comedy

All The Wisdom I Can Assemble: Here’s what I learned from being in a sketch comedy group. PT3

All The Wisdom I Can Assemble: Here’s what I learned from being in a sketch comedy group. PT3

By Mac Blake

STAGECRAFT OR NOW THAT YOU HAVE A SHOW

9. DEATH TO FALSE TRANSITIONS

If you're putting up an entire show, then you probably know to keep stage picture in mind, keep props and costumes to a minimum, be downstage as much as possible, project your voices, and keep transition times tight.

All The Wisdom I Can Assemble: Here’s what I learned from being in a sketch comedy group. PT2

All The Wisdom I Can Assemble: Here’s what I learned from being in a sketch comedy group. PT2

By Mac Blake

GROUP DYNAMICS OR HOW TO NOT KILL EACH OTHER

5. BE A FAN OF FEEDBACK

If you don’t want to hear other people’s opinions of your work, then you probably shouldn’t be in a group. Feedback, critique, notes are all necessary steps of creative process. You don’t always have to incorporate the notes, but you’d be dumb not to listen to them.

ASF Hot Seat: Bad Example

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Producing a brand new hour of original scripted comedy each and every week is a challenge. In fact, to anyone who has ever had to wrangle an unpaid cast of actors, writers and comedians, it sounds like some sort of stupid dare. To Bad Example, on the other hand, it’s a fun way to spend their week, writing and performing sketches in front of packed houses.
Bad Example is made up of a cross section of Austin comedy veterans, from stand-ups to improvisers and beyond. They performed last year at Austin Sketch Fest at ColdTowne and the New York City Sketch Fest. We spoke to producer Jeff Whittaker about their process.

You guys have been cranking out a brand new hour of sketch comedy every week for a while. What have you learned about writing and performing sketch in that time?

Jeff Whitaker: Yeah, we’ve been fortunate enough to have had the right group of people that allow us to crank out a new show every week. It hasn’t been easy, but I think one of the biggest takeaways that we’ve learned is that sketches (at least for us) work WAY better when there’s room for performance. I started Bad Example with the idea of being a polished sketch show. After our very first show, that was thrown out the window because the cast played it so much funnier than what I envisioned. Even sketches that I wrote that I was proud of were outshined by the performance of the cast. I think the biggest thing we’ve learned about writing and performing is that we have the most success when we trust each other to add our own flavor to it.

Walk us through Bad Example’s week.

Jeff: A typical Bad Example week will start on a Monday with pitches. We usually meet, touch base, talk about ideas we have, maybe even do a group writing session. After this, we break until Wednesday. Wednesday afternoon is when scripts are due. We read through them that evening, they get cast out and then we have until Saturday morning to learn our lines. Once Saturday morning hits, we see our show on its feet for the first time ever, run tech, gather props and then do the show that night. It’s all incredibly fast-paced, but we trust each other to be ready for the show so it’s always been ready to go come showtime.

What are the draw backs to doing a show this way? The benefits?

Jeff: We haven’t really experienced a ton of drawbacks. I suppose if you dug hard enough, you could say that maybe some sketches would benefit from more rehearsals. However, the benefits seem to outweigh the drawbacks. Without trying to speak for the entire group, we are in a unique position as writers to be given the chance to experiment. We have less pressure to make a sketch “perfect” and if something doesn’t land, there’s always next week, you know? It’s also been amazing to see the cast of writers hit their strides because they’ve been given an opportunity to quickly find their voice. We’ve performed an insane amount of brand-new shows already and to think how long it would have taken to write and perform the same number of shows is staggering. It would have taken YEARS to perform as much as we already have.

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If I gave you a category, would you be willing to give me some bad examples of stuff in that category?

Types of cars

Jeff: There’s a taco place called Mercedes-Beans. It’s a jalapeño driving another jalapeño. That seems barbaric!

Crayola Colors

Jeff: “I Just Masturbated Rouge”

How did your group get together?

Jeff: As I mentioned before, the group came together because I was trying to find a way to create a show that had a polished feel to it. After asking if I could have a show slot at some of the other theaters, I found that stage time was kind of hard to come by. I noticed that The New Movement had some vacancies and I went over there. However, I did not really know any of the performers. Purely off of recommendations and seeing a small handful do sketch at one-off shows, I asked people. Thankfully, everyone said yes. We had some new sketch writers/performers, along with some seasoned veterans.

That was the first version of Bad Example. We have largely remained the same cast but lost Olivia Doud and Ariel Greenspoon. Since then, we picked up Kelsey Rogers and Stephanie Pace (of Zoology Club), and John Buseman (of AC Lerok).

Who are your influences? Who are some of your favorite sketch comedy acts performing today?

Jeff: We all come from very different backgrounds so when asking who are influences are, these are some of the answers:
-Mr. Show
-Kids in the Hall (we had the honor of playing with Kevin McDonald in January)
-Saturday Night Live
-MadTV
-Key & Peele
-In Living Color
-All That (yes, the Nickelodeon show)

The list kind of goes on, but as you can see, we all have very different backgrounds which shaped our mind.

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What makes you laugh the most?

Jeff: I can’t speak for everyone, but I know what kills me the most is cast member Cody Cartagena’s scream. It is the loudest, most visceral scream and it kills me every time. Everyone should be paying attention to this guy. He’s the real deal.

What’s the best thing about the Austin comedy scene?

Jeff: Austin’s comedy scene is amazing and unique because the quality of the content is so high and the ability to put up almost anything is amazing. Stage time is abundant and the community is wildly supportive. It really has helped us find our footing and establish our identity.

Do you have any fun “worst show” or “worst audience member” stories?

Jeff: Worst show? I would say this one show we did in NYC could be the worst one we ever had. We were still newer when we applied so we got a 4pm show slot that was empty. We came out with some of our hardest hitting sketches that just fell flat because of poor audience attendance. I love that we stuck it out and I’m still proud of the show we did. It was so bizarre, though.

Worst audience members? Thankfully we’ve had good audiences, but we do occasionally get some like SUPER old people that are thrown off by some of our more crude sketches. It’s pretty great performing 2 feet in front of someone’s grandma holding a floppy penis prop in your hand.

Do you have any fun “best show” stories?

Jeff: I think our best show was in January when we performed with Kids in the Hall cast member, Kevin McDonald. It was a very surreal experience because we all looked up to KITH so much and to play with him was great. He loved our sketches, performed them well and was incredibly supportive towards us. It was a pretty magical time that we won’t soon forget.

What are you looking forward to at this year’s festival?

Jeff: I am looking forward to seeing Girls With Brown Hair, and of course our very own Vanessa Gonzalez. It’s an incredible line-up. I think most of us will be camped out at the festival.

We need to increase the visibility of this article. Any suggestions for a click-bait headline?

Jeff: “We tried to get sketch rebels Bad Example to answer some questions. You won’t believe what happens next….they answer them.”

What else – comedy wise – is your group looking forward to this year?

Jeff: We just launched our YouTube channel and are releasing videos every single week. We can’t wait to see where that goes and share our humor with a broader audience. Also to be called “not funny” by anonymous internet strangers.

Bad Example performs at Austin Sketch Fest on Saturday, May 23rd at 7pm at Spider House Ballroom. TICKETS HERE.

ASF Hot Seat: OSFUG

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Sick of long sketches, complicated staging and ballooning prop budgets, NYC’s Kingmaker set out to create bare bones, balls-to-the-wall sketch show where scenes have close to zero props and come under two pages. The result? O.S.F.U.G.: A Fast Fucking Sketch!
We put O.S.F.U.G.‘s Mark Vigeant in the ASF Hot Seat to ask him a few questions.

What can audiences look forward to in your show?

Mark Vigeant: OSFUG is a high-octane sketch comedy group that crams more sketches into 30 minutes than any group around. Our show is fast-paced, high-energy, and totally unpredictable. It’s just really fun.

How did your group get together?

Mark: My other sketch group, Kingmaker (also at the festival!) got sick of sketch comedy that was highly formulaic and seemingly endless. A lot of sketches we were seeing in the NYC community were 6 minutes or longer and involved props that not only looked stupid but cost the groups hundreds of dollars every show. So we got together with our friend Colin and put together this experimental show where all the sketches were 2 pages or less and involved as few props as possible. It worked, and we brought the show to the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre East Village where we built a group around it. And we’ve been chugging along ever since!

Who are your influences? Who are some of your favorite sketch comedy acts performing today?

Mark: My personal biggest influences are Tim & Eric, Weird Al, and Steve Martin. I’m also a huge fan of Stella and Wet Hot American Summer. Oh, and obviously the Simpsons. When I first saw Tim & Eric’s Awesome Show, it changed the way I watched comedy. Not only was it unlike anything I had seen before, but whatever it was they were doing they did it supremely well. That inspired me.

My favorite sketch acts currently on television are Portlandia and the Eric Andre Show. In terms of live acts I’m a big fan of Girls With Brown Hair (NYC), Boat (LA), and the show “Fucking Identical Twins” at UCBNY right now.

What makes you laugh the most?

Mark: Complete unabashed commitment, in both writing and performance. I love that feeling as an audience member of being totally satisfied by how deep a group will go into a premise. I’m trying to describe it without being vague, but basically I love when a group sets up a reality onstage and then blows it out, bends it, fucks with it, and completely explores it. All while the actors are giving it 100% of their energy. Love that. That’s what creates guttural reactions in me. The now-defunct sketch powerhouse “Pangea 3000” was all about that. They would set up something onstage and explore it in every possible way without winking to the audience or cracking a smile. I am also a big fan of silliness, and have a strong preference against topical humor.

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What’s the best thing about the NYC comedy scene?

Mark: It’s very supportive yet at the same time very competitive. Everyone wants to help each other out, and everyone recognizes that we all grow together. Yet at the same time, there is limited (good) stage space and there is a very real industry presence. I find it comforting to see so many people work hard. It really motivates me.

Do you have any fun “worst show” or “worst audience member” stories?

Mark: The first time I did standup in college was a nightmare. I came out of high school thinking I was the funniest guy ever. I joined my college improv group, which did short form at the time, and I already had taken my first long-form improv class at UCB, so I had this cocky attitude where I thought I knew better than the rest of the group. I had done standup a few times in High School and killed. I would tell what my brothers and I call a “camp story.” That’s a story that’s really dumb and flexible that you could stretch out with silly details as long as you want in case you’re working at Summer Camp and it starts raining and you have to entertain a bunch of children in the pavilion for an undetermined length of time. Those stories only work if you’re 100% confident and committing super hard. Which was easy when the audience was comprised solely of people from my high school who wanted me to succeed.

It was like 3 weeks into College, and I saw a sign for a standup competition. I immediately signed up thinking I was a shoe-in. I had an image in my head of the show taking place in the basement of one of the community buildings, with, like, 10 people in the audience. I also figured that nobody else could possibly be as funny as I am.

Well the reality of the situation was that it took place in a bar. I was the only freshman in attendance; everybody else was a senior. And not only that, but one or two of the contestants were Frat Bros who brought about 20 of their friends, who were getting drunk at this loud bar. I got onstage and within seconds completely lost the audience. I had a heckler, I had a group of people try to clap me offstage. I think people booed at one point? And this all only made my story-telling worse, so it really was the absolute worst it could’ve gone. I got offstage and held my head in my hands and thought “I wish I could crawl into a hole and die.” Then I had to walk back to my dorm with my 10 friends who came, who all tried to tell me it “wasn’t that bad.”

It was really horrible, except that kind of colossal, ego-destroying failure so early on was in fact very very helpful to me. I’ve experienced “the worst” and I lived. And it wasn’t that terrible. So it helps me take chances.

Do you have any fun “best show” stories?

Mark: Yes! Well kind of! OSFUG has actually had 3 or 4 shows where everything went perfectly in a cosmic, awesome way. Typically at our show at the UCB we do 30-40 sketches in an hour, and some won’t hit while others do. But as I said we’ve had a handful of shows where everything hit, and the audience just has this electric vibe to them. It’s quite an experience when the audience stops to applaud after a 1 minute sketch.

Nothing particularly huge has happened after any of them. No big high-rollers came up to us afterwards and said “Congratulations, here’s 1 million dollars, go out and create more art!” But that’s hopefully coming soon.

What are you looking forward to while visiting Austin? Any acts you’re looking forward to at this year’s festival?

Mark: I am just very pumped to see the city of Austin. It seems very cool. I’m going to rent a bike and just explore. The whole planning portion of our trip to Austin transpired while New York was the most cold and miserable place it’s been in a long time, so Austin has been my fantasy land of warm weather and friendly people. I don’t really know who else is going to be there except the other NYC groups that I already know I like, like Girls With Brown Hair!

Share with us your tips for a job interview.

Mark: Lie.

This is actually super-helpful in a tech job situation. You should know just a little bit about every new programming language / paradigm / thing, and when the interviewer asks you about it you say you know it, and just enthusiastically explain the one thing you know about it. The truth is, if you’re a programmer, you can learn all the new things fairly quickly if you need to. So charisma will get you there. “Oh Python! Yeah man, it’s great, I love how CLEAN it looks! So long semi-colons! Hahaha!!!”

We need to increase the visibility of this article. Any suggestions for a click-bait headline?

Mark: 7 Signs That Jeff Goldblum Has Secretly Dominated The Global Sub-conscious For Decades

What else is your group looking forward to this year?

Mark: We created a pilot that we’re very excited to share with the world. We took some of our favorite sketches from the past year and adapted them for the screen, and wove them together in the style of Mr. Show/Monty Python. So, look out for that! I don’t know when we’ll be making it public, but you can find updates at our website osfug.com! (which I built from scratch XD)

O.S.F.U.G.: A Fast Fucking Sketch Show performs at Austin Sketch Fest on Thursday, May 21st at 10:15 pm at the Spider House Ballroom. Tickets on sale soon.

ASF Hot Seat: Midnight Society Presents

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Midnight Society formed as an improv troupe in 2007 and, along with the Frank Mills, perform every Saturday Night at ColdTowne Theater. For years, they also performed a monthly sketch show, Midnight Society Presents. Known for outrageous knife fights and eggnog-chugging, their show was always unpredictable. Since the last show in 2012, many of Midnight Society’s key writers and performers moved away. Nick Ramirez and Michael Williams moved to New York City and Andy Petruzzo now resides in LA. While the weekly improv show continues, the Midnight Society Presents sketch show went the way of the dodo. However, the stars are aligning and wizards are doing whatever wizards are doing to make stuff come back alive, and Midnight Society Presents is returning for to Austin for one night only to perform a mix of classic and new sketches during Sketch Fest.
We grilled Midnight Society for some details about their upcoming reunion show.

How did your group get together?

Lance Gilstrap: We were forced by ColdTowne Theater to be an improv troupe together. We really showed them the folly of their ways by liking each other and eventually started writing sketch together.

Who are your influences? Who are some of your favorite sketch comedy acts performing today?

Nick Ramirez: I love the insane silliness of Stella, the committed characters and acting of Kids in the Hall and the inventive absurdity of Mr. Show. Hopefully the best Midnight Society sketches combine those influences. As far as more modern comedy, I think The Birthday Boys was the funniest sketch comedy show of the last 10 or 15 years. I also love Boat, a sketch team from here in New York that recently moved to Los Angeles.

What makes you laugh the most?

Michael Williams: Some of the questions are confusing. I mean, I think comedy makes me laugh the most but in reality I probably laugh more at stuff that isn’t “comedy”. Like when I see a dog getting yelled at because they are running away. It’s sad to think the dog might run away. And sad to think that the owner doesn’t realize the dog probably can’t speak English. Know what I’m saying?

Barely. Do you have any fun “best show” stories?

Andy Petruzzo: Any Halloween show was our best. The creative energy just seemed to flow more around Ol’ Hallow’s Eve. I could be wrong but I think everyone’s favorite holiday in the group is the aforementioned holiday of Halloween. When we had license to couch everything in horror and dark atmosphere, we were happiest. Suddenly, we became more interested in doing homages and parodies – much more than in other times of the year. It comes from a place of loving horror movies, or “Gornos” as Midnight Society star Jericho Thorp calls them.

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What are you looking forward to while visiting Austin? Any acts you’re looking forward to at this year’s festival?

Nick: I have a list of restaurants that I have to go to anytime I’m back in Austin. Aside from the standard Tex-Mex and BBQ, I’ll almost always go to Luby’s for the LuAnn Platter with fried fish, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese. And I’ll usually stop by Long John Silver’s because they don’t have LJS in New York and I love their fried garbage.

Share with us your tips for a job interview.

Joel Keith: Look the interviewer straight in the eye. Don’t touch them inappropriately. Be there early, well rested and wear pants!

We need to increase the visibility of this article. Any suggestions for a click-bait headline?

Andy: Can Climate Denying Comedy Work? Local Favorite Midnight Society Says “Yes.”

Midnight Society performs at Austin Sketch Fest on Wednesday, May 20th at 10pm at the ColdTowne Theater.