Chicago's Shock T's can't seem to stay away from Charleston, and for good reason. To explain the draw of our fair city, troupe member Sarah Shockey resorts to a Harry Potter analogy: "If I had to choose the moment to conjure up a patronus, I instantly go to the first night we performed in Charleston," she says. "There was an electricity between us and the audience, and it was really the moment where I realized we could be something big. I'm pretty sure we got offstage and all chanted, 'That's how it's done!' a bunch of times. It was love at first sight."
The musical threesome has gained many local fans thanks to catchy and comical tunes like "Dude, Come On," "Younger More Successful People," and "Barbie Girl." Since their last local appearance in May, they've gone to a handful more festivals around the country, refining their act and generating new material.
"Stylistically, we're exploring a lot of really fun ways to write and perform songs," says Tyler Paterson, who sings and plays guitar. "It's pretty cool to throw a metal riff into a folksy sounding song and have it fit because of the tone that we set, or make the acoustic guitar sound like a dance/pop song because vocally we're doing something cool. Having that creative freedom opens up a lot of doors, and even helps me bump our older material to the next level because I'm having fun with it. Maybe I'll throw in a trill, or bounce the rhythm a bit, and then it feels fresh again."
Shockey adds, "There are a couple real new [songs] that are a little more absurd, which had us dying laughing while we were writing them: 'Art Bro' and 'Alienz.' We love writing about things that we all have a lot to say about. Usually it will be something small that all of a sudden we find out we all share a viewpoint on and then bust out a song from there."
Member Tim Dunn says they also have a fun call-and-response tune to share with the crowd, and they've updated some older tunes as well. "For me, I'm inspired by just looking at life as brutally honest as possible," he says. "That's what makes me laugh. A comedian friend of mine recently commented on the careers of our 'comedy class' by saying, 'Wow guys, we're really doing it.' To which I could only respond, 'We are four years in and no one is making any money.' Stuff like that."
Shockey says her troupe-mates have started to feel like family — they even celebrated Christmas together. And that camaraderie shines through in their shows. "I think we present ourselves as who we really are onstage," Shockey says. "The conversations between songs are never the same, and we love cracking each other up. The audience gets to be a part of a friendship like that for a little while, and then we also have these songs that we just love. I think it's clear how much we enjoy performing, and then when they respond so warmly, it just makes this big ball of energy that's special to the show we all experienced together."
Matt Griffo is basically a funny guy who plays a few instruments and writes a few songs basically inspired by things like how people overuse the word basically.
"I'm basically in love with my basically attractive woman," he sings over the phone from Chicago. "I'm basically satisfied with my basically normal job. I'm basically working at my job and not pretending to work. I'm basically happy with my weight when it's off my mind."
A Second City alum, Griffo developed his comedic and musical chops concurrently, training as a music director at the comedy school and theater. Although he'd played piano and ukulele as a kid, he never took lessons. "I kind of just made it up [with piano], and the same with ukulele," he says. "So all my experiences were with improvisation, which worked really well."
Griffo started out working with various comedy groups at Second City, helping them refine the musical side of their shows, improving songs, structure, or just adding stage presence. "When you're improvising and you have no idea what is happening in the scene, it's OK to be like, 'Dance break!', and all of a sudden do a dance," he says. "Audiences love dancing, so it's totally cool to do that."
While he still helps other groups with their shows, Griffo is more focused on his own music these day. Popular tunes include "My Racist Grandpa," "The Gays," and "Bottle Water Rag." "The way I do it, I usually get a tune and I'll just start to sing lyrics which are very serious and it will come to a point where there will be a punch line and I fill it in," he says of his process.
He also wrote the tunes for The Jersey Shore Musical last year and a love song to Hillary Clinton, but he generally tends to avoid topical themes. "I invest so much time into writing the song, and then it would be over and I would be so upset about it," he says. "So I just stopped writing topical songs. It's not like a joke, where a comedian can write a joke, and it is a one-minute joke. It takes time to write music to all the lyrics."
New York and Chicago might be the capitals of American comedy, but Boston, with its whip-smart Ivy League students, is where many comics cut their teeth. ImprovBoston has been one of the region's leading comedy theaters for 28 years, and they're sending four of their floaters to town for Comedy Fest.
Managing Director Zach Ward is no stranger to the fest. He's the founder and former artistic director of DSI Comedy Theater in N.C., but he's been working with ImprovBoston since 2011. He says we can expect the company's signature fast-paced free-form improv. "No party games, no gimmicks, just 30 minutes of exceptionally smart, truly inspired, improvised comedy from one audience suggestion," he says.
Ward tells us that the company has definitely benefitted from Boston's intellectual bent. "Over the last decade, comedy, especially improvisation, has developed as an intellectual artform, a theatrical game of chess," he says. "I think ImprovBoston has thrived not only because of the critical mass of patrons who truly appreciate the work we present on stage, but due to the students of comedy who more quickly become performers and push the work further, taking risks in performances that people in other markets may not have."
Fri. Jan. 18 and Sat. Jan. 19, 10 p.m. $12.50. Woolfe Street Playhouse