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Entries in UCBT-NY (36)

Thursday
Mar312011

INSIDE WITH: STEVE SOROKA & MAMRIE HART OF BŌF

Matt Fisher, Steve Soroka & Mamrie Hart | Photo: Eric Michael PearsonBy: Meghan O'Keefe

Friends are people who see the best in us and like us for it. Best friends are people who see the best and the worst in us and still love us for it. Mamrie Hart and Steve Soroka are best friends who combine their friendship and their foibles to create the sketch group, BoF. In their latest show, “BoF: It’s Pronounced Boaf!” the duo combines upbeat dancing, dreams of pop stardom, the trials of unemployment, and the importance of Lifetime movies in a delightful and hilarious show. We spoke to Mamrie and Steve about BoF's origins and which one of them is most like Blanche Devereux.

How did each of you get started in comedy?
Steve: I moved to New York right after college and kind of sheepishly putzed around for long time. I would lie to friends about doing stand up. Then one night a friend took me to an improv show -- against my will, because I hated improv -- and I really liked it. So I started taking classes and hanging around and it was a lot of fun. Improv led to sketch, which led to videos. It's a slippery slope!
Mamrie: Well, like a lot of folks, I moved up here to pursue serious acting. I found myself working really hard to find auditions and then showing up and thinking, "Oh no no no no. Even f I got cast in this, I would be too embarrassed to even invite anyone to it" -- Joey Tribbiani (of Friends) stuff. So I decided to take a writing class to develop my own stuff, and I can contort my face to such levels of ugliness that I thought it a shame to not try comedy!

Photo: Eric Michael PearsonIn the show you guys say you first met in 2007 and have been inseparable best friends ever since. When you first met did you instantly know you would also be comedy partners?
Mamrie: Tell em Stevie!
Steve: I’m not sure we still know if we'll be comedy partners! We met in a writing class, and I remember it was the first day and another student had just presented their sketch and the class was giving notes on it. As I was about to say something, Mamrie chirped in with her opinion and it was the same exact thing I was going to say. In that moment I thought, "Do I like her or do I hate her?" And then after class she was the first one to agree to get drinks so it was kind of fated.

What is your writing process like? Do you guys base sketches on improv or shared stories or original ideas?
Mamrie:
We play heightened versions of ourselves. So, from there, the sketches start with one of us pitching a simple scenario that would be fun to see these two characters play out. Something as normal as running into an ex or being unemployed can lend itself to a lot of silliness. You will never see Steve being kidnapped by aliens and Mamrie going undercover to save him. Unless.....
Steve: While we never get on our feet and improvise a scene, there really is a strong improv vibe to the writing in that we'll have a simple idea and then heighten and heighten and find what we find funny about it. We always try to make ourselves laugh and that usually involves some aspect of a true story. And of course, drinks! 

Audience participation is something that is essential to improv, but rarely seen in sketch comedy, yet you guys incorporate it fully into your show. How did you decide to do that?
Steve:
We wanted to break up the rhythm of the show with something so it wasn't just six or seven scenes back to back. And so much of BoF is us being ourselves that it seemed natural to interact with the people at the show, talk to them, and have them be a part of the show. My favorite part might be when an audience member realizes they are about to play a character in the next scene. Although we are very careful to not embarrass them! And you never know what people are going to do, so it's nice to have a bit of controlled chaos to keep us on our toes.
Mamrie: We love adding the element of improv into the show, but in a controlled way. So it's fun to interact with audience members, but with a pretty tight plan as to not make them feel uncomfortable. I know that when I go to a show and they pull people up, I get automatic douche chills. But in our show, we never embarrass anyone. Except ourselves.
 
If you could compare your chemistry to any duo in history, which one would it be?
Steve:
Is it too lowbrow to say two of The Golden Girls? Because I'd say I'm a mix between Dorothy and Sophia and Mamrie is a mash up of Rose and Blanche, right down to her southern lilt! We emulate the sense of warm familiarity with and underlying jovial disdain.
Mamrie: Blanche Hollingsworth Devereux and Sophia Spirelli Petrillo Weinstock. Obviously, Steve is Blanche.

Mamrie Hart and Steve Soroka answered the last question without consulting each other, which would explain why they disagreed on who was most like Blanche.

Friends are people who see the best in us and like us for it. Best friends are people who see the best and the worst in us and still love us for it.  Mamrie Hart and Steve Soroka are best friends who combine their friendship and their foibles to create the sketch group, BoF. In their latest show, “BoF: It’s Pronounced Boaf!”, the duo combines upbeat dancing, dreams of pop stardom, the trials of unemployment, and the importance of Lifetime movies in a delightful and hilarious show. We spoke to Mamrie and Steve about the origins of BoF, how they get their inspiration, and which one of them is most like Blanche Devereux.

 

How did each of you get started in comedy?

Steve: I moved to New York right after college and kind of sheepishly putzed around for long time. I would lie to friends about doing stand up. Then one night a friend took me to an improv show - against my will, because I hated improv - and I really liked it. So I started taking classes and hanging around and it was a lot of fun. Improv led to sketch, which led to videos. It's a slippery slope!

Mamrie: Well, like a lot of folks, I moved up here to pursue serious acting. I found myself working really hard to find auditions and then showing up and thinking, 'Oh no no no no. Even f I got cast in this, I would be too embarrassed to even invite anyone to it". Joey Tribbiani (of Friends) stuff. So I decided to take a writing class to develop my own stuff, and I can contort my face to such levels of ugliness that I thought it a shame to not try comedy! 

 

In the show you guys say you first met in 2007 and have been inseparable best friends ever since. When you first met did you instantly know you would also be comedy partners?

Mamrie: Tell em Stevie!

Steve: I’m not sure we still know if we'll be comedy partners!  We met in a writing class, and I remember it was the first day and another student had just presented their sketch and the class was giving notes on it.  As I was about to say something, Mamrie chirped in with her opinion and it was the same exact thing I was going to say. In that moment I thought, "Do I like her or do I hate her?" And then after class she was the first one to agree to get drinks so it was kind of fated. 

 

What is your writing process like? Do you guys base sketches on improv or shared stories or original ideas?

Mamrie: We play heightened versions of ourselves. So, from there, the sketches start with one of us pitching a simple scenario that would be fun to see these two characters play out. Something as normal as running into an ex, or being unemployed, etc can lend itself to a lot of silliness. You will never see Steve being kidnapped by aliens and Mamrie going undercover to save him. Unless.....

Steve: While we never get on our feet and improvise a scene, there really is a strong improv vibe to the writing in that we'll have a simple idea and then heighten and heighten and find what we find funny about it. We always try to make ourselves laugh and that usually involves some aspect of a true story. And of course, drinks!  

 

Audience participation is something that is essential to improv, but rarely seen in sketch comedy, yet you guys incorporate it fully into your show. How did you decide to do that?

Steve: We wanted to break up the rhythm of the show with something so it wasn't just 6 or 7 scenes back to back. And so much of BoF is us being ourselves that it seemed natural to interact with the people at the show, talk to them, and have them be a part of the show.  My favorite part of the show might be when an audience member realizes they are about to play a character in the next scene. Although we are very careful to not embarrass them!  And you never know what people are going to do, so it's nice to have a bit of controlled chaos to keep us on our toes. 

Mamrie: We love adding the element of improv into the show, but in a controlled way. So it's fun to interact with audience members, but with a pretty tight plan as to not make them feel uncomfortable. I know that when I go to a show and they pull people up, I get automatic douche chills. But in our show, we never embarrass anyone. Except ourselves.

 

If you could compare your chemistry to any duo in history, which one would it be?

Steve: Is it too lowbrow to say two of The Golden Girls?  Because I'd say I'm a mix between Dorothy and Sophia and Mamrie is a mash up of Rose and Blanche, right down to her southern lilt!  We emulate the sense of warm familiarity with and underlying jovial disdain.  

Mamrie: Blanche Hollingsworth Devereux and Sophia Spirelli Petrillo Weinstock. Obviously, Steve is Blanche.

 

Mamrie Hart and Steve Soroka answered the last question without consulting each other which would explain why they disagreed on who was most like Blanche.

 

BoF’s next shows are April 1 and April 22. Both shows are at 7:30pm at the UCB. “BoF: It’s Pronounced Boaf!” stars Mamrie Hart, Steve Soroka, features Matt Fisher and is directed by Mike Still.


Monday
Mar282011

THE HONEY SHOT - FAMBLY

Photo: Chris Kelly

  • THE PLUG: Don't miss "Fambly," performing TONIGHT @ 9:30PM at The UCBT-NY | $5

Wanna plug? E-mail me photo & credit. And join our flickr group. Send 10 days in advance.

Thursday
Jan132011

THE HONEY SHOT - ABBI CRUTCHFIELD

Abbi Crutchfield | Photo: Living Room Comedy

  • THE PLUG: Don't miss Abbi's one-woman show, "Not Getting It: Rejection and Resilient Ignorance," happening TONIGHT @ 6:30PM at UCBT-NY | $5
  • THE BLURB: "On a quest to salvage her ratings, life coach-turned-TV personality Dr. Newberry invites her viewers to participate in a slogan writing contest. The responses range from death threats to epithets and she couldn't be more honored."

Wanna plug? E-mail me photo & credit. And join our flickr group. Send 10 days in advance.

Wednesday
Dec222010

THE HONEY SHOT - PRINCE PAUL

Prince Paul | Photo: Soce the Elemental Wizard

  • THE PLUG: Don't miss Prince Paul and P.FORREAL in "Negroes on Ice," happening TONIGHT @ 8PM (and THURS, DEC 23 @ 8PM) at The UCBT-NY | $5

Wanna plug? E-mail me photo & credit. And join our flickr group. Send 10 days in advance.

Wednesday
Dec152010

THE C WORD @ THE UCBT-NY - 12.9.10

Pam Murphy | Photo: Ari ScottBy: Lucas Hazlett

There's an old cliche that states, "Time + Tragedy = Comedy." If that's true, then consider Pamela Murphy a comedic-quantum mechanic who throws a few new variables into the mix. With her one-woman show, "The C Word," Murphy demonstrates that comedy could perhaps more precisely be defined as "Time + Tragedy + A Series of Tightly Written Sketches Performed With High Energy and Inimitable Commitment."

Directed by Second City alumnus Rebecca Drysdale, "The C Word" opens with Murphy explaining to the audience that the journey she is about to take them on -- a journey that seven out of eight women fail to make -- started three years earlier when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer.

Calling it a "gift" she "didn't know she wanted until she got it," Murphy presents a tableau of absurd characters and painfully awkward scenarios that she experienced over the subsequent three years. To wit, she finds herself listening to a meathead doctor tactlessly explain what she could expect in the aftermath of her surgery ("Imagine a bowl of rice. Now imagine 2% of that bowl of rice"). She deals with a friend whose alternative-medical suggestions include the healing properties of the island on LOST, and anthropomorphizing a coping mechanism that rationalized six months of cancer treatment downtime as "lying around, eating crap, watching television and being considered a hero."

All of this is performed with a diligence that balances the ridiculous and the relatable in such a way that by the time Murphy recreates failed attempts at picking up men and suffering friends' attempts to commiserate through the most obnoxiously tenuous comparisons of tragedies, the audience nearly forgets the real miracle: That Murphy beat breast cancer.

"The C Word" is as good a show as it should be. Great writing and great direction aside, its success rests primarily on the strengths of Murphy as a comedic performer, who proves her real gift by simply walking out on stage, introducing herself and savoring one of the night's richest laughs.

  • THE PLUG: Don't miss "The C Word," happening MON, DEC 27 @ 9:30PM at The UCBT-NY | $5

--Lucas Hazlett is a comedy geek who improvises with anyone he can. He has performed with Nobody's Token in their monthly variety show "The Soul Glo Project" at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and performs monthly with Herschel at the People's Improv Theater.

Thursday
Nov182010

IMPROV TO GET EXCITED ABOUT

Prof. Londonderry Kirkus & The Hogwarts Improvisation Society | Photo: Sarah Willson

LISTEN UP, MUGGLES! Satisfy both your inner-Harry Potter fiend and long-form improv fix this weekend at The UCBT-NY. Starting on Friday night at midnight, The Kirk Cameron Repertory Players Present: A Harry Potter Musical! will show you the seedy underbelly of J.K. Rowlings's Satanic empire. Fun fact: "J.K. Rowling" is an anagram for "WITCHCRAFT IS EVIL, JESUS IS GOOD." Then on Saturday night at midnight, The Hogwarts Improvisation Society will wave their wands to create scenes and scenarios out of thin air. Rictusempra, Sonorus!

Monday
Nov152010

Citizen Rothstein @ UCBT - 11.12.10

Nicole Shabtai in "Citizen Rothstein" | Photo: Melissa Gomez

By: Lucas Hazlett

Earlier this year, legendary theater scribe and executive producer, David Mamet sent a memo to the writing staff of the since-canceled television show "The Unit" wherein he proffered advice on how to avoid writing bad drama that bores audiences.

Among the list was the simple idea that "anytime two characters are talking about a third, the scene is a crock of shit." Well, it isn't often that maxims of this power are challenged, let alone successfully. In the one-woman show Citizen Rothstein, the audience is treated to six different characters talking about a "third" and never once is shit-crocked.

The brain child of writer/performer Nicole Shabtai and director Caitlin Tegart, Citizen Rothstein is a 30-minute character study centered around Ava Rothstein, a privileged 13-year-old girl who is days away from a highly-publicized Bat Mitzvah promising to be the social event of the season.

Though we never actually see Ava, we learn about her through a gauntlet of troubled friends, family and personal employees who shape the context of her adolescent life. From Ava's mentally-broken rabbi, whose reluctance to perform the ceremony parodies the opening moments of Apocalypse Now, to Real Housewife Jill Zarin desperately fishing for an invite via incessant Facebook videos, Shabtai and Tegart delicately navigate Ava from a spoiled brat to troubled youth to fetishized fashion accessory, creating an engaging tableau evoking the screwball pictures of George Kukor and Woody Allen's Jewish neuroticism.

Citizen Rothstein has all the elements one expects from a good show, namely, big characters with clearly defined behavioral quirks and strong points-of-view, but because of the compelling narrative around which the piece is wrapped, it never feels like anything other than theater.

It is a comedic-drama that explores the tragedy of characters who are ridiculously overwhelmed with the absurd pressures they're facing in life, in this case, being rich on the Upper East Side.  And because Shabtai delights in the struggles of her characters, who are essentially hapless victims of circumstance, the audience takes delight in both laughing at and commiserating with the affected.  It's an incredible testament to a writer/performer who I don't see requiring any memos from the desk of David Mamet any time soon.

  • THE PLUG: Don't miss Nicole Shabtai in "Citizen Rothstein," happening WEDS, NOV 24 @ 8PM at The UCBT-NY | $5

-- Lucas Hazlett is a comedy geek who improvises with anyone he can.

Monday
Oct252010

The Sit Down and Shut Up NYPD Variety Hour @ UCBT-NY - 10.22.10

Photo: Ben Stadler

By: Lucas Hazlett

The Sit Down and Shut Up NYPD Variety Hour is 30 minutes of well-crafted, pun-laden cop humor involving three NYPD police officers (Joey, Patty and Davey) trying their hands at comedy, proudly exclaiming in the show’s opening number: "We’re cops, hilarious cops!" Thankfully, they are revealed to be so much more.

Writers Adam Levy, Conor Izzet and Darren Nelson, all former sketch students at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, have crafted a slick combination of comedy and tragedy, offering a sharp, refreshing perspective on what could have been nothing more than cliched retread of standard vaudeville.

Joey, played by Dan Black, is a stereotypical Brooklynite who makes no bones about the fact that he views his wife Sheila and her best friend Tanya (played by Kate Riley and Nicole Shabtai) as over-the-top, gum-smacking loudmouths. His fiery repartee with the two women borrows from a tradition of blue-collar sitcom characters who hate their wives yet are unable, for whatever personal flaws, to leave them. The constant swing between high-status torturer and low-status whipping boy intimates a modern kindred with TV-culture icons Archie Bunker and Al Bundy, ultimately creating an immediate likability that saves the character from itself. The way Black approaches Joey, with constant winks and nods to the audience, allows the character to become the joke when so many of the jokes he tells are inevitably humorless.

Beth Appel plays Patty, the lone female officer desperate to shed her butch affectation by revealing a series of romantic exploits with fellow officers. Though this character is funny and has her moments to shine, she is easily the weakest of the three officers and her presence sometimes feels shoehorned. I suspect this has more to do with the difficulty male writers have with convincingly writing a female voice. After all, her character’s depth is explored via sexuality. Despite that handicap, Patty is never reduced to mere totem through which male characters learn and evolve; an accomplishment owing more to Appel’s subtle performance and natural charm than the material itself.

Shaun Diston’s Davey, an African-American rookie cop who’s hazed by Joey and lusted after by Patty, delivers one of the more memorable moments of the night -- a delightfully heartwarming solo spinning anew the relationship between cop and donut. Davey earnestly laments being the "only chocolate donut in the box" whose heart has a “donut hole” in it. It’s a clever song that gets laughs, but it’s also here where the soul of The Sit Down and Shut Up NYPD Variety Hour truly emerges.

It’s not about cops poking fun at their loveless marriage, hopeless romanticizing or ignominious rank. The Sit Down and Shut Up NYPD Variety Hour is about pathetic characters making pathetic attempts at escaping the lives they’re doomed to remain in. In this way, above all, the writers and cast successfully tap into the true spirit of the American narrative: chasing down a dream that will never be arrested.

Lucas Hazlett is a comedy geek who improvises with anyone he can. He can be seen performing in the monthly variety show “The Soul Glo Project” at The UCBT-NY and with Herschel SAT, NOV 6 @ 11PM at the Peoples Improv Theater.