Category Archives: Interviews

Meeting Mr. Reynolds!

Courtney Reynolds is a stand up comedian working in Philadelphia, he also hosts If You’re Reading This Quit Your Day Job in New York City. David Luna recently traveled to the big city to document the comedy and a small chunk of the life of Courtney Reynolds.

You can learn more about Courtney by following him @FullCourtComedy

This video was made in collaboration with the Something Art Coalition

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Open Those Doors and Enjoy What You’ve Made – Checking in with Sea Tea Improv

A few years ago, Briana Haynie compiled a series of oral histories about the founding and development of Sea Tea Improv. Over the past year they ran the most successful kickstarter for a comedy theater ever and on August 20th they officially opened their doors to the public! We spoke to Julia Pistel, a founding member and managing director of Sea Tea Improv, in the fleeting calm that would follow opening weekend…

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As a founding member of Sea Tea, how does it feel to come this far?

Amazing. It has been so intense for the last year—the founders and owners are just trying to catch our breaths and enjoy what we’ve done. It’s funny, I was going through some old emails—someone was asking us for milestones—and I don’t remember this, but some of our founders were talking about opening a theater one day. Back in 2010 that was unrealistic, so it’s really something we’ve been working slowly but very steadily towards for seven years. It’s really exciting to have those doors open and get to work.

I imagine the role of Managing Director changes from theatre to theatre depending on size and content. Describe your role as the Managing Director for those who may not know what that is.

Let me start by not answering your question and describing the Artistic Director first, and then I’ll describe the difference between the two, because that’s where it gets interesting.

The Artistic Director, as we see it, is to make sure that everything that is happening within the theater is excellent. Of course, that can mean a number of different things. It can be the best improv you’re ever going to see, it can be some really experimental stuff, it can mean including a lot of people. His job is basically to make sure what happens on the stage is reflective of the quality that we want to see and bring to Hartford and Connecticut.

My job as the Managing Director is very different. It’s to keep the doors open, keep the place running and make sure we stay alive. What my job covers right now is a really interesting question because I’m in transition. Until last week, the main focus of my job was to make sure the construction project got finished. Now that it is done, my job is managing the staff that’s working and running the theater; building community relationships and connections to help build out the audience; to keep an eye on the big picture, making sure everything under the umbrella is getting done; and making decisions about what our priorities are as a company to make sure we are fulfilling our mission.

Continue reading Open Those Doors and Enjoy What You’ve Made – Checking in with Sea Tea Improv

Trickle-Down Humanity from Amy Alkon

When looking for advice you may reach out to a friend or loved one. If you are particularly lonely you could seek counsel from a psychologist, a televangelist, or even a bottle of drugs. Pretty lame options considering you could always email a real-life goddess known for her red hair and deep fascination with evolutionary psychology. Though it never occurred to me to ask her for advice, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with…

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What was your first published work?

I wrote a column for my high school newspaper. I won an award, and I thought, “That’s cool.” I wanted to do it some more because when you do something well and people give you some props, you keep doing it to keep getting those props.

What were some prime motivators at that stage in your life?

I grew up in suburban Detroit, in the whitest neighborhood. Even the Puerto Rican people and the black people seemed kinda white. It was very character-free, so my great ambition was to get out of there and go to New York City. That was my prime motivator: You have to do well so you can go places and get out of Farmington Hills, Michigan.

Have you been to New York recently?

I was there a few years ago. I lived there for a long time in various slum apartments. I paid $937 for a 10×12 room and I was dating a guy who had an eight-room, pre-war apartment on the Upper West Side on Weston Avenue for $400. That’s rent control in New York. I could never manage to get that rent-controlled apartment. In my last apartment the landlords were in the Mafia, and you pay your rent on time when the Mafia are your landlords. They were great landlords. They always fixed things and were really nice. I saw my landlord being hauled away on garbage-piling violations on one of those newer “Nightline” shows. All of these places were herbal-dumpy-slum apartments. Living in Venice, I live in a little house and it’s so fantastic. If you’re having a miserable day, you look out the window and there are palm trees and hummingbirds and you think, “Oh, I won’t kill myself today because it’s so pretty out.”

What was your favorite part about living in New York City?

I give advice for a living, science-based advice, and my house right now looks like a giant fire hazard with a bed and an oven because I have these books and papers and scientific journals all over the place. But one of the pranks that my friends and I did in New York was to give free advice on the street corner. We called ourselves The Advice Ladies. We were only going to do this once because we liked to make people laugh and make ourselves laugh.

We had a servant for a while but he fired us–it was a BDSM thing and we weren’t really into that. We just wanted to have him come to our friend’s apartment and have us throw a ball across the floor so he could catch it in his teeth and crawl back to us. Then he said, “My former mistress peed on me.” And I’m like, I’m from Michigan! I’m sure there are people who do that in Michigan, but I wasn’t one of them.

We would have these adventures, and with the Advice Ladies it was so much fun. Our sign said “free advice.” We thought about doing it like Lucy from “Peanuts,” but we thought, “Who’s even going to pay a nickel?” People lined up! It was amazing–New York, free, they lined up around the block! It was fun and interesting and we really helped people, the miracle of miracles. People started asking us serious questions. We had examples on our sign like “wigs and beards, directions and nail biting,” but people would ask us serious questions. I’m thinking, “Oh my God, I didn’t even take psychology in college.” So I started reading through all of psychology. I would read through Freud and realize, “Holy shit! He just made stuff up!” I became a fan of Albert Ellis who started cognitive behavioral therapy. He and Aaron Beck created it both separately and together. It was based in reason, and he became a fan of my work. I told him I didn’t even have a PhD and he told me, “To know what you need to know, it would be a waste of time.”

Sonja Lyubomirsky researches happiness. But I look at her work and all this other work, anthropology and psychology, and I bring it in when I’m answering questions, since I do this science-based advice column that’s also funny. I translate it to normal-person language from professor-ese and try to give people some direction on the stuff they’re doing outside of the perspective of, “Hi, I’m a girl and I publish out of my house because someone gave me an advice column because they didn’t have anybody else to write it at the newspaper.” I just don’t know how other columnist can do that–give their opinion based on nothing.

What advice do people tend to seek from you the most?

It’s generally dating and relationship advice and occasionally manners, because I wrote the book Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say Fuck. People write me saying, “My neighbor’s doing this horrible thing. What should I do?” A lot of stuff people ask me I don’t put in the column because their questions are boring, but I print the interesting ones. The big problem is that people think the world should be a certain way and it should work the way they think it should, but it doesn’t work that way. There are ways things work and they may be counter to people’s intuitions, so I lay out what the science says why, especially evolutionary psychology. It’s explaining that in ways that makes sense and giving practical advice–that’s basically what I do every week.

Kill Myself

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Safe in an Unsafe Space with Toby Muresianu

Toby Muresianu is “a very funny engineer” working in California. His show, Unsafe Space, brings together comedians and experts to discuss pressing issues that face us today.  David Luna recently spoke with Toby about the show and his approach to politics and comedy.

How’s the year been for you as an entertainer in the most entertaining year of our contemporary history?

I’ve had a lot of good, entertaining years in my lifetime, but this is probably the most ridiculous, in terms of politics. It’s entertaining. I feel like I’m a pretty boring person. I always enjoyed things being more boring and safer and better for more people rather than exciting but also terrifying. People always tell political comedians “You must be so glad that there’s lots of material with terrible politicians!” and I’m like yeah, but I’m a person first. I’m not that greedy that I’d rather live in an awful country with plenty of fodder for material.

How long have you been doing stand-up?

About 14 years now. I got off to a slower start. I was one of those guys who did it once a month, and then I got into it gradually, more in earnest around 2006. I started when I was a freshman in college so most of my focus was on studying and college stuff.

Are you pursuing comedy full time? What are your personal goals as a human being?

I had been an engineer at Microsoft for a couple of years, and then I left to do app development and stand-up comedy. I’ve done that for a number of years. Sometimes I’d be making my living doing comedy and not focusing on apps, and sometimes that would flip-flop. It’s always been a bit murky. I’ll take side jobs, engineering on a comedy podcast, working for Uber and then blogging about it. Generally, I’ve been a comedian more than anything else, doing tangential sidework related to comedy since 2009. The idea of “full time comedian” is kind of murky. I could make a living if I stayed on the road all the time, but recently I’ve been staying in LA more to focus on stuff here.

What have been your most fulfilling experiences as a comedian?

In 2013 I did the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the first time; I did an hour long solo show. Doing that and having a big crowd some days, just for me, that was the first time I’d consistently do an hour. I’d done it sporadically before that, but this was the first time it was my full show. I’m doing an hour every night, not filling it with crowd work. It was all material that I’m proud of, not throwing in hacky jokes to fill the time.

I was also running a show at the time, a compilation show. I was running two shows a day; it was a very hard experience. You’re in charge of promoting a show, everyone who comes in is coming exclusively to see you, and when you have a shitty set you take it personally because there’s no one else to blame it on. You’re responsible for it when it’s finished, but on the flip side, when it goes well, by the end of run you’re firing on all cylinders and it’s really rewarding.

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What are you involved with at the moment?

I always bite off more than I can chew, which is a blessing and curse. Right now, my big project is Unsafe Space, which is a live show and a podcast that I co-produce with my friend Lou Perez another comedian. It’s a live show where people do stand-up on controversial topics, and then there’s a response from experts in the field and a discussion with the audience.

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A Biography Calculated to Drive You MAD – An Interview with Bill Schelly

In 2015 Bill Schelly completed HARVEY KURTZMAN: The Man Who Created MAD And Revolutionized Humor In America a book which he spent four years writing. Harvey Kurtzman may not be a household name, but his creations certainly are, and Schelly outlines their importance as such:

[MAD created] satire of popular culture figures, political figures, products, the consumerism that was rampant after [WWII]. Everybody had to have their new toasters or cars with fins or whatever. Satires of consumerism is one of the major things that MAD did, of course this was picked up by Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons and everything else. Harvey Kurtzman’s influence in humor is incredibly important… Think about it like this, here you are, some kid in a little town in the south. Yet, a magazine that’s really subversive can reach you at your little corner store, and every kid can get this for ten cents. It slipped completely under the radar and was available for purchase to a million people, every issue. It’s quite an interesting way of getting underneath the repressive forces of society.

We recently spoke to Bill Schelly about the journey of chronicling Harvey Kurtzman’s life and massive catalogue of work.

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What in your personal life brought to you Harvey Kurtzman prior to writing the biography?

I’m a baby boomer that grew up in 60s, so I’m an old guy that was exposed to MAD coming after Harvey Kurtzman had left. But in the early 60s they were reprinting a lot of his issues in the MAD paperbacks. A lot of those paperbacks were brought home by my brother and then by me, so I was reading comics created by Kurtzman and his collaborators when I was a kid. As I got older, I started reading Little Annie Fanny in Playboy; when you’re going through puberty it’s particularly… interesting. As I got older, and seriously interested in comics, I started reading some of his actual issues of MAD that I got my hands on, and his more serious work in war comics.

As you note in the book, they took Harvey Kurtzman’s name out of the reprints in the paperbacks. Did you seek out his work specifically, or did you notice a theme in what you enjoyed through life and in his work?

I got involved in the early stages of Comics fandom in the 60s and people were researching who did the old comics; many of them weren’t signed. I found out that Kurtzman had done those MAD paperbacks that I so enjoyed. I started connecting the dots between that and Little Annie Fanny and his other works. Suddenly, I realized this guy had done tremendous work that I really loved and was superior to others around him, so I realized this was a pretty remarkable person and started seeking out more of his work.

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Timing: A Conversation with Gabriel Gundacker

In December of last year I visited Chicago for the first time.  I got a taste of greasy-delicious food, street music, magnificent architecture, and passionate protests against a corrupt mayor and local government. This was my kind of town. After a long day, Taylor Goebel and I got to sit down and chat with a fine mind, the gifted comedian and musician…

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David Luna: Were you raised religious at all?

Gabriel Gundacker: Lutheran.

Taylor Goebel: You still into that?

GG: No, I never liked church, really. It always seemed like work, you know? I don’t think I ever really bought into it.

I remember you had to get confirmed. And there was this time where my pastor was like, “God’s been around forever”, explaining this concept to me. And I was like, “How? I don’t understand. How has God been around forever?” So she’s like, “that’s good, you’re asking questions. I like that.” And then she moved on. I was like, “What are you talking about? You’re congratulating me, but you didn’t answer my question. What do you mean God’s been around forever, how could we possibly know that?”

And she was like, “I like that you’re asking. These are good questions.”

DL: And then she never answered?

GG: Well, obviously because there is no answer.

I got confirmed, and she was like, “Gabe’s great, because he asks questions whenever.” And I was like, “No, I’m not right for this, very clearly.”

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Crowdfunded Comedy: Reviving Print Humor with The American Bystander

The Annual wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for crowdfunding, so we aim to boost up other comedic projects whenever possible.

 The American Bystander is a new humor magazine that came to publication following a successful Kickstarter campaign last November. They’re just about finished with the second issue and need your help to bring it to print. Last week we spoke to Michael Gerber, a founder and publisher of The American Bystander.

In your publisher’s letter from Issue 1 of The American Bystander you wrote “It isn’t even really a magazine. This is willfully re-launching the Titanic, knowing full well it will sink…” Do you still feel this way going into issue two?

Well, it’s funny because people have asked about that. I was partly trying to play against type because those letters are like the statement of principles in Citizen Kane. A guy sits down and scrawls the way that they’re going to change the world, and I really felt like that was not the right mindset to be going into this with. The first thing that you should know about me is that I’ve been trying to do a magazine like this since I was 22 years old and I’m 46 now. I’ve seen them come and go and I know a lot about how The [National] Lampoon worked.

Maybe five years ago, I heard from a friend of a friend that Rob Hoffman, one of the three people who founded The National Lampoon, was very ill and was probably going to die. So I called him up out of the blue, he didn’t know me from anybody, and I called him up and said “Mr. Hoffman, I just want to thank you because nobody knows that you were the person who put together the money, put together the deal, worked with Matty [Simmons] to get it all set up so Henry [Beard] and Doug [Kenney] could do their work. Nobody knows how important you were” The difference between The Lampoon and every other humor magazine before and since has been someone like Rob Hoffman at the front.

I’m no Rob Hoffman but I guess I wanted to say in that letter that we want this to turn into whatever our readers want it to turn into. If that means that it’s a grand success and has a lot of money to spend and heralds in a new golden age of this material, great! If it turns out to be just one issue or two issues, that’s okay, too. Because we’re really just following what the audience seems to want.

Issue #1 of The American Bystander
Issue #1 of The American Bystander

The typical way that people do this is they come up with a business plan and a way of repeating what the Lampoon guys did, which is pump it up into something huge and sell out after five years or whatever, and walk away never having to work again. That’s a very contemporary way of looking at things; “I’m going to start a humor magazine so I can get rich.” That’s not how Punch was started; that’s not how Mad Magazine was started. For anything that lasts over a decade you have to have a different kind of attitude. So I was poking fun at that vain, glorious situation. But I was also trying to check myself to sort of say “the point of this isn’t in five years to have The American Bystander’s version of Animal House. The point is to follow our staffers and say what do you want to do? What’s interesting and challenging? What does the world need? Not what can we sell for a big pay day.” We know what that is and we know it’s what already exists out there. It’s the lowest common-denominator stuff. By saying that, I want to say to us on a managing side and to the contributors: Look, we don’t expect to walk away millionaires from this. We expect to make beautiful stuff and that’s what we expect from you. And that’s what we expect from our readers too. We want them to enjoy it on that level, not be perceived as something we’re selling to advertisers. Their attention and their eyeballs. That’s very different than a corporate magazine or a corporate website, and I want to start out with that idea.

Continue reading Crowdfunded Comedy: Reviving Print Humor with The American Bystander