Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Sixth Borough

EDIT: I'm rewriting this from its original post, if you saw this before. I wrote this after the show Saturday night, where I drank nearly 1/4th of a bottle of Sapphire gin straight. This resulted in me using the word "ridiculous" 98 times.

My head is spinning from this weekend's events.

In January, I signed up to take a sketch comedy writing class at this new theater in South Philadelphia that opened up and started hosting some comedy shows. The guy hosting the event was a former writer for Saturday Night Live. I wasn't sure if this thing was going to be any good, but I at least thought it would be interesting and potentially socially awkward and uncomfortable

Well, the class wasn't just good, it was great. And from there, a bunch of people in our class started e-mailing each other sketches. And then one girl from the class (Tabitha) was incredibly motivated and got as many people as she knew who were interested in doing a sketch comedy project together.

I never acted in my life. I never tried out for any plays or musicals. The only acting experience I have is limited to A) doing "Darryl: The Life And Times Of Darryl Strawberry" for my stoner friends in college and B) that ridiculous acting class available in the May archives. Any comedy writing that I've done has been limited to stuff I've put up on my blog and then performing a few (like six) times in NYC or in Philly.

I was leary to join a sketch comedy group, but after our first night together I was really happy that I did this. If you're a big baseball nerd like I am, you know that there are two schools of thought about the cliched word of "chemistry." People who are stats-oriented sabermatricians deny that "chemisty" can alter the outcome of a baseball game. Traditionalists believe that "chemistry" does indeed exist and help teams win games. I usually believe in the first -- that teams win baseball games by having the best baseball players.

Sketch comedy is completely different then a sport, naturally. But my experience the past few weeks has led me to rethink the entire concept of social chemistry.

It's pretty inane to just click with a group of strangers as well as we did -- the last time this happened to me was probably the first weekend in college, when I ended up in a dorm room in Neumann Hall with a group of degenerate weirdos who called themselves "The Crack Den," the entire group of whom I still consider to be my best friends to this day.

(In our sketch group, all of us have all of these weird connections with each other, which might explain how we connected so well. My friend Pat in the group went to college with this girl Sara I'm friends with. Tabitha and Emily both worked at Eastern State Prison with my friend Fran. Melody knows my brother really well. And Jason grew up with an ex-girlfriend of mine. I described us as the sketch comedy version of Lost.)

So we worked our asses off, writing sketches, rehearsing sketches, rewriting sketches and then eventually coming up with a completed project. None of us (to my knowledge) had any tangible experience perfecting a comedy show before. And, to be honest, my nerves were wracked from this because I didn't think I was any good.

We had two shows, one on Friday and one on Saturday. We also had no idea what to expect crowd-wise. The general consensus it that it would be limited to friends and family of everyone in the show, with 30-40 people at each show, with everyone politely telling us how good we were afterwards even though several skits had little-to-no laughter.

Friday, right before showtime, someone looked outside. Connie's Ric-Rac (this new theater that opened up at the Italian Market in South Philly that is quickly becoming the best venue for outsider music/theater/comedy in the city) was PACKED. It was Standing Room Only. We guessed that about 90 people came on out -- way more than any of us expected.

I have no idea as to how this is possible. Our publicity was limited to flyers, MySpace, e-mails, a sketch we performed at another comedy night in town and one listing in an alt-weekly. We spent no money on advertising, since we had no money to spend for anything. Backstage, we were all nervous wrecks to see if the first bit (which was really risky and the bit we rehearsed the least) worked.

Well, it killed. The crowd got super into it and by the end all of us would have fought at Iwo Jima we were so pumped. Rehearsals were difficult, especially for me since I'm naturally unsure of myself to begin with and have no experience doing these things. We'd just rehearse these bits in front of just each other and there is no way to determine if an audience will find this funny or not. Our dress rehearsal before the show, we all felt really good coming out of it. But none of us expected this.

I know I had all kinds of energy for my scenes -- I wasn't worried about flubbing a line or if I was going to look stupid or not. It was like this for everyone -- we just flew through these scenes, hit all of our lines and had these amazing reactions from the crowd. Afterwards, people gave us this huge ovation and we were like... WTF? It seriously felt like we were Van Halen circa 1984. We were debating whether or not to do an encore, but we had absolutely nothing planned or rehearsed. Who could have expected it?

Saturday night was even crazier. We were expecting the Saturday show to be our big show, with maybe 50 people coming. We had at least 120 come on out. People were sitting in the aisles, behind the bar, out near the street.Our second show was even better, because we knew it worked from start to finish so we could just really go with it.

After the show ended, I met up with my friend Sara from high school. She was the star of all the plays in high school, lives down here now and is part of The Waitstaff, which is probably Philly's most professional and best sketch group. (To my knowledge, I haven't seen everyone, but I've seen them a bunch of times and they're tremendous.) She told us how good she thought we were, etc. And then she said that being funny on stage is the best adrenaline rush a person can have.

It's completely true. I was backstage when we performed one of the sketches I originally wrote. At one point, a line was said by one of the characters that reveals the premise of the sketch and the place went nuts. I had goosebumps from that moment, something I'm always going to remember.

So we're not sure what the next step is going to be yet. Another run of this show? New sketches? Who knows. All I know is that it's not every weekend that about 200 people somehow find out about your little experiment in South Philadelphia and laugh at something you helped create.

No time to relax though -- this Wednesday is BEDTIME STORIES, the night I host at the Shubin Theater. This is where I did POOP STORIES last week. Hope to see you there.

Thanks everyone!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

the show was Great.!!! I saw it both nights...and it was just as funny the second night as the first. Great Job ..just Great.!

7:43 PM  

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