Comic Wars Interview with Matt Wohlfarth
There’s a new comedy show hitting the clubs around the ‘Burgh that’s making people laugh like they aren’t allowed. Comic Wars matches up teams of comedians in a seven-round competition to put their skills to the test. Its next installment will go down Friday, Dec. 19 at 10PM at the Arcade Comedy Theater. NakYouOut got the chance to sit down with 20-year comedy veteran and creator of the show, Matt Wohlfarth (aka ‘Wolfie’), about the show and its development process. Check out our conversation below for a look behind the scenes and a few comedy tricks of the trade.
Chelsea: So, where did the idea of ‘Comic Wars’ come from?
Matt: Number one, I thought comedy had too many rules. Sit down. Shut up. Be quiet. Only talk when the comedian wants you to talk. If you talk when they don’t want you to talk, we kick you out. I just thought there were too many rules and that paradigm needed to be broken a little bit. I also had a school, The University of Funny, and I wanted to figure out creative ways to teach people how to do comedy. Each round involves something that’s important to a comedian when they’re learning comedy–it helps develops skills like, how to handle an audience, how to roast someone, how to free-associate on a subject, how to deal with heckle lines… Things like that, so every game is integral to a person becoming a comedian.
Chelsea: Where did you first try it out?
Matt: In my class at the Shaler Library.
Chelsea: And then you brought it to the Arcade Comedy Theater?
Matt: Yes, and we had done it at Latitiude 360, Club Café, Mullens, and the Improv a little bit. We continually tweeked it. Each time, we just tried to make it better and tighter. Then we got the opportunity to do the Arcade. I wanted to get a younger host, because I wanted to try and sell it as a show and Aaron Kleiber was a really good selection as the host.
Chelsea: Can you tell us about one of the rounds?
Matt: There’s a category called Pick From a Hat. So, you have to take a topic out of a hat and free-associate for three minutes on it. What I want to teach people is to trust their mind because your mind will reward you more than anything. Too many people get tied up in a little set list, you know, a joke has to go this way. What I want to do is design Comic Wars in a way that frees you up to trust your mind.
Chelsea: So who puts those topics in the hat that the players draw from?
Matt: I do. I usually go on Google and try to pick topics that are popular or obscure. Because I’ve been doing comedy for so long, there are things in life that will hit me as ‘oh that’s a good premise.’ You know what I mean? Like ‘House Parties’ is a good premise. Remember house parties when you were a kid and your parents were away? That’s a great premise. So then you just free-associate on your experiences with it.
Chelsea: Is there anything that didn’t work in the show?
Matt: Well, we have 12 games that we can interchange throughout the night. Sometimes games are successful, sometimes they aren’t. In the beginning, the Roast Round got confused with Work the Room.
Chelsea: What’s “Working the Room?”
Matt: Well, say you get to where you have 15-20 minutes of material and they want you to do a half-hour. You get to the point where you’re like, “Man, I’m out of material.” And then you need to stretch. So then you get out in the crowd, and you say, “So sir, what do you do?” And you try to find comedy in the crowd. That’s what working the crowd is. It buys you the time.
The rule to headlining is you have to do an hour. Well, know what you’re gonna end with, and don’t do it until the hour’s up. Right? Do anything but that bit. Talk about your mother, talk about your self, talk about anything. Because there will be that point when your brain is done and you have nothing left. So you have to go out into the crowd and say, “Hi sir, you look pretty friendly, what do you do?… Cook?…What do you cook?”… And try to manufacture something. That’s working the room.
Chelsea: So were they going out there and roasting the crowd?
Matt: No, roasting is different. That’s when the comedians roast each other. They’re like, “Yeah, you look like Al Bundy doing comedy”, or “Bruce Willis after a pizza”, or something like that. That’s a roast.
Chelsea: What else doesn’t work?
Matt: Well it’s ‘Wars’ right? So I thought it’d be great for them to have a stare down at the beginning and the first team that laughs loses. But it doesn’t work. Some comedians can just stare forever. I can’t, I suck at it. But there was this one that was inordinately long. I was like, “End it, five minutes we’re done.”
Chelsea: 5 minutes?! Was the audience laughing?
Matt: A little bit, like that nervous laughter where everyone was kinda like, “Dude, this is intense.” And at some point, the teams started trying to get each other to laugh by taking off their clothes and weird stuff like that to make the audience laugh, until eventually someone cracked. I was so surprised at how long comedians can keep a a straight face.
Chelsea: What’s your favorite part about Comic Wars?
Matt: I love that it’s interactive. The audience gets to participate in it. So they get to vote on each round and they pick some of the topics that go around. To me, it takes comedy into the next generation. So, it makes it an interactive experience.
Chelsea: Any other projects in the works we should know about?
Matt: Well, I’m planning The Mid-Life Crisis Comedy Tour. It’s going to be 28 shows in the 28 days of February along Route 30, all the way to Astoria, Oregon.
Chelsea: Wow, good luck with that! Thanks for chatting with us.
Don’t miss out on Friday’s Comic Wars at the Arcade Comedy Theater. Tickets can be purchased here for $10. Purchasing a ticket online saves you the BYOB charge at the door!