Several hours of sheer randomness ' with scenes involving albino lobsters, imaginary friends and 'bakery purgatory' ' kicked off the Philly Improv Festival last night. I showed up for the first two blocks, at 6:30 and 8 p.m., witnessing performances by Activity Book, Everything Must Go, Fletcher, Rondo, Mrs. Estherhouse and Tongue & Groove. Though attendance was modest for this first night, the performances throbbed with energy and creativity. The first five groups used the "Harold" format, working off audience word suggestions ranging from 'horsey' for Activity Book (resulting in a haphazard series of scenes that didn't quite connect) to 'Liberty Bell' for Mrs. Estherhouse (sparking lesbian makeouts in front of the bell, observed from the heavens by the ghosts of our Founding Fathers). Everything Must Go developed some of the most creative scenes from the 'lobster' suggestion: mourning the death of an albino lobster, building a man into the foundation of his house.
But Fletcher carried the night in terms of sheer wittiness, continuously reworking past jokes and ending each of its scenes with a snap. My favorites involved a flirty teen couple sprawled in the boyfriend's Saturn, making vehicle-inspired, charmingly corny sexual innuendos ('If you wanna ride me, you gotta show me your ride, know what I'm sayin'?' and 'The gravitational pull of your sexuality is entrancin'!'). Tongue & Groove broke the Harold tradition by collecting secrets from the audience and developing complex dramatic scenes based on them.
Final verdict? Modest audience aside, the enthusiasm of the first-day troupes bodes well for the rest of the festival.
The second night of the fest will take place tonight at 6:30, 8, 9:30 and 11 p.m., for $10-$25 at the Society Hill Playhouse (507 S. Eighth St., 215-923-0210). Click here for a review of the opening night's 9:30 and 11 p.m. shows.
|Courtesy of Boys Club for Men|
The laughter bugs were certainly biting at Philly Improv Festival's opening night, though that didn't keep the crickets from occasionally chirping, too. The 9:30 p.m. slot was stacked well: Rookie Card greased up an already-warm crowd (most had been at the festival since 6:30) for the two most tickling performances of the night, New York's Junior Varsity and Boys Club for Men. They both took one-word crowd suggestions like 'library' and 'trapeze,' and turned them into fluid scenes about pesky wives invading man-forts, taking a cab to prom, and ejaculating genies in clouds of smoke. (Wha?! indeed.) The 11 p.m. slot, which featured Strippers Picnic, Lead McEnroe, Marjean and Philly's own Illegal Refill, had some shining stars in each group. On the whole, however, the performers' energy levels were proportional to their entertainment levels, which experienced prolonged lulls from time to time. Maybe it was the Thursday-night, bedtime-story-hour slot, but most 11 p.m. troupes got stuck in long, dialogue-y scenes about absolutely nothing, and it felt squirmy to watch them struggle. But every now and then, a helicopter would crash into a cow and a squirt of tinkle still managed to escape me.
The second night of the festival will take place tonight at 6:30, 8, 9:30 and 11 p.m., for $10-$25 at the Society Hill Playhouse (507 S. Eighth St., 215-923-0210).
|Courtesy of Rookie Card|
Atheists in heaven and angels selling clouds are just a few of the things you might witness at a Rookie Card improv show. Though Rookie Card is not exactly a veteran improv team ' only forming this past March ' these guys are no rookies (hardy, har) at comedy. The five members ' Marc Reber, Jake Alvarez, Jesse Kimball, John Di Santo and JP Boudwin ' are all grads of the Philadelphia Improv Theatre, and together they form a crazy bunch willing to discuss almost anything on stage, from religion to Hitler to weird sexual relationships. They'll be playing at the Philadelphia Improv Festival tonight at 9:30 p.m. at Society Hill Playhouse (507 S. Eighth St., 215-923-0210), for $10. I caught up with them (minus Boudwin) at the Raven Lounge this week before one of their shows.
Critical Mass: So how would you describe your style of humor?
Marc Reber: One of things I notice is that we are kind of fearless as a group. We do a lot of jumping in on scenes and changing the focus of scenes, so each of our scenes have other scenes within them.
John Di Santo: I would say our style would be just kind of, like ' sloppy.
Jesse Kimball: Absurdly juvenile meets dark and tragic ' in a kind of sloppy, fearless way.
Jake Alvarez: Our show has been described as being really clusterfucky.
Jesse Kimball: They say you need to learn the rules before you break 'em, but that's not true ' because we still don't know the rules, and we break 'em.
CM: How do you start a show?
JK: The form that we do is called the 'Herald.'
JA: It's a very basic form, but we're one of the few groups in town that does it.
JDS: You have an opening with a word suggestion, and you have three scenes all in the first round.
MR: For example, the word is "hippo."
JK: So we come out and we're in a safari, and then because hippos have big teeth, Reber and Di Santo are doing a dentist scene, and the next scene is a pool cleaner and this lady trying to seduce him. And in the third beat, you find out that the dentist is actually the pool cleaner's husband.
JDS: In the third scene, you try to find connections among all the previous scenes.
JK: It's like Pulp Fiction, kind of.
CP: What kind of audience do you like?
JDS: The larger the audience, the more energy that's generated and the better generally the show becomes, because you're kind of guided by the audience.
JK: It's a lot like a DJ playing, because whatever they're playing, people are getting into it, and then they'll spin it into something else. The audience influences what the next thing is going to be.
CM: Do you guys follow specific character roles?
JA: I tend to fall into the devil.
JK: Reber plays Jesus a lot. I play a wife a lot. I like to play coming-of-age teenagers that are seeking a male figure.
JDS: I usually play a hot Latino woman.
CM: Why did you choose improv over standup?
JDS: What I like is that the sum ends up being greater than the individual parts. There's a term called 'group mind' where everyone ends up thinking on the same wavelength, and that is like a high. That's the best part.
JK: It's like havin' sex with four other dudes at once, but less messy.
In this week's Kaleidoscope, I wrote about Patton Oswalt. Here's what I said:
Patton Oswalt doesn't push it. The man who dubbed KFC's Famous Bowl a "failure pile in a sadness bowl" prefers simply to stand there riffing on the mundane and basking in his own nerdy glory. This is a big week for Oswalt. His newest special, My Weakness is Strong, is released on DVD and he's getting his first big-screen starring role (unless you count the titular voice in Ratatouille) in Big Fan.
This is by far my favorite Oswalt routine, from his Lollipops & Werewolves DVD:
I got to talk to Oswalt about his role in Big Fan. Here's an excerpt where we talked about the nature of fandom:
CP: You say you aren't a hardcore sports fan, but you talk about how much of a geek you are a lot in your standup. Do you see the two areas of fandom mirrored at all?
PO: I certainly do, there's a definite parallel. It's the same spark, it's just a different fuel. Like, a fanatic Christian and a fanatic Muslim could find so much in common because they have a spark. A Philadelphia Phil or a Paul could find something in common, but they have different fuel and there's something so tragic about that.
CP: It's interesting to hear people talk about sports teams as "we" instead of "they" ' like when I'm at a bar and some guys are talking about the Birds, it's "We're on the field." Is that the way it is with your fans, even though it's not live or necessarily as active an experience?
PO: Definitely. People literally treat movies like they're their teams. They treat filmmakers like they know them ' "Oh, I think he's really going to pull it out this time." They get into the lives of their heroes.
You can read the rest over at citypaper.net/movies. Did any of you guys catch My Weakness is Strong on Comedy Central last Sunday? I forgot to set my DVR was pissed when I came home and it wasn't there. What did you think? Better than Werewolves & Lollipops? Even the Comedians of Comedy? Hit me up with whether I should move it to the top of my Netflix queue.
Big Fan opens tomorrow at the Ritz at the Bourse.
We told you what we thought about Amanda Blank's new album I Love You, but more importantly, what do the senior stars on this week's episode of Breakfast at Sulimay's think? Suprisingly, the adorable old farts kinda dug it ' the most critical comment came from Joe (of course), who said it wasn't "his cut cup of tea" but that "the kids would like it." Bill and Ann, however, both grooved to "Make It, Take It," and Ann especially liked its "Philly sound." Funny comments all around, but still, am I the only one who thinks the beginning part where they show Joe simply listening to the music ' looking utterly deadpan ' is the most hilarious?
Digital cable has conquered television broadcasting, yet one pirate analog signal persists: the Channel X News Team! That is, until their broadcast is discovered by the evil KableVision corporation. On top of evil coporate entities, the CXN team has been receiving messages from the future-version of CXN weatherman Chris Galanti.
Will they infiltrate KableVision in time for their 5 p.m. broadcast? And what are these prophetic telecommunications from the future? There is more than meets the eye going on beneath the Philadelphia skyline.
This low-budget Anchorman/The Office/X-Men hybrid was created by a crew of recent Temple grads. Watch the first ep above.
So we're not going to pretend to know any more solid facts about this event than you do. Let's see: We've got a lineup of Brian Blomerth, Frankie Martin and Eyeballz, Andrew Jeffrey Wright and a few TBAs. (Wright is a local artist who also makes pretty tees for Art in the Age.) It's ostensibly a comedy show. But a comedy show that's like, subversive or something. And about art. Oh wait, here's a note from one of the performers about last night's show in Baltimore. Surely that'll clear things up:
So we will be in my hometown tonight at my home space, Space 1026. Philly, get ready for some serious experimental theater! You are not going to see any of this this stuff on PBS! Last night we performed at Tarantula Hill in Baltimore. With the exception of when Brian Blomerth was onstage the room was kind of crickety. Brian has a great act based on art therapy, gender roles and whether the microphone works or not. The evening had a lot of festivities, a cat show, a food eating contest, a baking contest as well as our four acts and videos. The caretakers of Tarantula Hill, Twig and Carley, rule! We each made four more dollars than the night before!
Well, not exactly. But sounds fun, no?
Thu., Aug. 6, 8 p.m., $5 donation, Space 1026, 1026 Arch St., 2nd floor, 215-574-7630, space1026.com.
Let this just be a reminder that tomorrow morning, at the bright 'n' early hour of 10 a.m., tickets go on sale for It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia's live Tower Theater performance of "The Night Cometh," the fourth season episode in which Charlie writes a rock opera. Oh boy oh boy oh boy.
I don't want to create a riff traffic jam.
By the time Mystery Science Theater 3000 turned off the lights in 1999, Joel Hodgson had already been long-retired from the world of B-movie riffing. He went on to write for TV shows, like Space Ghost and Jimmy Kimmel. These days Hodgson's back in the game, having gathered a bunch of his old MST3K pals (Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, Frank Conniff and Mary Jo Pehl) for Cinematic Titanic, a series of DVDs and live shows that once again feature his silhouette over bad movies. (Meanwhile, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and other MST3K alums are doing RiffTracks ' mp3s full of jokes to accompany big Hollywood blockbusters.) Cinematic Titanic will be at the Trocadero on Friday with Alien Factor and Saturday with Danger on Tiki Island.
City Paper: What's special about these two movies?
Joel Hodgson: It's funny, you just try to find these perfect, forgotten, orphaned films that you hope people have never seen before and work well with what we do. We try to build a show on the back of these movies. We have different criteria for what we like and it's just usually gotta be a play that you wanna spend, that you're willing to spend, 90 minutes at along with us. That's kind of it.
Alien Factor is really interesting in that it's got a kind of high concept where there's a zoological expedition from outer space crash lands outside of Baltimore and the monsters get loose and start terrorizing the town.
And Tiki Island is really nice looking movie and it's well made but they have the worst monster, probably, in movie history.
CP: What makes it the worst monster?
JH: It just was poorly constructed and not well thought out. He looks like the Michelin Man if he got in a fiery car crash.
|Danger on Tiki Island|
It's just usually those elements that's funny. You know people think we just' riff on bad movies, or cheesy movies, but the movies do have to have a certain amount of structure to carry the thing. They do have to be able to tell a story. There are some movies that are so bad we can't use them.
CP: Do you find that your movie standards/requirements are different for Cinematic Titanic than they were for MST3K?
JH: Yeah absolutely because we perform it live, so it's really about entertaining an audience for 90 minutes. And we're a bit more strict about it.
You know, we just kind of were rollin' 'em off. When we did Mystery Science Theater, we did like 22 shows a year. And we didn't have to really answer to anybody. Fortunately it worked out great, I'm super proud of Mystery Science Theater, really happy that people still know about it and care about it 20 years after.
But we have to be a little more particular.
CP: This is more like theater, right?
JH: It's a movie and a play kind of put together. Cause we're on stage performing it. We're kinda sandwiched between this movie and the audience. So you have to go in feeling confident that you can make it work and that the audience will have fun.
CP: Is there room for improv?
JH: Oh yeah, it's funny but we've learned that the most satisfying experiences for people are when we're having fun too. So we're trying to do two things, which is amuse the audience and amuse each other. That means you have to surprise each other occasionally and throw in stuff.
CP: Does that knock the timing off?
JH: You just have a certain amount of time so you have to be alert to that. You have to be thinking: I don't want to create a riff traffic jam. If you're gonna start to plow into other people's lines, you have to feel like you got something really good.
CP: How many times would you say you've seen these particular movies?
JH: We go through them several times while we're writing them. Your first pass is the joke pass or a riff pass. And then we kind of divvy up, we all write them separately. And then we decide who is supervising a section. So I might get a 15 minute or 20 minute segment. And it's my job to go through everybody's riffs and my riffs and kinda marry everything together. We each do a section and then we go through it again and do a joke polish.
We have our scripts but we each have about 150 jokes, each person, so you have to figure out there they land and where all the jokes go in the body of the movie.
CP: If things aren't tight, that's part of the fun, I guess.
JH: Yeah. You have to leave room for error. It's live and were doing a lot. For instance let's say Trace is delivering a line ahead of me and gets a huge laugh it could eclipse the set-up to my joke. We're constantly in the mode of moving material around and shuffling it back in if we can't say it somewhere.
CP: How are the DVDs selling?
JH: Great. ' We were kind of an instant hit.
It was kind of motivated by just seeing' You know, from Mystery Science Theater I get royalty checks and it keeps going up every year, which really was surprising to me. And I kinda felt like man it's time to refresh it. All these shows are at least 10 years old so I felt like now would be a good time to refresh it and do new movies for that fanbase.
The Mystery Science Theater fanbase is really organized and they always have been, and so that makes it very easy to distribute our product directly to the people who want it.
CP: In the old days the episodes would end with 'Keep Circulating the Tapes' and I guess now that's even easier.
JH: That was our way of saying I Want My MTV. The show was only on in certain markets and we were learning that people were making VHS's and sending them to their friends who couldn't get it.
Almost every time we go somewhere is people come up and go oh yeah our cousins lived in a place that got it and at Thanksgiving they'd bring all the tapes and we'd watch the tapes or at Christmas time after we opened presents we'd put in the Mystery Science Theater tapes.
So we realized oh yeah we should encourage people to. Since we had already been paid, you know we made the show, we felt like we should encourage people to do that,
CP: What's your relationship with your fellow MST3K alums over at RiffTrax?
JH: Well, pretty good. We saw them last summer, you know we did the 20th anniversary thing at Comic-Con. I think it's good. You know, they're obviously talented. [Patton Oswalt moderated the reunion. Start watching the shaky YouTube video here.]
CP: When you were thinking about rekindling everything, did you consider dusting off the robots?
JH: Yeah we kind of started that way. We started working with Jim Mallon, who was my ex-partner who was the guy, you know we were fighting that's why I left the show.
I had found a movie and we started to work on it. And it all fell apart, we just couldn't make a deal with Jim. The next day I called Trace to tell him and he said oh man we should just do this. We should just present it.
We started earnestly looking at it like how will we do this? What's the easiest and the most direct way to present what we do? I kind of cued off of Phillip Glass, you know, watching Phillip Glass perform. And it's just so deliberate, it's a concert and the idea of us just standing there presenting what we do.
And we kind of earned it because it's been 20 years. We don't have to dress up anymore.
You know, you change as a performer and as a person over 20 years, you become different. I don't even know how I'd get back into that in a way. So after thinking about it, when it didn't work out, it was kinda like how do you do that? And what if it's not as good? What if you screw up the brand because you thought we'd do it again and it wasn't as good or didn't feel the same.
Everybody's pretty happy with how it worked out.
Fri.-Sat., June 12-13, 7 p.m., $38, Trocadero, 1003 Arch St., 215-922-LIVE, thetroc.com, CinematicTitanic.
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