Your Terrific Neighbors

ASF Hot Seat: Your Terrific Neighbors

ASF Hot Seat: Your Terrific Neighbors

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.

ASF Hot Seat: Your Terrific Neighbors

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.

Curtis: Yesssss.

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.

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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.

ASF Hot Seat: Your Terrific Neighbors

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Your Terrific Neighbors have been the Austin sketch comedy gold standard for so many years, you might be tempted to take them for granted. But each performance proves that YTN continues to be as inventive as they are hilarious. We asked some questions to Curtis, Courtney, and Braden. Wait… where’s Braden?
Curtis Luciani: Sorry that Braden couldn’t make it to this online Q&A, guys. He’s a high school teacher, so between that and Sketch Fest, the month of May is pretty much designed to kill him.

Your Terrific Neighbors has been an Austin sketch mainstay for years now. How do you keep your work fresh?

Curtis: We keep our scripts sealed tight, and we push all the air out of the bag first. That’s an important step.

Courtney Hopkin: I think we all spend a lot of time consuming different kinds of entertainment, doing different kinds of shows, seeing different kinds of shows. Curtis was in a wrestling show this year. It’s great to come back from stuff like that with new ideas and not just have our heads buried in the sketch world.

Curtis: There will be lots of chair shots in the Sketch Fest show this year.

What can we expect from your ASF show?

Curtis: Hmmm. Folk tales! Sketches about people in offices. There will probably be one or two costumes. You know, sketch comedy-type stuff.

You’ve done shows with one narrative in the past, written original music, videos – is there something YTN hasn’t tackled yet that you’d like to take on?

Curtis: We’ve been talking about doing a full-out comedy play this year. We’ve kind of done that in the past, with some shows that were essentially one long sketch, but we’ve talked about going all out with that, with a full cast and everything.

Courtney: I’ve been really into vaudeville and commedia lately (I’ve been taking this uppity theater class for a semester) and I’m really excited for us to do more physical stuff. We’re very talky, which I love, but as always, we want to see what else we’re capable of. I’m pretty sure we can find new and fun ways to fall down a bunch!

Curtis: I will fall down in the swaggering but cowardly style of il capitano.

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What out-of-town acts are you looking forward to seeing?

Curtis: There are tons of terrific shows. But look: if you don’t go see Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting, you are a dope. They are maybe my favorite sketch group in current operation, full stop.

Courtney: I love Rabbit, Rabbit so much it hurts. Those guys just speak to me. I’m excited about Ithamar’s silent show. He’s such a precision craftsman. A lot of what makes comedy beautiful is clear, solid, specific choices and he is the master of that. It’s gonna be unlike anything else in the fest.

Curtis: Just get yourselves a pass and see all of the shows, citizens!

Your Terrific Neighbors perform Thursday, May 22nd at 8:30pm along with Why We Broke Up and Duncan Carson at the Spider House Ballroom. TICKETS HERE.

ASF Hot Seat: Your Terrific Neighbors

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One of the stand-out shows from last year’s Austin Sketch Fest was Your Terrific Neighbors‘ whirlwind performance. Shock collars, male cops with women’s sunglasses, the double duck, crab walking, iced tea spitting – it had it all. You can see them at this year’s Fest on Saturday May 25, along with Ennis & Kaye and Ramin Nazer (tickets here). We caught up with YTN (caught-up = sent an email to) and asked them some hard-hitting questions (hard-hitting = softball).
Braden Walker joined the group this year. Was there any sort of initiation ritual or hazing?

Braden Walker: Curtis and Courtney said to say that there’s absolutely no hazing or initiation involved in joining Your Terrific Neighbors, and that I’m just clumsy, is all! Rapid winks that may or may not be a signal.

Courtney Hopkin: But seriously, we have a very intense high-fiving ritual before each show so Braden had to train for six months to get in shape for that.

Curtis Luciani: But seriously, we made him pledge his eternal fealty to the elder gods. If you don’t know those guys, they are pretty intense, nothing like your contemporary gods. They’re really funny, though, and willing to share material in exchange for blood.

Courtney: But seriously, Braden’s sketch chops are super impressive and he fit in so perfectly. In fact, I had to spend several months convincing him to be in the troupe.

What can we expect from your ASF show?

Curtis: A whole new way of thinking about sketch, man. This thing is gonna be like an Apple keynote. We’re gonna drop it on ya Jobs-style. (R.I.P.)

Courtney: Expect interactivity, all new material and rich, clickable content.

Braden: Laughs 2.0, and a 25 minute show that will feel like 100 free hours… of fun!

What are some of your biggest comedy influences?

Courtney: I’m a sucker for anything British. It might be because it’s good or it might be because it just sounds like they’re smart. My favorite shows are League of Gentlemen and The Mighty Boosh, mostly because they make their shows a full experience that is tied together from beginning to end.

Braden: The earliest comedy influence I remember is watching “Bill Cosby: Himself.” Later I was really into Monty Python, Kids in the Hall, and Mr. Show. So if my influences were one person, he’d be a middle-aged British Canadian African-American Caucasian from Atlanta with three kids who lives in L.A. Help me find this man. Money is no object.

Curtis: Monty Python and Kids in the Hall were kind of the sun and stars for me. I’ve loved a ton of other things, but they were the two forces most responsible for restructuring my brain, comedy-wise. I’ve also been a massive fan of Scharpling & Wurster (of The Best Show on WFMU) for the past seven years. Their style and cadences creep into my head constantly.

Why sketch comedy?

Curtis: Because we’re all gonna die, so what the hell does it matter? Right?

Courtney: All the things I watched as a kid were just shows with lots of little tidy stories: You Can’t Do That on Television, The Muppet Show, Pinwheel. It seems like the natural way to tell stories.

Braden: I think what draws me to sketch comedy is the ability to do create short, absurd pieces of theater. I love the unpredictability of a good sketch show.

What are you looking forward to at Austin Sketch Fest?

Courtney: I’m looking forward to Beige, Rabbit, Rabbit, Lance Life and, of course, Superego.

Curtis: Superego is so awesome—they’re taking a totally different and hilarious approach to sketch comedy from anything I’ve ever seen.

Braden: I demand to see Paul F. Tompkins perform comedy at an comedy theater for a nominal fee!

Get to Know: Your Terrific Neighbors

Volleyball children, magic sex pencilists, submarine dads, jazzercise preachers, and dudes who love to 69, bro — these are but a few of Your Terrific Neighbors. One of Austin’s most passionately loved (and loving) sketch troupes, Your Terrific Neighbors are out there dropping fresh sketches on the community’s head on a monthly basis. They’ve been doing it for 4(ish) years and pride themselves on creating some of the most smartly dumb, dumbly smart, sweetly sick, sickly sweet comedy around, depending on what you mean by “around.” We asked YTN what the streets were sayin.
How did you get involved with doing sketch comedy?

Joel Osborne: I stumbled upon Kids In The Hall in my youth and became an instant addict of sketch. In college, four of us decided that since we were all borderline obsessed with the show and we thought each other hilarious that we should form our own group. We would meet about twice a week, write as many sketches as we could, and once a month drive from San Marcos to Austin to try out our pieces at No Shame Theater. There were a lot of rewrites. A lot.

Curtis Luciani: One day I decided that I wanted to do some sketch comedy, because writing full-length comic plays was too much of a pain in the ass. So I asked some of my favorite funny friends to do it with me. That was Your Terrific Neighbors version 1.
What’s your writing process like?

Courtney Hopkin: We try to exploit every possible combination: we write alone, in pairs, all together. Sometimes none of us are present when a sketch is being written because we’ve outsourced it to Korea.

We workshop sketches and look for advice from one another when we’re having trouble. Sometimes a sketch is very clearly owned by someone but most of the time a sketch is the result of lots of hilariously serious discussions about…how many spit takes is too many or just enough or whether or not the host of a talk show would still continue the show after a guest told him he was dead.

A lot of times, writing the sketches themselves is easy. It’s when we decide to do transitions between sketches, that decision making process can take a stupidly long time to decide on. We should have paid attention to that Mr. Show commentary.

What are you looking forward to at Austin Sketch Fest?

Joel: I love these kinds of festivals. Every sketch has a defining style or sense of humor that stands out among the others. It differs from group to group here in Austin, but when comparing groups here to those from other parts of the country it is much more apparent. When I see an out of town sketch show that has that kind of unfamiliar, style I usually leave with an overwhelming sense of inspiration. Last year after the Delicious Moments show, I remember thinking I have never seen anything close to what that was, and I very badly want to see something like that very soon.

What can we expect from your ASF show?

Curtis: Often our sketches will spring out of a single turn of phrase, or an absurd character tic, or a prop—something really small and particular. Then we build a couple of layers of absurdity on top of that, while trying to have an element that’s uncomfortably grounded in reality or weirdly touching. Hopefully, you can expect to laugh at the results?

List 5 things about Your Terrific Neighbors, of which only 3 are true.

One of us has a beard.
One of us killed a man in Toledo and took his name and social security number.
One of us is a legally recognized mother of a human child baby.
One of us still eats her boogers.
Everyone is scared to use Courtney’s pint glasses.

Your Terrific Neighbors performs at 29th streetballroom, Saturday, May 26th at 10 PM, with Delicious Moments. Tickets HERE.