Another WitOut EXCLUSIVE: The Making of Tweets of the Week - Featuring Luke Field & Judd Apatow

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enCaLJFNtmo

Luke Field is a Philly Improv Theater instructor, a member of PHIT House Teams Asteroid! (improv) and The Flat Earth (sketch), and one half of the improv duo Hot Dog.

Judd Apatow is The Judd Apatow.


"I Don't Like Girl Comics Either" - Interview with Mary Radzinski

by Alison Zeidman

Mary Radzinski is the sassiest lady-comic to ever hoist up a pair of ovaries and get 'erself up on a stage full o' people ready to laugh at her unique lady-take on wimmin stuff and—just kidding, I'm not going to do that to her.

Mary Radzinksi is the co-host of the Monday night open mic Laughs on Fairmount at Urban Saloon (along with friend and fellow funnyperson Carolyn Busa), and one of the newest additions to the Helium Comedy Club hosting roster.  She's one of the friendliest faces in the Philly comedy scene, an exceedingly talented writer and performer, and really, really funny.

In short, Mary is swell.  For further proof, read on:

 

Alison Zeidman: For people that maybe aren't familiar with you, can you talk about how you got started in comedy?

Mary Radzinski: Six years ago I took a comedy writing class as part of Main Line School Night, and there was a graduation show at the end.  So the first time I did stand-up it was a graduation show, and then I did a couple ones-y little things with people in the class because we were like "We're rockstars, this is amazing!" And then I didn't do anything. I waited a couple years, and four Julys ago I got onstage at an open mic and I've been religiously doing that since.

AZ: What made you want to get started again?

MR: My best friend lives in Fairmount and at the time there was [another] open mic here [at Urban Saloon]. And she was like, "Oh let's go to this bar, there's an open mic, it's Monday nights"—which is funny, same night—and that got me to do it.

AZ: You're one of the newest Helium hosts. Did you do anything special to prepare for your audition?

MR: I think having done the audition a couple years ago and then...you know, we're all still so new in this game, but I think just getting onstage all the time [was the most helpful]. In terms of specific preparation for that show, just being confident in my jokes and trying not to second-guess myself. When I first heard about the audition again, I was like "I need to write all new material!" The self-doubt sets in and stuff. But then I was like no, and I just tried to tweak a few jokes and maybe  strengthen some things that had been going well, and just tried to do my jokes and get out of my own head.

And I have hosted in some clubs, so I think that's helped more in preparation of that longer set for a club show, and knowing like what's a good five minutes, what's a good ten minutes, what's a good fifteen minutes.  And being at Helium while my friends are hosting and watching it, more than anything, I think has given me a little confidence and prepared me.

AZ: Now I'm going to try to not ask you the question you're not going to like—because I think it's a touchy question for any female comic.  So I don't want to ask, "What's it like to be a woman in comedy?" or even "What's it like to be the first female comic on Helium's regular host rotation?", but more like, how do you celebrate that accomplishment, and acknowledge that, yeah, that is significant, but at the same time, keep the focus on the fact that comedy should be comedy, regardless of gender? How do you strike that balance?

MR: I think about it all the time, because I do think it's a numbers game. Helium in Philly has not had a female host [in their regular hosting roster] yet—but I mean, I know Helium's not against females by any means—so I'm excited and I'm proud and I hope that it's because it's at the time that I'm a good comic, or that I will be a good host or an asset for whoever they pair me with as the headliner and that sort of thing.  I do think it's a numbers game where—I was just talking to somebody about this, where if in a lineup of ten comics, there's only one girl, and if that girl's not funny, that just leaves a bad taste for a lot of audience members [in terms of female comics in general].

But I'm trying not to let that "girls aren't funny" thing get me down, and knowing that I wasn't going to become a host there until I was a funny comedian, regardless of gender, makes me feel confident now. I do have as one of my openers, "I don't like girl comics either," and that can be taken several ways—some females can be like, "Why would you do that?"—but I also feel like it's just sort of knocking that sort of preconceived notion...

AZ: Oh totally. It's commenting and poking fun at the idea that that's even a thing.

MR: Yeah. And a lot of times, when people ask, "Who are your favorite comics?" I don't necessarily immediately think of women. I think of people who have made me laugh.  So I want that. And I think that stereotype can be negative, but I also think it's a fun challenge to break through.  There's always going to be someone who's like "You're really funny for a girl, I don't usually like girls," and you get that all the time, and I've learned not to take that the wrong way because there are fewer female comics, and so a lot of times when people don't see a ton of comedy—it's totally a numbers game.

AZ: Your first hosting gig is going to be with Hal Sparks, right? What are you excited about for that week?

MR: Honestly it's so funny, in my head I'm just like "I don't care who it is! I would want to open for anyone there!" But I'm excited. I don't know a ton about Hal Sparks—I'll clearly do my homework—but from what I understand I think he does have a decent female following, and you know, could that be why they paired me with him? Probably, but I also like that—because I'm just looking forward to a full room.

AZ: OK, and this will hopefully be a fun question: What would be your fantasy hosting gig?  Who would feature, who would headline, who would heckle that you would get to shut down, and who would come up to you afterwards and tell you that they really liked you? Anyone in the world.

MR: Oh my god...that's amazing. Oh god, there's so many. I mean my favorite comedians, like I love Louis CK, to open for someone like that...this is going to get me!

AZ: Have you ever seen High Fidelity? This is going to be like at the end when that reporter interviews him and asks for his all-time top 5 songs or albums or whatever it is, and he's calling her every fifteen minutes to change his list.

MR: Yeah! I will definitely think about this...

AZ: You can send it to me later if you want.

MR: Can I? Because I definitely love that question, and I totally...if I give you an answer now, I would be texting you later to change it.

 

A week later, after a lot of thought and apologies for the delay, Mary sent me her responses. She reserves the right to change them at any time.

Headliner: Louis CK
Feature: Hannibal Buress or Kyle Kinane
Heckler: Some self-important dick from Everywhere, USA, or Adam Carolla
Person Who Liked Me: Seth MacFarlane or Bill Murray, or Sarah Silverman—along with the entire waitstaff from the venue. And then long after the show was over, Adam Carolla.

 

See Mary weekly at Laughs on Fairmount at Urban Saloon (2120 Fairmount Ave.), and this week at Helium Comedy Club (2031 Sansom St.) with Hal Sparks from Nov. 29th-Dec. 1st.

Alison Zeidman is a stand-up comedian, improviser, and Editor for WitOut.net.

Another WitOut EXCLUSIVE: The Making of Tweets of the Week - 30th Street Station Edition

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PR_9hb82BUM&feature=youtube_gdata_player


BREAKING: WitOut Editor Alison Zeidman Releases Own 2013 WitOut Awards Nominations

In the interest of full disclosure surrounding my influence as a WitOut editor on the nominations and voting process for the 2013 Witout Awards for Philadelphia Comedy, and in response to pressure from one Mr. Donald J. Trump, I have decided to publicly release the contents of my nominations form:

BEST STAND-UP COMEDIAN
Alison Zeidman
I've only been doing stand-up for about two months, but I thought about doing it for two years before that, so.

BEST SKETCH GROUP
Alison Zeidman
I've never been part of a sketch group, but I can see myself potentially doing that one day, maybe, and this award might just be the encouragement I need.

BEST IMPROV GROUP
Malone, starring Alison Zeidman
Steve Rogers is Dead, starring Alison Zeidman
The N Crowd, starring Alison Zeidman

BEST STAND-UP BIT
"Toilet Seat Pregnancy" by Alison Zeidman
This totally bombed the third time I did it, but so what? I had a lot of really rough conditions working against me (humidity, grilled cheese craving, middle class upbringing).

BEST SKETCH
"Peanut Butter and Jelly in Divorce Court" by Alison Zeidman
This is not a sketch that has ever been performed, or actually written, but it is an idea for a sketch I had once.

BEST MALE IMPROVISER
Alison Zeidman
I'm not struggling with my sexuality, I just think my work transcends gender.

BEST FEMALE IMPROVISER
Alison Zeidman
When you've been doing improv for as little time as I have, you have every reason to think you're the best.

BEST REGULAR SHOW
I'd like to nominate every show/theater I've performed with in the last year, but I'm only allowed up to three (3), so I'll have to combine them:
The PhillyImpSideNTheaterShowRookiePolyCardGonRicRac

BEST SHORT-RUN OR ONE-TIME SHOW
Myths & Monsters presented by Philly Improv Theater for the Philly Fringe Festival, starring Alison Zeidman

BEST PODCAST OR WEB SERIES
Does WitOut count as a web series?  It's on the web, and it has a series (se·ries [seer-eez] noun, plural se·ries 1. a group or a number of related or similar things, events, etc., arranged or occurring in temporal, spatial, or other order or succession; sequence) of posts.

SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN THE FIELD OF TWEETING
Alison Zeidman (@alisonzeidman)
I tweet occasionally. It's all gold. And when it's not, I just delete it later, unless I forget to.

BEST OPEN MIC
Again, I would like to nominate all open mics I have appeared at in the last year, combined:
LaughsonFairJamHeadHouseCenterCityAccidentsWillNoche

BEST NEW ACT
Alison Zeidman as Alison Zeidman and/or in any joint involving Alison Zeidman

All jokes aside, may the best performers, writers, producers, etc. win! (But also all jokes aside aside, I plan to sweep the whole thing and I will close nominations early if it looks like that isn't going to happen.)


WitOut EXCLUSIVE: The Making of Tweets of the Week

It may look effortless, but keeping WitOut running takes hours of focus, concentration, and sitting.  Our editors and writers put their cold little hearts and dark, empty, unfeeling souls into everything they do for the site, in the hopes that readers like you will laugh at, learn from, and/or passive aggressively comment on their work.  The rewards are few and far between, but the false sense of importance that comes with being part of the WitOut team is certainly worth it!

Here's a behind-the-scenes look at the making of one our most popular new features, "Tweets of the Week," curated by editor Aaron Hertzog:

Featuring Aaron Hertzog
Professionally Filmed by Alison Zeidman
Musical Score by Greg Maughan

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOP8FjeTV6o

Whoa! Eye-opening!

And wait a minute, don't you wish that could be YOU? Wait...yeah...hey wait, yeah, you do! Email alison@witout.net to pitch your own WitOut feature or column, or to start receiving weekly emails of assignment opportunities.


Creator Spotlight: Polygon

By: Alison Zeidman

Back in July at Joe Gates's apartment, I met with the producers of Polygon (Joe Gates, Marc Reber, Milkshake and Rick Horner via phone) to talk about how they got started, how they’ve blown up, and what’s next for their beloved monthly variety show.  During our chat, Joe offered me cherries he'd received in the mail from his mother, Rick was interrupted several times, Milkshake shared his views on circumcision, and I learned that  the men of Polygon have a...special...place in their hearts for my own improv team, Malone.
Alison Zeidman:Can you guys tell me how Polygon started?

Joe Gates: My group Rintersplit, which is Marc Reber, myself and Matt Akana, and Rick Horner with Claire Halberstadt as Suggestical, a little over a year ago had a show out at Milkboy in Bryn Mawr, and then we went out to a diner afterward and we were talking and it was like hey, it would be really great to start something up for people coming out of classes who really want to perform and really want to form a group, but aren’t finding spaces.

AZ: Is that still the primary goal, or mission, for Polygon? To be a place for new groups, or groups that struggle to get shows elsewhere?

Rick Horner: I might say our purpose is to encourage new comedic technique and encourage the performances of groups that are in the Philadelphia area at a pretty professional level, and focus on group dynamics as opposed to individual abilities, and really kind of provide a framework for the administrative operational side to encourage the integrity of the folks that are performing to perform in a professional way.

JG: We’ve actually been doing the Polygon show for over a year now; our birthday was back in April. We started out at another venue and ever since we’ve moved to L’etage we’ve just sort of upped the ante. I have more of a theater background [and at L’etage] we can just run it like a theater show.

AZ: Where were you guys before, and why did you move to L’etage?

JG: We were at Tabu before, a sports bar, and it was more of a...it was difficult to work with the sound of the bar behind us and it was a converted area that was sort of a stage but not quite, and we thought well we could get a place with an actual stage, and that’s where L’etage came in. We have a tech booth there, and we can do lighting, so instead of waving a phone madly at somebody to be like you have five minutes left, we can actually dim the lights and make it very professional. Originally we were only improv, but we saw a lot of things like storytelling really growing, and sketch, so we thought let’s include everybody.

AZ: Do you do most of the outreach to find those performers and groups, or do they come to you?

JG: Originally it was more of us doing the outreach, but we started to post on Facebook and just kind of put the word out there. So some of it’s kind of coming from the community now, now that we’ve kind of established ourselves a little bit.

AZ: So it’s new groups, developing teams, and also people trying to test things out a little bit.

JG: Yeah. I mean we’re not an open mic [laughs]. It’s different from an open mic in that you don’t get just three minutes and then somebody cuts you out. Again it’s more professional; we’re trying to make this like an actual show.

AZ: And where does the name come from?

RH: I think there was a strong push to make it Voltron because of the idea that Voltron is a bunch of pieces that get pushed together, but I thought that was just a little bit too straight on the money, so we kept discussing it until we came up with Polygon, which is just many different facets of something that’s all one thing.

AZ: Rick, you’re involved with so many different projects, your own groups, and F Harold, too. What do you feel sets Polygon apart, or what’s different about it for you as a producer?

RH: I think Polygon is just another piece of the puzzle. I would say that these things, whether it be Incubator or F Harold or Polygon, these are all levers that are designed to provide growth, whether it be with a mentor, or a venue. Whatever type of thing is needed. And I think for Polygon it’s really switching the lever of connecting folks and exchanging ideas and information with a bunch of people who are actively involved in the sketch community and the improv community and the stand-up community. So it’s a meeting point, and some of our shows have been really fluid like that, but it hasn’t always been that way. Thus far we have sought people out; it’s just now that folks are realizing that we’re more than just a monthly show, and they’re starting to seek us out.

AZ: And it seems like as much as it is for the community, the Polygon shows that I’ve been to usually have a lot of non-performers in the audience, so I’m curious about how you guys go about marketing your shows.

RH: Marketing is definitely a big focus for us. It’s fun to perform, and it’s more fun to perform for an audience, but given a choice between an audience of your peers, who are also doing it, and people who have never seen you before, it’s more fun and yet more challenging to perform for people when they have really no idea what to expect.

JG: I think the last Polygon we had maybe thirty people who were non-performers.

AZ: And why do you think that is? I work for the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and I know from communicating with Marc that you guys are advertising on Phillyfunguide. Has that been successful for you guys?  Or maybe it’s not just that, but do you know how these outside people are finding out about you?

Marc Reber: We had a bunch of people mention that they’d seen us online, and Phillyfunguide does come up high when you search on Google.

RH: I think we are working on market research and figuring out who’s coming to our show and who our target audience is, but we’re kind of locked in on what we feel like people might be willing to pay, and frankly I think that it’s less than what is being charged at other theaters. I feel better about having a well-attended show that costs less, as opposed to a medium-sized show that costs more.

MR: And I think the last three months, we’ve tried to branch out our marketing, and I think it has improved things because we’ve definitely seen more and more people, who aren’t just improvisers.

AZ: So besides Facebook and Phillyfunguide, if you were going to make a recommendation for somebody else trying to market their show, could you say more about what’s worked for you guys?

MR: I think the next step is seeing what actual advertisement does. The online stuff is very voluntary--like someone has to actually be looking to go to an event to happen to be on Phillyfunguide, as opposed to seeing an advertisement as they’re reading a newspaper or something.  But either one of those, the online or the advertising, is just a way to expand your audiences.

JG: I think opening up Polygon to more than just improv has helped the numbers, too. I spoke to a couple at the last show and they said we’re just here to have a good time. We have no idea what’s going to happen, we just like to get out of the house. And I was like, this is the perfect place for you.

MR: And I want to second that to the extent that opening up to all forms of comedy in Philadelphia has made it easier to find acts, and that leaves more time for things like marketing.

AZ: Do you think the venue has anything to do with it?

MR: Yeah, it’s just a really great venue. It’s hard to deny that. And the bar is right there, it’s a very nice bar, it’s just a pleasant...it’s a total experience. And that venue has always been very popular, so we’re very lucky to be in that space.

AZ: Can we get into the specifics of what it takes to put on your own show? What are some of the technical challenges of just producing the show the night of, or leading up to it?

JG: Getting a variety of acts to come in, that’s the main challenge I think.  And I think one thing that people talk about often on the Philly Comedy Network on Facebook is getting the shows to start on time, so curtain is always at 8:05 just as a courtesy, but performers have to be there ahead of time. So call time is at 7, and then doors open at 7:30, and you let people in and really I think the call time for the performers was the most difficult thing, but it was also the best thing for the show in terms of structure. Because they have time to warm up, sort of situate themselves, look at the stage instead of coming in maybe five minutes after one group has already started and seeing oh that stage isn’t going to work for us, or the lighting is wrong, or we need more chairs. So getting everybody there ahead of time, it just makes everything work kind of like clockwork. And definitely getting a space that you love and other people love coming to and love performing at, that’s pretty important.  And I guess just kind of organizing the groups is kind of fun too. You want something really powerful and awesome, you want something that people have never seen before but will really make them think about coming back, and you want new people too. We love new people, we love their lovely faces. And I think [your team] Malone is an excellent example of that; you guys are kind of really climbing the ladder.

RH: Yeah don’t forget to mention Malone, say something about how great they are.

JG: Malone is one of the most attractive...

Milkshake: They’re really good looking, is the thing. It’s hard to compete. No matter how good your team is, you have to compete with the fact that Malone is a very, very fuckable team.

MR: And there are more than five of them, so.

Milkshake: There’s more to choose. As if you needed to choose. Any one of them, male or female, they’re all..

AZ: One of our members is under 18...I’ll just point that out.

Milkshake: I don’t care! I don’t discriminate!

MR: Let’s say very kissable.

Milkshake: Very kissable!

JG: I would hold hands with any member of that team, on a date, in a meadow.

AZ: Let’s talk about what upcoming things you guys have planned.

JG: Well I’m really looking forward to the October show. October is one of my favorite months. I grew up with ghost stories and things like that, so I want to get Rintersplit to perform in October because we’re kind of more ghost-oriented, and there are a couple of storytellers I would really like to get in and tell some gnarly ghost story stuff.

AZ: Do you usually try to do themed shows?

JG: I’m getting more into it. Like our last show we had at Tabu, it was all ladies’ night, lady-oriented, and it was Mani Pedi’s first show and they are fantastic.

MR:  But that’s not really our point, our point is more just to have a show that everyone can enjoy, that performers can enjoy, and an opportunity for us to perform, because we are among the independent comedy community. So if the theme works out great, and if there are opportunities like October and Halloween, then it’s like hey, why not go for it.

AZ: Can you guys talk a little bit more about some of the new components of the show, like Philly Secrets?

MR: Well Milkshake is the director and he had the idea of doing something along the lines of Post ecret, where the idea is that people send in their secrets and essentially they’re shared but still secret because they’re anonymous. And to the extent that these are very moving pieces, they provide a lot of emotion and a lot of background, things that are all in improv.

Milkshake: I think just one nice thing about the Secrets show is that the source material itself, the secrets that we use, particularly when they come from PostSecret it’s a very visual experience, it’s a quick snapshot of somebody’s situation that they’re having difficulty dealing with. So they create this anonymous art, and they send it to Frank Warren in Baltimore and they get it off their chest and they share it with other people.  Just those in and of themselves are so interesting that to do theatrical work that’s inspired by that, wow, you’ve got a great diving board into a beautiful swimming pool to kick off from.

AZ: Are you using the secrets from PostSecret, or are you soliciting your own?

Milkshake: We’re soliciting secrets from Philadelphia, however the method by which I had chosen to do that was insufficient and I wasn’t getting the responses that I need. We’re still working on acquiring more, but yeah, the first two performances were entirely reliant on secrets from the PostSecret website. And I have no beef with that, but I want to do the show about secrets of people from Philadelphia. And the scenes that we see can be usually funny but not necessarily, especially with somebody like Kristen Schier on the team, who loves any opportunity to do improvised dramatic work. And a nice thing that was pointed out to me is when you take a secret that’s difficult to deal with, like one that’s about abuse or addiction, that usually won’t be a funny scene, but the scene after that, as long as it’s remotely funny, the audience is so ready to laugh that the response is usually pretty explosive.

AZ: How was it determined that Phily Secrets would be a good feature for Polygon?

JG: It’s so fresh, and so new, and it’s a very rich format and it’s laden with dramatic scenes.

Mlikshake: And there’s a lot of sexual ones.  There are a lot about penises.

JG: [whispering] This is going in the paper!

Mlikshake: Well, she’ll snip and cut. Edit.

AZ: I don’t want to snip and cut any penises...

Milkshake: Don’t, no! Don’t do that, it’s not necessary. It has no medical benefit. But I was going to say, I would like to do an entire Secrets performance where we’re free to  choose the sexual material if we want to, but not have it foisted upon us. And that’s kind of my job as host and curator, to choose the secrets that we’ll work from. But then I think to myself, it would also be cool to have a show where every scene is of a sexual nature.

JG: I’m going to go back and try to answer the question that you asked. I think another one of the reasons that we picked Secrets as kind of a Polygon mainstay is because there’s so many different things that come out of it that we don’t really see in improv, and that’s kind of what we’re all about, the new stuff, the fresh stuff.

AZ: And it sounds like Secrets also has this level of built-in theatricality and drama, and sort of that elevated level of theater that you’re trying to present with Polygon.

JG: When I was a student of dramaturgy, three of the questions that we always asked ourselves of a play where why this play, why now, and why this audience?

Milkshake: We did go over those questions. Did I answer them well?

RH: You answered them. I don’t know how well.

Milkshake: Were you dissatisfied, Rick, with my answers? Do you remember dissatisfaction?

RH: Well you seemed dodgy and unconfident, that’s all.

Milkshake: OK, that sounds like me.

JG: You mentioned at many times during your presentation that people are fascinated by real people’s lives.  But also these people are opening themselves up to us. And kind of trusting us with a secret.

Milkshake: And in turn I feel like the work the cast is doing by improvising a scene is kind of metaphorically putting their arm around that person and embracing them. We’re exploring it and experiencing it with them, sort of, to the best of our ability, through theatre.

AZ: So just to wrap up, Polygon is once a month at L’etage, and the best way to book a show is to...

JG: Contact Joe or Mark.

AZ: And if you have a secret that you want to see explored in Philly Secrets?

Milkshake: The best way is to go to formspring.me/phillysecrets.

MR: And Polygon is once a month, at L’etage, but we’ll also be part of Fringe again this year, and I’ll let Rick talk a little bit about that.

RH: We’re finalizing the venue, but I expect that this year there’s going to be some good surprises, which I’m not certain I’m ready to divulge quite yet. I might describe the Fringe this year as more opportunities for people to get involved. And there’s likely to be some sort of a process specifically to submit to the Fringe shows which will be coming out pretty soon, so people will have slightly more control over their involvement.

JG: So look for updates online, and if you have something new and beautiful and need a space to do it, we’d love to check you out.

The next Polygon show is Tuesday, August 14th at 8 pm at L’etage (624 S. 6th Street). Tickets are $5.


Wet Behind the Ears: Talkin' 'Bout Debutin' with Tap City

Tap City is a brand new sketch project from stand-up comic/improviser Aaron Hertzog and improviser Luke Field, two of the most modest fellas you'll ever meet.  They have zero confidence in their abilities as sketch writers (or possibly all the confidence in the world, and this entire interview was a sham).  Their debut show is this Wednesday at Camp Woods Plus, and there's a strong chance that anyone, everyone or no one who comes and laughs will get a big fat kiss from Luke.  

Alison Zeidman: How did Tap City start?

Aaron Hertzog: I started doing stand-up as a way to get into sketch, because I thought I would like sketch more. That's kind of backwards I guess, instead of just starting a sketch group. I was like, I'll do this, and then meet people to do sketch groups with, and then it got away from me. I liked stand-up more than I thought I would. And then eventually I wanted to do a sketch group, and Luke was the first person that I thought of that I wanted to work with and who wasn't already in a group.

Luke Field: I come from a pretty strictly improv background, and I wanted to...expand my horizons...comedically. We were originally working with a few other people, a lot of busy people, and it kind of petered out.  Then we just found that we were writing some things that were almost exactly similar in tone and style, so we just started meeting together.

AZ: How did you come up with the name Tap City?

LF: We went to a website of old hobo slang.

AH: We went to a bunch of websites.  That wasn't the first one we went to.

AZ: OK, what was the step before the hobo website?

AH: We were kicking around ideas, things that we liked, words, phrases, random things, just trying to keep together a short list of ideas. And I think we both liked the ring of the word "city," but never went back to it, and when we finally had to come up with a name we were looking up old slang websites—

LF: I like old people.

AH:  Yeah, we both like old-timey slang and stuff like that. So we found one that was old-timey hobo slang.

AZ: And what does it mean?

LF: It means you're broke. It's a really thrilling story of discovery and excitement.

AZ: Through Google.

LF: Which is modern day Indiana Jones.

AZ: Can you talk about what sketch does for you in terms of creative fulfillment that you don't get out of stand-up or improv?

AH: I like working with other people, and bouncing ideas back and forth. I love the writing process in sketch. Like if I come up with an idea and I write a first draft, and then Luke will read it and give me ideas and jokes, and things to tighten up. I love the collaborative creative process of coming up with something together.  Some of my ideas come from improv scenes that I want to make better. It's like the core of it was good, and now I want to strengthen it.

LF: I'm doing improv 3 or 4 times a week, and it's sort of disposable, but you're generating a lot of material.  And I just wanted to challenge myself, too, because I had never really done any writing. Also it's just a really good way for us to just beat ourselves up emotionally, and hate the work that we're doing.

AH: It's good pressure to put on yourself...

AZ: What kind of pressure do you feel with doing sketch?

LF: In improv, the audience gives you some leeway to fail, I feel. Even though you don't want to. You want to get up onstage and put on a great show. And ultimately a great improv show will feel and sound like a sketch show. You're basically writing a sketch on your feet. I feel like if we're presenting this material that we've been working on for months and months and months, though, an audience is going to scrutinize it a lot more. So that makes for me an added level of anxiety.

AZ:  Do you feel those expectations from an audience when you're doing sketch, when you're actually performing?   Can you get a sense of that with the laughs or whatever feedback you're getting from a sketch audience, versus an improv audience?

AH:  I think so.  It's gotta be a lot tighter than an improv scene.

LF: I know for stand-up and especially for me for improv, we're trained to just hear that laugh and follow it. Well I know it's not like part of the training, but for me the first thing that I hear a laugh from, I think that's probably something interesting that can be repeated and done over again, explored more. And even with stand-up it becomes a rhythm—I guess. I don't know anything about stand- up.  But it's a little bit tougher when we're just sitting together by ourselves.

AH: Yeah, to know what's funny. Stuff that makes us laugh might not make a crowd laugh and that's something that I've learned through doing stand-up for almost six years, that everything that I think is funny a lot of people aren't going to think is funny. And it's just trying to figure it out before you get onstage, and also doing stuff onstage that fails, too.

LF: That's why Sketch Up [at Philly Improv Theater] is so great.

AH: Yeah, for stand-up I have open mics. I can go to open mics almost any night a week if I have a new joke and try it out, and it's less pressure because it's just an open mic and if it doesn't go well it's probably just for other comedians. But with sketch, other than Sketch Up there's no real way to test stuff. We have a sketch in the show on Wednesday that we just did at Sketch Up because we wanted to see how a crowd would react to it, and it was good because we were able to cut the sketch down and tighten it up.

AZ:  When do you feel like a sketch is finished, or in a finished enough state to be presented for your show? Do you feel like a crucial step is getting feedback from an audience and then going back and editing?

AH: Just from watching sketch and being around it, you know the beats of it and you know like an outline...you know where you want the sketch to go and how you kind of want it to end, but I don't know, as far as knowing when something is completely ready, I never feel like something is completely ready. I hate everything I do [laughs] and I work on it forever.

LF: I feel like a total fraud giving this interview.

AZ: If you hate everything you do, what drives you to keep doing it?

LF: Just a lot of self-hate.

AH: Yeah, I need the self-hate to keep going. Because I need something to hate myself about.

LF: It's the Dunning-Kruger effect. People who feel they're really good at something are usually going to be the worst at it, and then the people who [are actually good at something] will never be totally satisfied because they also [know enough about it to know] how much better it can be.

AH: So what we're trying to say is that we're really good because we don't think we're good. Right?

LF: We're determined...and it's nice to have some great sketch comedy in the city to kind of look to. and is something to strive for.

AZ: Are there specific goals that you guys want to reach as Tap City? Or is there just a general sense of always striving to be better?

AH: I don't know, I don't think we set any goals other than to just have good shows.

LF: Yeah, the goal was July 25th. And then after that it was kind of...we'll see what happens. But for me I want to just get stronger as a writer. Get in the habit of writing every day, or more than I already do, and maybe find a style.  I feel like every sketch group in the city, the ones that have been around for awhile, all have their own style and voice.

AZ: And you feel like you guys are still working on yours?

LF:  Yeah, we have nothing.

AH: We have things that we wrote that we thought were kind of funny, but I don't feel like there's a coherent voice yet.  And like Luke said, I also want to use it as an opportunity to just make myself write all the time, every day, and to put stuff out in front of people even if it's just Luke. Even if it's just sending it to Luke and getting notes and rewriting. I'm not a good rewriter, so that's something I want to work on. I write something and then I get stuck in it and it's hard for me to change it.

AZ: This might be a really weird question and might not make any sense, but I'm going to go for it.  Is it important that you know a sketch is funny when you're writing it? I feel like in improv you're told "don't chase the laugh," and  just commit to your character and commit to the relationship in the scene, and the humor will come out; you'll discover the humor or the audience will discover things that they find humorous just because you're committed and you're playing the scene. With sketch, do you feel like you could just write a scene, and not necessarily write jokes, and still have it be funny? Or is it more deliberate, that it has to be funny?

AH: I think it deliberately has to be funny. I've seen some sketches from groups where it's like there's a character sketch and the joke to the audience is supposed to be either you know a person like this or it's a crazy person and look at how crazy they are, and there's not a lot of hard jokes in it, and it falls flat. I think for sketch, it has to have jokes in it and it has to be more than just—because there are a lot of funny ideas, but translating it to sketch has to have the jokes. I think I have a lot of funny ideas and premises in my head, but turning them into sketches that are actually funny is the hardest part.

LF: In improv, you might start from a real place and you can get away with that in improv, but I think in sketch you have to heighten it.  Yeah, you know somebody like this, but we want to push it to the max.

AH: Yeah, I think in improv you get away with it more, or it's more acceptable, because you're making it up. But in sketch, all of the things you're supposed to be thinking of in improv, like heightening things, or "if this is true, then what else is true," since you have the time to write that out and actually think of it and prepare, you have to do it. If you don't necessarily do those things in an improv scene you can get away with being a funny character or working the relationship or the situation and it can be kind of stagnant and not go anywhere and still be funny, but in sketch if you try to do that it's just...yeah.

LF: I've seen a lot of improv shows and been like, "oh that was interesting." But if I'm seeing sketch I don't want it to be interesting, I want to think, "oh that was fucking funny."

AZ: So you can have a good improv scene that isn't necessarily funny but with sketch it has to be funny.

LF: Ultimately I think the goal in most improv--and I'm sure there will be people who disagree with me--but you're trying to make the audience laugh. And with sketch it's even more of that. At least with sketch comedy--I don't know if sketch really lends itself to tragedy.

AZ: Maybe that could be the niche you guys are looking for.

AH: It'd probably be a lot easier. And we might get more laughs, too. If we're just being serious, deadpan...I think you just helped us develop our voice.

AZ: So without revealing too much, what kind of things can people expect from you on Wednesday?

LF: You're going to see two charming, gee whiz, aw shucks fellas do their best, even though they're green...

AH: Don't sell us short, Luke!

LF: I think it's going to be...OK...

AH: Well, what do we expect or what should other people expect? Other people will expect to see a good show from Camp Woods, and a first show from Tap City.

LF: Tap City: We're first.

AH: Tap City: the openers.  But no, I'm excited, I like all of the sketches that we're doing. They're all things that we have sort of tested at Sketch Up or other open mics or things that we've both taken into the sketch writing classes at PHIT, but a lot of them [aren't things we've performed] with each other, which will be interesting.

LF: I'm just ready to have fun. And until that moment when we get onstage, I'm going to be tearing my hair out in agony, and self doubt, and...

AH: I'm not going to eat, between now and the show.

LF: I just ate my last piece of food, a brownie from Cosi. By the way, plug for Cosi: The brownies are great, you should get the one with cheesecake in it.

AZ: Cosi brownies: the official dessert of Luke Field from Tap City.

LF: I have a lot of official desserts.

AZ: Just send me a list, and we can run it alongside the interview.

See Tap City this Wednesday, July 25th at CAMP WOODS PLUS!, 8:30 pm at L'etage.  Tickets are $10 at the door.


Creator Spotlight: Gettin' Close with Mike Marbach of Gettin Close with Mike Marbach to Talk about The Sideshow

When he's not logging hours as Philly Improv Theater's Education Director or piddlin' away time on conversations with comedy unknowns like Rich Talarico (improviser and writer who's worked on a bunch of stuff no one's ever heard of like Saturday Night Live) and Greg Proops (from another show no one's ever heard of, Whose Line is it Anyway?) for his Gettin Close with Mike Marbach podcast, Mike Marbach's other regular gig is producing The Sideshow at The Arts Parlor. We sat down before Mike had to coach a practice for PHIT house team Asteroid (yep, he does that, too) to talk about what goes into producing a successful comedy showcase, and what's next for Sideshow this season.

Alison Zeidman: How did Sideshow start? Give me the origin story.

Mike Marbach: I [originally] wanted to do it in Chicago. In Chicago I was part of a group called Club Group Team, and we did a form that was very organic, very much like ZaoGao does now, a form called Punchline. And then there was also this form that somebody would do called Kumate, which was an improvised martial arts thing, and then what I wanted to do was have a revolving third spot, which would be something else that was completely different. It wasn't picked up. So, when I moved to Philly, I still had the idea in mind and because PHIT only has The Shubin two weeks out of every month, and I wanted something to fill that space, because I teach a lot, and I had a lot of students in classes that weren't seeing shows. There would be some weeks where there were zero improv shows to see, and I hated that. So that's one of the main reasons I started Sideshow, just to fill the in the gaps between PHIT weeks, so there would be at least one improv show to see each week.

AZ: But the idea is that it's its own entitity, too, right? It's not just something to do because you can't go to PHIT?

MM: Right. It's not an extension of PHIT. Your [free student] pass is no good at Sideshow. Because one of the other reasons I started it is that I wanted to have a low-cost place that allowed me to just give the money back. I don't make anything from doing Sideshow. The Arts Parlor costs very little to rent, and then any money above that goes right back to the performers, so it's pretty much whoever they can get to come out, because I don't do much in the way of advertising. Actually I didn't used to, now I'm starting to do a little bit more, becuase of course the more people that come to the show, the more money the performers make.

AZ: So are those the primary goals? More opportunities to be able to see comedy and see improv, and also more opportunities for performers to make a profit?

MM: Yeah, and there's a few other things to it too. There were groups that were popping up and premiering their act at places like CAGEMATCH or a festival, like the Philly Improv Festival or F Harold Festival or Duofest, and that's cool and all, but if I was improvising in those gorups I would definitely not want my first show to be in a high-pressure environment such as a festival. I'd much rather do it in a more controlled, fun, supportive environment—not to say that those aren't, but I mean, you can pack this place with as many people as you want, with your friends, with your family, and you have a lot less control like that at other shows.

AZ: So people can use it as a testing ground.

MM: Yeah. And that was one of the main ideas especially at the start, definitely more experimental. I really envisioned it just being more of a show for performers, rather than a show for anybody else. I didn't think it would grow the improv scene by any means, I just wanted a place where people could cut loose and do something that was different. Then that started growing pretty fast.

AZ: Have you ever had to turn someone down, if they pitched an act and it was just too weird?

MM: No, nobody's ever been turned down. People have been postponed, because [it's become very popular], but I've never turned anybody down for it.

AZ: Since it's an extension of the improv scene and a place to see more performances but also a place for people to workshop things, who would you say is the primary audience? Is it more insular, or open to the general public?

MM: At first the main idea was that it would definitely be an insular show for performers, but even after the first show I quickly learned that that wasn't really the case. Maybe because of the fact that it all comes down to the money of things, that people know that the more people they bring to the show the more money they walk away with. But we definitely do get a lot of performers too, because as friends of each other we love seeing people step out of their comfort zones and do things that they don't normally do, or be in a space that they're not normally in.

AZ: Yeah it's interesting, whenever I've come to a Sideshow it's always been really packed, even though you're saying historically you haven't done too much marketing for it. But you said you're starting to try to do some more of your own promoting, instead of just leaving it to the performers?

MM: I could, but I kind of like leaving it to the people. I mean I produce the show, and I book the acts with the help of the guys from Beirdo, but it started off mostly just people that were in the shows doing the publicizing, and it kind of remains that way. I like the producing of it, the booking, but beyond that I don't really want to have that much to do with it. I don't know, it's done well so far without me pushing anything: We've gotten the attention of different papers, different online blogs and things like that, and we've been able to do partnerships with Troika that have been really successful...plus, there's only so many chairs.

AZ: Can you talk a little more about what really goes into putting on your own show? What you've learned, or maybe what advice you might give to somebody who wanted to start their own thing?

MM: Find a place that's cheap enough, because there may be nights when you're not going to make the rent. Don't pick a place where you're going to consistently lose money—and that's where the Parlor's been fantastic.

AZ: How did you find this place?

MM: Asteroid has practiced here weekly for about two years, and there was a group I used to coach called Leo Callahan who used to do shows here about once a month before they split, so I just kind of picked it up after they were done. Um...what else...ask admission. Ask people to pay for your shows. Free shows are cool, but I really feel that what we do has value, and maybe I'm only putting the value of $5 on it, but that's also because I want it to be super accessible. Plus it fits the space. This isn't a theater; this is a converted, sweaty dance studio. And really think about what kind of show you 're trying to put on. Think about if you want to do a variety show, or if you really just want to do an improv show. And vary up the acts within that as well. On Sideshow I'm not going to book three duos in a row, not just because duos can bring in less people—that's one of the reasons, sure—but also because I wouldn't want to sit and watch three duos in a row. And just make sure it's a good show, make sure it looks good. People that know me know that I'm very big on dress code. I'm not asking people to wear suits and ties when they come to a Sideshow show, but I want them to step up, I guess. Make it a production, just raise the production value. I have to do whatever I can do because of the fact that this is a sweaty dance studio, so I want to make sure that that atmosphere of a show overtakes the crappiness of the space.

AZ: Do you have any tips for somebody else who might be dealing with a crappy space? Does that come in with lighting, or hosting, or...?

MM: Yeah, hosting is huge. Make sure people can host. I'm not a good host, which is part of the reason why I don't want to be up there. And look at what you can do with the space. If you can clean it up, clean it up. If you can flip some things around and make it so you can control the lights, do that. When they were doing shows in here before, there were no blackouts, everybody ended their own shows. I'm very big on light pulls, when I'm doing a show, [because] my sense of timing in a show is not good, and I don't want to have that worry. So do what you can do with the space that way, as well.

AZ: What do you mean? Did you guys get the circuits moved or something?

MM: [Laughs] No, we just moved the space. Like when you look into the room, where the curtains are [on the side], that's anticipated as the stage. And they have like six lighting switches on the far back wall [on the same side as the curtains], so we changed it so that when you walk in, all the chairs are facing the front [and then we have access to the light switches]. And I block the windows during the summer so that the sun doesn't come in, and I have just the front two lights on. It's a very cheap way to go about doing it, but when you walk in you wouldn't really know that it's a cheap way to go about doing it, you're not thinking about it, it just looks better than it really is.

AZ: So you said you're trying to be hands-off with marketing and not really trying to make the show appeal to outside audiences, but it does seem like there's a lot of thought and professionalism being put into this. Is that just because this is the way you want your show and these are your personal standards, or do you feel at any level that you have to compete with what else is out there?

MM: No, I'm not really trying to compete at all. It's just something that kind of now has...it's just kind of associated with me, so I just want it to be as good as it can be. When I say I'm hands-off for the most part, that's the night of. But leading up to that I do everything I can to make sure the show is going to be good. And even though I say I don't really do any marketing stuff I do make all the Facebook pages, and I contact different news people out there from time to time to try and get some things, but beyond that, not too much more.

AZ: We already covered this a little bit with the mission of the show and the benefits it has for performers, but is there anything you feel sets Sideshow apart from other shows in the city, even if you're not necessarily trying to compete with them? Something that's just a different element that you have, from the audience's viewpoint?

MM: It's going to be a well-balanced show. You're going to see at least three different acts, whether that's a stand-up, a sketch and an improv group, or three very different improv groups, you're going to get a good sampling of comdy that night. There's going to be something that you like. And it's just the atmosphere in that room, in that sweaty dance studio, when it becomes Sideshow, which is so extremely supportive of people. We've had different teams debut there, we've had teams debut new forms there, and the mood is just kind of electric.

AZ: And where did the name come from? There are a lot of things that I could guess contributed to it, but is there an official backstory?

MM: Well, the original main idea was to show acts that you weren't really going to see anywhere else, lots of new or weird things, almost like a carnival sideshow. People doing things they wouldn't normally do, types of improv you wouldn't normally see. Just weird concept things that people just wouldn't be able to do anywhere else, that maybe aren't quite right for PHIT.

AZ: Do you have an example?

MM: A lot of the Troika stuff. Troika in general—a lot of those things tend to be more concept-heavy, so that turned out to be perfect for Sideshow. So yes, it just goes back to seeing weird and different things. Which I'm still looking for. It's not necessarily the prime directive anymore, so much as just giving people just another space to perform, and just making sure there's a show once a week. We've been on a long hiatus because I also don't want to take away from any shows that are happening. So when F Harold was going on I canceled a show, then PHIT had six weeks of shows, then we had Duofest, then more PHIT weeks, but now we're back. And we've got the show this Saturday which I'm calling Short Attention Span Theater. You get up to 15 minutes to do whatever the hell you want to do. If you want to spin plates you can spin plates. If you always wanted to do a one-person improv set, or attempt stand-up, sing a song, whatever people want to do, they can do it.

AZ: What do you have scheduled as of right now?

MM: Right now it's a little improv-heavy. I'm reaching out trying to get people to really vary up what we're doing, to make sure we have some of that balance I was talking so much about.

AZ: From purely a producer's standpoint, other than just scrambilng to fill in more acts right now, has there been any big challenge, or something that went wrong, that was a good learning experience? Or just a fun disaster story?

MM: Um, hm....not really. I guess I've been kind of lucky with things. It's a very well-liked show, and there haven't really been any problems.

AZ: How about any favorite moments?

MM: I've seen a lot of teams have their best shows here, which is awesome to be able to say.

AZ: Do you think that comes from the low-pressure environment?

MM: Yeah, I think that's definitely one of the reasons, plus they get a crowd that's full of people that they are bringing, so it's all people who are there to support them. One of the days, if I remember the date exactly, it was November 18th, 2011—

Luke Field [coming in for Asteroid rehearsal]: Never forget.

MM: Yes, never forget. Iron Lung was debuting, there was the team Bed Savage having their first show, Get a Room also performed, and I think maybe Kristen [Schier] was doing some clowning. And there were about 100 or so people, and each team walked away with $85, and that was just the icing on the cake, because each team had awesome shows, in front of a fantastic crowd. So that was one of my favorite moments. Plus all of Troika, and I'm sure this Saturday and all of the rest that we'll have will also be favorite moments.

AZ: Anything new that you're planning for this season? It sounds like you're really trying to push people to experiment.

MM: Yeah. We did a one-act play, Hidden in This Picture, which I directed last year, and this year I want to get some plays written by Philly people. That one was written by Aaron Sorkin, but I want to get some more original stuff so that we put on plays that were written, directed and performed by Philly comedians. So that's one big goal this year to finally make happen, and also just to continue to put on some well-balanced shows and watch people continue to learn and grow. And to do whatever I can to keep Luke Field out of here.

LF: Did you get that on tape? He's out to get me.

Look for updates on The Sideshow at http://www.facebook.com/#!/SideShowImprov and see the first show of the season TONIGHT (July 14th) at The Arts Parlor, 1170 South Broad Street (at Federal Street). As always, the show is just $5.