"The N Crowd" Improv Tonight @ The Actors Center -- Interview w/ Vegas Lancaster

vegas lancasterThe N Crowd has a weekly Friday night show at 8pm at the Actor’s Center. This April marks the 9th anniversary of their short-form improv show (think: 'Whose Line' games). This February, the N Crowd will be performing at the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival. Visit their website phillyncrowd.com.

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WitOut: Who is your comedy inspired by?

Vegas Lancaster: Lewis Black, I think I was trying to emulate him when I first started. The political humor always makes me laugh. He has this way of building energy that is really impressive. His timing is amazing. He starts down low and builds up to a crescendo of emotion. A crescendo of anger. I have a smile on all the time, so I don’t know if angry works best for me. But the building of emotions up to the level of fireworks for something as silly as candy corn is really cool. Comedy in front of a live audience and the shared experience of laughter is what I really like. I think it is very special.

WitOut: Who are your other favorites?

Lancaster: I would have to say Steven Colbert and John Stewart. They take such a dry, otherwise boring material and make it super entertaining. The make things people should know about interesting to hear about. Comedy is such a silly field and they are doing important work at the same time. Other than that, I would have to say I also like Flight of the Concords.

WitOut: What is your favorite type of comedy?

Lancaster: I watch comedy cartoons late at night. I also really enjoy live comedy. The experience of laughing with an audience feels really special. It is easy to stay home and watch YouTube videos, but I hope we always have live entertainment because I think it is really special.

WitOut: What is the main difference between The N Crowd and Whose Line is it Anyway?

Lancaster: We can say dirty words. It's also really special about The N Crowd that the majority of our audiences every week are people who have never been to an improv show.

WitOut: What do you think is The N Crowd’s success mantra for bringing new people and turning them into improv lovers?

Lancaster: Everything we are doing is based off of audience suggestion. At the beginning of the show we will ask for a relationship between two people, or a word. We try to get on their level and take their verbal and non-verbal feedback. Whatever they are responding to, we hit on and keep doing.

WitOut: What is your favorite controversial issue to talk about?

Lancaster: I really like hitting on current events. Whatever is on people’s mind in the past week; some things I don’t want to gross people about by talking about it soon. It is really easy to do that during improv because you have to make stuff up. But I also like to do it in standup.

WitOut: Is there any particular show or topic you can remember when you really pushed the limits?

Lancaster: We do so many shows, I forget what we did after we are done. The audience hopefully remembers forever. A couple weeks ago I was doing jokes about Rich Incognito and his racial jokes. We Occupy Wall Street. Election season is also a fun time for us.

WitOut: What side is The N Crowd on?

Lancaster: As a group we do not take any political affiliation. The demographic of the N Crowd, I think, aligns pretty well with the political demographics of Philadelphia. The N Crowd, LLC has no political affiliation.

WitOut: If it weren’t Philly, what city?

Lancaster: That is really difficult to say. The N Crowd is a Philadelphia grown show; we are an independent comedy group. We are close to NY, there is a lot going on up there. In a city like NY, or LA you have got a whole industry for entertainment and a whole industry preying on them; there is a lot of
nonsense. You don’t have so much of that in Philly. The comedy scene has been growing steadily for the past few years. It is more of a niche to fill here. There is a lot of great stuff in Philly. There is room for us to do our thing.

WitOut: What are some of your favorite comedy groups in Philly?

Lancaster: Suggestical, they make up a musical on the spot.

WitOut: Anything else you would like to leave our readers with?

Lancaster: We put on a fun show, if they haven’t seen it. It is all about coming out and laughing!

~~~~~

Check out previous WitOut interviews with members of The N Crowd w/ B.J. Ellis, and last year's new members.

More about The N Crowd:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwze6iwAjrU

From Philly Improv Festival
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlY9z1G7fhs


Polygon Comedy Tuesday Night -- Q&A with Rick Horner

polygon comedyTonight is Polygon’s Holiday Spectacular at L'Etage (624 S 6th Street). Doors open at 7:30pm, show starts at 8pm. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online or at the door. There will be ample parking and booze available. That’s right folks, booze. If that doesn't motivate you to put on your scarf and gloves and come out to a comedy show, I don’t know what will!

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WitOut: Can you tell us about the formation and history of Polygon?

Rick Horner: Sure! I would say it is a collection of people more interested in comedy than their egos. We are promoting comedy acts with members that have a passion for comedy. A few years ago, Improv duo Rosen and Milkshake did a show and the audience loved it. The audience asked for cards, but they didn't have any. They reached out to me and we got this idea to not only make cards, but start a website to promote comedy. We have been doing monthly comedy shows at L'Etage ever since.

WitOut: That is a unique way to start a….comedy group? If you could describe Polygon in one or two sentences, what would it be?

Horner: A passion driven machine of comedic talent; an optimus prime built out of sketch, improv and stand-up. It is a collective, like a bee-hive where all bees go but there is no Queen Bee.

WitOut: Can you tell us more about tonight's show and the line-up?

Horner: Sure. The show will be hosted by Rosen and Milkshake. The line-up includes Cecily Chapman, Bill Parks and Demonikus Rex. So, improv, stand-up, improv, improv [laughs].

WitOut: Anything else you would like our audience to know about Polygon?

Horner: Look forward to 2014, because Polygon comedy has a lot of big plans on the horizon. We had a terrific year in 2013, and I feel lucky to work with people that are funny and talented. We have had most major Philly comedy groups perform at our shows such as The N Crowd, PHIT house teams, ComedySportz and Figment. However, if we haven’t had you, we would love to have you. Improv is like a team sport, you don’t have to be Babe Ruth, you just have to swing the bat.

WitOut: Is Polygon involved with any other regular events?

Horner: In addition to monthly shows at L'Etage, Polygon runs and improv incubator in West Philly at the Community Education Center on 35th and Lancaster. Whether you want to try it for the first time, get back into it or practice it more, they would love to have you. They simply ask for a small donation to pay for the room.

~~~~~

**Small chance of cancellation due to weather conditions. Please check polygoncomedy.com for updates.


Interview with Todd Glass -- Performing This Week @ Helium

todd_glass3_20090716Philly native Todd Glass is coming to Helium Comedy Club this week for a string of shows with Chip Chantry Chip Chantry. Todd asked me to write it twice because he thinks Chip will get excited. [Scroll down for Chip's reaction!]
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WitOut: Hi Todd! Where in the world are you?

Todd Glass: Hey, right now I am in Kansas performing with Jim Gaffigan.

WitOut: What's a comedy crowd like in Kansas?

Glass: Well if you're with someone as big as Jim you’re drawing his audience and they’re good. But the city doesn’t make the audience, the club does. If you have a good club it doesn’t matter where you are. Granted, there are cities that are more beautiful than others but as far as the way the audience acts it's based on how the club operates. In my opinion, the best comedy club in America is Acme Comedy Club in Minneapolis. Who’d think Minneapolis would have the best club? But when a club has high standards and respects the comedy, the audience will follow. They train the audiences. Helium, I give them an A++. One of the best clubs in the country. When Marc (owner of Helium Comedy Club) wanted to start Helium he went to the Montreal Comedy Festival and asked comics, “What’s your favorite club?”, and they kept saying Acme. So, Marc decided he had to check this place out. He went to Minneapolis, met with Louis Lee (owner of Acme Comedy Club), and made it happen.

WitOut: Do you have any memorable stories about shows you’ve done here in Philly?

Glass: It made me proud whenever I'd come to Philly with other acts. Once I was on tour with Louis C.K., Sarah Silverman, and David Cross, and when we came to Philly I so didn’t want it to be a bad crowd. The crowd ended up being unbelievably great. So great. And I was so proud.

WitOut: I know you’ve shot a couple pilots over the years, is that something you’d like to do again?

Glass: I just sold a pilot to Comedy Central actually, I’m very excited about it. It’s called The Todd Glass Situation. My character owns a college bar/restaurant--which is one layer of the show but it doesn't consume the whole show. It also deals with me being in the closet all those years…gosh I hate that term but what the fuck else am I gonna say? There’s never been a show about hiding in the closet. Like, what does it REALLY mean to be in the closet on a day-to-day basis? It’s important to who I am but I didn’t want it to be the A slot of the show so, it’s a layer, never the primary story. At least I hope it’s that way in the show.

WitOut: I’m curious, what is it you don’t like about the phrase “in the closet?"

Glass: “In the closet," ugh, I don’t know, it’s probably my own issue. It’s just so…flamboyant. Maybe that’s not it.

WitOut: Is it because it’s sort of a pithy way to describe it?

Glass: Yeah, see, you said it better than me. But also, ya know, sometimes you just don’t like something and ya can’t even explain it? It’s hard to explain but, obviously one day we won’t have that expression because we won’t need to.

WitOut: I was actually not going to ask about last year's WTF announcement unless it came up naturally since it seems interviewers always ask about it .

Glass: As far as the Maron thing goes, I don’t mind talking about it, I like the mix. I didn’t talk about it my whole life so I’m good talking about it. But yeah, I appreciate your thought to not ask. But, it’s a gigantic part of my life. If we pull it off right on the show it won’t be a gigantic part of the show. It was very rarely the A plot of my day. Mostly B or C slot. It’s not gonna drive the show. But I’ll say this, it’ll be funny obviously, but it’ll also hopefully shed a lot of light on the issue and make people say, “I never fucking thought about that.” Like, how to handle it when your parents are in town, or, if you're in a diner and three people there know but the fourth doesn’t. If you’re smoking pot and worry, “Shit, did I just misspeak and say something I didn't mean to?”

WitOut: Do you remember where your first set was?

Glass: Absolutely. It was at Comedy Works on 2nd and Chestnut. It was an amazing place. I first went when I was in high school. Some friends and I went to see comedy and I was completely unaware that there were comedians that weren’t household names but had followings. Established, really great comedians. It was a 300 seat room, we saw so many greats: Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Gilbert Gottfried, Richard Lewis, Tim Allen, Roseanne Barr, Eddie Murphy, Stephen Wright, just amazing comics. Eventually I went up there. I was almost 16, I had a very frenetic energy. Everyone was very kind and told me I’m funny but that I gotta calm down. Then, and I’ll never forget this, [The Legendary] Wid comes up and says to me, “You don’t have to change anything, you’re funny just the way you are.” I have a special place in my heart for him. He’s very supportive and that’s so fucking important.

WitOut: What do people most often recognize you from?

Glass: Good question, times have changed with social media and podcasts. So, either a show like Comedy Bang Bang, podcasting or Jimmy Kimmel since I’ve done that show quite a few times. But people still remember me from Last Coming Standing too.

WitOut: How do you view the Philly comedy scene now compared to when you started?

Glass: Right now there's a really good scene in Philly. There wasn’t for years but now there is, basically since Helium opened. It re-sparked excitement for comedy in the city. Between Helium and lots of niche one-nighters at bars or music venues or theatres, it's great. And there are a lot of new, really funny people in the last 7, 8 years. I love watching stand-up comedy and if I get to a town a night early I'll go to the open mic night. Some people are there for the first time, some have been there 7 times, but there's also established really good acts who just live in Philly and go down there. You see a lot of funny new people which is exciting.

See Todd Glass (with Chip Chantry) this Wednesday (11/27), Friday (11/29), and Saturday (11/30) at Helium Comedy Club (2031 Sansom St., Philadelphia, PA 19103) . 

~~~~~

chipchantryResponse from Chip Chantry:

Excited? Here's what I would be excited about.

1. I'd be excited if I was working with a headliner that does NOT belittle me in front of the staff, customers, and management on a nightly basis.

2. I'd be excited if I was working with a headliner who does not insist on having the venue pay HIM my check for the week, and who then takes a 40% "mentoring fee".

3. I'd be excited to work with a headliner who doesn't throw glasses of whiskey at me when I forget to get extra pickles with the panini that he likes from the deli all the way across town at midnight. And who screams at me about how he's friends with Jim Gaffigan, and how "friends with Jim Gaffigan get extra pickles, Goddammit!" And then he burns me with a cigarette and screams outdated racial slurs that don't even apply to me.

4. And I'd be excited to work with a headliner who doesn't force me to do wind sprints in front of the club right before I go onstage, so I'm all out of breath for the first minute of the four minutes he lets me do. And most of those four minutes are announcements he makes me read about how great Todd Glass is, and how Todd Glass is best friends with Jim Gaffigan, and how Todd Glass is so much funnier than I am, and how I should just quit comedy altogether and get a job cleaning up monkey shit at a monkey zoo. THAT'S NOT EVEN A REAL ANNOUNCEMENT, DAVE! AND I DON'T THINK THERE IS ACTUALLY A THING CALLED A MONKEY ZOO! IT'S JUST A ZOO!

I'm dreading this week.

~~~~~

Dave Metter is a Philly comedian, check him out on Twitter @DaveMetter, and check out his fake local news show Your News, Philadelphia December 5th and 6th at the Shubin Theatre.


Interview w/ Gary Gulman of Last Comic Standing, @ Helium November 21-23

gary gulman

Frequent late-night guest and Last Comic Standing alum Gary Gulman, headlines at Helium Comedy Club (2031 Sansom Street) tonight through Saturday. Gulman is stopping in Philadelphia during a six week tour and promoting his new special, This Economy. He takes a unique approach to long-format jokes in the clever articulation of entertaining (and often handy) storytelling.

We caught up with Gulman to talk about his particular brand of comedy and stand-up life.

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Witout: You've been on tour for some time now. Where are you now?

Gary Gulman: I'm on the road for the next six weeks. I'm in Boston right now, doing a show at Boston University with Denis Leary and Jimmy Fallon. It's for the [Cam Neely Foundation for Cancer Care]. It's a tradition in Boston, I've done it the past 18 years. Originally--I think--it was just comedians from Boston. Now, they bring in famous comedians. Anyway, it's very well attended. There were probably like 10,000 people there. It's an honor to do it.

WitOut: Where are you headed over the next few weeks?

Gulman: After Philadelphia,  I'll be in New Brunswick for the following weekend and then I'm going to Atlanta and San Francisco. There is another stop somewhere--maybe Houston. But, I'm very busy the rest of the year.

WitOut: That's a good thing. Are you going to be making anymore television appearances?

Gulman: Sure. I was also just in a movie that premiered at the Toronto Film Festival called Lucky Them with Toni Collette. But yeah, I usually do the late-night shows every six months or so. And then I usually do a Comedy Central special every year or two. The most recent is on Netflix, called This Economy.

WitOut: Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Gulman: Sure. It was basically inspired by the recession in 2008, which I was affected by. Not so much by the economy as I was affected by bad choices in my love life. I bought a house for this woman I was engaged to and it didn't work out. I was stuck with the house by myself so I was broke. Money was a real issue. It sort of happened at the same time that everyone else in the country was struggling so I was able to find a lot of common ground with the audience on  the effects of money and keeping [money] in perspective--and also some of my favorite ways to save money, which involved a lot of cutting back and some stealing.

Well, not bad stealing. When I went to the movies, I would always put in the senior discount. I also once stole a muffin from Whole Foods when the line was really backed up. Nothing the way of major crime but I did save some money.

WitOut: What is up next for you in terms of the comedy that you're delivering? 

Gulman: I don't talk about [money] as much anymore, probably because I've weathered the storm and I'm financially stable again. I still talk about certain aspects of the economy, mostly the ridiculous disparity between the wealthy and the rest of us. I would say that I turned more on my personal life than my financial life. I mostly just tell really long stories about things that have happened to me. That's sort of my style--making really long stories with digressions and stories within stories. That's my niche. It's unique but it's not like I invented anything. There just aren't too many people who sound like me.

WitOut: Do you think this type of anecdotal comedy is gaining traction these days?

Gulman: I don't think that's the case. I think there are more one-liners and topical jokes out there. It's because the shows are giving comedians five minutes to perform and you can't really build a long story in five minutes. I've found that to be the case.

 WitOut: So what is it that draws you to that long format, then?

Gulman: Uhm. I'm great at it.

WitOut: Fair enough.

Gulman: Yeah, and the audience loves it. If the audience was turned off by it, I'd probably shy away from it but I've been able to pull it off.

WitOut: Are you ever planning on slowing down your stand-up schedule for TV?

Gulman: No! I love it so much. I really resent having to occasionally do an audition or a meeting because it takes away from stand-up. It was fun to be in a movie but it was 16 hours of standing around to do about a half an hour of work. I prefer stand-up. It's just so much fun and the audience is great.

I'm at a point where I'm performing in front of good audiences at good venues. [Stand-up] was hard for a long time but now I can't think of a better way to spend my time.

WitOut: That's awesome to hear. I think a lot of comedians are moving onto so many other things.

Gulman: [Laughs] I appreciate that because the more time they spend making TV and movies, the more room there is for me to take their shows.

WitOut: Why do you prefer live performance?

Gulman: It's instant feedback. You're creative. You feel like you're a creator and a performer. It's ideal. I don't know how people stop doing it after they get TV shows. The only reason that I would want a TV show is to get more people at my shows.

WitOut: So, your show in Philadelphia...  Are you excited to come visit us?

Gulman: I love Philadelphia. I've been coming down there since about 2005-2006 to perform at Helium. They are some of my best shows. I have a big crowd there. It's perfect. If I could find a theater there to do my next special in, I would do it. I love it.

~~~~~

Colleen T. Reese is a contributor to Geekadelphia and Schmitten Kitten. You can follow her on twitter @CollTReese.


A Bunch of Improv @ The Grape Room Tonight -- Q&A with Sam Fran Scavuzzo

bunch of improv poster
Caroline Scavuzzo

Bunch of Improv is at the Grape Room (105 Grape Street) in Manayunk tonight @ 8pm. See what creator Sam Fran Scavuzzo has to say about his group, Cock Hat, his thoughts on improv comedy and memorable guests from the show.

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WitOut: Would you mind telling us about the history and comedic style of your former group, Cock Hat?

Scavuzzo: I performed short-form improv during college. Once I came back to Philly, we (college friends and I) formed a long-chain group, Cock Hat. Stylistically we are high energy, and use a “shooting from the hip” approach. We don’t mind being raunchy or gutsy. Oh, and we are not too sensitive or politically correct either (laughs). Improv is a lot about breaking out of your comfort zone, sometimes you surprise yourself with your true feelings on something or say something you don’t expect yourself to say. You are an actor in a scene, you have to say what is logical, not necessarily something you would say in real life.

WitOut: What has Cock Hat been up to since you all went your separate ways?

Scavuzzo: We performed together for two years, which is a considerably long time. We still perform together from time to time. Tonight's show is called “A bunch of improv at the Graperoom,” [Cock Hat member] Frank and I are performing alongside four other improv teams and a stand-up comedian.

WitOut: Who are the other acts on the show tonight?

Scavuzzo: Kid Twist is a silly team with very smart improvisers. All members are involved with the Philadelphia Improv Theater (PHIT). Demonikus Rex is a relatively newer team. Also performing are Bill Parks, Gross Reber and stand-up comedian Pat Dohony.

WitOut: Who are some memorable groups you have had on the show over the years?

Scavuzzo: Matt Holmes has an improv act called Matt &. He brings an audience member up and does an entire show with them. He is an absolute master at what he does. Stand-up comedian Dave Terruso is another one. Dave is a polished professional. He tours, he's an author and he opens at the Helium for national headliners. He is really smart. The way he uses language is unique. Dave knows the English language very well; there is no wasted word in his set. How do I explain it? He knows exactly how to emphasize a word. He knows his stuff.

CockHat Improv
Cock Hat members demonstrate their name-sake.

Sam Fran Scavuzzo will be performing with Cock Hat alum Frank Farrell at tonight's show. Tickets can be purchased at the door for $5.00 and event details can be seen at Graperoommusic.com.


Interview with Streeter Seidell of CollegeHumor Live, Friday Night @ The Trocadero

CHLiveTour-promo-clean150CollegeHumor's Streeter Seidell seems like the kind of upfront, no bullshit type of comic Philadelphia can appreciate. However, he admitted he's a little nervous about making his City of Brotherly Love debut when we talked about his upcoming show at the Trocadero Theatre this Friday. The White Wine author is part of the CollegeHumor Live tour alongside Jake Hurwitz & Amir Blumenfeld--stars of the long-running CollegeHumor.com web series Jake and Amir.

WitOut: Will it be the first time performing in Philly for all three of you?

Streeter Seidell: I think Jake and Amir did a college show in Philly once. But I haven't even been there until about a month ago, which was a great embarrassment for me. I was totally ashamed because I grew up in Connecticut and I'm a massive history buff and Ben Franklin fan. And I like eating fattening food so I was like, how have I not been to this city? But I thought it was a great city. I'm a little nervous because I've never performed in Philly and you do hear this terrible rumors about audiences in Philly being crazy mean.

WitOut: Yeah, it's nonsense. Just don't suck.

Seidell: Yeah, that's what I've been banking on. The problem is though, that I suck.

WitOut: So how did you get in at CollegeHumor?

Seidell: I was writing articles for the site when I was in college and just got on their radar and got hired right out of school.

WitOut: According to Wikipedia you were studying communications, did you have any idea what you would've done after college with that?

Seidell: Uh, I guess I would've worked at a talent agency which is where I had been an intern for a while. But thank god CollegeHumor hired me because I would've been a terrible agent.

WitOut: What was the experience like when CollegeHumor had a show on MTV, The CollegeHumor Show?

Seidell: It was so much fun. We were probably all 25, 26 and, it was a blast. I grew up watching MTV so the thought of having a show on MTV that I was acting in and helping write was extremely exciting. If only anyone watched it! Maybe I'd still be excited. But it was exhausting, frustrating, and extremely fun.

WitOut I saw you recently got a puppy? Will you be leaving it while you're on tour?

Seidell: Aw, I wish you didn't put it like that but yes I am.

WitOut: What can we expect at the show? What's the format?

Seidell: Well, I'm not all the way sure yet. Usually Jake and Amir come out and do their thing, I come out and do my thing. Then we'll do something together at the end. What exactly those things will be is yet to be determined. I'll do stand-up, which, if I can see the crowd, might involve making fun of a kid in the front row. But, I will guarantee you it will be very funny.

WitOut: Despite you sucking?

Seidell: I might suck, but the three of us together, our powers combined, can make one funny show!

WitOut: The Voltron principle.

Seidell: Exactly, or the Captain Planet principle.

WitOut: You've co-written some books but you recently published your first book White Whine (http://whitewhine.com, available in stores and online now) on your own, what was that like?

Seidell: Do you remember writing essays or papers for college? Imagine doing that 250 times. And that was kinda like what writing a book was like, except you can say whatever you want and someone will give you money for it. So it was pretty fun!

WitOut: You've done sketch, stand-up, television, books, is there a form you haven't done yet but would like to?

Seidell: Yeah, I guess, a movie right? Like, a major motion picture? Or, I'd really like to explore what I can do on Pinterest. That's a form I really have yet to conquer. It's really impressive, in a nine year career I've failed in almost every medium, which, not a lot of people can say. I'll try anything really.

WitOut: Right, like me pretending to be a journalist here. I just write dick jokes in Philly but, I'm talking to you now.

Seidell: Are you the Philadelphia Dick Jokesmith?

WitOut: You've heard of me.

Seidell: Dude, how did you get that job I applied for that, I sent in a packet and everything.

WitOut: Well I apprenticed under the previous Dick Jokesmith.

Seidell: Ah, nepotism.

WitOut: What advice would you give someone who is trying to find a way to a career writing comedy?

Seidell: There is no place to go to apply for that job so anyone who wants to be a comedy writer can just start being a comedy writer. I've always had kids ask me "I really want to do stand-up" or "I want to write videos" or "I want to make things on YouTube", well you shouldn't have to want that cause you can just do that. There's really no excuse to not just start doing it and, you'll be pretty terrible for a while but then, hopefully, you'll get a little better. And maybe one day I can be threatened by you and do everything in my power to stop your rise to fame.

WitOut: If you could be any animal, what would it be?

Seidell: Besides "better human"?

WitOut: That's fine.

Seidell: Otherwise I was gonna say "Swedish person."

 WitOut: That's basically the same thing. Anyway, thanks Streeter!

~~~~~

See Streeter Seidell, along with Jake & Amir, when CollegeHumor Live hits the Trocadero Theatre (1003 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA), this Friday November 15th and 8:00pm. Get tickets here.

Dave Metter is a Philly comedian, check him out on Twitter @DaveMetter, and check out his fake local news show Your News, Philadelphia Friday December 6th at the Shubin Theatre.


Emmy Award Winning Writer and Comedian Greg Fitzsimmons @ Helium: November 8-9

greg fitzsimmonsI like people who can wear a chip on their shoulder like a badge of honor. Your grievances and grudges are what make you interesting. Why not own them?

So it’s not especially a stretch to say that it's easy for me to love Greg Fitzsimmon’s first hour long special, Life on Stage. An award-winning writer, producer and stand-up comedian, his comedy unabashedly explores social and familial constructs. While seemingly provocative, Fitzsimmons is playfully clever in his approach to unearthing the absolute absurdity that is so often prevalent in modern American life.

You can catch him in Philadelphia November 8 and 9 at Helium Comedy Club. WitOut caught up with Fitzsimmon to talk about Life on Stage, podcasting and the past year (sort of) on the road.

WitOut: You're out in LA now, right?

Greg Fitzsimmons: Right. I've been working in New York. I took the weekend off to come home for Halloween and Trick or Treat with the kids.

WitOut: How was Halloween?

Fitzsimmons: Great. It was very cute. We did trick or treating on one side of the neighborhood, changed costumes and then did the other side. My son is 13 so he's off with his boys. You know, a real teenage party. I think that was his first one.

WitOut: I'm sure they just sat around and did their homework.

Fitzsimmons: They're really on the edge. I don't think they're doing anything that wrong yet but they're definitely thinking about it. They're ready for it. They're only in the planning stages.

WitOut: You've been all over the place this past year. How is tour?

Fitzsimmons: It's not so much a tour as it is going out to places on the weekends, in between working on the show. This past year, I've definitely been on the road a lot doing shows to promote the special. But it's been a lot of TV stuff. I was executive producer on another show earlier this fall and then just banging out these podcasts twice a week and a radio show once a week. It's pretty exhausting. I haven't had a moment.

WitOut: What show are you currently working on?

Fitzsimmons: I created a comedy talk show pilot for FX with this guy Josh Topaulski, who has a website called The Verge. It's kind of a Daily Show format.

WitOut: How did podcasting make its way into your mix?

Fitzsimmons: Well, I was doing the radio show for just an hour. I was getting these really great guests and all of the sudden, the hour would go by so fast. So, my producer said that we could do another hour and put it out as a podcast. We did that for awhile and people eventually wanted more than one a week. I was on the road a lot of weekends so I started doing [podcasts] from the green room in clubs and now I pretty much just record interviews with people during the week. I'll try to bank a few and then put those out.

This past week, I sat down with Colin Quinn and at the end I said to him, "How often do you and I get to sit down and talk, uninterrupted for two hours?" It's very rare. It's great. I think it started out casually--and it still feels casual-- it doesn't feel like a job. Now there is all of this advertising coming in, which is really just found money.

WitOut: It seems like you have you hands in a lot of different things. You have stand-up, podcasting and radio. You have your book [Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons: Tales of Redemption from an Irish Mailbox]. Does it feel different from when you were doing just stand-up?

Fitzsimmons: No. When I started doing stand-up, my Father was really supportive of me. He said, you know, just make sure you write. Write a lot. I think that he knew that it was going to be a tough business and that writing was something that I could always--I wouldn't say fall back on, but something that I could do in conjunction with stand-up. I've always been focused on it.

I've always been doing something else. After I did stand-up for a couple of years, I moved to New York and did a two year acting program. So I did that and went out on the road on the weekends. Then I moved to LA and auditioned for acting stuff. I never had any luck but I did it a lot for awhile.

There have always been different directions that I was going in. When my son was born, I started writing for TV so that I could be around more. That's been twelve years or so in between writing, doing stand-up and hosting stuff on TV.

On a good day it feels like, yeah, you have your hands in a lot of things. On a bad day you feel like you're being pulled in too many directions. In this business, it's a pretty good way to keep your sanity--to be able to not have all of your eggs in one basket.

WitOut: A lot of your new special deals with parenting, social class and race. Your kids go to school in LA and so you're definitely surrounded by a lot of that. Can you speak to us about where that material comes from?

Fitzsimmons: I grew in New York and my Dad was a radio guy. He was very liberal. Very outspoken. Our family's identity is very, I think, Kennedy Democrats. And I grew up in a place that was very economically and racially diverse.

My kids are in a Spanish Immersion program at a public school in LA. My wife grew up in the city in New York. We try to replicate something that has that same kind of diversity and we've been really luck with that. They've got a school that has very committed parents and the kids are great. At the same time--not to put down private schools--your kid can get a false sense of feeling like they're the greatest fucking thing that has ever been born. I want my kids to feel like pieces of garbage that have to work their way out of it for the rest of their lives. That's the drive they need.

A lot of my material comes out of guilt. I think I feel a certain white guilt with how fortunate I've been. Stand up, to me, is about [exploring] what are you thinking about, what makes you uncomfortable or angry, what is it that you can't wrap your head around. For me, social class seems to be one that is just illogical. It's the fabric of every society.

WitOut: What about the book? Is it a product of that guilt or is a way for you to kind of wear your mistakes on your armor?

Fitzsimmons: I was an English major in college and I had been writing my whole life. I wanted to write a book since I was five years old. I finally felt like I had lived enough to warrant writing a book about my life. It feel like there are two very different sides of my life and I wanted to explore that earlier part of my life. I wanted to show how it affected the second half.

I grew up very rebellious. The first half of my life, there was a lot of drinking and drugs, fighting and womanizing. It was very different from what my life is today. I just wanted to have fun and go down that road. It ended up being much more deeply about my relationship with my father.

My intention was probably much lighter than what the actual process ended up being.

WitOut: We know that you had a complicated relationship with your Father. Does talking about it so publicly affect that?

Fitzsimmons: He actually died 20 year ago. In a weird way, you still have a relationship with the [deceased] person. I think about him a lot. I think my kids feel his presence in a way. It didn't end on good terms, really, and that's sad.

WitOut: Does talking about it help your reconcile with that?

Fitzsimmons: I guess. On some levels, it is. I wish that I could I was that mature and that it was all reconciled. I'm still like a little baby. I definitely have more understanding [of him] now as a parent.

WitOut: You're coming to Philly on this week. Are you looking forward to coming over here?

Fitzsimmons: (Laughs) Oh my god. Your voice just went up an octave when you asked that.

Yeah! I love Philadelphia! I think Philadelphia is great. It's one of the few cities that I really enjoy getting up and walking around. The crowds are awesome. They're really down to earth. There is that Italian-Irish thing there, which is always kind of rowdy and blue collar. It's fun.

~~~~

Colleen T. Reese is a contributor to Geekadelphia and Schmitten Kitten. You can follow her on twitter @CollTReese.


Alison Zeidman and Aaron Hertzog Interview Each Other about Free For All

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Editors' note: We are the editors of WitOut.net. We are also starting a free, weekly, stand-up comedy showcase every Wednesday at Rembrandt's Restaurant & Bar (741 N. 23rd St. Philadelphia). So we decided to take advantage of our editorial power for shameless self-promotion. Is that okay with you? Good. Here we go.

AZ Why did we decide to start this show?

AH: You know the answer to that.

AZ: Tell me again. I like hearing the story.

AH: I think this is the type of show that Philly needs. The scene has been growing in the past few years and there are open mics practically every night of the week, and there are  a lot of comedian-run monthly showcases, and I think the next step up is a weekly show where comedians can work on longer sets. I would love to do this show every night if I could, and make it like a Philadelphia version of The Comedy Cellar in New York. But until I find a venture capitalist to back that business plan, I'm going to have to stick with once a week at a bar that will let us do it for free. Philly has a lot of great comedians, and part of the goal with the show is to expose more of the public to some of the great local comedy Philly has to offer.

What are your hopes and plans for the show?

AZ:  I'm really looking forward to having a show that gives Philly comics an opportunity to perform longer sets, and hopefully perform them in front of a crowd that's made up of more than just other comics--of course we love seeing comics support one another, but we also want a "real audience" for these shows. Which brings me to my other hope for the show: that people will come.  So we're working on some creative ideas for marketing and promotion, and reaching out to people who are good at getting the word out about events in the city, and hopefully we'll be able to show a lot of new people that Philly has a really strong, talented crop of local comedians.  And if they're introduced to them here with a free show, hopefully they'll continue to follow and support their work elsewhere.

Can you talk a little bit more about why we wanted to keep the show free? Are we just dicks who don't want to pay people?

AH: Well first of all, I hate that money exists and I wish I could live in a hut on an island and hunt and farm and fish for food and just be free. That sounds like a joke but I'm being serious. But, in terms of the show, since one of our goals is to raise awareness about comedy in Philly we thought a great way to do that would be to have a free show, so it's a low-risk access point for new audiences.  Doogie Horner's Ministry of Secret Jokes was a great free show that brought a lot of people out to Fergie's in Center City on a monthly basis, and we want to build a consistent audience of people who know that there's going to be a great show at Rembrandt's every Wednesday night, and who can tell people they know that they can come to the show and it's going to be free and it's going to be great and they're going to have a good time. Plus we want this to be a show that has a feel, for the audience, that it's professional and the line-up is well put together, but is also a show where the comedians should feel free to experiment a little, and work out newer material during a longer set.  At open mics where there are more comics and therefore sets have to be shorter, one new joke might be the only material a comic gets to do that night.

Since we're not getting fat pockets off the big stacks of cash we'd make if we charged people to come and see this show, what are you looking to get out of it, as a comedian?

AZ: I think it'll be good for me to get more experience hosting shows, and I also want to push myself to write a lot more frequently so I can have something new every week.  I also like how much flexibility and trust the bar is giving us in running this show--I think it's exciting that we're building this from the ground up, and we're going to have this challenge of making sure it's successful.  That also makes it a little scary, and I think we're both going to have to think really creatively and work really hard to make sure it works and really have an impact on Philly's knowledge of and interest in its local comedy scene.

We have some of the best comics in the city on the line-up for the first show, and we've actually booked the rest of the month already, and that's pretty stacked as well.  How do you think being on a show with all these really exceptional writers and performers will affect your performance?

AH: Not only do I want the show to be great top to bottom for the sake of the audience, but I think it's a great opportunity for all of us as comedians to push each other to keep getting better.  It's healthy competition--not that it's a contest and we're going out there to try to outshine each other every week, but I know that personally I'm going to have to bring it in order to keep up with the talent that we're going to book on this show week in and week out.  I'm never going to be able to half-ass it and mail in a set if I don't want to look like somebody who doesn't belong on the show. That's how you get better--when I was a kid and I played basketball, I didn't get better by playing against kids I was already better than; I got better by playing against older kids who were a lot better than me, and having to work to keep up.  Also I'm just looking forward to being able to hang out with all of these people on a weekly basis and see them trying out new jokes, and talking about new jokes, and getting their opinion on my new material, and just all working together at getting better. #Friendship.

You and I are big supporters of the local comedy scene and we know a lot about what's going on within it.  But at this point it's still difficult to know about Philly comedy if you're not IN Philly comedy in some way. What do you think we--or anyone else performing in the city--needs to do to get more of the general public aware of the local talent?

AZ: I think the main thing is that if you're putting on a show, you should never be satisfied with just getting an audience that's only made up of your friends and fellow performers. If you're trying to do this seriously and not just as a hobby, you need feedback from and exposure to a real audience to be able to learn and grow.  Of course it's great to be supportive of each other, but I don't think any of us will consider ourselves successful if we're just doing this for each other all the time.  So we should be looking for as many ways as possible to expose new people to our shows. List and promote your show on local online events calendars, send out press releases, get out on the street with flyers, whatever it takes.  Find new audiences, bring them in, win them over and keep them coming back--whether that's coming back to Free For All, or "coming back" in that they find their favorite comedians at our show, and then go seek them out to see them do more at other shows, too.

Also: We all just have to be really, really good.  Put on a good show that'll live up to or even exceed the hype you're giving it when you're promoting it.

 

The First Free For All Stand-Up Comedy Showcase is tonight at 8pm at Rembrandt's Restaurant & Bar (741 N. 23rd St. Philadelphia). For more information on the show as well as original and shared content you can check out Free For All on Wordpress, Facebook, and Twitter.