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-
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.