We’re currently profiling the comics in the St. Louis scene. We’ll be covering a range of comics from seasoned pros, to open mic comics booking their first shows. Our goal is to give you a glimpse at who you can expect to see, no matter where you experience live comedy.
DESCRIBE YOUR MATERIAL/STYLE OF PERFORMING TO SOMEONE WHO HASN’T SEEN YOU
I like to over analyze things. I have some one liners but mostly it is extended bits about some stupid thing I’ve thought about way too much.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST EXCITING THING, PERSONALLY, THIS YEAR, ABOUT STAND UP?
Just recently went on a trip to Memphis and Nashville. Performing in front of out of town audiences is always a great change of pace, and I also was able to make a lot of progress on new jokes. Made me excited to travel more and really put in the work to get my set more polished.
CURRENTLY, WHAT’S THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU ARE WORKING TO OVERCOME, IN STAND UP COMEDY?
When I originally filled out this form, I said the biggest challenge was finding enough stage time to finish working on new bits. For the longest time, I would start working on an idea, then not be able to perform it frequently enough, and it would stop working or not progress enough to stay in my act. This was made even worse because I often had to spend an entire week writing and rehearsing for Fatal Bus Accident.
Well, soon after I submitted my answers, new open mics popped up on Tuesday and Thursday. Now there are viable options to get onstage any day during the week. I’m finally feeling like I have a rhythm with my writing process. Also, going on short tours every couple months has been great, and given me more long sets to work towards.
I guess the biggest challenge for me right now is figuring out how to get in at clubs out of town. I know how to find other comics and get on their independent shows, but most clubs are still a mystery. If I want to record an album next fall, I’m going to have to find more opportunities to do 30+ minute sets. I recently got to do six long sets over 3 days at Helium, and I felt like I made a month’s worth of progress over that short amount of time. I need to create more opportunities like that for myself.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST COMEDY GOAL FOR THE NEXT YEAR?
Next fall I’m recording a comedy album. Between now and then, I want to take all my bits apart and put them back together again. Really get my existing material to be the best it can be. And write probably 20 new minutes.
WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WISH YOU’D KNOWN BEFORE YOU STARTED PERFORMING?
You have to ask for stuff. People that run cool shows and book clubs forget about everyone that isn’t asking them for spots.
IF YOU WERE A BEVERAGE, WHAT WOULD YOU BE?
I have no idea but I’m drinking a Manhattan right now so let’s say that.
PICK ANY HORROR MOVIE. HOW WOULD YOU SURVIVE?
It Follows. Move to another continent for a few months. See how long the monster takes to go halfway around the world. Then move to a new country every how often I would have to to stay ahead of it.
We’re taking a minute to show you some of the great performers who’ll be walking the boards of the stages in The Grove for Flyover Comedy Festival.
Jeremy Hellwig is one of the co-creators of Fatal Bus Accident. See them tonight at The Improv Shop at 10:30!
What are you looking forward to most at the festival this year?
This episode of Fatal Bus Accident is going to be really fun. I’m looking forward to performing in it and I am especially looking forward to being done working on it. I’m also really excited about meeting a ton of new comics and hanging out and watching shows and going to the City Museum and stuff.
When/where are you performing at the festival?
Fatal Bus Accident on Thursday and Adult Spelling Bee on Saturday.
Seldom will this site post things of a bragging nature, but we feel comfortable in staying that this piece will serve, as the headline suggests, The Ultimate Primer of Fatal Bus Accident’s upcoming presentation of Beowulf. The production’s set for June 2 at the Improv Shop and info can be found by clicking this “hotlink.”
The quick version of the evening is described by FBA like so: “We are doing Beowulf, the oldest English story and second most famous English story about Denmark. Unlike literally every movie adaptation, we found a way to make it better, instead of worse. Get excited.”
For further information, we sent a series of questions to the show’s four creators: Jeremy Hellwig, Amy Milton, Stryker Spurlock and Jon Venegoni. In reading through them, you’ll get a sense of how this upcoming stage play came together and what to expect on the night of production, though Spurlock’s appear to clash with the others with some regularity. Within the context of all four, truth will be found.
What’s each of y’all’s background with Beowulf? Favorite story? Saw the movie(s)? “What’s Beowulf?”
Hellwig: Stryker and Amy started talking about doing a Beowulf adaptation over a year ago. I didn’t know much about the story, so I picked up the phenomenal graphic novel adaptation by Santiago Garcia and David Rubin. After finishing that, and doing some Wikipedia research, I became concerned that 1. The story is kind of terrible, and 2. I had no idea how the hell we were going to do it onstage. So, I asked Amy and Stryker how much they knew about the story. Stryker had seen the movie in 2008, and Amy read it back in high school or something. They literally knew less about it than I did. After some deliberating, we decided to scrap our original idea of doing a straight adaptation with our recurring characters playing characters from the poem (think Muppet Treasure Island, or when Family Guy adapted Star Wars) and instead wrote a show where the story of Beowulf happens to our characters (think the times that Bugs Bunny or The Animaniacs stumbled into a classic work or moment from history). Beowulf is a really old poem, in fact the oldest known story in English. In it, a monster attacks, a hero arrives, he kills the monster, then he fights a couple more monsters until it is over. Tolkien loved it. It is extremely influential. It is also a really dumb story that is structured more like a crappy video game than an actual story. Milton: I read it as an undergrad, half-remembered how ridiculous it was, and didn’t give it much more thought until we started writing the show. Spurlock: In 2007, I wrote a short story. A big time Hollywood manager told me it felt like Beowulf. So I watched the motion-capture cartoon and it was dogshit and I was offended. I wanted us to adapt it as revenge. Venegoni: I had to read Beowulf in my Senior Literature class. I remember thinking it was water trash. I think I saw the movie in 3D and it gave me a headache.
Who are some new faces to appear in this episode? What are their roles and why did they seem good fits for said roles?
Hellwig: We have 4 guest actors in this episode. Meredith Hopping is making her first FBA appearance as Grendel’s Mom. We thought she would be really great at playing a character that is alternately passive aggressive and extremely angry, so we wrote the role toward those strengths. Nick Tacony is playing a couple different peasants in this episode, which are his first FBA speaking roles (he previously played a wolf). We thought he could look the part and do the accent we wanted. Casey Paulson will be playing Beowulf and Emily Hickner will be playing the monster Grendel. In both cases, they 1. don’t look the part at all, which we thought was funny, but 2. we knew they could pull off the exact kind of energy that we needed for the roles. After a week or so of rehearsals, all of them are already amazing in their roles. Spurlock: This month, our cast consists of Emily Hickner, Meredith Hopping, Sam Lyons, Casey Paulsen, and Nick Tacony. I shannot tell you who they’re playing, but if you’re familiar with Beowulf and these performers, it should be obvious. As with everyone we cast, they are chosen by God to fit their roles perfectly.
Let’s dial things back, actually. Episodes and the like. If I’ve missed the last, say, four or five shows (confession: I’ve missed the last four or five shows), how difficult will it be to reacquaint myself with the feel and vibe of FBA?
Hellwig: It shouldn’t be difficult at all. We have serialized/recurring elements to the show, but we always work hard to make sure new audience members will be able to follow everything that happens. Plus, this is pretty much a standalone episode, and there will be narration. You don’t have to know anything about FBA or Beowulf to enjoy it. Milton: Since the show is only very lightly serialized, you should be able to drop back in without confusion. The main changes in the past 9 months or so are 1. We’ve gotten better at writing around one central idea instead of trying to mash disparate ideas together and 2. We’ve gotten much more explicit about the fact that Jon’s character is a bird. Spurlock: Not difficult at all. FBA is a font of wonder, for everyone to enjoy, whether they’re newcomers or old fans. Though you should feel absolutely ashamed for missing our best 4 or 5 episodes. Venegoni: First of all, I forgive you for missing the last four or five shows. I still love you. Since then, the show has grown a mustache, and you missed the episode when Skully got abducted. You will be fine! It’s always written to be accessible to everyone every episode. The advantage of seeing each one provides little easter eggs. It’s fun. Good stuff.
Writing for these is done how and by whom? Do guest performers have some improvisational room within this? Or would you like them at least somewhat-grounded in the script?
Milton: We usually spend a month or so writing as a group, and once we have a script, we do readings with the cast. If a guest performer has a better way of phrasing a line or an idea for a joke that fits with the rest of the script, we make the change. We work hard on the scripts so we like to stick pretty close to them, but we cast the people we cast because we want to hear their ideas and trust them to bring something to the characters. Hellwig: Every show is written by Stryker, Amy, Jon, & me. Amy’s answer is better than the rest of what I had typed, but I would like to add that one of the most exciting parts of producing this show is seeing actors make unexpected decisions, such as accents, lines, or suggestions for their costumes, that make the show even better. Spurlock: I write every script in my head and dictate it to the other three members of FBA, who tirelessly type for me. They work in shifts. They are good typers. Venegoni: It used to be all them and I only did music and interrupted dialogue with silly comments, but they slowly guilted me into helping with writing the plot. We all contribute and argue equally. I’m really lucky to work with such talented writers. They have taught me a whole lot and have always been receptive to my ideas.
To what degree will elements like live musical accompaniment or pre-recorded video have play within this Beowulf edition? Or do we need to attend to find out?
Hellwig: We have one video segment. Also, Jon will be live scoring large portions of the show. We’ve had Jon play a decent amount of music in the past, but this will be our first time utilizing a score. As always, there will be a running slideshow the whole time. Spurlock: We’ve all signed an NDA on this. Venegoni: I am so excited and nervous for this one. I plan on live scoring the whole thing using my keyboard, iPad and loop pedal. I’m also in a narration role this time, so you’ll see me
True lightning round: a. Single moment that stands out to you, either as performer or viewer, for whatever reason, be it profundity or hilarity?
Hellwig: My favorite single moment was Amy getting punched in the face by an eagle while “I’m Like a Bird” by Nelly Furtado played over heavy metal drumming and bird shrieks. Milton: We had a show that was centered around the Pope (Pope Toby, played by Keith Hughes) visiting, and Jon converts to Catholicism because it sounds fun, but then he finds out about Hell and original sin and is distressed to find out that he is not a good boy because “good boys isn’t real.” I like that we were able to do a comedy show about religious participation that dealt with the pros and cons pretty fairly (in my opinion) without getting preachy. Spurlock: During January’s Fatal Beach Accident, Ryan Dalton played Officer Holstein, the Cop Who Is Constantly Shitting His Pants. He threw turds at us and many people in the audience screamed, which brought me great happiness. Venegoni: Performing FBA at Flyover Festival b. Single performance by a guest that’s a standout in your mind? Milton: This is a hard question because we’ve had a lot of great guests, but I’m going to go with Cameron Keys as Prime Minister of the World, Dr. Columbus Whaley, D.D.S., who has only appeared on video. Coincidentally, Cameron is the stand-up guest on the Beowulf show. Spurlock: Andrew Mihalevich is one of our most versatile and dependable guest actors. In March, he played The Faun, a thief who haunts our stage, and he excelled at it. Venegoni: Tom Cook killed it last show playing Alb Balbert. Hellwig: This is so hard to answer. Oh wait, Amy said Cameron as the Prime Minister and I have to agree. c. Story line (or even wisp of a thread of a gnat’s thought of a storyline) that was scuttled, but screams for a return? Hellwig: Stryker will probably disagree with me, but we haven’t done a time travel heavy episode in a while. That’s an aspect of my character’s backstory that I am always trying to bring back. Spurlock: We’ll do time travel over my dead fucking body, Jeremy. I will say no more, because every idea I like eventually gets used. As I said earlier, I am the sole author. Venegoni: The mouth will rise again. d. With all due respect to former space, what makes the current space “work” for the show? Hellwig: The stage is much bigger, and there are overhead mics. I love Heavy Anchor, and I still do Sorry, Please Continue there, but FBA often has too many characters onstage to have them all using hand mics. Also, the main stage at IS seats a lot more people. We stuck with Heavy Anchor until we were consistently filling the room, then moved on to a bigger venue. Oh, and lastly, we didn’t realize how much nicer it would be having the projector screen to the side of the stage. It’s a lot easier to see the PowerPoint slides without stage lights shining on them. Milton: The main advantage of the new space is the stage, which is larger and mic’d so we don’t have to have 5 corded microphones on stage with us while trying to do a play. Spurlock: No one walking behind us to use the bathroom. A bigger stage to accommodate my big ole dick. And of course, tons of Improv Shop Boys to use as human furniture. Venegoni: Heavy Anchor was our first home, and they allowed us to grow into what we are today. I can’t thank them enough for being the most amazing people and allowing us to do whatever. we. wanted. to. do. We got to fly drones in their venue with guests inside and had a drone attack on stage to kill a character. It’s hard to express how rare it is to find a place that will allow you the liberty to do such a dumb thing. They helped us to get to the point where we outgrew the venue. Improv Shop has treated us better than we could ever have imagined. Their setup at the venue has brought a level of production value that we couldn’t have imagined having access to. We are so happy in our new home.
And for any, where can folks find more information on this show, this concept, etc.?
Tickets are on sale now for Flyover Comedy Festival. Buy yours today and guarantee your admission to see Todd Barry, Henry Phillips, and a full slate of local and visiting comics November 9th through November 11th in The Grove. Between now and then, meet some of the comics performing in the festival!