They work hard for the funny
In celebration of their one year anniversary, the Richmond Comedy Coalition’s Katie Holcomb, Matt Newman and David Pijor, sat down with us to talk about the art of being funny, comedy’s place in Richmond, and (of course) Nutzy.
In celebration of their one year anniversary, the Richmond Comedy Coalition’s Katie Holcomb, Matt Newman, and David Pijor, sat down with me to talk about the art of being funny, comedy’s place in Richmond, and (of course) Nutzy. Over the course of two hours we attempted to tackle the hard questions such as “Can you learn to be funny?” and “What makes Richmond so funny?” and while the answers weren’t clear, what was evident was that there is a hidden formula going on that makes this group so comical. With the constant finishing of each others sentences and pauses for the laughter to subside, it is clear that there is something funny going on with this group.
So, are you all the three primary members of the Richmond Comedy Coalition (RCC), or how would you describe that?
DP: We’re such a small group, there are 10 core members and a lot of us have different roles.
KH: We’re kinda more the business side of it.
DP: We do more of the unfun stuff.
MN: David designs a lot of the posters. I did a lot of the work with the classes that we’re teaching now.
DP: I do a lot of suggesting our Facebook page to people.
At what point did the RCC take shape and what was it’s goal?
KH: David and I were a big part of the planning stages of it, but basically we just wanted to keep doing improv. As soon as the [Comedy Sportz] theater closed we were coming up with ideas on how to put this group together, how to market it, what we wanted our thing to be, where we wanted to locate ourselves, and we gathered the people around us that we had a lot of faith in comedically and that wanted to be a part of it and still do improv and just went from there. We really decided that what we wanted to do, ultimately, was focus on more long-form, as well as bringing in different kinds of comedy, but also centrally locate it more downtown. We wanted to centralize it in the VCU campus, downtown area so that people down in the city could laugh at us. There’s comedy in the city, but there wasn’t really improv regularly happening in the city, so that was one of our main goals.
Was teaching at that point part of what you wanted to do?
KH: Down the road it was. But it wasn’t our first priority.
DP: We knew we’d like to get to that point where definitely the way to get the art out there is to spread through knowledge and, but at that point we knew we had to have a solid foundation so that people would want to take our classes. It was build interest… and then… plant the seed and then… yeah.
KH: Whatever seeds do after that.
What are the types of classes that you offer?
MN: The current session, there’s two classes, they’re both improv classes. There’s an intro to improv for people who have never done improv before and just want to see what it’s about and how to do it. Then I teach a long-form class that’s for people who know what improv is.
DP: And have had stage time.
MN: Yeah and want to get a little deeper into performance and how to put a 25-minute set together in front of an audience that looks nice and is good. So that’s what we’ve got now, mostly because the people that we’ve got are improv people and want to teach improv. Our shows are heavily that because that’s our background. For future classes we definitely want to expand into the broader comedic arts. Standup classes, sketch writing, that kinda stuff.
What do you think about comedy’s current place in popular culture?
MN: I think it’s enjoying a kingly seat.
KH: I’d say comedy is a lot more casual and relatable than it has been in the past, especially with the comedy that is popular with our generation. I think it’s not something so much as “I’m going to watch a comedy” as watching something and genuinely enjoying it. It’s not as formulated, archaically, comedically, formatted.
DP: Its tough to say because I surround myself with people that pretty much think like me, so I cant see it from the majority so I don’t think people who like our type of comedy are in the majority otherwise Conan O’ Brien would still have his job. That type of humor, if you look at 30 Rock, if you look at a lot of the NBC lineup right now, a lot of them are [Upright Citizen’s Brigade] writers, UCB performers, it has a lot more of an… independent? alternative [feel]? I don’t know the word to describe it but it’s a lot less joke-based, it’s more character-driven.
MN: What was kind of independent and underground in the 90’s.
KH: Like The State.
MN: The State, Mr. Show, those things are now sort of mainstream in things like The Office, Parks & Recreation.
DP: I think if Arrested Development started at this time — I think there’s been a huge shift since Arrested Development.
How would you describe improv to someone who was not familiar with it?
KH: Improv is obviously making it up as you go along, but in my opinion, the essence of improv is not only being funny but living in the moment and being real on stage and just letting yourself be real.
MN: I think people get freaked out because they think about performance and being onstage, I think it’s less about that and more about your attitude. No matter how much improv you do you always come back to “Yes, and” sorta the first thing you learn. I think it is the best thing to sum up the attitude. You’re not thinking about making people laugh or performing or telling jokes — you’re thinking about the person you’re in the scene with and just being honest and positive towards what you’re doing together.
DP: It boils down to that moment when you feel like you’re almost impervious and every wall is down and you’re completely invested in the people you’re on stage with and not even really paying attention to the audience.
What aspects of Richmond do you find funny?
DP: I find that the things we get excited about… people I know don’t really care about watching cars race, or baseball, they just like thinly veiled excuses to get drunk with their friends. I find Cuccinelli funny.
MN: There’s an openness and an honesty around Richmond. I’m still convinced that you can’t ever be funnier onstage than people actually are. I think that the things that happen around are way funnier than we could ever invent.
DP But please, come see our shows.
MN: Right, but the fact that people are just really odd, but not really conscious about how odd they are.
MN: Everything about the Arthur Ashe statue.
KH: Yes, oh and Nutzy, what’s up with that guy? Why do you have funn with two N’s? Get that N outta there.
What are your thoughts on the current performing arts scene in Richmond?
KH: It’s strong, but quietly strong. It’s something that’s out there, but just needs more support to thrive. There’s great talent in this city.
DP: I’ve heard, even from the theater community, that they’re struggling pretty hard, and that sucks. I don’t know why that’s happening.
MN: Whenever anyone talks about Richmond in many ways everything is just about to bubble over the surface… like “Oh man, the fine arts scene along the First Friday’s Art Walk if they just get This and This, than it’s gonna totally explode.” I think it’s strong, but I don’t know what it needs. Obviously CenterStage is gonna do a lot for performing arts and people going out and seeing live theater, and hopefully a subset of that would be interested in live comedy.
The RCC continues their conquest of Richmond with their One Year Anniversary Show on Thursday at Gallery 5 at 8pm. Get more info at rvacomedy.com, or on their Twitter or Facebook pages. Tickets are just $7. The next session of classes will start in Late July, and in the fall they look to host the 3rd Annual Richmond Improv Fest, which is currently slated for November.
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