Roger Weaver's Unexpurgated Guide to Philly's Phunniest at Helium Comedy Club (TONIGHT!)

Roger Weaver is a veteran of the Philly Comedy Scene, and this will be his umpteenth year of not winning Philly's Phunniest. Here's his run-down of what to expect!

Tonight is the finals of the 2014 Philly’s Phunniest Contest at Helium Comedy Club (showtime 7:30pm). Before I break down this year’s finalists, here’s a little bit about me (btw, “about me” was the working title of this article). I’ve been in every Philly’s Phunniest since we took this contest over from the Indians.

Have I had any success in the Helium contest? I’m glad you asked (what took you so long?). A long time ago I did pretty well and even occasionally advanced in the contest—back when I used to have a soul. I went to the finals the first year and finished 6th, although I always tell people I finished 4th, because—like our Founding Fathers—I don’t recognize women or blacks.

I’ve been back to finals once and made some semis, but have had my share of 1st round flameouts, as well. Let the record show I am in no way obsessed with this contest. I don’t have the lineups and results of previous contests covering the walls and windows of my apartment or anything. Please don’t view this analysis of this year’s finalists as the ramblings of a broken bitter man. (It is, but please don’t view it that way.)

Remember this is the best breakdown I could do without actually leaving the house, so I clearly know more about some finalists than others. My research (reading random Facebook posts) is complete and here is my expert breakdown of the finalists in even more expert alphabetical order:

Patrick Graves: Don’t know him very well, but he’s really funny on social media which has to count for something these days. My sources (the dissonant voices in my head) tell me it’s his first time in the contest so this is a very impressive debut.

Tommy Highland: Success in this contest is nothing new for Tommy Highland, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret. He’s not even originally from Philadelphia! If he wins, I’m calling for an investigation from any Philadelphia City Council members not currently under investigation themselves.

Jake Mattera: Don’t know him, but I bet he’s got great Mattera-ial. Note: this is why I don’t advance in this contest anymore.

Matt McCusker: Is it just me or is Matt McCusker too good looking to be a really funny comedian. At his age and with his looks he should be playing a high school kid on Saved by the Bell. Saved by the Bell is still on, right?

Lou Misiano: I’d tabbed Lou Misiano to be a force in this contest a few years ago after seeing him destroy at some pretty tough open mic venues. Note: I don’t usually use the term “destroy” in a comedy context, I save it for serious things like Hamas missile strikes or Godzilla rampages but I’m trying to sound relevant.

A while back I heard Lou Misiano tell a topical joke that was almost exactly like one I’d written so naturally I think he’s brilliant.

Anthony Moore: Not personally familiar with his work, but I’ve heard some really good things about him. That also pretty much sums up my relationship with God.

Alex Pearlman: I’m an Alex Pearlman fan from way back. He once helped me during a performance with an inspired piece of improv involving Axe Body Spray (“improv” is anything you don’t rehearse, right?), so whenever I walk by a high school boy’s locker room I think of him. Alex Pearlman with a microphone is a force of nature. You know, like erosion. He’ll get to you eventually. And he just keeps getting better. Hey, just what is he trying to prove anyway?

Mary Radzinski: Mary Radzinski was just named Philly’s Best Comedian by Philadelphia Magazine which, I suppose is a good thing if you’re still into awards given by print media. On a personal note, Mary is the only finalist (besides Pearlman) that I’ve pleasured myself to. From the first time I saw her do stand-up I thought she sounded and had the presence of a professional female comedian. (Yes, I just put “female” in there because I’m a douche.)

Female comics haven’t had a great deal of success in the contest since Robin Fox placed second in its inaugural year, but if anyone can break that trend, it’s Mary.

Mike Rainey: Host of Helium’s Dirty Dozen Show and veteran of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon—full disclosure—Rainey and I once kissed during a performance at the bachelor party for a Phormer Philly’s Phunniest winner. At that moment and for the first time in my life I felt truly alive. Rainey is the Jeff Ross of Philly comedy, and I don’t just say that because he’s a doughy white guy, he’s simply the best comedian I’ve heard at roasting other comics.

I stumbled upon his setlist for the Ed McGonigal roast and to this day treat it as an archeological artifact. Many times I’ve been the victim of Rainey’s hilarious barbs, and—if you’re at all familiar my appearance—you can imagine how difficult it is to come up with anything on me.

Ryan Shaner: He was on my night of the contest last year and didn’t advance either. Pretty much confirms what I’ve said about that audience to anyone that would listen—and also to people that cover their ears and walk away singing to themselves for that matter. Ryan is very funny and, more importantly, don’t underestimate the power of the mustache. It worked for Kent Haines.

Chris Stenta: Don’t think I know him, but we’re friends on Facebook so he must be hysterical.

Erik Terrell: This guy sounds more like a defensive back than a comic to me. I don’t know him, but I’m guessing he’s one of the Helium contest’s most dangerous entrants… the non-threatening black guy. Note: If Erik Terrell isn’t a black guy (or especially if he is, threatening or otherwise) please excuse this as the crazy rantings of a racist old man and for God’s sake stay off of my lawn.

OK, that’s enough highbrow analytics for now. I have to start crafting my set list for next year’s contest. Remember, they say those that are ignorant of George Santayana quotes are doomed to repeat them. Good luck to all the finalists tonight!


It's Elementary with Dave Metter: Elise Thomson-Hohl

“It’s Elementary” is a monthly column every first Wednesday that asks comedians to share funny memories from their elementary school years, or “periods” (get it?? Like moments in time, but also like in school!) from those formative years that have informed their personal and comedic identities. Or, they’ll just submit some random anecdotes. Whatever they want, really.

by Dave Metter

I have long been fascinated by what has influenced and inspired other comedy writers, especially during their youths when their comedic senses were still so nascent and less judgmental.  This month features stand-up comedian and writer Elise Thomson-Hohl, so nice they named her thrice.  Elise is a rule-breakin’, convention-shirkin’ rebel and has opted to share a wonderful lil’ anecdote instead of a few even lil’er ones.

THE FIRST TIME I DID STAND-UP/WHY I GAVE UP MUSTARD IN THE NINETIES

BY ELISE THOMSON-HOHL (PEN NAME ETH)

ETH

“I can’t find my lunch," I yelled back to Mrs. Pegler and the rest of my first grade class from the cubby as I continued to rummage through my Jansport backpack.

It was the spring of 1995 and I was in the first grade; by this time I was already aware that my classmates referred to me as weird, so I spent the majority of my time at school trying to go unnoticed.

I felt my brown paper bagged lunch smashed below my binder at the bottom of my bag.

Bingo.

I sorted through my packed lunch until I felt my sandwich, and began tearing off the aluminum foil.

I had calculated about three minutes of time before Mrs. Pegler would come look for me in the cubby, which left me about two minutes to eat my entire mustard and cheese sandwich in peace.

The concept that eating certain items of food at lunch made you cool or un-cool was alien to me, until I began noticing that I was eating at the last seat at the end of the table.  From my observations, it was the COOLEST to buy lunch, the second COOLEST to bring Lunchables, and socially acceptable to eat peanut butter and jelly on white as long as you had name brand snacks to accompany the sandwich (Cheetos and CapriSun).  I had started eating my lunch as privately as I could around Christmas; kids were teasing me for eating ‘WEIRD’ sandwiches, and the possibility of buying lunch or bringing ‘cool’ food wasn’t ever going to be an option.

“SHE'S EATING A MUSTARD SANDWICH”.

I stopped dead in my Jelly’s, impregnated with dread. I turned to see Yi-Ming standing at the mouth of the cubby, pointing at my sandwich.

“No I’m not Yi-Ming.”

I crossed my arms, with a thousand years of indignance, tightening my grip on my sandwich.

Yi-Ming began beckoning our fellow classmates over.

I was dead in the water.  I weighed my options; not only did I have a good amount of sandwich left, but there was also mustard all over my hands, making it impossible to shove the rest of the sandwich in my mouth and hide the evidence. I was looking at a minimum of two to three months of mean nicknames, with solitary lunch confinement indefinitely.  I needed to make a decision fast.

“Hey Yi," I stammered, as I realized that all eyes were on me, “I think there is something on your pants”.

Yi paused, he had to be smart about his next move, it was winner take all.

“Oh yeah?” Yi answered coldly.

“Yeah, a MUSTARD SANDWICH,” and with that I ripped apart my sandwich and winged it across the cubby hitting him mustard side down squarely in the thigh, Yi burst into tears and everyone cheered.

As I was escorted down to the principal’s office, I passed by the lunchroom, everyone stared at me, and I waved happily and confidently, I realized my first truth that day, when all else fails, draw a large crowd of first graders around you and make someone cry.

Dave Metter is a comedy writer, member of sketch comedy collective Iron Potato and creator of the fake local news show,“Your News, Philadelphia!” Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveMetter.


It's Elementary with Dave Metter: Paul Triggiani

“It’s Elementary” is a monthly column every first Wednesday that asks comedians to share funny memories from their elementary school years, or “periods” (get it?? Like moments in time, but also like in school!) from those formative years that have informed their personal and comedic identities. Or, they’ll just submit some random anecdotes. Whatever they want, really.

by Dave Metter

I have long been fascinated by what has influenced and inspired other comedy writers, especially during their youths when their comedic senses were still so nascent and less judgmental.  This month features writer/director/performer/tech man/backslash abuser Paul Triggiani.

 

Dave has kindly asked me to write about my time in elementary school for this installment of "It's Elementary." So, yes, I'd love to tell you about one of the darkest, most repulsive periods of my life that isn't right now.

1st Period: The Move
When I was in third grade, my parents moved my brother and I from a private, progressive school that we had been in since kindergarten to a public school. It was the hardest, least pleasant time in my life. I've never spent any significant time in prison, but it was probably a lot like that (adjusted for scale of life experience and emotional preparedness).

2nd Period: From Apple Orchard-come-Commune School
The school we had up and to that point spent our entire lives at was an apple orchard-come-commune. The inhabitants of that commune didn't want to go out and find square jobs so they just said, "Fuck it, let's be a school." I remember once asking a teacher how the Native Americans came to be in North America, and she just stared into the ceiling and said, "Nobody knows." It was a really nurturing place to grow and find your emotional center, but by the time we transferred to public school in third grade, I didn't know how to read or tie my own shoes.

3rd Period: To Public School
The next year, I transferred to public school and was immediately met with a series of sobering truths—1) the rest of the world had a shared popular culture, it extended beyond 1974, and everyone knew about it but me 2) this was not a warm and inviting place where my ideas and opinions would be welcomed by everyone; to the contrary, every word I said and every thought I decided to share would be judged and used against me by some juvenile scumbag and 3) the other students were sometimes just as bad. It was an emotionally rocky time for me, and I spent a lot of time rolling around on the ground with a jacket over my head. Not sure why.

4th Period: Kids Corner
I can't remember much about grade school that was positive, except for Kids Corner. If you're from the area, it's possible that you're familiar with the long-running children's call-in show hosted by Kathy O'Connell and produced by Robert Drake. If you listen to the show today, you'll hear a lot of music specifically geared toward children, but in the late eighties and early nineties, it was a very different show. From what I could tell, they had maybe ten records that they cycled through—two Dr. Demento collections, a bunch of "Weird Al" Yankovic, They Might Be Giants' Flood and The Dead Milkmen's Beelzebubba. So this is how I managed to be exposed to almost nothing but novelty music for the better part of a decade.

5th Period: A Weirdo Unchained
But there was also an underlying message to Kids Corner, and one that I didn't fully recognize until I was in my late teens. It came through the music they played, but also through the guests that they chose to feature—artists, musicians, nerds of every variety. The novelty music that I was exposed to through the show helped to shape my interest in comedy and show me where my sensibilities were, but the part of Kids Corner that had the biggest impact was that they managed to say "It's okay to be a little weird. There are weird people everywhere, and they're doing great" at a time when I needed it most.

Dave Metter is a comedy writer, and member of sketch comedy collective Iron Potato. See Dave’s show “Your News, Philadelphia!” at the Shubin Theater today, June 5th, in the finals of PHIT’s Variety Sweeps Week. Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveMetter.


For the Love of the Duo: A Tribute to Duofest (June 6-9)

by Kristen Schier

Roughly four years ago an idea was dreamed up by me and my best friend and duo partner Amie Roe that found not only tremendous support but a home with the Philly Improv Theater. This year Duofest has talent coming from Austin, LA, Vancouver, Toronto, DC, London, Detroit, Boston, NYC and also SCOTT ADSIT! It has grown to be a truly exciting international event and I am proud that its home is in Philadelphia.

You might wonder what is so wonderful about improv duos that we need to go ahead and make a whole festival about it.

First, I think most duos may experience difficulty getting into festivals. It is often the case that some festivals have performer fees attached to participation that sometimes skew there taste towards, well, groups with more performers. We wanted to give duos a place to play.

Second, a duo is an amazing way to power-boost your improv skillz and work your improv muscles. When Duofest first started there were only a handful of two-person teams to speak of in Philly.  It makes my heart happy that a ton of duos have since formed because it can put improvisers on a fast-track to growth and maturation. A small part of this is that when there are only two of you to wrangle you find that organizing rehearsals and shows is easier, and by virtue of that you find yourself practicing and playing more than you might if you had to rally a larger team. Furthermore, in a duo you learn very quickly that you are not just onstage all the time, you are also in every scene. Talk about scene reps, man o man. You learn by duo-ing. Ha.

A two-person show also forces you to recognize and refine your style as an improviser.

First, there is the task of choosing who you’re going to play with. When selecting a partner you probably consider folks whose work you admire. That requires a certain level of understanding and reflection. In addition to determining on a partner, you also are 50 percent of every show. Having far more responsibility and influence over the direction of a show exposes what you bring to the table. Gaining that type of insight can be invaluable to one’s evolution.

Let’s take a moment and say that even deciding to form a duo in the first place takes balls.  You’re all like “We can make up a show on the spot that will be worth seeing, just me and my friend." Yeah, that is undeniably ballsy— and a big part of improvising is, well, having the balls, or tubes (holla atcha ladies) to step out there in the first place.

Thirdly, a duo exemplifies key elements of improvisation—collaboration and, of course, the two-person scene.  The boundlessness of what you can create as an improviser never ceases to amaze me. It is part of the magic of live performance. This really comes to the forefront in a duo in a way that is different from team, or even solo performance. It has some of the “limitations” that give a thrill to solo performance while maintaining the collaborative element that makes a larger team so enjoyable to play on. In short, you can do anything a larger improv team can do with fewer people and all while having a more intimate feel to your creative process. In this way the duo embodies trust and challenges the possible.

Besides all that, at the heart of all good improv shows is one thing: the two-person scene.  No matter what the form, the playing style, the philosophy – if you can do an amazing two-person scene, you have got me hooked.  I don’t care what you call it; every improv form is like a showcase for a great two-person scene. A form is a house for funny engaging dynamic two-person scenes to live in. A great duo is the necessary, or a most essential version of this house. In that way a great duo is like a great poem. There is only what you need, but there is everything you need.

Duofest is June 6th-9th at The Shubin Theatre (407 Bainbridge Street). Click here for tickets for individual shows in Duofest 2013 and here for Weekend All-Access Passes.

Discussing a Bit with Matt Holmes - Kill Your Darlings, but for improv

by Matt Holmes

Writers are advised with the axiom "Kill Your Darlings," which should be traced back to Sir Arthur Quiller-Crouch. The idea is that writers should not to be too precious about their creations.

If you craft something that you love, you might shun any criticism or advice. Even if it's perfect and beautiful, you might include it where it doesn't belong. You might like it, but will your audience get what you mean? Your terrific turn of phrase might be one word too long for your limit; what can you do?

Maybe you don't hit delete and instead save it to be used elsewhere (Will and Grace started as traditional wacky neighbors until they became the main focus). Whatever you do with your work, you must not coddle it.

Writers usually work in private and alone; they spend time on their work and don't know what the readers think until long after publishing. Improv, in contrast, is usually a group effort done in the moment with a public, immediate response.

In improv, the equivalent of this concept might be "Love Your Garbage."

Sometimes, you're blessed with good stuff that magically, automatically falls into place. That stuff takes care of itself. If you know what you're doing, even the mediocre stuff gets heightened and used. The tricky part is the bad stuff.

Make the mistakes part of the pattern. You can't edit anything out, so you have to make it so you wanted it to happen for some reason. Make it seem on purpose.

If you're embarrassed that those words came out of your mouth, make them important and meaningful in retrospect. Make the beginning work because of the ending. Now is the time to make your partner look good. Make their dumb move into a brilliant choice. If you do something stupid, do it again and figure out why.

When we watch improv, we want to see your brilliance, but we also like to see the  tightrope wiggle a bit. Let it wiggle, let us see the process of you using your skills. Then make something good out of it.

 

Matt Holmes is an improviser in Philly. He performs a full improv comedy set with a complete stranger from the audience in Matt& (“playful and winning” –TimeOut Chicago). He also teaches improv, coaches improv groups, and co-founded Rare Bird Show (“Top Shelf Improv” –The Apiary, “arguably the best improv group Philly has ever produced” –AV Club).

Look for the next installment of “Discussing a Bit,” Matt’s monthly WitOut column, on July 1st.

Have a comedy issue or theory you’d like Matt to examine? Email alison@witout.net.


Gregg Gethard Has Some Ideas About Girl Parts

by Gregg Gethard

I was at an open mic recently when no less than six straight comedians did a bit about vaginal smell. This is not uncommon. Every open mic has a lot of comics who talk a lot about vaginal smell.

This is a problem.

Here are the reasons why this is problematic:

  1. If at least half of the performers are doing material about a topic, you should probably not do material about that topic. The main point about open mics is to get better and to find a way to get booked at an actual show. You think doing the same exact thing as everyone else is going to get you there?*

  1. If the material is something a doofus high school kid would say in the locker room, you should probably not do material about that topic. (I put something on my Twitter about this. A response from someone: “What, is everyone in Philly comedy 16?”)

  1. Doing bits about vaginal smell essentially boils down to saying “girls are icky.” Confusion about sex is a great concept for a bit that’s incredibly relatable. However, the joke should be about how confusing it is for both parties (or, even better, the performer). The joke shouldn’t be about vaginal smell. You’re just coming off like some creep wanna-be lothario bragging about doing a sex act.

  1. I put something about this on my Facebook wall. Here is a comment my friend Alanna (a girl and not my wife) said about vaginal smell jokes: “Anecdotally, I have found that men who trash women and their vaginas the most are the men who seldom have the opportunity to get inside one.”

    Just a head’s up as to what a girl who frequents comedy shows thinks about your jokes about girl parts.

  1. Making a joke about smelly girl parts is making fun of someone’s body. Would you make a joke about someone in the crowd who is overweight? I would hope not.  And I’m not saying this to be sensitive or PC. I’m saying this because making fun of an overweight person (or something similar) is just bullying.

  1. Stage time is precious. Open mics give you, what, five minutes at the most? You’re going to use five minutes of stage time to talk about something almost everyone else is talking about that most men have stopped talking about when they hit college? Be better than that. Respect the stage. Try to do something different and unique and new. That’s why I love going to comedy shows.

I’m not god’s gift to comedy. I know this. I’ve done really well at some shows and I’ve bombed at a lot more. But anytime I get on a stage I try to do something that the audience hasn’t seen or heard before that reflects my personality. You really want to tell a group of mostly strangers that your personality largely revolves around high school lunch humor?

* To show I’m not a PC prude – there have been a lot of pro-gay marriage bits lately. I support gay marriage. But again – if 10 people are talking about gay marriage, do you really want to talk about gay marriage?

Vaginal smell jokes are not a problem as serious as rape jokes, which has become the dumbest controversy in modern comedy because it shouldn't be a controversy since no one should tell a rape joke. I have to applaud the Philly open mic community because the amount of comics telling rape jokes at one point approached the 50 percent mark. It’s now down to roughly 25 percent, and it appears that most of the comics telling jokes about committing sex crimes with punchlines at the expense of victims are new to the scene.**

**I talked with a young comic who had a rape joke up front in his otherwise pretty brainy set and told him he (and hopefully he took it in the right way – I was trying to offer advice and hopefully I didn’t come off like a dick, but I probably did) should get rid of it because he was better than that. He seemed to agree with my statement. But he said he was nervous since the night was sort of dead and he knew that he’d get a laugh. I get that – god knows my earliest comedy used shock nonsense (and probably a rape joke) as a safety blanket. But then I learned the difference between a shock laugh and an earned laugh and I think this kid will get that difference soon. Respect.

Gregg Gethard has been performing comedy in some form since 2007 and is best known for hosting/producing the long-running Bedtime Stories and co-hosting The Holding Court Podcast. He will be hosting A Comedy Tribute to Boston on Sunday, June 23 at L'Etage (624 S. 6th Street) at 7 pm. He will also appear live on the Used Wigs podcast on May 21st at 8 pm (also at L'Etage). He can be followed on Twitter @holdingcourtpod.


Interview with Brian Six of B.A. Comedian

by Chris Dolan

Brian Six is a member of the B.A. Comedian comedy group (Six plus Dan King, Andrew Sposato and Tim Raymus).  Along with Philly comic Jess Carpenter, they have taken the former R Open Mic and relaunched it as Comedy Under the Disco Ball at L2 Restaurant & Bar, 2201 South Street.

I spoke with Brian Six at their one-month anniversary open mic at L2 to talk about the new location and other B.A. Comedian projects.

Chris Dolan:  Talk about the new space at L2 – how did you decide on it?

Brian Six:  We came to this one because my roommate, who’s a bartender, was coming here on Sunday nights for reggae night.  He was talking to Nate, the L2 owner, who expressed some interest in comedy. Then I talked to Nate and I was obviously blown back a little [looking at the room] cause I was like ‘This is different...” But we were on the same page.

When we were at RBar, we had an idea of our show, and they had their own ideas about our show. L2 seemed like a better fit for us.  So we came here, and the transition’s been really smooth.  It’s going great. The space is bigger….

CD:  You got a couch.

BS:  Yeah, we got a couch. The bathrooms are bigger.

CD:  I swear to God, last time I was here I didn’t get up off that red chair [a very comfy IKEA ‘Poang’ model adjacent to the couch] until I had to perform.

BS:  The only difference is [as of now] there’s no stage here.  But we’re making one.

CD:  But you have a disco ball.

BS:  Exactly.

CD:  Anything else stand out about the room?

BS:  Well, there’s the floor.you called it something…

CD:  I can’t recall, it was a Mayor McCheese joke [Note: the floor looks like its colors were pulled directly from the color palette of original McDonald’s restaurants].  

CD:  Who was involved in the transition?

BS:  I came up here, Dan King came with me. And all of us said ‘yup’. It’s a different room. We like it cause it’s unique, so we can have some fun with it. The location's great; we have a lot more walk-through traffic than at RBar. Every comic has been really positive about it. Nate has been nothing but supportive in terms of advertising and helping us out. We feel like we’re gonna be here a long time.

CD:  How did Jess Carpenter get involved?

BS:  We brought Jess Carpenter in at RBar cause he had ideas for shows and he’s been [running shows] a lot longer. Comedian Deconstruction, Not Just Comedy…so we brought Jess in and he’s  been only positive for the show, and the boys of BA Comedian have been all on board with Jess.

CD:  Talk about your video collaborations with LawnBoys Comedy & Ben Fidler.

BS:  What happened was Dan King, Tim Raymus and Ben Fidler had gotten together to do a skit: "Cards on the Table." They did that and I loved it.  I’ve known Ben since we started. So we started writing and it clicked. When B.A. Comedian  and Lawnboys got together it was an easy thing…it was awesome. So now we developed a new idea that features Mike Logan; we’re working on that.

CD:  Are all the scripts Logan-centric, or are there others?

BS:  Right now we’re still on the Logan idea.  But we have another concept which Ben, Mike DiAlto and Tim Raymus developed, which is more of a TV series type thing.  It’s kind of like 3 different stories…Ben, Mike, and Tim and all of their stories converge together. That should shoot the end of May.  Another is "Simple Answers with Ben Fidler." Those are two-minutes interviews that comics have with Ben, and you have to give honest answers to simple questions.

CD:  Wrapping up: any other shows or showcases?

BS:  We’re gonna start a monthly show here at L2. I think that’s also where Jess comes in, he does a great job with monthly shows.  And I think Jess will take the wheel for those. As for the mic at L2—I think everybody’s having fun.

 

Chris Dolan is a comic who lives in the Philly burbs.  Follow him on Twitter @CMDolan99.  You can also see Chris host the Totally Free Comedy Show on June 8th at Nineteen19 in Havertown, PA.