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Magnet Theater Blog: News and Ideas about Comedy, Improv Shows & Classes in NYC

Posts Tagged ‘comedy writing’

Tuesday September 9, 2014, 8:04pm - by Magnet Theater

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Elana Fishbein was in the first ever show at Magnet.  And she was really good.  10 years later she’s an improviser, actor, writer, and teacher.  She has Master’s Degree in Educational Theater from NYU, leads our Youth Program, and co-created two professional development workshop series for teachers: “Beyond Winging It: Improv in the Classroom” and “Play.” She can be seen with Story Pirates on stage and heard with The Truth Podcast your headphones.  All in all, you’ve got a super funny improviser with interesting things to say about it.  Listen to this great episode where Louis Kornfeld goes deep into the idea of forcing yourself to be vulnerable, improv accountability, shared ownership, and Canada.  Enjoy!

Subscribe to the Magnet Theater Podcast via iTunes here.

Enjoy Episode #15 on iTunes

Friday April 18, 2014, 9:27am - by catherinewing

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The Montreal Sketch Comedy Festival just announced its 2014 lineup, and the Magnet Theater is proud to be represented by three of its teams: the veteran duo, Listen, Kid!, and two of its house teams from Sketch Sunday, Baby Shoes and Party.

I recently chatted with Alessandro King of Listen, Kid! about life, sketch writing and sketch directing, and festival first-timer advice.

Listen Kid

Hi, Al.  Nice tie.  How did you and Kevin Cobbs decide to become a sketch duo?  How long have you been a duo?

Listen, Kid! started four years ago when Kevin and I met in Mark Grenier’s Improv Level 1 at the Magnet.  We kept doing really goofy scenes together where one of us would play a prospector or explode through a door or something, and everyone encouraged us to create an indie duo once class was over.  Rick Andrews was the big brother for the class and he said, “If you guys make a duo, I will coach you.”  So we did, and Rick got us hooked up with two Test Drives, and by Spring of the following year we were doing Tuesday night shows pretty regularly, usually with Upstate or the Oakwood Boys.  It was very much a Magnet Theater Fairy Tale.

We decided to focus on sketch in the Fall of 2011 when someone whose name rhymes with Blick Blandrews suggested we join RIPE with Armando.  We put up our first Listen, Kid! sketch show (I think) in April of 2012, and we’ve been focusing on sketch (Magnet shows, festivals, web videos) ever since, although we still do improv every once in a while, usually with our pals We’re Matt Weir as Listen, Weirs!

Listen, Kid!  Kevin Cobbs (left) and Alessandro King (right)

Listen, Kid! Kevin Cobbs (left) and Alessandro King (right)

How do you both collaborate when writing sketches for a show?  Did you work on sketches together when Kevin went on the Second City cruise ship for 4 months?

Our Clinton/Bush sketch is a pretty good example of how we work as a team.  I read on Wikipedia one night that Bill Clinton supposedly lent George W. Bush his DVD copy of the film “W.” and Bush watched it, commenting to Clinton that it had some “sad moments.”  I immediately called Kevin and told him and said something like, “This is the dumbest thing I have ever read.  We have to make this a sketch.  Was Clinton actually being a pal or was he just trolling?  This is the dumbest thing I have ever read.”  I described to him my visual idea (the whole sketch is a series of phone conversations between the two, with each president sitting in a special light), and Kevin immediately wrote the first draft.  It was eerily similar to what I had in mind, only funnier, with the amazing climax of Bush e-mailing Clinton scans of his paintings and Clinton weeping profusely at their profound beauty.  I made a couple of small changes and it was ready to go.

Kevin’s internet access was limited on the cruise, we but still managed to go to Chicago Sketch Fest with Branson Reese and Chi-Town friends sitting in for Kevin, edit a new Mad Men-themed web video, share a couple of sketches, and develop a web series idea.  Stay tuned for further updates.

Listen Kid 2

Listen, Kid! was reviewed very favorably by the Chicago Tribune after your performance at this year’s Chicago Sketch Festival.  Does Listen, Kid! have big plans in store for the future?

We’re focusing on web content, getting ready for Montreal, and developing an all-President-themed live sketch show.  You can keep up with us online at listenkidcomedy.com, on YouTube at ListenKidComedy, and on Twitter @ListenKidComedy.

At the Montreal Sketchfest, you will have the unique honor of performing there as a member of a critically acclaimed sketch duo, and as the director of a Magnet sketch house team, Party., that is also performing in the same festival.  Party. is the first sketch house team that you’ve directed at the Magnet.  Why did you decide to become a director?  How has your experience been so far?

Beth Newell asked me to sub in for Breakfast For Dinner a couple of times last year, and I said, “Yes,” instantly.  I just had an inkling that directing sketch would come very easily to me and bring me a lot of creative satisfaction.  It didn’t seem like, say, coaching improv, which I’ve never tried but always assumed I’d be a disaster at.  (I’m still game to prove this wrong some day.)  I had a lovely time as was expected, and asked Beth to keep me in mind if a directing slot opened up.  When they formed new teams in September, I got asked to direct one for the season.

I absolutely love directing Party., and look forward to every minute of it during the week. They continue to impress me with their commitment and professionalism and blow me away with their rapid growth, particularly as performers.

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You run Party. like Singapore.  The streets are spotless, we attend meetings punctually and are off-book at every Saturday rehearsal, and we fear you. What is your philosophy as a director?  How did you decide upon benevolent dictatorship as the best way to run a sketch team?  (Editor’s Note: The interviewer, Catherine Wing, is a member of Party.)

If I’m a benevolent dictator, keep in mind that I’m only partially responsible for that dynamic: deep down, there is something inside every one of you that wants me to rule you like a king.

I’m a playwright, so I run my writing meetings like a playwright’s workshop, meaning my goal is to help you write the best version of your sketch.  I have no interest in forcing my own ideas or telling you what I think should happen next.  If I do make a specific suggestion, I try to make it very clear that that’s only one possible route for the sketch.

When show week comes along, I make a setlist and become a director.  At that point, what I say, goes, and the edits I want to happen, happen.  It’s a very different dynamic from the writing meetings.

You guest directed the Magnet sketch house team, Baby Shoes, for their most recent show.  Is it true that they plied you with free liquor, charmed you with their good looks and talent, and took you to Rye Playland to ride the roller coaster?  They are performing at the Montreal Sketchfest too, you know.

They did take me to Rye Playland, and let me just say that Bob Kern and I have only exited the Tunnel of Love in the literal sense of the word.

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What advice would you give to sketch teams that are going to their very first out-of-town festival?

It’s impossible to accurately predict the audience’s reactions.  There will be some sketches they will love, but there will always be something that just bombs and you had no way to stop it.  When that happens, don’t get caught up trying to figure out what you’re doing wrong in the moment: theres nothing to fix, it’s just not their cup of tea.  Get through the sketch and move on to the next thing.  That’s the beauty of sketch as opposed to improv: you get to wipe your slate clean every couple of minutes.

What weird stuff did you learn about Kevin when Listen, Kid! traveled on the road together for the first time?  And what weird stuff did Kevin learn about you?

Each trip is really Kevin’s learning experience because every time I offer to take the wheel, he has to devise new ways to say, “No thanks, I don’t want to die today.”

Listen, Kid! does improv?  Just the two of you?  Do you have guests sit in with you?  Who might they be, and when can we witness this rare opportunity to see Listen, Kid! improvise?

This Friday, April 18th, at 11:30 PM, we will be taking the Magnet stage for the first time since Kevin’s return. We’re going to be doing our classic improv form, which is an improvised movie hosted by decrepit Hollywood producer Irv Newberg and his dim-witted assistant Charlie Tickertape. It’s a great way to see how this all started and there will be special guests, all of them popular recurring characters from the Listen, Kid! universe. There is only one way to find out who they are and that is to come on down.

Thanks, Al!

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Thursday June 28, 2012, 1:25pm - by catherinewing

GAY BOMB: THE MUSICAL will be having its final show this Friday night, June 29th at 8:30pm at the Magnet Theater.  Tickets are going fast, so get them now before the show sells out!  Psssst … if you want discount tickets for $7, use the code “POTUS Felching” when you buy your tickets HERE.

Directed by Michael Martin, with music by Frank Spitznagel.  Book and lyrics by Chris Friden and Steve Whyte.

Starring: Andrew Fafoutakis, Dreagn Foltz, Ben Jones, Michael Lutton, Jen Sanders, TJ Mannix, Oscar Montoya, Dave Tomczak and Woody Fu.

In case you’ve missed the earlier installments of the Magnet Blog’s interview with GAY BOMB co-writer, Steve Whyte, here they are: Part 1 and Part 2.  And now, our third and final installment of the interview.

Magnet Blog:  Did you do comedy in college?  What did you study/major in?

Steve Whyte:  I didn’t really do any comedy in college. I emcee’d events which involved a smidgeon of comedy — the cheesy kind that one might have found in a resort in the Poconos in the 1950s.  I majored in Linguistics at UC Berkeley (Go Bears!).  No, I don’t speak any other languages, but I can get around in Mexico, and in Mandarin, I can count to ten and say “I’m a crazy American.”  But really I spent the majority of my time playing in the student Jazz Ensembles where I played drums in various combos and big bands.  And after college I stayed in the music business, playing at clubs, weddings, lounges, etc., until Chris and I started our goofy, college sports TV show, “Out of Bounds” on SportsChannel National (now FoxSports).  We managed to win an Emmy, though Jamie Cummings will point out that it’s a regional Emmy, and that the local weather man probably had a down year.

MB:  Who or what are your comedic influences?

SW:  I’m a sucker for satire.  Bill Maher, The Daily Show, Parker and Stone (South Park, Book of Mormon), Stephen Colbert, Janeane Garofalo, Bill Hicks, the Tea Baggers, and many others.

MB:  You have been very open about your obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).  Mike Sacks, author of the book, And Here’s The Kicker, makes the connection between comedy writers and OCD.  Have you found that your OCD kicks in while you’re doing improv, or if it informs how you approach/write comedy?

SW:  For me, when I’m doing improv, or playing drums, I usually get relief from the OCD.  Those are usually the rare times it seems to disappear—only to come roaring back once the show is over. I heard this is sometimes the case for Tourette’s sufferers — their tics stop while they’re involved in their performance. On the other hand, my OCD experiences provide a wealth of material to draw upon. I guess there’s lots of comedy to be found in being totally freaked out and paralyzed by everyday shit.

MB:  Any future projects in the works now?

SW:  Chris and I are working on a couple of other projects.  One takes place in the not-too-distant future, where people have to rent a mechanical penis from the government in order to procreate and/or have sexual experiences that require a phallus.  Males have their biological penises removed at birth.  All seems normal in society until an adult male shows up with a flesh penis.  Wackiness ensues.

Thanks, Steve!  You are all warmly invited to join the cast and crew of GAY BOMB  at the Closing Night party after the show on Friday, at 10pm at Smithfield, 215 W. 28th Street.  See you there!