Hey Rube Remembers Hey Rube

77649_369702319772818_2023223526_oHey Rube will perform for the final time as a House Team this Saturday night at Philly Improv Theater. The group made their debut in August 2011 and have since performed at venues all over the area and festivals including the New York Improv Festival, Del Close Marathon, and the Philadelphia Improv Festival. They were crowned Best New Group at the 2012 WitOut Awards for Philadelphia Comedy, and were nominated for Best Improv Group at the 2013 WitOut Awards. The members of Hey Rube and their director Matt Holmes took some time to reflect, and say some nice things about each other.

Aaron Hertzog on Dennis Trafny:
Dennis blows me away every time I see him perform. The only thing I know for sure when Dennis enters a scene is that at some point he is going to totally surprise me. He can take a seemingly everyday boring offer and come back with something that is (incredibly) completely off-the-wall but also somehow makes it easy for his scene partner to react to and build with. I don't know if it's a natural skill or something he's had to work tirelessly on (or a little bit of Column A and a little bit of Column B) but either way I am completely impressed. He can also bring great intensity to a character (seriously, look into those eyes), and inject some much-needed energy in a show at a moment's notice. Of course, this also makes for extra special moments when he decides to tone it down and show us his tender, soft side."

Tara Demmy on Mark Leopold:
"Before Hey Rube, I didn’t know Mark Leopold. He was just one of those guys with a really great name. Now I know him as one of the most talented performers I’ve ever worked with. His character work is the best (Dr. Dandelion) and he is a super intelligent and creative player, knowing when to give a set that necessary plot twist. When I’m in scenes with Mark I have trouble not just hanging out and watching him work, laughing along with the audience. One of my favorite moments was when Hey Rube was doing one of our usual group scene orgies and Mark came on and just sensually untied Jen’s shoelace. The best. Catch up with Mark playing "5 Things" at ComedySportz or doing a “props made out of only cardboard” sketch show with The Hold Up or even doing a show in the Philly Fringe (his 2012 Fringe show Archdiocese of Laughter was one of the best comedy shows I’ve ever seen—he made a rap out of my favorite hymn: Gift of Finest Wheat! Genius). See you there—I’ll be the girl in the first row wearing my 'I heart Mark Leopold' T-shirt."

Lizzie Spellman on Alex Gross:
The first time I really hung out with Alex, he took me to a gay club with a hot Asian chick. I've come to learn he is one crazy cat (and I'm not just saying that 'cause he owns way too many cat shirts). Alex is so fun to play with on stage. When he makes a choice he always fully commits to it. He can go super weird with a character, but it's always grounded in truth. I think if Hey Rube were a rock band, Alex would be the guy smashing his guitar on an amp and flipping off the crowd. I tell him all the time and I really mean it, he's become like a little brother to me. That's why I forgive him for drunkenly walking in on me in the bathroom and proceeding to pee in the shower. But that's another story..."

Mark Leopold on Aaron Hertzog:
"I first saw Aaron something like six years ago. I went to an open mic and did some terrible set where I impersonated Forrest Gump at one point, and I saw this big man with a big personality just own the crowd and receive their adoration with composure and charm. It was amazing. I then retreated to the suburbs for three years. When I got cast on Hey Rube, the only person I actually recognized was Aaron and I was immediately intimidated by the prospect of playing with him. My fears proved to be completely unfounded of course. Aaron is one of the sweetest, most open, gentle and loving people I've met. His ever-present playfulness is infectious and when you have the good fortune to be in a scene with him, it's such a familiar feeling of silly frolicking that you can't help but have fun. Fun. That's really the best way to describe what Aaron is like. He's just like someone who it's always fun to be around and with. He has a gift for vulnerability. He is just so brave and so foot-forward, always ready to give himself to the show or scene. Whether it's dark or emotional, serious or silly, Aaron commits totally and performing with him is so easy and simple because you know he is going to completely receive what you give and build with it. Some of the most satisfying moments of collaboration in my life have been with him. Aaron is wonderful and any city, town, or village that doesn't leap at the chance to welcome him is just tragically stupid."

Rob Cutler on Lizzie Spellman:
"Lizzie is commitment personified.  She’s an incredibly gifted performer, but the original characters she creates and maintains are nothing short of brilliant.  Whether she exhibits the child-like innocence of a three-year-old, or the decrepit bitter wisdom of a wicked crone, Lizzie will up the intensity with every passing moment.  She’s a multitalented performer, whose musical prowess is displayed often with her ukulele, singing some of the most irreverent, funny, and original songs I’ve personally ever heard.  She has a gift for character and her future on stage is limitless.  On the personal end, I’ve yet to meet a more patient and engaging personality.  She has kind words for everyone I’ve seen her interact with (even if they were complete assholes).  In short Lizzie is funny as hell, sweet as sugar, with talent oozing out of every pore.  We should all be so lucky as to have someone like Lizzie in our lives.  I’ll miss you Rubes!"

Jen Curcio on Tara Demmy:
"I will never forget the first time I met Tara.  It was at Hey Rube's first practice. I was really jealous of her because she was prettier, cooler and funnier than me. Then I got over it. Tara is a total improv pirate and for those of you who are not familiar with the term that means she attacks the scene. She is fearless in her choices, yet fully commits to and supports her scene partners' choices. Tara is able to play characters that have a sharp contrast in stage presence. She will support anything and add value to it. I feel so lucky to have been on a team with her, I learned a lot from watching her be an awesome improviser!"

Alex Gross on Jen Curcio:
"Oh, geez. Jen is the worst. I’m just kidding! I know that really freaked you out Jen but seriously, I’m just kidding. I swear! Jen is one of the kindest and weirdest people I know. She is always thinking of others before herself and she’s given me countless car rides home. Her paranoia and craziness are right on par with mine, which makes me feel like she’s my improv twin. I’ve done some of my favorite scenes with her and she is always a joy to work with, no matter how many times she initiates scenes with hints of a gangbang starting. Jen is an improv powerhouse who isn’t to be fucked with and I’ve had a blast working with her. Rubes for life."

Dennis Trafny on Rob Cutler:
"Rob is the 'Phil Hartman' of Hey Rube: really solid in every scene and he reigns in the crazy. He never gets scared on stage and is always cooler than the other side of the pillow. I don't think I've ever seen him hesitate. Not once. Never. Not even for a second. No 'uhhhh's or 'ummmm's. Nothing. He's a beast. He also plays characters smartly, and on many occasions, very cleverly ties all the preceding scenes together.  He is no one-trick pony either.  He has a gift with puppetry and is awesome in Friends of Alcatraz . (If you haven't seen it, you should!) Good luck with your future projects Rob!"

Matt Holmes on Hey Rube:
"It's sad to see Hey Rube end, but things that burn brightest snuff soonest.

I got more out of directing Hey Rube than I ever thought I would. First, I learned to get past your perfect idea for how things should go. It's better to be flexible and make it work. It took us a few months to all get in the same room together at the same time, but that didn't matter much.

Then, I learned all kinds of insights about improvising, telling a story in a visual medium, teaching people, using people's strengths and working together on their weaknesses, building something together in small steps, and creating a show (style, format, framework) that is a signature."


Hey Rube's final show will be Saturday, February 9 at 10pm at The Philly Improv Theater at The Shubin Theater (407 Bainbridge St.) Tickets can be purchased online.

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 tndemmy@gmail.com.

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

Ten Questions With...Tara Demmy

Tara Demmy is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team codenamed Brandybuck. They make their debut this Friday at the Shubin Theater.

How and why did you get into comedy? I got into comedy while at Denison University, as a member of Burpee's Seedy Theatrical Company, the oldest college improv troupe, doing short form with a bunch of wonderful geniuses.

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I was always into theatre and became aware of the many rules and styles associated with different theatrical forms. I always felt most connected to comedic improvisation because it gave me much more freedom (with genre, with manipulating the world of the scene) than interpreting a script.

Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? I have only performed in a few spots but I like the community feel at the Shubin. I do like spaces where the audience and the performers are on the same level (physically) it makes more for a connection and spontaneous feel. As for shows- I like the crazy, honest, super energetic ones.

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? The 201 class show on Saturday, July 9th was one of the most enjoyable shows I've ever seen. There was so much support on stage for everyone's ideas, really impressive work.

Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? I try hard not to think so much. I oftentimes get in my head and blockade nifty ideas. I also try to take at least one big risk per show, something that will keep both me and the team on its toes. Safe is no fun, no fun.

What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do...) that draws you to it? Improv can't be anything other than contemporary and relevant. It is the HERE and NOW, even if it references a historical time period, it is based on the current climate of society (because that's what is in our heads) and it has never been performed before and never will be performed again. It is the truest example of ephemerality. Visual and performance art grapples with how much to "invest in past work," how to make "past work modern," when to honor tradition and when to throw it out the window. Improv's content is always new and because of that, it's structure is always in a state of change. Improv is a necessary force in pushing our arts culture forward.

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? I really love watching Amie Roe and Kristen Schier in the Amie and Kristen Show. They may be my favorites. They have super range as performers and never lose the "sense of play" so important to the form. I want to be them when I grow up. Creating comedy that does not require a "...and they're women" after someone says "funny show."

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? There are lots, especially in college. In college, you know everyone in the audience, so you want to be funny, oh gosh let me be funny! Since then I have learned it is more about ensemble, it's about support and creating honest scenes.

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? I've only been in the scene for a short while, but the building of new independent groups, more opportunities for performance around the city, getting people excited so they come to Philly for IMPROV would support growth. Not comparing our models/formats/structures to New York and Chicago so much (even though it's hard not to) is important to always keep in mind. This comedic community is full of some of the most supportive, encouraging, welcoming individuals- to not lose that when we becoming bigger and bigger.

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? Take more classes, think more, practice more, laugh more. I always want to work on being more confident on stage, learning how to better create compelling stories. Basically, to keep creating.