A social networking site for the Philly creative community.
For the second installment of our Local Website Spotlight Series, we decided to feature the local comedy website, WitOut. I have a huge love for comedy and Philly, yet I have never been too knowledgeable about comedy in our city. This is why I love WitOut so much. It's a site dedicated to covering and promoting the Philly comedy scene. You can find interviews with comedians, reviews on shows and news about what's happening. Below you will find the Q&A I did with WitOut's editor, Aaron Hertzog.
Q: Why and when was WitOut Started?
A: Witout was started in early 2011 by a group of comedians led by Luke Giordano (who did most of the work) to fill a hole left in local comedy coverage after longtime site Comic Vs. Audience shut down. Comic Vs. Audience ran for a few years and was getting some attention from more national comedy sites and we wanted there to continue being an online source for all things comedy in Philadelphia. We wanted to have a full calendar of all the shows going on in the city as well as a database of performers, open mics, and regular shows, as well as a regularly updated site with news, interviews, columns, and humor articles.
Q: What is it that you do for WitOut?
A: I'm the editor. I took over for Luke after he moved to Los Angeles when he was hired as a writer for a network sitcom. For a while I was writing most of the content on the site, and I still write a good bit - but we have recently been getting more material from some really fantastic contributors lately. I'm pretty involved in the comedy scene (I do stand-up, sketch, and improv) so I try to keep updated with everything that is going on so we can report on shows, big events or news with local comics, as well as just doing pieces or interviews that highlight some of the comedic talent in Philly.
Q: Does Philly have a notable comedy history?
A: A lot of great comedians and writers have come out of Philly, or at least got their start here. Everybody knows Bill Cosby and Tina Fey have roots in Philadelphia, many other successful comedians today also have ties to Philly- Tim and Eric, Paul F. Tompkins, Todd Glass, Kevin Hart, Adam McKay (just to name a few.) Philly was home to a lot of clubs in the late 80's and early 90's and had a great comedy scene then during the "comedy boom" and again has a lot of talent and shows right now. I don't think Philly has ever been known as an "industry town" probably because of it's proximity to New York. There's always been a thought that once you get "good enough" here you move somewhere else, but that's not exactly the case anymore.
Q: Does Philly have a big comedy scene, now?
A: It's big and ever growing. Stand-up wise there are shows or open mics every night of the week in clubs, theaters, small venues, and bars- a lot of times multiple shows going on at the same time. There is a lot of stage time out there for comedians to hone their act, and a lot of the mics in Philly have a great advantage of the fact that there are real crowds to perform in front of. A lot of times open mics tend to just be comedians performing for other comedians, but here, places such as Laughs on Fairmount (Monday nights, The Urban Saloon) Rittenhouse Comedy (Tuesday nights at Noche) and Center City Comedy (Thursdays, The Raven Lounge) get nice crowds of actual audience members every week to perform in front of. The open mic at Helium is always a great place for comedians to test material also. The sketch and improv communities are always growing with new groups popping up all the time as well as shows throughout the city. Philly Improv Theater (PHIT) runs two full weeks of shows at The Shubin Theater (407 Bainbridge) every month, ComedySportz has regular shows at The Adrienne Theater, The NCrowd has weekly shows at The Actor's Center, and more and more independently produced shows are being created all the time. There are a few comedy festivals that happen here each year (Philly Improv Festival, Philly Sketchfest, City Spotlight, DuoFest, F. Harold) that showcase local and national talent. There is a lot of comedy happening in Philly right now, and I think the next step is to start building a regular audience of people in the city that want to come and see great shows. Witout is a place those people can go to find out all that is happening.
Q: Is this city more of a stand up or sketch and improv town? Why?
A: That's a hard question to answer, because I think each has their place and their own audiences. I think that, as far as mainstream crowds are concerned, stand-up is probably the most popular. But sketch and improv both have very loyal followings of people who you might categorize as more fans of "alternative comedy." By this I mean, more independently produced, local shows in smaller theaters and venues rather than the traditional comedy clubs or larger theaters.
Q: Who are some of your favorite local comedians?
A: Stand-up wise, I love Doogie Horner, Chip Chantry, Darryl Charles, Brendan Kennedy, Mary Radzinski, Joey Dougherty, John McKeever, and so many more people that will probably be mad that I didn't mention them. My favorite sketch groups are Camp Woods, The Feeko Brothers, Secret Pants, and ManiPedi. My favorite improv groups are Medic, Beirdo, Kait and Andrew, Matt&. I also love Hey Rube (improv) Hate Speech Committee (improv/sketch) and Tap City (sketch) - but I can't really say they are my "favorites" because I'm in the groups.
Q: What are the audiences like here? Is it a tough city for comics? Do they have to be quicker on their feet here, especially when a bit isn’t going well?
A: Every room is different, and every night is different in every room - part of what makes performing comedy so rewarding and frustrating at the same time. For the most part, I think the crowds in Philly are great. You can get honest reactions on material whether that is a good or bad. In my six years of performing and watching comedy, I haven't noticed any trends in Philly being tougher crowds than other places, or comedians having to deal with more hecklers or anything. Every once in a while an audience member wants to be part of the show and tries to make it about themselves, but that happens everywhere. I love Philly crowds because there's a bit of everything. If I can put people into categories, Philly crowds are a mix of hipsters, young professionals, blue collar folk, urban crowds and everything in between. Some rooms may attract more of one than another but if you are dedicated to going to a wide range of rooms you can perform in front of anybody here.
Q: Is it hard to break into the comedy scene here?
A: I don't think so. I started as a stand-up six years ago, and through going to various open mics and, hanging out at other shows, met many of the other local comics who were overwhelmingly supportive and helpful. About two years ago, I started taking improv classes at Philly Improv Theater and getting more into the improv scene, and all along the way I've dabbled in writing and performing sketches. The scene here is very supportive, many comics run their own shows and open mics, giving stage time to other acts. New improv and sketch groups are popping up all the time and performing around town at many of the shows at PHIT and independent shows. For the most part, it is a very supportive environment for comedians in Philadelphia.
Q: Where’s a good place to learn comedy in Philly?
A: For stand-up, the best way to learn is just doing it. Luckily, there are a lot of opportunities to do that here with open mics (sometimes multiple) almost every night of the week. Philly Improv Theater offers great classes in improv and sketch comedy writing as well as their Late Night Improv Jam and Sketch-Up or Shut Up, a sketch open mic where Philly sketch groups test out new material, and new writers or performers can bring material and meet people to work with.
Q: Who are some of the great comedians to come out of the Philly area?
A: I kind of answered this earlier but to name a few: Bill Cosby, Tina Fey, Adam McKay, Paul F. Tompkins, Todd Glass, Tim and Eric, Kevin Hart...
Q: So, we have some bigger, well-known clubs like Helium, but are there any lesser-known comedy clubs that we should know about? Any place to go see great local stand up or sketch?
A: I've mentioned Philly Improv Theater a few times already, but they have a lot of great shows happening. And despite their name, they are not just an improv theater. They offer stand-up, sketch, and variety comedy shows the first and last weeks of every month at The Shubin Theater, and are currently looking to find a permanent theater where they can have shows every night. My favorite show in the city right now is Camp Woods Plus, a monthly sketch comedy show the group produces at L'etage (6th and Bainbridge). Camp Woods performs a brand new set every show as well as featuring sets from two other sketch groups, usually one local, and one out of town.
Q: Is there a comic or comedy group here that you think is on the cusp of making it big?
A: There are so many people here that I think have the talent and the drive to "make it big". Doogie Horner is one of the best writers and performers I know, and already had a taste of television fame with his appearances on America's Got Talent. Tommy Pope was just featured as a "New Face" at the prestigious Montreal Comedy Festival. Sketch group Camp Woods is full of performers and writers who given the chance would excel in front of a national audience. "Making it" is a tough thing from Philly. The perception is that if people are good they'll just "go to New York". What we are trying to do is prove that's not exactly the case. There is a lot of great, professional-level comedy right here in this city.
Q: Why is comedy important to you?
A: I've always loved watching comedy, and from a young age just naturally started to study it and become interested in how it worked and what was funny about different things and people. I used comedy as a way to try to not get picked on in middle school and as a way to make new friends when I went to college. I've also always loved writing, and the two fit together perfectly. I could talk about comedy for hours (and I do) breaking down shows, or movies, or stand-up acts- discussing the subtle ways of why something is funny and the different levels that it works on. I love "reverse engineering" a joke or a sketch after seeing it- trying to think through where the genesis of the idea came from and how the writer came to work out all the details from idea to finished piece. It's not just watching something and laughing and enjoying it for me. It's more of a study.
Q: Why should Comedy be important to Philly?
A: It's comedy. Everybody loves to laugh and be entertained. Getting the word out about locally produced shows that are worthwhile is beneficial to everyone- the performers, the audiences, the venues. It's a cheap, fun night out where you get to see great shows produced by people from your own city. People take pride in the fact when a band from their city blows up, and they were there to see them in the small local venues first, and comedy here could be a chance to do that in a different medium.
Q: If you could have one wish for the Philly comedy scene, what would it be and how can it be achieved?
A: Building a more consistent audience of people at local shows by getting the word out about the comedy in the city. I see more national acts at larger venues draw huge crowds and think that there are people in this city that love and want to see great comedy. I've been to New York and LA where smaller theaters and venues can get huge draws and audiences because the crowds there seem to be "in the know". They know that they are going to see a great show of people who maybe someday will be stars. I don't know if that will ever fully be the case here but letting people know there are fantastic, inexpensive options for local entertainment is a start.
Q: Multimedia has recently been huge for comedy. There’s so many different comedic web series and podcasts, now. Garfunkel and Oats’ web series on HBO.com and basically any podcast under the Earwolf and Nerdist umbrella come to mind. But I haven’t really come across a lot comedic Philly-based multimedia content in this way. There’s the web series Wrapped. Do you foresee more comedy web series or podcasts coming out of Philly?
A: The sketch group Bird Text have got a lot of attention from their online videos (Pat Burrell, Real Househusbands of Philadelphia, Deck the Hall and Oates). Secret Pants is a sketch group that took advantage of online content early in the game, and built a following and is now one of the longest running comedy groups in the city. There are a few podcasts based out of Philly, either humor or interview based that I can think of - there is CheaPodcast (James Hesky and Darryl Charles), Getting Close with Mike Marbach, The Holding Court Podcast (myself and Gregg Gethard). The internet is a great way for people to get their material seen and heard by everyone and obviously taking advantage of that is something many comedians are starting to do and will do more of in the future.
Q: Who can contribute to WitOut? Comedians? Comedy fans?
A: Anyone! We are open to submissions from writers who would like to review a show, interview a comedian or group, submit a humor piece, or have any other ideas they'd like to see featured on a site about comedy in Philadelphia.