Mark Leopold "Interviews" Aaron Hertzog

Mark Leopold is a Philadelphia improviser, sketch comedian, employee, driver-who-talks-on-his-cell-phone-but-is-constantly-scanning-the-road-for-police-officers-because-then-he’ll- totally-just-drop-his-phone-into-his-lap-and-pretend-he-was-just-resting-his-head-on-his-hand- and-they’ll-never-even-have-a-clue, and a friend. He is a member of the PHIT house team Hey Rube as well as a new addition to the cast of Comedysportz and he does sketch comedy with his group The Hold-up. When he isn’t doing one of these things he is busy doing other things, like working and laundry, and so while he sincerely wishes he was able to be a real interviewer, the best he is able to do is interview people in his head while he drives different places. Today, while on 476 north, Mark took some time to sit down in a very quaint coffee shop in his head with Philadelphia comedian, improviser, sketch guy, and Hey Rube teammate Aaron Hertzog.

MARK LEOPOLD: Hey Aaron, it’s me Mark!

AARON HERTZOG: (laughing) Hey Mark.

ML: I’m glad you took the time to sit down with me today.

AH: I’m happy to do it Mark.

ML: So let’s just dive right in, who are you and what have you done with my son?

Aaron laughs and Mark joins him. Aaron stops laughing and looks at Mark expectantly.

ML: Do you want money? Is that it?

AH: I don’t have your son, I didn’t even know you had a son.

ML: I don’t in real life, but I do here.

AH: Here in your head?

ML: Yes. Here in my head at the coffee shop which, now that I stop and think about it for a second, is just the coffee shop from Inception where Leonardo DiCaprio explains the premise of the movie to Ellen Page.

AH: You want to make everything explode? This is your day dream after all.

ML: Get real Aaron! That would be so derivative.

The coffee shop explodes but, since my memory isn’t great, the way it is rendered leaves a lot to be desired.

AH: That was fun.

ML: Eh.

AH: You didn’t think that was fun?

ML: The whole thing just felt forced.

AH: …okay then.

There is a moment of uncomfortable silence as Mark looks at a speck of something that is floating in his coffee. He hopes it’s just a coffee ground, but with all the explosions and everything, it seems more likely to be a piece of debris. He picks it out of his coffee and wipes his fingers on a napkin. Aaron tries to force small talk.

AH: I don’t drink coffee.

ML: No?

AH: No, I don’t like the taste.

ML: Yeah, I could see that.

AH: I guess I’m not an “adult.”

ML: Do you still like the smell of gasoline?

AH: Yeah.

ML: Me too, but not as much.

AH: That’s weird how you grow to like some smells when you grow up and you stop liking others. You always hear about acquired tastes, but you don’t hear much about acquired smells.

ML: Like body odor.

AH: I don’t think that’s true.

ML: I think I read somewhere that Matthew McConaughey doesn’t wear deodorant because he thinks women like the way he smells naturally.

AH: I bet he smells like vanilla.

ML: …but like, really manly vanilla.

AH: That wouldn’t work out as well for me.

ML: Yeah, me neither, I’m an Old Spice man now. I made the switch. It took a little while for my armpits to stop burning when I put it on, but I think the nerve endings are dead now. So it was tough, but hey, I really like their commercials.

AH: Well you had no choice then.

ML: True. Op! This is my exit Aaron, I gotta run.

AH: See you! Friendship!

ML: Friendship!

The coffee shop re-explodes.

Ten Questions With...Aaron Hertzog

Aaron Hertzog is a member of new Philly Impov Theater House Team codenamed Brandybuck. He is also the host of stand-up comedy showcase Hey Everybody! at PHIT, as well as a member of Hate Speech Committee, Get a Room, and The Hendersons. He is also a co-host of The Holding Court Podcast (editors note: "he" is also "me" and that's why I linked to all my stupid projects...)

How and why did you get into comedy? I started doing stand-up in 2006 after a long flirtation with the idea of doing comedy. I always wanted to be a writer, and still do - and started because I had a friend (Pat House) who had been doing comedy for about two years who finally made me get up and do it. I thought stand-up would be a good place to meet people to write with and work on sketches and other projects. I started improv earlier this year because I thought it would be a good place to work my mind muscles to help come up with stand-up material, and it also looked like a lot of fun. So far, it's been both.

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I would say my style is silly. I think anybody who's ever seen me perform would say I'm pretty much a big, silly, idiot. I like that. I'd also like to say it's smart idiocy, but I can't say that about myself. If somebody else would like to say that I would appreciate it. No? OK.

Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? Philly has a lot of different great places to perform, and I like them for different reasons. A packed, jazzed-up crowd at Helium might provide the most energy - but there's also something awesome about the kind of response at an alt room, like a PHIT show, or The Ministry of Secret Jokes. I think, for me, my style is more alternative, so in a way it feels better when I do well in a more mainstream room. I expect people in an alt room to like what I do - I write for them - but when I make a room full of people I don't think I have anything in common with laugh - it makes me feel good - and also a little like a judgmental asshole because I doubted them.

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? There are moments every now and then that stand out, and they always involve some sort of variety show where a lot of people are on it, and we all hang out after the show. Like when Chip had the Moon sketch contest, or any of the roasts, or Doogie's bachelor party Ministry of Secret Jokes. That's the best part about doing comedy here, the #friendship!

Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? For stand-up, I like to write about things I think are weird, or things that scare me or confuse me (which are a lot of things.) I like to explore a topic and keep adding stuff to it to the point where my joke is way too long. I think I'm the same way when I write a sketch (which is less often). I'm still too new at improv to say that I have a process - my process right now is observing other people and trying to figure out what their process is and what I like about it that I can try to incorporate into my performance. I like to "reverse engineer" material. If I see a joke someone else does that I like, I try to think of how the person wrote it, where the idea came from, and how they got from the observation to the joke - then try to apply that line of thinking when I'm trying to come up with material.

What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do...) that draws you to it? Making people laugh is what has always drawn me to comedy. It's an incredible feeling, and I've always searched for it. It's how I tried to get people to like me when I was younger and it's how I try to get people to like me now. Sometimes it even works.

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? My favorite stand-ups are Brendan Kennedy, Doogie Horner, Chip Chantry and Luke Giordano (does he count anymore?) Brendan is my favorite to watch because he's just an animal - you never know what he's going to do and he's just so quick and that kind of silly-stupid-smart (I hope you know what I mean by this...) that makes up my favorite kind of stand-up comedy. Doogie and Chip are inspirations because they are just constantly working and writing and coming up with great material. Luke is a great writer, and his ideas are always ones that I wish I thought of - thoughts that I've had that I just didn't recognize to turn into bits. I think his style as a stand-up is closest to mine so the fact that I like him a lot might also be a bit narcissistic. The Feeko Brothers are my favorite sketch group, and I think they make me laugh more than anybody else in the world. My favorite improv groups to watch are Medic!, Matt&, Mayor Karen, and any other team that starts with the letter "M" apparently.

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Bombing is always terrible, it makes me feel dead inside - but my worst show experience was when I had to take the side of Inspector Gadget against Batman in a "who is the better detective" debate at the Raven Lounge. I won the debate, and then picked up the microphone and berated the audience for being persuaded that in any universe Inspector Gadget could be considered a better detective than Batman. I felt like I betrayed myself. I don't know how I've been able to sleep since.

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? Like most people will probably say, we need a permanent space - a place that's going to be open every day that the public will know is a place they can trust to come see great comedy all the time. The performers are here, we have great people doing great things, we just need to build an audience of non-performers who trust local comedy. There are a lot of comedy fans in Philly, people go out to see shows of big-named acts all the time. We just need to get them to know that the local acts are good, and worth coming out to see.

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? Ultimately, my goal is to make my living from comedy, so my short term goals are all doing things to work towards making that happen. Which is really, just getting on stage as much as I can and writing and working on material all the time. Not a bad way to spend my time.