Brendan Kennedy Petitions Kickstarter

Brendan Kennedy has a dream. That dream includes getting drunk and making web videos in which he heckles people's family photos while wearing a Batman mask. All dreams come at a cost; the price tag on Brendan's reads "$10.00". In order to help him achieve his goals of making Drunk Batman Heckles Your Family Photos a reality Brendan turned to Kickstarter, the online fundraising tool used by artists to raise money from people who support and believe in their projects. But Brendan was denied. The site that recently helped TV and movie-star Zach Braff raise over $3 million to produce a film told Brendan his project "...does not meet our guidelines." Brendan once again is turning to the internet for help; creating a petition where he is asking supporters of his to tell Kickstarter to "stop acting like Drunk Batman Heckles Your Family Photos isn't all that." We contacted the former Philadelphia comedian by email to ask him about his current situation.

WitOut: Can you please take a moment to describe your vision for your project Drunk Batman Heckles Your Family Photos.

 
Brendan Kennedy: I'd like to make a webseries in which i get drunk and make fun of weird old family photos I find on google image search. When you're trying to be a standup in LA, you're just another face in a sea of almost good looking faces. So i'm gonna put a mask on and talk shit on people who I don't know. I will make up backstories for these people and then claim they wronged me, or someone I know, who may or may not be real, depends upon the week.
WO: From my understanding after an initial proposal Kickstarter asked you to revise your campaign after which you were denied the opportunity to raise funds using their services. What were your thoughts on receiving news of your rejection? How have you handled it since?
 
BK: I thought it was predictable and disappointing. I revised my proposal per their suggestions (even though I was NOT in violation of their guidelines) and re-submitted. Then they just flat out rejected it, claiming that my project didn't fit within their guidelines. Which would be fine if I was in violation of their guidelines, but I am NOT. They made a judgement call. Either my goal of raising 10 dollars to buy an adult batman mask seems too silly for their super serious website. (A website that people use to raise money to make board games and concept albums.) Or 10 dollars wasn't enough money for them to waste their time, since after all, they take a percentage of the money raised. (Ya know, because they're good people who want to help...)
WO: How do you feel about sites such as Kickstarter in terms of giving artists without an "in" to big-budget financiers an opportunity to raise funding to help make their dream projects become a reality?
 
BK: I think they are a money making scheme. Zach Braff is already famous, that's why he's able to raise almost 3 million dollars. They remind me of the commercials on tv where the old man asks you if you think you are good at drawing, and then for money he will send you a test to see if you really are good at drawing. The people themselves are the ones raising the money, it's just an easier way to tell people about the project that you are trying to raise money for than making your own blog and paypal set up. I thought that maybe, even though they take some of the money you raise, they were still a good company that just needs money to operate. Now I just think that they are just a company that wants money.
WO: What are your thoughts on the recent wave of more high-profile celebrities and projects (Zach Braff, Veronica Mars) using Kickstarter as a way to raise funds from their fans to create projects? (To play Devil's Advocate some would argue this lets fans feel like "a part" of the production - and that paying to see a movie in the theaters is even similar to donating to the cause - just after the fact...)
 
BK: It's a publicity stunt. Which is why I wanted to use it! I figured that whoever gave me the 10 bucks to buy the mask would watch at least the first episode. Donating to help fund a movie is similar to buying a ticket, except that after you donate to help have the movie made, you still have to pay to go see it. I just checked, you have to pay 30 dollars to get to see Zach Braff's movie without paying any more money. Also, letting people feel like they are part of something in exchange for their money has been part of many great scams in the past. For example, the whole buy a star and name it craze.
WO: Usually Kickstarter campaigns give some benefits or rewards to donators; if your project does eventually get approved what can those who give to your project expect to receive as tokens of your appreciation?
 
BK: I had it set up so that for 5 bucks, I'd let you pick a photo that i'd make fun of in one episode. And for 25 dollars i'd mail you an autographed photo of drunk batman. Despite the fact that I only wanted 10 dollars, kickstarter suggested 25 as a good starting point for rewards. (because they just want people's money!!)
WO: How far do you think Drunk Batman Heckles Your Family Photos can go if just given the chance?
 
BK: I'm not gonna bullshit people and claim that this kickstarter will change the way webseries are made, because that would be stupid. Also, it's stupid to claim that people donating money to get a movie made will change the way movies are made!! So i'll just be honest, if given a chance, Drunk Batman Heckles Your Family Photos can go all the way to YouTube! Or maybe Funny or Die, I haven't decided yet.
WO: Finally, let our readers know why they should sign the petition so Kickstarter will let you raise money on their site. And also why they should donate if you finally do get approved.
 
BK: Cause fuck Kickstarter. This site is bullshit, and people need to know it. They found a way to profit off of fundraising. It's like if you wanted to buy a hot dog at a baseball game, and you handed your money down the aisle and a guy in the middle demanded one of your dollars, or he passed all of your money to the hot dog guy, but then took a bite of the hot dog that was passed to you. Kickstarter is just a crummy middle man who only goes to baseball games to steal bites of other people's hot dogs. But now they've tasted some big celebrity hot dogs, and no regular person hot dog is going to satisfy them anymore. Donate if you want to see me drunkenly making fun of weird family photos in a shitty batman mask. Probably I'll just use one of their competitors sites that don't take any of your money. But in the mean time, sign the petition so Kickstarter gets an email from change.org just to let them know they're assholes.
Brendan Kennedy is a Los Angeles comedian who formerly lived in Philadelphia. While here he was a stand-up comedian and member of sketch group Camp Woods and improv group Hate Speech Committee. You can sign his petition to Kickstarter online at change.org.

You Should Call Your Parents: Cait O'Driscoll interviews Steve and Andrea O'Driscoll

photo 1Cait O’Driscoll: Ready, guys?

Andrea O’Driscoll (AKA Mom): Oh, here we go. We’re getting interviewed. I think I need a smoke first. So, you’ll have to wait.

Steve O’Driscoll (AKA Dad): Do I need to leave the room then?

AO: What?

SO: I thought we were doing it separately. I object. I want to do it separately.

AO: I’ll be right back. I have to get stoked for this.

CO: Do you think I’m funny?

(Laughter)

AO: It depends on what day it is.

SO: Monday, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Not so much on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

CO: All right… That went well. Let’s move on.

AO: It depends on whether I’m being your mom, or going to see you in something.

CO: Was there a moment when I was growing up that you thought, “Hey, this kid might one day think she’s a comedian?”

SO: Yes.

AO: Every night at dinner from the time you were about… Oh, I guess a year… you would wait, everyone would sit at the dinner table, and you would stand up in your high chair and say, “It’s showtime.”

CO: Do you have anything else to add, dad?

SO: Always. Right from the beginning.

AO: Before you were even here, it was a joke. You were one of God’s little jokes. Should we get into that? Do you want to tell that story?

SO: No, don’t.

CO: Explain the Harold.

AO: Harold who? No. I know there’s beats. What do you know about it?

SO: What?

AO: The Harold.

SO: The Harold? I don’t even know what we’re talking about.

AO: The type of improv she does. There’s three sections and so many beats to each section, but I can’t figure it out from watching it. I need a drum to find the beats.

SO: Can I say anything about the other?

AO: Organic’s too noisy.

SO: I like it better than the other.

CO: How do you feel about improv?

AO: I like it. Some’s funnier than others. We can go back into that again…

SO: I think it’s really hard when you have 5 or 6 people on stage not to end up with one or two people who dominate… to be honest.

AO: I still don’t believe that you don’t use stuff that you did in rehearsal. If it’s failing and flailing and you have good stuff that you did in rehearsal. Why not use it?

CO: We don’t.

AO: Well, then I guess I just don’t get the rehearsals. But yeah, I like improv, I come see you all the time. Some nights are funnier than others, just like some days you’re funnier than others. I could have said it depends what side of the bed you woke up on.

CO: Do you have a favorite Davenger moment?

SO: I think there’s been a lot of funny moments. The only thing I can think of pointing to is always your first improv show is the best, because you don’t really know what to expect and it’s better than what you expect it to be. That’s the only way I can put it.

AO: The show where Hilary played Hans and you were in relaxation therapy, but you were afraid of rubber bands and they kept stressing you out with them; that was the therapy. Then you were doing bumper cars and Kevin made you kill a child, and the show ended with Hilary saying, “You’ve been Hans-ed.”

CO: When you brag about me to your friends, what’s the first thing you say? When answering, please remember this is a comedy article that all my funny friends will see (so maybe say something about how hilarious I am).

SO: I don’t know, I just say you’ve been performing on stage since as long as I can remember. What was she 7 or 8? And we’ve always enjoyed…

AO: I was always stunned when she started doing improv because I was always thought she was a drama queen.

SO: Oh no, I think she should do stand up comedy. That’s the natural extension.

AO: I’d always seen her in dramas and the first time I saw her in a role when she was funny, like overtly physically funny, all the physicality, expressions, timing. I was blown away by it. And the role in that play was dumb, so you took it to the absurd, and it was really funny.

CO: What do you think about me performing comedy?

AO: I’d like to see you push it more. You still look to me like you hesitate, and you allow other people to continue when I know there’s something hidden behind your little smile that’s probably funny.

SO: Well, I’ve always liked some of the more physical humor, like Dick Van Dyke, or people that do physical, Jack Tripper, people that do physical comedy. And I remember at the last show I went to, that was the remark I made to Dan the way, out of the blue, he does this contortion with his body. I think that the expressions and the actions are as important as what comes out of your mouth sometimes.

CO: Do you think I should try stand up?

SO: Yes. Absolutely. What are you waiting for?

AO: I think you should because I think you’re a good writer, and I think if you put your mind to it… but sometimes you’re lazy.

SO: A lot of people that do stand up comedy are afraid of the audience. A lot of them. I remember distinctly Johnny Carson was afraid of crowds.

AO: Oh boy, Dad’s gonna give you a history lesson. I think it’s hard for females. A guy can get away with any raw comment, but when a female does it…

CO: What do you think my opening joke should be?

AO: One time at band camp… No.vDon’t say the lawn mower joke, Steve.

SO: No, you don’t do jokes. You do more like something that happened to you on the way to the place… or…

AO: Let me tell you about my mother…? That’s always a good place to start. Here’s to the mothers, it’s their fault.

SO: You could open it with the two girls in diapers.

CO: What?

AO: No idea what you’re talking about.

SO: Dogs in diapers it’s a funny image.

AO: Oh, the girls.

SO: To me part of doing stand up is relating stories about people that you know.

AO: Well, God, you better know funny people than. She’s up shit’s creek then.

CO: Who’s your favorite comedian? Other than me guys, geeze, you’re making me blush!

SO: Uh, so I’m just gonna say you to get it out of the way then. Current comedian? Probably, Lewis Black. I like Seinfeld.

AO: I pick Robin Williams.

AO: Yeah, I like Robin Williams. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

SO: Oh yeah, Tina Fey.

CO: Anything else you want to add?

AO: I think you should push it. I think you should pursue it.

SO: You could create a character like um… what’s her name did… SNL… Gilda Radner.

AO: Oh, I know who I love, Gilda Radner’s husband, Gene Wilder.

SO: When you can develop something where you get into character, you can really go with it, rather than standing there and telling jokes, you can be in character.

AO: You do that well. I can see your acting experience. I like when improv has a connection to the acting.

Cait currently improvises with Philly Improv Theater house team Davenger directed by the amazing Maggy Keegan. She can also be seen in improv duos DupliCate and Mr. and Mrs.

If you are a Philadelphia-area comedian who’d like to interview one (or both) of your parents send us an email to contact@witout.net for more information. Go ahead, do it. You should really call your parents more anyways.

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.


The HYDRA Speaks: PHIT Conservatory Students Share Their Experience

This Sunday, students from the latest PHIT Conservatory course will perform their first HYDRA, a format they developed over the eight weeks of the class. The group was instructed and directed by Steve Kleinedler, who also directs PHIT House Team Hot Dish.  Back in February, Steve told us what he had planned for his students—now, here they are to talk about what they learned, and what we can expect from their four-show run.

WitOut: Describe the experience of participating in a PHIT Conservatory course.

Meredith Weir: The PHIT Conservatory course gave me the opportunity to work with Philly improvisers I’d never shared a stage with. A decent number of the students in class had traveled through the PHIT curriculum over the last year together, so some chemistry was already there and I think that really helped move our team/class along. There was a lot of emphasis on group mind; we created our own warm-ups (that sometimes ran over an hour), and did 40-ish minute runs during the first couple weeks just to get accustomed to each other. It didn’t take long for those that already worked together and those that hadn’t to gel.

Tomás Isakowitz: Working on developing our own performance and more than that, performance style, is challenging, fun, frustrating, exciting, scary… all of that  simultaneously. I have grown tremendously improv-wise. At Conservatory each participant is given very specific pointers on what works, what does not, and how to improve. If you can take the criticism, it will force you to grow. And then, there is the fun exploration of creating our own style. It is a fantastic prelude for on-stage performance, especially for someone who has not performed on a team before.

Josh Depowell: Conservatory class is a really great transition from graduating from PHIT's core curriculum to establishing your own comedy troupe.  The conservatory encouraged us to think about different forms that our group of improvisers would be good at doing.  The guidance of a PHIT instructor helped us to realize which things worked and which didn't, and they guided us through the thinking process of getting to a place where we would have something to put on stage. I think that this is a great opportunity for people planning on putting together improv teams in the future.

WO: What was the most important thing you learned from your instructor, Steve Kleinedler?

Danielle Klaiman: To try to think of the most important thing I've learned from Steve is almost impossible. He has helped me hone my listening skills and in class we really focused on the relationship between two characters and how that relationship effects them. Probably the most important thing he's left me with is, "Don't drag the fucking chairs or I will come onstage and break that chair over your fucking head!" [Kleinedler adds: I didn't say this until week 7. But seriously, don't drag your chairs when editing, people!]

WO: The course is culminating in you and your fellow students performing your own original improv show, the HYDRA.  Can you describe the format?

Mike Butler: Without giving too much away, it's a fast-paced, multi-headed beast of a format.  If the Armando is a revolver, we're a full-auto mini-gun. I'm pretty sure the Hydra will set a Philly improv record for scenes in a show during its run.

Joe Coughlin: With an audience suggestion, we each state a brief line inspired by the suggestion. Then one of us will restate our line and that will inspire three brief scenes. We repeat this until all of us have performed our monologues at which time we will go into a run incorporating many of the ideas we've generated throughout the set to that point. It's fast and it's furious and it really fits the people performing it.

WO: How did you guys go about creating this totally new, unique form?

Mike Butler: It came together rather quickly.  Steve figured out our individual and collective strengths from the first class, specifically through a warm-up session that was only supposed to go 15 minutes but kept going for over 50 minutes.  In the next couple classes we found the root of the form through a monologue exercise that the group latched on to.  After that, we spent the remaining weeks refining the format and getting accustomed to playing together.

Meredith Weir: Talking, talking, and more talking. After the first four weeks we spent a lot of time focusing on what we noticed our strengths were as a group, and what we each prefer individually. There was so much to pull from because even though we had only been together for a short time there was a lot of repetition in those first couple weeks. Steve, although a great director, really left it up to us. He was there to guide us but for the most part we developed “The Hydra” entirely on our own in an organic fashion. (Even though it’s not an organic show at all—we all like structure!) We took what worked, “yes, and"-ed it and developed a show that PHIT audiences will enjoy.

WO: How do you think the show will evolve throughout its run? Does the group anticipate making any adjustments to the format from performance to performance?

Joe Coughlin:  I think the biggest thing is adjusting to playing it in front of an audience. We've become comfortable with the format over the past few weeks, it's just time now to get it in front of a crowd. I'm sure we'll be up to tweaking it a bit depending on what seems to play or not, but the format is made of some pretty solid building blocks that are arranged in a different way for this show. I'm confident in our ability to adapt.

Danielle Klaiman: It will be very interesting to see how things play out over the run, mostly because not all seven of us will be there for every show. Whenever someone is absent from the group the dynamics automatically shift. Thankfully the format we have created is not reliant on the number of people we have and still works well when someone is absent. We've been rehearsing so long without an audience that I think all of us are pumped to reveal all the hard work we've been doing and to see how the audience responds. Maybe we'll tweak a few things here and there, but I feel like we've got a real solid format that showcases our individual talents.

Josh Depowell:  Throughout the last couple of classes we saw that the pacing of the show picked up and we realized that this helped the performance.  I believe that their is a possibility that we will continue to see this throughout the run as well.  I do not expect that there will be any major changes to the actual format that we are using.  I think that what we have right now is working and that any changes that may be made will be focused on how we are playing within the format.

WO: What aspect of the show do you think will be most exciting for audiences?

Tomás Isakowitz: Experiencing our new style and figuring out how it works! We mix monologues with auto-prompts.  The audience is smart and will feel remunerated as the show unrolls and they can see how the fabric is gently produced from the threads they have seen develop.

The PHIT Conservatory 'HYDRA' will be performed on May 19th at 7pm, May 26th at 5pm and 7pm, and June 2nd at 7pm at Philly Improv Theater at The Shubin Theatre (407 Bainbridge Street). Advance tickets are available online.


Interview with Rachel Fogletto of 'Comedy-Gasm'

This Saturday, stand-up comic Rachel Fogletto brings Comedy-Gasm back to The Irish Pol for another round of comedy from "the city's edgiest and unashamed performers and comedians." Read on for more about Rachel and the show.

WitOut: How long have you been doing stand-up? What got you started?

Rachel Fogletto: I've been doing stand-up for about 7-8 months. I had been doing other forms of open mics like spoken word and storytelling for some time, and I had recently been branching out to other types of performance and was in a Fringe show. I had numerous people tell me that I made them laugh when I would tell sex stories that were often uncomfortable and emotional situations. One woman I worked with in a show said, "You remind me of a comedian." I thought that was funny for some reason, and I had always wanted to do stand-up but never really felt that I had the balls. So I finally tried it and realized that I had it all wrong. It took balls to get up there, yes, but I had actually had to grow a dick to stay up there, and keep coming back.

Stand-up was the most challenging form of performance I had ever done, and I feel like anything you do that you love should challenge you. Once I started I knew I couldn't stop.

WO: When and how did you decide to start Comedy-gasm?

RF: I started to notice that as with anything else in life, there seemed to be a "majority" voice even within comedy, which always seemed to me, to typically be an art form of struggle. There are not a lot of women, most obviously. But I also wanted to see more comedy that was pushing boundaries from other perspectives. Not to get all affirmative-action, but I wanted to see more comedy from females, or people of color or from a queer perspective or even from a place that was not typical or already "acceptable edgy" comedy, like porn or jerk-off jokes. Not that I don't love a good dick joke. I love a good dick............joke.

WO: Can you explain the theme for the show? What do you mean when you describe it as comedy "by the unashamed, for the unashamed"?

RF: Following up on my last answer, I noticed there were actually a good amount of comedians that had a generally rogue sense of humor, or who were coming from a totally different walk of life that weren't as present at the more crowded open mics. Different perspectives allow for different voices, different authenticity and ultimately, jokes no one has heard before. I felt myself gravitating toward comics who tended to make themselves vulnerable onstage even if their jokes were risky. I feel like the best art comes from the ability to be unapologetic even if it riles people. And of course, it has to be good. It has to be especially good when you're ruffling feathers.

WO: How do you choose the line-up for these shows? Are you looking for a specific type of comic, or a comic with a certain type of material?

RF: Thank you for asking! Everyone's biggest question is "Do all the jokes have to be about sex" Um, definitely not. The format thus far has been one "non-intentional" comedian, which is someone outside of stand-up performance but still is 90% comedic. Then follows 4 stand-up comedians. For the show's debut, this created exactly what I wanted, which was a cross audience from different scenes like The Erotic Literary Salon, so the performers were able to actually tell jokes to a fresh audience. I also arrange the lineup according to joke style and tempo, rather than experience to create a cohesive "set of sets" I guess you could call it. It could be in my head, but it seemed to work well the last time. Everyone had a blast.

Because I personally tell a lot of sex jokes, I have a way of looking at the world through sex. I think that art and comedy and the relationship between the performer and the audience is a power struggle, like sex. We go up...we try to make people laugh. We do this in different ways. Sometimes we get emotional, sometimes we try to relate, sometimes we just try to entertain. Everyone is turned on by different things. But after a while, crowds, like people, get used to the same type of "foreplay" ...they are desensitized to things that used to make them aroused, surprised, offended....and most importantly, impressed. I think that when you can craft a joke, especially a risky joke, in an unconventional way and make people piss themselves laughing, it's like you gave them an orgasm. Ta-da!

WO: If you had to narrow it down to one thing, what would you say is the funniest thing about sex?

RF: I feel like I'm supposed to make a joke here. Sex is always funny...if you can't laugh at yourself as a sexual being, you're doing it wrong. I work out a lot of my sex life on stage, because I owe it to people to talk about something that means a lot to me.

The funniest thing? Colored condoms.

 

The next 'Comedy-Gasm' is this Saturday, May 18th at The Irish Pol (45 S. 3rd Street). Admission is $5.


Interview with South Jersey Stand-up Championship Winner Paul Welsh

Throughout April, High Note Humor (based in Haddonfield, NJ) ran the South Jersey Stand-up Championship at The Taproom Grill.  On April 26th, Paul Welsh took home the championship belt. Here's Paul with more about his stand-up history, writing process, and upcoming shows.

WitOut: How did you first get into stand-up?

Paul Welsh: I was always the one to crack a joke or a funny line but about ten years ago my wife signed me up for a stand-up comedy class at Mercer County Community College as a Christmas present.  She said "You think you are so funny...now go and learn how to do it properly." I got the bug and a group of us from the class continued to work together, writing and performing wherever we could.

WO: What's your joke writing process like?

PW: I was born in England and I tend to notice little differences between  England and America.  I then use these ideas to develop material.  The process isn't always the same, sometimes I get an idea and write the joke within minutes...other times the idea languishes in a notebook for months or even years.

WO: How did you prepare for the South Jersey Stand-up Championships? Did you write a totally new set specifically for the contest, or was it all tried-and-true material?

PW: To be honest I had forgotten about the semi-final until the afternoon of the show...I was cleaning out my garage when I got a reminder email from the High Note guys so I scrambled to put my set together.  So for my semi-final I used all tried and tested material...but I was a bit better prepared for the final and wanted to do a different set so I threw in some new stuff...it seemed to work.

WO: Winning this contest probably felt pretty good, but since you're a comic, I'm assuming you've had plenty of onstage experiences that felt pretty miserable, too. Describe your worst onstage moment, and how/what you learned from it.

PW: I think the most difficult one was when I was starting out and was asked to host a show at a hotel in North Jersey.  They hadn't promoted it very well so nobody showed up...I mean nobody!  At show time the room was completely empty.  So the show's promoter was out in the hotel lobby pleading with people to come in...no cover...no drink minimum.  He persuaded two couples to come in and so I opened the show to those four people.  I learned that whatever the circumstances to perform my set with the same enthusiasm...it was my job to keep those four people entertained so they wouldn't leave.  They eventually did leave but not until after my set!!

WO: What's next for Paul Welsh? Any upcoming shows or other projects in the works?

PW: I am in the process of refreshing my material so I am in writing mode right now.
I have some shows coming up:
5/18 Hornets Nest, Browns Mills NJ
5/31 Hibernian Club, Hamilton NJ
6/1 German American Club, Hamilton NJ
6/7 Sandi Pointe, Somers Point NJ


Interview with B.J. Ellis re: 8 Years of The N Crowd

The N Crowd is turning 8 this year, and to celebrate they're throwing a special anniversary show and party at Ruba Club this Friday.  Read on for more details and reflections on the Crowd's history from Executive Director B.J. Ellis.

WitOut: How did The N Crowd form?

B.J. Ellis: The N Crowd was formed after a pair of auditions held by Ray Reese and Emily Dufton in February of 2005. Mike Connor, Jessica Snow, Brandon Libby and myself were the original cast from that audition.

WO: How has the group evolved over the years?

BJE: The group has evolved in a few ways over the years. Many changes were behind the scenes. As we all gained more experience over the years and as technology changed, we found easier ways to make the show run smoother. For example, the way we sell tickets went from cash-only that week to the ability to order tickets for shows 3 month out.. I honestly can't imagine running the show now without the benefits of technology we now use. Our show is also way funnier now than it was in 2005. We came across some old archive footage of one of our first shows. After watching it I thought to myself, "Whoa...that... isn't...very funny. Yeesh." I feel that the quality of our shows has really evolved. The cast has also changed a lot over the years. I believe over the 8 years nearly 40 people have been in The N Crowd.

WO: What are some of your favorite moments in N Crowd history?

BJE: That is truly a tough question to answer. I enjoy just about every week I am here. My favorite moment nowadays is coming in on a Friday and knowing we have a sold out show. In the early years of The N Crowd, we would have weeks that no one came to the show. Today...I honestly couldn't say when the last time that happened.

WO: Do you have any new goals or plans for the N Crowd as the group enters its 8th year?

BJE: A few goals, a couple of plans. Maybe a hair-brained scheme or two.

WO: What can fans expect from the anniversary show this Friday?

BJE: We are going to be at The Ruba for our anniversary show this year. Unlike our usual shows, this venue has a cash bar. We also will have some pizza there for consumption and after the show there will be dancing. The show starts at 8:30 pm, which is alittle later then usual, just in case anyone goes to The Actors Center [our typical home] accidentally.

The N Crowd 8-Year Anniversary Show is this Friday, April 26th at Ruba Club (414 Green Street). Tickets are $12, which includes the after-party.


"Improppeteers!" - Interview with Joe Sabatino and Kelly Vrooman of Friends of Alcatraz

On the last Friday of every month, ComedySportz is bringing in original outside acts for their 8PM time slot, ahead of their 10PM adults-only The Blue Show.  This month, ComedySportz Presents runs on two bonus days—Wednesday and Thursday—and features Friends of Alcatraz, an improvised puppet show.  Here are cast members Joe Sabatino and Kelly Vrooman with details on the history of the group, the format of their show, and what it's like to play with puppets:

WitOut: Can you give a brief history of Friends of Alcatraz? What sparked your interest in combining improv and puppetry?

Joe Sabatino: I've been making puppets since I was a kid, and I was always too  nervous to actually put them on display or admit to anyone that I like puppets.  But when Kelly and I started dating...

Kelly Vrooman: By the way, we're dating.

JS:  When we first started, I knew we shared a common interest in puppets.  So, I decided to do the creepiest thing for someone you've only been dating for a month and I built a puppet of Kelly's cat Alcatraz.  With it came the idea to do an improvised puppet show called Friends of Alcatraz.

KV: It was a weird yet endearing gesture...but mostly weird. He put the puppet in my arms and said, "I was thinking, um, maybe... you would want to create an improv puppet show with me?"  I reluctantly  said yes.

JS: We gathered a group of our funniest friends, that happen to also be some of the best puppeteers in the city: Dave Jadico, Jason Stockdale and Rob Cutler.  It  was a fascinating group of inventive people that know how to make a puppet come alive.  Thus, FoA was born.

KV: I work with puppets on TV, so I knew I wanted to have monitors for the puppeteers, which led us to want a screen the audience could watch. Once the "impropputeers" (a mind-blowingly awesome name I made up) got used to working with the monitors, the show took off. We took it to the next level by adding an a capella opening number and musical edits (Music by Liz Filios, Lyrics by Kelly and Joe).  Oh, and Joe designed and made a ton of incredible puppets for us to use.  That should probably be mentioned.

WO: What would you say are some of the key differences/challenges between regular improvising and improvising with a puppet?

JS: I think the world is even more infinite than human improv.  The things puppets can do is borderline scary in terms of bringing imagination to life.  Especially the way we present our show.  The puppets can literally do anything we want them to do:  fly, twist into a pretzel, enter the scene from the side of another puppet's head, eat another puppet whole, be as big as a building... The possibilities are endless and with a camera it makes the execution of these things more real.  Because of all of these different elements to play with our minds need to be a clean slate away from reality, almost.  We still play grounded scenes but our "If this, then what" mentality is stretched.  One or two people have questioned this project in terms of legit scene work because we never interact or make eye contact with our scene partners.  When in reality it's the exact opposite.  We are in tune with one another, watching every single nuance of the puppets and reading the body language of our human scene partners.  It's also easier because we, the puppeteers, have monitors we are watching which is the same image as the projection the audience is watching.  This makes it MUCH easier to really know what is going on all around the puppets, and helps us create a scene that not only makes sense, but also looks good in terms of staging, spacing and scene action.  Plus... your arm gets tired.

KV: Well put Joe!  In addition, improvising with puppets is one thing, improvising with puppets for the camera is another thing.  And doing it well, is yet another thing! It's kind of like singing and dancing while acting and juggling.  A bunch of skills have to come together for it to be good.  Sometimes a great improviser can put on a puppet and feel restricted.  Sometimes, an inexperienced improviser can put on a puppet and become great.

WO: What's the origin story of Alcatraz the Cat, the star of the show?

JS: Kelly knows how the cat got his name and what not, but I've always felt like Alcatraz the real cat is a little bit of a dick.  I've NEVER been a cat guy.  In fact I'm comfortable to say that before I started hanging around Kelly's cat I hated cats.  But Alcatraz always fascinated me.  The defining moment for me was when I made a delicious dinner, one night. I dressed the plate nicely, set the mood and it smelled wonderful.  I locked eyes with Alcatraz and he walked over to where I was sitting and eating, which was all the way on the other side of the room.  He slowly walked over, climbed into my lap and put his asshole right into my food.  He got up and walked away.  He made a statement.  So, I made a puppet of him.

KV: I adopted him off the street and held a naming competition with my family.  My sister was in the lead with "The Great Catsby" or "AlCATraz".  Then, that night, the cat escaped out my second story window and got wedged in the bars of the first story window.  Therefore...Alcatraz won.  I really wanted Joe to perform Alcatraz the puppet because I heard Alcatraz's voice in my head as a deep man's voice, but Joe insisted I was the person who should do it.  I reluctantly gave in.   He ended up with an ambiguous European accent that hurts my throat to perform, but it's worth it. We started to joke around about Alcatraz being a sophisticated world traveler, incredibly popular with everyone he meets, the most desired cat in the world.   And if he's that amazing, he'd totally be able to gather a group of weirdos he's met on his travels and convince them to perform in a show, right?  We discovered that he shouldn't even perform in the show because he's too much of a character to be able to pretend to be anyone else in a scene.  So, he introduces the show, the cast of characters and gets the suggestion.

WO: Can you give some details on the format and staging of the show?

KV: Friends of Alcatraz is a long form improvised puppet show.  We don't stick to a rigid format, but we look to play out several scenes then see how those stories intersect.  And spice it up with a happy dose of randomness and frivolous puppet-y fun.

One side of the stage is the "show"—a projected image of the puppets' world.  It's like watching a puppet TV show.  The other side of the stage is the behind-the-scenes creation of that show.  You can watch the finished product projected on the screen while you simultaneously watch the puppeteers create the show.

JS: Our format is very catering to the puppeteers/improvisers.

KV: Impropputeers!

JS:  It was important for me that the presence of our powerhouse improvisers didn't get upstaged by a big screen. People love to see improvisers' minds work and the audience rarely gets to see what it's like beneath the camera of a puppet show.  We've really nailed it on the head in terms of being able to allow the audience to split focus.  It's great to be able to see all the work that goes into the projected image on the screen: shuffling around getting the right puppet, making a prop for a puppet to use, someone helping one puppeteer manipulate their puppet so it can do something specific...etc.  Plus we are a great group of people who are really good at making each other laugh, so the audience gets to see how much fun we are having.  It was important to me to really showcase the humans.  It's an experience to see our show.  It's almost like seeing five shows at once: a puppet show, a TV show, an improv show, a blooper reel and a musical.

KV: That should be our tagline.

WO: What can audiences expect from your upcoming ComedySportz Presents run of shows?

JS: They will see a group of people stretching themselves between skill sets that are difficult, yet work harmoniously with each other.  We've found a system that works and we will keep perfecting it.

KV:  This run, we have some new improvisors (Rachel Whitworth and Caitlin Weigel) who are a GREAT addition to our cast, new AMAZING puppets, and maybe Alcatraz will dance this time.

Catch Friends of Alcatraz at ComedySportz (2030 Sansom Street) this Wednesday-Friday (April 24th-26th) at 8pm. Tickets are $12.