These huge arts festivals can be overwhelming — how to figure out what's worth seeing? CP's sending someone to nearly every event PIFA's putting on over the next month to help you decide, so check back with Critical Mass all month long for comprehensive, ongoing reviews.
SHOW: That Time
GROUP: Tongue & Groove, RealLivePeople(in)Motion
ATTENDED: Sat., April 20, 8 p.m., Kimmel Center
BRIEF SELF-DESCRIPTION: Tongue & Groove is a critically acclaimed theater ensemble that spontaneously performs unscripted scenes and monologues inspired by personal information anonymously submitted by the audience . . . Especially for PIFA 2013, T&G is collaborating with dance company RealLivePeople(in)Motion, an ensemble that is similarly catalyzed by the audience’s true stories.
WE THINK: Tongue & Groove continues to evolve, tweaking its improv format to fit PIFA's time-machine theme by prompting audience memories about moments in our lives we would like to return to, shared anonymously on Post-it notes stuck to a timeline (write clearly, please!). Mine — the morning of my first wedding in November 1989, to follow my impulse to run away and thus spare myself a year in hell — was not chosen, but audience reactions made clear whose were.
Bobbi Block's talented long-form, realistic improv-ers are smartly teamed with RLPiM, dancers in street clothes who likewise explore real life. Actors dance and dancers act together successfully in the T&G style of creating genuine, rich relationships in an instant and finding humor in human behavior rather than punch lines. Using a variety of formats and styles (monologues, domestic scenes, inter-generational conflicts, instant message exchanges), the hour-long show I witnessed blended stories united by their complex emotional levels: I laughed heartily, yet felt tears rising by the end.
Working against the performers, it must be said, was the ironically named Innovation Studio, which stifles innovation. Whoever chose the high-backed plastic chairs and didn't provide risers apparently never sat in a theater before: in the second of five rows, I couldn't see performers on the floor unless they stood, and I watched through a picket fence of heads. Even the back row of high chairs had trouble, but in the fourth row of normal-height chairs — which would feel close in any of the city's much less expensive but more sensible small theaters — the conditions are miserable. Moreover, shifting for a better view makes the unsteady chairs creak and squeak, producing a steady undercurrent of the-locusts-are-coming sounds. Artists must either build a stage on the beautiful hardwood floor or limit their choices and punish their audiences. How can the Kimmel Center lead us into the future when its designers learned nothing from the past?
PREVIOUSLY IN PIFA: Five too-short plays about the future.
Philly standup veteran Mike Rainey is releasing his first book, Terrible Advice on Amazon. He kicked off the self-published book release with a show at The Arts Parlor last Friday with performances by Philly’s Phunniest winners Tommy Pope and James Hesky. The seeds for Terrible Advice were planted when Rainey was flipping through a self-help book, and found the advice to be so awful it demanded a satirical retort. Instead of a soothing new-age narrator, he found it fun to write from the point of view of a world-class jerk-off.
We asked Rainey what’s the worst piece of advice he’s ever received. “A coworker handed me a mason jar full of grain alcohol, along with a bottle of Snapple. He said to mix the grain with the iced tea to cover up the smell in case I wanted to drink it on the ride home from work. I did not, partially because it’s a terrible idea to drink grain alcohol and drive, and also because the gent who gave it to me had a gold front tooth.”
And the flip side? “The worst advice I’ve ever given was telling the mother of my three children that I’m incapable of impregnating a woman. She fell for it all three times.”
The Delco behavior-support specialist for at-risk youth has been putting fundraisers together via Comedians For A Cause for the past three years with fellow comic Joe Mayo. “We have raised money for reputable organizations such as Autism Speaks, Easter Seals, and St. Jude’s Hospital. We also have done fundraisers for individuals who have needed financial assistance due to medical or tragic circumstances. If we hear of anyone with a worthwhile cause, then we’ll do everything we can to raise money and awareness for them, free of charge.”
Hannibal Buress comes off like a reasonable guy, most of the time. His stand-up is full of funny stories of awkwardness and drunkenness wherein he’s the inebriated everyman overthinking his interactions with everyday people (and Tracy Morgan, Scarlett Johansson, etc.). But anybody who’s seen his stuff on Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show knows he’s got a weird streak. Like last night when he, assisted by DJ Prince Paul, played clips from various hip-hop songs and analyzed their insane lyrics. It was a strange and ultimately kinda brilliant change of pace. Oh and then there was the thing at the end where he did a song — “Gibberish Rap” which he insists is huge in Norway — backed by three heretofore unseen lady backup dancers and people dressed up like Super Mario and Sonic The Hedgehog. Weird. And really funny.
Hosted by Hillary Rea and Larry Napolitano, the Veggie Wing Bowl was Sat., Feb. 2 at Adobe Cafe.
Tight Six is a weekly comedy show and open mic featuring live music. It runs every Sunday night, upstairs at Fergie’s Pub (1214 Sansom Street). The show is run by six local comedians: Joe Bell, Mikey Garcia, Aaron Nevins, Elise Thomson-Hohl, Becca Trabin and Dan Vetrano. They are all in their 20s and have varying amounts of comedy experience. Each week features a different house band, which plays a set at the top of the show and then sticks around throughout the night, playing comedians on and off the stage. Previous house bands include Thee, Idea Men, OhBree, Rob, Lately, and The Rivals.
Says Aaron Nevins, “The room is packed every Sunday. A lot of spontaneous insanity tends to happen on our stage. Some of the most fun moments at Tight Six happen late into the evening, so it’s always worth sticking around.”
The band plays at 8 p.m., which is when comedians can start signing up for the show. The comedy begins at 8:30 p.m. Their featured drink special is the “Classy Special”, which is a Narragansett with a shot of Jameson for $5.
Regular Philly open-mic’er Nicole Yates lauds the unique style of the new mic, “The upbeat music keeps you from killing yourself after a bad set!”
You can find them on Facebook. Here’s video we found of the gang papering the streets of Philly in preparation for one of their mics…
And that's how you win tickets, people. All three of these artists get a pair of tickets each to see Joel Hodgson at the Troc on Sunday. Don't forget to read Shaun Brady's awesome story on Joel in this week's paper.
“Riffing Myself,” Sun., Jan. 27, 4 p.m., $22.50-$39.50, The Trocadero, 1003 Arch St., 215-922-6888, thetroc.com.
As you'll see in tomorrow's paper, we're pretty excited about Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson performing his one-man show "Riffing Myself" (aka "Sunday in the Dark with Joel") at the Trocadero. Would you like to go? We'd like to send you. So
1. Draw a picture of one of the MST3K robots
2. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org by 4 p.m. Thursday, with GIMME JOEL HODGSON TICKETS as the subject
3. We'll choose our favorite two or three pics and set the winners up wih a pair of tickets each.
AMATEURS ENCOURAGED! Just have fun with it.
"Riffing Myself," Sun., Jan. 27, 4 p.m., $22.50-$39.50, The Trocadero, 1003 Arch St., 215-922-6888, thetroc.com.
I’ve been to a lot of these “live version of a TV show” shows in recent years. They’re a mixed bag. Always Sunny was impressive at the Tower, with the stage version of the “Nightman” episode feeding off the energy of the crowd. Portlandia Live, meanwhile, was… depressing, relying on awkward, time-sucking crowdwork. I remember liking the Aqua Teen Hunger Force show at the Troc, but I also think the main action got outshone by a wonderfully bizarre intermission vocalist called Puddles the Clown.
So I know how these things tend to go:
1) It’s more of a talent show of unrelated bits than a cohesive production.
2) Ample video clips — “you guys are getting to see this a whole week before it airs!” — and audience participation segments are used as padding.
3) The relative fame and charm of the performers is expected to make up for any line-flubbing and inelegant transitioning.
4) It will cross your mind, at least once, for at least a minute, that you have been suckered. (Even if you got on press list.)
Nobody who left Archer Live on Friday night seemed to feel suckered.
Yes, the show was only about an hour long.
Yes, we’d been subjected to several (five? six?) t-shirt-gun breaks to the tune of “Danger Zone.”
And yes, crowdwork carried a fair amount of the burden.
Usually, that was a good thing, as Aisha Tyler and H. Jon Benjamin, seasoned stand-up comics, knew how to keep things moving while still acting like they didn’t give too much of a shit. They are generous, quick-witted performers. Chris Parnell, on the other hand, was largely silent throughout the evening (surprising, given his years on SNL). Lucky Yates and Amber Nash were very funny. Executive producer Matt Thompson was not funny at all, and he picked up on none of the clues from the boisterous crowd or his sighing stars that he was bombing.
Maybe “boisterous” isn’t a strong enough word. The evening felt like a drunk comic con panel. People were loud. There was some loud, good-natured booing here and there. There were some desperate cries to be heard by famous people. Funny parts were shouted over on occasion. References were made from the stage. References were yelled back to the stage. Texted questions were answered. The planned stuff worked, for the most part: The live script-reading, the acted-out bits, the video snippets. And I had a good time. I did. But I might be done with these kinds of shows.
La Salle grad Sam Fran Scavuzzo, is a 26-year-old Roxborough resident and organizer of a monthly show called A Bunch Of Improv, at the Grape Room (105 Grape St.). After coming through La Salle’s illustrious Improv 101 troupe, Scavuzzo was ready to start his own improv team, Cock Hat (as in, a chicken with a hat on!) with Stephan Clanton, Frank Farrell and Kate Linsner. Scavuzzo found time in between his full time gig as publication manager for Yellowbook to sit down with LOL With It for a few one-word-suggestions.
LOL With It: Formation?
Sam Fran Scavuzzo: We launched about one year ago. This upcoming Jan. 15 show will be our 12th, so we’re ready to celebrate our first birthday in February. In August 2011, I formed the improv team Cock Hat (as in a chicken with a hat on!) with Stephan Clanton, Frank Farrell and Kate Linsner. We performed for La Salle University’s Improv 101 team but were new to Philly comedy scene. In addition to booking gigs, we were looking to establish a steady show. I covered the Grape Room (105 Grape St.) as a reporter in Manayunk, and through those connections successfully pitched the idea of a monthly improv show.
It’s cool because there’s not a lot of comedy going on in Manayunk, and I think we’re attracting different crowds than at shows in other sections of Philadelphia.
SFS: Because the Grape Room is usually a music venue, we’re blessed with a great stage, lighting and tech equipment, if we want it. The show started on the Grape Room’s second floor, but we moved downstairs a few months ago and now have full range of the venue. For the show itself, our idea was to blend a few mediums and give newer acts a chance to perform, as well as established groups. A comic hosts the night and gets to do a set, in addition to the four to five improv acts. Additionally, at recent shows we’ve featured video shorts from Web Cereal, an online monthly comedy website created by Dan Angelucci.
SFS: Philly Comedy Month listed us as a spotlight show in November, so we tried to go all out for that one. That’s the month we featured the most acts (Gross Butler, Bad James, Rookie Card, Kait and Andrew, Chaperone, and Dan Scully) and drew the biggest crowd. More selfishly, we hosted a show one month that had several La Salle-centered acts. Comedian Dave Terruso hosted and Ryan Barry, of Jersey-based Helicopter Dance Off, performed — so that was probably the most fun for me.
SFS: Our Jan. 15 show features PHIT house team Hot Dish, Apocalips, and Angry People Building Things, in addition to Cock Hat — now featuring Hannah Datz, Matt Lamson and Sunny Kanneganti. Lamson will also MC. Doors open at 8 p.m. $5 cover (21-plus, kids!).
Check out Cock Hat on Facebook for updates on the show, which happens third Tuesday of every month.
Super Crappy Funtime (SCFT) is a podcast hosted by Philadelphia comedians Dan Scully and Kevin Lau. Like most of our local comedy podcasts, it's just two comedians talking about stuff. No gimmicks. No shtick. It’s just two laidback funny guys tackling big issues, like pop culture, local comedy and other weekly podcasts. (They often have guest comedians from the Philly scene.) Recently, Dan and Kevin sat down with us to talk all things crappy and fun.
City Paper: How did you guys get started?
Dan Scully: Podcasting always seemed like a fun, low-effort way to essentially "get more stage time." I had toyed with the idea of starting one, but didn’t have the technological know-how to do IT. Kevin had the geek cred, so we just started winging it and, before long, fell into a great rhythm.
Kevin Lau: I used to have a podcast before I started comedy in Philly, but the idea of SCFT stems from Dan and [Philly Comic] Dan Eastman wanting to do a podcast that I was going to produce. Then I dropped out of the comedy scene because I didn't love what I was doing and I wasn't sure if it was for me. On my time off, all I could do was think about comedy and what current life experiences I could turn into a joke. So one day I texted Scully from a Barnes and Noble to ask if he was still interested in doing it and he said "Fuck Yeah!"
CP: Has SCFT affected your craft outside of the podcast?
DS: Forcing myself to follow a schedule, and to record podcasts even when I'm not in the mood has curtailed my lack of discipline. Speaking in hourlong intervals about minutiae has helped cut the fat out of my comedic voice. Also, between promoting the show and scouting guests, I've become more active in the scene and have made important friendships and connections with other comics.
KL: Having a weekly show has definitely been good, because [it forces me to meet] deadlines. Artists, especially comics, are the laziest people you can ever come across and I am no different, but I am better about now because I don't want Dan mad at me.
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