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Thursday
Apr032008

Character Sketches: Larry Murphy By: Neil Padover

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usLarry Murphy would like to tell you about his new business venture, a children's entertainment company called Puppets & Such; Larry's primed and ready to puppeteer at kids' birthday parties across all five boroughs. The problem with birthday parties though, is that there's not much repeat business; turns out they only come around once a year.

The failing entrepreneurial puppeteer is just a character--one who made his debut in May of 2007 when Larry performed for the first time on Invite Them Up, the downtown show which put Rififi on the map as a hub for contemporary comedy. Murphy's bit pits an outwardly very nervous Larry against a foul-mouthed, arrogant Boston police officer named Dennis Gazza, who also happens to be a puppet. When Gazza tires of bantering with Larry he offers up his own repertoire of "cop stories" which hilariously end up going nowhere. It is the way in which Larry shifts effortlessly between the voice of the shaky puppetmaster and his dead-on caricature of a Boston cop which reminds us, "Oh yeah, this is an act." This man on stage is not a nervous failure at all, but a smart performer, adept at creating a familiar, yet absurd, world around him onstage.

Born and raised in Abington, Massachusetts, Larry Murphy was "always a clown," but a rejection letter from the Massachusetts College of the Arts turned him towards a more serious path. He joined the Navy at age nineteen and upon discharge, took a job in sales with Bose, a Framingham based audio equipment manufacturer. It was a few degrees of separation which finally brought Larry to the stage: a girl he was dating in 1997 had a cousin who lived in Somerville, Massachusetts, who just so happened to be roommates with Patrick Borelli, who at the time, was just starting out in comedy himself.

Through Borelli, he connected with Eugene Mirman and Brendon Small (who later became Larry's sketch partner). He started going to Mirman's shows at the Green Street Grill for a couple of weeks before finally getting up on stage to perform. When I ask him about early characters Larry is hard pressed to remember any specific premises.

"Those first outings were really just extremely uncomfortable," Larry admits. He never did a traditional stand up act but neither, it seems, did anyone else at the Cambridge restaurant. "Everyone at that point was doing whatever they wanted really... it had as much to do with people having no idea what comedy was supposed to be, so it was really, really outlandish." Borelli and Mirman's bits were always the most outrageous, Larry recalls.

When the trio of Borelli, Mirman, and Small formed P.S. Absurdo, a Friday night show at The Comedy Studio in Harvard Square, Larry became a frequent performer collaborating on sketches with Small. Larry spent the next few years working for Bose by day and honing his sketch chops at The Studio every Friday night. Every now and again he would record character tracks for the animated shows Home Movies and O'Grady, both produced by Soup2Nuts (the people behind Dr. Katz).
It was through Soup2Nuts that Larry found his biggest gig to date: voicing all of the main characters for Adult Swim's animated show Assy McGee. The show chronicles the exploits of a New Hampshire police officer who is, literally, a walking pair of butt-cheeks. Originally pitched by Jon Benjamin and Jon Glaser as one of a group of shorts, the network liked the premise so much they opted to turn it into a series. Still, even with this type of mainstream success Larry continued to hold down his job at Bose.

Eventually reaching his breaking point between juggling a full time job and side projects, he decided to move to New York and pursue comedy full time. Happy about the move, Larry doesn't gloss over the past. "I think I was kind of always telling myself I was doing something else other than sales. I was doing that show weekly on Fridays. I felt like the voiceover stuff was an artistic outlet. I'd take a couple days off work and record a couple episodes of O'Grady. Eventually it became a case of why am I doing this when I really don't like it. I was pretty happy when I was in a position where I could not work there anymore."

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usLarry says it was good fortune, a mutual admiration, and a friendship formed back in Boston that led him to link up with his new collaborator Greg Johnson. The Greg Johnson Show, which had already been at Rififi on Friday nights for two years and had been experiencing a major climb in popularity, became The Greg Johnson and Larry Murphy Show on August 24th, 2007.

Now, Fridays are once again Larry Murphy's night to showcase his versatility, his ability to delve in and out of absurd yet endearing characters. Among the characters in his repertoire, all developed and performed since he's gotten to New York, are Nervous Guy (a hapless stand-up comic who reads his bits from another comic's notebook), Marlon Brando (Larry as Brando in a robe performing excerpts from a fictional play written by the deceased actor), and Sal Lupo (a cab driver from Canarsie trying out stand up comedy for the first time).

"I think I just had one of those weird cab drivers when I first moved here who wanted to talk to me more than I wanted to talk to him. And he definitely wasn't from Canarsie," explains Larry about the development of Sal Lupo. "I looked at a map and picked Canarsie because it seemed far enough outside New York that it could be its own thing. I like making someone all about a place. There's a Boston thing to it. There are plenty of people in Boston who are all about where they come from, what they do."

Most of Larry's writing process, he admits, doesn't involve writing at all. "I work it out beforehand mostly in my head and eventually I might write it down but I've never sat down and just created something. I definitely try to not have it so worked out that you can't discover something new on stage." Larry finds some of the funniest elements of his act purely by accident. When he first brought Puppets & Such to the stage, Larry went to adjust the microphone with the puppet still on his hand. The effect was Officer Dennis Gazza twisting the mic stand with his mouth until it was just the right height. The crowd thought it was a part of the act; they loved it. And so a new piece of that tapestry was woven.

Larry's approach to performing is what comedy could use a little more of. He takes careful mind of each subtle gesture he makes on stage, and how it plays. He challenges the audience yet remains accessible and alert, staying aware of what they're reacting to. He creates characters which offer up some kind of dramatic tension--a format mostly shaped by his background in sketch. Mostly though, Larry Murphy understands what makes a live comedy performance so special, what sets it apart from all of the video and animation under the sun.

"Performing on stage is the most superior thing you can do as far as performance goes because it only lives and breathes for that audience for whatever amount of time you're on stage and that's it."

References (2)

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    Character Sketches: Larry Murphy By: Neil Padover - The Apiary - The Apiary - A Comedy Website
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    Market Research Vietnam is a leading Asia focussed marketing strategy consultancy firm.

Reader Comments (1)

Awesome article! Bigg Upps to New England comedians!!!
April 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commentersoce

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