Get to Know: Codename Strider

Tomorrow night, two new Philly Improv Theater House Teams make their debut. Get to know them now before you see them on stage.

Prior to rehearsal, May 29, director Steve Kleinedler speaks with the cast of Codename: Strider
Steve Kleinedler: Jim Burns, do you have a question for Corin Wells?
Jim Burns: Yes, I do, and it's a serious question. The name of our group happened at a party at your place, is that correct?
Corin Wells: Yeah, it did.
JB: Since I wasn't there, could you please tell how that developed?
CW: Ok! Our name developed when Ellen, a former member of Codename: Strider, came up with it. It was thrown out there as a suggestion, and we all liked it. Unfortunately, Ellen can't perform with us [because she's moving to Minneapolis!] so we all thought that it was fitting for us to choose the name she picked for us.
SK: Excellent way of answering the question without giving away the answer, which readers of this column will have to come see the show to find out. Corin, do you have a question of Chris Calletta?
CW: I do, I do. Chris, your hair always looks immaculate. I was wondering, do you have a favorite strand of hair?
Chris Calletta: I do, and sadly it's not on my head. I keep it in a box in my drawer.
CW: What's its name?
CC: Harold.
SK: I thought this was going someplace completely different. [Pause] Let the record show Corin is losing it. [Laughter]
CC: His name is Harold.
CW: [Laughing] OK. I hope to get to meet him someday.
CC: Yes, I'll have to bring him out. He might be at the debut show.
SK: All right. So, Chris, do you have a question for Emily Davis?
CC: I do. Emily, when does your team debut?
Emily Davis: Our new team? Our new team debuts on June 1st, and you can also see us on June 2nd. Check the website.
SK: Nicely done. Emily, do you have a question for Andrew Stober?
ED: Andrew, we have seen you in the Philly scene before. What makes this project so exciting and different for you?
Andrew Stober: I think people are going to be blown away by the kind of movement they see onstage, the kind of tableaux and transitions. We're bringing a new, exciting, fast-paced group improv to the stage in Philadelphia.
SK: Thank you, Andrew. Andrew, do you have a question for teammate Sue Jahani?
AS: I sure do! Sue Jahani, tell me what is the most fun thing about hanging out with your new team?
Sue Jahani: Aw, my new team is great! [Laughter.] Everyone's super supportive and genuinely nice. I really enjoy doing warmups with my team and getting drinks afterward with my team. [w00ts in the background]
SK: Thank you, Sue. Do you have a question for Jim Burns?
SJ: Yes! Jim, I was wondering, Jim, [hums a bit] where is your favorite place to go after practice?
JB: Well, Sue, I like to go to Vargas. It's right next door to where we rehearse, and they have a nice selection of beers. I've turned you into an alcoholic, I apologize.
CW: Follow up question - what's your favorite beer to get there?
SJ: Presidential?
JB: That's true, I like the Presidential beers. So anything by Jefferson, Washington, not Monroe, he's kind of a douche.
SK: Thank you. Who has a question for me, Steve Kleinedler, the director?
CC: I do. I hear your team likes to to play pranks, and I'd imagine then you'd be the leader of this? I was wondering why do you pick on a team like Westmarch [laughter]?
SK: In the kindred spirit of newbiedom, we've decided to go after Westmarch, even though they just sat there like--
CW: They took it.
SK: --scared marmots. Yeah, they took it. But we respect them greatly, and their coach, and we look forward to playing alongside them for years to come. Martha Cooney, the class that she teaches -- they're like 3rd graders or something? They're doing a show right now. She'll be by later, and when that happens, we'll ask her a question. So, over and out.
CW: You forgot about Maureen.
JB: He forgot Maureen.
SK: Oh. OH! We forgot Maureen. Corin didn't forget about Maureen. We will also be asking Maureen a question. The two of them can ask each other a question. Back later.
CW: Yay! [Applause]
[After rehearsal]
SK: And, we just had a great rehearsal! And we're following up with our final questions. Maureen! Maureen Costello, do you have a question for Martha Cooney?
Maureen Costello: I do, I do have a question for Martha Cooney. Martha, what is your favorite holiday that is not a major holiday?
Martha Cooney: Not a major holiday?
MCostello: Mmmhmmm.
MCooney: Arbor Day is a good one. It's underrated and undervalued. But important.
MCostello: I like it, yeah, good.
SK: And Martha, do you have a question for castmate Maureen Costello?
MCooney: I was wondering, your favorite dental hygiene practice?
MCostello: Probably brushing my teeth would be A, then flossing. I like the mouthwash, but not the kind that stings.
SK: And a question for both of you. How excited are you about the shows coming up this week.
MC squared: SO EXCITED!
SK: Excellent, thank you everyone!

Get to Know: Codename Westmarch

Tomorrow night, two new Philly Improv Theater House Teams will make their debut. Get to know them now before you see them perform.

Who are we?

We are Dan Corkery, Hilary Kissinger, Nick Mirra, Alex Newman, Cait O'Driscoll, Kevin Pettit, Jessica Snow, Max Sittenfield, and Brian Rumble. And our Coach is Maggy Keegan.

What is our style?

Our style is very focused on game, and we've been working with the Harold structure for our format. A few of us have studied at UCB (where Harold and game-work is foundational). Exploring premise and playing very real, emotional characters came pretty naturally to us as a group so we are really looking forward to representing that style of improv. We strive to maintain a balance of patient and aggressive but we usually end up trying to make each other laugh. In a nut shell, we'd say our play is intellectual, aggressive, and irreverent.

How did we start to gel?

We gelled almost instantly. We have had a great rapport from the very first rehearsal. It feels like we're one big group of raucous siblings, and Maggy is the cool big sister who buys us beer and lets us play with fireworks in the backyard. The one week that she couldn't be at rehearsal, she wrote out an elaborate scavenger hunt with a precise scoring system for us to undertake in her absence. A highlight? Kevin Pettit eating a soft pretzel on top of a cheesesteak and then running up the Art Museum steps.

Anything we are especially excited about?

We are all just pumped to finally take the stage together. This is the first serious improv team for some of us so it's super exciting to be on a house team at PHIT.

Cool stories from our time together so far:

One time a school bus of 6th graders from Codename Strider Elementary interrupted our rehearsal by running into our space and spraying silly string they had just stolen from a nearby party supply store. We called their parents who came to pick them up. While we waited for their parents,we helpfully answered the students' questions about the changes that were happening to their bodies. It was kinda neat.

Duofest Interview: Rosen & Milkshake

By: Alison Zeidman

In preparation for next week's Duofest - Alison Zeidman has done a series of interviews with some of the groups performing in the festival. First up is Philadelphia favorites Rosen & Milkshake. Keep an eye out for a cameo appearance from another Duofest performer (I won't ruin the surprise).

When their two other compatriots from Mr. Lizard (a 2008 Troika team) abandoned them for new lives and families down south, founding Improv Incubator members Charles Rosen and the beloved player best known simply as Milkshake decided to continue performing as a duo. After lengthy debate over what they'd themselves, they settled on a straightforward, purely descriptive new name: Rosen & Milkshake.

Alison Zeidman: So how did you guys meet?

Milkshake: I was taking a class with ComedySportz and so was Charles--I was level two, I think Charles was level three, and we met at the class show. Two and three had their show the same day I guess.

Charles Rosen: And then soon after Incubator started. We're founding Incubators.

AZ: Is that when you decided to form your duo?

M: No, the duo didn't start as a duo. How did Mr. Lizard start?

CR: That was a Troika group.

M: Mr. Lizard was a Troika group with Charles and two other players, both of whom have moved south. It was the three of them and then they asked me to play in one show, and then I just kept playing in other shows, and then one by one they moved off and it was just me and Charles, and I was like, this is no longer Mr. Lizard anymore. [phone rings]

M: I meant to shut this off! This is Kristen Schier, calling during an interview, and that' s my fault, entirely. Entirely my fault, that's terrible. [On phone] Is eveything OK?

Kristen Schier [on speakerphone]: Yeah everything's fine. I didn't catch what you said because a bus went past.

M: We're doing an interview. Rosen & Milkshake are being interviewed for WitOut, at this very moment.

KS: Oh OK, well I don't want to interrupt that!

M: Is everything OK? Can I do anything for you before I click back over to our interview?

KS: Oh no I just called to idly chat, so I will let you go.

M: OK, I'll talk to you soon. [hangs up] ...Adorable.

Alison Zeidman: So how long ago did Mr. Lizard start, and then how long have you two been together as Rosen & Milkshake?

Charles Rosen: Mr. Lizard was 2008 Troika, and that was the year that we could all pick our own groups.

Milkshake: [We've been performing as Rosen & Milkshake] I believe at least a couple years. How many shows do you think we've done as a duo? That's what I want to know, because I remember the first show that we did and it was just the two of us, and I was concerned because we were expecting John Bussman [of Mr. Lizard] to be able to be there, and it went surprisingly well. I remember being very calm and relaxed, because the audience was dynamite. The audience was very receptive to whatever we were doing.

AZ: Did that influence your decision to become a duo later on, when the other members of Mr. Lizard had all moved away?

M: Well not necessarily, because we also had a really shitty show. The next time we did the duo it was not very strong, to me. I'm very critical of my own performances, and if I don't like most of the things that I'm doing, I'm really not happy.

AZ: When you guys perform, do you have a specific format or structure?

M: We pretty much stick to a monoscene.

CR: But with a lot of ghost characters in there.

M: By ghosts we mean like, because there's only two of us, if over in the corner someone is sitting down watching TV, and whoever's playing that character needs to run over to the other side of the room to portray another character, that guy's still there down in the corner watching TV. That's what we mean by ghost characters. Not...ghosts.

CR: Yeah, that would be like the Scooby Doo format.

AZ: Charles, tell me what you think are Milkshake's greatest improv strengths.

M: Oh, do go on.

CR: Well, he's very good at reacting to the shit I give him. And object work, his object work is excellent. Which is definitely not the case with me.

AZ: And Milkshake, what would you say about Charles?

M: Charles can say things that nobody else could make funny. And oftentimes it doesn't even need to be a fantastic character choice, and all I have to do is just lob things, just put objects in front of him to kick out of the field--to knock out of the park. To be specific, there was one character where we did a show at the library [as Mr. Lizard], and I've watched this scene over and over and over again because it was captured on video. Charles was a momma's boy, and John was scanning items at a checkout counter at a Pathmark, and I was operating another scanner, and I was like "Oh, look who's here, it's the momma's boy!" and we were like "Oh, are you here with your momma?" And he said, "actually, yes, she's buying groceries." And the way that it comes out of his mouth, nobody could deliver lines like this and get his kind of reation, because of his emotional quality and his cadence, the rhythm with which he speaks. There are things that are completely innocuous if they were said by somebody else, but when they come out of the mouth of Charles Rosen it's just--it makes my job a lot easier because I just have to kind of wait for him to find something to say.

AZ: What do you guys like about performing in your duo versus performing in a group?

M: The cool thing about doing a duo is that you're in every scene--and sometimes twice, because you have to do more in every scene. And it's a lot of work, but that's a lot of fun. And with Rosen & Milkshake, I think I feel control, and not needing to be in control at the same time. It should be that way of every group, but I don't always feel that way. So I get to be in every scene, I get to be in every scene with this guy, and that's as close as I can get it--I feel a sense of control, without needing to be in control.

CR: It's definitely different being in a duo. I don't work with groups that often. I was on a group called Atomic Love which is on hiatus, and now I'm doing the [PHIT] Conservatory show, and it's a lot different. You have a backline, and I'm so used to not being on the backline; I'm always in every scene.

AZ: Are there any challenges that you guys have as a duo?

M: It's difficult doing one another's character. I find Charles inimitable, and so any endearing qualities that he has, if I try to do them, I just sound like a narcissistic asshole. Every time I think the audience is going to love me doing his character, and it just doesn't work. They don't care. They're pleased that the scene is still happening, but they are not pleased with my impersonation.

CR: And in our last F Harold show Milkshake was doing a Russian accent, and I don' t really have a Russian accent, so when I was being his character--

M: Can you try? [in Russian accent] Can you do a Russian accent right now?

CR: [in "Russian" accent] I will try to do Russian accent.

M: That was probably more Ukraine. Or Ottoman Empire.

CR: So [in the show] it kind of became a little game that I couldn't get the accent exactly right.

AZ: What are you guys looking forward to about performing in Duofest?

M: How's our slot in Duofest? Let's comment on that.

CR: We're opening slot. It's like 8 o'clock on Thursday.

M: Not a bad slot. Not a bad slot.

CR: Yeah, that's a good slot. And it's actually really good because my mom is giong to be able to come for it. So it worked out well. But Duofest is always a lot of fun, it's such a great weekend. There are so many great duos coming in.

See Milkshake & Rosen perform in Duofest at the Shubin Theatre on Thursday, June 7th at 8 pm. Get advance tickets (or full weekend passes) at

Review: House Team Night - ZaoGao + Mayor Karen

By: Tony Narisi

The audience at Philly Improv Theater at the Shubin Theatre was treated to a great double-shot of local improv comedy Saturday night when two house teams kicked the evening off at 8:30.

First up was the six-person team of Mayor Karen. Basing their set off of the audience suggestion of Gandhi, the team started with some rapid-fire scenes. From a man deciding to stop abusing his wife after achieving inner peace to two men using “violent” protest methods to get a Dairy Queen re-opened, these scenes were short and sweet, with cuts coming in after only about three to five lines but still providing the audience with big laughs. As the form went on, the audience saw three recurring scenes being explored more in-depth—young Mother Theresa’s scandalous love affair with Jesus, people in eerie places surrounded by animals making extremely strange noises, and a little boy, Timmy, whose newly single father is trying to get him to clean his room and learn that actions have consequences. In their last scene, Timmy was executed while his father looked on hoping that he had learned his lesson. With this scene and many others throughout the night, Mayor Karen exhibited their skills in beat structure and stake-raising to the audience.

Next up was the five-person team of ZaoGao. Going with the audience suggestion of “penny coat,” the team performed an interesting form I’d never seen before, where characters remain on stage amidst the action the entire time, freezing in and out of movement as needed. As with Mayor Karen, they had good singular scenes, but their strongest moments came when they developed ideas through a number of scenes, as seen in the story of a woman who buys a house haunted by teen angst or Bad Luck Travis, the time-traveling explorer with a knack for destroying ancient relics. Possibly my favorite premise of the night was the one of Mr. and Mrs. Host. This couple is under the impression that their neighbors are constantly trying to see them having sex, while the neighbors actually have fake heads set up in the window, based on their thinking that the Hosts constantly want them to watch them having sex. With smooth transitions and good mental connections and references between scenes, ZaoGao put on a great twenty minutes of comedy that kept the laughs coming.

Spotlight: Gilda Radner

By: Rachel Goodman

This past Sunday, May 20th 2012, marked 23 years since the passing of one of the most unique and funniest comediennes to have ever lived.

After landing many leads in comic roles at the University of Michigan, Gilda Radner landed her first professional theatre role as part of the legendary cast of Godspell at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto in 1972. Gilda then went on to become one of the founding members of the Second City Toronto under Andrew Alexander, along with Dan Aykroyd, Eugene Levy and Valri Bromfield.

Here in Toronto, Gilda made a name for herself as a comedienne. A reviewer once correctly projected that she would go on to be the “toast” of comedy in London and New York. Fulfilling this prophecy, a year and a half later, Gilda went on to New York City where she worked on the National Lampoon Show as a writer and performer, before becoming the first Not Ready For Prime Time Player to be hired for Saturday Night Live. Her characters such as Roseanne Roseannadanna, Emily Litella, Baba Wawa and Judy Miller still have not been forgotten in pop culture or to her fans. With these characters she has inspired people such as Tina Fey, Emma Stone, Tracey Ullman, Cheri Oteri, and countless others who have gone on to do great things in their lives and performances.

But what really makes Gilda so incredibly different is that the world truly loved her – and practically anyone that ever met her has said that she was the nicest person ever.

"When Gilda came out on stage," said the late Joyce Sloane, who was considered to be the mother of Second City, "the whole audience just wanted to put its arms around her."

“People who met her for the first time, they felt like they were her best friend and she theirs, and what I just told you with that story is not an unusual story,” says Alan Zweibel [one of the original writers on Saturday Night Live] in an interview with Peter Anthony Holder, “you'd go to a restaurant and if you passed a homeless person on the way to restaurant, at the restaurant she would order a couple of extra desserts or an extra sandwich and come back and give it to the guy.”

Many were devastated to hear of the loss of Gilda back in 1989, including Steve Martin, who was hosting Saturday Night Live that day that she died. Holding back tears, Martin introduced the famous Dancing in the Dark sketch where he and Gilda danced to their own rendition of the song of the same name from the movie The Band Wagon (with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse).

Even after death, Gilda’s legacy lives on. During her illness, Gilda was able to go to a cancer support group in Santa Monica, California and her hope was that people could have this same help no matter where they live. Gilda’s Club was established by her husband Gene Wilder and her cancer psychotherapist Joanna Bull. Cancer patients can go to Gilda’s Club to be with other people who are going through the same thing as Gilda during her battle with cancer. After opening the first Gilda’s Club in NYC in 1995, it was so successful that in 2000 Gilda’s Club Worldwide formed with the goal of bringing cancer support groups worldwide.

The Witout Podcast, Episode 14: Mary Radzinski

Aaron talks with Mary Radzinski about her start in comedy, her open mic Laughs on Fairmount, her status as a celebrated Twitter user and more in this week's episode of The Witout Podcast. Listen below or subscribe on iTunes.

[audio: maryradzinski.mp3]

Review: Camp Woods Plus

An eager crowd packed L'etage Tuesday night for this month's edition of Camp Woods Plus, Philadelphia's only alternative sketch comedy showcase. Joining Camp Woods this month was New York duo We're Matt Weir and local sketch group The Judo Range.

The Judo Range opened the show with a mix of new sketches and material previously seen at their Philly Improv Theater show and The Theme Show. Their set was tight, and the strongest I've seen from them overall - getting solid laughs with sketches about the secrets behind national monuments, a plumber giving a priest advice on how he can "clean his pipes" and the origin of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The highlight of their set was a delightfully bizarre sketch called Chris McGrail's Shaving Corner in which McGrail bestows some wisdom on the fine art of  shearing. The Judo Range is a group beginning to find and develop its voice and figure out who they want to be on stage. Their sketches blend dark humor and some edgy topics with a surreal slant that will be fun to watch grow as the group continues to develop.

The last time I saw We're Matt Weir they were asking Philadelphians to put their mother fucking hands in the sky if they loved weed in front of Mayor Michael Nutter (and a packed house) at Philly Improv Theater. Less than two months later, the duo was back (with a little help from some friends) with a brand new set of hilarious material. The Matts opened the show by slapping a volunteer from the audience with some cash and continued with sketches that explored a man's search to find love despite his obsession with his own status as a worker in a sludge pit, an overly self-loathing stand-up comedian dumping his problems on the audience, a friendly hip hop group, and a nosy cooking show host that ends up looking for secrets of the wrong home cooked meal. We're Matt Weir combines high energy performances and offbeat premises or twists with strong joke writing to put on a consistently great show. Their style also uses many sketches that have the characters directly addressing the audience - making them feel a part of the show the entire time.

Camp Woods closed out the show, as always, with a set that well-represented their wide range of talents and showcased their unique style and comedic point of view. The set opened with a fantastic sketch about a group of heroes known as The Fart Fuckers set to embark on a quest. The sketch revealed the heroes were toys being played with by three brothers, one of which inserts his real life father issues into his characters actions and words. The sketch showcased Camp Woods' ability to pinpoint a dark issue or deep emotional problem a character has that manifests itself in a hilarious way that makes for a brilliant sketch. This is a tool they have used before, and will surely will use again, as it creates a sketch that is not only funny on the surface, but also has a deep, emotional backbone. The set took a turn for the bizarre with a pair of sketches featuring Mr. Abernathy, a man who tricks his neighbor into stealing a dog, and an Admiral with a strange problem that makes his saliva dissolve human hair. The sketches worked well, anchored by strong performances in those roles by Billy Bob Thompson (as Mr. Abernathy) and Brendan Kennedy (as the Admiral) as well as Sam Narisi and Madonna Refugia in the sketches supporting roles. Next we saw JP Boudwin as the Communist Math Teacher - who learns a little something from his students about America followed by Pat Foy as an Austin Powers impersonator who slowly realizes his life may not be as great as it used to seem. The set closed with a mourner (Rob Baniewicz) being consoled by a chain of stand-up spooners who may or may not actually know the deceased. The final sketches were full of great individual jokes as well as characters with a strong hook that comes through in their actions. With Camp Woods, it's always show and not tell - as the characters' true feelings and real personality come through in what they do and how they do it - never in exposition.

Camp Woods is working harder than anybody else in Philly right now, and it shows. They produce a new half hour of material every month and their shows are getting steadily stronger. They are a group that is hitting their stride, have found their voice, and know how each of their members individually fit in and work best. And it a joy to watch.

Secret Pants: Hermit Crab Rave

See more from Secret Pants online  and be sure to check out Hermit Crab Rave dot com.