Everything Is Already Something Week 49: When Women Aren’t Even Writing For Women

This morning I went through the numbers at the company for which I am one of two Creative Directors. Not finances – it’s a major LOL if you think I have anything to do with that. But the breakdown of who we work with. (We’ll come back around to why I was looking at this in a minute.)

Actors:
17 Women, 9 Men

Writers:
19 Women, 11 Men

Some of these people do double duty, so figuring that in we have:
31 Women, 18 Men

We have one director who isn’t from either of those groups:
1 Man

And two stage managers:
1 Man, 1 Woman

For an actual total of:
32 Women, 20 Men

That’s pretty great, if you’re looking at it from a “BUT ARE THERE AS MANY WOMEN AS MEN?!” perspective. Though we weren’t out in search of having a female dominated sketch comedy company. That’s just what happened. Those are just the people who passed through our doors, whom we liked a lot and thought were funny and fun to work with and displayed the varied set of skills which make someone good at this crap. In the five years I’ve been with this crazy group of humans, there have always been really amazingly talented women – both performers and writers. But sadly, that doesn’t always equal the varied types of roles for women that you might think it would. It does SOMETIMES. We’re not that shitty. But it seems as though it gets away from us. I say us because I am just as guilty of immediately writing a role for a man as my cohorts (regardless of their gender).

Be the Lisa Loopner you wish to see in the world.

Be the Lisa Loopner you wish to see in the world.

Right now, I’m directing our set for SF Sketchfest – admittedly one of my favorite shows of the year, every year. And as I was putting together the sketches to use for that show, a sad-pants theme started to arise: almost all of the crazy, kooky, wacky character parts were for men. I’ve been doing some cross gender casting out of necessity, which is fine. I’m happy to do that. But my real wish is that we would write more over the top characters who are PURPOSELY women – as opposed to having a woman play a part written for a man (regardless of whether they choose to play the part as a woman or as a man). We tend to have six person casts – three men and three women, but sometimes having enough juicy stuff for the women to dig into without cross gender casting can be next to impossible.

Yes, women can be Vice Presidents too.

Yes, women can be Vice Presidents too.

In some sort of strategy to combat something or other – I started writing some characters with no gender at all. Actually, I wrote a whole sketch with only non-gendered characters in it, and it’s one of the best I’ve ever written. I doubt that means anything, but it is interesting. (They ended up being played by 3 men and 3 women, I think.) And the idea of casting someone purely out of their fit for the role, and not due to their male or female identity is a good one, to me. It leaves a bunch of things open for interpretation, and I like that.

Our company is about to have possibly the craziest year we’ve ever had, with a brand new production happening every month. And, as my preamble for the kickoff meeting for our inaugural show in that schedule (actually called SEX BATTLE…so that’s pretty funny) states: This is a year of risk-taking for us. For all of us. Not just in the quantity of our content, but in the quality, style, and variety of our content. I’m challenging myself to be better at these things this year, and I’m going to pose that challenge to the rest of my cohorts as well.

Cookie Fleck knows what's up.

Cookie Fleck knows what’s up.

We have all these magnificently talented, energetic, creative women going to bat for us, and if we don’t give them the material they deserve, it’s no one’s fault but our own. We haven’t been total failures at it, but we’re not where we should be. And thankfully, with all these shows happening, we have 12 chances to try to get it right.

SEX BATTLE actually cannot have this problem – we’re dividing up writers and actors into two teams (chicks and dudes) and each team will create the same amount of sketches on the same topics (Politics, Love, an Impressions Speed Round and many others) so the only way they can fail at parity in my eyes is if somehow the ladies only write sketches where the other ladies have to play men. But I don’t think that’ll happen.

I anticipate at least one Hillary Clinton impression.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/creative director at Killing My Lobster. You can catch the Sketchfest show she’s directing January 27th at the Eureka Theater.

Everything Is Already Something Week 47: Method To The Madness, Putting Together A Holiday Sketch Show

Allison Page gets into the Christmas spirit.

“We have too much Santa!”

“There isn’t enough Hanukkah!”

“Nothing about Boxing Day? Where’s all the love for Boxing Day?”

In the middle of writers meetings for a holiday themed sketch comedy show, lots of stuff is shouted out, lots of things are written, and a whole big gaggle of factors come into play before the final lineup is chosen. Last night, Killing My Lobster had its final writers meeting for KMLZ Holidaze, a gigantic variety show we do as a collaboration with Z Space. There’s music, burlesque, drag, Santas whose laps you can sit on if you dare – and about 50 minutes worth of sketch comedy. It’s a condensed process that goes very quickly. All the writing is done in two weeks, and anyone in the show can submit anything, it’s not just limited to the writers. It can get crazy. But it’s always a hell of a great time.

We’ve done this before, and some patterns have definitely emerged. Here are some things you can count on:

First Meeting: All The Santa
Oh my god, so much Santa. The end of the first writers meeting always concludes with “Okay, guys, we’re done with Santa. We don’t need any more. THE POSITION HAS BEEN FILLED. MOVE ALONG. NOTHIN’ TO SEE HERE.” Which is partially because everyone KNOWS that they can’t get them in after the first meeting, so if they have a Santa idea, it better come runnin’ in at that first meeting. And eventually decisions have to be made about which Santa sketches can live, and which must die. No matter how good they are, there can only be a couple of them before the audience is like “Soooo, this is just a Santa thing now, errrr?” It’s like a Christmas Thunderdome…sorta.

The Deep Dark Abyss
Man, we are some dark minded humans. The doom and the gloom came out the first night, as well as the Santa stuff – sometimes in the same sketch. It’s easy, with comedy, to go for the negative. Often that’s an okay path. But with sketch, if you do that the entire time, it’ll be the darkest, most upsetting evening of entertainment you can have. Maybe that impulse is aided by the fact that the holidays often bring out the worst in us, even if just for a moment. You’re surrounded by your family. They’re asking you questions about your job (or lack of job), your personal life (WHEN ARE YOU GONNA HAVE KIDS, PATTY?!?!), your fashion choices, your dietary choices – just about everything. My grandpa used to make fun of me for wearing red nail polish. Like…what? That’s not even interesting. Then there’s the hypocrisy of the meaning people may or may not assign to the holidays, combined with the commercialism that tends to overpower that stuff. There’s a lot to be Scrooged about. That stuff needs to be tempered with some positivity so the audience doesn’t run out into traffic and throw themselves into the street. Last year I submitted a sketch I wrote about a boy who meets two snowflakes who proceed to tell him that they’re not special, neither is he, he’ll probably just be a barista until he dies, and he might as well start taking anti-depressants now. When the boy says “But I’m not depressed!” the snowflakes respond with “Don’t worry – you will be!” Uh, it didn’t get in.

Songs, Songs, Lots Of Songs
Anybody can rewrite a Christmas carol to make it about global warming, three-ways, snack foods, or your spouse cheating on you. I’m saying anybody, because a ton of people do that. (Me included…today I mourn the rejection of “The Office Non-Denominational Holiday Party” which was set to the tune of White Christmas”, but seriously it was pretty stupid.) Original songs tend to go over better, but that takes a lot more work, obviously. This year there’s a great rap song that’s a play on The Night Before Christmas, which I think is a total show-stopper (written by Ken Grobe, who has a history of writing awesome songs like “Acid-Face Hanley’s Christmas” and “Luwanda Buckley and The Sex Robot”…or something like that. It was definitely about a sex robot and a country singer.)

Acid-Face Hanley sings to the kids, KMLZ 2011

Acid-Face Hanley sings to the kids, KMLZ 2011

We can’t fill a whole show with covers of carols. I mean, we could, but I feel like a few audience members would start to lose their minds and develop a serious bloodlust, causing mass chaos and zombification.

Feedback and Rewrites
The cool thing about KMLZ is that there are tons of people involved. Which also means that when a sketch is read out loud around the table, everyone has an opinion. Sometimes the opinions are all “THAT WAS HILARIOUS!”. Sometimes it’s clear there’s a problem with the sketch and 12 different opinions about what the problem might be, or how you could fix it if you rewrote it this way or that way. Everybody says their piece, and then the writer is left to decide what to do. They edit it in whatever way, and bring it back after the rewrite to see if it’s better. Sometimes it’s fixed and awesome. Sometimes it’s on the right track but not totally there. And sometimes it’s worse because possibly the premise wasn’t strong enough or clear enough from the beginning. It happens to everybody. (I’ll miss you, “Infinity Scarves For Infinity”, I just couldn’t make you happen.)

The Resubmission Shuffle
Sometimes a sketch doesn’t get into a show, and the writer loves it, and brings it back. Sometimes multiple times because it just keeps not being chosen. Sometimes that means shoehorning it into a new category. In the instance of this year, there’s a sketch that doesn’t really have anything to do with the holidays, but the opening line was changed to include “…at tonight’s Hanukkah party I am going to tell Morgan I’m divorcing her!” The rest of the sketch could not have less to do with the holidays, but is super funny, and has now finally made it into rehearsal. (I want to say this sketch is maybe two years old and that this is the first time it’s made it into rehearsal. It’s called “Slapping And Drinking” and was written by The Bardi Twins.)

It's hard to answer the phone in a snowsuit when you have weird low tables.

It’s hard to answer the phone in a snowsuit when you have weird low tables.

It’s in! Oh…It’s Out.
So your sketch made it into rehearsal! Congratulations! Wow, you really beat the odds! 13 writers and your sketch survived, that’s a hell of a thing! But that doesn’t mean it’s going to actually be onstage. About 40 sketches were submitted in two weeks. We’re going into rehearsal with about 18 of them, knowing we can’t fit them all in. In the end, I suspect it’ll be 13-15ish. It’s even possible that something will get all the way to tech and be cut. That always burns a little. So close, and yet so far. Ya can’t win ‘em all. But fear not, friend. If your dog is worth a damn, it’ll have its day…um, maybe. Hopefully. Them’s the breaks. But that’s also the exciting thing about doing this – stuff changes really quickly and you’re flying by the seat of your pants with a bunch of other people who are doing the same. There are a lot of flying pants going on.

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You can see KMLZ: Holidaze at Z Space December 12th at 8pm, and December 13th at 7pm and 10pm.

Everything Is Already Something Week 41: Things And People That Are Funny

Allison Page knows what funny is.

September is comedy month over here at Theater Pub. Or it’s supposed to be. We do what we want. Anyway, I’m getting you back on the comedy course riiiiight now! And as the resident comedy obsessed eat-sleep-breathe-it blogger I deem myself worthy of this endeavor. (And comedy doesn’t just mean stand up, by the way.)

MARIA BAMFORD

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I have to mention her, and I have to mention her FIRST. It’s really hard for me to believe there’s anyone funnier than Maria on planet earth. I laugh harder and more consistently at everything she says and does than I ever have at anything. I know, that sounds like an exaggeration, but it really isn’t. She’s incredibly unique and wonderful. Watching her is like watching a majestic unicorn morph into 26 other animals right in front of you. I have listened to her albums over and over again and I never stop laughing (Check her out on iTunes. Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome is brilliant.) You can catch her stand up at Cobb’s Comedy Club October 28th and 29th. If you haven’t seen her before, I really cannot recommend it enough. She’s also a sweet and delightful person, so that’s a perk.

SHIPWRECK

“Good theatre for bad literature? Marital aid for book nerds? A literary erotic fanfiction competition for the ages?” Shipwreck is a monthly event at The Booksmith in the Haight involving 6 writers who are assigned one character each from a classic/great book, and are tasked with writing erotic fan fiction putting that character into places and situations they were never, ever, EVER meant to experience. Full disclosure: I have participated in Shipwreck once so far, for Catcher In The Rye. I got second place, just behind Maggie Tokuda-Hall who is now the FOUR TIME CHAMPION. She’s like a magician of hilarious filth, and you can see her and a bunch of other writers at Booksmith on October 2nd, destroying characters from Stephen King’s Christine. The best parts are the dramatic reading of each piece by Steven Westdahl, and the fact that the audience votes on their favorite nasty masterpiece.

MISSION CTRL

Mission Control is a sketch comedy group spawned from Piano Fight’s loins. They are consistently funny and completely insane. They’ve done at least one sketch that made me feel like I was on acid and I’ve never actually been on acid. People who think sketch comedy is just shitty theater are stupid assholes who don’t know what they’re talking about and should see Mission Control.

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When PF opens their fancy new space in the heart of the Tenderloin, I imagine the guys at Mission CTRL will be making a whole lot of smart nonsense. Whenever that happens, you’re sure to see news about it on pianofight.com or on Mission Control’s Facebook page which you can find for yourself. You know how to internet, I’m not going to teach you.

IVAN HERNANDEZ

Ivan is really funny. He runs a show called Give Me Fiction populated with comics, writers, and generally wonderful degenerates who read stuff they wrote and that’s it. There’s no winner, no loser, no end goal apart from just listening to some cool/funny/great new prose that someone wrote based on a particular theme. It’s a thoroughly good time in the Cynic Cave at Lost Weekend Video (Or is it Cinecave? I see both. Whatever, just go.) It’s also been turned into a podcast, which you can listen to here: http://boingboing.net/2014/09/09/give-me-fiction-the-podcast.html Ivan’s also a great comic and his Twitter is a solid place to spend your time. You can follow him @ivan_hernandez

SAN FRANCISCO IMPROV FESTIVAL

If you’re one of those “Uhhh…improv can be reeaaally bad” people, I hear you. Believe me, I hear you. But if you want to find some good ones, this is a great place to do that. Groups locally and from other reaches of the planet come crawling out of the woodwork to perform starting TODAY and lasting until September 20th. I’d go for Boom Chicago, Jet Eveleth and Scott Adsit, Speechless, Huge and The Vendetta just to start – though I’m sure there are lots of great offerings to get educated about at http://sfimprovfestival.com

Scott Adsit looking serene

Scott Adsit looking serene

JANINE BRITO

Janine is a former bay area comic who’ll be coming through again September 25th and 26th with Guy Branum and Kevin Shea. She’s most well-known now for being a part of the Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell team, but she’s very much funny in her own right and totally worth hobbling over to Cobb’s to see. W. Kamau Bell calls her “a sarcastic, snarky smart bomb of comedy funk straight from the 80′s,” and he’s not wrong.

Or you can say “Fuck it, what’s Allison doing?” and see Killing My Lobster at Cal Shakes’ Grove September 26th at 6:45pm before ambling over to see their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is really just the tip of the iceberg as far as bay area comedy goes, but I don’t have all day, Reader. I just don’t have all day.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/comedy maker in San Francisco, you can find her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.

The Five: 2014/15 Preview Pt. 2: Independent/Standalone/Special Events I’m Excited About

Anthony R Miller returns with part 2 of his 2014/15 preview. This week we look at shows that aren’t part of a formal subscription season.

Last time, we looked at 5 shows coming up I was really excited to see that were part of a company’s formal season. This week we’re looking at events in the next 15 months that could be considered an independent or standalone show or a special event.

EVERYTHING ALLISON PAGE IS DOING

Fellow Theatre Pub writer, Allison Page is primed to have a huge year. Her new one-act play; Hellhound (her take on the Cerberus myth) will be at the 2014 San Francisco Olympians Festival, and that’s just the beginning. So I figured why not just dedicate a whole slot to her. Here’s what her 2015 is looking like:

HILARITY

Allison writes and stars in this new play directed by Claire Rice, about a woman named Cyd, a comedian on the edge of destruction. Don’t be fooled by the title, this show not only promises laughs, but promises to show the dark side of funny people. It asks the question “What does it matter how good you are at something, if you don’t know how to be a person?” This filthy, drunk, smoking, sexing, throwing-things bonanza is a co-production of DIVAfest and The San Francisco Theater Pub and opens March 5th, 2015 at The Exit.

DESK SET

This William Marchant play from 1955 about 4 women working for a television studio has long been a dream project for Allison. And in this time of industriousness, Ms. Page, Megan Briggs and No Nude Men are teaming up to make it happen. The Desk Set is funny, surprisingly timely, and features a huge cast. (Including Allison as Bunny, the role made famous by Katherine Hepburn.) Stuart Bousel is at the helm as director and the play opens at the EXIT in July 2015.

KILLING MY LOBSTER

Earlier this year, Allison became Co-Creative director of SF’s sketch comedy troupe; Killing my Lobster. Since arriving, she and Millie DeBenedet have combined an ambitious agenda with a back to basics approach. For the first time, they are producing a new show every month, and soon premiering a sketch comedy podcast.

WRESTLEMANIA 31

Let’s argue semantics and what constitutes a “Theatrical Event” on another day, because C’MON IT’S WRESTLEMANIA! Professional Wrestling’s Super Bowl is coming to the brand new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara this March. There gonna be pyrotechnics, dudes rolling around in man-panties and easy to understand story lines that always end with punching. In addition to this gigantic show, the WWE will host its annual Hall Of Fame Ceremony in San Jose 2 days prior. Does this all sound ridiculous? It sure does, and I can’t wait.

PIANO FIGHT’S NEW VENUE

Artistic Director Rob Ready and the folks at Pianofight are about to potentially change the landscape of Bay Area theatre. Following an incredibly successful Kickstarter Campaign and months of anticipation Pianofight is getting ready to open a brand spanking new venue. This place sounds insane, 3 theatres, office space, a studio and a restaurant. This means more venues to rent, more rehearsal space and a home for everything Pianofight does. As if this wasn’t enough, their new show; Roughin’ It is running right now in an outdoor venue in Lagunitas, and Rob Ready has his All-Things-Theatre podcast; Born Ready. The new venue is slated to open in late 2014, so get ready for a lot of big things coming from that building in 2015..

THE 2014 SAN FRANCISCO OLYMPIANS FESTIVAL: THE MONSTER BALL

If you’re not excited about this event, you’re a jerk, because you probably have a friend working on it. Celebrating its fifth year, the festival features 28 new plays by 30 writers, 17 directors, 80+ actors, and 13 artists. Every year the festival focuses on a different aspect of Greek Mythology (Last year was the Trojan War), this year focuses on The Monsters. Get ready for tales of Three-Headed Dogs, Lion-Goat-Snake beasts and the correct pronunciation of Chimera. There is nothing like the Olympians Festival, it’s a 3 week celebration of Independent Art and Theatre in the San Francisco Bay Area. With so many stories, writers, actors and artists, there’s gonna be something you like.

TERROR-RAMA

Is promoting my own show tacky? You Bet. But if I can’t abuse my journalistic might, then what’s the point? And hey, the title is “Shows I’m Excited About” and I’m friggin excited. TR (Which is also short for Trespassers William.) has had two developmental readings, a successful Kickstarter campaign and we go into rehearsal in just under two weeks. TERROR-RAMA features two brand new one-act horror-plays. (Insert your “A Play in Two Axe” jokes here) The first is Creep, written by my dear friend and fellow SFSU alum Nick Pappas. It’s dark, disturbing and actually kind of funny when no-one is being murdered. The second is Camp Evil, written by me. It’s a very silly, very bloody tribute to summer camp slasher flicks. Think, “Sleepaway Camp meets That 70’s Show”. The whole shebang is hosted by Sindie Chopper, our very own late night Horror-Host in the tradition of Vampira, but dorkier. Director Colin Johnson has assembled a great cast of 8 actors and an amazing group of designers. As a Co-Writer and Co-Producer, I can’t wait to put this out there. Also, go to the website and check out THE TERROR-RAMA DIARIES, our very own production diary with tons of insight from members of the artistic staff. This show will be funny, scary, weird and entertaining as fuck. It opens October 17 at the EXIT Theatre.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Director, Producer and that guy that won’t stop calling you about your theatre subscription. He already plugged his show.

Everything Is Already Something Week 34: I Can’t Do It Without A Papier Mache Dragon

Allison Page, once again using her life to help you with yours.

I’m feelin’ scrappy lately. I’m not the big guy in the fight, I’m the little fast one, bobbin’ and weavin’. When it comes to live performance, what do you really need to make that happen? Some actors, some material, and an audience. That’s all. Those are the basics of having a show. Then you start getting into more details, working out things that you think will make your piece feel more alive or believable: sets, props, costumes, specific lighting, sound design, etc.

When it comes to sketch comedy, those extra things can get real ridiculous real fast. When gutting the costume room of Killing My Lobster (sketch comedy company which has been collecting piles of this stuff for 17 years) this last week, we found some pretty crazy shit. Giant iPod costume, giant pieces of fake poop (for the man who has everything), wigs made out of who-knows-what, glow-in-the-dark robot costumes, 5 football helmets, a severed mannequin head wearing a motorcycle helmet (and fashionable eyeshadow), a REAL SWORD, fake dynamite (I hope), owl boots (not even trying to explain that one), a giant poster which proclaimed “BIEBER/PALIN 2038”, and assortment of things shaped like penises, and about a million billion other oddities.

Anna the German astronomer. From the first KML show I ever performed in. Farewell, drawn-on mole and unibrow.

Anna the German astronomer. From the first KML show I ever performed in. Farewell, drawn-on mole and unibrow.

It got me thinking: why do we need all this stuff? When you’re in the business of producing complicated plays, yeah, you’re going to need a lot of costumes and a lot of props. That makes sense. It’s hard to create Victorian England without the right materials. But we’re making sketch comedy. We’re here to make people laugh. I know we can do that without all this shit.

(I'm going to miss this cape and mask Lucha Libre Santa costume. Ahhh memories.)

(I’m going to miss this cape and mask Lucha Libre Santa costume. Ahhh memories.)

It can be really hard to change direction, especially when you’ve been going the same way for so long. It’s easy to say “But…but that’s the way we do it! We’ve always done it that way! Or at least I don’t remember doing it any other way…” but growth comes from change. Or so someone said one time on the internet or something. So, we’re changing. We need to be the scrappy guys, not the guys who stew over something for 3 months before it’s perfectly precious enough to bestow on an audience. I just want to be funny. And we can be funny without glow-in-the-dark robot costumes and without papier mache dragons. Write funny things, get funny people to perform them, and the audience won’t miss the humongous burrito costume. They might not even remember there ever was one.

Look at arguably the best, and certainly the most well-known, sketch creators in the world: Second City. (Yes, their roots are in improv, but they use that to create sketches) Overall, they keep it simple: a stage, some black chairs, and some people – oh, and also, they’re hilarious.

That's how much they like the black chair, they use it in their marketing.

That’s how much they like the black chair, they use it in their marketing.

You can hide behind an over-sized sombrero all day, but it’s when you take it off that the audience gets to see what’s really going on…dick jokes in Spanish. (That sketch is not real and if it were someone would probably think it was offensive…though they’d have to speak Spanish to figure that out.)

I don’t want to use crutches as a crutch anymore. I don’t need the rubber chicken. The rubber chicken is within us all.

Don’t eat rubber chickens, they’re not for food.

Allison Page’s first experiment with this theory, Killing My Lobster Takes It All Off: no sets, no props, no costumes, just funny premiers at foolsFURY’s FURY Factory July 10th and 11th, and at CalShakes’ Grove July 18th.

Everything Is Already Something Week 33: Laying Down Banana Peels

Allison Page is a trap.

Someone or other has created a monster. I’m the monster. I might also be the creator though, so it’s like…I’m both Frankenstein’s monster and Dr. Frankenstein himself…Dr. Monster.

In the three weeks since I became Co-Creative Director at Killing My Lobster (a 17 year old sketch comedy company never before headed up by a female Creative Director) I’ve really surprised myself. Mostly in the good way. I can be a pretty self-deprecating person. I mean, it’s comedy, that’s what we do. But I’m having this sudden disgusting burst of…of…oh god…pride? How awful.

As an actor, you only have to own your performance. That’s all you’ve got control of, and everything else – though noticeable to you – isn’t your job. As a writer, you write. But as a Creative Director? There’s a lot of shit going on there. A lot of moving parts. They have to be lined up and organized and figured out and manipulated into something that makes sense. It’s tough cookies.

Allison's first blasphemous Killing My Lobster show

Allison’s first blasphemous Killing My Lobster show

Ever since I was laid off from my job January 31st, I have been doing whatever I want. That’s not always as great as it sounds, but taking on serious responsibility? That sounds…like a lot of work. I mean, it IS a lot of work. A lot of work that other people will be paying attention to and very likely judging. Definitely judging. Harshly, harshly judging. Somehow, I’m doing it anyway. The judging part hasn’t started yet, but the work part has – and I’m LOVING IT. Maybe what I’ve needed all along is some real responsibility to someone or something other than myself.

At heart, I’m a dreadfully lazy person, which you know if you’ve ever tried to get me to go out on a Saturday night – good luck. But the difference here is that comedy is my passion. I eat and sleep it. I pour it on my mashed potatoes and form it into little snowmen. It’s often the only thing I care about (I mean, I also love my mom), so I guess that’s why I’m willing to crank it up a notch right now. This company comes with a lot of history and all I can do is try to make it the absolute best it could be.

Which means that right now – I gotta go. I have a giant audition to schedule, paint colors to choose, and banana peels to lay down on the road to laughter.

Slippery when wet.

Slippery when wet.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/comedian/creative director. You can follow her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage

Everything Is Already Something Week 18: Five Sketches I Wish We’d Stop Writing

Recently I was helping out at a sketch comedy writing class, reading sketches and giving notes and feedback, and I was reminded how many of the same things we all do in the beginning. Well, maybe not all, but certainly a lot. Tons. A noticeable amount. When you first start writing sketches either in a class, for a show, or just huddled in your closet like a weirdo – it’s easy to get really excited because OMG THIS IS JUST LIKE SNL YOU GUYS, and then suddenly feel the crushing weight of “Oh God, I suddenly have no idea what’s funny anymore! What’s happening?! Where am I?! What year is it?!” but as any writer will tell you, the most important thing is just to write, and if it is the suckiest thing in the world, just toss it in the digital trash. At least you wrote something. But it’s also common to fall into something that’s too easy and come in with something that everyone has heard before, and isn’t likely to make it in to rehearsal. Particularly if you work in a large writers room where everyone’s churning out tons of sketches and only the best can survive. Here are some things I’ve seen a hundred times and don’t really need to see again:

THE ONE WHERE EVERYONE’S GAY – This little gem of a sketch usually has a weak premise and then at the end you either find out one character has been gay all along, or that – oh dear – EVERYONE’S GAY! Why people write it: Because it’s got surprise in it. Unexpected turns of event are big in comedy, so let’s lead everything to think the sketch is about something else…and then they’re all gay! That’s surprising! Why I hate it: It feels lazy. It feels like a cop-out. That, and it’s just sort of stupidly offensive. If it were written in 1952 I’m sure it would feel fresh to someone, but now it just seems like you haven’t been living in society, and you’re tossing pointless barbs at an entire group of people. (Particularly if you’re living in San Francisco, that sketch isn’t exactly going to get you a standing ovation, unless they’re also carrying pitchforks.)

THE ONE WHERE EVERYONE’S SITTING AT A DINNER TABLE – This isn’t to say that you can’t write something super awesome with a family sitting around a table, it definitely happens. But a big roadblock for a lot of beginners is that their characters aren’t doing anything. They’re just talking. Which is great for, I don’t know, a podcast, but if this is a live show we’re talking about – people are looking at the actors. Help create an engaging show by having some movement. Why people write it: family conflict is funny! They’re tossing barbs at each other! Why I hate it: I will say I don’t always hate this, but often enough it bores me to tears. It’s not Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? So unless the characters are actually tossing barbs at each other, like physical barbs – it might not make for the best comedic situation. Again, it CAN, but it often doesn’t, especially if you’re new to the game. Give yourself a break and don’t try to be the Fyodor Dostoyevsky of comedy – at least not right away. People want to be entertained. Entertain them. You only have a few minutes, make them count.

They're so happy and I'm so bored.

They’re so happy and I’m so bored.

THE ONE AT THE PEARLY GATES – Oh, look, it’s St. Peter! I guess we’re all dead and it’s hilarious Sketch at the Pearly Gates Time! Everybody wants to know what happens when we die, right? Well I’ve got the answer RIGHT HERE! Why people write it: Because it has the potential to be kooky and the afterlife is mysterious to everyone. Why I hate it: I’ve seen one of these that I actually loved, and easily a dozen that I loathed. It’s a tale as old as time, so making it feel fresh can be really difficult. There has to be something very unexpected in there to keep us all on our toes. If it doesn’t feel extremely original, it’s not likely to make the cut. (See also: the sketch taking place in hell. Same thing.)

I'm here to save you...from this tired old sketch.

I’m here to save you…from this tired old sketch.

THE ONE WHERE ALL THE WOMEN ARE PLAYED BY MEN – Look at this fancy dinner party full of sophisticated women – BUT WAIT – those aren’t women, those are women played by MEN! Look at their flowery blouses and silly wigs! Why people write it: Easy, almost guaranteed laughs. Why I hate it: Hey, Allison, if it gets laughs almost every time, why wouldn’t you like it? It’s just way too easy. It’s not based on anything you’ve written actually being funny, it’s just based on the fact that the actor on stage has a hairy chest and looks funny in a dress. Then there’s the secondary matter of it taking parts away from actual women, who are often underrepresented in sketch comedy already, if they’re not playing straight wives and mothers. I do think a well placed man-in-a-dress can be a funny addition to something, but it’s a one-note joke and if your sketch isn’t funny without that? Then it sounds like you may not have written a very good sketch. I believe Tina Fey touches on this topic in her book, Bossypants.

Just go read it, already

Just go read it, already

THE ONE WHERE EVERYONE IS PLAYING A LITTLE KID – Look at all these little kids at a slumber party! They’re so silly! Waaaiiiit a minute, those aren’t kids, those are kids played by adult actors! Why people write it: Because it’s silly and fun. Why I hate it: This one’s a little sticky for me. It has similarities to the “women played by men” sketch, in that it can be funny for everyone to be a little kid, but you can’t just rely on the actor wearing footie pjs to be so adorable that it carries the whole thing. You’ve still got to have some structure in there. There has to be something funny in it apart from the jammies and pig tails. What’s actually happening to make this a real sketch and not just people being cute? Is there an interesting juxtaposition there? This one can be done well, it just often times isn’t.

None of these sketches have 100% failure rates (Except maybe that first one. Blech.) they can be funny, but only if they’re original first. Comedy is subjective and this is only my opinion, but it’s based on being in the room with these sketches being read aloud, or performing them in front of lots of people. Or watching them get cut. There has to be something new about what you’re creating. Something exciting and different. Clearly people have been writing sketches for a long time, and it can definitely be a struggle to be original. At some point you’ll come up with something brilliant only to find it has absolutely already been done before. I had an idea for something last week, which someone immediately informed me had already been on South Park. It’s okay, that happens, but throwing out some of these more obvious premises might give way to something new and awesome, and is certainly more likely to get something you’ve written onto that damn stage.

Speaking of sketch comedy, Allison is toiling away in the Killing My Lobster writers’ room preparing for KML’s Winter Follies show, performing December 12th – 15th. Details at killingmylobster.com where you can also find out about our writing and acting classes.

Ode Composer Sang S. Kim Talks About His First Time Working With Theater Pub

Sang S. Kim is a well known face in the local theater scene, best known for working with groups like Thunderbird Theater Company and Killing My Lobster. March 2012 will mark Sang’s SF Theater Pub debut and so we thought we’d take a moment to chat with our new collaborator and find out more about who he is, what he does, and why he’s doing it with us! 

So which Ode are you writing and what qualifies you to write this particular ode?

I’m writing three Odes: Choreographer, Light Designer and Actor.  I am not qualified for any of these positions which inversely makes me qualified to “ode” about how amazing the people are who perform these roles.

Have you ever written an Ode, or any poetry for that matter, before?

I worked on Literary magazines briefly where I butchered a lot of Spenserian sonnets.  They were all very emo before the word emo existed.  My girlfriend at the time dumped me and it was the early nineties so I was listening way too much of Alphaville and the Cure.

Tell us more about your background in the local theater scene. Who have you worked with and what have you done there?

I’ve loitered mostly with Thunderbird Theatre, Killing My Lobster and my own sketch project Serve By Expiration.  I’ve also been lucky to work frequently with Playground, Asian American Theater and Actors Ensemble of Berkeley and pretty much any theater company that’s having an open invite wrap party.  I’m happy to just be a writer and writer only these days but I was in a PianoFight show once where Claire Rice directed Matt Gunnison (her husband) and me sexually role-playing.  My therapist and I are still working through that experience.

How did you get involved with Theater Pub?

How could I not get involved?  Theater Pub employs 95 percent of my Facebook friends.  I can’t afford to be de-friended.  Have you actually logged into Google Plus?

What about being involved with Theater Pub is exciting or interesting for you, especially since this is your first time?

I’ve been stalking Theater Pub since it started.  I can’t think of another creative outlet where a gaggle of talented people are so invested in making each other look good every month.  Performance feeds off an audience and I’ve been looking forward to being on the other side of a Theater Pub audience.

Is there anything that’s daunting or troublesome? 

Troublesome no.  But daunting yes.  Too many people I respect and admire are involved in Theater Pub.  My hunger for validation is quite sad and insatiable.

Is there something you’d like to see or do at Theater Pub in the future? 

Out of pure self interest, probably sketch comedy or stand-up.  How about a parody of a Theater Pub Award Show?  It could last 5 hours long and the In Memoriam could be all the improv groups that didn’t make it this year.

What else are you working on these days?

Trying a dramatic play for once.  Also giving non theater projects a go such as screenplays, teleplays etc.

What are you most looking forward to in this year’s Bay Area Theater scene?

Too many.  A lot of groups and festivals have been on fire the last few years (BOA, Custom Made, Sketchfest, SF Fringe, etc).  I’m going to have to start paying full price for once instead of scavenging on Goldstar.

What’s your favorite beer? 

You know what’s sad?  I spent the most time thinking about this question than the nine before it.  Let’s just go ahead and say Guiness.  That’s a safe choice.  It’s like the Mitt Romney of stouts.

Don’t miss The Odes of March, on Monday, March 19th, at the Cafe Royale! Showtime is 8 PM and as usual it’s all free, but we encourage you to get to the bar early as we tend to get very full. See you there!