Duofest Interview: Gross Butler

By: Alison Zeidman

To teenage girls, they're The Beatles. To Hasidic Jews, they're lobsters wrapped in bacon burning  Israeli flags and eating cheeseburgers. To us, they're Gross Butler. They're not trying to offend you; they're just gonna fuck with you a little bit. And in the end, they really just want to rock your face and steal your heart.

Alison Zeidman: How did you guys meet, and then how did you decide to form your duo?

Alex Gross: Like a year ago Greg [Maughan] would just ask me to ask improvisers to do a show that was supposed to never be seen again, just on Sundays if he needed a group to perform. And so the one day he asked me on Sunday, and I texted about fifteen people, and they all told me maybe, except for Mike; he was like, "YES I'll do it!"

Mike Butler: I think it was the Saturday before, he asked me. And I don't know how long before that Greg told you to put together a group. I just assumed that he told you earlier in the week and you just decided on Saturday to start putting it together.

AG: No it was definitely that Saturday, that day.

MB: So Alex said do you want to be in a group, and I said fine, because I knew Alex from Incubator. And he had seen my [PHIT] 101 show earlier in that year as well.

AZ: So you guys did that show together, and just decided to keep going?

AG: Yeah, it was actually a really really good show because uh...yeah, I was just really surprised and Greg was surprised, and we had this sixteen-year-old girl in the audience who was just non-stop laughing. And I was just like, OK, that's our basic dmeographic.

AZ: Is that semi-serious? Do you guys cater to maybe...a less mature audience?

[both laugh]

MB: Oh no, actually our stuff really is mature, a lot of people enjoy it, but on some level I guess sixteen year-olds do really like it. Though Greg told us that at our first performance, there were four Hasidic Jews who had come to the Shubin to see the show, and then walked out in the middle of our performance.

AG: Like the second scene in!

AZ: Can you think of what you might have said or done that would have made them leave?

AG: We were going very religion-heavy at some point.

MB: I thought it was the scene where we were in prison and you peed on me.

AG: That might actually have been it.

MB: And they just kind of walked out, and they didn't take their money back either. So we have that distinction: Our first performance ever, four Hasidic Jews walked out.

AZ: Is that typical for you guys, to have scenes that are more controversial, or maybe even vulgar at times?

AG: I think it's a lot about how the audience is responding. Because we're definitely very much reliant on the audience.

MB: Overall, it's not like we go out and say, "hey, we're gonna have the dirtiest show ever." It's just our personalities, and we just go wherever it takes us.

AG: Yeah, I don't think we try to be dirty. I think our show is just dirty because we're dirty people.

MB: And if you try to be dirty you're going to fail at it; it's going to seem forced. But if you're just naturally...

AG: Fucked up.

MB: I wouldn't say dirty or fucked up. I like to say aggressive.

AZ: Can you explain what you mean by that?

MB: Usually you see an improv show and if stuff starts to get dirty or raunchy, that wipe comes through, and with us we take the scene for another two or three minutes.

AG: Yeah we're very patient. The majority of our shows are all five- to six-minute scenes.

MB: We're lucky if we get to go back to our earlier scenes.

AZ: Do you guys follow a specific format?

MB: We don't necesarrily have a format. We just start doing scenes and then if we feel like it we go back to an earlier scene.

AG: I feel like the one thing I want from this group is--Philadelphia is very fast. A majority, like my team Hey Rube, we play patient in the beginning but it's still not long enough. I like to do slow improv, so the one thing I wanted from Mike and I was just to do like five- to six-minute scenes. So that's our format; we just want to do long scenes. And that's the only thing that I can say our format is, just being patient.

MB: Yeah, we're very patient. We just take scenes and go right up to their logical end, even if there's something dirty in a scene, it isn't over. It's like no, we're going to explore that some more.

AZ: And can you talk about your Krav Maga-inspired inspired opening?

AG: One night I was at home and I was reading an interview with The Vines, and when they were a shitty band and they were just starting out, most of their shows would end with all the bandmates just getting in fistfights, and the audience loved it. And I was like man, I want to get in a fistfight! And so I just was like oh, I'll do that with Mike, forgetting that he's trained in MMA.

MB: Yeah, he messaged me at work one day and says "Hey Mike, do you own boxing gloves?" And I said "why yes I do, why?" "I wanna do something where we start off the show boxing each other. " And I'm like, "OK, that's fine," and we worked out how it would work, where we do the clover leaf while we're punching each other, and I'm like, "OK great, which show do you want to do this on, Tuesday night? Usually I can't do Tuesday night because I have Israeli Krav Maga class, but that's fine." And then he Wikipediaed it really quickly and said "oh my god, you're a killing machine!"

AG: It's awful, I hate it. There's nothing like getting to your first scene and you're already out of breath and your face hurts.

AZ: So you guys are really boxing each other?

AG: Oh he hits me pretty fucking hard.

MB: I hit him hard enough. I don't want him to be knocked out and then I have to do the rest of the show alone. But we're not tapping each other. I'm looking to put a little mustard on each punch and let him feel it, and the crowd gets into it because apparently everybody loves watching Alex get punched.

AG: The first part of the clover leaf is just like warming up, the second one's really
vicious, and then the third one I'm losing my breath, my face hurts, and most of the time
by the third one my helmet's ripped off.

MB: Yes, I provide him with a helmet, because I'm used to getting punched in the face and he's not. So by that third one he's forgetting the words and I have to remind him which word we're on.

AZ: So it sounds like even during that you're still very supportive of each other: You're helping him remember words, you're offering him a helmet. What other things, once you get into the meat of your show with scenes, do you think make you guys a good pair?

AG: I like to throw like curve balls--and just for the record we do shows way better when we're not fighting each other at the beginning, because I sort of...nothing's like doing an improv scene where your whole left side hurts, and you're just sort of like fuck you, Mike. I don't want to be onstage with you anymore, I fucking do not feel like doing this anymore.

MB: But yeah, he likes throwing me curve balls. At our last Grape Room show we were doing a father son bonding scene and he's like, "yeah, now give me fifty pushups!" and I proceeded to do fifty push-ups onstage, with everybody counting.

AG: And me shooting my hunting rifle in the air. A funny thing about that, it shows you that in improv it's not all about comedy, it's just doing the task at hand. You "yes, and"-ed my fifty push-ups, and it ended with the whole crowd fucking applauding the shit out of you for like thirty seconds. They fucking loved the shit out of you after that.

AZ: Is that a recurring thing for you guys, to set your partner up in a scene for something that's going to be challenging, and maybe even impossible? Is that a conscious game, or does that just happen?

AG: It just happens.

MB: Yeah I don't think we try, it's just the way we were trained. I took [PHIT] 201 with Mike Marbach and the main thing I took out of that class was, as Mike would say, "go out on stage and fuck with people." And that just means go out and have fun with your partner, have fun with your team.

AG: I also know that Mike isn't going to bail on an idea. If I tell him to be King Tut, he's gonna be the best King Tut that he can be, and that's really good. It shows....definitely shows a certain kind of maturity. A lot of [beginner] improv students, you'll tell them to do something, and they're so self-conscious, that they'll either be a really shitty King Tut or they'll just be like, "I'm not King Tut, I'm an astronaut!" [It's like saying] fuck you man, I hate your decision. And Mike always accepts it, no matter what.

AZ: Are there any challenges that you feel in performing, either just by the very nature of being in a duo, or for your duo specifically?

MB: The challenging thing about being in a duo is you're in every scene; you're always working. I think being in a group, if you're on the side you can pick up patterns or little extra things more easily, but then when you're in a duo you're doing everything at once. But that's what makes being in a duo fun. And I guess that's why we have Duofest.

AZ: What are you guys looking forward to about this upcoming duofest?

AG: Free shit. T-shirts. Drink tickets at the bar.

MB: I wanna rock peoples' faces. I want people coming out of our show going "yeah, fuck yeah, I like these guys."

AG: Yeah, it's nice [to be a part of it]. I tried to get into the first Duofest and I didn't get in, and it's nice getting into this one, and I appreciate all of the producers for picking us. But it's just another show. It's not like I'm more nervous to do this show than any other. Just time to play.

MB: Yeah. Just go out and have fun, just go out and play. That's what Kristin Schier taught me in [PHIT] 101. So go out and play....go out and fuck with people...and now in the 301 class [with Greg Maughan], don't throw chairs.

AG: Yeah, Greg Maughan's a wet blanket.

AZ: Is it OK if I print that?

AG: Add that I love him, too.


Duofest Interview: Michael Loves Greg

By: Alison Zeidman

Full disclosure: The members of this duo were interviewed separately because Greg Maughan was busy prepping for Duofest and running our dearly beloved Philly Improv Theater, and Michael McFarland was busy with moving, starting a new job, getting married in the near future, and other grown-up things. I've Frankensteined their answers together here, and you can just use your mind thoughts to picture the two of 'em sittin' 'round a table, gabbin' 'bout 'prov and maybe sharin' some snacks.

Alison Zeidman: How did you two meet?

Greg Maughan: Mike and I met for the first time in a workshop taught by Matt Holmes in 2005, and afterwards we sat down to talk about an improv group Mike was trying to start. Flash forward a few months and things came together to form a group called Industrial.

AZ: And then how did you decide to form your duo?

Michael McFarland: I moved to New York from Philadelphia about six or seven years ago, and then Jonathan Pitss and I, who runs the Chicago Improv Festival, stayed at Greg's house during some improv festival in Philadelphia. I think it was during Duofest. And I was like screaming at Greg and drunkenly demanding that he get me food, and Jonathan was like "hey, you guys should do a duo," and about six months later we decided to do it.

AZ: How long have you been performing as your duo?

GM: Just over a year, although we have performed together for just about 7 years at this point in various groups.

AZ: Where did the name "Michael Loves Greg" come from?

MM: I guess I always threaten to have sex with Greg, and I don't want it to be...I want him to think it came from a place of love and not just lust. And we also thought on another side of it, after that, that it's fun to explore the concept of love. Like the name's open for interpretation: Does Greg love me back? Or am I just obsessed with him? What kind of love do I have for him? Is it as a brother, is it as a friend, is it as a lover? Am I deranged and think I love him but I really just want to get with him? It could be a lot of different things. It's just a fun concept, and we like to explore the word "love" through our shows.

AZ: Do you perform a specific format?

GM: Not really. We tend to ask the audience for something they love, then maybe interview the person we get the suggestion from a little bit... and then promptly forget everything and just launch into a show. If there's any underlying format it's probably that Mike pushes to places he knows I'll be uncomfortable with and then I get to deal with them.

AZ: Greg, what do you think are Mike's greatest strengths as a performer?

GM: Mike is just naturally funny--he's the type of guy you can point at and say "be funny!" and he'll actually say something funny. He's also really relentless, he just keeps coming at you in a scene and building the stakes or increasing the tension. It's really easy to play with him onstage, because if I'm not having a great scene he can always turn it around.

AZ: And Mike, what do you like about Greg as an improviser?

MM: Greg is constantly aware of what my state is and what I'm doing, and if I'm not doing it he'll do it. If there's something that needs to be done in the scene and I'm not doing it for some reason or not feeling up to it, he does it. And if I'm exra energetic he'll lay back and let that extra energy come out of me and then respond to it, and justify it.

AZ: What do you think makes you two work well as a duo?

GM: Honestly, I think it's just a lot of shared history and trust between us. You have to trust that your scene partner is going to make you look good, and then you have to know your partner so you can tee things up for them. We can do both those things. We're also very different players. I'm more of a slow burn, and less obvious. Mike likes to put it all out there. It's a nice ying and yang.

MM: I think it's a very honest show. I think that we both try and really be as honest as we can in our improv. I use a lot of personal life experiences to guide what my characters do, and I think that Greg does that as well. I also think Greg's [personality is] a little bit more reserved, just in general, and a little bit more clean-cut and kind of wholesome, and I'm very gregarious; I like to talk about everything, and be very even like, shocking on purpose. So I think onstage it's really fun to see the contrast of those two personalities, where we'll always find a common bond for our characters. It's fun to see two different perspectives be in the same situation onstage.

AZ: What do you like and/or dislike about performing with a duo, as opposed to a team?

GM: Well, I think it's the same answer for like and dislike: the challenge. When you've got a duo you are in every scene and you have to carry the show. It's really exciting when it's working, but it's torture when it isn't.

MM: Performing with a duo is really great because as a performer, I love stage time, and I love to be out there. And when you have six or eight people you have to share the stage with them, which is just what you do, but with two people you're in every scene. I'm a big attention whore and it's just a huge rush to be up there and have every scene involve you. It's also easier to organize with one person.

AZ: Can you tell me a favorite moment you’ve had as a duo, onstage or off?

GM: Last summer Mike and I got pretty drunk at the Baltimore Improv Festival and he started begging me to take him to a strip club--actually a whole area of strip clubs just off the inner Harbor called "The Block." He had just recently gotten engaged, and I have never set foot inside a strip club... so I didn't want to go, and kept giving him drinks at the bar we were visiting until I knew the clubs were all closed. Then we got in a cab and went down there. It was a madhouse. People were everywhere milling around in the street, and there were probably a hundred cops in the three blocks just pushing everyone towards the bus stops, parking lots, etc.

MM: I think we actually just got sandwiches and went back to our hotel room.

AZ: And to close, what are you most looking forward to and/or least looking forward to about Duofest?

GM: Well I'm most looking forward to our show, of course! I'm also looking forward to seeing a lot of friends from all over the country and having the time to hang out with them. Festivals are kind of like weekend-long parties and that is always a lot of fun. But I am certainly not looking forward to the lack of sleep... that will be rough come Monday.

MM: Duofest is great because the audiences are so enthusiastic. And it's really fun because most of the duos are very close friends, and there's a really nice bond between all of the groups in general.

See Michael Loves Greg in Duofest at the Shubin Theatre on Friday, June 8th at 7 pm. Get advance tickets (or full weekend passes) online.


Duofest Interview: Matt&

By: Alison Zeidman

In the year 2007, during a great time of growth for the Philadelphia improv scene, one man set out on a mission to team up in one-off shows with as many of the city's players as possible. By 2008, subconsciously fueled by short form improv experience and a particular Andy Kaufman performance he'd obsessed over in his youth, that man decided to forge a more challenging show partnership: scenes with audience members encountering him--and improv--for the very first time. The name of that man is Matt Holmes, and the name of his "duo" is Matt&.

Alison Zeidman: For people who aren't familiar what you do, can you explain what Matt& is?

Matt Holmes: It's a show that I do with an audience member, and I try to look for somebody who is not a performer themselves. I usually ask if there is anybody there seeing improv for the very first time ever. And then I pull them up onstage.

AZ: Is it sometimes difficult to get them to go up there with you?

MH: The rest of the audience tends to overzealously cheer them on as soon as the concept is brought up, so there's only been once or twice where the person has been really like oh, no, I don't want to, or just flat out refused. Then I bring them up onstage and I tell them that the responsibility is all on me for making it all work, and they have free reign to do and say whatever they want, and to purposefully try to mess me up if they want to. Then that gives me the opportunity to show off my skills and make things that for any other improv group might be sort of a stumbling block or a challenge into something impressive.

AZ: Is there a specific format that you follow for these shows?

MH: By the very nature of how it works I sort of have to be flexible, and I kind of prefer to work that way. I've been in a bunch of different groups and projects before, and I'm always the one who wants to keep it less rigid. So with this show even if I tried to have an idea sketched out of [how I'll do scenes], it's probably not going to work out that way anyway. So sometimes it's just scene after scene with whatever pops up into my head, and sometimes it's more like a Harold where things will come back or there'll be patterns, but I really have to not be too precious about format.

AZ: When you're doing these shows, do you feel more or less in control than when you're doing a show with an actual improv group? On the one hand it's so loose and you're with this person who's never done a show before, and you can't really follow a format, but on the other hand being the only experienced performer onstage means you can drive the scenes and drive the action.

MH: Yeah, that's one of the many dichotomies that I think is present in my show, is...maybe more than any show I've done, it's exhilirating and a challenge and I still get nervous and find it thrilling, but at the same time I'm more relaxed when I'm actually doing it and it's working and things are just falling into place. So yeah, it's kind of yes and no, I'm both in control and allowing myself to be not in control.

AZ: Are there specific things that you like or dislike about performing with an audience member versus being in a larger improv group? You started to get into that with how you prefer the looser format, but are there any other things where having half of your group being inexperienced gives you more freedom?

MH: Yeah, I think it really falls right into place with how I like to work. I'm kind of a stage hog. I like to be out a lot when I'm in a group, and in this show I'm in every scene. And I'm not always as good at supporting other peoples' ideas and playing well with others in any other show, but in Matt& I have to. I have to take whatever this audience member brings and utilize it. And it works best that way.

AZ: Can you think of any other ways in which performing with Matt& has enhanced your improv skills in general? It sounds like it forces you to be more agreeable and be more supportive of your scene partner. Are there any other things where you've really noticed it improving your skills, and where you 've been able to bring back some of those things to your group performances?

MH: I think it's helped me be truly relaxed and flexible as a performer, and also be more confident and personable hosting and introducing a show, and talking with somebody not as a character beforehand, and then playing with them and helping them through what can be kind of an awkward situation for them.

AZ: So in general, you're more comfortable being a character in a show setting than you are being yourself?

MH: Yeah. [Laughs.] I'm not nervous at all about being in some embarrassing situation. One time I had to kind of improvise a song, one time I had to improvise a poem as a gym teacher, you know, weird, awkward, embarrrasssing things. That doesn't bother me, because it's not me. It's just some weird character, so I sort of get to lose myself and hide behind that. But hosting and talking to the crowd after and being myself, that's more of a challenge for me. And I think probably for a lot of performers, in all art forms.

AZ: Is this a little bit uncomfortable for you now, speaking about yourself and your own performance?

MH: Well no, I'm getting better at it now, from having to do it at the begining of each Matt& show. I've had some shows where the audience member kind of demands that we stop playing as a character for a bit, and get back to the one-on-one interview part as ourselves. There was one show I did when Penn State had an improv festival, and I got an audience member, and it started off like all Matt& shows start off, with "who am I?" and "who are you?" and getting to know each other, and then we got into a scene and that was over, and I wanted to get into another scene and play another character, and she wanted to get back to interviewing each other. So It sort of became that pattern of I have to be myself again, now I get to do a scene, now we have to be ourselves again, now we get to do a scene. And that became this great challenge where at the end I kind of wove those together into her playing my therapist, and working in factors of my own life, and the whole audience got on board with why that was so interesting, because everything that was in the show led up to it.

AZ: When you do the interview with the audience member, is that how you usually generate your material for the scenes to come, or do you get a suggestion from the audience once you have your partner up there with you?

MH: I'll always get a one-word sgugestion to inspire the show just because I like that aspect of improv. I like exploring the scene or disecting a word or whatever that word leads to, but sometimes elements from interviewing my partner will come back later or I'll use them. A lot of times I don't, but it's always good for a laugh and interesting to the scene when I do.

AZ: Has an audience member ever taken you by surprise with their adaptability, or have they ever just displayed some sort of surprising inherent improv skill, even if they're just getting up there for the first time?

MH: Yeah, surprise is probably a big, big part of my show. Me being surprised to have to play with somebody who's really hesitant at first, and then the surprise when they start playing along and offering things. Surprise when somebody leaves the stage and I have to figure out what that means for the story, and how to work that. That's happened a lot.

AZ: Do they come back after they leave?

MH: One time I brought them back, and one time I kind of worked it in like I was yelling up at them in the balcony of their window, kind of a Romeo and Juliet serenade thing, and then I ended the set after that scene instead of trying to convince her to come back onstage. But yeah in terms of being surprised at how good they are, that happens a lot more than you would think. I've had people have these great insights into a cultural reference that we're bringing, where they'll bring back stuff the way that a really good improviser will, or they'll make these jokes that you'd swear they had written beforehand. There are a lot of great surprises. The one that stands out because it's such a "joke," is when I was at the Del Close Marathon, my first time performing Matt& there, and the show was going really well. I was really pleased with how well it was going, and then at a certain point my audience member partner, who was not a performer and hadn't taken an improv class or anything like that, brought up the concept of if you were to rape a prostitute, would it be rape or would it be theft? And it got this huge laugh. Afterwards I went and Googled to see if that was from some movie or TV show, but I think that, you know, it somehow came up in the story, and I think she just said it off the cuff, and it was great.

See Matt& perform in Duofest at the Shubin Theatre on Saturday, June 9th at 9 pm. Get advance tickets (or full weekend passes) online.


Pizza Pals with Joe Moore featuring Blake Wexler

Word up Pizza Gang! I recently had the pleasure to sauce it up with Blake Wexler. When it comes to cool dudes, you will find few cooler than Blake, who is the host of one of my favorite podcasts, The Blake Wexler Show. Blake lives in Los Angeles, which is unfortunate because apparently the pizza there is unremarkable. The good news is that Blake is going to be around some great pizza when he’s in town performing with Todd Glass at Helium Comedy Club on March 21-24. Check it out!

Pizza Pal Joe Moore: How much do you like Pizza?

Blake Wexler: Good pizza is literally my favorite thing on Earth. If it wasn’t for pizza, I would weigh 150 pounds and be a top 5 regional backstroke swimmer- not sure which region. There’s a bar in LA where if you buy a beer, you get a free pizza. The other night after a few pizzas, the waitress there uttered the most depressing sentence I have ever heard in my entire life, “Mr. Wexler, I’m sorry but you’re at your pizza limit.”

PPJM: What is your favorite pizza topping?

BW: Extra sauce and hamburger... if it’s actual hamburger and not something gross.

PPJM: What is your favorite pizzeria in Philadelphia?

BW: Pica's Pizza in Upper Darby. It’s perfect. They do an upside down pizza - sauce on the top, cheese on the bottom and all the toppings are extremely high quality and it’s not insanely priced. Whenever I come back to Philly, the first day I’m home I drive to Upper Darby and pick up some pies for the week. Vic and Deans on the Main Line is also good.

PPJM: You have been all over... You've lived in Philly, Boston and most recently LA and have spent some time in New York and Chicago. Where is the best pizza found?

BW: Food in LA blows. Boston doesn’t know what it’s doing when it comes to pizza. There’s so much shit pizza in New York it makes finding the amazing stuff a task. I can’t imagine there’s a better pizza than Pica’s in Upper Darby.

PPJM: When you were a kid, which day of the week was "Pizza Day" in your house?

BW: Usually Friday or Saturday. There was a 3 year period in my life as an elementary school-er where I got pizza hut literally every Saturday. My mom would order me, as per my request, a half cheese, half no cheese but w/extra sauce pizza. It got to the point where a year ago, I was back at home and ordered the same thing for nostalgia sake... it was the first time I had ordered pizza hut in like 4 years. The guy who took my order remembered me from when I was a child and we then talked for 15 minutes on the phone about how our lives had turned out. I’m doing better than he is.

PPJM: Anything else you'd like to add?

BW: Last time I was home, my mom, who is an incredible, gourmet-level cook, was ordering pizza from Bertucci’s. I had consumed a couple drinks and told her I wanted “The Ultimo”. She kept trying to order it, and the restaurant kept telling her they didn’t know what she was talking about. After she angrily hung up, I told my mother that I had made up the name of that pizza. Then I laughed so hard I had an actual asthma attack.

Wow! That was great! Now I really want an "Ultimo"... See you pizza pals at Helium!


Aubrie Williams Has Coffee With...Corin Wells

For my second Coffee with Comedians, I chose to get to know Corin Wells. Oddly enough, and in spite of being in the same room as each other probably somewhere over 50 times, we had not exchanged more than "hellos" and congratulatory remarks after shows. We even went to see " My Week With Marilyn" together, but since you have to be quiet in movie theaters and also since I got there right as the movie started, I did not get a chance to start a friendship beyond that of the facebook and twitter realm there, either. So, Corin agreed to sit down with me at the Broad Street Diner, and thus, a friendship beyond the world wide web was born!

Aubrie: You have been performing with Iron Lung for a year now in Philly! Was there a specific moment when you realized you wanted to pursue comedy? Was it always something you were interested in, or was there a distinct moment where you realized that this what you wanted to do?

Corin: I think it's something I always wanted to do, I just didn't know how I wanted to do it. Cause I love stand up so much but I don't have the nads to do it, so when I came across improv I was like "Ahhhh, yeah. This is it." And I tried it and I fell in love with it and I got addicted. Now improv is what I love.

Aubrie: That's awesome! Did you do theater or anything before?

Corin: Yeah, I did. I did theater in school. After high school I kind of stopped doing acting and started focusing on dancing- because when I was younger I did a bit of everything only cause my mom made me do it. And I was like, "I wanna be a hip-hop dancer!" So I did that in college, and then I was like, "This is not lucrative!"

Aubrie: Maybe not lucrative, but it is awesome! If I didn't think I'd fail immediately, I probably would've majored in hip-hop dancing! Where did you go to college?

Corin: Hampton University in Virginia.

Aubrie: And what initially drew you to improv? Did you find it in or after college?

Corin: After. I had finished taking regular acting classes at Mike Lemon Casting and I was like, "OK, I need to do something else and I want to try comedy." And I had been looking at PHIT for awhile, but for some reason I was like- I think it was money reasons- that I was like, "I can't take two classes at one time." So right after I was done with those acting classes, I was like, "It's time." And I ended up taking my 1st class with Nick Gillette, which was great. And I've been hooked ever since.

Aubrie: What is the best comedy advice you've ever gotten?

Corin: There's a lot, cause I hang out with Marbach and he's full of comedy advice. I guess as far as improv goes, just make sure you're having fun. That's the best advice. Cause if you're not having fun onstage, then why are you up there? There's no point.

Aubrie: Any general life advice that has been helpful to you, non-comedy related?

Corin: Do what you love, and fuck the rest. Yeah, my mom has always told me that- not necessarily "fuck" the rest, but she's like "if you're not doing something that you love to do then really what's the point." She doesn't necessarily get the comedy thing, but she supports it. She's great.

Aubrie: Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Corin: Lately, I've been listening to Beyonce's "Love on Top" because it's such a hype song, it's such a feel-good song. But I just try to get to get in a fund mind-set, like for Iron Lung, so when we start our ritual I'm ready to jump on board. And it's always something different, something I can dance to. Sometimes it's gangster rap. I don't know, depending on my mood.

Aubrie: Sweet! Do you do silly dances, or choreographed dances?

Corin: For Beyonce I do real choreography.

Aubrie: Nice. Do you do them at home or at the venue before a show?

Corin: Anywhere. If I'm walking, if I'm driving, I'll be dancing. I'll do it while walking down the street...it's great when people start dancing with you!

Aubrie: What was your favorite comedy moment to witness, Philly or otherwise? This is a tough one, cause I made it so broad, but it could be anything- a TV or film moment, or something you saw onstage or that your friends did...

Corin: I think the most recent one I can remember because it was a few weeks ago was Medic had this show and they were on a bus and AJ had to crawl outside the bus for some reason and ended up getting hit by this giant bus. And Luke kept running over him with a bunch of chairs. He just kept doing it- it was so funny! It was this really giant bus and that illusion was created, and it was so great. And Emily was like, "It's a mix between Les Mis and Speed" and it cut back to AJ crawling outside of this bus and getting hit by it. Yeah, that was a great moment. I love Medic.

Aubrie: Me too!! They do a lot of cool physical stuff. Iron Lung also does a lot of cool physical stuff.

Corin: Yeah, I love those guys.

Aubrie: On that note, do you have a favorite stage moment that you were a part of? It can be anything-dance, theater, improv...

Corin: It's probably gonna be improv.

Aubrie: Nice! I didn't want to box you in.

Corin: It's hard because there are a lot coming to my head. But there was one show where we ended up doing the whole block at PHIT and we didn't know that we were going to, but Kevin, prior to the show spilled Malt Vinegar on his pants. So the whole first half became about Kevin smelling like shit. And he had the nerve to sit on my lap. I think that's why I loved it so much, because we were all fucking with each other, and that's when you have the most fun. There was also one show where we had Pinocchio running an underground railroad for puppets. That was great.

Aubrie: And what's your favorite part about improv? Is there a specific thing about it that you really love?

Corin: I think just the concept of improv. I mean, when you strip all of the rules away, you are just a bunch of adults pretending on-stage- that's all it is. And it's like, "I do this. I'm playing around- I'm a kid again, just smarter."

Aubrie: If you could create a comedy dream team of anyone in the world, who'd be on it? It could be just Philly people too, to make this super-difficult on-the-spot question easier.

Corin: Oh man, that's tough. I'm gonna do Philly comedians and say my
fantasy improv draft is Matt Holmes(QB), Amie Roe(WR), Billy Bob Thompson(RB), Andrew Stanton(TE), Emily Davis(S), Jess Ross(OL), Dan Jaquette(DL), & Tara Demy(K).

Aubrie: I hope that team one day happens, and that they all play those positions- like a football/improv mash-up! And my final question is...drumroll...are you a dog or a cat person? I ended the last interview on this note, So I'm gonna stick with it.

Corin: I am a dog person, but I like cats. Which is a new development, cause my roommates brought home a stray, and I love her. I curse her out a lot, but I love her. We had miniature collies growing up. My parents have one named Teacup. I hate that name. My dad named her that, and I was like, "Man up, daddy!" He named her that because he wanted us to get a teacup yorkie, and we got a miniature collie. So he was like, I'm calling it Teacup anyway. My other dog's name, we called her"Puppy." We adopted her from a shelter and her name was "Mandy," and my mom was like, "I don't like that name." So she named her Puppy.

You can currently catch Corin on stage with Iron Lung and as half of the duo Ebony & Ivory, and in May she will premiere with PHIT Houseteam (Codename) Strider.


Interview with Patrick Dodd of Comedy, Food, Sports

Witout: How did the Comedy, Food, Sports show begin?
Patrick Dodd: Just under a year and half ago, I got married and my wife was pregnant soon after.  I had only been in Philly for about two year as, so I wasn’t established enough locally to be able to just do feature spots or anything like that (I’ve been doing standup for about 5 years total).  At the same time, I didn’t really have enough time to hit the open mics and make a name for myself.  I was dying to do something creative, but my time was limited.  Having a major passion for cooking, watching and playing sports and all things comedy; I wanted to figure out a way to marry the three.  My original idea was just going to be rants and reviews about the three subjects and I’d throw a few original recipes of mine on the site here and there.  I did a few “articles” and I knew, as fun as this is, I need to do something more unique.  Jim Florentine was in town for a random Thursday show.  I had opened for Jim in the past, so I contacted him to see if I could interview him about the three subjects.  After that interview I realized that this might be the format.  I ended up getting Nick DiPaolo, Dale Talde from Top Chef, Robert Kelly, and a bunch of others that just really brought their A-game for the interviews.
We had some really good traffic on the site and a lot people were telling me how much they loved the concept.  Me and my buddy decided to form a “late night talk show” style version of the show.  After a few months of throwing ideas around, we had what we were looking for.  Once we found a venue, everything else kind of fell into place.  The show really is just a live version of the blog with some Daily Show/Conan type tidbits sprinkled in.

Do you find it hard to find comedians that are sports fans, or maybe do you notice a specific type or "style" of comedian is more into sports? It is definitely hard to find comics that are into sports as much as I’d like them to be.  There is a type, but I can’t really describe it completely.  Nick DiPaolo, Joe Materese and Jim Florentine had all done sports related stuff on TV and/or radio, so they were pretty easy to pick.  When I interviewed Dan Levy, he told me to skip the sports section but I kind of figured that before the call.  That’s pretty much a roundabout way of saying, some guys are more “jockey” and others are a bit “asthma-y”.

What are your favorite sports (to watch or play) and teams? Are you a lifelong sports fan? Do you find your interest in one sport or another change with age or any other factors? My favorite sport to play is and will always be basketball.  The NFL is definitely far and away number one for me to watch.  I love watching college hoops and I try to watch the NBA when I can, but I don’t go too far out of my way to watch regular season games (although I catch the Sixers a decent amount).  I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with baseball.  I will pay attention to it from start to finish, but I always want to make fun of it at the same time.  I’m definitely a lifelong sports fan.  That was something I was born with, I think, and I can’t see that ever changing.  I would say my interest in sports in general has changed slightly since I had a kid, because my time is so much more limited.  I have to pick and choose the sports that I want to really pay attention to more than I did before.  I still hate tennis though.

What do you think it is about sports (or sports fans) that can make talking sports turn to such heated arguments? It’s the “we” mentality.  Everyone thinks they are part of the team and, to an extent, they are. Everyone, including myself, thinks they can analyze, coach and consult their favorite teams.  Most people take sports so seriously.  We’re doing a segment called “athletes tweeting stupid shit”, because most of these guys are such entitled retards.  Physically they entertain, but when Dan Marino or Jamal Mashburn is your “go to” guy for analysis; you have to laugh a little.  It honestly cracks me up more than anything when I see people yell and scream about shit.  Desean Jackson would take a shit on your lawn and kick your puppy before he left town, if there was a $10,000 bonus for doing that in his new contract (whenever that gets done).  So would Chase Utley for that matter.

When it comes to food, do you focus on more upscale dining, comfort foods, specialized places, or does it depend on your guests? I focus on whatever they like.  I usually ask open ended questions and they just run it with it.  Some of them talk about how much they like to cook, while others like to talk about their favorite spots and others just eat whatever Subway’s $5 footlong is.  I would say it tends to lean towards specialized places and comfort foods more than anything.  Comedians seem to talk about their favorite spot to get a specific food that seems to bring them back to a specific place.  Maybe it’s the whole tortured soul thing that a lot of comics have.

What are your favorite foods? I LOVE Thai food!  I haven’t had enough of it here in Philly, but that’s my own fault.  French and Italian are always delicious, but I think Asian food always takes the crown for me.  Gastropubs are becoming a bit cliché, but most places in Philly really do it properly and I’ll never turn down something like a bone marrow burger.

Do you talk about cooking, or more eating at restaurants? Generally, I talk more about cooking.  I’m pretty much self taught, so when I come up with something or riff off of a classic, I’m always excited to talk about.  I love talking about restaurants too, but I get let down a lot when I go out.  I’m not a snob by any means, but it should at least taste fresh and be properly cooked.

There are a lot of shows on television now showing people travelling the world eating at all sorts of interesting places, are you looking for tales of great food finds, or stories of impressive eating feats? I’m definitely looking for great food finds more than anything.  Joe Materese talked about this pizza joint in Conn for about ten minutes straight and I was just blown away.  He live in New York and he can’t stop talking about a spot in Conn.  It turns out that place is famous and Sinatra used to have his driver pick some up for it, but I would’ve never known that without Joe telling that story.  Bobby Kelly had a good story about a place in New York that serves mutten chops and Rory Scovel talked about a high end vegan spot in LA.  Comedians are perfect for that subject, because of all the travel they do.

What are some of your favorite spots in Philly to eat. Any best kept secrets? I unfortunately haven’t eaten out enough.  Obviously The Royal Tavern is amazing.  Kennett So. 2nd is right next door to where I live and they make some pretty amazing stuff too.  Veracruzana at 9th and Washington is ridiculous!  I could eat there every day.  Lee How Fook in Chinatown has the best hot and sour soup I’ve ever had.  Almost everything on their menu is good.  The Amish place in the Reading Terminal Market has the best breakfast. Isgro’s is unreal for desserts.  I did a tasting at Amada once and that was amazing from start to finish.

Why should people come to Comedy, Food, Sports? The easy answer is: It’s Free and it will be over before 9:30pm! Realistically though, almost everyone loves one or probably all three of the subjects. What better forum to discuss the three subjects than people in the industry that are knowledgeable and hilarious? If someone were to tell me that Bill Burr, Anthony Bourdain and Scott Van Pelt were going to do a show where they discuss comedy, food and sports; I would spend hundreds to go see that. So this is a smaller, more local version of that. There will be stand up, some bits, a BIG special guest, a year in review and a Q&A. On top of that, we are giving away a gift card to someone in the audience.
Worst case scenario, you hang out at an amazing bourbon joint that has great food and a really cool ambience and afterwards a blues band will play for the rest of the night. Best case scenario, we’re hilarious and entertaining and you’re outing last Saturday to Applebee’s was just topped as “best Saturday ever!”

Comedy, Food, Sports is this Saturday, January 28th at 7:30PM at The Twisted Tail (upstairs at The Juke Joint) 2nd and South St., Philadelphia


Ten Questions With...Becca Trabin

Becca Trabin is a stand-up comedian and improvisor living in Philadelphia. She is a member of Philly Improv Theater house team Mayor Karen and the host of Town Hall, a monthly show featured on The Sideshow.

How and why did you get into comedy? When I was about eight years old, I went on vacation to North Carolina with my extended family. We went to a huge, fancy seafood restaurant, about fifteen of us, and when the check came, the grown-ups were all a little taken aback. I said, "SOMEBODY'S gonna be doing dishes!!!" which is a joke I'd obviously heard on TV. Everyone lost it, and I was floored by the feeling that gave me. Later I realized they were laughing in part because, why would an 8-year-old say that? But I think that specific moment triggered something for me.

That's the why. The how is that even though I was shy, I took a sketch-writing class at PHIT with Kevin Allison a few years ago, where you put together a show at the end, and performing in front of an audience immediately broke me out of my shell. I used to be so shy that I was afraid to call out a suggestion at improv shows. Seriously. Now I can't get enough.

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I feel like it's kinda different every time and always growing. People have described my stuff as silly, cerebral, dark, weird, self-deprecating. I want it to be all of those things dynamically. I've definitely struggled in my life and have something to say, and am okay with making myself vulnerable to an audience.

Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? Well Shubin shows feel like home. I also like the adventure of taking on new rooms and new stages. They're fun in an exploration sort of way, while Shubin shows are fun the way having a party at home is fun, plus you don't have to clean up afterwards. I've tried to clean the stage several times after messy shows involving confetti and iced tea and whatever, and was told to stop. So that's nice.

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? Not really. Lots of good times. Stuff I wouldn't post online.

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? With stand-up, I usually come up with ideas accidentally when I'm hanging out with my friends or walking around, and then I flesh it out later. Many times, I've come up with the best parts of a bit right before I'm about to go up, because in my nervous energy I think of a great line or two.

What is it about stand-up / sketch / improv that draws you to it? I do mostly improv and stand-up, and I'm drawn to them over other kinds of comedy because you can get your idea out there without much rigmarole. Stand-up and improv counterbalance each other for me. With stand-up I have to be egotistical and with improv I have to let go again and become a small part of a whole.  It's therapeutic and cathartic and keeps me feeling happy. Improv and yoga are proactive measures against mental or physical unrest for me, and they help me stay centered and present.

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Yeah, and they know who they are. I love watching comedy that's grounded and honest and makes no apologies. I continually love watching performers highlight these small details of human behavior that I hadn't consciously noticed before.

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? I did a set a year ago at a gay variety show at a nightclub. I had to follow a larger-than-life drag queen who wore foot-tall platforms and a foot-tall wig and sang and danced and was delightfully hysterical. I wasn't confident, and I pretended not to mind somebody heckling me, and I bombed really hard. Jess Carpenter bought me a drink afterwards and then I walked across town to do an improv show, and I cried for a minute in the bathroom and thanked god for improv. My team was like, "Let's do your favorite warm-ups!"

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? I think one of us should just ask Tina Fey very nicely to make a donation for a permanent space for PHIT. Right? We need to shoot more videos and put more content online, and branch out to work with other venues and arts organizations. Gain more allies, to borrow activist parlance. We have to take fundraising more seriously and get better at it. Some improvisors are already generating ideas to get diversity programs started, so that, among other things, it's not just white kids who get to do improv in Philadelphia. I'm sure other folks would like it too. Improv is weirdly white. Stand-up is just weirdly male. Anyway. We need a popcorn machine.

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? I want to do more stand-up in character, more stand-up in general, put together some shows, keep an updated website, do projects with my favorite people and continue to grow and open up and have fun.

Mark Leopold "Interviews" Jason Stockdale

Mark Leopold is a Philadelphia improviser, sketch comedian, employee, an uncomfortable-complimenter-when-the-other-person-has-complimented-him-first-because-it-feels-like-the-only-reason-he’s-complimenting-them-is-to-make-them-even-no-matter-how-sincere-his-compliment-may-or-may-not-be, and a friend. He is a member of the PHIT house team Hey Rube as well as a new addition to the cast of Comedysportz and he does sketch comedy with his group The Hold-up. When he isn’t doing one of these things he is busy doing other things, like working and laundry, and so while he sincerely wishes he was able to be a real interviewer, the best he is able to do is interview people in his head while he drives different places. Today, while on his way to work, Mark took some time to sit down in an interrogation room in his head with Philadelphia improviser and Comedysportz teammate/teacher Jason Stockdale.

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

JASON STOCKDALE: Hey man!

ML: Good times! Stockdale!

JS: Alright!

ML: Okay, shut up, let’s do this. Greatest fear?

JS: Dogs.

ML: Greatest strength?

JS: Left shoulder.

ML: Best way to get into your apartment without a key?

JS: You go through the large window in my bedroom. It doesn’t latch and there’s no way to lock it.

ML: Good.

JS: Full disclosure, there is a pit full of spikes directly inside and below the window.

ML: Home Alone style.

JS: That would have been a very different movie if Kevin had ended up killing the burglars with his first couples of traps.

ML: I’d like to see that movie. It probably just becomes a courtroom drama.

JS: And the creepy neighbor testifies against him.

ML: That neighbor…man. It sucks that he got a bad rap just for carrying a snow shovel around…in winter…after it had recently snowed.

JS: But he also had a beard, and he squinted quite a bit.

ML: Now who’s testifying against who? Who? Whom?

JS: Whom.

ML: Whom?

JS: Yep.

ML: I thought whom had something to do with having a direct object.

JS: Yep, but we should move on. I’m sure your readers aren’t that interested in the finer points of grammar.

ML: Ouch. I’ll have you know that I cater to a very high-end readership.

JS: Even so, this is pretty dry stuff. They can just buy a grammar book.

ML: Favorite grammar book?

JS: Strunk and White, okay moving on!

ML: Favorite chapter of Strunk and White?

JS: Chapter 13: Colons and Semicolons. Okay! So…Mark, what do you like most about Philadelphia?

ML: It’s proximity to my house.

JS: You’re being a real asshole.

ML: It was a joke Jason. This whole thing is a joke.

JS: Don’t do that. Don’t write it to make me seem like the jerk here.

ML: Jason, just calm down. Be reasonable.

JS: (standing up and overturning the table) I’ll be as unreasonable as I want damn it!

ML: (hands out, placating) Jason…easy.

JS: (…and here comes Jason’s famous switchblade) Shut up!

ML: Jason come on…put down the knife.

JS: (grabbing Brooks and putting the knife to his throat) No!

ML: Jason. Jason. Look at his neck Jason. Look at his neck. He’s bleeding Jason.

JS: (breaking down into tears and dropping the knife) I’m…I’m sorry…I just…

ML: I understand.

JS: I can’t go back.

ML: I know.

JS: I’m sorry.

ML: (turning to Brooks) Brooks, get out of here. (…but Brooks is already gone) Brooks?

JS: (sniffing) Brooks?

ML: Brooks!?

Mark and Jason look at each other with unspoken realization. The camera slowly pans up to the wooden beam overhead where there is an inscription carved into the wood. The inscription reads, “Brooks was here…but got really bored when they started talking about grammar.”