With the retirement of STAG Comedy, Your Terrific Neighbors “officially” became the oldest “serving” non-Esther’s sketch comedy group in Austin. YTN is also now the only group to have performed at every Austin Sketch Fest. Curtis Luciani and Courtney Hopkins are two of the busiest comedic actors and writers in Austin, appearing in dozens of scripted and improvised productions each year.
Your Terrific Neighbors (or YTN) are Courtney Hopkin, Curtis Luciani and (now) Adam Hilton! YTN has performed at every Austin Sketch Fest, making them – along with STAG Comedy – the only members of the 6-timer club. Although these humble writer/performers would shy away from labels like legendary and boundary-shattering, we can confirm that YTN is indeed both those things.
We spoke with Hopkin and Luciani about their writing process, where they stand in the popular imagination and why they let Adam Hilton in the group.
Hey-o! This is your 6th appearance at ASF, making you the “Elder Statesmen” of the Austin Sketch. How has the scene changed over the last few years?
Courtney Hopkin: It’s growing and that’s so amazing. I see so many shows that inspire me and so many more women doing those shows. It’s wonderful to see.
Curtis Luciani: There’s a ton of newer sketch troupes in town and I’m thrilled to see it. That said: Keep doing it! Don’t break up or stop after six months! We don’t want to be the only weird old people who’ve been doing it for this long.
Courtney: Please. Being the elder statesman sounds cool but really it feels like you’re the old dude who won’t leave the party. Please be the old dude with us.
What hot up and comers are you interested in seeing this year?
Curtis: Ugh, I hate to pick! I don’t know if you’d call her an “up-and-comer,” because she already rules the world as far as I’m concerned: Vanessa Gonzalez. When I saw her one-woman show last year, it made me so happy, I wanted to cry. So smart and silly and fantastic. Go see her before she gets famous and leaves us all in the dust.
Courtney: I’m loving Unrepresented. New troupe, experienced comedians, big fan of both Jeff Whitaker and Courtney Sevener.
Courtney: But god, we love all of them, right, Curtis? We’re big fans of anyone that wants to do this insane form of comedy.
Curtis: That’s right, Courtney. That’s right.
Not too many people remember them, but the Plurals were a sketch group here in Austin way back in 2005. Two of them, Joel and Braden, are former members of YTN. What’s the deal? Have you finally convinced Adam Hilton to come out of retirement and join you? What’s keeping him? AUSTIN WANTS TO SEE IT.
Curtis: It’s like we planted this question for you! The fact is, Adam Hilton is now in the mix as a contributing member of the Neighbors. We’re three for three on Plurals.
Courtney: When Joel left, Braden moved back to Austin and I pretty much begged him to be in the troupe. He’s a teacher and is very busy so doing all the shit we do was really hard for him. So he decided he would rather live a sane life than kill himself making dumb props and memorizing bullshit for the rest of his life. At that point, getting Adam in the troupe had become a joke, not something we seriously thought about. When Braden left, I’m not joking, Adam emailed me “FINE!!” and then he came to our next meeting.
Curtis: Adam couldn’t join us for this Hot Seat because he is busy being a pillar of the Austin arts community, but I’m sure that if he were here right now, he’d say, “That’s right, Courtney. That’s right.”
You guys have a charming, comedy writing partner version of the meet cute. Let’s hear it.
Curtis: Courtney will tell it because it’s an embarrassing story about her being a horrible gross drunk.
Courtney: I’m really gross and drunk right now. Sorry.
Curtis: OK, I’ll tell it. The truth is that Courtney and I were talking at a party and she literally begged me: “Please… please… let me be in Your Terrific Neighbors.” It was like John Turturro in Miller’s Crossing. Fortunately, I already thought Courtney was a stellar comedy brain, due to having seen her in Ratgirls and other things. So there was actually no need for her to humiliate herself like that.
Courtney: I’m really gross and drunk right now. Sorry.
What are the public’s biggest misconceptions about YTN?
Curtis: It’s flattering for you to suggest that “the public” has any conception of us, one way or another. On a serious note, it drives me up the fucking wall when people assume that Courtney doesn’t write just as much material as I do.
Courtney: Yeah, it seems a lot of people think that Your Terrific Neighbors is Curtis’ project and I’m basically in it.
Curtis: Knock it off, people!
How does the writing process work for you guys? Walk us through a typical show from pitch to performance?
Courtney: We spend a good amount of time fucking around, saying dumb shit to each other and then saying “put it in the doc!” which just means to put it in our idea repository. We meet every week and if we don’t have something specific to work on, we’ll pick something out of the repository and play with it.
Curtis: We end up writing tons of partial scripts. Some of them never get finished and performed. When we have something coming up, we take the scripts that seem to be the best mix of funny and close to complete, polish them up, and practice them.
Courtney: All that’s pretty boring, normal stuff, though. I feel like what makes our writing process successful is that we don’t have a lot of ego wrapped up in our stuff. It’s cool to defend something you feel strongly about and the other people will see that you feel passionately about it and usually understand that it’s for a reason and that you have a specific vision for it. On the other hand, we can make lots of suggestions for making a sketch better and the person who wrote it is game to take that feedback graciously.
You are both involved with so many projects PLUS you’re grown ups with jobs and families and shit. How do you do find the time to do it?
Curtis: I think you have to just do it. If it matters to you, you make and keep the commitment to keep on meeting, keep on writing, keep on performing. Be flexible and forgiving when other things are happening, but keep it up.
Courtney: Doing it makes it easier to do it. The more time I give myself to worry about stuff, the more likely I’ll get too nervous to actually do it or lose faith or confidence, so I just keep doing as much as I can. I don’t get much sleep and my kid drives himself to school in the morning.
Please come up with a click bait headline for this article.
Curtis: Hmm. How about “John Oliver OBLITERATES The Hypocrisy of Your Terrific Neighbors”?
Courtney: I keep trying to create a dialogue on this last question but that’s not the point. “John Stewart stares dejectedly into space after hearing something embarrassingly stupid Your Terrific Neighbors said.” But no one would click on that.
Your Terrific Neighbors plays at the Spider House Ballroom Friday, May 22nd at 10pm along with Kingmaker and Bob Khosravi. TICKETS HERE.