TEN QUESTIONS WITH... Aubrie Williams

Aubrie Williams is an improviser on Philly Improv Theater's house team King Friday and her own sketch group, Local Holiday Miracle.

How and why did you get into comedy?
I saw my first improv show st UCB when I was 18, and was so impressed at how this piece could be created from just a one word suggestion. I continued to love watching improv from then on, but was scared to death to try it. I was a theater major, so inevitably we had to do some improv in classes -- and I bet if you took my pulse on those days, my heart rate was equivalent to someone about to jump out of a plane. Long story short, I decided to face my fears when an improv class was offered at Temple. I quickly realized that the fear was irrational and that I now got to have playtime as an adult, which was awesome. I even started my college improv club cause I didnt want the fun to end after class did. Improv also acted as my gateway drug into sketch comedy.

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that?
I guess in comedy I draw from what I like watching and find the funniest, which makes some of what I do a product of all of my influences. Stella, Tina Fey, David Cross, UCB, Gilda Radnor and anyone ever involved in a Christopher Guest movie are some of my biggest influences.

Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you?
I'm quite partial to the Shubin, cause it kind of feels like home now. I had my fist improv show there in '07, and now between class shows, Sketch Up or Shut Up, and King Friday, Ive gotten to spend a good amount of time up there. It's intimate and you get to see a lot of familiar faces. It's like the "Cheers" of BYOB comedy venues.

As for shows, there are tons of great ones that happen monthly, but I'll try and narrow it down. I'm going to say Sketch Up or Shut Up. It is always great because you get to see what everyone's been up to between shows and see how an audience reacts to what you've been working on.

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out?
For me, it was this past July at DCM (Del Close Marathon) '12 in NYC. It was my first DCM, and I got to see Philly represent improv hard in a city where there is so much of it going on, and that was a great feeling. It was also my first time performing in NYC, and to get to do that with King Friday on the UCB stage (two hours before the original UCB performed on the same stage) was pretty freakin' awesome and lots of fun.

Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? Or a sort of method that you use to develop comedic material?
It's funny because every time I tell a non-improviser that I have improv rehearsal, they always respond with, "How do you rehearse improv? Isn't it all made up?" With improv, it's important to stay in practice cause the more that you do it, the more comfortable you get in doing it, and from there I think you definitely get better at it. Also, with a group, you can really build a group mind through being around each other a lot so it's very important to have steady rehearsals. I also like to take different workshops and revisit old notes and reread Improvise by Mick Napier and The Small Cute Book of Improv by Jill Bernard.

What is it about sketch and improv that draws you to it?
If I had to sum it up, probably the people and the laughter. It is a great community filled with so much talent, and everyone seems to be constantly inspiring each other. I love that. Also, I enjoy laughing, and if you've ever witnessed me as an audience member, I bet you know this.

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites?
Rare Bird Show was the first Philly improv group I had ever seen, and I was so impressed. Everytime I watch them they make me want to work harder as an improviser. I am very much loving The Amie & Kristen Show and Grimmachio. Both duos are always so on and connected and present. You can learn a lot from watching great improv. Man, this is tough. I also love watching all of the PHIT House Teams (YAY to house team night for letting me do this all in one night!), BWP and Cubed who do amazing premise based improv, Whipsuit, Horner & Davis, Medic, Stranger Danger, Rosen & Milkshake, Passiones ... to name a few, haha.

For sketch, I love Secret Pants, Meg & Rob, The Feeko Brothers, Camp Woods, Bare Hug, Hate Speech Comittee. Again, tough question cause there is so much awesome going on. I have many favorites.

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire?
I think my first show with King Friday I was having way too much fun watching them perform that I literally had a moment where I was like, "Oh crap, I'm performing too. Get out there." I also laughed so hard on the sidelines that I missed out on a few key details. I have since worked on not doing either of those things.

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow?
I think It is at a great, promising place right now. People are really dedicated and working hard, and there seems to be a constant interest from new people in joining the comedy community as well. It's great to see so many new faces popping up onstage all of the time, and different combos of people from various disciplines of comedy joining forces and starting new groups and projects. I think if it stays on this track, and I have no doubt it will, that we will be taking over the world in no time. Muahahahaha.

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy?
I would like to do more festivals and such for both sketch and improv. With improv, I would like to continue to study and also study different forms and genres, and keep performing consistently. Just get more and more comfortable and more and more brave. I think I have in the past few months, but I know I can oush myself even further. With sketch, I would like also to perform more, but I'd like to film more sketches as well. We just shot our 1st one and had a blast, so I'd like to do way more of that for sure! I also play guitar and ukulele, and have joined forces with some other lovely ladies who do the same, so I'd like to eventually get up on stage and perform some musical comedy!


TEN QUESTIONS WITH... Kristen Schier

How and why did you get into comedy?
I got into comedy cause it was always a good feeling when I made people laugh as a kid. I was a bit shy and weird so it was a quick way to be accepted. I certainly did not get into for the money. There is no money in comedy, folks. Anybody got a dolla?

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that?
I am brash. I like to play old ladies, and funny guys. I am physical. My training has caused me to slow down a bit and not worry so much about getting a laugh. I mostly just try to have a blast on stage and play with the people I work with, and make them laugh.

Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you?
I love playing in an intimate house where people are close. I love also going out into the crowd if the tenor of the show calls for it, so its always exciting when that is a possibility. Some place like the Shubin is great when it is packed with folks, it feels so cozy and allows for shared experience. Don't get me wrong, I have played on bigger stages and enjoy it too, but that feedback from the audience is so important, as a comedian, and I just get a better sense of it in a smaller theater.

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out?
Hmm ... I remember a scene that Adsit and Gausas did where they playing characters on a date. They were warming up to an awkward kiss, and as they got closer and closer, they kept speaking to each other and they gradually were touching lips and talking at the same time. It was very funny. I would like to see more of that kind of risk taking form Philly teams. I loved it.

Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance?
Or a sort of method that you use to develop comedic material? I do not write, but I do direct some. I think it is important to be very aware of the source. I like starting with the performer, and going from there. A line coming from one stand-up or actor / improviser will go over much differently that from another. I think it is important to know how you are seen as a comedian in just about any genre of comedy.

What is it about improv that draws you to it?
The collaborative spirit and the instant gratification is what draws me to improv. The empty space to create that it provides is thrilling and terrifying at the same time. I love the freedom involved in non-scripted work and as the challenges it poses to me as a director, a writer, and actor, choreographer, lyricists, and composer of my own work.

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites?
I like to watch Marc Reber, Jess Ross, Matt Holmes, AJ Horan, Ralph Andraccio, Nathan Edmondson, Amie Roe, Emily Davis, Brandon Libby and pretty much anyone who gets up there to have fun.

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire?
Ugh, yes. Plenty of bad shows. An improv troupe I was part of did an improv show at the Happy Rooster once. No one wanted to see us. They wanted to have dinner. We were being rude. Ugh. Terrible.

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow?
The comedy scene needs to continue to invest in its own development by seeing the shows that are doing it right, be there in other cities or our own. Also a permanent home for comedy would be a great help to developing and audience for the scene, which in turn, will develop the scene.

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy?
My goal is to take bigger chances as an artist, to be more comfortable with not knowing what comes next. Any who knows me also knows I want to push for performers to get paid more for what they do. I eventually want to make a living at this stuff.


TEN QUESTIONS WITH... Greg Maughan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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