Secret Pants are one of the longest-running sketch groups in Philadelphia and this week is a busy one for them. On Wednesday they are hosting the Helium College Comedy Competition (full lineup) and on Friday they’ll be performing at Welcome To The Terrordome along with Meg & Rob, Rowan & Hastings, The Sixth Borough and Animosity Pierre at The M Room. Comic Vs. Audience recently caught up with Bryce Remsburg and Paul Joseph to talk about the upcoming shows, their history and professional wrestling.
How did Secret Pants originally form?
Bryce Remsburg: Originally there was a college class in the spring of 2004 at Temple. About six or seven or us met in the class and we were goofing off and hanging out all day. And at the end of the semester we said “hey, we enjoyed doing this, let’s keep it going.” So we met after the last day of the last class and we talked about stuff we like: The State, Kids In The Hall, stuff like that is what we had in common. So we decided to form a comedy troupe. The core people brought in some of there friends and we started meeting every Wednesday, which is what we still do four years later. The original working number was 15 or 16 people, which was completely unmanageable. Then once we started doing sketches, we came up with 13. And now we are down to eight or nine.
What are the advantages and disadvantages to such a large group?
BR: That’s the big disadvantage.
Paul Joseph: How hard it is to get everyone in the same room?
BR: And voting on things, all day we are emailing each other at work.
PJ: Yeah and when you have eight people to try to reach agreement with, it’s eight more people you get to disagree with first. And if there’s six point of contention to any argument, most people are not going to agree on all of those points, so eventually someone will have to settle on something that they don’t want to settle for. But that’s good, it’s healthy because we’ve gone this far and we don’t hate each other. Sometimes we think we do, but we don’t really.
BR: And we’ve got it down. After four years we know everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.
What was your comedy background before Secret Pants?
BR: Um, I took a class at Temple. (laughs) And I like watching [comedy].
PJ: I spent a lot of my adolescence indoors watching Comedy Central.
BR: Brian Kelly and Paul spent some time at the UCB in New York.
PJ: [We] both took classes at the UCB separately. Sketch writing is something that that needs to be worked on and workshopped, but not taught. And that’s what you’ll get there, they’ll teach you a few key things and then say “go get ‘em tiger” and that helps.
Bryce, you officiate pro wrestling?
I do. About six years ago a school opened up in Allentown that is now in Philly so I checked it out and thought it was pretty cool. I don’t wrestle because I’m not big and I’m kind of a pussy, but I do referee down at the New Alhambra in South Philly and I’ve been really lucky, I’ve been to Europe five times, California, Florida, I’m leaving for Indianapolis Friday morning. I’ve seen a lot of the world on someone else’s dime so it’s cool.
PJ: Wrestling is huge in Indiana and by proxy we are also huge in Indiana. Bryce was also in a Japanese wrestling magazine once.
BR: Yeah, and there’s a professional wrestler wearing a Secret Pants t-shirt on WWE.com.
BR: Yeah this guy Colt Cabana. I gave him a shirt once three years ago and he’s since moved to the big leagues.
So he likes you guys?
BR: Yeah, yeah. At the beginning I would sell t-shirts at wrestling shows just to get the word out. I’d give out stickers and pins and a lot of our press and website hits came from wrestling fans from the start.
PJ: We were doing a live performance at The Trocadero Balcony and these dudes showed up from Indiana, wearing Secret Pants shirts waiting in line before we showed up. That was pretty awesome.
BR: And they are a rabid fan base, so some of that has trickled down.
So let’s talk about the Welcome To The Terrordome show. Why did you want to put together a show with five sketch groups?
BR: Basically we think in large part to things like Die, Actor, Die and especially Bedtime Stories that just over the last couple of months there’s a great scene and a lot of funny people that no one knows about. So if all of these groups are on the same page and they’re all friends, which we are, we’re worth more as a group than we are individually. So we think all of these people are funny, we enjoy spending time and drinking with them, so let’s try something on a grand stage. There’s a bunch of improv groups and there’s a bunch of stand-up guys and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the sketch scene is really slept on and with a few things and some publicity it’s ready to bust out.
PJ: And it seems that there are younger groups coming in. We’re hosting a college competition at Helium and there are three or four sketch groups there and it’s great that we’re seeing them because the more the merrier. The whole thing is worth more than the sum of the parts.
Do you think there’s a certain style to sketch comedy in Philadelphia?
PJ: What I’m going to say is in having seen, I’m not speaking at all to improv, but I’ve seen enough sketch in New York and as a general rule, and this isn’t across the board, but per capita it’s not as good. And the reason it’s not as good as because you don’t have to work as hard. Philly hates you if you’re a performer.
BR: “Impress me, impress me.”
PJ: Yeah, “do something I’m going to like and I’m not going to give you anything unless you do.” Where in New York people will go out ready to laugh at pretty much whatever it is, so you can see a concept that will fucking tank here go over swimmingly in New York City. Because people want to laugh there. People going to see comedy in Philadelphia maybe went out begrudgingly and if you get them to laugh at anything it means you did a phenomenal fucking job.
BR: Yeah, half the battle is someone in Philly knows there’s sketch comedy. Seriously.
PJ: Right and if it’s not somebody that got dragged out…we actually had one show where a guy who was a comedy fan and purposely came out to see us was heckling during an entire routine. They don’t do that in New York City for a sketch group! No, it’s a theater audience, but here…this was at the Shubin Theatre, our second show there. This gentleman was visiting back home, looked through comedy listings, came and gave us a hard time. So on a per capita basis, sketch in New York isn’t as good because you can get away with more and people will laugh at you more and better and harder if they already think you are funny.