Tag Archives: sketch comedy

Writing Craft, Vol. XII: Beatty Barnes, Marlon Hargrave & Rob Wilson, executive producers of Keep the Change


Keep the Change executive producers Rob Wilson and Marlon Hargrave on Colley Avenue. Photo by John Doucette.

NORFOLK, Va. — Keep the Change, a new sketch comedy group in Hampton Roads, holds its debut show on Sunday, and I caught up with the group’s executive producers to talk about writing funny, writing the truth, and why their group aims to tackle sketch comedy from fresh perspectives.

Barnes and Wilson are both members of Plan B improv and sketch comedy. Wilson, of Chesapeake, recently was featured along with Plan B’s Jason Kypros in a discussion of comedy writing you can find at this link. Barnes, of Norfolk, is a veteran comic who I hope to speak with here again down the road. Hargrave, an actor, director and acting coach, lives in Portsmouth, which earns him extra points. Portsmouth living is what all the cool kids are doing. At least until the tolls kick in.

This conversation deals with the seeds of this group, including approaches to writing, collaboration, and seeking truths.

The Keep the Change show is at 8 p.m., Sunday, July 15 at Lola’s Caribbean Restaurant, 328 W. 20th St., Norfolk. There’s some free surface lot parking, and some limited nearby street parking. The restaurant is at W. 20th at Debree Avenue, within the Palace Shops & Station shopping center. Admission is $5, and the restaurant is running some drink and appetizer specials.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity, and there’s some adult language below.

Just a housekeeping note for those who are coming to this blog for the first time: I’m a writer, not a comic. I’ve been fixated a bit on comedy writing for the past year because I’ve been playing with joke structures within some new short fiction stories. The questions I ask writers and, in this case, writer/performers, reflect my interests, ignorance, and hang ups, such as they are, but my goal in doing these talks is to (a) talk to people I dig and (b) steal their hard-earned life forces to make my own writing better.

People seem to enjoy the conversations and get something out of it. That’s where this is coming from.

Q: So how many people are in the group?

Wilson: [Whistles.]

Barnes: Ah.

Hargrave: At last count it was about –

Wilson: Fourteen?

Hargrave: No, 15.

Wilson: You know, I think we’re back up to 15.

Hargrave: We might be up to seventeen. We were at 22 before.

Wilson: We shed a couple pounds. [Laughter.]

Q: Did they want more snacks?

Wilson: A lot more snacks, a lot less work. That’s the funny thing to me, when people join a thing and they –

Barnes: They don’t think about the work.

Wilson: They don’t think about the work. They’re like, “Yeah, man. I would love to be famous.” [Laughter.] “Work? Yeah … I’m good.” [Laughter.]

Q: Is this going to be your first performance?

Wilson: This will be our first full show. We did a sketch at my [comedy] show, “The Business” [in May]. Did like a little standup thing, and I think it went over really well. Just trying to get our sea legs.

Hargrave: What makes the group really unique is we have poets, we have comedians, and actors. It’s pretty dynamic.

Wilson: We’ve got some straight-up writers, as well. That’s more their background, but they’re getting up on their feet and performing. It’s really cool that all these people come from all these different backgrounds, and we kind of have all bled into each others’ fields.

Hargrave: We also have musicians, too.

Q: Is it basically an improv-sketch group or more variety?

Wilson: Pure sketch, but we’ve got so many other elements like the poets and musicians. That’s an integral part of the show. So you talk about writing, and you’re moving out of a strictly sketch format, which is great.

Hargrave: With that type of dynamic, we’re able to expand our comedy to real life experiences and having a poet or writer is a beautiful thing because they write all the time. As a matter of fact, our poets come up with skits.

Wilson: It’s about expression, in that not everybody gets reached the same way. Some peope love musicals. Some people love straight plays. Some people love action movies. Some people love whatever. You’re going to get a different sketch, a different idea, a different performance from someone’s who’s writing from a musical background, because they’re concerned about the rhythm. … It’s pretty neat seeing what everyone is coming up with. And our job is, a lot of times, facilitating all this talent we’ve got, and funneling it and packaging it into one really cool show.

Beatty Barnes. Courtesy photo.

Q: So both of you [Wilson and Barnes] , you’re still in Plan B, right?

Barnes: Yes.

Wilson: Yeah.

Q: So why did you want to do something different?

Barnes: I’m going to go with because Rob pulled me into it. [Laughter.]

Wilson: It’s not necessarily a black voice.

Barnes: There you go.

Wilson: But it is.

Barnes: It’s a voice, a different voice that hasn’t been seen around here in a really long time in sketch.

Q: Is everybody in the group black?

Barnes: No.

Wilson: We’re equal opportunity. … We were Pushers. Beatty was the alpha black dude in the Pushers. I was, I think, beta. [Laughter.] … Plan B’s really cool because I look at our roster now, and we’re about 50-50. That’s cool, but you talk about when Beatty was in the Pushers, it was just him, and then when [another actor] came along it was them, and then [the other actor] left. When I came in, Beatty left, and then for the longest time it was just me. It’s nice to be in a place where you’re not the only. “Okay, we need a black guy for this sketch.” In this place, we make sure we’re all pretty diverse and we’re experienced knowing that feeling. We write people. We don’t write black people or white people. Well, sometimes we need a cop. [Laughter.]

Q: Irish accent?

Wilson: Aye. [Laughter.]

Q: We’ve [Wilson and I] talked before about some of the groups and the idea of representation, and you’ve got a sketch where somebody’s black and that’s what the sketch is.

Wilson: Which is tiresome, at best.

Hargrave: And also I guess my problem with it is, and this is even on large-scale with TV, even when they do [feature a black character], it’s not written well enough. It’s not written truthfully enough. There’s always what somebody’s perception is. Usually the people who write it don’t have experience. They’ll grow up in the suburb and write about somebody in the hood, and it’s just from their perspective, and it becomes very … generic homeboy-ish, not really getting into who this person is. Very cliché. Just the human experience is what we’re trying to cover. More of a truthful story through comedy.

Wilson: One of the things we talked about was we wanted to tell the truth. Not just my truth. I kind of grew up in the suburbs. Even in Queens, it was more suburban than the Bronx. You know what I mean? We want to write everybody’s experience. My truth and Beatty’s truth and Marlon’s truth. There’s a lot of different shades. … We’re trying to make it clear that there is no one black experience. That shit used to piss me off because in theater, in a predominantly white school, college I mean, and you’d have people come up and say, “Well, what do black people think of this.” Well, I can tell you what I think. Damn it, me and him think two different things. So in trying to start this group, you understand you’re going to hear black voices, but it’s a choir, not a solo.

Q: Why did you want to do this instead of or in addition to what you were already doing? Was there any sense you weren’t getting what you needed from the groups you’re already in?

Wilson: It’s necessary. Wherever there’s a lack of something, and it’s blatant, it’s glaring, you can see there’s nobody doing it here, at least. It needed to be filled. It’s tough. Some of us have three, four, five other projects. This is a necessary thing that needs to be done. Dave Chappelle and Tyler Perry can’t do it by themselves. …

Barnes: Tyler Perry is the Kenny G of black theater.

Q: He’s a regular reader of the blog, so this is really going to hurt him.

Hargrave: When Tyler Perry comes to town, there’s a group of people who will support him and we understand that. We’re far from that, and we would like to offer a different voice because our stories are so diverse and we don’t think of everything the same way.

Q: How do you avoid doing stereotypes when you do comedy?

Barnes: Don’t do it.

Hargrave: Because we’re real. … We do more of the human experiences, so we shy away from the conversations that have been done again and again through the years.

Q: Rob and I talked before about representation, which is a big thing I ask people about on the blog [because I’ve struggled with it in my writing]. … One of the things I’ve seen in some of the comedy, but people like Larry the Cable Guy, there’s a reinforcement of the subjugation of people who have been marginalized.

Wilson: My thing is the truth, man. That’s our mission statement: the truth. Even if you’re going into a stereotype, if it’s founded in truth, I mean, people get mad when you tell them the truth. … As long as it’s really true, then it will be funny. It’s an undeniable fact if it’s true. If it’s bullshit, people can sniff that out.

Hargrave: There’s this low hanging fruit if you go for the stereotype. We go for the fruit at the top of the tree, or at least we deal with the roots of it. Comedy is truth. Comedy and conflict is truth. We stay on that side of it. … I hate when you watch movies and the black guy is the sidekick. That never happens in real life. You’ve never seen a black guy be a sidekick to a white guy.

Q: I’ve had my personal ad out for a couple of years, and never got any responses.

Wilson: “Needed: black, funny sidekick.” [Laughter.]

Hargrave: We run into that all the time. It a voice that’s not there. For the most part … people don’t even realize that there’s another story until it is told.

Q: Can you give me an example where you were able to do that?

Wilson: There was one particular sketch that was written, it’s one of our favorites, I think, of church folks. It deals with an old-timey, you know … Sheeba McLeod wrote a sketch called “Church Folks,” and there was an appendage thing I wrote a long time ago, just all of those things in one sketch. The main thing is there’s a stereotypical preacher and we’re not poking fun at black church. A lot of people would have stopped there because when you think about black church, that’s a staple. You’ve got the preacher. He’s whooping and hollering. You’ve got folks falling out. You know, everybody knows the scene of black church. Tyler Perry has helped a lot with that. [Laughter.] No, but I mean even going as far back as Flip Wilson, these are your archetypal characters in this community. What she did, first and foremost, was kind of turn that on it’s ear. It became less about the archetype and more about the situation. This minister is lascivious, man. It bleeds through. … This is something that hasn’t really been addressed. Like infidelity. The scene is less about that character, that archetype you understand and you know and less about poking fun at him, and poking fun at the lady with the big hat. It’s more about poking fun at the abuse of power. In that way, you make it a real character piece as opposed to a stereotype piece. … A lot of our sketches – you’d think as a quote-unquote black sketch group. There’s a thing about suicide. There’s a scene about gay marriage and gay relationships with this thing about Obama not to long ago. We just seek out what’s funny, what’s true, and what’s poignant.

Hargrave: We spoke about how diverse the group is, and because of our different backgrounds we can look at the same situation different ways. I grew up in D.C., which is a little more hood – I don’t want to say I’m the hood-iest guy in here. [Laughter.] We end up writing from our truth. We write from ourselves, and I think that’s where the creativity and the story comes. Again, when Sheeba wrote this, we could easily have gone into that screaming preacher. … Instead of that, the undertone is infidelity and it is abuse of power and that’s what we want to address. When we have somebody who writes a skit like that, if it becomes too stereotypical or if it’s not good enough, then we get rid of it. One of my skits didn’t make it. It can’t even be reconsidered. It’s dead. It can’t be an ego about me or anybody else … If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. If you don’t fit the role, you can’t be in it. We’re challenging our writers to be more creative. Don’t come to us with the bullshit, because we won’t accept it. We started off, and people were trying to get the feel. But now we’re in a groove and people know what expectations are. They’re really writing some good material.

Q: What’s the process for writing? Does it come usually from the comedians or is it a mixture of everybody?

Hargrave: Everybody.

Wilson: The thing about this group, man, is we told them right off that everybody writes. Nobody gets to be a diva and not write. Everybody writes. You’ve got to do one of two things if you want to be in sketches. You’ve got to write yourself into them, right? Or you’ve got to show you’re so hilarious that you want these people to be in your sketch, you know what I mean? … So the sketches come in. We do table reads, and it’s a little bit of the Saturday Night Live format. When things come in to the table read, then you’re seeing who is laughing around the table, what jibes. We do an analysis of every sketch that comes in. We send it around the table. [There are suggestions.] Then it goes back into rewrites, nine times out of ten.

Q: Is it the person who wrote the sketch who does the rewrites?

Wilson: Mostly what happens, I give a lot of writing notes and we send it back with the changes we want to make. We talk about different things. We talk about what the general scene is. A lot of the time, people who really haven’t done this kind of writing before don’t understand the format, so it’s a thing of finding what the joke is. What’s the thing that’s funny? A lot of people will just write and write and write and it’s not that it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s just that it doesn’t have any focus. We find the central point, the central joke, the central theme, and a lot of times the sketch will get turned on its ear. You know, there was one thing that they touched on that was really cool or really true, so we’ll take it all the way back to the drawing board and say, “All right, this part over here, I know that you’re going for some laughs, but you found some gold in this tiny little piece. Expound on this and leave all the rest of this out because it makes it muddy.”

Q: Beatty, you’ve been writing comedy for how long?

Barnes: Twenty-seven years.

Q: What do you look for in a joke?

Barnes: Having it not be a joke. Having not have a punchline, not have a tag. I like to teach, kind of, you know? Kind of do something that’s not regular, not normal. I don’t like the typical. I don’t look for the, “Oh, that’s funny right there.” You can get somebody else to say that. For me it’s more about the thing that is not normal, that’s not necessarily normal but comic. It’s easy to laugh at seeing someone fall, but [what about] the shoe that the person had on?

Wilson: We had a relationship scene. It was funny enough. It was a Lucille Ball misunderstanding kind of thing, and Beatty was like, “No. What if he was a woman.” And just that one change changed the whole thing. What it did was it didn’t make it a stereotypical scene that a man would have with a woman about a misunderstanding, just by plugging the woman into the place where the man was. … He found just in turning the head a little bit. It was funny.

Hargrave: We were right in the middle of it, too. We pulled him out right there, pulled the guy out and plugged the girl in. And boom.

Wilson: It was gold.

Hargrave: And Beatty has an older joke I love talking about. You remember when you’re talking about when you’rte driving and playing white music?

Barnes: Right.

Hargrave: And then the hood guys come across and say, “Why are you playing that white music?” And you say, “Oh, I just stole this car.” Right? It’s funny. You would never expect that. Me being from the hood, I worked at Bennigan’s, and I was the token black guy in Bennigan’s. One of the funnier moments that I has working there was when I went to the jukebox, I wouldn’t play the black songs. I would play the stuff they would never expect. I’m not lying, but the only other black person there, we’d both be nodding our heads, and he knew that I did it, but nobody else in the restaurant knew that I did it. I mean, nobody would have expected that was my lineup. I had Aerosmith. I had Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam. I could have played Jodeci, easily, and they would have known it was my lineup. And the deal was that the other black person, who was a rapper, nodding his head lets me know that our story is deeper than that.

Q: Do you think really – I mean, I wrote on Thursday, and I listened to Funkadelic all day long. Actually, the same three or four songs over and over again. [Laughter.] Do we still live in a society where … is that really still a thing?

Hargrave: You have the artists that get played on the radio. You’ll have Justin Bieber – Bieber, is that his name? – you’ll have him next to Lil Wayne now.

Wilson: On the same track.

Hargrave: Yeah. Now because of multimedia, because of the internet, we’re at a point in society where we see more cultural diversity. Justin was found by Ludacris.

Q: That’s the worst thing Ludacris has ever done. [Laughter.]

Hargrave: It’s a gold mine for him, that’s for sure.

Barnes: Justin’s all right, man. … I listen to what my kids listen to, and, “Okay, I can see why you would like that.”

Q: I listen to what my kids listen to, but I won’t defend the Wiggles. [Laughter.]

Hargrave: Then we have The Disney Channel, and there are a couple of kids who are artists and my daughter looks up to them all.

Wilson: There’s some regular folks who only stay in their lane, who only listen to the thing that they’re supposed to, who only watch the thing that they’re supposed to. They’ve decided to stay there. It’s comfortable. It’s easy. So I think that part of what we do is necessary in showing folks that there’s a different way.

Hargrave: I was born in the 1970s. My father tells me stories about growing up here in Virginia Beach that are unfathomable. He actually got arrested for sitting in a lunch – he got arrested for that. I can’t fathom that. We grew up post Civil Rights movement, so we don’t know anything about that. I don’t know anything about what my dad went through. My journey has been so different, so now my child’s journey, even though she remembers Bush a little bit, she’ll remember Obama on, for sure. It’s weird. My parents tried to explain the movement to us the way I’m trying to explain pre-Obama to her.

Q: Do you think the sketches you’re doing you could do with Plan B or The Pushers or another group? What is it that makes them unique?

Barnes: That’s a very good question.

Hargrave: I think that … you have to have experience in what you’re writing, and because we write from ourselves and our personal experience, the people who are in those groups didn’t experience it the way that we experienced it. The outlook, the joke of it, it just comes from a different area. And to be honest, predominantly white groups may not be able to touch something that we can touch. Just like the church sketch, I don’t know that another group can pull it off the way we do.

Barnes: It wouldn’t have been the same –

Hargrave: Impact. Would they reach the point we’re trying to reach? They might do that archetypal preacher, and it might be funny, but they wouldn’t touch what we’re touching in the same environment.

Q: What do you think of that, Beatty?

Barnes: [The sketches] stand by themselves, but to picture someone else doing them.

Q: Do you feel like you’re taking material you weren’t comfortable pitching to other groups?

Barnes: It probably would never come up. It would never come up. It would be, well, because you’re thinking – I don’t know if it’s commercial thought or you’re just staying away from what you really feel in sketches. Or maybe it’s because of the cast. You know, you just don’t have enough people for it … That might be the biggest thing.

Q: Because you don’t have enough black faces to make it come alive? Or am I misunderstanding?

Barnes: No. I think of our group [Plan B]. … We have five black folks.

Wilson: I don’t know if that was a move on their part …

Barnes: It was on us.

Wilson: I think Plan B can do it now because –

Barnes: That is a really tough question.

Wilson: I know when I was with The Pushers, we did a show up in New York. … I wrote a series of sketches called “Black Man’s Fantasies.” And a couple of them, when we were working them, they went over pretty well. It was easy. It was stereotypical. Like, calling a cab and it coming right to you. That was one of them, and they loved that one.

Barnes: I’ve never had a problem getting a cab in New York.

Hargrave: I would grab white girls off the street and say, “Please hail me a cab.” They would go right by me and pick up somebody else.

Wilson: That went over, but I wrote another one in the series and it was all about gentrification.

Barnes: Wow.

Wilson: Right? And immediately, [a] girl was like, “I don’t get it.” And she lived in New York. I was like, “What do you mean you don’t get it? Where you live right now … that’s gentrified.”

Q: It used to be called Harlem … Har-lem. [Laughter.]

Wilson: Maybe I could have written the sketch better, but there wasn’t [anyone] willing to help.

Beatty: Because of the cast it would be hard to do. Not enough black faces. I’m still thinking about that question.

Wilson: I could never write a black family. … I just wanted to be able to have the personnel to write the things I wanted to write. If there was a family, I could never be in the sketch. I wrote a sketch called “The Other Son.” The family was like, “We want you to know you’re black. You’re not like us.” I was like, “Yeah, we’ve all got mirrors. I figured it out.” [Laughter.]

Playing us out? Enjoy The Wiggles.

Remember, kids – make sure to use a plastic knife, and you may want to have a grownup around.

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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. XIII: Plan B sketch comedy and improv


NORFOLK, Va. — Over the past couple of months, I’ve spent a good bit of time speaking about writing and creating comedy with people who are a lot funnier than me. I have found this process to be both invigorating and humbling — like sex, but with a greater percentage of intentional laughs.

Today a few members of Plan B, a Hampton Roads sketch comedy and improv group, will be represented here in a Belligerent Q&A. I’m not going to lie to you — there is some adult language below, so be warned. Also, whatever they say, I still dig light rail.

Plan B this weekend presents The Big Show, an improv, sketch and multimedia comedy performance. The event is scheduled for 9 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 1, at Naro Expanded Cinema, 1507 Colley Ave., Norfolk.

You can find information at this Facebook link or call (757) 625-6276. Tickets are $10, or $15 for tickets and a shirt. There is surface lot parking behind the Naro between Spotswood and Shirley avenues and some nearby street parking.

Two Plan B members, Jason Kypros and Rob Wilson, also sat down with me recently for a long craft talk, which will run at a later date I totally will figure out like really soon and stuff. It’s quite the well oiled machine around here, let me tell you.

In addition to an upcoming show, the members of Plan B have names, such as Beatty Barnes, Brendan Hoyle, Nikki Hudgins, Garney Johnson, Kypros, Lauren Rodgers, Keven Schreiber, Jim Seward and Wilson.

I hope you’ll check them out.

And remember to take care of your feet. Also, the lower legs and ankles. What do I mean with the random foot care references? I’m setting up what the funny folk call a “call back.” Do you have to ruin everything, Imaginary Mom?

The following answers, unless otherwise noted, came from Kypros.

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

  1. The White Buffalo
  2. The fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse
  3. Big Debbie (Little Debbie’s sister – the one that taught her all the recipes)

Q: What was Plan A? (Please don’t all of you say podiatry.)

Sorry to disappoint … Podiatry.

Q: Presumably, you let Hampton Roads Transit take a pass on the scripts for your light rail videos. What were some of their notes?

Rob here.

Of course we talked to HRT and they had some very insightful and funny notes on that script. In fact they actually wrote all of Jason’s dialogue. That’s why in that sketch my character sounds like a sensible human being and Jason’s sounds like a behind-schedule, over-budget murder machine that will never be allowed in Virginia Beach as long as white people with money have anything to say about it.

Q: For the future comedy writers in the readership, will you please enumerate a few of the catch phrases and setups to avoid?

Jim Seward here.

What are you kidding? Never avoid catchphrases and common setups! Look, the average audience member doesn’t understand intelligent humor. And they don’t know George Carlin from Carrot Top. Be as uncreative as possible so you can relate to as many people as possible. Never try to have an original thought; it’s doomed to fail. People love dick jokes. You can never go wrong with dick jokes. If you’re writing for a black comedian, make sure you talk about how uptight white people are; that always works. If you’re writing for a white comedian, mention how they have good credit, and then make a Hispanic slur and say ‘It doesn’t matter, they can’t hear me, they’re in the kitchen.’ If you’re writing for any other nationality/ethnicity, just have a story about how it was tough for their family to adjust to the United States and then have them talk in a funny accent as they mimic their parents. Gold, I tell you – sure fire gold!  Oh, and puppets. Always have them use puppets. Preferably puppets who can play a musical instrument. Then you can go for minutes and minutes without writing any comedy!

Q: Plan B – there can only be one. How and when will you fight the so-called Plan B Improv of Des Moines, Iowa?

This is Keven.

When? End of the corn harvest season. (Just to be courteous.) How? To the pain. I have a sweet black bandanna I can wear. And a broadsword. And I can speak with either a Scottish or English accent.

Q: Can we do a double bill? I will gladly fight character actor John Doucette, once considered the fastest draw in Hollywood. We’ll see if his reputation holds up, given his 1994 death.

No, we cannot. Although you are a wonderful journalist, I fear that even the cold dead hand of the late great John Doucette may prove to be too swift. (Actually we would love to do the double bill but Legal prevents us from it … we have a non compete clause with the NRA.)

Q: Why aren’t more comedies set at NASA?

Jim Seward here again.

Great question. There should be more comedies set at NASA. You could have the nerdy engineer, the sexy tour guide, the ne’er do well ex-astronaut who hits on all the ladies, the server in the cafeteria who’sa smartass to all the customers. Yep. And then there could be special guests who rotate in and out like the Love Boat – you know, each episode is a different shuttle crew or something. Then when ratings start getting lower, there could be a ‘very special episode’ where the shuttle crew is beloved by everyone and then at the end of the episode they launch and it blows up, and we pan across the faces of all our regular stars as we see the look of shock and horror on each of their faces. Except the smartass waitress. She just exclaims, ‘Eh, they weren’t very good tippers anyway.’ Remember, no tragedy is so bad that you can’t milk it for commercial purposes.

Q: So there’s Plan B and The Pushers and apparently some groups coming out of the classes over at The Muse Writers Center and then other day a guy at the bus station asked me for a topic and gave me two minutes on “directions to the can.” At what point does Hampton Roads reach its improv and sketch comedy saturation point? Should we make a rule – such as saturation is when we have a greater number of improv troupes than we do miles of light rail track?

I know that guy. He kills at The Funny Bone.

Q: When you say this show at the Naro is The Big Show, what are you getting at? How do you think it makes all the other shows feel?

  1. The size of the show.
  2. Skinny and cute.

Q: You comedy style is marked by a give and take between characters in conflict, sometimes portraying a battle between the earnest and the savvy, interlocking sides suddenly joined by circumstance in the congress of verbal and physical structures, mated in a deliriously dirty dance until reversals pile against reversals, recasting perspectives, erupting in a moment of truth, a single comedic beacon illuminating the dim bay of human understanding. What does that mean, what I just typed?

This is Keven.

It means we regularly rock faces off. It also means we should probably take a shower after doing dirty mating dances. Especially me. For obvious reasons.

Q: You are known, in part, for the marketing campaign behind Kypros Ouzo. I often enjoy ouzo in the privacy of a darkened bathroom, drinking it neat until the voices leave me alone with my shame. Do you have any other serving suggestions?

Yes.  Once, on the summit of Everest, after an arduous yet liberating climb.  I enjoyed a refreshing glass of Kypros Ouzo with Vladimir Putin, his mistress, and three of my favorite Sherpas. As we toasted to the success of the Internet, I thought back to my childhood in Cyprus. The look on my face made Vladimir weep.

Q: A bit more seriously – why do this? Why create something when there are so many other ways to spend one’s time? Where do you see the group going down the line?

Be passionate about something.  Always strive to create.  Give and expect nothing in return.

We are going to 7-Eleven to get a Big Bite and a Slurpee. Wanna join us?

Q: I hope you enjoyed that softball because here we go. Hoyle, you’re a maverick astronaut with daddy issues, a secret past as a Spaniard, and a love of the slow bolero. Wilson, you’re Hoyle’s much older copilot, but you haven’t cut a rug since that tragic night your old running buddy, Skinny Pete, bought it in a Wichita dance hall. Rodgers is the NASA administrator whose job is on the line unless this mission goes off. Kypros is the engineer who realizes that there’s only one way to get the Lazy Arabesque Rocket Program off the ground – and it doesn’t involve the traditional kind of exothermic chemical reactions he learned about in aerospace engineering school, but ballet d’action. Beatty Barnes Jr. is the skeptical congressman and Kypros’ former Harvard roommate who invented the Internet, thus inspiring Love Story. Everybody else is a space pirate. Let’s do this:

Rob Wilson will take this one. Yes, I am speaking in the third person. Yes, that IS a little pretentious. Okay here we go…

We open on a shot of Brendan doing the Macarena by himself in a dance studio with moody black and white, film noir style lighting a la  Robert Alton (look him up). He begins to do a Patrick Swayze (God rest his soul), slowly winding his hips as we do an extreme close up of his crotch.

FLASH and we are in a pool hall. Rob ‘mother[appreciating]’ Wilson (that’s me) rides through the double doors on a badass motorcycle and skids to a stop inches away from three hot ladies. They faint. He (I mean me) revives them and they are ‘appreciative’( they want to do it) ( sex I mean) ( at the same time) (somehow involving the motorcycle). They ask him (me) to dance. He breaks down crying (it’s really cool crying though).

FLASH Lauren is in a kitchen making eggs we pull out to reveal the starship Enterprise through her window. It blows up.

FLASH She wakes up. Rob Wilson is in bed beside her (still crying, but it’s sexy crying this time).

FLASH Jason is doing some smart shit (I only really understood like three words in his description).

FLASH Beatty is … Man I’m tired of this shit. I’m gonna go get a drink.

FLASH We all do a Bollywood dance number … even Rob Wilson but he (me) is crying (this time it’s heartfelt and humble ). Oh and the Space Pirates all have to walk the Space Plank. Rob Wilson doesn’t cry (well, okay, there is one tear like the Indian (feather) in that one recycling commercial).

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

Flip-Flop!!!!!!!

Seward now holds this blog’s record for exclamation point deployment, with Kypros a close second on the strength of his last answer alone. Wilson was voted Miss Parenthetical. Schreiber, for using The Princess Bride as a referent, wins one free resuscitation from Billy Crystal and Carol Kane.

They already are working out their wordplay about how he spells his first name.

Thanks to all.

Again, Plan B is at the Naro Expanded Cinema this weekend.

A video for the road. The music will win you over:

Bonus fun fact: More than 4.1 million people “like” Slurpee’s Facebook page; in comparison, roughly 8,800 people “like” the National Endowment for the Arts. Sleep tight, my babies.

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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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