Magnet Spotlight: The Misses
On Friday, January 3rd, I got to sit down with sketch writers and performers Andy Mills and Sebastian Conelli as well as director Matt J. Weir of The Misses to gain insight into some of the Magnet's leading sketch minds. What surfaced was not just what makes this Veteran Sketch Team special, but also what makes a team click, what makes a show stand out, and what it means to have that comedy drive. Below is a transcript of the interview.
When were you formed?
Matt J. Weir (MW): The Misses were formed in September of 2013 and the first show was in October of 2013. The Misses is a collection of some of the best veteran sketch performers at The Magnet.
Andy Mills (AM): One of the interesting things about The Misses being formed is that 85% of the group is former members of the sketch team Fat Kids, which Matt also directed.
MW: Yeah I directed that for a season. Also for the season before that I co-directed it with the other Matt Weir. So our brain lust dripped down on you guys.
AM: I always described it as brain lust. I think that is a testament to what the potential is for a group that works really hard and sticks together is. With a director, two directors in the beginning, and with an insistent vision and devotion to creating a group voice, we all stuck with it and are now on a team with some other really awesome people putting on the best shows we've ever put on.
MW: It's cool to have directed most of the group since they started in the program. I've seen so much progression in skills be it in writing, performing, or even learning how to take notes from other people. It's been great to watch everybody and to learn a lot directing this awesome group. You learn so much about comedy from watching them. That's so exciting - watching them get better in all aspects. Plus they're all pretty good friends. We all hang out a lot outside.
What would you say is that vision you are trying to create?
AM: Well I think everybody in the group for the most part wants to do this professionally some day and so we are, I think, practicing all the things we need to do, or emulating, a professional environment when we are in the writer's room, when we are rehearsing for the show, when we are doing the show. We are having a ton of fun. Through our hard work we want to defy the audiences' expectations every single time we go onstage and make them laugh and shock them and stay ahead. And I would say Matt J. is the head of this beast absolutely. We wouldn't be able to do this without him.
MW: Well I wouldn't be able to do this without you all. In all honesty, I've worked in a writer's room and The Misses writer's room is more organized and works harder.
How would you say The Misses operates? What are you aiming for with your work?
MW: If you're in a group it needs to be like a band. If it feels like an improv group or a sketch group it probably won't feel like things are going to be cohesive or dare themselves and try new things as a group to push the artform of comedy. When I hear "sketch group" in New York City, it's usually a boring "here's the game" - you understand the premise - we're just going to do that a few times, great scene's over. I think then when there's a sketch group that seems more like a band or treats itself more like a band you're more in tune to follow the art you're making rather than just "we're just doing the funny things" or "we're just fulfilling the requirements of a structure we've learned in class." I think when a group is like a band, they'll get together more often outside of just working on the show and their minds will meld better and they'll create something that is more unique than a regular sketch show and I feel like these guys have. They really try a lot of stuff and they push each other and I push them. They put so much time into this.
AM: We want to make a real show not just: sketch, sketch, sketch, sketch, sketch. As a group, with that band mentality, we're aiming for the album. We're trying to create Led Zeppelin IV every time we do a show and we're getting closer and closer to achieving that. And that being said, I think that the January shows are our version of Led Zeppelin IV right now. Every single one of these sketches is so hilarious they still make us cry. We're rewriting a new show with all these sketches to make things more cohesive and to also include our new member Chet Siegel.
MW: Chet's a late welcome and also ex-Fat Kid.
AM: She's like John Bonham's son.
Where did the name come from?
AM: It's way less interesting than you would imagine. Everybody threw things into a surveymonkey and we voted on it. But the origin of the name The Misses, that was something that I had pitched because a friend of mine said, "You'd know what would be a cool band name? The Misses." And I wrote that down in my phone: Cool Band Name - The Misses. And so then I put it in the mix and it ended up getting the most votes.
Enter Sebastian Conelli (SC).
So the people who are the team, the majority of it is Fat Kids and then also Todd Shaeffer, Ingrid Ostby, and Jimmy O'Connell. Why do you think you all were grouped together besides it being Fat Kids 2.0?
MW: I kind of saw when the groups were getting formed and they put all these guys together. And to me, for Armando and Beth to look at the group and know all these people were really dedicated the way they were, to break them up would be a huge mistake. These people want to do this professionally and are willing to put in the hours and do ten hour rehearsals on a Sunday running right up to the show. To mix them up...who knows what it would have been like to mix them up. The momentum that group had rolled over into The Misses.
AM: I think a large part of creating a group voice, which is a really important thing when you're putting on a show, is trusting each other and learning to take notes from each other. The idea that we bring into the writer's room is only half of what the potential is for the sketch and everybody else in the room writes it. Fat Kids just got to that point where we had learned to trust each other and we felt that voice when they starting mixing up the teams. I was happy to be put back with most of them to continue to grow that voice that we had started to develop on Fat Kids.
SC: It's different than improv because in sketch you are giving each other notes so it's making you vulnerable and also you have to trust the people who are giving you notes. It's important to have a relationship with them. I feel that sketch teams should be kept together longer than improv teams in a way.
MW: It makes total sense. Improv teams can get put together and broken up pretty quickly and it'll adjust. Fat Kids was together for 6 or 7 months and even at the end of that we had 2 runs? We were still finding the voice and figuring out what each instrument (or each person) was.
Is there a massive difference between Fat Kids and The Misses?
AM: I would say we are way more energetic and gutsier as a group. Partly experience and partly the addition of such awesome people.
MW: From the director's perspective, the team before, there was people who were inexperienced with performance and performing. With this team, everybody has a really good grasp on performing for the most part so it's very hard to cast these shows. I want to even things out because everyone's so funny. I mean there's Seb and Jimmy who are big and dumb and silly and really sell jokes when you need to. Billy Bob can ground anything - I call it the Billy Bob weapon. There was a 9/11 sketch and it was all about the angle of which they acted it. It could have been really offensive but the way he and Becca Schall acted it sold it and made it work. But everybody does that on the team. Everybody knows the right tone for the sketches.
We've already touched on this a little bit but let's talk about the team a little bit. What is each person bringing individually?
SC: I love Andy because he writes for me a lot, and I force him to.
AM: When I write something for Sebastian it's only half as good when I bring it in as when it's finally finished on stage. He understands the idea and takes it and runs with it. He completes the thought.
SC: Well our strengths are opposite. Andy is good at putting funny stuff in and organizing it into something that makes sense and I'm good at shooting from the hip.
AM: If you give Seb one line in a sketch, he'll get the biggest laugh. He'll just wring that laughter towel.
SC: When I have one line I'm more nervous because I need to hit it out of the park.
MW: Jimmy's similar energy to Seb. He's this big goofy dude but he plays stuff so seriously. And when he plays stuff so seriously he's so funny. I love watching him get angry. It's just funny.
AM: Jimmy's one of the few guys I've met who can go out on the stage with no material at all and still get laughs. Him just talking makes people happy.
MW: He's not necessarily "every man," he's like "every dad." He's not an "every man" where he can play-
SC: James Bond.
MW: Though that'd be pretty funny. Like an aloof, misinformed, blue-collar authority figure who didn't have the tools to find his way through a situation.
MW: Ingrid, she's another person who can act. She has really good acting chops. She grounds a lot of scenes. She definitely has her voice writing wise.
MW: Becca's like a rock. She knows how to take a note and she's very critical about her work. She's a great performer too.
SC: Jamaal. He's the funniest.
MW: He'll bring in a first draft and just kill it. His brain is just on another plane. He picks out things that are funny that most people won't see. He can hit a gay joke so well. It's either a gay joke or a blowjob joke. Or an Asian joke.
AM: As the only non-white person in the group, he's a really great sport when it comes to playing characters from diverse backgrounds over and over and over again.
SC: He's also just funny onstage. Him just being him will get laughs because he himself is funny.
MW: I've known Todd for 25 years, which is insane, and he's always been weird. I like having him there because he comes from my past. He's really funny. He's an amazing performer and great writer. Promotions wise - he's on that.
SC: He also writes some of the weirdest stuff I've ever read.
MW: He was voted to be most likely to be seen on the silver screen in high school.
AM: Chet - She's a powerhouse. I don't know if there's a single word I could say about Chet that would do it justice. She's an awesome writer, performer, teammate, note giver, note taker... she never seems tired or disturbed. She's always working in comedy.
MW: She's an iron will to me.
AM: She's invaluable as a teammate.
MW: It was huge to get her back. She's a team leader in a way.
SC: She's only a year older than me. I look up to her a lot to be good and great at this.
MW: Billy Bob - I've known him because he was performing in Philly for a really long time and Matt and I would perform there. Billy was always insane and just blew our minds because we never saw acting like his. When he moved up here, he wanted to get involved with the comedy program and we got him in because he's insanely talented. In Philly, they would have something like Sketch in Progress, and everybody, no matter what level, would get Billy Bob in their sketch. People would consider it cheating if Billy Bob was in their sketch because he'd make them all amazing. He would show up on a Friday night and get asked to be in 5 sketches. He was in a group called Camp Woods, he was in a duo called the Feeko Brothers, they are all legendary in Philly.
SC: He won dirtiest sketch 2 years in a row with Feeko Brothers and those sketches were actually funny. He can do any voice or character. I imagine he just sits at home and practices voices all day.
MW: And we can't not talk about his hair. He has the team's most valuable hair.
AM: He one time left his hairbrush over at my house and I thought I would read in the news that a man would go on a killing spree because he missed his hairbrush. But he didn't, so he's not crazy either.
Where do you draw most of your ideas for your sketches?
SC: I never have used an improv scene to write a sketch. At best you pull an idea.
MW: Improv is good to a certain point, but then you have to hone in on what the joke is. No improv scene can be written down, take the stage, and work the same way. It's good for ideas.
AM: When I first started writing, all my sketches were about animals that talked. Some of them were funny sketches but I wasn't approaching anything honest. With The Misses, I always attack something truthful, like my gift card sketch. We're not, like, political though.
SC: Also, I'll be like, "Andy, I want to be an action hero."
What do you look for in The Misses sketches?
MW: What I look for with this group's sketches is not only what is funny but what are they saying about humanity or an opinion.
What quality should every sketch writer possess?
SC: Don't be precious.
MW: Yes. That kills me personally. Comedy is a very quantity over quality business. You're going to have quality sketches, but you need to be putting out a lot constantly. You need to have the nerve to be able to do that. You need to be able to write and to put your heart in something and then have it eat it at the writer's table.
AM: For me, not being precious is really important. Also, learning how to take notes and who to take them from. Everyone at the table is going to have an opinion, but not all of them agree with your sensibilities. But that's what a good writer's table is - a mix of opinions. You take the ones you like and work with that.
MW: One simple ability every writer should have is being able to work in the writer's room. It's hard to work in a group if you're like, "No, my idea's better." Don't be a dick. You need to learn how to be open and work with other people's ideas and learn how to riff.
AM: With everything that somebody brings in, there's something valuable about it and most of the time you don't hit the mark right away. As a teammate you need to respect their idea and try to make it better.
MW: One of the coolest things about being in a writer's room is seeing a sketch someone will bring in and there's a premise that's funny but we can't quite figure out what is making it funny. And then someone will throw out something and then seeing that face light up because something clicks. You have a world built in your head and it's hard to escape that sometimes and once you get all these opinions in from people that you trust it opens all these new doors to where that thing can go. You have one premise, how much can you squeeze from it.
AM: It's brain lust.
If The Misses was given an award, what would it be for?
MW: Best Time. Best Time Award. I have a good time with these guys, and this is sappy and heartfelt, but over the summer, working with Fat Kids, and it's basically the same group, I looked forward to every Sunday be it 3 hours or 10 hours working with these guys. It was the best thing and I need it in my life. I'm so glad it's these guys.
AM: Some of the best friends I have in the world are on The Misses. So I think we'd get The Best Friends Award.
MW: Kiss and Hugs Award.
SC: There's a lot of love. It's a lot of time.
MW: Especially freaking out at 11 in the morning because we haven't run anything. I get stressed out. I don't think I could have kids because I'd be freaking out so much.
What's your team's relationship with video?
AM: We have done a few interstitial videos for our shows just to supplement the work. I think in a live show environment we should never rely on video to get laughs. It should only help and decorate a show.
SC: It's a live show. There's nothing more frustrating than going to a live show and then seeing 5 videos. I can watch that at home.
MW: These guys put out videos that stand alone outside of the show. Everything video and sound wise adds to the show though. The opening we have is one of the coolest things and gets me so pumped as a director watching it. We have a sketch up at the top and then we The Misses' intro plays which is a little girl having knives thrown at her. It's awesome. Billy Bob made it.
AM: Everyone on the team does video.
MW: And not for The Misses specifically yet.
AM: I think Todd is heading up The Misses youtube page and it's mostly our live sketches so almost all of our sketches are available to watch there. But the way we can take it up a notch is doing videos for videos sake.
What other expectations do you have with sketch and what troubles do you see?
MW: That's something Matt and I always talk about, [being defined as a sketch group], because we don't feel like a sketch group. When we did the SketchFest at the P.I.T. we made them take "sketch comedy" out of our name so it'd be just "We're Matt Weir."
AM: It simplifies the show.
MW: "Sketch Comedy" gives expectations to the audience. My favorite sketch groups that I've seen in the city don't do what we're taught in sketch classes. I want to push people to see more sketch because we're all in the city trying to make comedy, trying to make this art work and there are some groups that are blowing minds. It's not traditional. It's nothing you're going to pay to learn.
AM: There's a difference between writing a sketch and putting on an entertaining show that you can't teach.
MW: You have to try. You have to fail. You have to be big and not scared.
SC: We can all benefit from learning from people in the city. I watch so many sketch shows. I'm over- saturated, but I learn so much from watching people and learn their writing styles. It's so important.
MW: If there's any wisdom I can give it's "go everywhere" and watch it everywhere. It doesn't stop here. It needs to be known.
SC: You can learn so much. You'll see great techniques and figure out and learn ways to apply it. Anyone who's not taking every opportunity to see stuff - it sucks. In 10 years when I'm doing comedy professionally I'll be happy that I didn't go out every night to the bar. I hate it when people judge how people are doing in comedy by how often they're at the bar. That's very frustrating. You're in New York. You should be absorbing everything you can. Probably the best live stuff is happening now in New York or L.A.
MW: Here's all about weird things and taking chances. People want to see you putting your being into something.
SC: And you can fail as much as you want. It doesn't matter. There's no comedy god that's going to take my comedy license away from me. I can mess up constantly.
AM: We're obsessed with it at this point. But the years of obsessing makes you into a professional.
MW: We obviously love what we're doing and we love this group. I need this for my life. You need a reason to exist in this world. This gives me a reason to get up. It stinks but that's what it is. All we have is comedy.
AM: We're all really dedicated. There isn't any other way to go about it. When you're in it you're in it. It's the best part of our lives. We get together and we're guaranteed to laugh and make jokes every single time.
SC: I'll be at a comedy place all night long. I'll get on the bus and listen to a podcast for an hour and a half. Get home and watch comedy for hours. You don't want to regret not chasing it.
MW: Our jobs are to make people laugh and make them happy. Everybody who's doing this is so delusional because show business is a whole other beast. There are people who really care about this and want to do this and be the best. You don't know when you're time is going to come or if it's going to come at all.
SC: The happiest, probably, you'll be doing comedy is in front of people live because it brings that instant gratification. All of us are smart people. All of us could have done something else.
MW: That's what's great about the comedy community. To me it's the smartest, obviously funniest, and nicest community. We have this understanding of humanity that so many people lack.
SC: I used to be in this group when I was younger and before the shows we would say, "With a song on my lips and a prayer in my heart please God let me make one person happy." If 70 people saw your show and 1 person who was having a terrible day laughed, you did what you had to do. I think about that sometimes.
The Misses: The Hits opens Friday, January 17th and runs with Cash: Black Tie until the end of the month. To reserve tickets, CLICK HERE.