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.


Philly Comedy Round-up, Vol. 50

Last night, the seventh annual Philly's Phunniest Person Contest continued at Helium Comedy Club with Pat Barker, Carolyn Busa, and Tim Butterly moving on to the semi-finals. The competition continues Monday, July 8 and the opening round continues on Sunday and Monday nights until August 13 (full schedule here).

Tonight starts another two-week run of shows for Philly Improv Theater at the Shubin Theater. Things kick off at 7:30 with The Pink Collar Comedy Tour, continue at 9:00 with The Monthly Hour with James Hesky, and the night closes out with stand-up comedy showcase Hey Everybody. You can see PHIT's full schedule online.

The 14th annual Del Close Marathon is this weekend in New York, and Philadelphia improv will be well represented in the festival. Making the trek to NYC will be Philly groups Asteroid!, King Friday, Mayor Karen, Hey Rube, ZaoGao, Iron Lung, Medic, Rosen & Milkshake, ApocaLips, Beirdo, Matt&. You can find out when your favorite Philly teams will be performing online.

The lineup and date for the next Camp Woods Plus has been announced. Joining Camp Woods on stage at L'etage on Wednesday, July 25 will be New York sketch group Listen, Kid!, and the show will also mark the debut of a full set from new Philadelphia sketch group Tap City (Aaron Hertzog and Luke Field).

This Saturday, Urban Saloon will host the Laughs on Fairmount Showcase the weekend partner to the weekly open mic from Mary Radzinski and Carolyn Busa. This weekend's show will feature comedy from Blythe Wimbush, Alejandro Morales, Alex Grubard, James Hesky, and John McKeever. Doors open at 7:30 and the show starts at 8:00.


Pizza Pals with Joe Moore featuring Angel Yau

What's shakin' pizza dawgs? Since we last spoke, I've been going crazy over Ricotta on pies - it's underrated and awesome! Also, I got to talk to Angel Yau, my favorite funny-ist from New York City, about pizza. Talking Pizza with a New Yorker is always fun, because many of my favorite pizza places are in the 5 boroughs. My conversadventure with Angel encompassed all sorts of stops in the Pizzaverse.

Read this!!! :

Pizza Pal Joe Moore: So, how much do you like pizza?

Angel Yau: I like pizza like I like ice cream.
(Please read Joe's ice cream blog to follow this analogy.)

PPJM: How often do you eat pizza?

AY: I eat pizza as often as I eat tacos...
(Gotcha! Probably once every 2 weeks.)

PPJM: What day is Pizza Day in your house?

AY: Definitely whenever I am lazy to cook, which is once or twice a week...
(But that doesn't make sense with question 2... SHUT UP INNER ANGEL!)

PPJM: Any favorite toppings or do you prefer it plain?

AY: MEAT! Specifically sausage. The artificial looking, small poop kind, not the sliced ones.
I only prefer plain if I don't have money and only if it's a New York slice... otherwise MEAT MEAT MEAT. Sometimes if I do frozen pizza, I'd add my own pepperoni and mushrooms and extra cheese... defeats the purpose of a quick frozen pizza but it makes me feel like I made it ALL out of scratch.

PPJM: What is your favorite pop-culture pizza reference (TV, Film or music)?

AY: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' pizzas always look sooooooo delicious.
Also Give me pizza, by Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. Also Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, the song is great because I heart me some Taco Bell. I really love the Spicy Chicken Crunch Wrap Supreme but they fucking discontinued that or something! WHY!!??!?! IT WAS MY FAVORITE!!!!

PPJM: Favorite pizza place in New York City? Favorite pizza place anywhere else?

AY: I grew up with Pizza Hut. My mom hates cheese so the supreme pizza at the hut is the choice because of the other toppings/bread to cheese ratio. Also their tiny neon orange buffalo wings ARE DELICIOUS. I also grew up with Mama Celeste frozen pizza (supreme of course). I also grew up in Howard Beach, Queens... which is primarily an Italian neighborhood. The go to after elementary school pizza there is La Villa. Also I just remember this from writing about pizza is Singas pizza... it's a New York chain. I only at there a handful of times when I was little, whenever I want to break my parents' heart, denying their home cooked food. I always get the chopped sausage and onion pizza. I especially like those two toppings because the sausage was chopped into tiny pieces and was back inside... the cheese was on top! What a delightful surprise! And the onions were sliced super thin like string. It's not a New York slice, it's a personal thin pie kind of thing! Oh there's also a place in Greenpoint, Bk where I lived for a few years in my adult life called Paulie Gee's... it's one of the those Brick Oven, bacon jam, dimly lit pizza places. Is the question what pizzas you grew up with Angel? NO! It was what is your favorite in nyc!!! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?!? NO ONE IS GOING TO LIKE TO YOU ANGEL YAU!

PPJM: Anything else you'd like to add?

AY: Also can we talk about Italian Ices at these pizza parlors?!?!? Rainbow and Vanilla & Chocolate Chip! COME ON!!!

Boom! Awesome! Angel will be onstage here in Philly in a SUPER RARE performance tonight at Camp Woods + at L'Etage. Don't miss it! This is your best chance to catch one of Angel's mind-bending multi-media sets without spending $8 to cross a bridge!


Camp Woods: Humor Taken to a Whole New Level (Part One)

By: Alexandra Levine

“They’re hilarious testicles you hang on back of your truck! Go truck nuts for Truck Nuts!” Billy Bob Thompson says in the voice of an over-enthused infomercial salesman. In this particular skit, he’s trying desperately to film a thirty-second spot for a local Truck Nuts dealership. His supposed acting coach, dressed in a tight white turtleneck and even tighter white pants, becomes borderline abusive as Billy struggles with his line: “Take it from me, you’ll go truck nuts for our Truck Nuts!” Take two after take three after take four, he still can’t strike the right tone or twist his face into the perfect expression. The acting teacher – strangely similar to Romanian gymnastics coach Béla Károly – loses his cool and brandishes a pair of plastic testicles in front of Thompson’s face. That’s basically it, but the crowd goes nuts – pun entirely intended.

“Truck Nuts” was one of four skits that sketch-comedy group, Camp Woods, put on that evening. Their fifteen-minute gig was the grand finale of Comedy Dreamz, a show featuring sketch, stand-up and improv comedians from across the greater Philadelphia area. This month’s Comedy Dreamz was hosted at The Barbary, a grungy late-night hotspot in North Philly. Think: hipster dive-bar meets eighties dance-party. The room was cozy and dark, except for a glowing EXIT sign and the red lights illuminating the sides of the bar. Oh, and the low-hanging, over-sized disco ball. Just before Camp Woods took the stage, the MC’s offered club-goers two specialty drinks: the ‘Panty Destroyer’ (one shot more than ‘Panty Dissolver’) and, my personal favorite, ‘Ryan Gosling’s Bathwater.” Circa midnight, Camp Woods made their Comedy Dreamz debut.

Catchy opera music drowned out the noise of clinking beer glasses. (Who knew opera music could be catchy?) It was an operatic jingle from a mundane insurance commercial: the song looped, “Call JG Wentworth, 877-Cash-Now.” As the song repeated, Camp Woods actor Sam Narisi removed his ill-fitting khaki pants, waddled across the stage in briefs, and began putting on stockings over stockings over stockings. Until he reached about ten pairs. Audience in suspense all-the-while, he finally exclaimed, “It’s pantyhose time!” Narisi was JG Wentworth himself, and when he finally received a call from someone who had heard his promising hotline jingle, he had no “cash” to give them. At least not “now”. Whoops.

Next, Camp Woods’ Madonna Marie Refugia and Patrick Foy took on the roles of Cassandra and Bartholomew in “Millionaire-Billionaire.” She, the millionaire, and he, the billionaire, they sexy-talked about net worth and got off just verbalizing their wealth. “Say it slow,” Cassandra demanded seductively, as Bartholomew responded, “Twenty…two…billion.” His net worth sounded so delicious that Cassandra had an orgasm. To return the favor, Bartholomew asked for her net worth: “Say it slow, and like you’re from the South,” he insisted. “Two-point-one…million…dollars,” she responded sensuously. She reached a second sexual climax when Bartholomew recited all the celebrities whose net worths were lower than his. “Oprah mother-humping Winfrey!” he added, last but not least, sending his lover over the edge.

* * *

Transcribing Camp Woods’ short, out-there stints just doesn’t do them justice. “We go for absurdist and weird stuff,” explains Thompson. “We try to stray away from what you’d see in mainstream comedy like SNL or Colbert-type shows where they lampoon politics.” The seven-person troupe boasts the witty-yet-quirky writing and acting of Billy Bob Thompson, Rob Baniewicz, JP Boudwin, Brendan Kennedy, Patrick Foy, Sam Narisi, and Madonna Marie Refugia. They’re all in their mid-to-late twenties, but Camp Woods is pretty young itself. Launched back in 2009 by Boudwin, Foy and Narisi, the group remains relatively new. But since then, the four others have jumped on the Camp Woods bandwagon after meeting at variety shows and comedy workshops around the city.

We’re all huddled in a booth upstairs at the Barbary, beers in hand. A vintage Pacman machine seems to enthrall Rob (who introduced himself to me as “Robot”), but he’s drunk and equally as excited to fondle the table lamp and twirl it around is finger. “We’re the good comedians in Philadelphia,” he proclaims, “and that’s exactly how we found each other. It was just that simple. Billy and I were in other sketch groups and Brendan’s a brilliant standup. Pat and Sam went to college together and did video and web-comedy. We all met Madonna in a sketch workshop and loved her stuff.”

When it comes to humor, the group shares the same sensibilities. “We all have the same sense of humor, just have different ways of writing it,” Rob explains. The group has no ‘one’ creative artistic approach; they come together with pitches and bounce ideas off each other. And it helps that Boudwin, Kennedy and Thompson live together. They even have a green screen set up to keep their creative juices flowing.

In fact, one of Camp Woods’ most publicized, hyped web-clips was produced at home in front of that green screen. The video, “Mystery Science Andre 3000,” remakes a one-minute excerpt from Satellite of Love with a raunchy voiceover from Outkast’s Andre 3000. The homemade video was re-tweeted by Questlove from The Roots, which bumped up viewership and scored Camp Woods some much-deserved attention both online and in the Philadelphia City Paper. “Mystery Science Theater has a cult following,” explains Thompson, “so Andre 3000 ended up being our most well-known work outside this city.” He and Boudwin conceived of the idea while high, and it sure is a short-and-sweet masterpiece.

Despite the popularity of Mystery Science Andre 3000, Camp Woods agrees that web-comedy doesn’t quite compare to live sketch and stand-up. “I was initially partial to video stuff because I went to film school,” says Thompson. “But part of the beauty of doing it live is knowing people’s immediate reactions, whereas online you can really only judge how much people like it through view counts. It’s just not as gratifying.”

To date, Camp Woods’ biggest and best live-shows have been at the Chicago Sketch Fest (January 2012) and the Boston Improv Festival. They have also performed at the North Carolina Comedy Arts Fest, Philly Sketchfest, Philadelphia Fringe Festival, New York’s ABC No Rio, and the Chicago Snubfest (which grants admission only to those who have been rejected from other festivals). But Thompson’s personal favorite was a performance at New York’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade (UCB) last fall. “We crushed that,” he laughs. “It was the best feeling I’ve had in a while.” At the UCB, Thompson starred in a Camp Woods favorite known as “Rude Sloth.” The premise? A rude sloth. Guy shows up to a hotel called the Rude Sloth Hotel. Guests at said hotel are given a rude sloth to hold onto during their stay. Said guest refuses the sloth, and the animal acts rudely. Easy enough. With Narisi as the guest, Boudwin as the concierge, and Thompson in a head-to-toe sloth outfit, “Rude Sloth” is generally a crowd hit.

It’s not always that easy, though – especially with a flat crowd. The group works effortlessly to predict and read its audience. “There are times when we do things like Comedy Dreamz at bars where people really are only laughing at the pussy/dick/fart jokes,” Boudwin says. “But then you go to a crowd in a theater and do that, they don’t pick it up as well. Knowing when and where to add it in is a big part of what we do. Our ideas are funnier than curse words or messy parts of the body.” So what to do with a dead crowd? “I start yelling my lines!” Narisi interjects. (“Shock them!” Thompson adds, shaking as if electrocuted.)

Every month, the group discusses which sketches have worked with audiences and which haven’t. This Saturday, at the Walnut Street Theater’s F. Harold Festival, Camp Woods will be doing a “Best Ofs” set. In addition to the Rude Sloth, Millionaire-Billionaire and JG Wentworth shorts, they’ll be bringing back four more treats for the crowd. “Homeless Haiku” will feature three homeless men in a quasi-poetry slam, cursing their blunt, stream-of-consciousness thoughts ala haiku. In “Laser Arm,” a man who works for the mob realizes he’s invincible because he has…wait for it…a laser arm. In “Farting Magician,” Brother A tells Brother B that their father’s in the hospital, but Brother B is too distracted to care. He’s intrigued by a magician who, with a press of a button, will fart, and fart, and fart again. Finally, “Glitter Pocks” is about a coal miner’s family, wondering how they will deal with the father’s sickness, glitter pocks. He works at a glitter mine, and by God, he can’t stop coughing up glitter! (With Thompson as the miner, each time he sneezes into his hand, glitter explodes around his face. Obviously.)

Camp Woods will be performing at their monthly sketch showcase Camp Woods Plus tomorrow night at L'etage (6th and Bainbridge, Philadelphia)

Alexandra Levine is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and she is now an aspiring writer living in New York City.


Philly Comedy Round-up, Vol. 48

Tonight, the preliminary round of Helium Comedy Club's Philly's Phunniest Person Contest continues, where 14 hopefuls will take the stage looking to move on to the semi-finals. Tonight's show starts at 8:00 and tickets can be purchased online.

Tuesday night, Polygon Comedy at L'etage will bring the comedic stylings of Alejandro Morales, Cock Hat, and Grimacchio to the stage. Doors open at 7:30 and the show begins at 8:00.

Wednesday brings another Camp Woods Plus to L'etage, this month featuring guests The New Dreamz and Angel Yau and, as always, brand new sketches from Camp Woods. This show has become a can't miss event in Philadelphia comedy - so don't miss it.

ManiPedi hosts another Mani Party this Friday at Connie's Ric Rac. The sketch group will be joined by stand-up Carolyn Busa and sketch group American Breakfast. Come for the comedy, stay for the free ice cream and dance party.

This Saturday, First Person Arts presents Stripped Stories - the "hilarious and unpredictable sex-themed story show" at Union Transfer. The show will feature hosts, Moth Grand Slam winners Margot Leitman and Giulia Rozzi; guest storytellers Elna Baker (The Moth, This American Life)Dave Hill (This American Life), and Dava Krause; plus musical guest Jessica Delfino. Find out more information and buy tickets online.


Philly Comedy Round-up, Vol. 47

Last night, the seventh annual Philly's Phunniest Person Contest kicked off at Helium Comedy Club. This year, over 150 comedians will compete in 11 preliminary rounds for the chance to move on to the semi-finals, and eventually the finals, where one will be named Philly's "Phunniest". Last night, James Hesky, Omar Scruggs, and Vince Patterson moved on to the next round. The competition continues next Monday, June 11 and the opening round continues on Sunday and Monday nights until August 13 (full schedule here).

This weekend marked the debut of two new Philly Improv Theater House Teams. Davenger (formerly Codename Westmarch) and Hot Dish (formerly Codename Strider) took the stage with UCB team Surfing Friday night to two sold out shows and returned to packed housed at PHIT again on Saturday night. If you missed it, you can read the two new teams introduce themselves to the world through Witout here (Davenger) and here (Hot Dish).

This weekend Philly Improv Theater will host the third annual Duofest, a celebration of improv duos from across the country. Shows start Thursday night and continue through until Sunday. Improv workshops taught by Jill Bernard, Joe Bill, Rachel & Dave, and Twinprov are also being held. Also - be on the lookout for more Duofest Interviews this week, here on Witout.

The lineup and date for the next Camp Woods Plus at L'etage (6th and Bainbridge) has been announced. Their next monthly show will be Wednesday, June 13th at 8:00PM and will feature brand new sketches from Camp Woods as well as guests The New Dreamz and Angel Yau.

Friday, June 15th, Mani Pedi will host their second ManiParty, this time at Connie's Ric Rac (1132 S. 9th St.) Mani Pedi will welcome guests Carolyn Busa and American Breakfast. Doors for the event open at 8:00PM and the show begins at 9, with a dance party following the comedy. Tickets for ManiParty are $10 and include free ice cream.


Review: Camp Woods Plus

An eager crowd packed L'etage Tuesday night for this month's edition of Camp Woods Plus, Philadelphia's only alternative sketch comedy showcase. Joining Camp Woods this month was New York duo We're Matt Weir and local sketch group The Judo Range.

The Judo Range opened the show with a mix of new sketches and material previously seen at their Philly Improv Theater show and The Theme Show. Their set was tight, and the strongest I've seen from them overall - getting solid laughs with sketches about the secrets behind national monuments, a plumber giving a priest advice on how he can "clean his pipes" and the origin of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The highlight of their set was a delightfully bizarre sketch called Chris McGrail's Shaving Corner in which McGrail bestows some wisdom on the fine art of  shearing. The Judo Range is a group beginning to find and develop its voice and figure out who they want to be on stage. Their sketches blend dark humor and some edgy topics with a surreal slant that will be fun to watch grow as the group continues to develop.

The last time I saw We're Matt Weir they were asking Philadelphians to put their mother fucking hands in the sky if they loved weed in front of Mayor Michael Nutter (and a packed house) at Philly Improv Theater. Less than two months later, the duo was back (with a little help from some friends) with a brand new set of hilarious material. The Matts opened the show by slapping a volunteer from the audience with some cash and continued with sketches that explored a man's search to find love despite his obsession with his own status as a worker in a sludge pit, an overly self-loathing stand-up comedian dumping his problems on the audience, a friendly hip hop group, and a nosy cooking show host that ends up looking for secrets of the wrong home cooked meal. We're Matt Weir combines high energy performances and offbeat premises or twists with strong joke writing to put on a consistently great show. Their style also uses many sketches that have the characters directly addressing the audience - making them feel a part of the show the entire time.

Camp Woods closed out the show, as always, with a set that well-represented their wide range of talents and showcased their unique style and comedic point of view. The set opened with a fantastic sketch about a group of heroes known as The Fart Fuckers set to embark on a quest. The sketch revealed the heroes were toys being played with by three brothers, one of which inserts his real life father issues into his characters actions and words. The sketch showcased Camp Woods' ability to pinpoint a dark issue or deep emotional problem a character has that manifests itself in a hilarious way that makes for a brilliant sketch. This is a tool they have used before, and will surely will use again, as it creates a sketch that is not only funny on the surface, but also has a deep, emotional backbone. The set took a turn for the bizarre with a pair of sketches featuring Mr. Abernathy, a man who tricks his neighbor into stealing a dog, and an Admiral with a strange problem that makes his saliva dissolve human hair. The sketches worked well, anchored by strong performances in those roles by Billy Bob Thompson (as Mr. Abernathy) and Brendan Kennedy (as the Admiral) as well as Sam Narisi and Madonna Refugia in the sketches supporting roles. Next we saw JP Boudwin as the Communist Math Teacher - who learns a little something from his students about America followed by Pat Foy as an Austin Powers impersonator who slowly realizes his life may not be as great as it used to seem. The set closed with a mourner (Rob Baniewicz) being consoled by a chain of stand-up spooners who may or may not actually know the deceased. The final sketches were full of great individual jokes as well as characters with a strong hook that comes through in their actions. With Camp Woods, it's always show and not tell - as the characters' true feelings and real personality come through in what they do and how they do it - never in exposition.

Camp Woods is working harder than anybody else in Philly right now, and it shows. They produce a new half hour of material every month and their shows are getting steadily stronger. They are a group that is hitting their stride, have found their voice, and know how each of their members individually fit in and work best. And it a joy to watch.


Philly Comedy Round-up, Vol. 46

Tonight, at Philly Improv Theater you can catch a night of back-to-back shows hosted by stand-up comedians James Hesky and Aaron Hertzog. At 9, you can catch The Monthly Hour with James Hesky this month's guests include Doogie Horner and Mani Pedi. After that you can stick around (for free) to see stand-up comedy showcase Hey Everybody, hosted by Hertzog, featuring Chip Chantry, Darryl Charles, Juliet Hope Wayne and Sam Narisi.

Tomorrow night, Camp Woods Plus returns to L'etage (6th and Bainbridge) with a night of independent sketch comedy featuring We're Matt Weir and The Judo Range. Camp Woods Plus is Philly's only alternative sketch comedy showcase, featuring brand new material from Camp Woods each and every month. Doors open at 8 and the show starts at 8:30.

A great week for sketch comedy in Philly continues Thursday and Friday with The Feeko Brothers and Mani Pedi at Philly Improv Theater. Thursday's show begins at 9pm and Friday kicks off at 8:30. You can purchase tickets for the shows online.

The South Jersey Comedy Festival is currently looking for submissions for stand-up, sketch, and improv comedians. The three day festival will take place August 10-12 at Harper's Pub in Clementon, NJ and will feature prizes for comedians and groups named best of the night. Submission information is available online.

This Friday, Eddie Pepitone returns to Philadelphia to perform at Underground Arts. "The Return of the Bitter Buddha" will feature Pepitone's signature style described as "a force of nature on stage, switching between social rage and self-doubt. His shows are an energetic combo of calm and chaos, blue-collar angst and sardonic enlightenment." Tickets are available online.