What happens when you pack 10 talented improvisers on to one small stage, blind-fold them then turn out the lights? You get a uniquely visceral improv comedy show performed in the pitch black, duh.
After a successful run in the 2011 Philly Fringe Festival under the title Dark Comedy, the Philly Improv Theater is now reviving the production, now dubbed The Bat, for a three-week run with shows every night Thursday through Sunday, as well as a special second midnight show on Saturday. And having gotten a chance to attend a preview performance, I can assure you it lives up to the intrigue.
With both the audience and performers forced to exercise their imaginations even more so than usual, The Bat unfolds similarly to radio play all starting with a poem passage randomly selected before the show and read out loud on the stage. “It offers the cast and audience a feeling—a shared emotional connection that you really don’t get from just asking for a word,” explains local improv vet Jason Grimley, the show’s director.
From there, just sit back, close your eyes and prepare to have your mind blown as the cast use nothing but their lightening speed wits and uncanny human sound effects to craft a wild series of scenes and characters. While obviously you’d assume not being able to play off one another’s actions and expressions would be severely limiting to the performers, it turns out it can actually have some advantages. For instance, only in the dark could you have a character convincingly tumble down several flights of stairs without them ever having to leave their seat.
7pm. Through May 19. $12-$20. The Shubin Theater, 407 Bainbridge St.
Whether you’re already a regularly performing comedian or just a funny Average Joe dying to get your hands on a microphone, you now have a chance to become the Philly Improv Theater’s next bright and shiny comedic star.
For its first-ever Sweeps Weeks, the theater is currently seeking submissions for a hilarious original new monthly variety show to add to their already awesome weekly/monthly line-up. It could be a game show. It could be a talk show. It could be a show that incorporates music, dancing and puppetry. It could be a puppet game show. Whatever. As long as it’s not strictly improv or sketch, the sky’s the limit.
If interested, have your concept thoroughly fleshed out by March 10 and to shoot an email to PHIT’s Variety Producer and incredibly talented Jill of Trades, Ms. Jessica Ross (email@example.com) with your name, email addy and the subject “Sweeps Weeks.” You’ll receive a reply by March 14 with a brief survey regarding the various details of your show. Be sure to provide a very thorough description. The more they know, the better your chances.
In May, selected applicants will be giving a chance to perform a 30-minute “pilot” for a live audience, who will then rate the show, determining whether or not it advances to the semifinal round. Those final four semifinalists will perform again on May 29, then the two to make it out alive will perform one last time on June 5. Ultimately, it’ll be up to a panel of judges to decide who deserves to be invited back each month.
Even if you’re show isn’t picked, you’ll still get some much needed feedback should you want to go on and try to have it produced elsewhere. Or you’ll be the laughing stock of the town, which is exactly what you wanted in the first place.
I highly recommend checking out a few of the million different indie local comedy shows going on around the city, pretty much any night of the week for both inspiration and research. As always, PHIT has a jam-packed weekend of laughs in store.
Be sure to check back when the Sweeps Weeks get underway in May as I will most definitely be sizing up the competition.
The glitz, the glamor, the gags—the 2013 WitOut Awards for Philadelphia Comedy had it all.
Held for the second year by the local comedy blog, WitOut.net downstairs at World Café Live, the event is basically the only chance comedians in this town have to receive a snazzy golden plaque and legitimate recognition for their hard work and talent. You know, given how incredibly undervalued comedy is as an art form.
This year, those snazzy gold plaques were awarded in a total of 13 different categories, not counting the ridiculous and totally made-up pre-show awards, which included “Most Exorbitant Ticket Fee” (Winner: the 2013 WitOut Awards) and “Most Embarrassed By His Delco Roots (Winner: Jim Grammond).
Following the traditional award show format, the ceremony opened with a song and dance number from Samantha Brown & The Grimacchio Dancers along with the evening’s co-hosts, Jason Grimley and Ralph Andracchio aka. Grimacchio. Not only did the platonic improvisational life partners prove to have surprisingly very lovely singing voices, but they did a stellar job keeping the show in check. And, of course, they did it all without a teleprompter (take that Amy Poehler and Tina Fey!).
Whether scripted or spontaneous, the night’s presenters and winners all brought their A-Game. Perhaps the most memorable acceptance speeches were that of Jess Ross who accepted the award for “Best Female Improviser” by kindly telling everyone who wronged her in elementary school to go fuck themselves and Mary Radzinksi who accepted the award for “Special Achievement in the Field of Tweeting” in only 140 characters.
Other highlights from the show: the squad of puppet police that chased John Kensil and Dr. Moody off the stage, the brief and tender kiss between Luke Field and Brian Kelly, the heated quarrel between improv duo Kait & Andrew, the mere presence of the Narragansett Tall Boy mascot, and the newly appointed house band, Philadelphia Slick who brought the funk all night long.
Having correctly predicted or voted for 9 out of the 13 winners, I can’t say there were any big shockers, except for The Feeko Brothers taking home the award for “Best Sketch Group” for the second time (I thought for sure this was going to be Secret Pants’ year).
As for the red carpet fashions, well, you’d be surprised just how well comedians clean up. My picks for the night’s best-dressed would have to go to Fastball Pitcher Bob Gutierrez who came donning his usual oh-so constricting short-shorts and knee-high socks and the sketch comedy mavens of ManiPedi who made cornrows look dammnn good.
Anyway, without further adieu, I present the complete list of 2013 WitOut Award winners:
BEST STAND-UP COMEDIAN — Aaron Hertzog
BEST SKETCH GROUP — The Feeko Brothers
BEST IMPROV GROUP — Asteroid!
BEST STAND-UP BIT — First Guy in the World/Netflix (Aaron Hertzog)
BEST SKETCH — Mystery Science Andre 3000 (Camp Woods)
BEST MALE IMPROVISER — Luke Field
BEST FEMALE IMPROVISER — Jess Ross
BEST REGULAR SHOW — Camp Woods Plus
BEST SHORT-RUN/ONE-TIME SHOW — The Improvised B-Movie Double Feature (Asteroid!)
BEST PODCAST/WEB SERIES — Gettin’ Close with Mike Marbach
SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN THE FIELD OF TWEETING — Mary Radzinski (@MaryRadzinski)
BEST OPEN MIC — Sketch Up or Shut Up
BEST NEW ACT — Davenger
**Photos courtesy of Erin Pitts
If any night this week you should find yourself sitting at home re-watching Elf for the hundredth time or, even worse, one of those ABCFamily Original holiday movies inevitably starring some washed-up 90s B-Lister, here’s what you should do:
Put down the remote immediately, get dressed, head to The Adrienne Theater and purchase tickets for BCKSEET Productions‘ new holiday musical EL Fuego as well as the Philly Improv Theater’s new mouthful of a show: 100% Improvised Baby Jesus’ Menorah Kwanztravaganza & Comedy Spectacular (On Ice).*
Not only will you save yourself some cash by buying a combo-ticket, but you’ll be ensuring you get a well-rounded night of season-appropriate entertainment.
Starting with EL Fuego, the show opens in the North Pole after a devastating fire has killed countless of innocent elves. Those who didn’t loose their lives in the blaze are now on strike, refusing to carry out Santa’s dirty work another day under such demanding and unsafe conditions. It’s all up to one brave little soul, Scab The Elf (Sarah Doherty) to save Christmas, a task that entails trekking to North America and kidnapping four unemployed humans then holding them hostage and forcing them to speak in rhyme.
The production reminded me of Glee in the way that it’s very openly and unapologetically cheesy, but still super sharp at the same time. Now obviously, if you’re not a fan of musicals, this show is going to feel like probably going to be torturous for you.
Those who do enjoy the occasional song and dance on the other hand, are going to be absolutely delighted. Not only is playwright/musical director and BCKSEET artistic director, Kate Brennan quite the lyrical genius, but the talented cast proved far more enjoyable than I could have initially imagined. Both Maria Konstantindis (Euki) and Cindy Spitko (Hope) gave me chills every time they opened their mouths.
Simply put, if you don’t leave EL Fuego feeling unusually giddy, take it as a sign that you’re completely dead inside.
Regardless, you’re going to want to stick around till 9 p.m. to see what sort of spontaneous holiday magic the members of PHIT’s stellar house teams are able to create with the help of a lucky audience member.
This person will be asked to reveal one of their best/worst Christmas memories (a guaranteed source of some pretty great comedic material) and the troupe will then use their skills and wits to recreate said family gathering—a greatly exaggerated version, of course. The fact that they’ll be doing it all within the El Fuego set (the scorched interior of Santa’s workshop) only adds to the overall experience.
*Oh, and they’re not actually performing on ice, just in case you wondering.
But how awesome would it be if next year, the Philly Improv Theater and BCKSEET Productions join forces and created the first ever 100 Percent Improvised Holiday Musical On Ice?
7pm/9pm. Through Dec. 31. $12-$35. Skybox @ The Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St. 267.233.1556.
Do you attend a lot of local comedy shows? Is there a particular local comic or comedy troupe that you feel deserve to be recognized by their peers and awarded with a cool plaque? Are any of your friends local comedians?
If you can answer “yes” to any of the above questions, then perhaps you should consider casting your votes for the 2013 WitOut Awards for Philadelphia Comedy.
Now in its second year, this is the only event that acknowledges and celebrates the city’s burgeoning comedy scene and all that has made it great over the past year, all while simultaneously poking fun at traditional award shows. Nominees have been chosen in 13 different categories ranging from “Best Regular Show” and “Best Open Mic” to “Best New Act” and “Special Achievement in the Field of Tweeting.”
“We’ve opened voting and the awards show to the public this year to engage new audiences, because the more people there are in general who support Philly comedy, the better it will be for all of us,” explains WitOut editor in-chief, Alison Zeidman.
In case you’re not familiar, basically WitOut.net is where you should be turning for all your Philly comedy-related needs including, Q&As, videos, show recaps, a weekly Twitter roundup, and best of all, a schedule of practically every sketch, stand-up and improv show happening around town. And since the blog is run by a crew of local comics, you can also be sure to find plenty of less informative, but hilarious reading material.
Once you’ve cast your vote, go ahead and purchase your tickets to the award show going down Sunday, January 13 at World Cafe Live. Hosted this year by local improv duo Grimacchio, the ceremony is essentially one big parody of the Academy Awards with the funniest folks in Philly serving as the evening’s presenters. There will also be live music from Philly Slick and a pre-show red carpet photo opp with Tom Lovelund Photography.
Polygon Comedy: Holiday Explosion!: Anything with the word “Explosion” in the title is probably worth checking out, right? This month, Philly’s independent comedy showcase will feature the wits of stand-up comic Jake Alvarez, followed by the angry local improvisers, Angry People Building Things and improv tag-team Rosen & Milkshake. Your headlining act for the evening is none other than the gals of ManiPedi, the hilarious sketch troupe who you may or may not remember from PW’s cover a few weeks ago. 7:30pm. $5. L’Etage, 624 S. Sixth St.
Second Stories: The Worst X-Mas Ever III: If you’re looking for a few laughs tonight, but don’t have $5 bucks to shell out on a cover, just head over to The Dive where upstairs, several funny locals will be sharing their most horrendous/embarrassing Christmas memories, all for your entertainment. So not only are you guaranteed some good chuckles, but you might start conjuring up a few repressed holiday memories of your own—for better or worst. 7pm. Free. The Dive, 947 E. Passayunk Ave.
Christmas Movie Quizzo: If you own a TV, you’ve probably seen Elf, A Christmas Story, Home Alone and Christmas Vacation at least a dozen times. Now finally, you have a chance to put all the useless info you’ve retained about these holiday classics to good use during four rounds of trivia, one movie for each. Perhaps needless to say, come bringing you’re A-game because these are going to be some pretty tough questions. If you can’t make it out tonight or simply want a do-over, the event will be re-hosted Wednesday night with the same drink specials and Christmas tacos. What’s a “Christmas Taco?” I have no idea. Tues., 8pm & Weds., 8:30pm. Free. Drinker’s Tavern, 124 Market St.
CakeStyle Philadelphia Pop-Up Shop: For one day only, the virtual styling service for busy, modern women will be bringing their holiday selection of designer fashion and accessories into the real world, right here to Philly. Not only will guests will have a chance to win a $1,300 dollar Victoria diamond shaker necklace from local designer, Adornia, but a portion of the day’s proceeds benefit The Hamels Foundation. The shop will be open all day (8am-8pm) and you don’t need to be a sporting club member to check out the designer duds inside. Wednesday, 8am-8pm. Free. The Sporting Club at the Bellevue, 224 S. Broad St.
Spirits & Suds Bar Crawl: Start building up your alcohol tolerance now as you hit as many of the 12 participating bars/pubs/restaurants along E. Passyunk Avenue as your stomach/liver can stand. For just $5 dollars, you’ll get $3 dollar craft beers, $4 dollar cocktails and $5 snacks at select locations as well as your choice of either a Santa or Elf hat and “Santa’s Sipping Stamp Card.” Once you’ve collected five stamps on said card, you’ll be entered to win a $300 in gift certificates, with every additional stamp bettering your odds. The long list of drink and food specials include Art in the Age cocktails at Birra (1700 EPA), $5 dollar nachos at Adobe Café (1919 EPA), cranberry-ginger margaritas at Cantina Los Caballitos (1651 EPA) and a $5 dollar meatball sub at Stogie Joes (1801 EPA). 5:30pm-10pm. $5. Various locations along E. Passyunk Ave.
El Fuego & Philly Improv Theater’s 100% Improvised Baby Jesus’ Menorah Kwanztravaganza & Comedy Spectacular: Don’t be confused by the incredibly long and hilarious title—these are actually just two separate shows, which happen to be taking place in the same venue right after one another. First up is El Fuego, a new holiday musical that takes place after a fire has devastated the North Pole, killing countless innocent elves. The elves that did survive are on strike due to unsafe working conditions. Need I really say more? Afterwards, catch an all-encompassing holiday production in which one of the Philly Improv Theater’s house teams recreates a holiday gathering based on those shared by a few randomly selected audience members. Sounds like a pretty sweet double header, huh? So be sure to make a night of it (and save yourself some cash) by getting tickets to both shows. 7pm/9pm. Through Dec. 31. $12-$35. Skybox @ The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St.
Bario-Neal Holiday Party: Peruse the selection of handcrafted adornments from this Philly-based jewelry brand while enjoying delicious seasonal cocktails, beer from Yard’s Brewing and treats from Federal Donuts and Yumtown. Don’t feel guilty about splurging on one of Bario-Neal’s since all of their jewelry is made with reclaimed precious metals, ethically sourced stones and low-impact, earth-friendly practices. Also, bring in a new toy for CHOP’s Holiday Toy Drive and in exchange, you’ll receive 40 percent off any one item in the boutique. 5-9pm. Free. Bario-Neal, 700 S. Sixth St.
Nicole Miller’s Annual Men’s Night: For all the fellas out there who wouldn’t know an awesome gift if it smacked them in face, Nicole Miller is coming to the rescue. In addition to complimentary personal shopping and gift-wrapping services, the shop will be serving cocktail, hors d’oeuvres and even a few models. When picking out the perfect gift for the gal(s) in your life, keep in mind that 10 percent of all sales from the event will benefit the Ventri Foundation. So don’t be stingy. 6-9pm. Free. Nicole Miller Bellevue, 200 S. Broad St.
The entire gang—Briana, Madonna, Shannon, Aubrie and Kait—will be performing at the Philly Improv Theater (407 Bainbridge St.) on Friday at 10 p.m. and if you thought their mugs were adorable on last week’s cover, just wait till you see them up close. Tickets are $8 in advance or $10 at the door and sharing the bill is the long-form improv group, Apocalips, another local crew of funny females.
With that much comedic talent and estrogen under one tiny roof, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few heads exploded. And speaking of heads exploding, as a special treat, the troupe will be patching up their handmade food costumes for yet another round of “Food Fight.” (If Shannon comes packing the same punches as she did during Sketchfest, this could very well be the final round.)
Anyway, having originally compiled a rather extensive list of “Things You Absolutely Do Not Need To Know About ManiPedi,” I figured I’d share a few of the factoids that didn’t make the cut to hold you over till their show….
#1. The group has written/performed a total of six different sketches in which someone dies or is about to die.
#2. To make Shannon’s shrimp costume for “Food Fight,” Kait—who designs many of their costumes and show flyers—laboriously sewed foam to several pieces of cardboard with a giant needle until her hands were sore. This wasn’t entirely in vain since that’s the only food costume that’s been able to withstand the many beatings.
#3. Thanks to Madonna, Aurbie and Shannon are both addicted RuPaul’s Drag Race.
#4. Briana rocks out to show tunes in her car—even with the windows down.
#5. All five members have taken various improv and sketch classes in the city while Aubrie and Madonna are currently enrolled in a “Sketch 101” course at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater in NYC.
#6. Kait is always assigned the “cuckoo bird” roles. In fact, if she’s on stage, she’s probably screaming most of her dialogue.
#7. During the interview process, the group and I killed four bottles of wine.
#8. Aubrie is terrified of masks—the stupider, the scarier.
#9. The photo featured on the cover was taken mere seconds after all five ladies simultaneously lost their composure, laughing through their teeth till their faces were red.
#10. Since the story ran, the gals have reached dog #13 in the “Underdog Challenge,” and at this pace, they might be able to clear all 22 in another week.
Be sure to stick around after their show for Sketch Up Or Shut Up, the only free sketch comedy open mic in town. And if you want to make an entire weekend of it, consider stopping by PHIT on Sunday when Canadian actor and comedian Kevin McDonald from The Kids in the Hall will be appearing as a special guest with PHIT’s esteemed instructors in The Deans show (7 p.m., $10-$12). Afterwards, he’ll even be doing a brief Q&A with the audience.