Killing My Lobster Walks This Way
Originally published by SFBG, November 12, 2003.
(c) 2003, All rights reserved.
In Killing My Lobster Walks This Way the ever-resourceful KML comedy company weaves a Terry Gilliam-esque collage from the flotsam of long-lost cultural antimatter and the jetsam of random association. Having raided the local Goodwill store for some goofy threads, the cast shimmy and strip tease their way through a sequence of bite-size skits with spot-on slapstick timing. From two old crones racing each other on miniature bikes to a show-stopping musical ode to the high-heeled shoe, the material is as eclectic as the costumes. Despite being well executed, the show feels at times like a collection of improv workshop exercises strung together-and although most of the humor is visual, an unforgiving acoustic swallows much of the text. Still, any journey that visits the themes of necrophilia, Donkey Kong, and brain surgery only to reach its destination with the words “world peace” has got to be worth seeing.
By Pat Craig
Originally published by Costa Contra Times, November 10. 2003
(c)2003, All rights reserved.
The ghosts of burlesque and vaudeville that no doubt haunt the elderly Victoria Theatre were grinning in the rafters this weekend when the San Francisco-based sketch comedy group Killing My Lobster opened its new, anything-for-laughs piece, “Walks This Way.”
To call this “something for the whole family” could be the kiss of death for KML and it Mission District location. The busy weekend scene there is aimed primarily at twenty somethings, who were evident in the big numbers and laughing heartily. But what I mean by “the whole family” is that the show not only appeals to young people whose experience in sketch and blackout comedy is rooted in “Sesame Street,” with its lightning fast vignettes and non-sequitur, but also the older, more sedentary family members who were laughing at the style of stuff about as long as people were trying to make giggles a byproduct of being silly.
Of course, back in the days of vaudeville circuits and the burlesque shows, nobody was doing bits about Donkey Kong, cell phones and restaurants that are cloyingly fun, fun, fun.
But bring the grandparents and parents, anyway-they need to get out, and if they have any energy left after the show, they’ll fill you with tales of how they used to see this downtown at the vaudeville theaters or on televisions with “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.” If they are a bit more cerebral, they will remark how much of the style is reminiscent of Bob and Ray on the radio, “Tonight Show” era Steve Allen, and some of the pioneer video comedy of Ernie Kovacs.
What you youngsters might want to point out to the older folks is that there really isn’t anything new under the sun, all comedy is derivative, and “Walks This Way” is we’re all pretty doggone silly, no matter how we try to hide it behind our veneer of cool du jour.
So the group built brief sketches and blackouts of improvisation around ordinary life, tweaking it ever so slightly and making it, for the most part, wonderfully hilarious. And despite what the demographers lust for, there appear to be no particular age limits on the targets for Lobster bites. If you’re breathing and the least little bit silly, you are fair game. No matter what your walk in life, you will see yourself stroll by on the two-level set by Aiyana Trotter, and you will laugh.
OK, not every bit hits a home run, but if this were baseball, the Lobsters would be batting around .800, and the pieces race by so quickly, you hardly notice the groundouts and double plays.
Adding immeasurably to the evening’s fun is the music of Adult Rodeo, a two-piece band that includes, as part of its music, rude noses, strange electronic sounds and the sort of take-no-prisoners attitude that makes the group the perfect accompaniment for comedy.
You may notice at this point that no single performances have been mentioned. And that is for the simple reason that the Lobsters are identified by name, but not by their roles or pictures. They are: James Bewley, Melanie Case, Tonya Glanz, Daniel Lee, Ian Scott, Sarah Mitchell, Becky Stark, Shaye Troha, Rufus Tureen and Gabe Weisert. They are all funny. (For the record, the bits that made me laugh the hardest were Donkey Kong, the visitor at the side of the door, the restaurant, and two comic strip teases, including one by a man in a bear costume).
This is a show that deserves a long run in a permanent home. And with work like this, Killing My Lobster should really be a full-time fixture on the Bay Area comedy scene.
Pat Craig is the Times theater critic. Reach him at 925-945-4736 or email@example.com
Ben Westhoff gets inside the odd mix of cerebral and naughty humor that’s taken S.F. comedy troupe Killing My Lobster to the edge of national fame
BY BEN WESTHOFF
Originally published by SF Weekly Feb 19, 2003
©2004 New Times, Inc. All rights reserved.
(We hear the sounds of a couple engaged in lovemaking. Tossing, turning, soft grunting. Rene is a French prostitute. Pedro is a Spanish stranger.)
Rene: Oui! … Yes … Paco …
Rene: Pedro … Pedro … Parlez anglais, si’l vous plaît …
Pedro: Eh … No hablo inglés.
Rene: Hablo inglés! PLEASE! Ohhh … J’adore la langue d’anglais … It make me CRAZY!
(Intrigued but reluctant, Pedro reaches for his knapsack on the floor, pulls out an enormous and unsexy Spanish/English dictionary, and tries to place it somewhere discreetly on the bed …)
Pedro: (reads) Where can I buy a postcard?
Pedro: (thrusts) I am attending a convention.
Rene: Oui! Yes! Convention!
Pedro: (thrusts again) I want to press these clothes!
Rene: Oui … Oh! … OH!
(Rene rolls over so that she is now on top.)
Pedro: Is there a cost for children?
Rene: Parlez, parlez, vite! … Plus vite!
Pedro: (frantically flipping through the pages) Do you have a safe for valuables?!
Don’t let the edgy sketch fool you. The members of Killing My Lobster are not the punk rockers of sketch comedy. They do not have messy or greasy hair. They lack the brazen cool of the Ramones, the “fuck you” attitude of the Clash, the technical ineptitude of the Sex Pistols.
No, if Killing My Lobster were a band, it would be Weezer: larger than life onstage, borderline geeky in person, and evidencing a surprising longevity.
The revolving cast of about 12 members of Killing My Lobster has produced at least two full-length shows of new material every year since the group’s inception in 1997. Their last, Circus of Failure, sold out three-quarters of its 20-performance run at A Traveling Jewish Theatre, which houses 88 seats — despite competition from the World Series — and some shows were so crowded that people had to sit in the aisles. Film versions of their sketches have been shown at the Sundance Film Festival and featured on Comedy Central’s Web site, where they were described as “An orgy of comic genius.” The critical response to the Lobsters’ shtick has been almost universally positive, and they count Robin Williams among their fans.
So does that mean, as suggested by the title of their 2001 show, that the Lobsters are Breaking the Bank?
“They’re paying me 200 bucks,” says new Lobster Gabe Weisert of his two-month commitment for the group’s newest show, Tales of a Lonely Planet. His duties include four or five rehearsals a week now, and five performances a week when the show opens, all on top of errand-running and envelope-sealing duties.
If being a Lobster in 2003 is a labor of love, when things got started back in 1997, there was even more labor for even less love. The Lobsters’ first show was at the Grasshopper Palace, a tiny performance space in the Mission where they recruited 20 of their friends to fill the seats. The group’s nucleus was just forming, and even the name itself had only recently been conceived.
“We’d all had a few drinks,” says Daniel Lee, describing a get-together where the group was playing the name game Celebrity. “Some of us had had more than a few drinks. I wrote down Lauryn Hill on a little slip of paper.”
The task fell to group co-founder Paul Charney to describe the singer without using her name.
“She sang the song ‘Killing My Lobster,’” blurted out an intoxicated Charney, referring to the song “Killing Me Softly,” then a hit for Hill’s band, the Fugees. The phrase was oft repeated by the group, and members used it to mean “bumming me out,” as in, “Cheer up, man, you’re killing my lobster.”
Before it became the troupe’s name, Killing My Lobster was actually the title of the group’s first show. Back then, they called themselves “Are You There God? It’s Us, The Art Collective.”
The first script read-through for the Lobsters’ new show — Tales of a Lonely Planet — is conducted on a rainy mid-January night in their office on the second floor of the Digipop building at the corner of 17th Street and Folsom, a corner popular for, among other activities, prostitution.
The cast and crew — writers, directors, DJs, costume and set designers, and five new actors — are by and large clean-cut, with jeans and tennis shoes the favored fashion statement. Individually, in passing conversation, none of them comes across as particularly hilarious. But the neon-green walls of the office seem to draw comedy out of these middle-class Ivy Leaguers.
Tales of a Lonely Planet has a travel theme, and promises “sketches and shenanigans all about the hazards of over packing, under budgeting, and being a Middle American in a far away land.” In addition to the Spanish spoken by Pedro and the French of his prostitute Rene, British, Scottish, Japanese, and Inuit accents make appearances in the show. Exotic locales are the norm; complicated premises that depend on semantic miscommunication abound. If you were to accuse Daniel Lee, the director of the show, of having a penchant for highbrow humor, well, you wouldn’t be the first.
“A lot of our humor can be a little bit cerebral, in good and bad ways,” he says, admitting that he almost majored in art semiotics before focusing his studies on political science at Brown University in Rhode Island. “Language seems to be a thing that we’re interested in: the use of language, the communication issues.”
But Lee, a lanky Korean-American who’s studied voice at the Juilliard School and acting at the American Conservatory Theater, doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a comic intellectual. “We try to offset [the cerebral humor] with more physical humor. We also have naughty, dirty sketches.”
Humiliating ones, too. Just ask James Bewley, a goateed, smirking Lobster who carries around a few extra pounds. While he played a dancing student who goes to great lengths to please his instructor, Bewley was nude onstage for an entire six-performance run seen by thousands. “Most people thought I was wearing a ‘naked suit’ until I turned around,” whereupon the audience saw his bare, very real ass. He grins. “But why would I wear a suit like this?”
The non-cerebral strand of Lobster humor was foreshadowed by Out of Bounds, a comedy group founded at Brown University by many of the core Lobsters, who attended the school in the early ’90s. Perhaps the most notorious incident was a sketch that called for actor Jon Wolanske to literally piss his pants onstage.
“It was in the script but unrehearsed,” recalls Wolanske, who is tall, innocent-looking, and almost unnervingly sincere. “I drank four or five beers before going onstage in an effort to work up the fluid count.” As well as, presumably, the nerve.
“In the scene I was really nervous about asking a girl for a date. She said yes, and I said I was so excited that I was going to piss my pants. And then I did.”
So much fluid came out onto the floor that people thought it was fake, he says. The rest of Out of Bounds’ performance that evening was done with the urine pooled onstage.
“I still have the underwear,” Wolanske adds.
Out of Bounds-ers Daniel Lee, Marc Vogl, and Paul Charney left the East Coast for San Francisco the year after their graduation from Brown in 1995. They launched Killing My Lobster with fellow alums Brian L. Perkins and Mike Zurer. Brown graduates Wolanske, Mara Gerstein, Erin Bradley, and Bill Donohue, Vassar alums Abby Paige and Maura Madden, and Rhode Island School of Design alum Bewley joined in the next few years.
Gerstein had pulled in Madden, a hometown friend from Manhattan, who brought in Paige, a fellow comedienne from Vassar. Bewley had met the Brown group members through participation in a production of Six Degrees of Separation in Rhode Island.
But why San Francisco, when New York would seem the obvious destination for East Coast collegians looking for a comedy career? For one thing, Lee says, he spent a year after college there and found it overwhelming. Also, Vogl says, San Francisco had a lower cost of living than the Big Apple and a reputation as a supportive environment for the performing arts. And finally, many in the group had a desire “to get 3,000 miles away from our families and hometowns,” says Vogl.
Once here, they had immediate intentions to start performing together. “We were just at an age when we thought we could do stuff,” Charney asserts. Without consulting the others, he reserved the theater space at Grasshopper Palace — with no performance planned. Essentially, he dared the Lobsters-to-be to improvise. “I told them, ‘Either you can do something with me, or I’ll be doing a really bad one-person show.’”
The performance went reasonably well, but the group toiled in near-obscurity for the next few years. Vogl and Charney in particular contributed large amounts of their own money to the organization, which was run out of an apartment shared by a few members in the Lower Haight. The costume room was the back porch. All 12 members had their own apartment keys; someone was there almost every hour of the day making press kits, sending out postcards, or honing sketches. The Lobsters, then as now, were disciplined about their work, and stories of wild parties and debauchery are few and far between. When compared to the wild times of comedians like John Belushi and Chris Farley, the Lobsters’ lives seem downright tame. “No Lobsters have been to rehab,” says Vogl.
The seriousness of their effort paid off, however, when a performance at the 1999 San Francisco Fringe Festival called Killing My Lobster Boards Flight 354 finally propelled them into orbit. The Fringe Festival booked them at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, which, at 300 seats, was the biggest space they’d ever performed in.
The hourlong show took place in an airport and was highlighted by a skit about a Palo Alto high school Spanish teacher who called herself Señora Lori Dow-Moore. Sra. Dow-Moore, played by Paige, was leading her “Spanish Dos” class when she mistook a man reading a Gabriel García Márquez novel for an actual Colombian. She pestered the man ad nauseam with rudimentary Spanish questions; of course he didn’t speak a lick of the language.
The sketch went over so well that the group received a “Best of the Fringe” award and was invited to do three more performances for the festival. The Lobsters wrote up 354 as a pilot TV script, and, at the instigation of Wolanske, who lived in Los Angeles at the time, they acquired an agent and found themselves shuttling between Northern and Southern California on an almost weekly basis.
They ended up doing a showcase for HBO executives at that network’s performance space in Hollywood, and for a year were in contact with them about the possibility of filming a series à la Mr. Show or Kids in the Hall. In the end HBO didn’t bite.
Vogl, the most caffeinated and hippest-dressing of the group and its main public-relations person, seems uncharacteristically reluctant to talk about the disappointment. “When it all came down, our first obligation was to do good work here,” he says. It seems likely that had the HBO gig worked out, the Lobsters would have flown the Bay Area coop. But they’re still here, and trying to make the best of it.
“We want to keep establishing a strong audience base, to grow into an institution, to make [the Lobsters] a part of what the San Francisco experience is,” Wolanske says.
Vogl’s long-term goal is for the group to own its own performance space for live shows and the hi/lo (that is, high concept/ low budget) film festival, which the Lobsters organize. To make this happen, they are relying on a disciplined work ethic and business model emphasized since the inception of the troupe.
“A lot of people we work with aren’t comedians at all,” says Vogl. “Some of our friends are MBAs, they sit down with us once in a while and say, ‘If you want to do all this, this is what you have to do.’” The Lobster Theatre Project is now a nonprofit arts organization, of which the Killing My Lobster sketch comedy group is the “comedy subsidiary.” The Lobsters receive foundation grants, and in 2003 are, for the first time, able to pay members a stipend.
Vogl takes as a model the Second City troupe in Chicago, which was founded by University of Chicago students but now has franchises all over the country. In the short term, however, Vogl would just like to quit his day job. “Nobody can survive in San Francisco doing Lobster stuff,” he says. “But that’s the goal.”
They aren’t Second City yet, but the Lobsters now have their own office space, complete with a scanner, copier, computer, television, VCR, and some floor area in which to practice. The performance venues have expanded over time, too. The group’s 19th full-length show begins this week at the Brava Theater, a one-time Mission District movie house with approximately 370 seats.
The humor has grown up, as well. One of the group’s signature sketches, performed recently at S.F. Sketchfest, is called “Sunday Afternoon.” Starring Charney and Lee, it focuses on the breakup of a gay couple who do not speak actual dialogue. Instead, the characters mouth semantic descriptions of platitudes:
Man 1: Awkward greeting.
Man 2: Nervous greeting.
Man 1: Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit …
Man 2: Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit …
Man 1: Awkward pause.
Man 2: Filler, filler, filler …
Man 1: Obligatory comment about the weather, obligatory comment about the weather.
Man 2: Insincere laughter.
Man 1: Probing question.
Man 2: Evasive remark.
Man 1: Confusion … slightly suspicious.
Man 2: Blatant lie.
Man 1: Acceptance. Second thought, probing question.
Man 2: Restructuring blatant lie.
Man 1: Recognition of blatant lie … expressing doubt.
Man 2: Defensive remark.
Man 1: Accusation.
Man 2: Irrelevant counteraccusation.
Man 1: Shock. Thoughtless remark.
Man 2: Sigh of utter disgust.
Man 1: Fake apology, fake apology, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit …
Man 2: Serious remark.
Man 1: Shifting into serious tone …
Man 2 eventually breaks up with Man 1, who slaps him, and who then is given an “obligatory offering of continuing friendship,” which he refuses.
In late January, the group takes a night off from rehearsals to work on a side project. The Killing My Lobster Cabaret is a variety show put on the last Wednesday of every month at the Make-Out Room, a Mission District bar. It is a benefit for the Coalition on Homelessness and features local sketch comedy groups, stand-up acts, short films, bands, and, sometimes, yodeling.
Though many of the Cabaret’s performers are Lobsters, its spontaneity and anything-goes mantra are a big departure from the carefully crafted sketches of the group’s stage performances.
January’s show is hosted by Bewley, in character as his alter ego, Dale, a parody of a host you might see as a comedy act in a second-rate Reno casino. Dale wears oversize, tinted sunglasses and a cheap suit, and spouts the type of one-liners that are normally heard with a drum tap afterward.
“I’ve had a few drinks,” he says lazily, climbing onto the Make-Out Room’s elevated stage with exaggerated difficulty. It is the first Cabaret since its venue changed from Cafe Du Nord, and about 30 people are in the audience.
The crowd is never quite sure when Bewley is being serious and when he isn’t. He says he does caricatures, and calls up a young woman who sits patiently while he draws a figure that looks nothing like her and is wearing pirate garb. “I only know how to draw pirates,” Dale/Bewley finally admits.
He calls up Wolanske twice to perform, first as the character Alden Mount, a soft-spoken gentleman who recites terrible puns from his “pocket book of boners.” Wolanske’s enthusiasm never flags, even when a flutter of boos hangs in the air. His second character is an inept impressionist who attempts to portray Eleanor Roosevelt and Beverly D’Angelo, but can’t even do Jack Nicholson right.
This goes over fabulously, but not every part of the Cabaret is received as well. A duo calling itself “The Doctor and Captain Show” organizes a laborious multimedia game involving members of the audience playing a variation of Scrabble. The video screen is blurry, and the game drags out for more than 15 minutes.
Comedy perfection is not the Cabaret’s aim, says Gabe Weisert, an admirer of the variety show before he joined the Lobsters. “They take risks; they’re not afraid to go out there and bomb in search of something different. They’re not afraid to die for their cause.”
Bewley gathers much of the talent for the Cabaret through connections made from his day job as program director at New Langton Arts, an art gallery and performance space South of Market. Other Lobsters work as waitresses, freelance writers, film and video teachers, and in public relations for the American Conservatory Theater, among other professions. Although none of them has been able to quit a day job, almost all the Lobsters have been able to avoid desk work of the downtown, mind-numbing variety.
Instead, they satirize it.
Their short film 8+4, which aired on Comedy Central’s Web site, recalls the movie Office Space in its “Why are we here?” ponderings of corporate life. But the Lobster critique is more ruthless.
In the first scene, an anonymous and slightly dim office worker played by Wolanske is taking an order from a corporate client. The caller says that he wants four more “units” to go along with the eight units he ordered last time.
“OK,” says Wolanske, thinking hard. “That’s just simple math.”
He writes “8 + 4″ down on a scrap of paper. “OK. Just need to run the numbers now.” A confused look comes over his face.
“So you ordered eight last week. I’m just trying to, you know, sort this all out now. Trying to get a good picture of where you’re coming from.” Under his breath: “Eight, and then, you’re calling back because you need four more ….”
He takes out a set of Popsicle sticks. “Just walk with me here for a second. Because oftentimes when you do the math, you forget that you’re working with real things.” He counts out sticks for a few moments, but this doesn’t help either.
“It could be a negative number, couldn’t it?”
He looks around frantically for assistance.
“Can I put you on hold for a second? I just want to run it through our accounts-receivable department and get a more accurate number from them. OK? I’m just gonna put you on hold for one second. I think it’s some nice music today, Yanni at Red Rocks.”
Someone from accounts receivable enters, and then soon the head of accounting. The group discusses possible methods for determining the sum, including the use of multiplication, subtraction, and Venn diagrams.
Eventually an entire task force is assembled to seek a solution, but it fails, bounced from one meeting room to another by departments that have already reserved the rooms. Meanwhile, the client stays on hold.
It’s a simple joke, and over the course of the 20-minute video, it gets pounded into the ground, again and again, in unconscious reflection of the Lobster comic aesthetic and work ethic. They may seem like slackers, but they’re not going to quit telling jokes until you start laughing.
By Gabe Weisert
From Heeb Magazine.
Originally published from Heeb, 2003.
(c) 2003, All rights reserved.
Everyone scoffed when Brown grads Paul Charney, Jon Wolankse, Marc Vogl and Daniel Lee announced they were taking their college comedy act on the road. But eight years after graduation, the four-some – plus a few new additions – have clawed their way to the top of the pot. Killing My Lobster (which translates to “bumming me out” in suburban dork) has San Francisco audiences rolling in the aisles and is posed to blow up nationwide. Known for the irreverent, literary, and smart slapstick routines, the Lobster crew performs sketches about, for example, a guy whose lifelong dream is to ride the G-spot – Kenny G’s tour buss – or two dot-commers who hawk their online potato-selling Web site, E-potato, to a dubious venture capitalist. “We don’t have a mission, other than to present the absolute funniest ideas and situations we can think of,” says Wolankse. Now that they’ve been named “Best Laugh Factory” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, screened their material at Sundance last year (reportedly winning Robin Williams as a fan), and recently started talking with both Comedy Central and HBO, it would seem their mission’s accomplished. See ‘em while they’re buttery: www.killingmylobster.com.
“Working for Laughs: A chat with members of sketch comedy group Killing My Lobster”
By April Kilcrease
From Comet Magazine.
Originally published from Comet, 2003.
(c)2003, All rights reserved.
From their first tiny show in front of an audience of siblings and housemates (or as they tell it, Daniel’s sisters and their boyfriends), Killing My Lobster has come to attract the attentions of an entire city in need of a good laugh.
Voted “Best Laugh Factory” by the San Francisco Bay Gaurdian and winner of the “Best of the Fringe Award” at the 1998 and 1999 San Francisco Fringe Festivals, Killing My Lobster has been duly rewarded with critical and audience praise. They’ve also produced more than a dozen award-winning short films, wich have screed at Sundance and the San Francisco International Film Festival, where they received a Golden Spire Award.
But this as been no easy laugh to get. Willing to sacrifice time, sleep, and even their clothes if it means getting the sketch right, these Lobsters have earned it.
San Francisco Tribune (2003)
“Killing My Lobster”
Originally published from San Francisco Tribune, 2003.
(c)2003, All rights reserved.
Peter Glantz, el director dijo que el unico fin de esta produccion era la simplemente la diversion, poder gozar y reir libremente con las tonterias que ocurren en la vida, y eso es definitvamente lo que pasa con “Matando a mi Langosta, camina pa’ca”.
Que sucede cuando una persona camina de un lado al otro de la puerta, lo que se puede ver es solo un bosquejo de la realidad, una realidad nada real dicho se a de paso, y una podra gozar y reir con las cosas que vera en los multiples sketches que tomora lugar en esta “gran longosta”.
El director se ilumino con la idea de esta produccion cuando obervaba a personas “caminar” alrededor de alguien que se pretende. Como se comportan las personas cuando tartan de abordar a algun desconocido o desconocida, y el resultado es muy interesante.
En Killing My Lobster, una vera casos exagerados de personas declarando un amor eterno a su pareja, pero solo podran de gozar eto por breves instantes, vale decir mientras caminan de una lado al otro de “la puerta abierta” de lo que una puede observar, es como estar dentro de su propia casa y tener la puerta abierta hacia la calle, solo se puede ver los dos extermos de la puerta y el espacio hacia afuera, esto es precisamente la genial obra.
Veremos a gente odiarse, a gente hacer demostraciones de strip-tease, los muchachos son los mas divertidos, pero las chicas, logicamente mas sensuales. Situaciones politicas, de la vida cotidiana, en fin la imaginacion sin limite es ele limite de Killing My Lobster.
San Francisco sketch-comedy troupe Killing My Lobster has a lot in common with The Wu-Tang Clan. Both groups use alter egos to play out fictional scenarios (The RZA’s Bobby Digital, Peter Nachtrieb’s Trent Bitcomb). Both have East Coast ties (Wu-Tang started in Staten Island, The Lobsters united on the mean streets of Brown University). However, while The Wu is known for dropping beats, KML kicks up chortles and giggles with their high-octane silliness. Join the extended Lobster family at the KML Cabaret tonight. Comedy, short films, beats, and treats — an appearance by Ol’ Dirty Bastard would be surprising but, in the Lobsters’ strange universe, not impossible. (LE)
By Karen Macklin
Originally published by Callboard, August 2002.
(c) 2002, All rights reserved.
When San Francisco-based companies make it bit, they typically do one thing: leave San Francisco. But one local comedy troupe has been sticking it out here in the Bay Area, despite some hefty successes over the past few years. With a name that brings to mind perverse images of dead crustaceans, Killing My Lobster has become perhaps the city’s best-known sketch comedy group, having performed its loopy, yet intelligent brand of humor in venues all across the city-and more recently country. Deriving abnormal amounts of silliness from the most normal occurrences of daily life the committed (um, I mean dedicated) Lobster compadres have won awards, while gaining recognition by nationwide comics and even Comedy Central.
To mark the company’s maturation, its next show will push the Lobster boundaries even further. Directed by KML member James Bewley, Tango Dell’Amore tackles the topic of love in all of its tortured and twisted glory. While the show is still based in sketch comedy, the idea of a visual aesthetic will play an integral part in its development-a concept that suggests a significant evolution for KML. To this end, the troupe is collaboration with San Francisco Opera costume designer Cristo Verdosci, whose attention to attire is helping KML generate script ideas. “We’re exploring the characters’ identities through their costumes,” says Bewley, who jokes that past costumes have always been selected from low-budget wardrobe consisting mainly of aprons, football helmets and Members Only jackets. The use of clothing to inform the script has allowed all sorts of neurotic characters to spring forth, including the “woman incapable of subtlety” (garbed in an ill-fitting tango dress) and the “too-tall man” whose clothes are ridiculously small. Bewley says that the characters all have one thing in common: They are uncomfortable in their own bodies and this resonates in their personal lives.
Another way in which Tango is a departure for KML is in its presentation, which will involve a main show with a four-piece band coupled with a sideshow cabaret act that will make use of material that never made it into the show-as well as on-the-spot improv. “Every night there will be something new,” says Bewley. “That’s not something we’ve tried before, unless something in the show went wrong.” But make no mistake; this production will be carefully orchestrated with the company planning to devote one month to writing, one to rehearsing and one to performing. But what about dancing? “Somewhere in there,” says Bewley with a chuckle, “I guess we’ll have to learn how to tango.”
By Rachel Howard
From The Examiner.
Friday, May 3, 2002
Originally published from The Examiner, 2002.
(c) 2002, All rights reserved.
Killing My Lobster may go by a wacky name, but these days it’s a tightly produced, highly professional sketch comedy troupe. Still, co-founder Marc Vogl remembers the cruder early days.
“The chorus is basically stepping back and forth and snapping their fingers,” he says of a musical finale from 1997. “But they’re in a Russian space station, so there’s not a lot of room for a can-can line.”
“We do a lot of bizarre s—,” he offers in a futile attempt at explaining the unexplainable. “I haven’t even told you about the babies.”
The Russian space station and the babies (we can only speculate) and the “Scratch N’ Smurf” song and much else besides return in all their raw, outrageous glory Saturday night when KML, as the troupe is popularly known, celebrates its fifth anniversary with a fund-raising party. Expect a slice of something absurd from each of the group’s 15 previous shows, as well as appearances from former cast members, an all-star KML Orchestra, a sneak-peek of KML behind-the-scenes documentary, and a benefit auction.
“We’ve matriculated to first grade after five years,” says Vogl, who along with fellow Lobsters Erin Bradley, Paul Charney, Bill Donoghue and Jon Wolanske, formed the troupe from the Brown University sketch team Out of Bounds.
The group, 10 performers strong, now boasts a film-production arm, a professional choreographer and a loyal audience. And though all of the anniversary party’s proceeds will go toward producing KML’s next shows, the company is now looking into prospect of buying its own performance space.
It looks like the Lobsters are becoming something of a San Francisco comedic institution, and that’s surprising given the eclectic nature of the sketches.
“We don’t have a unified comic vision,” says Abby Paige, who debuted with KML in 1999. “So that requires that when things don’t make you laugh you can appreciate that it might make someone else.”
That hit-or-miss appeal may be the key to the group’s growing popularity.
“We have confidence that it’s all funny,” Vogl says. “But it’s more all over the map than a lot of comedy groups are, because we’re bigger than most comedy groups are.”
“One person likes the slapstick, another the musical numbers, or the Hamster in Court TV – there’s something for everybody.”
By James Sullivan
From Datebook, San Francisco Chronicle.
Originally published from San Francisco Chronicle, 2002.
Thursday, May 2, 2002
(c) 2002, All rights reserved.
The recent Brava Theater Center shows by San Francisco sketch comedy group Killing My Lobster used the conceits of old B-Movie gumshoe yarns—the motor mouths, the big suits, the toothpicks.
It wouldn’t take an ace interrogator in a wide-brim hat to get us to agree that in a city of jokers, these situational comedians are among the very finest. On Saturday KML marks its five-year anniversary with a greatest-hits evening of sketches and short films at the criminally underused Swedish American Hall, above Café Du Nord.
A new batch of crowd-pleasing satire from the notorious sketch comedy troupe
BY KAREN MCKEVITT
Originally published by SF Weekly Apr 25, 2001
©2004 New Times, Inc. All rights reserved.
Chicago may be the epicenter of sketch comedy, but Killing My Lobster has the potential to put San Francisco on the map. The group gained notoriety through the San Francisco Fringe Festival and was featured on Comedy Central’s Web site in January. Breaks the Bank is comprised of 10-plus sketches, utilizing a five-piece band, a slide show, and set pieces that work to blur the lines between sketch comedy and theater. What makes KML so good is that its members don’t always go for the easy punch lines — they show their range with one-note jokes as well as more complex sketches that mirror our neuroses and anxieties. Not much about the New Economy or Bay Area life escapes their satire in this show, from the Learning Annex (“How to Be an Evil Super Genius on a Shoestring Budget”) to focus groups about soft drinks to “E Potato” (a site that sells potatoes) to a hilarious musical and dance finale — set to “Hair” — about hippies protesting the price wars at superstores. Of course, some sketches tank, and some, such as the Campbell’s clam chowder slogan campaign, are beyond the pale with raunchiness. Regardless, most sketches are crowd-pleasers.
Copyright 2001 / Vassar Alumnae Quarterly
By Jessica Winum
Killing My Lobster. As a way of saying, “bumming me out,” the words strike some as being funny, others as being, well, just odd. Different strokes for different folks. And that is precisely the point for the San Francisco comedy troupe that chose those words as its name; Killing My Lobster makes its point explicit with a slogan: “Funny can mean different things to different people.”
KML comprises graduates from Brown, Oberlin, and Vassar, the latter being 1997 grads Maura Madden and Abby Paige. The group gives live performances in the Bay Area and produces comedic films, and they have garnered praise and awards such as Best Laugh Factory from the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Best of the Fringe Award at the 1998 and 1999 San Francisco Fringe Festivals. In January, KML had the notable distinction of being featured on Comedy Central Website’s Spotlight section.
Both Madden and Paige developed their comedic talents at Vassar–the former as a member of Improv and the latter as a Happily Ever Laughter cast member. Together they were instrumental in organizing Vassar’s semi-annual Women’s Comedy Night and the annual comic festival Menage á Ha. After graduation Madden meandered out to San Francisco to work in a dotcom company and Paige traveled to Chile on a Fulbright Fellowship, where she researched political humor under the Pinochet regime. Madden joined KML in 1998 and Paige followed her in 1999. Both have day jobs to sustain their comedy passions. In December, VQ exchanged e-mails with the duo.
How did each of you end up becoming a cast member at KML?
MM: I was in Improv at Vassar. Dan Nuxoll ’97, who was also in the group, had a good friend from high school who used to come to visit. Her name is Mara Gerstein, and she went to Brown. She used to check out the Improv shows. In the summer of 1997, after graduating, I moved to San Francisco. I heard that Mara lived in the Bay Area, but I never ran into her until the next spring. It was late one night, at one of the few 24-hour diners in the city. She came in with a huge crew of people, all members of Killing My Lobster. They had just completed a show and were celebrating with hamburgers. Mara told me all about the group and the show they had just finished. I was totally jealous, because I really missed performing comedy. She took down my number and then didn’t call me for a month. When she finally did, it was to ask me if I might be interested in joining the group. I jumped at the chance. From the beginning, we all just clicked. Less then a year later, we convinced Abby to join the ranks. And since then, Susan Maguire ’99 has been involved with several shows as both a writer and a stage manager. She was involved in the first Women’s Comedy Night [at Vassar], and then kept the tradition going after we were gone.
AP: The first year or so after graduation was pretty bleak. I had no idea what I wanted to be doing or where I wanted to be doing it. I spent most of 1998 in Chile. I was given a Fulbright to study political humor as a form of resistance and protest during the Pinochet regime. My senior year had sort of burnt me out on both comedy and academics, so it was probably a pretty bad idea to go the other end of the globe to dedicate all my mental energy to both. But at the time it was a way to escape New York City, where I had sort of mistakenly ended up. Anyway, when I got back to the States I wandered out to San Francisco, planning to be here for just a short time. Maura and I hadn’t been in touch at all since graduation, but I knew that she was one of the few people I would know on the West Coast, so I sent her a postcard or something to announce that I was coming. She had been working with the Lobster for several months by then. I went to a show and sort of shrugged and thought, “Hmm. That was okay.” She invited me to a rehearsal and I thought, “Hmm. That was okay.” And then eventually I was asked if I wanted to try doing a show. And I was wishy-washy. But I decided to do it, cautiously. Really committing to working with the group was a very slow process. I think it took me about a year to really decide that it was what I wanted to do. By then I was sort of already doing it. I mean, I stepped back and I realized, wait, I’m still in San Francisco, I’m going to rehearsal five times a week and administrative meetings in my other free time, or even just hanging out with these people. Oops. I guess I already decided.
When did you start doing comedy?
MM: When I was little, whenever I was in a school play or an acting class, I was always cast in the comic roles. It usually meant that I had a smaller part than I felt I deserved, which upset me, but I always got the laughs, and I loved that.
AP: As is the case, I think, with most people who are involved in comedy, it starts as something like a coping mechanism. I’ve always been shy and as I got older I came to rely on goofiness to mask my discomfort around people. When I left for college I remember making a conscious decision to take risks socially more than I had before, to force myself to be more extroverted. It made the transition much easier. When I got to Vassar my student fellow (Brian Stampnitsky ’96) was just starting Happily Ever Laughter with a few friends and he encouraged me to audition. The audition itself was just awful. I just stunk. But for whatever reason, they took me. That was in October of my freshman year. It went on to be my primary extracurricular activity at Vassar and to really define my time there. Gradually I’ve learned to turn the goofiness on and off, so it’s no longer so much of a crutch for me socially, which is a blessing.
What is it that attracts you to the art of comedy?
MM: First of all, making people laugh is just plain fun. That’s the main thing. I’ve done a decent amount of straight theater, and I enjoy it, but with comedy, the reaction to your performance is immediate and tangible. If the audience isn’t laughing at certain things, you know you’re in trouble, and so you have to try to make it work right then and there, which is intense. You modify your performance to suit the audience’s needs. In comedy, you’re creating a world onstage and inviting the audience to participate. In straight theater, you create a world onstage and just allow the audience to watch. Both are a challenge. With comedy, the “third wall” (the mental division between the audience and the world onstage) begins to crumble. There is a very powerful connection between you and the people in that dark room. When a show is going well, you are completely feeding off of all of this energy – energy from your fellow actors, and energy from the audience. You build something together, which is awesome. And the joy of making people laugh is, for me, unmatchable.
AP: I guess I think that the human sense of humor is sort of an inborn reminder of how small and insignificant we are. It’s like a built-in gauge of humility. And yet because we don’t really know what laughter is or how it operates, it’s also proof that we’re these miraculous, mysterious beings. As much as I love it, though, I struggle with comedy. It’s an inherently critical way of seeing the world, and because of that it can be cynical, petty, destructive. At its worst I think it acts as sort of a defense mechanism, protecting the small, cowardly parts of us. Don’t get me wrong, people need defenses. I need them. But cynicism doesn’t offer alternatives or any kind of hope. I think the best stuff reveals vulnerability—either in the comic or in whatever he or she is making fun of. My favorite jokes uncover the lies that we tell ourselves and others, and that society as a whole perpetuates. I think that’s part of what was so exciting about The Kings of Comedy, and I think it’s part of what’s great about a lot of women comedians—Carol Burnett, Gracie Allen, Lily Tomlin, Moms Mabely. A joke can be this beautiful affirmation of what’s true. That’s what I’d like to be able to do.
What does the slogan “Funny can mean different things to different people” mean and how is that interpreted in KML’s comedy?
MM: The world does not share a common sense of humor. In Killing My Lobster, we perform the things that make us laugh as a group. But even within that group, there are varied senses of humor. We just try to offer a lot of different things for the audience to watch. At Vassar, a lot of the comedy was very dark and edgy. Our stuff has a goofier feel to it, and I personally have more fun performing goofy stuff. And as it turns out, other people seem to think that our stuff is funny, too. Which is nice.
AP: I think the extent to which we collaborate and the lengths to which we go to respect each individual sense of humor in the group is part of what makes Killing My Lobster unique. That’s what the motto is about. We aren’t together because we have a single, monolithic comic sensibility. It would probably be easier if sometimes we did. It makes communication extraordinarily important, at every step in the process. It requires a real appreciation of comedy, even comedy that you don’t really get. You have to be able to look at a joke or a bit and say, “I see what’s going on there. I’m not laughing, but I see why you are.” And for some reason I think we’re all able to do that, to be cracked up just as much by jokes that we don’t really get as those that are tailor-made for our sense of humor.
What do you feel is comedy’s role in helping people to think about and discuss controversial issues such as racism, sexuality, gender, sexism, classism, and politics?
MM: I think the best comedy is surprising, and when you surprise an audience, you force that audience to look at something in a new light. In that way, comedy can be used as a tool to inspire discussions and debate about the problems of our society. It can illuminate certain discrepancies and maybe even suggest solutions. But I don’t think that all comedy needs to inspire fierce discussions and political change. Sometimes, comedy just helps us cope with the fact that we live in an imperfect world. I admire people who have an agenda when they perform, but for me, the politics is secondary. The jokes come first.
AP: I do think that humor can ease tensions and create dialogue between people. Jokes are ways of admitting weaknesses, expressing fears, and revealing deep dark secrets. Or ways to point those out in others. But I think also that most people don’t deeply consider their reasons for laughing or not laughing at different things. So my professional opinion is, I’m not sure. It definitely can have a role, but I think that role is as dependent upon the audience’s desires and intentions as it is upon the motivations of the performer.
Do you feel that because you are women in the field that you have a special role or that the field is especially challenging?
MM: Men continue to dominate the world of comedy, which can make things more challenging at times. But it’s not like that in our group, which is part of why we love it so much. The “special role” that I see myself having is to be an example to other funny women out there. By succeeding, even on a small scale, we get to show people that men don’t need to be dominating the field. Ladies are funny, and just by being out here and making people laugh, we help to make room for other funny ladies.
AP: We’re extremely fortunate to work with men who deeply consider how women are represented in the group’s work and who respect the ways that our humor can differ from theirs. It’s something that’s very consciously considered in the writing, rehearsal, and performance process. Unfortunately I think that’s a pretty unique situation. But, yes, it’s different for women, absolutely. I always feel frustrated when someone comes up to us after a show and says totally incredulously, “Wow! The women were really funny!”, as though such a thing is totally unthinkable. And these are people you know, and whom you know to be intelligent and thoughtful. A lot of them are women! For me, that’s the hardest part, coming up against this hard-core proof of the sexist attitudes that people don’t even know they have. I mean, people don’t control what they think is funny. It’s a completely subconscious mechanism that makes you laugh at something. If you don’t think women are funny it’s not necessarily because you’re a shameless, flaming misogynist. It’s much more subtle than that, therefore, much more difficult to bring into people’s consciousness, let alone change. But really good comedy works on a deeply subconscious level, so I think you can touch that part of people, force some kind of recognition of the way they think. But I also realize at some level that even if I’m super duper funny, there are going to be people who I just can’t get to because I’m a woman. That does infuriate me. And it’s painful to come up against those attitudes in myself, too. Not so much feeling them as looking at my writing and thinking, “Wait, why did I just assume that this character should be a man?”, or walking out of rehearsal kicking myself and thinking, “Why am I playing that character so . . . masculine?” It can be a challenge to find a funny way around that first impulse without feeling like your just making some token feminist gesture.
What do you think it is about KML that has turned it into such an acclaimed and award-winning group?
MM: Everyone in the group is really funny. And everyone is committed to producing work of a very high quality. We spend an insane amount of time rehearsing. And performing. And hanging out. We’re all best friends, and I think that audiences can tell how much love and respect we have for one another, and how much fun we have performing together. And I think we’re all smart people, and we want to produce smart comedy. And I firmly believe that smart comedy can be absolutely goofy.
AP: Well first of all, I would like to note that we have gotten our share of bad reviews and “constructive criticism”; acclaim is always hard-won. That said, frankly, I think it’s how much we like each other. Talent is important. And so is drive. I think we have both of those. But when you’re talking about ten to twelve people living and working and collaborating together almost every day of the week, I think it can only come down to how much we care about one another. I think that that trust is palpable when we’re on stage together.
What significance does being in the spotlight on Comedy Central’s Website have for the group?
MM: It’s a great opportunity for us to reach a new audience. It’s nice to be recognized by the people at Comedy Central, and to be given a venue to show our stuff, even if it’s not national television. We were featured on their Web site as the Spotlight artist, and we had our own section. We gave them a number of short films, as well as some flash animation pieces, some audio bits, some text, and some sort of a Web frame for the whole thing. So it’s given people an opportunity to work on projects that we’ve put off for a while. I think it’s going to be awesome.
AP: The Spotlight is a relatively new feature on the Comedy Central Website; I think they’re still figuring out how to utilize it. But because of that they gave us a lot of latitude and in a lot of ways let us define what we would do. We really wanted to take the opportunity to create new work and see what we could do in a different medium. And I think we’ve done that. We’ve shot new films, there were a few Flash animation pieces, there were daily features and weird on-line games. Besides being a showcase for new and different work by the group, it’s also a nice little bit of recognition for us. I mean, we don’t really have a good idea of how many people will have seen it or what it will have meant for us professionally. Certainly if somebody with some kind of authority in the entertainment business saw it and decides to give us a million dollars to act stupid on TV once a week, I’m not sure we’ll say no. But mostly it’s personally gratifying to get some kind of larger-scale recognition and exposure.
Did your time at Vassar have anything to do with your current success as comedians?
MM: Before I came to Vassar I wanted to be an actress or a writer. And then I arrived in Po-Town. The first time I saw Improv, my first semester freshman year, I thought, “I can do that.” And the next semester I auditioned and got in. Performing in Improv was invaluable training for me. Getting up onstage without a script and having to make people laugh is a crazy thing to do. Group dynamics were hard sometimes, especially as one of the few women in the group. So it toughened me up. But it was also incredibly fun. I learned a lot from the people I was working with at Vassar, both in Improv and in the other comedy groups. The Menage-a-Ha shows my junior and senior year, which involved Improv, Laughingstock, and Happily Ever After, were great collaborations. And finally, the Women’s Comedy Night that Abby and I organized our senior year with Jessie Klein ’97 was an incredible experience for me. It was the first time I wrote material for myself, and it was a great success as an eye-opening event. I had women coming up to me and saying, “Thank you for that show. I didn’t think that women were as funny as men. Now I know they are.” It was shocking to hear that sentiment coming from Vassar women, but it made me realize how pervasive these “women aren’t funny” stereotypes are. And it made me realize that the best way to combat those types of stereotypes is to just go out there and make people laugh.
AP: I was a Latin American Studies major at Vassar, and I was totally in love with what I studied. I feel so blessed to have been able to do that. I was really entrusted with my own education. Which meant that I was able to seek out all kinds of stuff that no textbook—or even professor—would’ve led me to. That was how I ended up doing academic work on comedy—comedy in Cuban cinema, political cartoons in Mexico, and ultimately the work on political humor during the Pinochet era. The amazing thing about that kind of an education is that you leave college not just with the tools for a career, but with the tools to be the person you want to be, however corny that may sounds. Of course the fact that extracurricular organizations received such healthy support at Vassar, and we had rehearsal and performance spaces we could use, and we had a supportive, friendly, sometimes coddling audience, made it possible to experiment. Maura and I organized the first Women’s Comedy Night during our senior year, which was our first experience of doing comedy with only women, and it was a phenomenal experience. Susan Maguire ’99, who is hilarious, was in the show. That kind of thing is a major challenge to put together in the real world. There we had very few practical worries. We were able to concentrate on the creative process. It’s great that we got pampered like that; now everything takes money and massive amounts of leg-work.
What kind of work have you done in film?
AP: We’ve both done a bunch of film work, starting with student films at Vassar. Since college most of the film stuff we’ve done has been Killing My Lobster-related, starting with The Blue Hole, which we shot in the spring of 1999. It’s a weird little movie about three friends stuck at a mysterious Northern California tourist attraction. In the past two months we’ve shot four shorts, which were on the Spotlight section of Comedy Central’s Website in January. Those projects were especially exciting. Three of them are based on favorite old sketches; the fourth was entirely improvisational, shot in a San Francisco office building over the course of a full day. So we were essentially improvising for like 10 hours. It was great. It’s totally different from performing live. We’ve been creating a lot of new material for this Comedy Central site, and it’s been a lot of work, but it’s been good for us to break the routine of writing and rehearsal for the stage shows.
How does working in film differ from live performance and which do you enjoy more?
MM: It differs in so many ways. I love doing both. When you’re doing a film, or when we’re doing a Lobster film, in particular, it’s like being at a weird party. All of your friends are around and you’re trying to make them laugh, except they’re filming it. So you get to work in this very intimate way with a group of people. But the nature of film requires you to develop reactions in an instant, instead of over time, which is a huge difference. And everything is out of context, and out of order, so it requires a different type of concentration and energy. Of course, no one is laughing because they don’t want to screw up the sound. So you have to have faith in your performance more than you do with a live show. A live show requires a huge amount of preparation as an actor, and then you do it and then it’s over. But the ephemeral nature of it is what makes it so precious. And showing your work to a new group of people is so exciting. So for right now, I am happy to be able to do both.
AP: Part of what I love about comedy is the extent to which the performer is in dialogue with the audience. Your choices vary entirely according to how the audience is reacting to you. So I love the immediacy of live performance. The seems to be a sincerity and vulnerability to it that I like. Which is probably why it’s so much worse to sit through a bad play than a bad movie. Film offers a lot more possibilities, obviously. You have complete control over the timing, you direct the audience’s attention to wherever you want it, you shoot the whole thing in a swimming pool filled with chocolate sauce. You can’t do those things on stage. It’s just an entirely different medium. It’s a shame that people even think they’re related, actually, because I think they probably are about 2% similar and 98% completely unrelated.
How do KML shows evolve?
AP: We’ve been producing about three stage shows per year, sometimes four. Each production runs for three to five weekends and includes anywhere from 12 to 20 sketches. Those sketches are produced in the first few weeks of the production process. People bring the material they’ve been gathering and we meet and give feedback and play around with ideas and basically just try to make each other laugh. Usually we try to build a show around a theme, which we use to guide our writing (Killing My Lobster Races the Dead (death), Killing My Lobster Pants on Fire (lies/deception), Killing My Lobster Throws a Hissy (anger), Killing My Lobster Packs a Lunch (work)). Usually the whole process only lasts two or three weeks, though we all try to keep writing even when we’re not in production. The collaboration really starts happening once rehearsals begin—that’s where scripts really get transformed. We make mistakes or discover nuances or disagree on details, and those are the things that get incorporated into the sketch. We rehearse five or six times a week. Weekday rehearsals are usually for three hours after work; then we do four hour rehearsals on Saturdays and Sundays. Things pick up, of course, in the last couple of weeks. Then we usually do four or five hours every day. During the run we just do one rehearsal a week to keep things fresh, run over problem areas, and try out changes. That’s in addition, of course, to doing the administrative and promotional work necessary to keep the group on the map. We assemble mailings, maintain a mailing list, send out press releases, put together press kits, take press photos, print posters and go all over town putting them up, maintain the Website, organize fundraising efforts. So it’s a lot to do in addition to a day job. And trying to maintain normal relationships with each other and people outside the group. It’s a lot, but when we have a little downtime, I miss it.
Do you both have jobs outside of KML?
MM: I’ve had a series of jobs since moving out here. My last job was as an associate editor at an adventure travel Website. But I got dot-comed and now (in late December 2000)I’m unemployed.
AP: Ah, the day job. Talk about a reminder of how small and insignificant I am. When I first came out to the West Coast I temped. I didn’t think I’d be here long enough to make a permanent job make sense. Then for a long time I was the office administrator at a little massage school in Berkeley. That was a great job to have while I was getting settled here. In November I started working for a children’s software developer. I’m writing dialogue for the characters in a CD-rom game for little kids. I have no idea what I’m doing. I do a lot of nodding and cautiously tossing around computer lingo—upload, interactivity, user interface icon. I feel like a pygmy who just got plopped down on Wall Street or something. But it’s new and different and creative, and one of the other Lobsters has worked there for some time, so they understand that essentially I have another job. You can only like even a really good job so much when you know there’s something else you want to be doing. But I’m happy in my current situation. I’m balancing everything.
What are your plans for the future, both within and out of KML?
MM: Killing My Lobster is planning three San Francisco shows for next year: spring, summer and fall. Each one of those shows will have completely original material. We may or may not take one or more of those shows on the road. We hope to shoot some more short films, perform at strange venues, and we’ll keep trying to get the L.A. people to come and see us. Outside of KML, I want to write more solo material and write a screenplay for a feature length comedy. And I’d like to try doing stand-up, but there aren’t a lot of great venues in San Francisco for stand-up. So that may just have to wait until I decide to move back to New York, when and if that ever happens.
AP: I’m still operating very much in the short-term, as I have since I left Vassar, so I’m not really working on plans for the future, so much as I’m working on structuring my present life and cultivating vague fantasies about where it might take me. I’d like to make a living doing comedy. I’d like to live a life not circumscribed by the San Francisco public transit system. I’d like to move back home to Vermont eventually. But for now, I’m most interested in improving as a writer and performer, which means I’m trying to learn focus and discipline. That’s my current project: consciously structuring my life in a way that will encourage creativity and make my work better.
What advice would you give to a young comedian who is about to graduate and hopes to follow in your footsteps?
MM: You absolutely have to keep performing. If you have people that you love working with, start a group after graduation. Or do stand-up. Or play banjo on the street in the freezing cold until someone shuts you up with a contract. Whatever. Just don’t give up.
AP: First I’d say, don’t do something that’s related to what you want to do—do what you want to do. Martha Graham said something that I try to have guide me in my work. I almost know if by heart, so hopefully I won’t completely misquote her, but basically she says that there’s a vitality, a life force that’s translated through you into action. And because there’s only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium. It’s not your business to determine how good or valuable it is, nor how it compares to other people’s expressions. It’s just your job to keep the channel open. You don’t even have to believe in yourself or in your work. You just have to stay open and aware of the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. I’d say that. I think it has something to do with creating the kind of life where you can allow those feelings and inspirations to lead you. I’d also say that if anyone figures out how to do that, I’d really appreciate it if they’d give me a call, because I haven’t the slightest.
(photo by: Juliet Gray)
Jamba Juice (Paul Charney ’95) foils the plans of Starbucks Latte (Marc Vogl ’95) to dominate the world beverage market.
A sketch-comedy troupe that could make Sartre giggle.
Coypright 2001/Brown Alumni Magazine
By Amanda L. Katz ’00
Walking into Killing My Lobster’s fall show—especially a few days before Halloween in a city that takes the holiday very, very seriously—is enough to convince any recent Narragansett Bay area–San Franscisco Bay Area transplant that she’s stumbled into a personalized haunted house. In fact, though, the eerie familiarity of the crowd is not a manifestation of the occult: it’s just a sign of the Lobsters’ popularity among Providence expats. Killing My Lobster Races the Dead is the latest production of Paul Charney and Marc Vogl, who in 1996 cofounded the hit sketch-comedy troupe and multimedia task force Killing My Lobster. The group’s shows have sold out San Francisco theaters, charming audiences with their exuberant blend of wit, absurdism, and slapstick. Original sketches are the centerpiece of productions that also offer a talented live band, musical-comedy numbers, film clips, T-shirt giveaways, and the occasional naked cast member.
This year’s Halloween show featured Mara Gerstein ’98, Daniel Lee ’95, Brian L. Perkins ’96, and Jon Wolanske ’98, along with an equally Brown-influenced behind-the-scenes team. At the October 27 performance, the show, described by the eight-person troupe as “comedic vignettes for the existentially challenged,” began with a sketch starring a little girl whose talk-show-host frog, Morty, had come to an untimely end. As the girl sniffled through Morty’s last show—with the late frog himself ensconced in a tasteful black box—she received a dramatic boost from an unexpected barbershop quartet. The cast slid from weirdo cable-access show format into classic vaudeville convention without losing a beat, flashing confidence-inspiring familiarity with both of the genres they were tweaking.
Killing My Lobster loves to take language literally, and the group clearly recognizes the comedic virtues of repetition and of making a big mess. One of the quickest, strongest bits involved the job interview of a supermodel (sporting, naturellement, a daisy-studded blond ’fro and a pea coat) who turned out to be drop-dead gorgeous: her potential colleagues entered one by one, gaped in amazement, and crashed to the floor, sending papers flying.
But perhaps the best surprise of an evening with Killing My Lobster is that they avoid what many of us fear from sketch comedy: the leaden unfunniness known to drag down Saturday Night Live at 12:45. They’re even daring enough to flirt with it. At mid-show, a sketch about a shrink who jocularly pointed out to a homicidal patient that he was “a fuckin’ psycho” collapsed the audience’s hopes for a moment. Hmm, that wasn’t very funny. But then we discovered, in a modern-day Blow-Up–esque twist, that this scene had just been raw material for the real funny part. Armed with a remote control, two other cast members demonstrated that the scene could be played backward, slow-motion, and in a whole slew of languages to isolate a moment in which we learned that, well, “Jaime es muerte.” In their comedic race with the dead, Killing My Lobster turned out to be two steps ahead of the living as well.
Killing My Lobster are the January featured artists on the Comedy Central Web site (www.comedycentral.com/spotlight/).
Amanda Katz works as a writer and copy editor in San Francisco.