Monday, June 2, 2008

INTERVIEW: Animosity Pierre

Photo Credit: Jo Anna Van Thuyne

Animosity Pierre are a sketch comedy duo and two of the three producers (with their manager Ben Maher) of the first annual Philly Sketchfest this Friday and Saturday that features basically every sketch group in the Philadelphia area. Part of the proceeds from these shows at the Painted Bride go to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), a non-profit organization dedicated to finding a cure for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. We recently sat down with the two to talk about the Sketchfest, their style and dirty rap songs.

Animosity Pierre was originally a quartet, how did you go from that to just the two of you?

Matt Lally: (to Dave) I don't know if you knew this before, but I originally just wanted to do a one-time sketch show.

Dave Terruso: I didn't know that. You told me, but I didn't know it.

M: I thought we should all do sketch, because we had all worked on a sketch TV show for La Salle's cable access channel and when I joined the corporate world I wanted to continue that. So I wrote sketches in my cubicle and sent them to Graham [Rowe] who was in the group. The two of us said "let's do a show", so we got Dave and Scott [Hicken] in on it so that there were four of us. And it was different [from now] because there were just so many more ideas getting thrown around at the time. Not only while work shopping but for the beginnings of ideas, because we wrote stuff together too, but everyone would come to the table with a lot more stuff.

D: Yeah, it was a lot more social and democratic than it is now. Not that it isn't now, but with two guys it's not democracy but who's opinion do we decide to go with in the end. When it was four people it was "alright, let's do this and hopefully it's not two for and two against" and everyone will bring something in. Scott was...

M: The oddball straight man.

D: He was the weird eccentric guy in the group and Graham was the heady smart guy that wrote the smart sketches.

M: But luckily Dave and I have enough in common as far as comedy goes that we don't disagree that much. We pick the same way to go on stuff, so there really aren't that many arguments as far as sketches go.

D: And we have enough differences in our performing styles to keep it interesting for the audience. I think we approach performing in a different way. Even writing, I think people who have seen our skits can say "that's a Dave skit, that's a Matt skit" pretty easily.

So one of you will write something new and bring it in?

M: Usually one of us will write the entire skit and it's mostly done, that's how most of them are written. Fewer times I'll come in like "oh I have an idea" and we'll workshop it and we'll write it together. Like for the finale of our last show we said "we want to do something like this" and we sat in Dave's apartment and wrote it over an hour. But most sketches are almost done when they come to the other person and we rehearse them and basically we get so sick of rehearsing the same sketch over and over again that we start trying to make the other person laugh. And those are usually the best jokes that go into the sketch.

D: It's like the written, finished skit is sometimes a jumping off point because sometimes the week of we'll be like "we should be doing this with British accents because..." and it just becomes a new thing.

M: And even after we've performed it, if we've done something once or twice, we'll throw in a couple of jokes the next time we do it just to keep it interesting for us and for someone that's already seen it.

Your website talks about the group striving to perform absurd situations. Is that something that you always go for?

D: I think we both do and when we approach something it's "what's the motivation for it?" I mean, yes, it's funny if the guy that keeps pulling oranges out of his pocket, but if we had a reason for it that would be better. There's two kinds of skits, there's "I'm doing something crazy and you're going 'what the hell are you doing'?" and there's "I'm doing something crazy and so are you and neither one of us are explaining it."

M: And at some points we legitimately try to make things not make sense. There was one sketch where the two of us were having a duel. And Scott was a judge and it was colonial times, "he scoffed at me, I want you to punish him." And Scott came out to settle the argument and we wanted to push him out on a hand truck.

D: And why?

M: No reason. And then at the end we have a duel with produce, no reason. If we set it up so that it's is so ridiculous that you don't expect any explanation than that works. But otherwise everything should make sense.

D: I like the layer. Like you do something that's ridiculous and then later on you find out why. Like we did the Cavemen Scientists at the Terrordome show and it starts out with Matt wiping his finger on my arm and you're thinking "what the hell?" and then we do the deleted scene where he's picking his nose. To me, that's like two jokes, it's the same thing but two layers.

Are you surprised at where people laugh in a sketch?

D: Every show.

M: Yeah. And then something that we think is going to kill sometimes does and sometimes doesn't.

D: Because people find these little stupid things funny. And we work so hard at the grand design of the skit and it's this huge thing and then somebody comes up after and quotes this dumb, stupid line that we made up or Matt said in rehearsal the day before the show or made up in the scene and that's-

M: I've ab libbed stuff during the show that's I've never said before. Like our last show [at the Shubin] I was a school kid that never cursed and on stage I said "jesus" and then "sorry!" like that and Dave was laughing backstage.

D: The scene is rehearsed so much and we know that we both know our lines so if I add something, he's not going to be confused, so every show we are trying to make each other laugh at least once. Sometimes it's planned, in our last show we both had one thing that's like "I'm going to say this and try to make you laugh".

M: They weren't important things, just set-ups.

D: Stupid things.

So you store these away ahead of time?

M: Sometimes, but the thing is we've both done improv and we practice so much, we run the show four times a night every night the week before a show, we basically run it 20 times before the show. So there's no mess ups, we know exactly what we're doing and we're so comfortable with it that we're almost a little sick of it and nothing's going to crack us up. But we're so comfortable that we can just say whatever we want and we can just riff on it and that keeps it interesting.

D: Especially if we do something more than twice, we're done with it, we've seen people laugh at it and it gets boring. So the riffing is what keeps us interested. Like what little thing is Matt going to say and what am I going to say back.

Where did the rapper Blangalangalang come from?

D: Blangalangalang, aka Balal and my number one O-G right here, Footy Pajamas, aka DJ Footy PJ/DJPJ came from a phone call to this girl that used to be in Improv 101. We used to just call each other as characters, never talk as ourselves. And that was the character that I made up and my friend Dave was my sidekick Dirty Southpaw. And we used to talk on the phone like that, say stupid stuff and hang up. And then a year or two ago I wrote the first draft of the "I'm Gonna Lick That Asshole" rap and just decided that that was the character. And Matt had these footy pajamas and so that's that character. Because there's that guy in Nelly's group that's got the Phantom of the Opera thing. I love that idea of the theatricality in rap music because it's so macho and then they do these things that are theatrical and that's why Footy Pajamas always makes me laugh. The original skit was...

M: You were talking about how dirty rap was in general.

D: I had heard a couple of disgusting Southern rap songs that just killed me, they were so stupid that I had to parody them. But the original idea is that we do these bits called "Get To Know Pierre". It's one of the recurring things that we have in almost every show where we come out as ourselves and do something with the audience that is always a bit, not something real. So the idea is that I come out with my guitar and say to Matt and Scott, who was in the group at the time, I wrote this song, I want you guys to hear it, what do you think? And the only lyrics were "I'm gonna lick that asshole", three minutes of that. And they just thought it was terrible, and we talked about it and they thought it was stupid. And then one day at work I wrote lyrics and gave it to the group and then it just went away. Then we did our Fringe show last year I said "I want to do this rap, I'm still proud of it" and that's how it came back around. So that rap has been around for years just sitting on the shelf.

M: And now the really exciting thing is because we did that rap and then "But My Dick Is Huge" and then for our last show we did "I'm An Infant, Bitch", we just came out in the outfits and we got applause because people are recognizing the characters, they're our first recurring characters that we've had.

Are you going to keep doing it with new songs?

D: I don't know...

M: We have to keep taking it in different places. Because they're all different. The first one is just Dave rapping and me beat-boxing and holding up signs. The second one we're both rapping and I play the drums and the third one he raps and I'm playing keyboard. So we have to do something else.

D: And I need good inspiration for a strange topic. The original song was just out of nowhere. The second song was based on that line at the beginning where I say this is from my album "But My Dick Is Huge", so I decided I'm going to write that song. There's something there that might be funny, it was a throwaway line that we did in rehearsal, but I think I can do a song out of that. And then the infant one came out we were doing the stages of life and we wanted something for birth and a song about a baby in a skit where we're dressed up as babies. So it would have to be if I get inspired and sit down and write it.

Animosity Pierre performing "I'm Gonna Lick That Asshole" live at Die, Actor, Die

Both of you have improv experience but have since gone on to sketch. Do you want to go back to improv?

D: I don't think I'd ever go back to improv. I defintely have a desire to do straight dramatic theater and in between one of these [sketch] shows I will, but improv, do you?

M: Not seriously. I've gone back to La Salle to watch the Improv 101 shows and I've been called up on a stage just to do it for fun, but I think once you do improv, you realize that if you think of something and it kills, that's amazing that you just did that. But with sketch, you have the opportunity to plan that, to do it a bunch of times and say "I hope this is going to kill" and if it doesn't kill, fix it. It's just not a flash in the pan. I think improv is fleeting, it's not easy but it's a lot of work for not a lot of payoff. And if I'm doing a lot of work, I want it to be for something that I have an idea for and have a character for. Improv is fun as a daredevil kind of thing like "maybe I'll kill tonight or maybe I'll suck", but I like the structure of sketch.

D: I'm a writer by trade, so that's what I'm into and I just always wanted to write my only material. And sketch fulfills me in a way that improv didn't. I love being on stage and I love performing and I think our improv background makes us good sketch performers and without it we wouldn't be any good because it just gives you a confidence to go out there on stage. You don't get that anywhere but improv. I think every performer of anything, stand-up, dramatic, you should all have to do improv, it's very important to your training. But I get fulfillment from sketch in a way that I didn't with improv.

M: And with how we were saying that we try to crack each other up with each show. I think each show we've dropped some line. We uber prepare but one of us slips up and the other person catches it all the time. Like last show I was supposed to say "where's your diploma?" and I stalled and he goes "if you're wondering where my diploma is" and the audience doesn't even know.

D: Yeah, that's the improv thing of it. It's trust. You just look into that guy's eyes and you know that he's got back your back to save you if you forget.

Why are you putting together the Philly Sketchfest now and why the Painted Bride?

M: As far as our history goes, when we started out we didn't know where to perform. At first we just need to get our foot in the door, so we went to the open mic at Helium. We never met Secret Pants, we said "I've heard of these guys, Secret Pants"...

D: And The Waitstaff...

M: We thought "wow, they have a sold out show at the Five Spot every month, we should try to do something like that". How do we do that? We went to Helium, then two of our guys left, we did a lot of videos because we didn't know what do but then we had to get back to stage. So then over the last year through Die, Actor, Die, through Bedtime Stories, we met pretty much the entire sketch scene. We met these main groups, we became friends with everybody. Even the first time we did Bedtime Stories there were eight people there and now it sells out every time. So now with it exploding between all of the groups coming together, we could've sat on Sketchfest another year and do it right, but our plans were-

D: To do it wrong!

M: To do it wrong and do it now. I mean, we knew it was going to start small, so we wanted to get the groups that we know together and it isn't going to take a lot of effort because we are keeping it small and if anyone is helping out, let's do it now. Because it's ridiculous that Philly is the fifth largest city in the country and we don't have a festival like this.

D: Yeah, I think just in the last six months we met for the first time ever, Secret Pants, Meg & Rob, Rowan & Hastings, we just met The Waitstaff a few weeks ago, all these other groups and we thought "these guys are good, and they're out there" . And we all have different audiences that all kind of want the same thing, we have to get them together. And we know that people who like us are going to like Meg & Rob and vice versa, etc., so let's get them in the same room and they'll go "oh, we'll come to their shows too."

M: Yeah, because it's really hard to do a show by yourself. Because we've done our Five Spot shows and most of the people that came were our friends that we invited, we haven't cross-collaborated.

D: And why the Painted Bride, maybe I can answer that one. It was just sort of the perfect space in terms of how many seats with what we were aiming for. There were other places that were too small or too big that we were never going to sell it out. The location is great, right in Center City in terms of where the scene is with Die, Actor Die [The Khyber] and Bedtime Stories [Shubin Theatre], the same people that walk there are going to walk to this. And it's a beautiful space, it can handle technologically what all of the groups are doing.

Do you think there's a certain style of sketch in Philadelphia?

D: We entered the SF Sketchfest this year, we never entered before, we only tried for New York and the ones close to us because we thought they would never fly us out there. But we applied this year and Ben puts in a word and this year was a big difference because of the writer's strike. They got super famous people and they did these little local shows and they said we're not going to have you guys fly out here to do 15 minutes with eight other people. But their main comment on us was "they're very funny, but they're too dirty and they're too East Coast."

"Too East Coast?"

M: What does that mean?

D: We were like "what does that mean?" but apparently that's the style, so the answer is that the Philly style is similar to that New York thing where it's sarcastic, it's fast, it's precise and it's witty. It's aggressive, there's an aggression. There are people trying to get that laugh. And the West Coast thing is a little laid back. And there's nothing wrong with either style, but when you go to these shows, you see it. If you see five groups in a row, you see that going for the kill, you see that aggression in there and that sarcasm and that wit and that slicing joke.

M: Darker.

D: It is a little darker and I think it's a little more urban in some way, word, and "Dirty East Coast". We want t-shirts that say "Animosity Pierre: Too Dirty, Too East Coast", we want to wear that like a badge.

M: Yeah like, "East Coast, fuck yeah East Coast."

D: We want to start kind of a thing where we're killing sketch comedians, like what happened with rap, we want to do that.

M: East Coast, West Coast.

D: We want to kill people on the West Coast and have them kill us. Because that's really how we get on TV. Because we want Kurt Loder to talk about us.


Chip Chantry said...

I have a question for Animosity Pierre:

When will you guys start being funny? It hasn't happened yet. That's right. I am calling you out. You are a disgrace to the entire city of---

Oh, wait. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is doing his daily CNN medical report right now on the TV set. He's so dreamy. Gotta run.



Dave T said...


Thanks again for this interview. Nice job.

Also, you'll be pleased to learn that I'm 85% done writing Balal's next ditty, a song called "This Girl Was Too Freaky For Me" written specifically for Dirtiest Sketch. It will feature me on guitar, and possible Matt on video (Matt'll be in Colorado the day of the show).

And, Chip, you're fired as host of Philly Sketchfest. Eff you. I knew we should've gotten Pat House. I kept saying "Let's get Pat, he's funny." And Ben said, "Yes, Pat is funny and Chip isn't, but I represent Chip, and it's 1/3 my money." And that's how you got the gig.

Dave T said...

P.S. The reason I have a blogger name now is that I'm guest-blogging at all week for my buddy Brendan while he's on his honeymoon.

Pruneface said...

I love you guys. Good interview.