TEN QUESTIONS WITH... Greg Maughan

Greg Maughan is executive director and co-founder of Philly Improv Theater. PHIT's two weeks at the Shubin Theatre begin on Monday.

How and why did you get into comedy?
I first started performing improv and sketch in High School - mostly because I wanted to do something to prove I wasn't just a goody two-shoes to the rest of my classmates (I know what you're saying: "Who would have ever thought Greg was considered a responsible, people-pleasing, brown nose?").

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that?
When I'm improvising I tend to try very hard to play as if whatever is being created is true, not zany. So even if the situation ends up being wild, I look for a way to have the character be realistic. But I also play in dark, twisting, seething ways - I notice that there's a lot of anger underneath what I do on stage: characters who are trying very hard to stay in control while having having pretty black thoughts.

Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you?
I like performing at Philly Improv Theater (PHIT) because I started the theater, but I also really enjoy performing anywhere I don't have to be in charge and can just focus on my performance.

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out?
I really like thinking about the shows that we've had at PHIT that sold out and the vibe and energy they had: A Comic vs. Audience Comedy show that got put on the front page of Philly.com as "Today in Phily", the Bedtime Stories tribute to The Wire (where most of the performers hadn't watched the show!), Adsit & Gausas last year, the big house team in in November. I've also really loved shows I just go to go see: Nobody Dies on Christmas this past December was a great show like that.

Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? Or a sort of method that you use to develop comedic material?
Since I do mostly improv I don't sit down and plan what I'm going to do, but I do think that having a life outside of comedy is really important. Improvisers who do nothing but improv end up doing material that looks like a photocopy of photocopy - they've seen so many shows that they just base their stuff off of other bits they've seen. Walking around, going to new places, hanging out and overhearing other things people say: those are all little slivers of everyday life that I can use to start something when I get on stage.

What is it about improv and sketch that draws you to it?
The spontaneity is what drew me to improv, the idea that it's rush to step out and not know what is going to happen (although I have a vague notion, obviously, that I can pull it off). A lot of the time when I'm performing on stage I'm actually incredibly nervous - sometimes all the skin on my face and hands will just go numb while I'm on stage. It doesn't start until the moment we get the suggestion, and it goes away once the show gets moving, but it's still there sometimes and I don't know why.

When I was doing sketch, the draw was figuring exactly the right way to get a joke to hit - coming up with something funny and then working and working and working it until you had just the right words to convey the idea. I imagine it would be the same way if I started trying some stand-up. I encourage anyone and everyone to bother me to come with them to an open-mic. I just need a little shove, I swear.

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites?
I honestly really like Brendan Kennedy because he's so smart off the top of his head, but not in a showy way - and he just doesn't like BS. I also love how fearless The Feeko Brothers can be -- especially as The Porno Brothers. For improv, I really love Grimacchio at the moment - both Ralph Andracchio and Jason Grimley play so well together. I'm sure I'll have some new obsession in three months though, so many people are coming up so quickly... with the improv I tend to love whoever is new, because I'm excited for them.

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire?
It's a long time ago, and it wasn't exactly "bad" per se ... but in high school I had to go to a meeting with the Principal and members of the school board over material we did in our show and it was a pretty big scandal. Apparently saying teachers were alcoholics, or sleeping with guys on the football, or had giant electric ride on vibrators was possible libel. I'm glad to say that in the last 10 years it has actually come out that everything we did on stage was accurate. Truth in Comedy: 1, Grosse Pointe South High School, 0.

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow?
I think I will surprise exactly no one by saying a space. Especially for improv and sketch comedy there is a need for a real stage, a good-sized theater, where there can be performances every night of the year. For the broader community a home-base is a big deal. I'm doing everything I can, but I'm also learning it is just so much more complex than you could ever imagine until you set out to try and make it happen.

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy?
I would like to start directing sketch groups to help them add that final layer of polish and professionalism to their shows. Everything in town needs just a bit more sprucing up (including the place where we are performing), because it's sad but true that people often start forming their opinions before they hear any jokes.


JUST THE MINUTES with Joe Moore (The Ministry of Secret Jokes)

Editor's note -- excerpts of this report were retracted before going to "print" for reasons we can't explain, and even if we could we couldn't possibly go into it now.

A few blocks away from Fergie’s last night, as my girlfriend I were walking to what we thought was a comedy show, we were stopped by what I believe to be a cloaked Druid. He said I wasn’t allowed to report on the minutes of the Ministry of Secret Jokes – the contents of the meeting couldn’t be revealed to the world. After a few quick rounds of “Riddles,” the Druid and I reached an agreement -- instead of my notebook, pen and phone, he’d allow me to go with a quill, some parchment, and an hour glass.

Instead of Standard hours and minutes, time will be displayed in FHG’s or “Full Hour Glasses” as well as minutes broken into 57ths.

0 – Full Hour Glass - I get to Fergie’s early. I test out the hour glass and realize its bogus – 57 minutes worth of sand instead of the standard hour.
FHG – 5/57 - I receive a “Secret Booklet.” I open and read ahead, although I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to. I don’t finish reading all of it, feeling guilty for skipping ahead.
FHG – 8/57 - Beer 1 -- Anchor Porter arrives.
FHG – 11/57 - An order of nachos is brought to our table. With it comes the first mystery of the evening -- the guacamole that is supposed to be on the nachos has VANISHED!
FHG – 23/57 The room is packed. Standing room only. Some sit on the floor.
FHG – 42/57 - The nachos are as finished as they are going to get.
FHG – 47/57 - Gregg Gethard tells Emily and I story about him almost getting hit by a car at the West Orange Library. While he does that, someone [REDACTED].
FHG – 48/57 - Beer one finishes, and remains finished for a while.
FHG – 53/57 - Less than a thumbnail of sand. We are welcomed by the twice-familiar Andrew Nice Clay. We begin a call and response swearing-in led by Mr. Nice Clay. I say and saw things I thought I would never see or say.
1 FHG - I flip the hour glass for the first time since I sat down, 57 minutes into the show.
1 FHG – 2/57 - The swearing-in ceremony concludes. I’m in the Ministry.
1 FHG – 4/57 - [REDACTED]
1 FHG – 7/57 - Andrew Nice Clay takes note of an outsider named “Tom” in the table nearest to the stage. He makes Tom uncomfortable by showering him in compliments, which in-turn appears to make Mr. Nice Clay uncomfortable.
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TEN QUESTIONS WITH... Dominic Moschitti

Dominic Moschitti is a member of sketch comedy group Bare Hug and with Gamervision, he made this Legend of Zelda trailer that went viral.

How and why did you get into comedy?
I got into comedy as a kid because it was the only way I knew how to make friends. I'd make the other kids in my class laugh with dumb jokes, or recite bits I saw on TV the night before. I remember staying up late with my brothers to watch The State on MTV. I saw how much it made them laugh and thought, "If I could be as funny as these guys then my brothers would think I'm cool!" I am the sixth of seven kids, so in their minds I'm never cool.

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that?
I like big reveals. I love to surprise the audience. Stupid premises are a lot of fun to write. Tim and Eric are a big influence because what they do is so different from the norm. They write what makes them laugh and they have a lot of confidence in what they produce.

Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you?
Sketch Up or Shut Up is my favorite show. It's open mic for sketch and that's really hard to come by. It's a great place to try out an idea that just doesn't seem to be working, or that you think might be too weird, but everyone is more than willing to give notes to you afterward. It's like a big party. It's great.

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out?
Dirtiest Sketch Competition 2010. There were so many great sketches that night.

Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? Or a sort of method that you use to develop comedic material?
I write down any idea that makes me laugh. A lot of my favorite sketches have come from spontaneous ideas, which comes from being in a comedy mindset, so writing every day is important. Workshopping is vital.

What is it about sketch that draws you to it?
Sketch is a lot of fun because there's a sense of camaraderie. You challenge each other to write and perform better, and you don't want to let the other guys down. At the end of the day you will love another man, and that's comedy.

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites?
There are so many awesome stand-up, sketch, and improv groups in Philadelphia. It's amazing. But my absolute favorite are The Feeko Brothers. Billy and Chris are such great performers. I think I got that damn JPB's song stuck in my head again just from writing this.

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire?
We did the Boston Improv Festival in September and I thought we bombed. There were about twenty people in the audience, including a woman who is in charge of sketch at Improv Boston who said she was very excited to see us after watching our Gentlemania sketch. She got up and left half-way through the set. Maybe she had to be somewhere, but it was a good experience. Good shows are awesome, but you can learn from the bad ones.

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow?
Local media coverage. They've done a great job ignoring the comedy scene thus far. All of the coverage in the city is just advertising whatever big-name-comedian is performing at the TLA. Comedy in the city! ...they don't even have chairs at the TLA.

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy?
Just get better and work harder.


TEN QUESTIONS WITH... Mike Rainey

Mike Rainey has developed himself a reputation as one of Philly's most brutal comics, as well as one of the quickest on his feet. He can be seen monthly with his segment Story Time with Mike Rainey at Chip Chantry's One Man Show (with Special Guests).

How and why did you get into comedy?
I thought I was funny but didn’t have the balls to perform. Then, I saw Jim Norton and was blown away by the fact that someone could make me laugh for an hour straight. I soon after started writing jokes but still couldn’t work up the nerve to perform. I then went to see the band Tool perform and there was a moment where the lead singer, Maynard James Keenan, just spoke to the crowd while the band played softly in the background. I just remember him saying the words “take risks” and I felt like I had been punched in the chest. At that point, my mind was made up and I was finally going to do it. One of the reasons why I love performing comedy is that I always get so nervous before a show that I either throw up or have diarrhea.

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that?
I’ve been predominantly set up / punchline from day one, mostly about current events or nonsense that I made up. Lately though, I’ve been working on bits that are more personal and just trying to grow out of what I’ve relied upon up until this point.

Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you?
My favorite venue is The Shubin Theatre (Philly Improv Theater). Almost always a packed house and it is intimate enough as to where I can perform without a mic, which I prefer. As a performer, the most you can hope for out of an audience is for them to be willing to listen. The rest is up to you. The Shubin always allows that.
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The N Crowd

Description: The N Crowd wants you to share a laugh at the Actors Center. They perform improv entirely dependent on suggestions provided by the audience. When you come, you're expected to have a slew of things to yell out when asked for suggestions. You can purchase tickets in cash at the door or online with a major credit card. Doors open at 7:30 pm. RSVP's are held until 7:50 pm.

Style: Improv

Host: The N Crowd

Date: Reoccuring, every Friday

Time: 8:00PM - 10:00PM

Admission: $10 advance, $15 at door

Location: The Actors Center: 257 N. 3rd St., Philadelphia, PA

Contact: Website

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The N Crowd

Description: The N Crowd wants you to share a laugh at the Actors Center. They perform improv entirely dependent on suggestions provided by the audience. When you come, you're expected to have a slew of things to yell out when asked for suggestions. You can purchase tickets in cash at the door or online with a major credit card. Doors open at 7:30 pm. RSVP's are held until 7:50 pm.

Style: Improv

Host: The N Crowd

Date: Reoccuring, every Friday

Time: 8:00PM - 10:00PM

Admission: $10 advance, $15 at door

Location: The Actors Center: 257 N. 3rd St., Philadelphia, PA

Contact: Website

My location
Get Directions

The N Crowd

Description: The N Crowd wants you to share a laugh at the Actors Center. They perform improv entirely dependent on suggestions provided by the audience. When you come, you're expected to have a slew of things to yell out when asked for suggestions. You can purchase tickets in cash at the door or online with a major credit card. Doors open at 7:30 pm. RSVP's are held until 7:50 pm.

Style: Improv

Host: The N Crowd

Date: Reoccuring, every Friday

Time: 8:00PM - 10:00PM

Admission: $10 advance, $15 at door

Location: The Actors Center: 257 N. 3rd St., Philadelphia, PA

Contact: Website

My location
Get Directions

The N Crowd

Description: The N Crowd wants you to share a laugh at the Actors Center. They perform improv entirely dependent on suggestions provided by the audience. When you come, you're expected to have a slew of things to yell out when asked for suggestions. You can purchase tickets in cash at the door or online with a major credit card. Doors open at 7:30 pm. RSVP's are held until 7:50 pm.

Style: Improv

Host: The N Crowd

Date: Reoccuring, every Friday

Time: 8:00PM - 10:00PM

Admission: $10 advance, $15 at door

Location: The Actors Center: 257 N. 3rd St., Philadelphia, PA

Contact: Website

My location
Get Directions