Collingswood show features New York, Philly comedy vets
My friends are not coming over to my house and performing in a talent show.
Not going to happen.
Sarah is three keys shy of off. Derek can hardly handle his baton — yeah, I said it. You think that’s parade-ground ready, Derek? You think we’re walking under giant Snoopy at the Macy’s Day if you keep bringing that weak game?
And Craig’s only talent is that he keeps getting out of bed every morning.
Hey, you know who doesn’t have this problem?
Carolyn Busa. This South Jersey native decided she wanted to give back to her former stomping grounds (Collingswood) by throwing a fundraiser, and all of her funny friends came out of the woodwork to show the love.
Isn’t that nice?
Currently a Brooklyn, New York, resident, Busa has a strong affinity for the place where she cut her comedy teeth and jumped at the opportunity to organize a show that would help support the borough’s Community Theatre organization.
“Yeah, I do shows every week in New York and I love it,” she says. “But there’s something special about Collingswood and that small-town feeling of a night on the town.”
So, get in the Collingswood state of mind (pomade your beard, leash your urban chicken, compost your compost … ) and prepare for a night of big laughs for a worthy cause Thursday, July 28, at the Scottish Rite Auditorium.
Can you tell me a little about the Collingswood Comedy Night? Was this an idea you’ve been kicking around for quite some time?
In a city like New York, a lot of people are chasing the same dreams as you and it’s hard not to compare your path with the path of someone else who may be succeeding more than you. I mean, this goes with anything, not just comedy. And I think selfishly that I needed a reminder that I have grown as a comedian and wanted to come back to Collingswood, a place that has always supported me, and show off a little.
What kind of role has South Jersey played in your development as a performer? Were you inspired to pursue that path by any of the influence or direction you received here?
I don’t think if I started doing comedy in a big city like New York I would have had the confidence I do now. Starting comedy in New Jersey and Philadelphia allowed me to screw around and quite frankly, suck it up for awhile until I found my voice.
No, no — it’s wooder. Come on now!
I definitely think people from the South Jersey and Philly area are funnier. I remember my freshman year of college talking to my roommate as I do normally, not trying to be funny or show off and she kept saying “You’re so funny” and things like, “Who says that?” and I was like, “What are you talking about, I’m just describing taco night at the cafeteria.” And I remember a few of my friends from Collingswood sharing similar stories.
I don’t know what it is. We’re more liberal here? We live close enough to a city so we have that sarcasm but far enough way that we aren’t angry all the time? Maybe it’s because we live in this “Gilmore Girls”-esque town and know too much about everyone and we’re too comfortable around everyone? Whatever it is, I freakin’ love it.
What prompted your move to Brooklyn, and how has it been adjusting to that environment?
I moved to Brooklyn almost three years ago. I wanted to move there earlier but kept finding excuses not to, like “Ugh, renting a U-Haul seems so stressful,” and “Will the baristas in New York be as nice as they are at Grooveground?” Really silly excuses because I was scared.
But I knew if I wanted to really pursue comedy and get better, I’d have to go to the big leagues. I kind of felt stuck in my career down here and was ready to see if I was capable of better.
Living (in Brooklyn) has truly been great. I love it and can’t think of living anywhere else. But my first year … sucked. I basically started over in the comedy world even though I was doing it for a few years. You have to learn the scene and who’s cool and who is giving you spots because you’re a new, cute girl, versus who’s giving you spots because they actually think you’re funny.
Are there any correlations you can make between Collingswood and Brooklyn? Any overlapping attitudes?
People in Brooklyn have something in them that wants to see change or do something different and I see that in Collingswood, too. Collingswood is not afraid to try something new, whether it’s a brewery — and it’s about time! — or a new music festival.
I’d say Collingswood is definitely creeping up the cool scale. Even that … vacuum store on Haddon Avenue is starting to look cooler, right? Oh, and I’m convinced the taxidermy store is a secret speakeasy.
What was it like selecting the lineup for this show? Did you feel at all like you were assembling your ultimate Dream Team?
Chip (Chantry) is actually a friend I made while doing comedy in Philly. He travels around the country performing and this isn’t his first Collingswood show. He’s actually my mom’s favorite, so I knew I had to bring him back.
Khalid (Rahmaan) grew up in Brooklyn in the same neighborhood I live, Crown Heights. He taught me everything I know about running shows in New York, as he is a producer of shows himself.
Liz (Barrett) cracks me up so much. We’ve bonded many a night over awkward shows. She just had a headlining night at Caroline’s.
I met LeClerc (Andre) through Khalid and I believe they are still roommates. I actually used to think he hated me and when I told him that he was shocked. His impression of his mom will make you snort.
Ben (Wasserman) is a great friend of mine and helps me produce my comedy show, “Side Ponytail.” What’s great about Ben is he tries something different almost every time I see him perform. He does great characters or mind games and a lot of audience interaction. He oozes enthusiasm and I think he’s my No. 1 fan, which helps!
No thought too small
Comedian Khalid Rahmaan uses his smartphone to record and flesh out joke concepts.
I use my smartphone to stalk video game message board threads without ever contributing to the conversations.
How did you get into the comedy space? Was this an easy path to follow, or a decision you struggled to make?
Khalid Rahmaan: I was the best man at my friend’s wedding six years ago. I took a chance by putting lots of jokes in the speech and the 300 people in attendance really loved it. Their laughter got me hooked. After about a year of being afraid to really go for it, I started going to open mics and attending shows constantly. I’ve been doing it ever since.
I’ve heard musicians say they will compose a song in their head before actually sitting down to write and construct it. Does the same hold true for comedians? Do you think through a joke, map it all out and then bring it to an audience?
I write down funny things that happen to me or ideas that occur to me in a notes app on my phone and then I flesh them out into jokes later. I’ll usually try jokes out at open mics a few times, tweak them some and then roll them out for show audiences.
What’s it like being an entertainer in New York? Are you glass half full (so many venues, so many comedy lovers, lots of talented people collaborating) or half empty (lots of competition, too many nightlife options to split crowds)?
New York is a great place for a comic. Some of the most talented comics in the world live and work here, so there’s constant motivation to get better to compete with them. When you perform at clubs in New York, you know there’s a chance that you’ll have to follow someone like Louis C.K. or Amy Schumer, so it keeps you sharp. New York is also great because you can get on stage multiple times per night at open mics or bar shows to practice.
In your experience, do people have enough respect for comedy? Do you think Joe Average recognizes it as an art form, or is the attitude more like: hey, I’m funny at the office, I could be funny on stage?
Comedy isn’t all that well-respected, partially because most people only see the best pros and they make it look so easy. The average person thinks they’re very funny and could be a comedian … if only they didn’t have to do the getting up in front of strangers part. It makes sense, because everyone at some point has told a joke. As a comic, you get lots of advice from audience members. The strangest one I ever got was, “You should wear more yellow.” Huh?
Do people in this neck of the woods seem to “get the joke”?
I’ve performed in Philly once and it was one of the best crowds I’ve ever been in front of. Hoping to keep my extremely short winning streak alive!
Get out of my mind
Ben Wasserman is not only a talented comic, he also moonlights as a mentalist.
YEAH, BUT WHAT AM I THINKING RIGHT NOW, BEN? HA, JOKE’S ON YOU, I WASN’T THINKING ANYTHING.
Were you born and raised in New York City, or did you move there to pursue your career? Why does that region end up being the destination for so many performers? Is it as simple as making sure you have access to the industry?
Ben Wasserman: I was born in Long Island, just 30 minutes outside the city, but I’ve always liked to say that I was raised by wolves. Of course, that’s not true, but a boy can dream. I moved to Brooklyn when I was 19 to be closer to school, work, and ultimately, find wolves. I didn’t think about comedy as something I could do until a few years ago, so I just lucked out already being in NYC. That said, I think the reason so many performers end up in New York is because the rent is so cheap, and if they are like me, to find wolves.
Do you have a firm game plan in mind when approaching a comedy set, or are you able to call an audible if needed? If, for instance, it’s clear the crowd isn’t working with you on a particular evening, can you go off-script and experiment a bit, or is it safer to just get offstage quickly and intact?
A lot of my “stuff” depends on interacting with the crowd — and if they don’t seem to be into what I am doing, then usually I will shout something at them like, “LOOK FOLKS, THIS IS THE BIT TONIGHT, SO EITHER GET ON BOARD OR I’M VERY SORRY.” That usually seems to do the trick. But the plan approaching a set is always the same: make the audience laugh a lot.
In your experience, what kind of person is more likely to attend a comedy show: someone who truly appreciates the medium and is a veteran of clubs and shows, or a relative newcomer looking for an alternative night out? Or is it more like a cross-section of both segments?
Depends on the show. Some shows you will have “real” comedy fans — those are fun. And other times the crowd will mostly be people who are regretting their decision to come to the comedy show. Those are more fun. Who I’ve never seen at a comedy show, unfortunately, is the cute barista I have a crush on.
Is regional humor important to you, or does that feel cheap in a sense? Will you, for example, be riffing on cheesesteaks Thursday at the Scottish Rite?
Regional humor is the most important to me! A good comedian can connect with their audience and “local laughers” — what I call such jokes — is a great way to establish that connection. But I don’t think I will be riffing on cheesesteaks. That’s because since last week I’ve been camping out in Collingswood in order to study your peoples, their language, culture and customs. All in preparation for Thursday’s fundraiser. My only sustenance has been grilled cheese sandwich crusts dug out of Pop Shop’s garbage, and water from the pond here in Knight’s Park. But it’s all worth it. In fact, I have been writing a short play about Collingswood that I will share at the show. So yeah, no riffing.
IF YOU GO
Collingswood Comedy Night gets underway Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Scottish Rite Auditorium, 315 White Horse Pike, Collingswood. Tickets are $15 and include your first drink. For more information, go to www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2560900