Philly Improv Fest Ends With a Bang!

Amie and Kristen - Phif13 - PO
Amie tries to control Kristen's temper tantrum.

The final show of Philly Improv Fest had the crowd laughing along to dynamic scenes from duos Hot Dog (Jessica Ross and Luke Field), Billy Hawk (Brian O'Connell and Jeff Hawkins), The Amie and Kristen Show (Amie Roe and Kristen Schier) and Vox Pop (Karen Lange and Jordan Hirsch).  Each of the groups jumped from scene to scene and kept the audeince laughing at everything from the perception of white Jesus to the marital problems between a blind husband and his wife.

At some point, you don’t even know what you’re laughing at anymore... but you’re cracking up!

Hot Dog’s comedic timing and chemistry kept crowds in hysterics as they created funny scenarios on marriage, employment opportunities and awkward dates. Whether it was playing a blind husband or a jovial employee, Luke Field can change the scene faster than you can count to two. Complementing his comedic timing was Jess Ross, whose ability to adapt to her partner’s theatrics is equally impressive.

Speaking of awkward couples, who can deny the charm of a male duo that can convince you that they are an opposite sex couple. Billy Hawk’s ability to transform into characters and bridge gaps of physicality is truly amazing. Whether it was playing a husband and wife, God and his son, Jesus and Mary Magdalene, Billy Hawk had the audience on the edge of their seats waiting to see what characters they would play next.

Perhaps the most animated act of the night was The Amie and Kristen Show. It's no secret that they are one of Philly’s best comedy duos. Best friends and improv masters, their chemistry is evident as they put on a parody of a frog-prince and princess. “It’s a shirt with muscles sewn into it, now you look like the other princes!” says Amie to her (British) frog-prince Kristen. The scene changes in less than a millisecond from a mother trying to control her son who is throwing a temper tantrum to a couple cuddling and talking about the future. This girl-power duo consistently reminded us that the beauty of comedy lies in the power of words and how you say them.

Jordan Hirsch and Karen Lange of Vox Pop ended the night with their musical act consisting of parodies of work culture and every-day married couple problems. The musicality, the duo’s awesome facial expressions and comedic timing made the comedy and music flow together to provide a highly entertaining ending to a night full of laughter.

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Interview with the Cast and Director of 'Call on Mister Blue'

I haven't been doing this for very long. I don't know all the players in the scene. I don't yet know all the venues or the history or the nuances of Philadelphia comedy—sketch, improv, stand-up, or otherwise. But I'm learning. One of the things I've noticed thus far is just how friendly and supportive it can be. Everyone seems to have a lot of faith in each other and want general success for the entire scene. This is what I was thinking about as Tara Demmy, experienced improvisor and lead actress in a new play by Nile Arena and Harry Watermeier Call On Mister Blue, generously stood with me after the play ended and briefed me on all the comedy credits and history of the cast in preparation for my interview with them.

Meanwhile, SHANNON HOUSE hasn't been doing this for very long. In fact, as I was to learn, this is the company's first production. SHANNON HOUSE is a collection of comedians, actors, directors and general theater-y type folks in its infancy. The thing that struck me most about SHANNON HOUSE is how they seemed to have that same faith in and enthusiasm for the Philadelphia comedy scene that I had observed elsewhere. The play itself was an example of faith rewarded, for the cast (Tara Demmy, Luke Field, Bryan Kerr, Brent Knobloch, and Craig Lamm) all delivered wonderfully.

Call On Mister Blue was set in apparently-modern Indianapolis, narrated charmingly and, at times, hilariously by a characterization of Southern Renaissance writer William Faulkner for reasons which aren't immediately (or, arguably, are only intermediately) apparent. It focuses on the evolving lives and relationship of a young couple and how their lives and relationship interact. Additionally, how these things interact with the transforming sense of self and life goals that come with early adulthood. The themes run much deeper and the dialogue is rich, being both realistic and clever simultaneously. An entertaining play from start to finish, it was very thoughtful and sincere, with moments of sadness as well as some serious laughs.

After the show, the members of the cast who were available and director Harry Watermeier sat down and let me ask them a few questions.

Matt Aukamp: So how did you all get involved in this production?

Bryan Kerr: I did the Arden Professional Apprenticeship at the Arden Theater Company in Old City. Harry, Tara, and I were in the same year two years ago and so we got to know each other. Harry first asked me about nine months ago if I wanted to direct this, and I never responded to his email. I read the play and was like, "I don't know what's going on," and then just didn't respond and didn't respond and didn't respond... And then Harry moved to Philadelphia and so I couldn't avoid him anymore.  He said, "I know you're busy, Bryan, so maybe you can just be in it and be William Faulkner." So I said "sure" because I knew Harry and Tara and I support them.

Craig Lamm: I got involved because my girlfriend is now in the same apprentice program with the playwright [Nile Arena.] So I met them through my girlfriend and we got to talking about the show and they asked if I wanted to do it so I joined the team.

Tara Demmy: No auditions, just, "Hey, do you wanna be in this thing?"

MA: And Harry, you directed the show; how did you come across it?

Harry Watermeier: So Nile Arena wrote the show. We're both from Indiana—we went to Indiana University—so we've known each other for awhile. He was living in Chicago and he was kind of looking for his next thing to do. I completed the Arden apprenticeship and I [told him about it]. He applied, and he got the apprenticeship and he moved out to Philly. I knew he was a playwright,  and I knew he was working on something.  I had come back to Philly from Indiana to sort of capitalize on some of the weight that the APA program carries, so I was looking to get into something and I liked the script a lot. I was hoping to act in it at first. I was hoping to play Russell, the male lead.  That was the idea but then I thought it was probably best for me—in order to get it on its feet— to direct it. And I offered it to Bryan and I'm so glad he acted in it. I thought Bryan was fantastic.

MA: Had you directed before?

HW: No, not really. I mean, I directed some scenes in school. This is my first full-length thing that I've directed.

MA: So, I get the connection to Arden, but there's a lot of Philadelphia sketch and improv people in the play. How did they come in?

HW: Well, Tara does a lot of improv. You know Tara is a FIXTURE of the improv community, I would say...

TD: Oh, shut up!

HW: And because of that, most people  [in Philly comedy] just know me as "Tara's Boyfriend," which is WONDERFUL, and she knew Lizzie [Spellman, who opened the show] and I was lucky enough to do a show with  [sketch group] The Flat Earth for the Fringe Festival, so that's how I met Brent [Knobloch] and Luke [Field], and I knew how great they were.

MA: And were you worried at all about, coming from improv and sketch comedy, that the acting would be any different? That it might be a challenge for people stepping into dramatic theater?

HW: I wasn't worried. That actually made me more confident in their abilities. You know, I hate auditioning, as an actor.

MA: That seems to be what you hear from every actor all the time.

HW: I just wish I could talk to the director and say "Look, I can do it, I promise I can do it." So you know, I didn't audition them. Luke and Brent, they're both razor sharp. Everyone involved in the show is, and I was so confident in their abilities. You know, someone coming from a comedy background and an improv background, they're very generous to their audience in ways that often dramatic or classically-trained actors are not. Improvisers are super aware of the audience and what the audience needs and how to play certain beats for the audience. That, I hoped—and I think did—bring the play into brighter lights. They really knocked it out of the park and they exceeded all my expectations.

MA: So do you have any other future productions planned with this group of people?

HW: I'd like to do more. I mean, we're working on just a small thing. Nile and I are writing something...

CL: Name-drop the title. It's great!

HW: Grime and Punishment. It's an adaptation of Crime and Punishment. But I feel like I got really lucky with this cast. Just really really talented people. So I would jump at the chance to work with them again.

TD: We're starting a thing called SHANNON HOUSE. That's sort of the company. But I'd really like that name to still be on whatever Nile does, Harry does, Bryan does, Craig does...

MA: Was SHANNON HOUSE put together to be the production company for this?

HW: [Yes, and] the idea was that Shannon House would be the name of the sort of collective thing that we're trying to work on. And we wanted Call on Mister Blue to be sort of a soft open for us.

TD: Before we're on Broadway!

HW: Just something we could put together quickly and put up and just sort of get us started. So hopefully the next project we'll take a little more time with.

TD: Goosebumps!

[Then everyone started sighing and clapping their hands together and saying “goosebumps.” I have no idea why it was happening. I started to worry I'd stumbled into a murder cult.]

TD: I want to direct an adaptation of Goosebumps. But it will probably be with mostly improvisers. I really think improvisers make really great actors. And especially if they don't have a theater background, just improv and comedy. I'd like to create a show that's improvised, and then put to script. And it's about Goosebumps! I don't know where that's going to go. But hopefully [it will debut] in the spring.

HW: Yeah, hopefully in the Spring. I don't know how copyright laws work?

TD: It's satire! You can do whatever you want!

If you're a comedian interested in being part of  SHANNON HOUSE's next production, contact Tara Demmy at

Matt Aukamp is a writer, performer, and occasional improviser (The Win Show). You can usually find him bothering the world on Twitter at @mattaukamp.

And the Winners of the 2013 WitOut Awards for Philadelphia Comedy are...

Aaron Hertzog

The Feeko Brothers


First Guy in the World/Netflix (Aaron Hertzog)

Mystery Science Andre 3000 (Camp Woods)

Luke Field

Jess Ross

Camp Woods Plus

The Improvised B-Movie Double Feature (Asteroid!)

Gettin’ Close with Mike Marbach

Mary Radzinski (@MaryRadzinski)

Sketch Up or Shut Up


Meet Your Nominees for the 2013 WitOut Awards: Best Male Improviser

It's almost time for the 2013 WitOut Awards for Philadelphia Comedy!  As we get closer to the show, we'll be rolling out a series of posts to help you get more acquainted with this year's nominees. Read all about 'em, and then be sure to get your tickets for the big event on January 13th at World Cafe Live!

The nominees for Best Male Improviser are:
Luke Field (Asteroid!, Hot Dog)
Andrew Stanton (King Friday, Kait & Andrew)
Dennis Trafny (Hey Rube, Iron Lung)
Alex Newman (Davenger)
Darryl Charles (ComedySportz, Hate Speech Committee)

Dennis Trafny on Alex Newman:
"He's a funny SOB. He's doesn't look it on account of his husbandry, but he is a really, really smart dude.  And he uses those smarts for some of the funniest, most juvenile scenes I've seen in Philadelphia.  He could probably, no joke, be an astrophysicist but instead he chose to pretend to be a smartphone eating dinner at a long table with a bunch of weirdos or a boss that won't give trophies to his employees, and the Philly comedy community is reaping the benefits.  His beard is also a lil QT pie."

Andrew Stanton on Luke Field:
"Luke Field was conceived on the field of battle and that is where he gets his name. As a baby, Luke fought his way out of the hospital. Luke once threw a boy twice his age over a fence. Luke bit a dog. Luke drank an entire lake. Luke once dealt a poker game for the mafia and they didn't scare him one bit. Luke has seen the edge of space. Luke wrote the lyrics to 'Ace of Spades'. Luke is coming from inside the house. Luke is dangerously funny. Luke is an incredible improviser. Luke is great."

Luke Field on Darryl Charles:
"If you were to compare all the nominated male improvisers to sports people (also known as "athletes"), Darryl obviously would be Bo Jackson...because they are both three-sport athletes! (Stop being a racist!) Darryl is an all-star improviser with ComedySportz and the reigning "WitOut Best Improv Team" Hate Speech Committee, much like Bo was a Pro Bowl ball-runner for such-and-such football team. Darryl is an elite stand-up comedian and last year's winner of "Best Stand-Up Bit," much like Bo would smack some dingers while playing for America's team, the Kansas City Royals. And, also, in addition to all that, Darryl is an accomplished sketch writer, contributing to "The Monthly Hour with James Hesky" and "Bird Text," much like Bo was a noted cartoon personality/crime fighter in the Saturday morning cartoon "ProStars" (third sport). Oh, and did you know Darryl also co-hosts Philadelphia's best podcast, "CheaPodcast?" And did I forget that fact right up until this very moment and I am adding it in right now? Answer: YES TO BOTH. That's four sports! One more than Bo Jackson! Darryl Charles is also a noted lover of animals while Bo Jackson was a malicious hunter exclusively of endangered species [citation needed]. You heard it here first folks: Darryl Charles is BETTER than Bo Jackson at comedy, sports and general humanity."

Alex Newman on Dennis Trafny:
"Dennis Trafny is my bearded brother in arms and fellow metal head. He is an insane genius of improv who plays demented murderers with the same realism as he plays innocent children. Which is horrifying when I stop to think about it. Let's just say I'm glad he's on my side."

Darryl Charles on Andrew Stanton:
"Andrew is awesome, and funny. I've seen him perform a bunch and he can switch from short one-liners to long and interweaving stories while keeping his trademark wit and mannerisms intact. That's good, and hard to do. I like him a bunch, and I'm a fan of his improv too. If anyone was going to win this but me, I'd want it to be Andrew. Sadly, it won't be. But I'm happy he was nominated."


"I Allow People to Do Whatever the Hell They Want to Do" - Interview with Mike Marbach on Plans for 'The Sideshow' in 2013

by Pat Reber

The Sideshow is a real gem. It’s the epitome of the local, DIY, low production/high entertainment experimental variety shows that we comedy nerds go crazy for. I attended last Friday's The Sideshow: Happy New Year featuring Malone, Gross Butler and Daring Daulton. The show was already packed when I arrived, with audience members filling every seat and standing against the walls of the cozy studio. More impressive than the audience’s number, though, was how truly engaged we all were from start to finish. Our laughter rolled consistently throughout the entire two-hour show, and turned from chuckles to outright squeals during each set. We were treated to seamless and hilarious improv from Malone and Gross Butler, awkwardly brilliant sketch comedy from Daring Daulton, and a fantastic reading by host Luke Field of a rambling 12-page apology letter to Claritin written by Sideshow creator Mike Marbach.

Marbach is clearly very passionate about this show, and with good reason.  After the show, I caught up with him to find out what exciting plans he has for The Sideshow in 2013:

Spellbound (January 12th)

"The twelfth is going to be pretty different.  Kristen Schier is going to be doing clowning.  There’s an improv trio that formed out of the Sideshow Troika last year, called Chaperone. Lizzie Spellman, who is a local improviser but also sings and plays ukulele, is going to be the host/musical guest of the show, so she’ll be doing different songs throughout the show, in between the other acts.  And then the Necrosexual, which is Jimmy Viola’s thing. I’ve never seen it, I really don’t know what it is, which just goes to show I’ll allow people to do whatever the hell they want to do. I’m sure it’s going to be a good time.”

The 2013 Improv Oscars Jam (February 22nd):

“This will be the third year we’ve done the Improv Oscars Jam, which takes place the weekend of the Oscars. People get dressed up and come out. They have the opportunity to play a bunch of movie-related short-form improv games, some with different multimedia connections. We’ll show a 30-second clip of a movie that came out in 2012, and then people do scenes inspired by that clip. We’ll do live sketches that are movie-inspired. People are encouraged to film different parodies of films that came out in 2012, and we’ll show those on the [projection] screen. There’s food, there’s drinks. This will be the third year, and each one has gotten bigger, and better attended, and it’s always a really good time."

Freaky Friday (March 15th)

“There is one coming up in March, which I’m calling Sideshow: Freaky Friday, where a bunch of improvisers who haven’t done stand-up before, that’s their chance to do it. And then I want to grab a bunch of stand-ups who haven’t improvised before, and have them do that. So people will get a better appreciation of each other’s art, and how difficult it can actually be, and fun at the same time. So that could be really funny. Or it could be terrible, which is okay. Like I said, I allow people to experiment and do whatever the hell they want to do."

Musical Revue (Date TBD)

"March or April will be probably one of the biggest things we’ve done with Sideshow. We’ve done one-acts, we’ve done the Oscars Jam, we hosted the Troika last year, but this is going to be a musical revue. It’s going to be a love/hate theme, where it’s going to mix Broadway songs, popular songs, and some original stuff thrown in there as well. It’s going to be all tied together through different stories, and personal things like that. The idea is to be funny, but there will be a lot of vulnerability in there, too. The cast is made up, so far—it’s not official yet, so I don’t want to say just who—but there’s stand-ups in the show, there’s sketch comedians in the show, there’s improvisers in the show. People will get to see them do things that they’ve done in the past, but may not have the opportunity to do now, being involved in the arts that they are. They can show off their singing, or their dancing, or anything like that. It’s going to be a good time.”

The next January dates for 'The Sideshow' are the 12th, 18th and 25th.  For more information, check out The Sideshow on Facebook.

Pat Reber performs sketch comedy with the Win Show, and also has his hands in a constantly shifting menagerie of other projects. He’ll be on twitter @patreberyeah and he thinks you’re nice.

Top 5 of 2012: Corin Wells's Top 5 Sexiest Improv Moments of 2012

As the year winds down, WitOut collects lists from comedy performers and fans of their favorite moments, comedians, groups, shows, etc. from the last year in Philly comedy. Top 5 of 2012 lists will run throughout December, and slightly beyond, if we deem it necessary–if you’d like to write one, pitch us your list at!

Sexiness is not learned. It’s a gift and when you combine that gift with comedy, prepare to burst with laughter and…well… yea.

5.  The Birth of Davenger and Hot Dish (shameless, vain plug)

4. J.P. Boudwin and Billy Bob Thompson in Improv at Bernie’s
For the Del Close Marathon this year, the amazing Kaitlin Thompson came up with the brilliant concept of Improv at Bernie’s in which a group of improvisers do a set with a dead cast member, played effortlessly by Billy Bob Thompson.  In one of the scenes (I wish I could remember what it was about), J.P. gives Billy a nice long, loving, lustful raspberry right on his belly.

3. Asteroid!’s Orgy


….This picture explains it.

2. Emily Davis.
Just… every time she walks on stage. ::swoon::

1. Andrew Stanton and Luke Field’s Duo


If you missed this, you missed life. Whatever stars aligned that day to bring this two together on stage, I am forever grateful because that was one of my favorite improv moments period. I think I described it as “my improv wet dream."  Accurate.

Corin Wells is a member of the PHIT Improv House Team Hot Dish and Sketch House Team Dog Mountain. She also performs with the independent team Iron Lung and is one half of the duo Ebony and Ivory, hosts of 'Cagematch'

Tweets of the Week, Vol. 10

Follow Witout on Twitter for updates from our site, as well as retweets of more of the best 140-character-or-less jokes from Philly comics.