Mark Leopold "Interviews" Aaron Hertzog

Mark Leopold is a Philadelphia improviser, sketch comedian, employee, driver-who-talks-on-his-cell-phone-but-is-constantly-scanning-the-road-for-police-officers-because-then-he’ll- totally-just-drop-his-phone-into-his-lap-and-pretend-he-was-just-resting-his-head-on-his-hand- and-they’ll-never-even-have-a-clue, 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 476 north, Mark took some time to sit down in a very quaint coffee shop in his head with Philadelphia comedian, improviser, sketch guy, and Hey Rube teammate Aaron Hertzog.

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

AARON HERTZOG: (laughing) Hey Mark.

ML: I’m glad you took the time to sit down with me today.

AH: I’m happy to do it Mark.

ML: So let’s just dive right in, who are you and what have you done with my son?

Aaron laughs and Mark joins him. Aaron stops laughing and looks at Mark expectantly.

ML: Do you want money? Is that it?

AH: I don’t have your son, I didn’t even know you had a son.

ML: I don’t in real life, but I do here.

AH: Here in your head?

ML: Yes. Here in my head at the coffee shop which, now that I stop and think about it for a second, is just the coffee shop from Inception where Leonardo DiCaprio explains the premise of the movie to Ellen Page.

AH: You want to make everything explode? This is your day dream after all.

ML: Get real Aaron! That would be so derivative.

The coffee shop explodes but, since my memory isn’t great, the way it is rendered leaves a lot to be desired.

AH: That was fun.

ML: Eh.

AH: You didn’t think that was fun?

ML: The whole thing just felt forced.

AH: …okay then.

There is a moment of uncomfortable silence as Mark looks at a speck of something that is floating in his coffee. He hopes it’s just a coffee ground, but with all the explosions and everything, it seems more likely to be a piece of debris. He picks it out of his coffee and wipes his fingers on a napkin. Aaron tries to force small talk.

AH: I don’t drink coffee.

ML: No?

AH: No, I don’t like the taste.

ML: Yeah, I could see that.

AH: I guess I’m not an “adult.”

ML: Do you still like the smell of gasoline?

AH: Yeah.

ML: Me too, but not as much.

AH: That’s weird how you grow to like some smells when you grow up and you stop liking others. You always hear about acquired tastes, but you don’t hear much about acquired smells.

ML: Like body odor.

AH: I don’t think that’s true.

ML: I think I read somewhere that Matthew McConaughey doesn’t wear deodorant because he thinks women like the way he smells naturally.

AH: I bet he smells like vanilla.

ML: …but like, really manly vanilla.

AH: That wouldn’t work out as well for me.

ML: Yeah, me neither, I’m an Old Spice man now. I made the switch. It took a little while for my armpits to stop burning when I put it on, but I think the nerve endings are dead now. So it was tough, but hey, I really like their commercials.

AH: Well you had no choice then.

ML: True. Op! This is my exit Aaron, I gotta run.

AH: See you! Friendship!

ML: Friendship!

The coffee shop re-explodes.

Ten Questions With...Mark Leopold

Mark Leopold is a member of new Philly Improv Theater House Team codenamed Brandybuck. He is also a member of sketch comedy group The Hold Up.

How and why did you get into comedy? I initially got into comedy through sketch. I was a member of The Action Section. They brought me on to run tech and write for their Halloween show three years ago. I have always had an interest in writing and have done a small bit of performing in my life and wanted to give it another try. Things went really well with The Action Section and it was through doing sketch shows that I was introduced to improv.

How would you describe your style as a comedian? What influences and factors do you think contribute to that? I'm still working to figure out what my style is. I enjoy a wide variety of comedy from silent physical humor, like Mr. Bean and Boy with Tape on His Face, to very cerebral, verbal word-play in the vein of A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Arrested Development, Mitchell and Webb and Demetri Martin. So when I'm writing sketch, I find myself trying to write things which are clever, which is terrible. I'm constantly discovering that clever sketches are interesting, but not very funny usually. Since I've begun doing improv, I feel like I am learning how to write great sketches every week. Improv is amazing in how it essentially teaches you how to be funny through not concentrating on being funny. Improv has definitely made me a better writer and has made the sketches I've come up with stronger.

Do you have a favorite show or venue you like to perform at? What about it makes it fun or special for you? Almost all of the shows I've ever done have been at the Shubin. It's my favorite space in the city because it is so intimate. You can feel the audience hiding behind the lights and when you have them with you it's electric. It's just a great place to perform because despite it's relatively small size, it's very versatile. There isn't much you can't do on that stage sketch-wise.

Do you have a single favorite moment in Philly comedy or one that stands out? I love all of my Philadelphia comedy moments the same.

Do you have any sort of creative process that you use with your writing or your performance? I like getting ideas from my everyday interactions. I've been getting better about keeping a pen and paper nearby to jot down notes and ideas about jokes and sketches I want to try out. A lot of it is situational or might just be a premise I think has merit. Then I'll procrastinate. Weeks later, I'll come back to the idea only to realize I didn't manage to capture what it was about the situation or idea that I found funny, so I'll stare blankly at the note, vainly hoping to somehow resurrect the humor from it. Eventually, I'll abandon it and promise myself to write more thorough notes in the future. I tend to get a lot of ideas right before I fall asleep, so it's always pretty interesting to see what my semi-conscious mind comes up with joke-wise.

What is it about improv (or stand-up, or sketch, whatever you do...) that draws you to it? It's creativity. We are able to create through these things. Even if it's not the best thing ever, it's still something new. Something that has never existed before. With improv, I feel like it's unadulterated creativity. The whole skill is about simply allowing the scene to happen. Once you try to force it, or control it, that is when it falls apart for me. It just simple and fun and it forces me to be in the moment, which I don't do very often. Sketch brings the same challenge, with higher expectations. When it goes well, I feel like a good sketch is organic and compact and lean. The characters are clear and the premise comes out early so the audience can enjoy it. The jokes are an extension of the premise without simply restating it and as a scene the sketch has a beginning, middle and end.

Do you have any favorite performers in the Philly scene? Why are they your favorites? Matt Holmes was one of the first improvisers I ever saw. Rare Bird Show opened for The Action Section for one of our shows and I just feel lucky to have been introduced to improv by one of the best groups around. Seeing Matt Holmes and Alexis Simpson being nonchalantly hilarious remains impressive to this day. I've only seen a few of their sketches, but I like what Camp Woods is doing right now. I like the Feeko Brothers. I think Ladies and Gentlemen are doing some great and interesting things. There are just a lot of great people doing stuff right now, Joe Sabatino, Doogie Horner, Kelly Vrooman, Mary Carpenter, Steve Gerben, just to name a few. I think what makes them my favorites...

Do you have any bad experiences doing comedy that you can share? A particularly bad bombing or even an entire show gone haywire? Our most recent showing of "Work" didn't go as well as I wanted. We had some tech issues, the projector shut off in mid-show and refused to come back on and some of our re-tooled re-written sketches didn't work at all. It was a good experience overall though. I think I learned something about failure and its relationship to success or something.

What do you think the Philly comedy scene needs to continue to grow? As a community, we need to push each other. What I love about Philly is how supportive everyone is, but we need to find a way to keep that while adding a sense of competition. We should all be trying to get better. We should be trying to challenge ourselves.

Do you have any personal goals for the future as you continue to perform comedy? My comedy goals are simple and small. I want to write more and perform more. In the past, I've performed about once or twice a year. That isn't nearly enough. Putting material in front of an audience is what this is all about and I want to do as much of that as I possibly can.