Upcoming Shows

  • April 24, 2014 7:30 pmPHIT PRESENTS: MILLENNIUM QUEST: WARP JAWN
  • April 24, 2014 9:00 pmThe Comedy Attic
  • April 24, 2014 9:00 pmCHEAT CODE W. SPECIAL GUESTS @ PHIT
  • April 24, 2014 10:30 pmHOUSE OF BLACK @ PHIT
  • April 25, 2014 7:00 pmThe Comedy Works
  • April 25, 2014 7:30 pmPHIT PRESENTS: MILLENNIUM QUEST: WARP JAWN
  • April 25, 2014 8:00 pmThe N Crowd
  • April 25, 2014 8:00 pmCrazy Cow Comedy
  • April 25, 2014 9:00 pmCHEAT CODE W. SPECIAL GUESTS @ PHIT
  • April 25, 2014 10:30 pmSTORY UP! AFTER DARK @ PHIT
  • April 25, 2014 11:00 pmIRON SKETCH @ PHIT
  • April 26, 2014 7:30 pmSarcasm Comedy Club
  • April 26, 2014 7:30 pmComedy Sportz Philadelphia
  • April 26, 2014 7:30 pmPHIT PRESENTS: MILLENNIUM QUEST: WARP JAWN
  • April 26, 2014 8:00 pmCrazy Cow Comedy
  • April 26, 2014 8:00 pmBye Bye Liver: The Philadelphia Drinking Play
  • April 26, 2014 9:00 pmMEN WITH FACES + BIG BABY @ PHIT
  • April 26, 2014 9:30 pmThe Comedy Works
  • April 26, 2014 9:30 pmSarcasm Comedy Club
  • April 26, 2014 10:00 pmComedy Sportz Philadelphia
  • April 26, 2014 10:30 pmTHE FUTURE + MAYOR KAREN @ PHIT
  • April 26, 2014 11:00 pmIRON SKETCH @ PHIT
  • April 27, 2014 4:00 pmPHIT PRESENTS: MILLENNIUM QUEST: WARP JAWN
  • April 27, 2014 7:00 pmTHE BUTTERED NIBLETS + THE DEAN’S LIST @ PHIT
  • April 27, 2014 8:30 pmGOON + THE SHAM @ PHIT
AEC v1.0.4

Ten Questions With…Lizzie Spellman

Lizzie Spellman is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team Codenamed Brandybuck. They make their debut this Friday at 8:30.

How and why did you get into comedy? I was a weird ass (can I say ass?) kid. I was the one running around (in school) literally dressed in clown costumes. It wasn’t even that I wanted attention, I just wanted to have fun. My parents immediately got me into theatre, and I quickly discovered that comedy was what I liked best.

 

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I think I’m pretty character driven. When improvising, I sometimes tend to gravitate toward playing the dumb girl, old lady, or little girl characters because they just make me laugh in the real world as well. It’s also fun to come into a scene later as a big loud football player. I love seeing female comedians playing polar opposites of themselves (Tracy Ullman and Amy Poehler specifically). It makes their characters all the more surprising. I strive to be that creative.

 

Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? I really haven’t lived or performed in Philly long enough to have a favorite performance spot yet. There are so many different venues I wanna check out!

 

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? The first Philly show I ever did was The Gross Show, where I played a rape victim who was strangely okay with it. I like to start things off classy when I move to a new city.

 

Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? When I see a person that has some sort of quirk to them, I like to write it down in a little black book I carry around. I also like to write down weird things people will randomly say. These little things can help shape an amazing character that I might not have originally came up with off the top of my head. It gives that character a little extra that might make the audience say “Oh, I totally know a person just like that!”.

 

What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? Honestly, I just like being funny and I like to play. It’s almost like therapy for me. Even if I’m having a crummy day, if I practice or perform improv later on I feel a million times better. There’s no way you can feel like crap after a night of laughing and making other people laugh. It’s my yoga.

 

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Discovering the comedy scene in Philly has been amazing. There are so many talented performers that have blown me away. I really enjoy the Amie and Kristen Show, as well as Jessica Tandy. Both of these duos are so smart and creative, and I am blown away every time I watch them perform.

 

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Hmmm…well I first started improvising in New Jersey with this one improv group of dudes that had been around for a while, who decided that they needed a girl in their group. Anywho, one night they decided it would be a good idea to smoke (yes children, illegal kind) before a show. I, being a silly college kid at the time, went along with it. BIGGEST MISTAKE OF MY LIFE!!! I surprised I even made complete sentences. The first short form game we did, I think I repeated the same word 10 times in a row! It was absolutely one of the most embarrassing moments I’ve had on stage, and I totally learned my lesson.

 

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? What’s great is that so many people are getting out there and creating new shows and finding all kinds of ways of showcasing their comedy. I think that is the best way to continue the growth.

 

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? I would love to start writing more. I would definitely want to take a stab at sketch or stand up. Eventually, I wanna know that I’ve at least tried different aspects of comedy. Who knows….I could be a genius! (but probably not).

Ten Questions With…Aaron Hertzog

Aaron Hertzog is a member of new Philly Impov Theater House Team codenamed Brandybuck. He is also the host of stand-up comedy showcase Hey Everybody! at PHIT, as well as a member of Hate Speech Committee, Get a Room, and The Hendersons. He is also a co-host of The Holding Court Podcast (editors note: “he” is also “me” and that’s why I linked to all my stupid projects…)

How and why did you get into comedy? I started doing stand-up in 2006 after a long flirtation with the idea of doing comedy. I always wanted to be a writer, and still do – and started because I had a friend (Pat House) who had been doing comedy for about two years who finally made me get up and do it. I thought stand-up would be a good place to meet people to write with and work on sketches and other projects. I started improv earlier this year because I thought it would be a good place to work my mind muscles to help come up with stand-up material, and it also looked like a lot of fun. So far, it’s been both.

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I would say my style is silly. I think anybody who’s ever seen me perform would say I’m pretty much a big, silly, idiot. I like that. I’d also like to say it’s smart idiocy, but I can’t say that about myself. If somebody else would like to say that I would appreciate it. No? OK.

Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? Philly has a lot of different great places to perform, and I like them for different reasons. A packed, jazzed-up crowd at Helium might provide the most energy – but there’s also something awesome about the kind of response at an alt room, like a PHIT show, or The Ministry of Secret Jokes. I think, for me, my style is more alternative, so in a way it feels better when I do well in a more mainstream room. I expect people in an alt room to like what I do – I write for them – but when I make a room full of people I don’t think I have anything in common with laugh – it makes me feel good – and also a little like a judgmental asshole because I doubted them.

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? There are moments every now and then that stand out, and they always involve some sort of variety show where a lot of people are on it, and we all hang out after the show. Like when Chip had the Moon sketch contest, or any of the roasts, or Doogie’s bachelor party Ministry of Secret Jokes. That’s the best part about doing comedy here, the #friendship!

Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? For stand-up, I like to write about things I think are weird, or things that scare me or confuse me (which are a lot of things.) I like to explore a topic and keep adding stuff to it to the point where my joke is way too long. I think I’m the same way when I write a sketch (which is less often). I’m still too new at improv to say that I have a process – my process right now is observing other people and trying to figure out what their process is and what I like about it that I can try to incorporate into my performance. I like to “reverse engineer” material. If I see a joke someone else does that I like, I try to think of how the person wrote it, where the idea came from, and how they got from the observation to the joke – then try to apply that line of thinking when I’m trying to come up with material.

What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? Making people laugh is what has always drawn me to comedy. It’s an incredible feeling, and I’ve always searched for it. It’s how I tried to get people to like me when I was younger and it’s how I try to get people to like me now. Sometimes it even works.

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? My favorite stand-ups are Brendan Kennedy, Doogie Horner, Chip Chantry and Luke Giordano (does he count anymore?) Brendan is my favorite to watch because he’s just an animal – you never know what he’s going to do and he’s just so quick and that kind of silly-stupid-smart (I hope you know what I mean by this…) that makes up my favorite kind of stand-up comedy. Doogie and Chip are inspirations because they are just constantly working and writing and coming up with great material. Luke is a great writer, and his ideas are always ones that I wish I thought of – thoughts that I’ve had that I just didn’t recognize to turn into bits. I think his style as a stand-up is closest to mine so the fact that I like him a lot might also be a bit narcissistic. The Feeko Brothers are my favorite sketch group, and I think they make me laugh more than anybody else in the world. My favorite improv groups to watch are Medic!, Matt&, Mayor Karen, and any other team that starts with the letter “M” apparently.

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Bombing is always terrible, it makes me feel dead inside – but my worst show experience was when I had to take the side of Inspector Gadget against Batman in a “who is the better detective” debate at the Raven Lounge. I won the debate, and then picked up the microphone and berated the audience for being persuaded that in any universe Inspector Gadget could be considered a better detective than Batman. I felt like I betrayed myself. I don’t know how I’ve been able to sleep since.

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? Like most people will probably say, we need a permanent space – a place that’s going to be open every day that the public will know is a place they can trust to come see great comedy all the time. The performers are here, we have great people doing great things, we just need to build an audience of non-performers who trust local comedy. There are a lot of comedy fans in Philly, people go out to see shows of big-named acts all the time. We just need to get them to know that the local acts are good, and worth coming out to see.

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? Ultimately, my goal is to make my living from comedy, so my short term goals are all doing things to work towards making that happen. Which is really, just getting on stage as much as I can and writing and working on material all the time. Not a bad way to spend my time.

Ten Questions With…Billy Bob Thompson

Billy Bob Thompson is a Philadelphia based comedian originally from Vermont.  He does stand-up, writes sketches with The Feeko Brothers and Camp Woods, and performs improv with Hate Speech Committee and the new PHIT House Team codename: Shadowfax. He is also the voice of Burgh on Pokémon: Black and White.

How and why did you get into comedy?

How:  My entire life, the only thing I’ve ever taken seriously was comedy (that’s how my auto-biography is going to start).  I first realized that comedy was something I would like to pursue, when I was in a barbershop quartet called “The Half Steps” during high school.  We would perform super cute little comedy bits between songs which I wound up enjoying more than the actual singing itself.  Fast forward a few years, blah, blah, blah, and now I’ve become extremely successful at being an unsuccessful comedian.

Why:  Crippling anxiety, the strange desire to be liked by people I don’t know, and dirty butt sluts.

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I’m not sure how to describe my style, but here’s some stuff I’ve heard:

“Billy Bob Thompson is the closest thing Philadelphia has to Paul Rudd.” -–Pat Ackerman

“Billy is like a white Steve Martin.” – John McKeever

“You look like that Carey guy!  Can I get some change for the bus?” – Guy outside of a 7/11

Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? I’ve had the most fun on Chip Chantry’s “One-Man Show” and Doogie Horner’s “Ministry of Secret Jokes.”  Anything goes on those shows, you knows!  These two fine gentlemen have created even finer shows that are an absolute pleasure to perform on and watch.  If you want a crash course in what is actually going on in Philly Comedy, go to these shows.  Quick side note:  If you run a show or a venue, please don’t throw hissy fits in front of your performers.  It puts them on edge and makes you look unprofessional.  The performers are there to help you.  Stop it.  I’ve seen this baby behavior happening all over the city.  You’re being bad.  Bad!

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? For me personally, it’s either doing stand-up at Helium’s Philly’s Phunniest OR “A Slow Day at the Dildo Factory”:http://youtu.be/6i_DlJzsc7w  But I’d have to say that “The Roast of Meg Favreau” was one of my favorite moments in Philly comedy. Everyone on the dais MurderDeathKilled with their sets!  It was one of the funniest shows I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with. See for yourself: http://www.witout.net/2011/03/23/video-of-the-meg-favreau-roast/  Luke Giordano’s Roast was alright too, I guess.

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 use the 3 Ps* method.

What is it about stand-up / sketch / improv that draws you to it? I’m drawn to stand-up because to me it is hands down, the hardest of the three.  When you’re alone on stage and it goes bad, it feels terrible.  But when it goes well, it’s one of the greatest things in the world.  I’m drawn to sketch the most because it fits me the best. There’s more creativity involved in putting together sketches which is why I think I gravitate towards it.   I’m drawn to improv because it takes the least amount of preparation, and fucking around with your friends on stage is always a good time.

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? HOW DARE YOU MAKE ME PICK WHICH OF MY FRIENDS I LIKE MORE!!!  Okay, I pick Emily and Micah McGraw.  They’re a married comedy duo that sings hilarious songs, every one of which is PURE GOLD.  I love everything they do and you should too.  Man, I wish I had a husband I could sing comedy songs with.  WIFE!  I MEANT WIFE!  I’m also a gigantic fan of everyone I work with on a regular basis.  Like the Camp Woods blokes and the Hate Speech Committee crew!!!  We roll deep.  But my super favorite would have to be my comedy husband, Christian Alsis.  Awwwwwwww.  He makes me laugh shit.  There, I mentioned you, Christian.  Are you happy now?! No?  See!  I told you you’d never be happy.

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Of course!  But wouldn’t you rather watch a video of it?  Here’s a well-shot video of The Feeko Brothers bombing at the late great Bedtime Stories: http://youtu.be/-RB3mPVh9pI  Enjoy!  I know we didn’t.

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? There needs to be more crossover within the comedy scene.  HEY, YOU!  Do you only perform stand-up and think improv is “gay?”  Well, crowd-work is improv so that means you’re “gay” too!  Go see an improv show!  Do you only do improv and have never heard of Secret Pants?  Well, there’s something wrong with you!  Go see a sketch show!  Do you only perform sketch?  Good, keep doing it.  There needs to be more people doing sketch.  It’s much better than stand-up or improv, but also go see an improv or stand-up show anyway! Crossover within the scene will give everyone more exposure.  Get out of your bubble!

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? My goal is to hopefully make the transition from a Volunteer Comedian to a Paid Comedian.  I already treat comedy like a job so all I’m looking for is a promotion and maybe a raise.  Dental would be nice.  I’d also like to be Mr. January in the “Beef-Cakes of Philly Comedy” Calendar, but it would be an honor just to be nominated.

*Paper, Pens, and Pot.

Ten Questions With…Rob Cutler

Rob Cutler is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team codenamed Brandybuck. He also performs with The N Crowd, Dumdumstupiddumb, and is in the upcoming Fringe Festival puppet improv show Friends of Alcatraz.

How and why did you get into comedy? I always loved to make my family laugh. My father had a great dry wit, and I just tried to keep up with him growing up. Plus, the majority of the work I’ve been able to do in Philly as an actor has been comedy related, and its been something of a niche for me. As I got older, I found that nothing quite matches the experience of performing before a group of people you don’t know and having them truly enjoy what you are doing.

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I tend to go darker. I like walking the line between uncomfortable and funny. Andy Kaufman was a huge influence on me. I can’t touch his level of creativity, but his work informs my style. I like playing with taboos and social norms and turning them on their head. That said, I don’t think I’m very funny, as I tend to play the “every” man or straight man in most of my scene work.

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 working with Ladies and Gentlemen if only because the work we put in during rehearsals really shows in the performances. Musical improv is incredibly challenging, but when its done well it can be amazing. In terms of venue, I like the ones that serve alcohol.

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? I thought Banana Breakup’s set at duofest was pure genius. Meg Favreau’s roast was hysterical. For me personally, I had a great set during Stage Fright, where I got to play the killer and strangle Ali Soowal on stage, I suppose that was a highlight.

Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? I read a newspaper everyday. (not online) It keeps me up to date on pop culture stuff I would otherwise be oblivious to, and it gives me an idea of what’s going through the world’s collective consciousness. It helps to keep tuned in, even to things I don’t find particularly interesting, in order to relate to your audience, regardless of what walk of life they come from.

What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? As an actor, its a great opportunity to experiment with new characters, physicality, environments, etc. It keeps you sharp. The bonus is that its the most actively supportive “scene” in Philly. The talent level is enormous and deep, there are constantly new faces, and the is ALWAYS something going on. The people involved are what keeps me going, even when I feel like I’ve hit a creative wall.

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Matt Holmes. Rare Bird Show was one of the first things I saw and I immediately thought “that is someone I want to work with.” (Yes, he’s the director of my team and this may seem like brown nosing, but its true)
I get to work with a ton of my favorites with the N Crowd, Ladies and Gentlemen, Superheroes Who Are Super, dumdumstupiddumb, and Stage Fright, so I’ve been really lucky to work with incredibly talented people.

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? I block them from my memory. We all have bad shows, but dwelling on them only hurts you in the long run. You figure out what went wrong, work on it, and move on. If I had to name one, I suppose playing a show to 6 people in a 200 seat room in New York was rough. One of them was asleep by the end of our set. Also, my first audition for PHIT, back when they were doing the first round of house teams. I had the flu and had to run to the bathroom of the Shubin to throw up in between scenes. I remember wretching to the sounds of laughter coming through the wall.

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow?
A permanent home. Having a dedicated space will do wonders for this blossoming community

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy?
I want to do sketch. I have a ton of half finished scripts, but I don’t have a group to work with. I’d like to try standup, but sketch is the priority.

Ten Questions With…Claire Halberstadt

Claire Halberstadt is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team Codenamed Shadowfax. She is also a member of musical improv group Suggestical.

How and why did you get into comedy?  I never intended to get into “comedy”. I was raised on musical theater and was actually introduced to improv through a musical improv group that I was in during college. I loved making up musicals on the spot, so when I moved to Philadelphia, I figured I’d give regular improv a try. I started going to the Improv Incubator on Sunday nights and pretty much fell in love.

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I’m definitely inspired and driven by physical comedy, and my background as a dancer feeds into that. I also tend to play over-the-top characters, the ones that you find most often in musical theater.

Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? The good ole Shubin does it for me. It’s a good size, your audience can drink in the seats, and they’ve got easy access to electrical outlets- which we need for the piano in my musical improv trio- Suggestical.

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? Haha, well I just love when people can leave a show talking about something that happened on stage or humming a tune that we made up during one of our improvised musicals with Suggestical. Most recently we sang a song called “An Ipod for Dolphins”. That was pretty fun. And then there was the time that I named Jess Ross’ mother’s maiden name: Magucci.

Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? I try to meditate sometimes. I’m a big fan of Chicago Improv Associates’ ZenProv. They basically draw parallels between improv and Zen Buddhism. Check it out, it’s life-changing- they’ve got podcasts.

What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? Honestly, I did theater for so many years and I don’t think I ever truly “got” what it meant to be “in the moment” until I started doing improv. Improvising makes real acting a lot more accessible. It’s a lot easier- and no, I don’t mean to say it’s “easy”, just “easier”- to be present, listening, and truthful when you don’t have a predetermined script that you’re following.

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? I love the Amie and Kristen show. I’m really inspired by their organic transitions and the awesome chemistry they’ve got.

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Don’t you know, I block out those memories.

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? A permanent space for PHIT definitely. More musical improv!

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? I guess a personal goal of mine is to somehow keep my life balanced, as I will be hopefully going back to school in the next year or so for Clinical Psychology. I want to keep improv as a part of my life, but also be able to balance it with my other interests.

Ten Questions With…Tara Demmy

Tara Demmy is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team codenamed Brandybuck. They make their debut this Friday at the Shubin Theater.

How and why did you get into comedy? I got into comedy while at Denison University, as a member of Burpee’s Seedy Theatrical Company, the oldest college improv troupe, doing short form with a bunch of wonderful geniuses.

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I was always into theatre and became aware of the many rules and styles associated with different theatrical forms. I always felt most connected to comedic improvisation because it gave me much more freedom (with genre, with manipulating the world of the scene) than interpreting a script.

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 only performed in a few spots but I like the community feel at the Shubin. I do like spaces where the audience and the performers are on the same level (physically) it makes more for a connection and spontaneous feel. As for shows- I like the crazy, honest, super energetic ones.

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? The 201 class show on Saturday, July 9th was one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve ever seen. There was so much support on stage for everyone’s ideas, really impressive work.

Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? I try hard not to think so much. I oftentimes get in my head and blockade nifty ideas. I also try to take at least one big risk per show, something that will keep both me and the team on its toes. Safe is no fun, no fun.

What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? Improv can’t be anything other than contemporary and relevant. It is the HERE and NOW, even if it references a historical time period, it is based on the current climate of society (because that’s what is in our heads) and it has never been performed before and never will be performed again. It is the truest example of ephemerality. Visual and performance art grapples with how much to “invest in past work,” how to make “past work modern,” when to honor tradition and when to throw it out the window. Improv’s content is always new and because of that, it’s structure is always in a state of change. Improv is a necessary force in pushing our arts culture forward.

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? I really love watching Amie Roe and Kristen Schier in the Amie and Kristen Show. They may be my favorites. They have super range as performers and never lose the “sense of play” so important to the form. I want to be them when I grow up. Creating comedy that does not require a “…and they’re women” after someone says “funny show.”

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? There are lots, especially in college. In college, you know everyone in the audience, so you want to be funny, oh gosh let me be funny! Since then I have learned it is more about ensemble, it’s about support and creating honest scenes.

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? I’ve only been in the scene for a short while, but the building of new independent groups, more opportunities for performance around the city, getting people excited so they come to Philly for IMPROV would support growth. Not comparing our models/formats/structures to New York and Chicago so much (even though it’s hard not to) is important to always keep in mind. This comedic community is full of some of the most supportive, encouraging, welcoming individuals- to not lose that when we becoming bigger and bigger.

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? Take more classes, think more, practice more, laugh more. I always want to work on being more confident on stage, learning how to better create compelling stories. Basically, to keep creating.

Ten Questions With…Mark Leopold

Mark Leopold is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team codenamed Brandybuck. He is also a member of sketch comedy group The Hold Up.

How and why did you get into comedy? I initially got into comedy through sketch. I was a member of The Action Section. They brought me on to run tech and write for their Halloween show three years ago. I have always had an interest in writing and have done a small bit of performing in my life and wanted to give it another try. Things went really well with The Action Section and it was through doing sketch shows that I was introduced to improv.

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I’m still working to figure out what my style is. I enjoy a wide variety of comedy from silent physical humor, like Mr. Bean and Boy with Tape on His Face, to very cerebral, verbal word-play in the vein of A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Arrested Development, Mitchell and Webb and Demetri Martin. So when I’m writing sketch, I find myself trying to write things which are clever, which is terrible. I’m constantly discovering that clever sketches are interesting, but not very funny usually. Since I’ve begun doing improv, I feel like I am learning how to write great sketches every week. Improv is amazing in how it essentially teaches you how to be funny through not concentrating on being funny. Improv has definitely made me a better writer and has made the sketches I’ve come up with stronger.

Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? Almost all of the shows I’ve ever done have been at the Shubin. It’s my favorite space in the city because it is so intimate. You can feel the audience hiding behind the lights and when you have them with you it’s electric. It’s just a great place to perform because despite it’s relatively small size, it’s very versatile. There isn’t much you can’t do on that stage sketch-wise.

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? I love all of my Philadelphia comedy moments the same.

Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? I like getting ideas from my everyday interactions. I’ve been getting better about keeping a pen and paper nearby to jot down notes and ideas about jokes and sketches I want to try out. A lot of it is situational or might just be a premise I think has merit. Then I’ll procrastinate. Weeks later, I’ll come back to the idea only to realize I didn’t manage to capture what it was about the situation or idea that I found funny, so I’ll stare blankly at the note, vainly hoping to somehow resurrect the humor from it. Eventually, I’ll abandon it and promise myself to write more thorough notes in the future. I tend to get a lot of ideas right before I fall asleep, so it’s always pretty interesting to see what my semi-conscious mind comes up with joke-wise.

What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? It’s creativity. We are able to create through these things. Even if it’s not the best thing ever, it’s still something new. Something that has never existed before. With improv, I feel like it’s unadulterated creativity. The whole skill is about simply allowing the scene to happen. Once you try to force it, or control it, that is when it falls apart for me. It just simple and fun and it forces me to be in the moment, which I don’t do very often. Sketch brings the same challenge, with higher expectations. When it goes well, I feel like a good sketch is organic and compact and lean. The characters are clear and the premise comes out early so the audience can enjoy it. The jokes are an extension of the premise without simply restating it and as a scene the sketch has a beginning, middle and end.

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Matt Holmes was one of the first improvisers I ever saw. Rare Bird Show opened for The Action Section for one of our shows and I just feel lucky to have been introduced to improv by one of the best groups around. Seeing Matt Holmes and Alexis Simpson being nonchalantly hilarious remains impressive to this day. I’ve only seen a few of their sketches, but I like what Camp Woods is doing right now. I like the Feeko Brothers. I think Ladies and Gentlemen are doing some great and interesting things. There are just a lot of great people doing stuff right now, Joe Sabatino, Doogie Horner, Kelly Vrooman, Mary Carpenter, Steve Gerben, just to name a few. I think what makes them my favorites…

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Our most recent showing of “Work” didn’t go as well as I wanted. We had some tech issues, the projector shut off in mid-show and refused to come back on and some of our re-tooled re-written sketches didn’t work at all. It was a good experience overall though. I think I learned something about failure and its relationship to success or something.

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? As a community, we need to push each other. What I love about Philly is how supportive everyone is, but we need to find a way to keep that while adding a sense of competition. We should all be trying to get better. We should be trying to challenge ourselves.

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? My comedy goals are simple and small. I want to write more and perform more. In the past, I’ve performed about once or twice a year. That isn’t nearly enough. Putting material in front of an audience is what this is all about and I want to do as much of that as I possibly can.

Ten Questions With…Nathan Edmondson

Nathan Edmondson is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team codenamed Shadowfax. He is also the director of current House Team Mayor Karen and a member of Rare Bird Show.

How and why did you get into comedy? Watching Stand-Up Stand-Up on Comedy Central in the early 90s was when I first thought that making comedy would be the best thing in the world to do.  I studied Theater at Oberlin College and loved watching improv there but I was too busy with shows (and also intimidated) to join a group.  When I moved to Philly, I thought joining an improv group would be a good way to stay in practice as an actor between theater shows.  Unknowingly, I auditioned for a never-to-form group alongside Matt Holmes.  Months later he contacted me after meeting Alexis Simpson and Chris Conklin and Rare Bird Show soon formed.

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? Ninja-style.  In that I dress in black, hide in the shadows and decapitate whomever wrongs the emperor…. Um, performing with Rare Bird Show for over 7 years has been the biggest influence.  I’ve played many a straight man to the absurd.  Big, clear characters have always been a goal and I always look for variety in a show so the audience sees different characters, stage pictures, pacing and scene structure.

Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? The next venue is the best venue.

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? Oh geez.  Any time I was actually able to make Matt Holmes bust up in the middle of a scene.  I hold that close to my heart.  When I realized how big the Philly scene has become and how the quality of shows has sky-rocketed.

Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? I look to find variety in the scene work.

What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? Going on stage in front of people and making stuff up takes a lot of gumption.  It’s an incredible adrenaline rush wherein you have to learn to trust your instincts and your scene partners while ignoring your fears and doubts.  It’s good training, Sir!  And it’s fun.

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? So many.  And recently there are so many new performers that are bringing a lot to the scene.  If I start naming, the list will be too long.  (If you’re reading this, you’re on the list.  Unless you don’t perform.  Then you’re on my favorite non-performer list.)

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? First time I tried to improvise was when I was nine on my front porch with a friend.  We were dressed as clowns trying to do a simple clown play of some sort and we bombed in front of the rest of the block.  Boo.  Little Johnny’s mom from across the street suggested we rehearse more before charging $0.10 a head.  She was right. Early on there were some terrible shows, like the one Fringe show in the basement of the Ethical Society that missed it’s black out by 20 minutes.  It was so hot in the room and terrible and miserable and I’m sorry still for that audience.  Recently, a co-worker of mine realized she was at that particular Rare Bird Show performance and since she had improv experience even considered calling it for us.  Wow.  But wonky performances still happen and you hold them lightly, learn from them and move on.

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? Garbage truck loads of money.  From new, clean garbage trucks.  I don’t want those crisp bills smelling like your kitchen and bathroom trash.  A central theater/rehearsal/class space for PHIT would be great so if there are any millionaires out there with the desire to have their name on a theater, and you have a new, clean garbage truck, you know what to do.

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? Be on stage more.

Ten Questions With…Brian Ratcliffe

Brian Ratcliffe is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team Codenamed Shadwofax. They make their debut this Friday night, at 10:30.

How and why did you get into comedy? I started doing improv in college and fell in love with it immediately. After graduation I had no clue where my life was headed next, but I knew for sure that I wanted to keep studying and performing improv, and Philly seemed like the perfect place to do it in.

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I like to think that my comedic impulses as an improvisor are grounded in truth. Human interactions are already intrinsically rich with humor, and so the task of the improvisor is simply to find that hilarity and draw it out. I am heavily influenced by the teachers and teammates I’ve had, both at college and now as part of a houseteam under the magnificent Kristen Schier.

Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? 
I enjoy playing at the Shubin quite a bit. It’s an intimate space, so you’re right up next to the audience when you’re performing. It’s also great to just think about how many fantastic improvisors and comedians have performed right there in that same space. It makes you feel connected to the larger community of Philly comedians.

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? 
I will always remember the night that my new PHIT houseteam hosted our first Improv Jam at the Shubin. We were all nervous going into it, but the night ended up being really relaxed and positive, the audience was super supportive. It gave us all confidence going into our debut on Aug. 5.

Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? 
For me, the creative process occurs wholly between me and my scene partner. I try to start a scene with total openness and let the interaction with my partner inform the world that we create together.

What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? 
I love the creative freedom and spontaneity of improv. It is an unleashed art form. Whole realities are co-constructed in an instant, and then are lost just as fast. It’s a thrilling and liberating experience.

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? 
I can’t pick favorites… The thing is, everyone is bringing something new and slightly different to the table. As a wise improvisor, Neal Dandade, once told me, “everyone is a trailblazer”.

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? 
At the end of my freshman year, the college improv troupe that I was on, Vertigo-go, performed at the Fracas! Improv Festival at USC. I’m not sure if it was the jetlag or if we were thrown off by the new space or what, but it was a nightmare of a show. Thirty minutes of incoherent, increasingly frantic and labored improv in front of a silent crowd… pretty mortifying for me as a very new improvisor. But it was a good early lesson to learn, that sometimes shows just go awry. All you can do is shake it off and try again.

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? 
Just more of everything that is already happening now–more performances, more classes, more discussions, more experiments into what is possible. That’s why things like WitOut and the Fringe festival are such awesome resources for the comedy scene, they bring attention to this community and offer opportunities introduce new faces and launch new projects.

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? 
The more I practice improv, the more I realize how much I still have to learn. This is a craft that you can spend an entire lifetime honing. My goal for now is just to keep practicing and learning from the brilliant people around me, and keep striving for that human truth that makes the foundation of it all.

Ten Questions With…Dennis Trafny

Dennis Trafny is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team codenamed Brandybuck. He is also a member of independent group Iron Lung.

How and why did you get into comedy? I got into comedy because my family doesn’t think I’m funny. Look who’s on a funny website now, family! I will do anything for spite.

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I’m influenced by everyday werido’s, they are my muse.  Someone described my style of comedy as “funny”, which felt good. I liken my style to a wolverine stuck on a raft at sea…even if you could rescue it, would you?

Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? I really like performing at the various developing independent comedy scenes in Philadelphia, such as Sketch Playground! at Tabu Lounge & Sports Bar or The Sideshow at The Arts Parlor. I also like to tell jokes at my place of employment because they have to laugh at what I say.

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? I had a transcendental moment a few months ago during a performance.  I remember actively thinking during the scene, “What life choices am I making? Why am I allowing a grown man to rub saliva on my face?”

Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? Process? I just regurgitate my head vomit

What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do…) that draws you to it? I’m no better than anyone else, I do it for the money, women and fame….

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? One of my favorite improv groups is Asteroid!  They have a nice ensemble and exemplify the team concept.  In the realm of sketch, I was super impressed with The Hold Up as they are very smart and try to get the “harder” laughs.  I also genuinely love watching any new-to-stand-up comedian performing/tanking. Very real & very funny. There are some cool, local concepts being filmed in comedy too, such as the Brendan Keegan Show.

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? One of my first improv shows, while getting the suggestion from the audience, I started making sexual innuendos out of nervousness.  As you can probably guess, in the opening scene I was a fish looking for genitalia to bite.  I try to be bland and straight forward at the top of the show now and it has made for far less genitalia scenes.

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? Somehow, this city needs a face, like Batman.

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? I want to live in lore. Next uproar I cause, I am going to immediately head for the exit to never return.