This year’s ASF is packed with awesome and thanks to Laugh, Dammit! we know it’s going out with a bang. Closing out the fest on Sunday night is the brainchild of comedian and musician Derek Phelps and his co-producer brother Paul. Laugh, Dammit! is a comedy gameshow where contestants do their best to hold back the laughs while a horde of comedians assault them with all the funny business they can muster. We asked Derek Phelps to reveal some battle plans.
Is Laugh, Dammit! the the only regular comedy game show in town?
Derek Phelps: I believe there are a couple live game shows in Austin. But, ours is the only regular one that I know of, especially on this scale. We’ve been going for about a year now and it’s been getting bigger and better and more fun each time out. Recently we’ve settled into a comfy home at Cap City Comedy Club and we couldn’t be happier.
Where did the idea to launch this project come from?
Derek: My brother and I were inspired by the old tv show “Make Me Laugh”, which was a great vehicle for comics like Garry Shandling and Gallagher. Other comics like “The Unknown Comic” (a one-liner comic with a bag over his head) used to kill on that show but we never seemed to see him doing anything else. There are some very funny people who are funnier than ever when they are on our panel. I think the fact it is a completely unique way of performing comedy makes most of our comedian panelists even funnier, especially now that they know what they’re getting themselves into. Fans of stand-up and improv really love our show because it’s a whole new way to experience comedy in Austin.
How has the show evolved since the first performance?
Derek: When we first began we focused on developing the “game” of the show but once we nailed our elements down we focused more on our “show”. Our show is a game, with panelists making audience members laugh, within the framework of a show, which is our host David James, our “vanna” Roxy Castillo, and our “pardo” Duncan Carson. We’ve developed their characters and they are just such exceptionally funny people that we know every show is going to kill even though the game itself can be incredibly unpredictable. We didn’t expect unpredictability would be something we would embrace but the show’s funniest moments have nearly always been completely unplanned. We love how that happens and we’ve developed some great triggers to make sure every single show is side-splittingly funny.
The show mixes different types of performers. Have you noticed differences in the way a stand-up approaches a contestant vs. an improviser or a sketch performer?
Definitely. When we book the funny people for the show we try and mix up the comedians based on their backgrounds in comedy and what we’ve seen them do. But, there are always surprises. Cody Hustak (regularly performs as a stand-up) once ate part of the set in an attempt to make the contestant laugh. Sometimes improvisers are used to performing in a group and part of the show they have to be on their own, so it sometimes brings out a different side to their comedy. These surprises are my favorite parts of the show and Laugh, Dammit! is never short on surprises.
What’s your favorite show that you’ve done?
Each show is a tribute to a movie. We’ve done The Breakfast Club, Rocky, Pulp Fiction, and Die Hard. We’ll be performing Star Trek for the first time at Austin Sketch Fest and can’t wait. We’ve performed our tribute to The Notebook several times and the second time we did it was amazing. We had Scott Hardy with us for the first time (he is now a part of our regular team) and he absolutely killed. More than one person was wiping away laugh-inspired tears at the end of the night.
What are you looking forward to at the Fest?
Derek: Oh man. Well, we’re biased, so I’d have to say our show first. Ha. But, we’re also big fans of Master Pancake Theater and are excited to see that in a different venue than they usually are.
Whatcha got cookin’ for your ASF show?
We can’t wait to perform our show – which is so different from traditional sketch and improv comedy – for diehard fans of funny. And our plans for our Star Trek tribute are… out of this world funny. We can’t wait. We’ll have our full cast, David, Roxy, Duncan, along with a panel of funny people including Scott Hardy, Amy Botelho, Rob Gagnon, and Trey Galyon (all the way from NYC!).
Laugh, Dammit! will be at 10pm, Sunday May 26th at the SpiderHouse Ballroom. Get tickets here or at the door.