Tag Archives: comedy writing

2012 Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest winners revealed; recount aboard Funk Mothership demanded


UPDATED; July 18 – Today the contest winners and many of the fine runners up go on display at Elliot’s Fair Grounds in the Ghent neighborhood of Norfolk, Va.

Fair Grounds is on the second floor of 806 Baldwin Ave., at the corner of Colley and Baldwin avenues. If you’re at the Starbucks, you are incorrect. Please cross Colley Avenue to Fair Grounds as briskly as the traffic allows.

Do not look back. If you make eye contact with Starbucks, you will taste like smoldering wood.

Thanks again to all at Fair Grounds, as well as the other sponsors listed below, including Naro Expanded Video and Local Heroes. And a big thanks to Jay Walker, a great Rhode Islander, for sharing gift certificates and movie rentals with the second and third place winners. They live in Hampton Roads and will be able to use them.

As far as I know, Walker and I are the only folks who can rock our Local Heroes tees while slugging a Del’s from our Fair Grounds mugs and simultaneously appreciating the New England Pest Control (now Big Blue Bug Solutions) bug as we hurtle along I-95 South.

If only for now.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — I am not a political person, at least not since my six vote loss in 1977 to Bootsy Collins in a bitterly interfunkular election to become recording secretary of P-Funk.

My memory is not what it used to be, and I was four at the time, and this may just be some Funkadelic fan fiction I’m remembering, or simply a thing that is not true because a lie is merely the purposeful application of what accuracy is not, but I seem to remember George Clinton’s support for Bootsy over me came down to delivery of enough Parliamentary votes to pass the Rent Act, which led to protected tenancy in England and Wales.

Though I certainly respect the rights of protected tenants of U.K. dwelling houses, this was not what I had in mind when I boarded the Mothership, thank you very much.

So was I outmaneuvered in my pretend youth by a fabulous bassist? All of us are, always, even still. Do I write self-indulgent, off-topic ledes? Ahem. Am I political? No, no, no.

Which is why I need to get some business out of the way before announcing this year’s Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest winners, while preemptively directing my Republican friends to the comments section below. It was writer Connie Sage, not I, who delivered these fortunes, which work together, but did not win:

Connie Sage; author; North Carolina

Connie Sage; author; North Carolina

Had Sage won the competition, and should the election (Novemberish, I hear) go otherwise, the mountain of predictive credibility that is this blog would crumble. Additionally, she might have picked her own book as a prize, which would have meant that many months ago she effectively signed a first-edition copy of her book for herself, and so the universe would have little choice but to fold into itself, obliterating life on earth and possibly some other planets we don’t care about as much as certain works by Stephen Spielberg might lead you to believe.

I submit to you, gentle reader, that we have averted disaster and, frankly, saved this world and countless others.

Still, we have only the here and now, and the knowledge that prizes include a gift certificate and mug from Fair Grounds Coffee on Colley Avenue in Norfolk and a gift certificate and extra-large tee – plan your diet or weight gain accordingly – from Local Heroes on Colonial Avenue in Norfolk, as well as movie rentals from Naro Expanded Video on Colley Avenue and these autographed books:

And which election does Sage mean? The upcoming U.S. presidential election? Perhaps, but are we sure? When we make such assumptions, as certain musicians may have done, let’s say, when choosing as their recording secretary a bassist who was actually a contributing member of their collective over a four-year-old New England boy who was not really there at all because the opening anecdote is not a true thing, who really wins? And how can I properly thank this year’s judges – my sister Cate Doucette, my wife Cortney Doucette, and writer Tom Robotham, who voted for the finalists without knowing the names of the writers/artists? And how do I get out of this intro, already?

Say, dig these speculative meeting minutes from Clinton’s 1981-1982 Computer Games sessions:

Chairman Clinton called the meeting to order aboard the Funk Mothership. The roll was taken. Sub Woofer and Clip Pain were absent. Quorum confirmed.

Under old business, Capt. Draw moved that “Man’s Best Friend” and “Loopzilla” should be merged into a monumental track topping twelve minutes and ultimately released as a 12-inch single. Maruga Booker seconded.

Clerk Sir Nose D’voidafunk called the funk before the funk called him. The motion passed, 44-0-2. P-Nut Johnson abstained. Dennis Chambers was too busy making the goddess of time herself reset her celestial watch to care. Drumroll …

FIRST PLACE

Jay Walker; poet; Cranston, R.I.

 SECOND PLACE

Bob Voros; graphic artist; Norfolk, Va.

THIRD PLACE

Rich Neefe; educator; Portsmouth, Va.

A brief note about the prizes: Since the first place winner hails from the Ocean state, I may have to adjust the first place prize package a bit. When Mr. Walker and I hammer it out, I’ll update the post.

For those keeping track, a Virginian has yet to win this contest. Boy.

Here are some other great entries, including honorable mentions that were also on judges’ scorecards.

 HONORABLE MENTIONS

Arianna Akers; Norfolk, Va.

Merritt Allen; owner & executive director of Vox Optima LLC; Tijeras, N.M.

Sean Collins; eater of pizza, drinker of beer; Portsmouth, Va.

Rick Hite; retired professor; Norfolk, Va.

JC Kreidel; managing director at Vox Optima; Chesapeake; Va.

JC Kreidel; managing director at Vox Optima; Chesapeake, Va.

Angelina Maureen; visual artist; Norfolk, Va.

Gary Potterfield, operations director of a PR firm & 2011 contest winner; Waldorf, Md.

Gary Potterfield, operations director of a PR firm & 2011 contest winner; Waldorf, Md.

Earl Swift; writer; Norfolk, Va.

Oliver Mackson; investigator; Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Brian Patrick Monahan; actor; Los Angeles, Calif.

Jay Walker; poet; Cranston, R.I.

RUNNERS UP

Merritt Allen; owner & executive director of Vox Optima LLC; Tijeras, N.M.

Anonymous; Norfolk, Va.

Anonymous; Norfolk, Va.

Sam Cupper; Norfolk, Va.

Jeremie Guy; trainer at Planet Fitness; Reston, Va.

Bill Hart; shipyard worker; Norfolk, Va.

Christa Jones; Norfolk, Va.

Christa Jones; Norfolk, Va.

Christa Jones; Norfolk, Va.

Christa Jones; Norfolk, Va.

JC Kreidel; managing director at Vox Optima LLC; Chesapeake, Va.

JC Kreidel; managing director at Vox Optima LLC; Chesapeake, Va.

JC Kreidel; managing director at Vox Optima LLC; Chesapeake, Va.

Judy Le; editor; Norfolk, Va.

Judy Le; editor; Norfolk, Va.

Tom McDermott; whereabouts unknown

Sharina Mendoza; MDMFA student at Full Sail University; Norfolk, Va.

Brian Patrick Monahan; actor; Los Angeles, Calif.

Brian Patrick Monahan; actor; Los Angeles, Calif.

Brian Patrick Monahan; actor; Los Angeles, Calif.

Meghan E. Murphy; education reporter at Newsday; Highland, N.Y.

Jim Noble; Virginia

Rachel O’Sullivan; director West Coast operations at Vox Optima; Greater San Diego, Calif.

Michael Perez; senior communications analyst; Rio Rancho, N.M.

Gary Potterfield, operations director of a PR firm & 2011 contest winner; Waldorf, Md.

Connie Sage; author; North Carolina

Connie Sage; author; North Carolina

Terry Schommer; self-employed; Monroe, N.Y.

Terry Schommer; self-employed; Monroe, N.Y.

Dani Al-Basir Spratley; art editor for The Quotable Literary Magazine & poet; Norfolk, Va.

Dani Al-Basir Spratley; art editor for The Quotable Literary Magazine & poet; Norfolk, Va.

Dani Al-Basir Spratley; art editor for The Quotable Literary Magazine & poet; Norfolk, Va.

Earl Swift; writer; Norfolk, Va.

Earl Swift; writer; Norfolk, Va.

Earl Swift; writer; Norfolk, Va.

Suzanne Tate; Bristol, Tenn.

Suzanne Tate; Bristol, Tenn.

Bob Voros; graphic artist; Norfolk, Va.

Bob Voros; graphic artist; Norfolk, Va.

Jay Walker; poet; Cranston, R.I.

Jay Walker; poet; Cranston, R.I.

Thank you. I think we’ll do this again next year.

And if anybody wants to buy me the Bootsy Collins shower curtain, I am into that idea a lot.

Playing us out is some prime Eddie Hazel on a song the writer Greg Tate called Funkadelic’s “A Love Supreme” (FYI, language) …

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Writing Craft, Vol. VIII: Rob Wilson and Jason Kypros of Plan B (Part Two)


Jason Kypros and Rob Wilson of Plan B sketch comedy and improv.

NORFOLK, Va. — I recently sat down with Jason Kypros and Rob Wilson of the Hampton Roads sketch comedy and improv group Plan B to talk about writing, handling sensitive topics with humor, and the group’s forays into videos. Here’s the second part of that talk. The first part is at this link.

This conversation was recorded at Kerouac Cafe before Plan B’s recent The Big Show at the Naro Expanded Cinema, and it has been edited for length and clarity. There is some adult language below.

Q: How much standup do you do?

Wilson: I do a little bit. Jason, he got me started. Yeah, he started me down that path years ago.

Kypros: What I ultimately would like to see for Plan B is, well it is already – a cool creative entity, a thing that is itself. It’s not me. It’s not Rob. It’s not Brendan. It’s not anyone. It’s everyone. … I’d like to see it where somebody could actually come to us and say, “We need a creative concept.” Because that’s what we do.

Wilson: We’ve done stuff for a lot of different people around the area, like “Plan B Cares.” We’ve got the YWCA we’ve done work for. … On top of that, when Jason says we’re a creative team, we can go anywhere and if you need two hours of entertainment, we can give it to you.

Kypros: Like last night I did standup, Rob did standup, Beatty (Barnes) did standup and then we did an improv show afterwards.

Wilson: There’s so much talent in this group and we’re trying to – I’m not going to say exploit – but we’re trying to bring all that to –

Kypros: We want to utilize it all.

Q: Let me go to “Light Rail” now. Obviously, I think it’s a great sketch. I think it is very funny, especially here.

Kypros: It is a little local.

Q: But it’s not like a local gag and then you show the “Plan B” (video credits). It’s a full thing. So this starts with you guys in the car –

Kypros: Wherever we were, we’re talking about the light rail and this was the time we were just starting the group and we knew – I was really pushing the video. … We were brainstorming, we had this idea, and looked at each other and said, “Let’s just write this one.” So we went back to the apartment, and Rob and I pretty much sat there and wrote the script.

Wilson: What was really funny is we needed a platform for these guys to really talk about this (in a) conversation. So we wrote the conversation first, the dialogue.

Kypros: Well, we had the jokes. We were laughing – you know, “It’s $100,000, you could go to the moon this number times.” So we had the jokes so that’s how we structured it. We knew where we wanted our beats to be. We knew where the open was, and we had our character point of view.

Wilson: That’s exactly it. It went jokes, and then we had the jokes essentially and we went to the characters. Okay, this is the point of view and how we can get to it, and then we came back to the jokes and really formed them to the characters. The part when the high math came in, like, we said that almost simultaneously.

Kypros: We had an idea – One of the things you think about for sketch, too, but definitely for video, you’re thinking, “What’s my stage picture? What’s it going to look like?” And we both were kind of brainstorming and we thought it would just be funny for Rob to be totally like in some crazy, like doing some high math. When we talked to Keith Jackson – and that’s when we got the location. My dad let us get into St. Patrick’s (school) and they had this white board. I said, ‘Keith … I need math on the board. I don’t care what it is. I need math.’ So he showed up with like the equation for hydrogen. So that’s what that is. But this is how that stuff happens. So you’re constantly writing the whole time, and you show up on set – We have our script, we have our beats and our characters, and we get on set and now we have Keith getting in it, too. Keith’s like, “We should go all the way around the board.” We start thinking A Beautiful Mind. So we get these crazy dolly shots that go all the way around the board. And then we had an idea it would be funny if Rob wrote something completely ridiculous on the board, so at the top, what is it? Like, “Ham over eggs times two equals omelet.”

Q: I’ve tried it. That hasn’t worked out for me.

Kypros: (Laughs.) It’s an inexact science.

Wilson: I was working it out.

Q: Let me take you back to the writing. So you’ve got your jokes. You work the dialogue. You know who the characters are going to be. So one of the things I like is a lot of the comedy comes from the acting. It’s your (Kypros) earnestness and it’s the way (Wilson) deflates everything that (Kypros) says with – and I love light rail – but with common sense.

Wilson: That’s the thing.

Q: But do you know that structurally, that that’s what you’re going to do?

Wilson: The thing was. Were knew Jason’s character is the voice of the city. He’s the city’s boy.

Kypros: The city personified. I’m the people making just blind decisions.

Wilson: Yeah. Like, “It’s gotta work out.”

Kypros: We were opposite ends of the spectrum. Republican-Democrat. We’re talking about the same thing but we have different points of view.

Wilson: In my mind, I felt like everyone that I knew. You know what I mean? All of the people I had talked to about light rail, these were the things that they were saying but their voice hadn’t been heard. They were saying it but they weren’t saying it at City Council meetings. They were saying it in bars. They were saying it, you know, wherever. So of course nobody was going to hear it because they were talking to other people in bars.

Kypros: That was the idea. And the choice for Rob to play that character and me to play the other character –

Wilson: We went back and forth.

Kypros: We didn’t really know who was going to play who at first.

Wilson: The “house citizen” line.

Q: That’s a badass line.

Kypros: It’s a good line, right? It’s got some layers.

Q: It’s a really loaded line.

Wilson: Once we had kind of figured out who was going to play what, that line came about then, because it would have been weird to go the other way, I think.

Q: How did you think about that line?

Kypros: We had some jokes, but the jokes do develop as you write the script. You don’t want to have too many jokes and you want it to seem dialogue-y and not jokey. … The house citizen line. We had jokes, and other jokes came out. One of the hardest things about writing a good sketch is the end.

Wilson: Yeah.

Kypros: Getting out of a sketch is so hard sometimes.

Wilson: All the time.

Kypros: Not all the time. Sometimes you get a gift and you know what your out is and you’re like, “This is great.” You know? But finding the out is just really difficult sometimes. That was toward the end and we added it. We knew what the voices of the characters were. We thought it would be cool to be able to say something that had that connotation, but apply it to a different – It’s still a mentality, you know what I’m saying? You can apply the mentality to anything you want.

Q: I worry that people who live outside the area don’t get how good it is. You lay out the logic – how isolated it is, how you stop at 7-Eleven – then you get to the capper, which I think is the Beach, where (Wilson) goes, whatever the line is –

Wilson: “Sure it is, Jason.”

Q: What is it, two minutes long? And you get all the logic against light rail – not that I agree.

Kypros: Well, yeah. I think when we were writing it we knew that we had something that was good. When we were done I felt this is a good sketch.

Q: Have you ever done that one live?

Kypros: No.

Q: A lot of it’s in the acting and the camera.

Kypros: It is. That was Keith. The whole bit at the end, you know, that’s Keith like, “I’m just going to let it run. You guys do what you do.” That’s him saying … let it happen. No, we haven’t done it live. Some of the timing happens in the post production, too.

Wilson: You find out how much of an editor’s medium it really is.

Kypros: You look at the footage for “Light Rail” and you see different takes on lines, different deliveries and intentions.

Wilson: It changes the whole thing. You could have cut really any of the sketches we’ve done a hundred different ways and it changes the meaning. We try it a number of different ways, really.

Kypros: To a degree. You can’t cut them too divergently. Every part of the sketch matters though. That’s a successful sketch to me because, you talk about timing, every part of it to me works together. Like the feet shot, me walking through. That was a last-minute thing.

Wilson: It built momentum for the scene.

Kypros: They’re not all home runs, but that one definitely had a better chance than others.

Q: How much of the finished video is in the script and how much is improv?

Wilson: Well the whole end is improv.

Kypros: The tag is all an improvisation. … Really the ending and the beginning is all improvised. With him working the problem and me coming in …

Q: Sniffing the marker?

Kypros: That was improvised.

Wilson: (Laughs.) I don’t know where that came from.

Kypros: I think Keith caught on to it.

Wilson: “Keep it.”

Kypros: ‘”You’ve got to sniff that marker, man. Sniff it.”

Q: Tell me about “Forest Fires.”

Kypros: We had the “Racism” PSA because we did it as a live performance for the YWCA. The feedback that we got was everybody really liked it. And again, part of the charge for doing more video work. I wanted to shoot stuff. Shoot stuff, shoot stuff, shoot stuff. And so I had a golden opportunity to have some hands on deck that particular day that I normally wouldn’t have. Chip Johnson and Keith Jackson and the racism PSA didn’t involve me, so I didn’t really have to worry about performing in it. We could really make more of a production out of it. So Brendan Hoyle, like all the early stuff with the exception of the (restaurant) interview … that’s all Brendan. He’s really good at turning a script out quick. That forest fires one was a PSA he had written, as well. So we decided it would be cool to try to shoot both. Since we shot the ‘Racism’ PSA, part of the production process was we shot it to look like a real PSA. So we thought it would be funny to sell this other PSA idea as if we just broke from a PSA. So that whole intro to that, the ‘Forest Fires,’ that was all improvised. We made that up on the spot.

Q: That racism one would have been very interesting with shirts off.

Kypros: (Laughs.) It would have been great. And the only reason we called it “Forest Fires” was we were trying to think of ways for it to get hits. We were just playing around. Forest fires were happening at the time.

Q: That one, other than the intro, was that scripted?

Kypros: That one was scripted. But like the donut was an afterthought.

Wilson: I wanted that donut.

Kypros: I ate it.

Wilson: We had like, what, four donuts?

Kypros: Just two. But the donut was a thought. We’ll go into a production and one of the things I like to do is think of the ways to make it more funny visually.You know, we do this and cut to this and I have a donut.

Q: There’s a lot of reversal of expectations in that one, too, which makes it funny. So you just work out the beats in the writing or is it in the rehearsal?

Kypros: Well Brendan had written it – He had written that sketch before Plan B. It was sitting around. So I had a chance to look at it, and just as an actor … You talk about the “Light Rail” and the acting and, well, we have done it for a while and we work well together. I knew – again, I had my point of view. I knew what was happening there. Brendan was going to try to derail, hijack the PSA, and I just wanted to keep it on track. “No, no. We’re not here to talk about childhood obesity.” And then some of the direction comes out of that.

Wilson: You figure it out. What’s really cool is attacking it from all these different angles, as an actor, as a writer. I guess Jason more than most and also Brendan, who is a great theater director, your mind starts working on like three or four planes when you first get a script. My thing is really live shows. I can grasp how a live show is going to work. … It almost happens organically. We’ve been doing it together six months now, and we’re starting to really know each other. … Now it’s one of those things to where when you get there you’ve got a feeling of how it’s going to go down. There are happy things that come out of the process –

Kypros: To interject, it goes back to that intent of the group having an improv base, so you know, here’s the script, you’re off book, I’m off book, here’s who is going to work the camera. Everybody’s got their role. But when you get down to doing it, you can allow that improv to happen.

Wilson: A big improv concept is that of one mind.

Kypros: We want to be like a cool-ass, jamming jazz band.

Wilson: You get the sheet music, you know the song, but you know, like, Lauren might riff off and do some cool stuff.

Kypros: And people have some characters that they can do. When you’re writing a sketch you can write to someone’s strengths. ‘I can just see this guy saying it.’

Q: Can we talk about the silent film? There are a lot of different kind of gags in there. Can you talk about how you came up with the idea?

Kypros: My dad’s been playing (piano) for the silent films forever. Before I was around. Thom Vourlas (of the one and only Naro Expanded Cinema) had mentioned to me years ago, “You know what you should do, you should do a silent film.” … As a part of a way to try and get the group out, and I’ve just reached this point in my life where I want to create, so we mentioned the idea to Thom, would it be a cool idea and he said sure. So we were like, “The Naro, we’ll be able to put a video up.” It was a great way to get some exposure.

Wilson: It was really cool being on the big screen.

Kypros: The concept basically was I thought about whether I wanted to make it look like a silent film, you know, do after effects so it would look all jerky. I tried to film it to see if I could make it look like that and I couldn’t find any easy answers. So my decision was to shoot it like a silent film. What I mean was to use all wide shots and then just dive in for coverage. I wasn’t worried about over the shoulders, medium (shots) …

Q: A lot of the coverage is for gags, like the locket.

Kypros: Exactly.

Q: You see the acting and then you cut to see the joke.

Kypros: Right. That was one of the jokes – Brendan and I opened it up to everybody. We always do. … But that was one of the jokes Brendan and I had from the beginning. We were laughing hard that is would be so funny to reveal this locket and we were both in it. … Because of that, because we couldn’t use dialogue, we knew it was really character-dependant. It was really dependent upon sight gags.

Wilson: The Phineus T. Snellsworth character (the heavy played by Wilson) actually came out – we didn’t know what to do with him.

Kypros: Rob came up with this idea. It was after we put the ‘Light Rail’ video up, and it was getting a lot of play. So we were talking about it and Rob came up with this character.

Wilson: It was going to be this guy and it was the same character but he went into City Council and went, “Yes, I’ve got this fantastic idea. I’m just going to need a hundred thousand million more dollars.” (Evil laugh.) And then the City Council’s just going for it. (Laughs.)

Kypros: And we used that character for a cold open we did at a Belmont show. That was his debut. Then we did this project, we decided to use that character as the lead, pretty much. The villain.

Wilson: We’re always finding new stuff.

Kypros: We had that long title card and there’s no way to read it. We knew we wanted that gag in there. … And we shot that in a day. We started at the Naro, and we thought we were going to this other location and there was going to be a whole chase scene around the house, and we were like, “No, can’t do it.” So we shot it at the Naro. … I wanted it to be like a silent film, but a 2011 silent film. Like it didn’t have to be something that Buster Keaton would (be in). It had to be like that. … We knew we wanted to be clever with (the form of the video) and break convention.

Q: And mess with light rail again.

Kypros: Yeah.

Q: Well, let’s talk about the ending. There are a lot of little gags, like the ropes just being piled on her.

Kypros: That happened there. We didn’t have time to get that shot. And in the editing room that happened. We’re just sitting there watching it like, “Aw, shit. We just pulled the roped off her.” And then we said, “Let’s let it roll.”

Q: And then you go into 7-Eleven.

Kypros: We had established that. (Laughs.)

Q: That was in the plan.

Kypros: That was in the plan. That was part of one of the shots. We knew we needed to get to a railroad track. We knew we needed a rope.

Q: So was that a light rail track?

Wilson: No.

Kypros: That was a piece of track that wasn’t even part of the track. We just lucked into this not-on-the-track track.

Wilson: Location scouting, man. That’s so important.

Q: I wasn’t at the show, but the whole part where you’re waiting for light rail, did that get a big laugh?

Kypros: Oh, yeah. “Where is that light rail” got a big, big laugh.

Wilson: It was just crazy.

Q: For that one, it’s almost like you don’t need the card. Because the joke is in the acting and then you get the card.

Kypros: Yeah, you get the acting and then you get the card and the card just punches it. That was in the timing too. We knew we had to time the joke but also we had an opportunity to get a laugh from the placement of the card. … Really, the title cards came after. Like “Where is that light rail” might have been one of them we knew was going to be in there.

Wilson: I think the whole thing we do that is exciting to me is the layering. It starts with the original person to the group, and you get some additional layering there. And then you get on set, and … there’s the improv that happens there, and then you get into the editing room.

Kypros: In post we can add sounds and play with the timing even more.

Wilson: They say too many chefs spoil the stew, but if you have just the right amount of chefs, you know what I mean? It’s just one of those things.

Kypros: We’re a creative collective. That’s what we’re trying to be. We’re trying to be an improv jam band.

And that’s that. Thanks, guys.

Speaking of jamming …

If you’ve stuck around this long, you deserve a treat. Here’s the amazing Dennis Chambers, playing us out. This song near and dear to my heart because my older daughter, now five, used to dance around to it when she was a toddler. Aptly named, too — “Plan B.”

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Writing Craft, Vol. VIII: Rob Wilson and Jason Kypros of Plan B (Part One)


Jason Kypros and Rob Wilson of Plan B sketch comedy and improv.

NORFOLK, Va. — I recently sat down with Jason Kypros and Rob Wilson of the Hampton Roads sketch comedy and improv group Plan B to talk about writing, handling sensitive topics with humor, and the group’s forays into videos — most recently a 10-minute homage to silent film.

Kypros, 33, is a Norfolk native and Wilson, 29, was raised in Chesapeake and Norfolk after his family moved here from Queens, N.Y. Both are writers and actors with Plan B, and both also perform standup comedy.

This conversation was recorded at Kerouac Cafe before Plan B’s recent The Big Show at the Naro Expanded Cinema. It has been edited for length and clarity. There is some adult language below.

Q: Had you wanted to perform when you were kids? How did that develop?

Kypros: I can remember being really little and I just liked to dance all the time. Whenever anything came on, I would just dance. Which is funny because when I was older, you’re an adolescent and you know, I would never dance, but inside I was like, ‘Fuck, I want to dance.’ (Laughs.) But I did a play in first grade, because my dad was teaching where I went to school. Ever since I did that play, I always was kind of doing that stuff.

Q: And at some point, comedy hit you.

Kypros: Yeah. I always loved comedy. … I went to Thoroughgood Inn (Comedy Club in Virginia Beach) before it shut down. I remember going to see a show and being like, ‘I can totally do that.’ But I just didn’t have the nerve to do it. So I moved to L.A. because I got a role in a film. … After a year and a half in L.A., I finally did stand up. I was probably around 23.

Q: What was the film?

Kypros: Mickey. … It was a John Grisham film. I was eligible for my SAG card after the film, and I met a producer and I started working for him. I moved to L.A. and found out intern meant work for free. … I started doing comedy and then started taking courses at The Groundlings.

Q: How about you, Rob?

Wilson: My first play, I can’t remember the name of the play, but I was probably in the first grade. I remember that I played an exclamation point. (Laughter.)

Kypros: I bet you were so good at that.

Wilson: I was. (Laughter.) Like, the play’s almost over and I come busting in. And I say, I’m like, ‘Bam!’ And then after I say my line the (Bel Biv Devoe) song ‘Poison’ comes on. And we all did the dance. (Singing.) ‘It’s driving me out of my mind.’ We all did that dance and I remember I was always do plays in church, and if there was time to speak, I would be doing it. It probably wasn’t until I was 13 or 14 years old, there was this girl, —– ——, and she was like, ‘I love poetry and plays.’ And I was like, ‘Shit, I do too.’ (Laughs.)

Kypros: —– ——, if you’re out there …

Wilson: Thank you. … I eventually started hating her guts. (Laughter.) But like the acting and the poems, that kept up. I decided in high school, that’s what I was going to do. I thought that was all that I was good at, and I’d been doing it since I was 14.

Q: You applied to Old Dominion University?

Wilson: Yeah. I went to (Tidewater Community College) for a minute, and I did some plays over there. I got into ODU. It was like being new all over again. I realized how much I sucked. (Laughs.) When you’re in high school you think you’re great. Then you get to college and you think you suck, and then you get kind of better at it. And then you think you’re great again, and you get back out into the real world, and you think you suck again. It’s kind of this perpetual thing of thinking you suck. I didn’t start doing comedy until I auditioned for The Pushers. And that was six, seven years ago. … (Following a pilot show for The Pushers) I did the very first real show. I was doing a play at the time, Hole In the Sky.

Q: The 9/11 play.

Wilson: Yeah. And – too soon, first. It was like 2003, maybe 2003, 2004. It felt too soon. … I was doing that, so I couldn’t do (The Pushers). So Brad (McMurran of The Pushers) and another dude came to the play and I was giving a heart-wrenching speech to the audience, and they found a way to sit right directly in my eye line, and Brad’s making faces. People were like crying in the audience, and I’ve got to try not to break character. That’s when I decided comedy might be fun to do.

Q: Did you go to school locally?

Kypros: I went to Norfolk Academy for 12 years. My dad taught there at the time, and then I went to college at Virginia Tech. It was pretty much right after college that I got that movie. That’s when I went out to Los Angeles. I lived in Los Angeles for about six years.

Q: What did you study at Tech?

Kypros: I was an interdisciplinary studies major.

Q: What does that mean?

Kypros: It’s almost like a choose your own adventure major. You take your minors and you turn them into an interdisciplinary studies major. My minors were theater, communications and the humanities. I didn’t get accepted for the engineering curriculum but I took engineering for the first year and half … and I was like I don’t want to do this anymore. … The theater minor happened because I was doing so much production. I was in a lot of plays, and you kept getting like a credit every time you did a play. I was like, ‘Shoot, I might as well take a couple classes and get the minor, you know?’

Q: What kind of plays? Was it comedy?

Kypros: No. Actually, I love musical theater. We did some cool stuff, man. We did some experimental stuff based upon a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Comedy always ended up coming up. You’ve got to know when to hit those beats. When you’re performing live, it becomes something you can feel. It’s not always the same thing. You know it from seeing things that make you laugh. It’s like, if that would have been a second sooner, I wouldn’t have laughed that hard. Timing is –

Wilson: Is everything.

Kypros: Is everything. Timing and life are both a bitch. (Laughter.) Timing is a bitch.

Q: So how did you do with standup?

Kypros: The first time I got up, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to do the edgiest stuff I have.’ I got up there, and it was some pretty decent stuff. I have joke about my mom being adopted. Some of the jokes I still tell today.

Q: What’s the joke about your mom being adopted?

Kypros: It’s just like people , when they get on stage, they want to say, ‘Well, I can say this because my mom was this or I can say that because my mom was that.’ You know, but my mom was adopted so I don’t know what she brings to the table. You know, the only way I’m going to find out is if I run for office or something. So I’ve had to look at my life and see if there’s any clues to show me what it is that she brings to the table. I realized that ever since I was 13 I’ve always had a job, so maybe I’m white. But at every job I’ve ever had they’ve always complimented me on my fantastic work ethic so I could be Mexican. I get my check and I don’t want to spend it so I might be Jewish. And I love white women so I must be black. And that was the joke. … The first time I got up and told these jokes, people laughed and this guy asked me if I wanted to do this show at this place that was down on West Pico Boulevard, the Comedy Union next to the Roscoe’s House of Chicken ‘n Waffles in L.A. It was like a bringer show. (The comic has to bring friends to fill the audience, and there’s often a drink minimum.) But it was cool. It was one of those moments where you got up, you did it, it was great, and then the guys says, ‘Hey, I run the show. You want to do this thing?’ You know, so that was neat. That worked out pretty good.

Q: How hard is it to fill the bringer shows? Did you have willing victims?

Kypros: Yeah. You have some friends. It’s always something like bring five friends or eight friends. But the thing was always, it’s a $10 cover and a two drink minimum. So it was hard to constantly hit your friends up, and they hear you telling the same jokes a lot. … After a while, you realize I can’t keep doing bringer shows. As a hungry comic, you want to do all the work you can do, but then you get to be a little wiser in your craft and you start to see what it is. You start to see the benefit of the open mics and then you say, ‘Well, maybe I only need to do one bringer show every three months and really bring ‘em out.’ … You almost inadvertently get a schooling in self promotion.

Q: You’re writing your own stuff.

Kypros: Yeah. Absolutely. My brothers and I have a great relationship and so every now and then they’ll call me up and have a funny idea, you know what I mean? There’s some jokes that I have that are certainly thanks to my brothers and there are jokes in there that are thanks to my friends too. You know, as comics you’ll sit around and go, ‘Oh, here’s a tag. In that joke what if you said this?’

Wilson: We were just having a conversation last night on the way to the show and somebody said pee-pee.

Kypros: I said pee-pee.

Wilson: And I said please don’t – there’s nothing sexy about referring to my penis as pee-pee, and we just spit-balled for like, what, twenty minutes on the way to this show. When we got to show, it killed.

Kypros: Yeah, I got up and started doing this bit and it worked. That’s how you write, I think. That’s how I write. The way I write the best. Riding in my car, thinking about something. You know, riding in my car by myself, it’s almost like I’m working. My head’s running, I’m thinking about stuff, and I’m putting stuff together. There’s nothing better than having a buddy there you can bounce stuff off of.

Wilson: Yeah. That’s a good thing. That’s actually the best stuff ever.

Kypros: Road tripping is good times.

Q: When did you start writing?

Wilson: I started in poetry and spoken word. … I started writing probably my senior year of high school for real. My buddy and I thought we were filmmakers and (laughs) we would do just horrible stop-motion effects and stuff like that … I was 22 before I wrote anything good. Everything was terrible up until that point – writing this hugely emotional, what we thought was avant-garde crap for years. But when I started writing comedy, started writing sketches all the time, that gets you to train that muscle to start thinking in that way.

Q: And for comedy to work, it’s got to have a shape.

Wilson: Right.

Q: You got to have the assumption, you’ve got to deflate the assumption and build toward the final turn. I know I’m not using the terminology.

Kypros: I don’t know what the terminology is.

Wilson: My favorite thing is incongruity. I learned this back in high school. One of these things doesn’t belong here. One of these things doesn’t work. You know what I mean? And then under that same kind of notion, what if something is completely out of place and no one acknowledges it?

Kypros: You put normal people in a strange situation or –

Wilson: Or you put strange people in a normal situation.

Kypros: You play with levels and all sorts of stuff.

Wilson: Truth’s the best thing, though – stuff that really tells the truth. That’s what I liked about the “Light Rail.” I didn’t even thing it was so funny. It was funny because it was so true.

Kypros: To me, that’s the whole reason I wanted to do comedy anyway. I grew up listening to Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams and George Carlin, but George Carlin was the one I really liked the most, I think, because I thought he was hilarious and he dealt with issues. He dealt with the way people thought about things. Everybody’s dealing with the way people think about things because it’s comedy, it’s the juxtaposition, but I just thought it was so cool. It was like, ‘Many a truth is told in jest.’ How many times has someone been, ‘Hey, you’re an asshole. Ha ha. Just kidding, man.’ Man, you mean it. (Laughter.) I like to say that standup comedy is the last bastion of free speech, or it should be. Which is why I tell that joke about my mom, because to me it’s ridiculous. We’re sitting here laughing and it’s like so what, I get to say this thing or that thing or this word or that word or I can say this scenario just because I have this card to say it? You know, if you’re going to say it, say it. The thing about it too is it’s what makes you laugh. You’ve got to hit that thing. Again, with the light rail, they’re thinking that. They’re already thinking it. And you’re saying it.

Wilson: We gave them a voice.

Q: How did this group start?

Kypros: I had done The Groundlings and I was back in Norfolk and I had always wanted to do – I felt like when I came back I wanted to do some sketch comedy. … I got to meet Rob and Brad (McMurran) and all those guys (through The Pushers), and Sean (Devereux) and everybody … Well, we kind of were buddies before I saw (Wilson) perform. I thought it was really awesome what they were doing everything and we all became friends and were hanging out and all that kind of stuff. … I had always kind of wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what it was. I ended up going back to L.A. after I came back (to Norfolk) to finish the class at The Groundlings, finish this last whatever. Now I’m a level four Groundling. It’s like a role-playing game or something. That was the one where they really taught me how to write. That was the one where the whole idea was look at all this improv training you’ve done – use it to write the sketch. Use it to fill in the blanks in the sketch. Which is really like we were doing already, where we’re riding in the car, BS-ing in the car, and suddenly I’m up on stage telling a joke, only it’s written, you know?

Wilson: Right.

Q: But if you want to go long form, and I think it’s the same as a story, there’s a shape. It’s got to go somewhere. We’ll (discuss) that with “Light Rail,” but how do you get to that place? The inspiration seems to be the improv, but at some point if you want it to be –

Wilson: With that sketch specifically, there was an idea. We were thinking, ‘Well, what’s on people’s minds?’ I think that’s where it started. And then we were –

Kypros: We were bullshitting about the light rail, is what it was. We were just talking about how stupid it was, and we started laughing, and … we just kind of looked at each other.

Wilson: Aha. That’s it.

Kypros: We had just started the group. I had come back and I’d done a couple plays at Little Theatre of Norfolk and Brendan Hoyle was the director there. He and I together were like, ‘Let’s start this thing. What do you want to call it?’ (Hoyle and Kypros then started Plan B.) Rob and I had talked about doing stuff together and it was the sort of thing where we were all talking about stuff but there was never the opportunity for us all to work together.

Q: So why did you leave The Pushers?

Wilson: I wanted to be a part of this group because Jason and I work together and we have a really great time. We have great chemistry. It’s fun. It’s like a little bromance. (Laughs.) And he’s like well we’re doing this thing, and we’re going to be shooting a lot of stuff, and it was always something I was really interested in. I thought a lot of subject matter was going to be different from what I was doing then. So I was like I want to do this thing, and (The Pushers) thought it would be a conflict of interest. (Though Wilson wanted to do both, he realized there was no way he could have split his time.)

Kypros: When we started Plan B, we had like eleven or twelve people. We had an audition. Thirty people came out. We didn’t expect that many and we had to choose 12 of them, and now … we’re down to nine. That’s how it goes. Cause it’s hard, man. No one’s making money.

Wilson: We’re doing it for the love.

Kypros: We knew that everybody had different levels of experience as far as what they’d done with improv. One of the things we talked about from the very beginning … we wanted improv to be the foundation of the whole group. The sketches would come out of that. It’s fun. You’re constantly creating. We’ve done a good job with it and we’ve tried to help each other along. Our rehearsals are like a class.

Wilson: Almost, yeah. Definitely.

Kypros: We have an agenda. Rob’s been making sure we stay on task with that.

Wilson: We all are on different levels. Jason’s gone all the way through The Groundlings. Lauren’s completely Second City trained. I’ve been doing it a while. I haven’t –

Kypros: You’ve had influences from all these different things.

Wilson: I’m like a ronin. I’ve learned a little bit from here, a little bit from there. All of us will tell you, every single rehearsal we go to, we learn something new.

Q: (Wilson and I) have talked personally about content. In my own writing this is something I’ve struggled with (in short fiction stories). One of the things we’ve had conversations about, is when you’re creating art or a sketch – and I think what you guys do is art – how do you deal with that issue of how you’re representing people in sketches?

Wilson: We did a racism sketch. Sometimes I think it’s what’s not said but how the characters themselves are portrayed. So in the racism sketch, I’m a black dude who has his own hang-ups and ideas and Brendan’s a white dude who has his own hang-ups and ideas. Both of the characters are coming from an intelligent place with an intelligent argument, even if their foundations are completely off base. What I’m saying is we’re not playing any one character in a way that –

Kypros: We characterize a specific point of view and the point of view points out the ridiculousness of the situation.

Wilson: Right, but I’m saying in the portrayal of the characters. Not just in the content. I think a lot of it has to do with the portrayal of the character.

Q: Both characters – and they say completely off-base things – but they both have power.

Wilson: Right.

Kypros: They believe what they’re saying.

Q: It’s a dialogue, it’s not –

Wilson: Right. It’s not, ‘You’re telling me how it is.’ And I’m just sitting here taking it or vice versa. It was honorable.

Kypros: It was an honorable dialogue.

Q: Until you got to Asians, but we’ll come back to that.

Wilson: Right.

Kypros: Right, but come on.

Wilson: (Kidding.) We don’t have any in the group, so they couldn’t speak up.

Kypros: Nah – Again, the point was to add to the ridiculousness of stereotypes and that sort of stuff.

Wilson: Right.

Kypros: That was the idea. Like for all those things, you’re talking about content and what we want to get across, I know for me – I have a production company. That’s how we started doing all these video things. I have a small production company, JLK Productions — there it is. That’s all the plug I’ll do. … But so basically, here I am, I know how to do this sketch stuff. The cool thing to me about the sketch stuff was, you know, this is what I was writing. I was coming out of The Groundlings writing all these sketches for stage and thinking, ‘Some of these would be good video sketches.’ To me, SNL and the stage and that whole concept – I really got a taste of that when I was doing that class. I mean, three months of that. So this was what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do Plan B and I knew we were going to have video influence from the beginning. … Keith Jackson started helping us out. He helped direct “Light Rail.” He and I directed it together, and he directed the racism PSA. … With the racism PSA, as far as content is concerned, we knew that – I knew that I wanted to keep it at a certain level. As a standup, I hate it when you go to work a room and they say, ‘You’ve got to keep it PG.’ I don’t know why. I feel we all live rated-R lives, and it’s ridiculous to pretend otherwise. You might stub your toe and say ‘shit.’ That’s the world we live in. So I’d rather be honest, but I don’t want to push it. But with the racism PSA, there definitely were some moments where we all as a group were like, ‘Well, how should we play that line?’

Wilson: I feel that when you’re talking about, especially, racial stuff or anything that’s kind of touchy, I go back to truth, man. Like, if it’s true, let’s play it from an honest place. That’s coming from an actor and a writer’s place, but, I guess, more as an actor because you want to play the honesty. We were cautious of certain things because you don’t want people to get the wrong idea. Because when you do something that’s touchy, when you do something that can go either way, there becomes a concern. (Comedian Dave) Chapelle was talking about it. He was talking about when he was doing his show … he did (a sketch about a family whose last name was a racial epithet) … He did the sketch and it was hilarious to him, but he would go to some backwater place and people would come up to him and be like, ‘Ha ha ha, (repeating the epithet) yeah!’ And it was like, ‘Why are you laughing?’

Q: That’s kind of what I’m getting at. Could someone watch that sketch (“The Folly of Racism”) and enjoy the fetishization of Asian women at the end of it?

Wilson: I think the point that it’s placed, it’s tongue-in-cheek enough – If they did, it’s a far reach.

Q: Right, but you think the sketch reads that, obviously, it’s satirizing both stereotypes and sometimes the ways we talk about stereotypes.

Kypros: Right. What Rob’s saying about truth and what we said about putting ridiculous people in real situations or vice versa is what you have there is you have two people who are characterized, and they themselves are playing stereotypes and they believe it’s their truth and it looks like a PSA. That’s how you get the funny in that sketch. It’s like (singing the NBC public service announcement theme) ‘The more you know … ’ So we have this real situation and we’re putting ridiculous people in it. So that’s why I don’t have a problem with the Asian joke because we’ve established that these two people are ridiculous. You know what I mean? So they say that joke and it’s like some place for them to – so the subtle way is it’s like bringing them together. You know what I mean?

Wilson: It’s like this common ground. And the thing I’ve realized is somebody dumb is gonna take whatever you say and feel whatever way they want to about it. But you know what you’re intention is. As long as you’re clear on your intention as an artist or as a group of artists –

Kypros: There you go.

Wilson: – then, I mean, you give it to them and it’s all subjective.

Kypros: You can’t make everyone happy, right? … Not everybody’s going to laugh at a comedy show the same way.

Wilson: The thing that gets weird is when you’re dealing with a group of artists and you don’t know the group’s intentions. You know what yours is. If you don’t know the group’s intentions, that’s where you get into a muddy place.

Kypros: We make sure, I make sure, Brendan makes sure that once we had everybody after the auditions we told everybody what our intention was.

Q: What is your intention?

Kypros: Our intention is just to be a really good sketch comedy group. Plain and simple.

Wilson: From top to bottom.

Kypros: We want to have solid stuff and we want to be able to appeal to a wide range of people. We’re not trying to go for one particular group. With my standup, it’s different. I go to do my standup and I want to say whatever I’m going to say and I want to do it however I want to do it. But with this stuff, I am more inclined to go, ‘Well, will the kids laugh at it?’ Like the silent film. (‘Follow That Fiend!’)

Wilson: We did the silent film at the Naro, and children were enjoying that. You know, it’s nice. Oh God, it’s so nice to be able to have something you can have your mother and children enjoy. You know I don’t have any kids yet – that I know of – but when I do I want them to be able to enjoy the things that I do. With my standup, my standup my kids are not going to enjoy. Until they’re 20. (Laughs.)

Kypros: You might not want them to hear it.

The next part of this talk is on the way.

Playing us out … a terrible song about an L.A. institution to which Kypros gave a shout out above. Enjoy the insincere dancing.

P.S. Plan B did not do this video.

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Writing Craft Q&A, Vol. VI: Sean Devereux of The Pushers (Part Two)


Sean Devereux of the comedy and improv group The Pushers during a rehearsal at his condo in Norfolk, Va. Photo by John Doucette.

NORFOLK, Va. – This is the second part of my talk with Sean Devereux of comedy and improv group The Pushers.

Devereux serves as the group’s co-producer, manager and co-head writer. Additionally, he and fellow founding Pusher Brad McMurran teach classes on improvisation and comedy writing at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, and also are involved in Improvageddon, a long form improv competition between local teams. Additionally, he recently was featured here in a Belligerent Q&A.

This discussion includes some adult language and frank discussion of jokes you may find offensive. It is toward an end. Additionally, one of the video clips contains adult language and probably is not safe for work. This Q&A had been edited for clarity and length.

It helps to have read the first part for context. You can find it here at this link.

Q: How did you get into the group?

My wife and I broke up and once that happened there was about a six month period of time where I was moping on the couch, and then I picked up Portfolio and saw auditions for a play over at The Little Theatre of Norfolk, and I said, ‘You know, I might as well.’ I did theater in high school. I was always more on the tech side but I did some acting in high school, but at least going out and auditioning beats sitting on the couch. So I went out and auditioned and got the role. … I think I had two lines …

I was really immersed. Afterwards the cast would go out drinking and meet whatever cast was rehearsing at the Generic. I just really fell into that community theater world. … I was actually kind of surprised I did fall into it. The cast I was in was kind of an all-star cast as community theater goes for the early 2000s in Hampton Roads.

Q: That, by the way, is the most specific Wikipedia page.

(Laughs.) It is. Not even Hampton Roads — early 2000s Norfolk community theater.

Q: It’s just a list with no links.

Exactly. Through that I just met a whole bunch of people. … I was having a good time with that. I started dating a girl who was involved in theater. I started a run of like four shows in a row, which is probably like a year and a half, and had just gotten burnout. The second to last play I was in was where I met Ed and Lauren Rogers, who is now in (another Hampton Roads area improv and sketch comedy  group) Plan B. We struck up a friendship. Through them I met Brad and Jeremiah (Albers) and a couple other people who would actually go on to form The Pushers.

Q: Rob Wilson (now of Plan B)?

He came in pretty close to the beginning. In fact, I wrote ‘Justice Crusaders’ with Rob in mind. For his audition, we knew he was going to be in but made him audition anyway. I’m pretty sure he read the Captain Pirate role at the audition. I’d also written another role with him in mind. …

At some length, we then discussed a sketch from an early show. Devereux wrote a sketch featuring two new characters. The following week he wrote a new sketch featuring the same characters, thinking both the original sketch and the new sketch would make it into the show. When the original sketch was cut, however, there was no context for the recurring characters. The Pushers went ahead with the new sketch, which bombed.

Q: There was no context?

It was eight or nine minutes of crickets.

Q: What did you learn from that?

Number one, we weren’t as big as we thought we were. We didn’t have a loyal crowd who would come to every single show. We learned that when you’re writing a sketch that has a recurring character, which I think is something definitely SNL has learned, you have to write the sketch almost as (if) it’s the first time people are being introduced to these characters. Which is why it’s so easy to take the game of the scene and apply it to a different setting.

Here’s ‘Justice Crusaders,’ a sketch we will discuss in some depth. This is a repeat of the link from the first post, for context. Again, NSFW:

Q: I think the writing is good. How do you build that scene?

I started that with Captain Pirate. Brad and I, we always have a couple of notebooks to jot down ideas. (He pulls one out of a bag.)

Q: Your brand is Mead.

Actually, one brand I have Mead. (Pulls another one out, reads the cover.) Downtown Norfolk Council – I’m not sure how … that was actually a work meeting. Moleskines, I actually have a couple in there. Something I can just kind of stick in my back pocket. It started with Captain Pirate. I just thought that was kind of an absurd name for a superhero. …

From there it just kind of grew. I think we came up – We don’t do it as much today, but back then we would meet and just toss out ideas. I think somebody else actually came up with Low Self Esteem Girl. Another actor was going to play Aquaman. I did notice there are some cheap jokes, like making Aquaman gay. That only happened because Jeremiah was in it. Well, Jeremiah’s playing him so obviously you’re going to have to make gay jokes. You know, never has a gay man played a character where there weren’t gay jokes.

Q: Well, stop there a minute. There are couple things there. There’s kind of a throwaway moment where Jeremiah leaves where he says something to Low Self Esteem Girl, he says “bitch” and walks out the door. How do you feel about those jokes a few years later?

Some  of them are, I would have to go back to cheap. There’s another one in there with Low Self Esteem Girl, and the reason I say we need Captain Pirate is because he’s a minority and we need a minority in the group. And Low Self Esteem Girl, Sandra (Hernandez), who is Hispanic, says well I’m a minority, and I go, ‘What do you want? A medal and a taco?’ And nowadays I don’t think I would write (that). You get a cheap joke. It doesn’t really do anything to progress the story of the sketch.

Q: Did you talk about it at the time, or was the idea just to push push push?

At the time it was just push push push. Rarely did we ever – The only sketch we ever thought maybe this is too far was a sketch I wrote called the Terri Schiavo diet where it was kind of an infomercial. There’s a new diet plan and the way it works is, you know, get into an accident so you’re in a coma and then have your husband remove the feeding tube and watch the pounds just melt away. Yeah. That was the only time we were, ‘Maybe that’s a little too far.’ But we put it up.

Q: Wait so you –

Oh yeah. We did.

Q: See, for me, that would just be too much for me. (Schiavo’s brain damage and the resulting vegetative state may have resulted from an eating disorder; she lost 65 pounds in her late teens, then struggled to keep weight off, subsisting on liquids, apparently.)

Exactly. We debated that almost until the night of the show. That sketch came from my uncle’s kind of dark sense of humor.

Q: I guess I wonder when you’re writing a sketch are you thinking this is satire? What are you satirizing?

Back then I wasn’t. I was just kind of writing whatever popped into my head. Nowadays it’s definitely more of satirizing I wouldn’t even say social conventions. Now it’s finding everyday situations that kind of bug people and just kind of take it to the absurd. Like I’m a big offender of always being on my phone. It drives Brad up the wall. So right now I’m working on a sketch where it’s two couples out on a date and three out of the four people are carrying on conversations with each other that are strictly on the phone. …

Q: Sometimes when I’m writing and trying to write toward something, if I’m commenting on a social thing or something about a (racial or ethnic) identity, it just kind of reinforces the notions some people have about those groups.

I think it is a fine line. I think back in the day, I don’t think we cared. I don’t think we ever really thought about it. We did a lot of racial humor, which we would always run it by Rob or Saeed (Wilkins), who was the other black guy. That would be our litmus test. You know, if we turned in a sketch and they didn’t punch us in the face then you know we were good to go.

Q: But that’s not much of a bar.

It’s not. Again, I think we – We had no bar. It definitely got us a reputation that we’re trying to shake now — of doing things for almost like shock value. The ‘God is dead line,’ that character, I like the idea of a priest losing his cool in the middle of a sermon. We haven’t done that sketch in two, two and half years. If we were to do it again I don’t think we would go to the ‘God is dead’ line. There’s no point to it. There might be one atheist out there who thinks it’s funny, but the rest …

Q: I mean, what do you want to do? Do you want to make people laugh or – What do you want to do with your writing?

I would say, first and foremost, laugh. I would like to say that we’ve done some satire as of late. Our Ghent hipster characters. I did one video for AltDaily where I play a politician. I do like that. Every time I write something like that I have a fear of, you know, becoming pretentious.

Q: I’m not saying it has to have a message. … One of the things I think writing of all kinds doesn’t do well is address differences, and I’m very conscious about writing in a way that reinforces differences that have been inflicted on people, not developed within that community. So I guess what I wonder is when you’re writing, not just in that context, is there something you want to accomplish with what you’re writing? Do you want to just make people laugh or do you want to keep turning back expectation? One of the things about the ‘Justice Crusaders’ is I think it does take the expectation the audience has and turns it back and it builds. There’s another sketch I was going to ask you about where you play the dad and Brad’s your son and he’s got to be gay (because his dad wants him to be). I think that sketch is about expectations turned around and it kind of builds.

It is. That sketch started out as an improv scene I did with a girl when I was taking classes in New York at Upright Citizens Brigade, and I do like looking at political correctness. I think that is a scene of like taking I wouldn’t even say political correctness, but taking it too far. Now the hip thing is to have somebody gay in your family.  You know, Queer Eye For The Straight Guy and all that. … When Queer Eye For The Straight Guy came out there was like, you know, people I knew who would watch it who would be fag this, fag that, but thought it was a great show. It was that way, and by saying they watched that it was like ‘Oh, no. I’m cool with gay people because I watch Queer Eye For The Straight Guy.’ Again, it’s taking political correctness to the – I wrote another one for Rob where a woman takes home her boyfriend to meet him for the first time and they’re shocked not because he’s black, but not black enough. They start quizzing him on Malcolm X and you know the black power movement and black authors. …

Rob a lot of times would get upset that he would always have to play the black roles. Like he couldn’t just ever play a doctor or a lawyer. It was the black lawyer or the black doctor. I was guilty of it in ‘Justice Crusaders.’ He couldn’t be just a pirate; he had to be a black pirate. And this was a sketch where he’s just supposed to be a boyfriend bracing for the fact that because he’s black a white family might be upset that their daughter is not going to be dating a white man. But they’re like no, if he’s black we want super black. …

It’s weird for a white person, you know, giving my perception of something black people have to deal with, but it almost seems that if you’re black you have to know the history of rap and hiphop because that’s your culture.

Q: In the mind of white people.

Exactly. In the mind of white people. It was kind of an exaggeration of what white people expect black people to be.

Q: Let me ask about Upright Citizens Brigade.

I think the most training I got that has helped my writing has been at Upright Citizens Brigade. They’re whole main focus — and this is applied to improv though it could be applied to all comedy — is finding the game of the scene. Stripping away everything, all the characters and things like that, what is this scene really about. That’s not that you can’t have a really funny scene that’s nothing but a bunch of crazy characters, but it seems the ones that are most successful are the ones you can break down into a simple sentence – what is this really about?

I think that’s something that has helped me the most with my writing, you know, stripping away all of the fluff. Which is hard. Nowadays when we write a scene there will be a lot of great lines and jokes and whatnot but sometimes they end up getting cut because they really have nothing to do with the game of the scene.

What does this character want? … Do they get it? Even if they don’t get it, what are they doing to get it. This other character, is he there to help him out? Is he there to be the voice of opposition? …

My process is so I’m wearing so many hats now, I have very little free time to do actual writing. I have my notebooks. I would say normally 99 percent of my sketch is written in my head. … I write almost like the nuts and bolts. I do find that because I’ve been thinking about it so long a lot of the funny bits of dialogue come out while I’m writing. I try to get out at least the nuts and bolts of the scene and go back and write in jokes later. …

Usually my premises are more relationship based ideas and usually autobiographical. One of the last scenes I wrote was right around Valentine’s Day, the day before my girlfriend apropos of nothing said, ‘You know what I really want? I want you to write me a love letter.’ I had written her a love letter, but now I’m screwed. Now when I give you the love letter on Valentine’s Day, yeah you’re going to be happy that yu got it but you’re going to think the only reason I gave you this love letter is because you told me you wanted a love letter. So I wrote a scene were a guy takes his girlfriend to a really fancy dinner and right as he’s getting ready to get down on one knee to propose she says, ‘You know the only way this could get any better is if you proposed to me.’ And then it just becomes absurd. … That actually got a pretty good response.

Q: So how did Valentine’s Day go?

It actually went well. She’s very understanding. Luckily I had other stuff to go with the love letter. …

Q: What are you plans long term?

We would love to open our own performance space, possibly a 60-seat theater. During the day we could have classes, then at night sell PBRs for $2 a bottle and put up shows. We’d like to own a theater and teach classes. And this is the pretentious part – maybe legacy. We haven’t given up the whole some day we could have our own show, but it’s not something we’re actively pursuing. We’re pretty good being a big fish in a small pond. But teaching comedy and improv, it’s kind of like making my name go on. Even if the theater is something that doesn’t make it, it’s something people will remember. …

We’re teaching. … I got pretty lucky. Hopefully we’re going to be helping people who have a similar type of dream and point them in the right direction. And it’s just fun.

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Writing Craft Q&A, Vol. VI: Sean Devereux of The Pushers (Part One)


Sean Devereux of The Pushers during a recent rehearsal at his Norfolk, Va., condo. Photo by John Doucette.

NORFOLK, Va. – I caught up again with Sean Devereux of comedy and improv group The Pushers at Colley Cantina for a beer and a talk about writing comedy, improvising and how far a joke can push.

Devereux serves as the group’s co-producer, manager and co-head writer. Additionally, he and fellow founding Pusher Brad McMurran teach classes on improvisation and comedy writing at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, and also are involved in Improvageddon, a long form improv competition between teams.

And Devereux recently was featured here in a Belligerent Q&A.

This is a long talk, broken into two parts, but those interested in comedy writing and other forms of writing — particularly finding the core structure of a work — should stick around.

This discussion includes some adult language and frank discussion of jokes you may find offensive. That mostly in the next part of the talk, which I’ll post in a couple days, but there is some adult language below.

For those who may be coming to this blog for the first time, I write it to learn from other writers and artists. I appreciate their time and honesty, and I have respect for the direct discussions they agree to be a part of. So thanks to Devereux. And thank you for reading.

Without further ado, part one of the conversation …

Q: How did you start writing?

I’ve always been a comic book nerd and my mom has comics that I wrote when I was five or six years old. I’m not a very good drawer but I could trace my hand. I would then turn (it) into a character. She has just pamphlets and pamphlets of these pages that I would draw one drawing per page and then write a caption and staple them together.

I always was very interested in comedy. … (W)hen I was in junior high and even high school, I would write scripts for The Monkees TV show. … Say what you will about their music and whether or not they played their own instruments, but their TV show still holds up as pretty funny. It’s a lot of absurd humor. It’s breaking the fourth wall type of stuff. I’ve always been fascinated with how they were kind of playing exaggerated versions of themselves, and then there were times they would break that character and go back to their real selves. I was always a big fan of that. I was a fan of Saturday Night Live.

Q: Do you remember the first time you saw SNL?

No. I do remember always liking the Coneheads. I always liked Bill Murray, but I’m not sure if that was from Ghostbusters and Caddyshack first and then Saturday Night Live after. I guess by the time I really was kind of aware of him, he must have already been off Saturday Night Live … so I must have seen repeats.

They did a big interview with (the SNL cast) in Rolling Stone and I got that issue and I must have read it a million times. It was kind of around then I decided I really would like to write for SNL, which I had forgotten about until my high school reunion a year or two ago. A lot of people were bringing it up. ‘That’s so cool – you were always talking about writing for SNL and now you’ve got your own comedy group.’

Q: What was it about the show that you liked?

I have a very short attention span so I like the sketch format better than sometimes even a half hour sitcom. Again, I always gravitated more toward comedies than dramas or even action movies. There’s just something about laughing I really enjoy.

Q: Did your folks have a good sense of humor?

My mom has a very weird sense of humor and my dad was kind of a life-of-the-party, lampshade-on-the-head type of guy.

Q: What’s a weird sense of humor for a mom?

She was a very strict mom growing up, but then there would be other times when we would be eating dinner and she’d be like, ‘Wow, these mashed potatoes smell kind of weird.’ And when we’d go in to sniff them she would push our head into them, which if my sister or I ever did it to one another we’d get in big trouble. That was our biggest joke. She always liked doing that.

She’s not like a joke teller or anything like that, but she’s really good at telling stories. She’s from New York and worked for ABC Radio in the early to mid 1960s, and her office was two doors down from Howard Cosell’s office. So she has a bunch of great stories about going out with Howard Cosell. Not dating, but just everybody from the office going out. She saw, when the Beatles came to New York, she got to go to the concert at Shea Stadium. When they gave their first press conference, she was actually in the room. She was the assistant program director at one point in time. She has a horrible taste in music. I always wonder how many really good bands never really got their shot because my mom would just toss their stuff before it ever got to the program director. She just has a way of telling a story and making it funny.

Q: You got that from her?

I think I kind of did. I’m not a joke person. When people find out I’m in The Pushers they go, ‘Oh, tell me a joke.’ I don’t know any jokes. I know maybe one knock knock joke.

Q: The one with the interrupting cow?

Well, there’s the cow one and there’s the other one where you start it. Start the joke.

Q: Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Q: (Uncomfortable silence, then laughter.)

For some reason, that’s my favorite knock knock joke. … It’s more to get back at people asking me to tell them a joke.

Q: You don’t see yourself as a joke teller, but you have to write comedy.

My comedy is very situational, or it’s more about taking something in everyday life and just exaggerating it. With the exception of the super hero sketches I do, most everything I do is more relationship based. A lot of it’s usually based on something that happened to me, and then just retelling that in sketch form and exaggerating the hell out of it.

Q: So how do you get from wanting to write for SNL to forgetting all about that dream and then (to The Pushers)?

A failed marriage.

Q: A failed marriage?

Yeah. That’ll do it. One of the reasons is I had the desire but had no idea how to act upon it. I went to George Mason University and my first semester I was actually a theater major. I did theater in high school. I had no desire to be on stage, but it was about being around the kind of people I had a kinship with. Mason at the time had a pretty competitive theater program and I couldn’t get into any of the theater courses, not even intro to theater. The only one I could take was actually taught by the Religion Department. It was themes and motifs in contemporary theater. So after my first semester I switched to English composition with an emphasis on fiction writing.

Q: What did you want to do with that?

I had no idea. At one point I thought about teaching. I still harbored thoughts of eventually writing for TV in some form.

Q: You didn’t want to write short stories or the Great American Novel?

No. I love reading those things but for some reason the actual mechanical act of writing I’m not a big fan of. Which is why I think I love sketch writing. It’s only four or five pages. … I did do a lot of short stories. I would still kind of dabble in script writing. I also ended up getting a minor in film and media studies, but it was in their Communication Department.

During my junior year, myself and some friends decided we were going to do our own TV show, kind of interview program, like a very localized The Larry Sanders Show, mocking the late night TV format. I wrote five scripts for that. We actually started filming pieces for it. The problem was, instead of going with other communication majors to help me do this, I had my friends who had no idea what they were doing and as soon as exams rolled around they abandoned the project to go study.

Q: So what was an early sketch?

Early sketches were a lot of mocking Mason campus life. They had just unveiled a new bus system that students could use, but it had weird stops. It wouldn’t stop at the Metro station, so if you needed to get to D.C., you’d stop like a half mile away and you’d walk. … Essentially they spent all this money for this new bus line that nobody ever bothered using. So we’d do live reports – it had some kind of name, like the Tide – so we’d always have a roving reporter trying to interview people on this bus. There would never be anybody on it. …

The summer between my junior and senior year, I got an internship at Channel 13. I started in the news department, because I gave a brief thought at trying to be in journalism. Two weeks in the news department, I realized that journalism really wasn’t the thing for me. You had to stick with facts. I do like exaggerating. My version of the story was always much better, or I thought was much better than what actually happened.

Q: And they frown on that.

Yeah, they do frown on embellishing. So after two weeks I moved to the production department. … So a lot of it was going out to Harborfest or Bay Days and handing out t-shirts. I went back to school and graduated and had planned to move to New York with two really good friends. My girlfriend at the time who was a year behind me had visions of the three of us going roughshod all over New York City, so if I moved up to New York she would break up with me. So I picked her over New York and moved back home to Virginia Beach.

Q: Do you know how many women they have there?

I know.

Q: Just putting that out there.

Yeah, it was not one of the smarter moves I’ve ever made.

Q: Well, I’m sure at the time it was very noble.

I don’t think so. It was sheer stupidity on my part, and then I had to go and marry her. So once I moved back here, I had no idea what I was going to do. I went to Regent for about two semesters. They actually really have a good program.

Q: Masters of communications?

Yeah. It was going to be with an emphasis in screenwriting, but I quickly found I had to start editing some of the work I turned in. Nothing against their form of Christianity, but it is very strict. I thought I could fake it for the sake of getting a degree and using their equipment and stuff like that. I only lasted probably a semester and a half before I decided to drop out. …

For me, I didn’t mind it so much at first. I come from a pretty strong Catholic family. I had an uncle who was a priest. So the fact that you had to pray before every class, I was okay with that. Not really my thing, but I was okay with that. I had a script analysis class, which was actually pretty good and then one day the professor never showed, and then the next day, the next class, she was very apologetic, but (a family member had been injured; and this incident became a distraction for the class). … We had to spend the rest of the class praying for her (relative) and by that point in time I was pretty tight on money so I started calculating how much money I was wasting by praying …

Then I was taking a television scriptwriting class, and I loved the class. The guy actually had credits to his name. … He was really cool. There was probably 40 people in the class, and the first week or two we had to pitch him ideas. We had to take an existing TV show and then pitch him ideas for possible scripts, kind of like you would do pitching –

Q: In a writers room.

Exactly. On the first day he shot down every single idea that anybody came up with. He was very harsh and mean about it. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really weird for Regent.’ So the next class, like half the people dropped and we had to go through the same process, pitching him ideas. This time a couple people would be close to him saying, ‘Okay, that’s a good idea.’ Then something would happen and he’d say, ‘No, that sucks. Give me your next idea. No. Horrible. Move on.’ Finally, at the end of the class he said, ‘A lot of you had really great ideas, you know – things a producer might actually pick up, but when you go into a meeting  with a producer it could be right before lunchtime. He could have just been chewed out by his boss. You know, you could have the best idea in the world, but if this guy’s having a rotten day, there’s a good chance your idea is going to fall on deaf ears. … I’m going to get you ready for the real world.’

Devereux later dropped out. He had written for class, among other things, a script for Mad About You, but lost much of his Regent writing when a computer virus software apparently ate the disk.

Q: Are you sure it was the virus software?

It could have been God.

Q: He’s gotten pretty tech-savvy in the past few years.

He has. I have an uncle who was a priest who died a while back, so I’m assuming that he’s up there looking out for me. Although he had a pretty weird sense of humor, too. … I remember a Christmas, and, again all my family was in New York, and his parish was in Brooklyn. We’re all at my grandmother’s house, and my mom is one of six kids who all had pretty large families. Every Christmas was just a mass of people at my grandmother’s house. We’re all starving but we’re all sitting around the dinner table waiting because we can’t start eating until Uncle Marty came. He ended up showing three hours late. My grandmother made no bones about it that Marty was her favorite because he was a priest, so we were all kind of annoyed when he finally showed up. My mom was like, ‘Where the hell were you?’ And it’s like, ‘I’m really sorry, but a family in my parish, you know, the husband died this morning so I had to be with the family.’ And my mom was like, ‘Oh my God that’s horrible, what do you say to a family who has a loved one die on Christmas Eve?’ And without blinking his eyes, straight-laced, he’s like, ‘I hope you saved the receipts.’

So my uncle the priest had a very morbid dark sense of humor, which I’m a big fan of as well.

Q: Were you an altar boy and the whole bit?

Yeah, I was an altar boy, in Sunday School, I taught the youth group.

Q: I still have my cassock. I put it on every now and then.

Really.

Q: No.

When we first started, Jeremiah (Albers) would play all the priest roles. Back then we were always going for the cheap (jokes), so the fact that he was gay, you know, naturally he would be the one to play the priest. Now that he’s out of the group, I’m regulated to all the priest roles.

Q: Have those jokes died down?

They have. The priest character I have is an angry priest … We have a recurring series of sketches where Brad plays a kid with Tourette’s. With sketches that have recurring characters, the game of the sketch is always the same. It’s just the situation that would be different, kind of like John Belushi with the samurai character. … So Brad does this character, this kid who has Tourette’s, and either it’s at a wedding or at a funeral or just a church service where I’m giving my homily and he keeps on interrupting with more and more profane outbursts, and my character is trying to keep his cool until he finally loses it and berates the kid in front of the whole church.

Q: So what happens?

It always ends with Brad having one last outburst … so I repeat it, and my out line is always ‘God is dead.’ … and then I toss the Bible at him, and it always hits the actress behind him.

Q: Wow. A little hardcore.

Yeah.

Q: How did it play?

It’s, ah, there’s always a shock when I say it, but then when I toss the Bible it always hits the girl smack in the face and she’s a pretty good physical comedian and falls over the back of her chair, that cuts whatever – because people like watching other people fall down. … Whatever moral indignation they had at me saying God is dead is quickly forgotten by a girl getting hit in the face and falling over the back of a chair.

We discussed how Devereux came to work at a local news station after working in retail and doing freelance production assistance, which led to a full-time job. The interview picks back up with how he returned to writing.

I was writing for work. Occasionally I would come up with an idea of like, ‘Oh, this would be a good movie or a good sitcom.’ And I would jot it down, but I was really not writing other than for work for a long, long time.

Q: What would you do when you had an idea?

I would put it in a notebook. A lot of times I would start working on something. At the time I had a work ethic when it came to writing. I would write and if I would get to a sticking place instead of plowing through and keep on writing I would stop and then go back to the beginning and reread what I wrote … and I immediately would start editing myself. I can’t write directly onto a computer. I have to write longhand first. I would just start rewriting. So I have an amazing first 15 minutes of a movie because, you know, I’ve edited the hell out of them, but nothing past that. Nowadays, even if I getting to a sticking point and it’s crap I just keep on writing and then go back and start rewriting.

Q: Did you ever want to try to write a comic book?

Yes, I thought about it. I actually met an editor back in the late 1990s. … We went to the San Diego Comic-Con, and this was right before it blew up to what it is now. … There was one point in time where I had a drunken conversation with an editor from DC Comics and I don’t know how we got into it, but I actually pitched him a couple of ideas, which he was receptive to. He was actually pumping me for information. But it was almost like – not work, but it made me look at comic books with a more critical eye, which I really don’t want to do. It’s a guilty pleasure, and I kind of want to keep it a guilty pleasure.

Q: One of my short stories is about a guy who gets out of the Navy and opens up a comics shop in Norfolk.

During the period when I was kind of directionless in my writing, the one idea I kept going back to was, and I probably had close to 90 pages written, was a screenplay that is kind of a cross between High Fidelity and Clerks set in a comic book shop. A lot of it is kind of autobiographical, which is I guess is the same as the idea you had, which is the guy has a lot of great ideas for comics but he’s afraid of failing. So it’s one of those things, if you don’t try, you know. …

Today, because of the interview, I pulled up the ‘Justice Crusaders’ sketch. I don’t think I’ve seen that in a couple years. … I don’t know if it would ever make it in The Pushers these days.

Q: Why not?

It’s long. It’s like eight minutes long. Right now we’re down to if you had something five minutes long, maybe that would make it in.

Here’s ‘Justice Crusaders,’ a NSFW sketch we will discuss in some depth in the Part Two of this talk, especially some of the jokes about race and sexuality:

Q: Well, let’s talk about that sketch. I think you were here when I was talking to (McMurran and Albers) about it.

Well, let me ask you what is it about the sketch that you like?

Q: It’s got all kinds of little crises, which I like in comedy. It’s interesting and it’s absurd. Number one that all these people would answer an ad and show up. It’s got these layers of absurdity, and then I don’t want to say that it’s obvious but it’s, the setup is … Aquaman shows up, there’s a reveal that it’s Aquaman, and they don’t want him to be in the group. Which is funny.

It is. It’s Aquaman and no one wants Aquaman in the group. All he does is talk to fish. That’s not a new joke.

Q: But it’s also funny that he’s the only person who is an actual superhero.

Right. Exactly. I’ve always had a love-hate with that sketch. I think I told you this before, but when I joined a group it was strictly as a writer and then I got thrown into the performing aspect as a necessity. The entire first summer of the group I was always playing little bit parts. That scene, I wrote it, but it was the first time I essentially had the lead and was the one driving the sketch. I was scared shitless walking out on that stage. …

I think I noticed in the video today that I started out with a really kind of geeky voice and halfway through the sketch I ended up losing the voice I created for the character. Going back to what I said about comic books, where I said I never wanted to look at comic books with a critical eye, I’ve gotten to the point now where I do look at the sketch and sketch comedy. I can still enjoy it, but when I watch Saturday Night Live now, it’s never I can kick back and relax. It’s always, ‘Oh, I see what they did there. Oh yeah, that didn’t hit as much as it should have.’

Q: I always remember liking the late sketches.

Me too.

Q: They take a risk. It’s like when you go to a jazz show and the polite people stay for the first hour and leave, and the musicians open up.

I always loved the last sketch. The first sketch is always some recurring character they know is going to hit. I was really disappointed with the Betty White episode. Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and all the girls came back and it turned out to be – the Dana Carvey episode turned out to be the same thing. It was nothing but recurring character after recurring character. There was nothing new. You know, I have a stable of characters that I play, but I’m more about writing something new or trying to take a character out of a standard format. …

I’m trying to find out where can we put this character and make it work.

Part two is on the way …

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Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XII: Comedy writer and actor Sean Devereux of The Pushers


At left is Sean Devereux, producer and co-head writer of the Hampton Roads improv and sketch comedy group The Pushers. In the foreground at right is a custom Ed Carden-shaped Chia pencil holder. Photo by John Doucette.

NORFOLK, Va. – During a recent rehearsal for The Pushers’ upcoming show at The NorVa, members of the improv and sketch comedy group ran lines and worked out blocking in Sean Devereux’s Colonial Place condo.

A duo worked on a musical number on the patio. Several other cast members practiced a sketch in the living room. One ducked into the kitchen to seek out a prop magic wand for her role as (spoiler omitted) in a sketch about (spoiler omitted) in which a (subject noun) thoroughly (verbs) an (object).

I can’t reveal the details of these sketches in progress before the show, because (a) that would involve translating the strange marks on a notepad into real words and (b) The Pushers might retaliate by coming to my kids’ school and working blue. My family gets enough of that at home.

Through the rehearsal, Devereux worked on sketches, handled scripts and coordinated with colleagues. Numerous sketches were in play for the show of all new material. The group is meeting throughout the week to get ready. Several guests and some surprises are promised.

The Pushers has a rep for pushing the envelope, as the name suggests, but in a recent talk here at the blog founding member Brad McMurran discussed the work the group has done to hone its craft as an improv group and a collective of comedic actors.

Devereux, also a founding member, wears a number of hats, including as the group’s co-producer, manager and co-head writer. He happens to have written one of my favorite sketches, which I’ll discuss in another post soon, if my planned schedule of posts holds up for once. And he’s even bylined an interview with himself.

More on that in a moment.

The show is at 9 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 10, at The NorVa, 317 Monticello Ave., Norfolk. Tickets are $15 ($21 via Ticketmaster).

FYI, this Belligerent Q&A includes brief adult language.

Q: Just who do you think you are? Please use three examples in your response.

Not to sound pretentious or anything, but I see myself as true, modern-day renaissance man. Aside from being one of the stars of The Pushers, I am a multi-Emmy Award winning writer-producer. I have inadvertently amassed the largest collection of Wonder Woman memorabilia in Colonial Place … if not all of Norfolk. And I can also name all eight of the Bradford kids on Eight is Enough.

Q: In an interview last summer, you said The Pushers instituted a “no repeats” rule. Please describe the reasoning behind the no repeats rule. Is it still in effect?

I felt The Pushers had started to rely too much on old sketches instead of generating new material. In the summer of 2009, I instituted the ‘no repeat rule.’ It is still in effect with a few notable exceptions. When former Pushers return for a show, we will resurrect an old sketch or character. We also try to perform one or two ‘Best Of’ shows a year.

Q: In addition to being the producer and co-head writer for The Pushers, you teach young people how to express themselves through improvisation and sketch comedy. Why not teach them to turn that music down, cut that long hair, and get a job already?

Children respond to kindness. One of my goals in life is to become a modern day Fagin. I have found that by training kids in improv and sketch writing they are much more likely to join my roving band of pick-pocketing street urchins.

Q: You effectively are the manager of The Pushers. How much of your time is spent getting McMurran out of scrapes and/or solving mysteries?

Ah. You are obviously referring to our latest adventure, ‘Brad and Sean and The Case of Bluebeard’s Treasure.’  That one was a little scary, until we realized the real culprit was Old Man McGillicutty. Brad and I are very much like the Hardy Boys … only older, fatter and drunker.

Q: One of the things I’ve admired about some of the sketches you have written is the clear patterns of reversals – both of the expectations of characters within the scene and also of those that seem to be held by audience members who then find themselves experiencing the unfolding of not just a mere joke but a fuller story of such a specific design that it energetically unfolds from the stage into the audience and back upon itself, compounding all that has come before into all that will come, until the laughs emerge from character and dramatic action and a purer place, a special place, and it’s a place we can only get to if we work together. What does that mean, this thing I just typed up here?

It was my understanding there would be no math … during these debates.

Q: In an interview last summer, you said The Pushers instituted a “no repeats” rule. Please describe the reasoning behind the no repeats rule. Is it still in effect?

By eliminating our ability to repeat sketches, we eliminate our safety net. Now, no matter what, we are forced to write 90 minutes of pure comedy gold every show.

Q: The Pushers seem to revel in Star Wars and superhero references. If Star Wars and superheroes were to be referenced within the same sketch, would something cataclysmic happen — like when the guys in Ghostbusters cross their proton streams?

Two forces of awesomeness coming together like that could only lead to one thing … me ascending to nerd nirvana where I would be heralded as a geek god. The only reason it hasn’t happened is because I’m not quite ready to leave this mortal realm.

Q: In an interview last summer, you said The Pushers instituted a “no repeats” rule. Please describe the reasoning behind the no repeats rule. Is it still in effect?

The Pushers had fallen prey to what I like to call ‘Fat Cat Syndrome.’ By going back to the well too many times we had gotten stale and lazy. We were one repeat away from being found dead on a toilet. I feel the ‘no repeat rule’ has invigorated us comedically and sexually.

Q: Roughly a year ago, Splash Magazine contacted you about an interview, and then asked you to interview yourself. Is journalism more effective now that Splash has removed reporters from the equation?

At times I can be a very self-centered, vain egomaniac. I applaud Splash Magazine for realizing the only person truly qualified, truly worthy enough to interview me and The Pushers was … me.

(Present interview excluded of course.)

Q: I mean, did they even send any questions? Not even a few questions? Even one question asked over and over again, so it at least looked a little bit, if only initially, like they were sincere in their efforts to interview you?

See, that’s where the interview went off the rails. While Splash Magazine clearly had the vision and insight to realize I was the only one who could interview myself … they failed to realize I am a lazy schlub with a tendency to drink too much. My brief stab at journalism was not a pleasurable one.

Q: In an interview last summer, you said The Pushers instituted a “no repeats” rule. Please describe the reasoning behind the no repeats rule. Is it still in effect?

No comment.

Q: In one interview you described The Pushers as like Saturday Night Live, but funnier. Why the faint self praise?

I grew up with Saturday Night Live, I know Saturday Night Live, I’m friends with Saturday Night Live … and Saturday Night Live, you’re no Saturday Night Live.

If Lorne Michaels is reading this interview … just kidding. 🙂

Q: In an interview last summer, you said The Pushers instituted a “no repeats” rule. Please describe the reasoning behind the no repeats rule. Is it still in effect?

Since instituting the ‘no repeat rule’ we have written close to 600 sketches. We have at least five seasons worth of material and are just waiting for some eager TV executive to sign us. I have come to realize that I have a face and body for television. I mean let’s face it — nothing says ratings bonanza like me, Brad and Ed in high-def.

Q: When is repetition funny?

Only when it is done in threes.

Q: A bit more seriously, there are so many other things to do in this world besides create something. Why do you bother? What do you want to get out of this?

I honestly don’t know. There’s just something in my gut that compels me to do this.

When The Pushers formed I was just a writer. I love writing. It’s like therapy. If something bothers me at work or at home I can turn it into a funny sketch. Somewhere along the way I became, for lack of a better word, the group’s manager.

Dealing with the individual personalities of The Pushers is pure hell.  Dealing with all the nuts and bolts of putting a show together sucks.  Having to be the somewhat responsible one in a group full of dipshits blows. But for some reason, the 90 minutes we’re on stage — making people laugh — it doesn’t seem so bad.

Q: Does it have something to do with the Wonder Woman poster at your condo?

Okay — let me set the record straight. I’m a comic book nerd. I think Wonder Woman is pretty cool. Lynda Carter was the first woman I had a crush on. Years ago I bought some crazy, psychedelic 1960s Wonder Woman comics at a flea market. I happened to mention my purchase to a couple of friends … and — BAM! — suddenly I’m the Wonder Woman guy. Now when ever a friend or family members comes across something Wonder Woman, they buy it for me. I have an insane amount of Wonder Woman stuff. I like Superman better.

Q: We’ve covered so much ground. Is there anything else you would like to mention?

Come see our show at The NorVa. When The Pushers started we were a bunch of potty-mouthed morons who had no idea what we were doing. Now, six years later, we are a bunch of potty-mouthed morons who know how to put on one spectacle of a show. I think our writing has matured. We really have some clever sketches for this show. That said we also have some really dumb sketches. If you haven’t seen us in a couple of years or if you have some preconceived notion (either good or bad) of what we’re about … check us out at The NorVa. I think you’ll be surprised at what you’ll see.

In closing, here’s are two videos.

The first, a Pushers spot from last year, features Devereux. I hope to have a longer talk with him about comedy writing in the near future.

This next one’s going out to Devereux, a real sport.

Look out, Wonder Woman — dude in the bushes is packing heat — and wicked bad bronchitis:

For more information on the show at the NorVa, click this link.

If you go, there is paid garage parking at Monticello and East Freemason and on the Nordstrom side of MacArthur Center; valet parking on the Monticello side of MacArthur Center; and some metered street parking nearby. The Tide has nearby stations at Monticello or MacArthur Square, though it stops running at midnight.

And please check out the Belligerent Q&A archive.

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Writing Craft, Vol. III: Playwrights Jeremiah Albers and Brad McMurran (Part 2)


This is the second and final part of a craft conversation with playwrights Jeremiah Albers, theater critic at AltDaily, and Brad McMurran of The Pushers comedy group.

They have collaborated on Wanderlust, part of the Dog Days Festival at the Generic Theater Down Under Chrysler Hall in Norfolk, Va. It premieres Friday, June 17, at the Generic, 215 St. Pauls Blvd., Norfolk downtown. The run is from June 17-19, 23-26, 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $10. For more information call (757) 441-2160 or visit the Generic’s online reservation Interbot thingy.

This has been edited for length, clarity, and, in cases that should be fairly apparent, language. This part of the talk discusses comedy writing, criticism, playwriting, and stereotypes in comedy. And some links and a video in this post contain adult language and probably are not safe for work.

Additionally, there is some discussion below of a local theater production that was given a negative review by Albers at AltDaily last year. As I mentioned in the recent Belligerent Q&A with Albers and McMurran, the director, Philip Odango, rebuts Albers review in the comments section at that link. There is some back and forth between Albers and Odango. It is lively, to be sure.

The first question, again, is to Albers.

Q: You’ve done theater criticism, and I think it’s been good criticism. This is bias, but sometimes I have an expectation that local theater criticism is a little soft.

Albers: Yes.

Q: I think you’ve said some tough things about friends. Can you talk a little bit about what that process of working as a critic has been?

Albers: When I decided that I wanted to start taking that on, the reason I did it really was we need to create a dialogue about the quality of the theater in this area if the theater in this area is ever going to really matter to this area. Part of doing that is having someone there who is willing to call BS. And it wasn’t easy, and I probably made a lot of enemies, I’m sure.

McMurran: I don’t think you need the word probably.

Albers: Okay. We’ll omit the word probably. I think it’s important. We need a dialogue. I think that whatever happened after that one review I wrote –

Q: Which review?

Albers: Equus.

Q: It was a tough review.

Albers: Yeah, but it was also a tough show to sit through.

McMurran: I never saw the show, but it was the most seething review I ever read.

Q: You reviewed one of the director’s later plays and gave it a much more positive review.

Albers: Yeah. His production of Agnes of God was outstanding. And Philip’s great. I have no beef with Philip. Part of the reason I did that is I think Philip has genuine talent. … Art is an educational process. You never stop growing and you never stop evolving. It’s never done. This work is never done. It’s important to create this dialogue, and, I think, in some ways it has had an impact. You are finding the theaters being a little more careful about the shows that they are choosing. LTN (Little Theater of Norfolk), I have to give them props. Under Brendan Hoyle, this new guy they have as artistic director, the professionalism and quality of that place has gone up a hundred fold. I can’t take credit for that, but I think that dialogue, that little growing pain the local theater community had as a result of that, was how I did (help). … I really do go in there and try to be objective. … It’s not personal. If you don’t want to be a public spectacle, get off the stage.

McMurran: After he’s written these reviews, we’ve got a big target on our head. (Laughs.)

Q: Who is going to review it for AltDaily?

Albers: I don’t know.

Q: Not you?

Albers: No. Not me.

McMurran: That would be awesome.

Albers: I would just be like, “It stinks.” (Laughs.)

Q: Did the process of really having a look at what other people are doing and thinking critically about it … did that help you in the writing process?

Albers: Yes, it helps me in every process. I had a college professor and one of his big mantras we used to laugh at because we were kids and we didn’t really understand, but he used to say, “Theater is important, but bad theater is more important.” And we were like, “Whatever, that play sucked.” … Watching theater, I learn all the time. I see stuff in shows that I know I’ve probably stolen and, you know, taken my own way. Or I’ve seen stuff and said, “Okay, there’s a million things wrong with that. What’s wrong with that? Well the pace is wrong with that. Well, the joke isn’t funny.” … It helps you understand the mechanics of structure and of technique. Because there really is a craft to writing. … There really is a craft to directing plays. It’s not something everyone can do well even though they think that they can. The more you look at things that way the stronger it’s going to make you.

McMurran: I’m just glad we’ve had so many big words.

Q: I saw that Hump N’ New York video. (For The Pushers.)

McMurran: Yes. It’s one everybody goes back to.

Q: Would you talk about how it came about?

McMurran: There was what we call a skeleton. There was one objective – he couldn’t find his girl. Tracy. The fact that he runs the streets of New York on New Year’s Eve, that just was his obstacle. My favorite thing that ended up happening in that video is the girl behind us … that would help us with mikes and stuff, she was from New York. She said she had never seen more New Yorkers smile. I stayed in character (almost) the entire day. I can’t tell you how many people followed us into the subway.

Q: There are a couple of times where there are jokes, but it’s about somebody who can’t get what he wants.

McMurran: Never does.

Q: And he goes to the big city and he’s looking, and there’s all this spectacle, and he compares it to his hometown and then there’s the part I love with Morgan Freeman (or a likeness), where everybody’s crowded around him (or it). Was that just kind of found?

McMurran: It was literally a found moment. And the only thing that came into Hump’s mind that day was the movie Seven where he kept asking “What’s in the box?” (Laughs.)

Q: Which actually, thematically, is a pretty great line.

McMurran: (Laughs.) “What’s in the box?” When I first started chanting it, it was like, what’s this guy in an egg suit and his tighty whiteys doing? But then it began a chant all the way down the street. (Laughs.)

Q: Was (Freeman) whisked away by security?

McMurran: The funny part is I didn’t know it was him. … It was either Morgan Freeman or the best wax museum guy that ever existed.

Q: I remember I saw Hump about five years ago.

Albers: It was the first sketch that came in.

McMurran: It was a mistake. I used to do standup and … the Zoloft commercial. To me I thought it was an egg that would walk into these parties and no one would talk to him. I was like, “Of course they won’t talk to you, you’re a freaking egg.” And he was all about depression. I did this in stand up and had this voice and character. It wasn’t until I got off stage that night that someone said, “You know, those are tears in the Zoloft commercial. That’s not an egg at all.” I’m like, “Oh (numero dos).” (Laughter.)

Q: (Hump) is a really sad character.

McMurran: Absolutely. His father’s very mean to him.

Q: What do you think when you’re writing a sketch where the character is very sad and people are supposed to laugh at it? Or you’re writing a sketch where there’s a dad who wants his son to be gay? … What do you want to happen from that sketch?

McMurran: Well, that’s two different questions. On one end, it can do a lot of things. … (H)e became this underdog that the audience really rooted for, even when they shouldn’t have rooted for him, when Hump would go to some extremes. … As far as your other question … The one thing I learned in the last three years that I did not know when I first started doing comedy is just how when an actor would come in and say, “How do you want me to play this? Comedically or dramatically?” And we’d be like, “Next. I don’t want you at all.” Because there is no difference in how you play it. That’s all in writing. … I think that’s what made that scene funny. I still use the word think because you never know, but as far as having a dad that wants you to be something else, you nailed it. The dad wants you to be something else, it’s just ridiculous in the fact that he wants you to be something that’s not a social norm, necessarily – I don’t want to say being gay is not a social norm. You know, it can be perceived that way.

Albers: Wanting your child to be gay is certainly not a social norm.

Q: Right. Well, that’s interesting. And I’ll try to ask this as artfully as I can. Sketch comedy can be misogynistic. And it can be homophobic sometimes –

McMurran: Well, you guys come to a show. You’re right.

Q: Do you worry about putting out that kind of comedy?

McMurran: Not at all. And I can answer that very … We had every race, creed in this show at one point in time. Homosexual, not homosexual. One thing we believe – we’re in a PC world now. And that there’s nothing more cathartic than being able to go in and laugh at things you’re not supposed to laugh at. I think that actually is, and this is one time I’ll actually get serious about this, is I think that’s such a release.  To be able to go in, you know: “You can’t say that, you can’t do that. Laughing at somebody that falls down is bad, especially if they’re old.” Well what if it does make you laugh? Are we supposed to repress that? I don’t believe we should.

Albers: There will be people who get touchy. There will be people who, when you go there, will get up and walk out of the theater. And, you know, okay, fine. … You can’t please all of the people all the time. You shouldn’t censor yourself for fear of offending.

Q: I guess that’s not what I’m saying. I mean, do you think about what you’re putting out when you’re writing it?

McMurran: Yes.

Albers: Yeah.

Q: I’m not saying that you’re misogynistic … When you talk about that material, I mean, that’s something people might think about.

McMurran: They do. I think it’s a great question if you want to know the truth. You’re hitting on something that’s much deeper than – Really, I actually love the question. There is a line, and when you find it, it’s very dangerous because you have to straddle it, and when you straddle it poorly audiences will tell you.

Albers: And you can do that but it is –

McMurran: You have to do that.

Albers: It is having the taste and the basic decency to not put your toe too far over the line. You’ve got to know where the danger zone is, and how to stay out of it. And you don’t always know that. …

McMurran: After doing 200, 150 shows, however many shows we’ve done over the years, if we have 10, two are going to be flirting with that. If not, in every one there might be one that flirts with that. … I will be a little arrogant here. In the last three years, craft has become a much more important thing, where it’s not just about shock. And I don’t like shock any more. If you want to know the truth, if we get a script or a sketch in that’s scatological or blue … we won’t put it in now where back then we put it in.

Q: I just wonder how do you negotiate that kind of line between being Pushers, and pushing the edge and the envelope, or just going for, “Hey, we just need to have something that at its core is funny and relatable.”

McMurran: I’m more about what I find funny. … If it’s funny, it goes in. If it’s funny and it has a social message, it’s definitely going in. If it’s crossing a line and it’s borderline funny, it still may go in depending upon what the statement is. Sometimes it’s – We’re not a political group, by any means, I think, on paper. But I think behind the scenes if you scratched us you’d find something. I love the question because I can’t honestly give you a full answer.

Albers: You find it as you’re doing it. I mean, really, it’s a trial and error kind of thing, and in sketch comedy you don’t have a lot of time to correct it. In a play, you’ve got five weeks, six weeks, so you know you can tweak this, change that, and maybe that needs to get cut. … You find it through doing it.

Q: Anything I should have asked but didn’t?

McMurran: I want people to come out, see this and honestly give what they feel about it. I know that everybody says that, but – It’s sexy. One thing we haven’t talked about in this is it’s a really sexy show. We have an incredibly sexy cast.

Albers: And we did that on purpose.

McMurran: This is the sexiest cast that has ever been cast in this area.

Albers: I will back you up on that.

Q: Other than the pretend cast I have in my head.

Albers: Exactly. But this is kind of our idea to kind of reinvent the local theater for Hampton Roads rather than the Hampton Roads theater serving itself.

McMurran: Love it.

Albers: Because that’s what it kind of has been for years. … We need to get some new ideas and some new work.

McMurran: Why aren’t there more local writers doing things like this?

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Writing Craft, Vol. III: Playwrights Jeremiah Albers and Brad McMurran (Part 1)


This conversation in two parts deals with comedy writing, reading, inspiration, criticism, and making an audience laugh.

And a new play. Can’t forget that.

Wanderlust, premiering Friday as part of the Dog Days Festival at the Generic Theater Down Under Chrysler Hall in Norfolk, Va. is the first play written and by the team of Jeremiah Albers, theater critic for AltDaily, and Brad McMurran, one of the leaders of The Pushers comedy group. Albers, too, did his time with The Pushers.

Readers of the blog probably caught the recent Belligerent Q&A with them. If not, give it a try. They bring the funny.

Albers and McMurran also directed the play. Again, it opens Friday, June 17, at the Generic, 215 St. Pauls Blvd., Norfolk downtown. The run is from June 17-19, 23-26, 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $10. For more information call (757) 441-2160 or visit the Generic’s online reservation Interbot thingy. Patron under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a “responsible” adult.

This is Generic’s standard, not mine.

The playwrights met while studying in the Old Dominion University theater department before working together in The Pushers.

We spoke at the Colley Cantina in Norfolk for about an hour, and I had to make some hard choices about what to keep in these posts. I leaned toward questions about writing, as this is the supposed thrust of the blog. Point being: thas been edited for length, clarity, and, in cases that should be fairly apparent, language.

One link to/embedded video below contains adult language and probably is not safe for work.

This starts with a question to Albers about joining The Pushers.

Q: You had a dramatic background, but had you done improv?

Albers: No. No improv.

Q: So why did you want to do comedy?

Albers: It just seemed like an interesting thing to do. It was something I hadn’t done before.

McMurran: He turned in probably … in my opinion, one of the finest scripts we had the first season. What we’re doing now, compared to then, is a lot different, because we didn’t know what we were doing. He turned in a beautiful parody of The Vagina Monologues. … It was written by somebody who certainly knew that play. You know, it plays every ten minutes in Hampton Roads.

Q: I think people hear improv and think you get up on stage and make up whatever you want. When I went to my first Pushers show – One of my favorite skits, as I told Sean (Devereux, head writer and producer of The Pushers), was “Justice Crusaders.” It’s just great. It’s written –

McMurran: That was certainly a sketch. It wasn’t until the second year of The Pushers that I went up to Upright Citizens Brigade and went through the whole program up there, and came back and started implementing that into shows. We also used that for writing. Still are. … We found something in New York that I think we instinctually knew, but to put vocabulary to it, “game.” (Finding “the game of the scene,” for example; Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre defines “the game as the single, specific comedic idea that makes a scene funny.”) … I started to notice the pattern of a game. It makes your scene so much better. That’s something that’s gotten a lot better about writing and doing improv.

Q: There’s a really clear pattern of reversals, and not just reversing the expectations of the characters but what the audience expects, and that makes it funny.

McMurran: One of the first things you learn about comedy is one of the funniest things you can do is the unexpected. That’s game. If you’re leading an audience down a pathway to where they think it’s going somewhere and then you – (claps) – flip it on them? They love it.

Q: Particularly the sketch where (Albers) plays Aquaman trying to join the supergroup in the kid’s bedroom or basement or whatever –

Albers: Yeah. It’s kids with a superhero club.

Q: But you play it straight. It’s a tragedy for Aquaman. … Did you have a part in writing it or did Sean write it?

Albers: Sean wrote that one, and he brought that. The key to really successfully acting in comedy is you have to believe it. You have to play it straight.

McMurran: If you don’t play it straight, it’s not funny.

Albers: If you don’t believe it, nobody else will either.

Q: (Albers) left the group. You’ve done some plays. You did a play with CORE Theatre Ensemble.

Albers: A few actually.

Q: And then you’re doing reviews as well. What was it that made you want to write a play?

Albers: It’s something that we’ve been talking about doing since probably the beginning of The Pushers.

McMurran: Believe it or not, this is our fifth idea. We have four other ideas that we want to do. The original idea that we had … is we wanted to write a comedy around Elizabeth and Bloody Mary as sisters, where what that would have been like growing up in that household between the two, but done as a pure comedy. We, ah – we bailed on that project. (Laughs.)

Q: When did you start writing this project?

Albers: March.

McMurran: A little before that.

Albers: February? February.

Q: And when did you have a script?

McMurran: Yesterday. (Laughs.)

Albers: Ask me on the 17th. (Laughs.) No, we actually had a second draft of the script by the beginning of May. We had a rehearsal-ready script. And, of course, we’ve been revising and changing and rewriting as we’ve been going through rehearsals.

Q: What was your process? I haven’t seen the play or read the script. I made the assumption that it’s based (after its inspiration, Arthur Schnitzler’s play La Ronde) on a circular –

Albers: It is. One character from each scene moving to –

McMurran: Yes and no. We have an argument about this.

Albers: It is the same model.

McMurran: I learned La Ronde as an improvisation. It’s actually one of my least favorite improvisational games. However, the crowds love it. It’s something we’ve implemented in The Pushers. The crowds love it. I thought this would actually be genius to write this as opposed to improvising it.

Albers: It was a likely first play for us to write because, I mean, we have experience working together in sketch comedy and so here we have this fully integrated complex play but it’s still done in manageable chunks. From a writer’s perspective, it’s easy to handle that. We have these two characters. Each character has a two-scene arc. Everything is very contained in this model. It’s very compartmentalized, and that has made it very easy us to find our feet as (writers) because it’s not like we were trying to write some complex farce where if we find out we have a problem the whole second act collapsed.

McMurran: I think some of the coolest moments we had were how many natural patterns showed up. Some we intended. Some we didn’t.

Q: One of the things that can happen when you have characters who aren’t on stage for a long time, and have a very limited arc, is they can become types. Is that something that you fought against or embraced?

Albers: Every character in the play is identified by their job. You have a housewife and a newscaster and a squid and a waitress, and the idea is you introduce them as these labels, and you peel that label away.

McMurran: It also becomes our thesis in the play, at the end of the show.

Albers: Yeah. It’s really the main thesis of the play.

McMurran: Are we our jobs?

Q: Why did you set it in Hampton Roads?

McMurran: Write what you know.

Albers: I really philosophically believe that theater has to exist for community that it’s in, and what better way to do theater for your community than to do theater about your community. People are more likely to respond to this than they are to, you know, Twelfth Night. That’s just true.

McMurran: We hope. (Laughs.)

Albers: Although I like Twelfth Night. (Laughs.)

McMurran: I like Eleventh Night better.

Q: There might be expectations for fans of The Pushers that the play will be a certain kind of (humor). What do you think their experience will be?

McMurran: You’re not going to get a play by (us) where comedy is not involved. He tried to fight against me on that a lot. “Brad, this is not a sketch show.”  I’m like, “It should be.” (Laughs.)

Albers: The idea is kind of a play for people who don’t see plays. I’m hoping to get that audience because I think they will be surprised by what they get, but hopefully they’ll like what they see.

McMurran: This might be controversial. I’m so tired of going to plays where it’s people playing for their friends. I would love to get a different group coming in, much like we do with The Pushers. … We went away from the theater crowd. It was one of the best moves that we made, when The Pushers left theaters and went into bars.

Q: Can you describe the change for you?

McMurran: When you go out and play for people who are in the business or in this local Hampton Roads area – and I have a lot of respect for actors in this area, please don’t confuse that, and groups such as CORE; I love CORE – but it becomes more of Our Gang, where we’re going to put up our play, and they put up their play. I had guys who have never seen any live theater come up to me after a show and say, “I never knew it could be this fun.”

Q: One of the interviews I read, you had talked about Tim Conway. Can you talk about him, and … some of the writers, either comedy or dramatic, who influenced you?

McMurran: When I grew up there were two names in my household, Tim Conway and Bill Murray. Tim Conway … I never heard my parents having such fun. They would be losing it, you know? … I didn’t understand the concept, of just watching this little guy get so carried away in these scenes. Just thinking about him in any sketch just makes me laugh. Certainly, probably the first sketch that comes to mind is the one where he’s the old man. No, I take that back. It’s the dentist. The dentist, where he keeps hitting himself with the Novocaine. It’s all physical comedy. … Bill Murray, I think everybody at this table knows I have an unnatural man crush on him.

Q: What they might have in common is there’s pain in their comedy. Especially Bill Murray, there’s a sadness.

McMurran: He’s a very subtle actor. There’s so much more behind the eyes than the normal comedian.

Q: What kind of writers did you emulate or study?

McMurran: I’m a classics guy. When I got put on restriction … I was on restriction every day. I went to Episcopal church in Portsmouth and every Sunday I would do a pratfall after communion. … I’d be put on restriction. My restriction at the McMurran household was you had to go and read classics. … Herman Hess’ Siddhatha is a book I read two or three times a year. And I know I’ll get dogged on this, but I do love The Old Man and the Sea. It’s one of those books that I go back to. And the last one I will have to put on there is The Razor’s Edge.

Albers: I read a lot of plays. Plays are easy to read and it’s kind of an occupational necessity to be familiar with a lot of them. I love all kinds of stuff. Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. More modern stuff, I love David Mamet, sometimes. (Laughs.) I will add that caveat: sometimes. Sondheim. I’ve always been really interested in playwriting as a craft because really when you’re acting in a play, which I have a lot of experience doing, you are given this information in front of you and it’s your job to kind of unravel it and get the information out of it that you need to do what you need to do. So I’ve always kind of been fascinated with word choice. I think the best person writing in the theater today, although he’s not really writing anymore, is Sondheim. Even though he’s a music guy, you look at his lyrics and how compact they are, and they’re so clever and they have these crazy rhyme schemes to them, but they’re also brilliant dramatic writing. If you you unfurl them and put them as lines in a play, you could play them as a scene. And I’ve always been really enamored with that idea.

McMurran: One of the writers who has influenced my life is in this play – John Keats. … “La Belle Dame sans Merci” is the (poem) in this play. I’ve never fallen in love with a poet more than I did him. My father turned me on to him. He said, “Hey you ought to read this guy.” I said, “I don’t want to read this flowery guy.” And next thing you know I read that specific poem.

To be continued in part two, which should be posted by early Friday morning.

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