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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

No, seriously

I'm not someone who is a serious person. And, naturally, a lot of people involved in comedy always try to constantly be funny. But there's a serious side to comedy. And I want to just to talk a little bit about our group, how we formed, and what it means to me.

The Start
For me, I've always been into comedy. I've always had problems sleeping, so when I was in grade school and middle school I used to stay up late and watch Carson and Letterman every night. While my mom would rather that I had a healthy sleeping pattern, she also appreciated how much I loved these types of shows. So, she purchased me a bunch of Letterman's Top Ten list books. And also got me a subscription to Mad Magazine. And then I discovered with a bunch of my friends Saturday Night Live. And then our cable system got Comedy Central and then I started watching The Kids In The Hall, Mystery Science Theater 3000 and, my all-time favorite, Andy Kaufmann's "I'm From Hollywood."

It's just impossible to watch all of those shows without trying to be funny yourself. And, being a really weird kid who was really small and who got picked on a lot, being funny became my primary defense mechanism/way to get attention/main personality trait. A big part of my high school experience came from re-living my favorite comedy bits with my friends. To this day, I still know every line of the Jason Priestly episode of Saturday Night Live.

After high school, I went to La Salle, which I talk about waaaaay too much. This is because the people I met and became friends with in college are the funniest people I've ever met in my life. Most of the time, we'd just sit around, goofing off, drinking malt liquor and swapping stories. On top of that, our school had a really awful monthly open mic night. Most of the performers were pretentious English majors who read bad Sylvia Plath rip-offs, or were frat boys covering Smashing Pumpkins songs. I, however, started doing comedy. It was kinda really bad stand-up mixed in with poetic readings of Better Than Ezra songs and interpretive dance. Sometimes people would laugh but most of the time everyone was just completely baffled as to what I was doing. Also, it probably prevented me from having sex.

I was interested in trying to find a way to make it in comedy. But I didn't know anyone who was into comedy. All I knew about were comedy clubs that had really traditional stand-up, which I'm not really into. Then, I graduated, and got hired by a local newspaper. And I gave up the thought of professional comedy and instead tried my hand at being a "serious journalist."

The Next Step
Meanwhile, my younger brother got REALLY serious about comedy. He was into acting in high school (I was more into debate club and not doing homework) and joined his college's improv group. And then, from there, he started taking classes at the famous Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater. And then he started to carve out a little name for himself.

Obviously, I was a little jealous that he was able to do all of this. And at the same time, I saw the writing on the wall in professional journalism -- I really didn't want a job where I spent my nights at local school board meetings where I made $10 an hour. And I also was in grad school, getting a master's degree in international studies, and I wanted to maybe work towards being a professor. But the thought of another few years of school and the student loans and the like chased me from that.

I had a really boring office job at the time. So I started to write a lot, most of it funny. Some stuff got passed around a bit on the Internet, and, with my brother's encouragement, he got me a spot at a show he runs at UCB. I went in thinking that I was going to completely bomb and then I'd go back to my academic interests. But instead, my stuff got over really well. And that's when I knew that I wanted to do comedy in some capacity.

I found a few shows here in Philly. And then I saw a class offered at this place in South Philly in sketch comedy. I decided to give it a try, mostly as a lark. But it was actually really awesome.

And, more importantly, that's how I met Tabitha.

6th Borough Assemble!
I obviously don't want to speak for Tabitha and her interest in comedy. But I do know this about her -- she's always wanted to do comedy and she has the ambition and drive to try and get something started. I was e-mailing with her and a few other people some sketches we were writing. Then, she invited a bunch of people she knew to a meeting to discuss starting a sketch comedy group.

At first, there were probably like 25 people involved. It got whittled down to a more manageable eight. I didn't know any of these people and felt completely intimidated, as I usually do in most social situations. But then I learned that none of us really knew each other, except for Tabitha, and I didn't even really know her.

This could have been really disastrous. But, for the most part, we all hit it off immediately. These people were REALLY funny and super talented. There was nothing I liked more than trying to make these people laugh either with a sketch I wrote or in trying out a role. (I never acted before I joined the group, I was completely nervous because a bunch of the 6th Borough folks have a ton of acting experience and are REALLY good. I still feel pretty uncomfortable being in sketches but I'm also naturally an attention-whore so whatevs.)

We worked on our first show. Writing, rehearsing, practicing. Things got pretty tense, we didn't always see eye-to-eye, and despite that I liked all these people, I was pretty sure our show was going to be a giant failure and then I'd never see these people again.

But I was completely wrong. We did two shows. Both of them, combined, had like 300 people come to them. I still have no idea how this happened. But, more importantly, we got huge laughs and a giant applause after each of our shows.

This was the coolest thing I had ever been a part of in my life.

Post-Script
So, we've stuck together since then. There have been some conflicts (we could write a book about the craziness of our show in last year's Fringe Festival called "Adults") and a few people left the group, and not always on good terms.

Writing, rehearsing, editing, filming and putting on shows... it's not always fun. It's a big time commitment and, being a married homeowner, it sometimes gets in the way of other things I have to do.

But there's nothing I like better than trying to make these guys laugh. They're the hardest working and most committed people I know. And, not just that, but I also count them amongst the best friends I've ever had.

Serious part over. Back to being funny.

-- Gregg

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