is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team Codenamed Brandybuck. He is also the director of current house team Fletcher, and a member of The Groundswell Players.
How and why did you get into comedy? I got into comedy at Haverford College where I joined the Throng improv group. They were working on long-form improv, which I didn’t know much about, but I pretty quickly fell in love with it.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I guess I used to describe myself as an improviser but now I am trying to do a little bit more acting and play development as well. Some of my biggest influences are UCB, Pig Iron Theater, Larry David, and early Saturday Night Live.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? I think my favorite venue is the Latvian Society because of the great bar, the helpful staff, and the cool way that theater companies transform the space.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? Favorite moment in Philly comedy is a tough one. I think it has to be John Buseman’s goodbye Fletcher show at the Shubin.
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? Besides doing traditional long form improv, my theater company The Groundswell Players creates devised theater, which means that we use improv to collaboratively write our plays.
What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? I love improv because it allows you to be an actor, creator, writer, and director all at the same time. It’s freeing and energizing when you are out there on a stage and you have nothing to go on except your instincts.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? There are a bunch of performers I love to watch in Philadelphia. I feel bad singling any of the members of Fletcher out because I think of them as an ensemble. I’ll say I think JP, Nathan Edmondson, Matt Holmes are a few stand out veterans that come to mind.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? So many bad shows. I remember a show that I did when I was still in college for DCM. It must have been 2001. I was performing with a thrown-together group that had practiced only a few times. We had a god-awful time slot and I think it was an abortion joke involving a coat hanger that sent the audience–a sparse and tired group to begin with–into a chilly silence that lasted the duration of the set. It was the worst of comedy doldrums, and only a few times have I ever felt as embarrassed about a performance in my life.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? I think having a dedicated space for comedy will really help propel the scene in great ways. This will deepen the fan base beyond we improv and comedy nerds and help the scene embrace the rest of the Philadelphia community.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? My personal goals are to create stand-out, amazing comedy that is respected by comedy connoisseurs and average folks alike. I’m always skeptical when comedians say things like, “the audience doesn’t get my stuff!” I think you are just as responsible for showing an audience why they should laugh at you. Great experimental shows push the envelope, but they find ways to bring the audience along with them, even if the ride is wild and incomprehensible. I would love to create pieces that are unique and challenging but also intuitive and easy to watch. We’ll see how it goes.
Karen Coleman is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team codenamed Shadowfax. She also produces a web comic, Wednesday Night Danger Club.
How and why did you get into comedy? I needed comedy as a creative outlet. As a teenager I did a lot of community theater. When I was 19, I auditioned for an improv show at my Community College which ended up performing regularly and I fell in love with it. I then moved to NYC to study illustration at Parsons and took as many improv classes that I could. I just started working on a new web comic as another way to express myself comedically.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I’ve always thought of myself as an artist and I haven’t really thought about myself as a comedian until recently. It’s hard to think of myself as having a style. I have always been influenced by strong female performers and there are a lot of funny, talented women improvisers in Philadelphia. I want people that I think are funny to laugh at me. Hey, can I talk about my web comic? www.wednesdaynightdangerclub.com
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? The few times I was able to perform at the UCB theater in New York, it felt amazing to stand where amazing people stood. And I’m excited to be a part of the Philly Improv Theater and do shows at the Shubin, the energy at that theater is practically tangible.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? It is difficult for me to choose a single moment. I’m going to say it’s the time we were having Incubator in the park and a random man started crying because we were too loud.
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? It’s hard to perform, and its hard to live your life, when you are in your head about what people are thinking about you or if you think your ideas are stupid. It’s important to be present and in the moment not only for improv scenes but also in general. I need to remind myself of that sometimes to clear my head, especially when it comes to performing.
What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? I am drawn to writing my web comic, www.wednesdaynightdangerclub.com, which is heavily influenced by my experience with improv. I love the process of starting with nothing and creating something, and connecting seemingly random ideas to make them meaningful. I love using my energy to build characters and how sometimes I can surprise myself when I didn’t even know what I was going to say until after I said it.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? I do! I love and am inspired by my teammates on – soon to be announced PHIT house team name – and my favorite performers are the ones that look like they are having fun and make it look easy.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? I have had moments where I have been disappointed in my performance or scenes just felt awkward and terrible, but fortunately I do not.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? Chia seeds.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? Personally, I’m only in this for the money. I’m hoping for a reality show. (Greater confidence in my choices, soak up as much knowledge as I can, perform as much as I can.) I also want the future to bring more readers of my web comic. www.wednesdaynightdangerclub.com
Scott Hinners is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team codenamed Shadowfax. They make their debut tonight at the Shubin Theater.
How and why did you get into comedy? I don’t look at is getting into comedy as much as finding different outlets to get the random ideas in my head to others for public enjoyment/scrutiny. More specifically, I was drawn into improv during high school with a great teacher and phenomenal group of improvisors. Improv feels like the purest form of comedy and I can’t get enough of it.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I like to think of myself as more observational and deeply appreciate when things are very clever. I find myself to be an analytical person in my everyday life which is probably the cause of the conceptual approach i take to comedy.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? No favorites, but improv begs to be on intimate stages where there’s little to no space between performers and audience.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? This question is kind of like picking your favorite Lego piece. One piece doesn’t really hold up against the sum of the whole. Like when you build a giant Lego space fortress and you tell your sister not to touch it, but then she does, but says it was an accident and now those cool orange glowy saws are missing and even if you said those saws are your favorite piece they don’t matter as much as when they were being used by your Lego space patrol to ward of invading robots. So I’d have to say no.
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? Writing is more conceptual for me – I like to periodically write down premises or ideas and revisit them. With Improv I think most people, myself included, are more random and find the fun of going with the first thought and seeing it through.
What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? I mentioned earlier that I find Improv to be a very pure form of comedy. It is likely the purest form. So I’m drawn to this idea that comedy can be unearthed from our collective brains and put out there for others to see, before it has time to be refined and analyzed and watered down. Improv feels much more like real life, which i think is its universal appeal. Its a force I want to be a part of, as both performer and audience.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Philly has lots of talented performers, each with their own skills and wonderful peculiarities.
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Negatory. Perhaps another benefit of improv is the ability to transform “bad comedy” into something we can all laugh at.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? Thats a real tough issue to tackle. Economic theory would suggest there’s just not enough Raw resources in Philly as they tend to migrate towards New York. Demand doesn’t seem very high either here (Everyone’s spending money on their favorite sports team). I think if the Phillies suddenly vanished and there was a strong marketing push, we’d see a big growth in the comedy sector.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? No real goals. Not looking to pursue it as a career, just as a great creative outlet and a way of life.
Jen Curcio is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team codenamed Brandybuck. She is also a member of improv family The Hendersons.
How and why did you get into comedy? When I was a little kid I used to watch “In Living Color” and “Saturday Night Live” and say, “that’s what I want to do when I grow up.” As a kid I was fascinated by funny people like Jim Carrey, Cheri Oteri and Mike Myers. I was also painfully shy, and cracking jokes was a way for me to break the ice.
How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I try to make bold character choices and be physical. People watching is a great influence. It’s important to have a mental library of characteristics of people.
Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? I have 2 favorite venues. The Shubin because there is a great energy there, for both the audience and performers. And Tabu because it is such an intimate setting.
Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? The Really Big Show at The F Harold. To put it in context, Amie Roe was the only consistent improviser in the show and 1 person from the back line would initiate a 3 minute scene with her. It was an amazing performance by Amie Roe. She made up 18 different characters. The participants on the back line were great too with rapid fire initiations.
Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? I have only dabbled in sketch writing. When I do write I like to think of the characters I am writing engaged in an improv scene. As for the creative process in improv, I really don’t do anything besides listen to upbeat music and stay away from people who are bummers.
What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? Improv is just plain fun. Plus I like making people laugh.
Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Kristen Schier, Amie Roe, Emily Davis, Rick Horner, Matt Holmes. They are all amazing performers, very strong and always 10 steps ahead of the game. I feel like just by watching them I can learn a lot. And they are all hilarious!
Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Let me preface this by saying I have nothing against The Gross Show or anyone involved in it. But when I was in The Gross Show my parents attended, and if you know The Gross Show you know it’s probably not a show you want your parents to see. Knowing my mother and father were in the audience while I was talking about furry fetishes made me freeze. But I am very grateful for the support my parents give me, even if it gets awkward.
What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? I feel like PHIT needs a more diverse audience, and by diverse I mean non-improvisors. The independent groups that are popping up all over the city is great for this. The more exposure people have to improv, the better. Showcases like Polygon are great places for independent groups to perform and get people interested in improv.
Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? I hope to continue to grow and learn as an improvisor. I want to work with a new people.