by Chris Dolan

For just over a year, Jess Carpenter has been producing a unique, multi-format comedy experience at L’Etage (6th & Bainbridge): Comedian Deconstruction.  The monthly show—each one built around a theme—is a merging of stand-up and improv.  Rather than use audience suggestions for the improv segments, the improv troupes construct scenes utilizing the material from the stand-ups’ sets.  Each show also features the debut of a “comedy virgin” to kick off the evening’s roster.

The theme on December 20th was “Girls, Girls, Girls – with Bed Savage.”  Keeping with the theme, the stand-up lineup consisted of terrific comedic talent, hosted by comic and motivational speaker Belinda Lawrence-Cleare Criddell:

First Half:

  • “Comedy Virgin” stand-up Cecily Chapman
  • Stand-up Erin Mulville
  • Improv team The Amie & Kristen Show (who tore it up with riffs on Mulville’s takes on teaching and sex toys)

Second Half:

  • Stand-up Nicole Yates
  • Stand-up Mary Radzinski
  • Improv team Bed Savage

L’Etage provides a tremendous, intimate setting for the show. The main seating area was packed with a lively and cheerful crowd.

After welcoming the crowd, introducing the host and asking for suggestions for future show themes, Jess Carpenter visited with me for a few minutes to talk Comedian Deconstruction and comedy.

Chris Dolan:  I read somewhere that you refer to this as “your baby.”

Jess Carpenter:  Oh this right here, I want to see this on TV someday.

CD: Take me through the origin story.

JC:  I did stand-up comedy first [before I tried improv]. And I got heckled and I didn’t have a clue what to do. So I thought ,“I should learn how to improvise.” So I took some improv classes. I did some improv and then I went to New York and took a class at The Magnet. And there was a guy who does something called The Armando, and The Armando is a monologue deconstruction. And I was like, “This is perfect for comics, ’cause what this does is paints the picture.”  A lot of comedy is wink-wink nudge-nudge…and you can turn that into a sitcom. A sitcom is really turning a joke into a “set.”  Now I’m working on my next show, which is going to be Musician Deconstruction.

CD:  How do you go about selecting the stand-ups?

JC:  I always have to have a virgin. And then the stand-ups…there’s so many stand-ups in Philadelphia.

CD:  So it’s more a filtering than selection.

JC: It is filtering, and that’s why I do theme shows. A theme show gives you two things: It gives you a reason to not have people on the show.  But it also gives you a reason to find a comic that has their “hook”…they’re creative, they already know what their voice is.

CD:  How long have you been doing Comedian Deconstruction?

JC: This is one year, one month.  The “Girls” themed show is always in December, followed by the “Dirty” show in January.

CD: Any high points from the show’s history?

JC:  The “Girls” show always kills…”Dirty” show always kills…the May musical show.

CD: Where’s your heart between stand-up and improv?

JC:  Stand-up. I want to be a motivational speaker for corporate…..I want to do motivational work for people with disabilities and for gays. But the thing is, gay doesn’t pay [laughs].

CD: How did the show work at first?

JC: I literally mapped it out. It’s always had a really good response. Comics love it, improvisers love it, audiences love it, I just need to figure out how to market it better.

CD: Has there ever been a case where the improv team can’t work with the stand-up’s material?

JC:  I’ve had the opposite: I’ve had comics come up who were horrible, and then the improv group freakin’ kills….that just turns it into something so beautiful.  And I’m like, “that’s fantastic.” Improvisers can always figure out something to do.

Jess Carpenter is the producer of ‘Comedian Deconstruction,’  which recurs the third Thursday of every month at L’etage. He’s been doing stand-up since 2009. In addition to ‘Comedian Deconstruction’, he also co-runs the Thursday night open mic at R Bar

Chris Dolan is a stand-up who lives in the Montco burbs. He has emcee’d the Phila Comedy Academy Graduation Showcase, and placed second in several comedy contests, making him the Gold Medalist of Silver Medalists, kinda. You can follow him on Twitter @CMDolan99.