Washington Improv Theater is DC’s version of the Second City, Groundlings or the Upright Citizens Brigade. If you know what those are you probably just got a little bit excited and started rubbing your thighs together and distracting the dude in the cubicle next to you. If you don’t know what they are, picture pretty much any funny comic actor of the past 25 years. Chances are astronomical that they went through a training program at one of those three theaters. Now DC has an answer to those, or at least the first part of the sentence. For the last several years WIT has been building its reputation, primarily by word of mouth, as the most reliable source of weekly hilarious and cerebral improvisational shows, but, almost more importantly, as a center for comedy schooling. We suddenly have graduates of these huge theater/schools in New York, Chicago, and LA coming back to town to teach the highest level long-form improv techniques to aspiring funny people–and even better they’re all pretty cool folks. It’s a far cry from the Community Theater/ComedySportzz options that existed before. (Try a class for free in April you dorks.)
When we heard that they had started to teach sketch comedy classes as well as improv, we knew we had to get the instructors to perform sketch for us at this Month’s Family Hemerlein Variety Show. They’ve formed a new sketch comedy troupe recently called Brick Penguin and we thought since there isn’t a regular written sketch program at WIT yet we could give all the SNL and State fanbois in the city a chance to see well-composed and manic stage comedy right off the TeeVee and upclose.
To find out more from these classy individuals, we asked them to interview one-another, presumably while the two of them did yoga, or cocaine, or whatever celebrity comedy types do to relax together. I guess this being DC they decided to talk over g-chat. Let’s listen in…
Tara Maher: I don’t know when to start this interview so I’m just going to start it now.
Murphy Mchugh: Ok sounds good.
TM: How do I know you again?
MM: A year ago when we auditioned and got into Washington Improv Theater’s house team Season Six and you were like, “Who is this sweet sassy molassy?”
TM: Yeah, I thought, “Crap he’s funny, I hope he does not take away my stage time.”
TM: Feel free to share your first impression of myself.
MM: I remember thinking you were funny and you seemed nervous.
TM: Dick. Ok, that’s accurate. I was nervous. I thought I was going to get fired at every moment. You seemed confident but I often confuse that for tallness.
MM: I was pretty relaxed at the Season Six auditions because I hadn’t quite grasped what it was yet and I had just returned from New York.
TM: You had just finished UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) classes right?
MM: Yes, I was getting ready for Harold auditions and trying to figure out if I was going to stay in New York or DC.
TM: What is that kafuffle?
MM: I’m pouring blood into bags.
TM: I’m assuming you didn’t commit a very elaborate homicide and that’s actually prep for one of our sketches tomorrow night.
TM: So what’s your favorite sketch show?
MM: Mr. Show. Kids in the Hall and UCB are a close second. Mr. Show and UCB were on at about the same time. I guess Mr. Show comes first because it was on HBO and their sketches were able to go places that UCB could only allude to on basic cable. You?
TM: I see, you wanted to see boobies. Fascinating. SNL because that was my first exposure to sketch comedy when I was very little and then I became a Kids in the Hall junkie. I got tired of watching SNL sketches get ruined by celebrity hosts and Kids in the Hall wasn’t trying to appeal to a general audience. Great, so we’re both comedy nerds.
What can you tell BYT readers about what it’s like putting a sketch show together?
MM: It’s a lot of work on all fronts especially for our group, Brick Penguin (Murphy McHugh, Tara Maher, Jennifer Huftalen, Alex Remington and JC Calcerano).
TM: That sounds so planted. I know the name of our group. Why would you say that to me?
MM: I don’t know what you mean, Tara Maher, teacher and performer at Washington Improv Theater.
TM: Sorry, Murphy McHugh, program director at Washington Improv Theater. Ahem.
MM: Anyway, in some sketch groups there’s a team of writer’s and a team of performers. But in Brick Penguin we are all writing, performing, doing sets, props and tech logistics.
MM: You had a sketch show at UCB a few years ago how does this compare to the shows you did then?
TM: There were some things that were easier and some things that were harder. I guess, easier in the sense that both the rehearsal spot and the venue were the UCB theater. For live sketch, it’s nice to be able to know your space inside and out. Then you can full run of the sound and light boards and block it well. A huge part of rehearsal is nailing down logistics. But even though we had the theater for rehearsals we couldn’t get it until 12am through 2am once a week because shows ran every night at the theater until 11 or midnight. So it was exhausting.
TM: Is this your first live show?
MM: Yeah, I’ve done mostly video.
TM: That’s so exciting! It’s always great to get a live response to your written material. No better critic.
TM: What are your hopes for sketch in DC?
MM: That is continues to grow. That we create a community that isn’t reliant on political sketch. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I see a point in it but I don’t see a point in small sketch groups doing political comedy, if only for the fact that it can’t be done as well as what’s out there on TV every day. And by “what’s out there” I mean, not only shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report but also the many political/ hot topic shows that are on every channel. Why not create something that is my own rather than do something that’s already out there and done better?
TM: DC’s music and comedy community has grown rapidly in the last few years and I would like to see sketch become a significant staple in the DC comedy scene. Right now venues are sparse for sketch alone so I think getting variety shows like The Family Hemmerlein together is a fantastic idea and absolutely necessary. Crap.
TM: My computer froze sort of-
MM: Alright, I’ll see you tonight at rehearsal.
TM: Don’t forget the wig for Jenny.
Let’s all remember the Wig for Jennny, tonight at 9 and 11pm at the Warehouse Theater.