Building the Philly Comedy Scene with Good Good Comedy
Google currently lists forty-two comedy venues in New York City. This dwarfs the ten results for venues in Philadelphia; of the ten, one is listed as permanently closed, and another is a man that is a hypnotist. Producer/comedians Kate Banford and Aaron Nevins agree that Philadelphia deserves more live comedy shows. Together, in August of 2014, they began putting together Philly’s $5 Comedy Week. Eventually, that grew into Good Good Comedy, a year-round calendar of comedy shows that Banford and Nevins produce. “You can have a bunch of comedians in a city, but if there aren’t challenging opportunities for those people, they’re just going to leave,” says Banford. “So, having a really strong comedy scene here where those comedians have opportunities that are fun and exciting for them will keep them here and allow us to become a scene where people are like ‘I fuckin’ wanna go there!’”
After launching a successful Kickstarter campaign in January, Banford and Nevins were able to raise the funds to break ground on the brand-new Good Good Comedy Theater. “There are no seven day a week comedy venues in Philadelphia,” Nevins explains. “This changes the landscape of when comedy happens and what kind of comedy happens.” Jacquie Baker, one half of sketch group The Incredible Shrinking Matt & Jacquie, describes that pre-Good Good landscape like this: “Before Good Good Comedy existed, Philly Improv Theater was producing improv and sketch comedy shows and comedians were also self-producing standup open mics and variety shows at various spaces around the city. Helium Comedy Club and The Laff House (R.I.P.) were standup venues that appealed to a more mainstream audience.” With so few comedy spots around town, comedians might not have the chance to perform as frequently as they would in a place like New York.
Because of Philadelphia’s proximity to New York, an obvious comedy epicenter, it’s easy for Philly comedians to feel the lure of the Big Apple. More stages means more possible stage-time and hours of enviable practice. However, one anchor for comedians in Philly is Good Good Comedy’s one-of-a-kind shows. Banford and Nevins do a great job of booking interesting, more experimental shows. “Other cities feature a lot more traditional improv and standup compared to the more offbeat stuff we do,” says Nevins. This means unique experiences for comedians and audiences alike.
A great example of Good Good’s type of “top-notch, high-concept” comedy is “Dungeon Palz,” a show hosted and created by Matt Aukamp. Aukamp describes the show as “a live comedy experience that invites comedians and audience members to embark on a Dungeons and Dragons adventure before your very eyes.” Tommy Touhill, host and creator of “Sleepover with Tommy Touhill,” characterizes his show is representative of Good Good Comedy’s blend of comedy traditions as well. “The great part about this kind of comedy is that when people ask what happened at the show, I don’t even know where to begin,” he says. “It’s like going to a bakery and getting to try a slice of delicious cake with flavors you have never tasted before, but the baker will never make that cake again and it can never leave the bakery. How do you describe those flavors to someone afterwards?”
What makes Good Good shows like “Dungeon Palz” and “Sleepover with Tommy Touhill” so engaging is this mix of comedy formats. “The difference between Good Good Comedy and an improv theater,” Nevins explains, “is that, while an improv theater will branch out and do other things, it is primarily based on improv, and that’s kind of the center spoke of the wheel.” In contrast, Banford says that “[Good Good’s] main focus is these hybrid shows, each of which has their own interesting draw to them. Not just sketch, not just improv, not just standup, not just storytelling. We combine any of those, or a show could be anything else entirely.”
Another popular example is the monthly “Weeding Out the Stoned” game show hosted by Alex Grubbard. Each month, the show features sixteen comedians, and all but one of them are stoned. Host Alex Grubbard administers “field sobriety tests” while fielding audience questions and posing trivia to the contestants. In the end, if everyone is able to identify the one sober contestant, then the entire audience wins prizes.
This kind of comedy is great not only for the audience, but also for the community of comedians in Philadelphia. Communities that are normally splintered in other cities are brought together in single shows. As opposed to other cities where, for the most part, standup is separate from sketch, which is separate from improv, Good Good has created a bridge wherein all these different types of comedians might be featured on the same show. Standup comedian Rachel Fogletto says that with Good Good Comedy’s presence in the city, “there is a support existing that there never was before.” In addition to producing two shows, Fogletto is regularly booked on monthly shows, many of which are produced by Good Good. “Kate and Aaron have done a tremendous job of making the comedy presence known to populations who otherwise would not have been aware.”
“There’s a lot more overlap now,” says Matt Schmid, the other half of The Incredible Shrinking Matt & Jacquie. “And I think all of the producers, performers, and comedians have been learning a lot from one another and have been able to get up in front of different audiences than they’re used to.” In March, executives from IFC came to Philadelphia to see the best comedy the city has to offer. Philly comedy luminaries like The Incredible Shrinking Matt & Jacquie were given the chance to perform in front of heavy-hitter “suits” in what was dubbed “The Big-Time IFC Showcase.” The responsibility of exhibiting an entire city’s best and brightest talent was given to Good Good Comedy. Luckily for comedy in Philly, these two are committed to highlighting the city’s strengths. “I hope that Matt and I, along with everyone else in that show, helped plant a seed in the IFC people’s mind that Philadelphia comedy is no joke and there is a lot of talented, hard-working people here,” Baker adds. “At the very least, I gave them a half-drunk handshake and a glasses compliment. One of them had very cool glasses.”