Tag Archives: Comedy

Phil Johnson, Master of the Comedi-verse

Phil Johnson to teach a master class on comedy

“I think about comedy all day and all night.”

Phil Johnson, most recently seen this summer as Bottom in Intrepid Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical,” admits this obsession without hesitation.

“I probably need a twelve step group for my love of it,” he adds.

In lieu of addiction therapy, Phil Johnson will instead be putting this passion to good use by sharing it with others. Along with Artistic Directors Christy and Sean Yael-Cox, Phil will be an instructor in Intrepid’s brand new offering of fall classes.

What will he be teaching? A master class on comedy, of course.

A comedic stage veteran, Phil has shone on the San Diego stage for more than 15 years, racking up starring turns on the city’s major stages, and receiving a Craig Noel Award this year from the San Diego Critics’ Circle for his rendition of Sheridan Whiteside in “The Man Who Came To Dinner.” Aside from his stints in Los Angeles writing with the Acme Comedy Theatre, his grant from the San Diego Foundation for the Arts to develop his comedy solo show version of “Hound of Baskervilles,” and his comedy/cabaret fellowship with the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, his most impressive comedic credit is probably his run as the tavern-owning criminal Thérnardier in the Broadway production and the national tour of “Les Misérables.”

While continuing to develop projects in town, Phil is also eager to share the tips and pointers that his own comedic gurus have taught him over the years. A master class for Intrepid Shakespeare seems the perfect fit.

Phil as Bottom
Photo credit: Daren Scott

“I have a great enthusiasm for good actors who are also good comedians,” he says. “It’s thrilling and exciting to go to the theatre and be impressed by someone who can do both sides of the coin. Plus, I love Sean and Christy, and I would love for there to be a whole bunch of good, funny actors in San Diego for me to play with all the time.”

The three-hour master class will be geared towards professional working actors; however, theatre lovers are also welcome to enroll. While some actors may shy away from comedic training, Phil maintains that the funny bits are completely accessible to even the most dramatic of thespians.

“So many people think it’s separate from them, so they’re not using all the tools in their toolbox,” he says. “Almost any good actor can be a good comedian. It’s about details and intention and thinking things through.”

To that end, he plans to organize the class around a checklist – particulars that the actor can pay attention to in order to achieve the maximum comedic effect from his or her scenes.

“If the audience is laughing, then they are following your story,” explains Phil. “If they aren’t, then you need to shake things up.”

This is why he loves previews, he says, which is that time during the run of a show when things can still be adjusted after receiving input from the audience’s reaction each evening.  “I get to see what works and what doesn’t before opening.”

Phil Johnson with Jacqueline Ritz
Photo credit: Daren Scott

This willingness to continually pursue the perfection of comedic timing is part of paying attention to the details. This is something Phil learned from his comedic stints in theatre, his own teachers, and also from a childhood spent watching the greats: Bill Cosby, Carol Burnett, Sonny and Cher, and Jonathan Winters. Honoring the legacy of comedy is something he feels is fundamental to its study.

“I think one thing that young people don’t do often enough is watch the old stuff. They don’t know who Bette Davis or Rock Hudson are,” says Phil. ”Comedy is so much an homage to what’s come before.”

Studying the legends is one way to keep one’s skills polished and in tune, but nothing beats the experience of a class. “I wish I had had someone to give me a tune up every once in a while,” he says. “You can always be funnier.”

And what if you are rather nervous about taking a master class in comedy?

“Don’t worry,” says Phil. “Nervous people are almost always funny.”

– Tiffany Tang

A Master Class on Comedy with Phil Johnson. November 24, 6-9 pm. Clayton E. Liggett Theatre at Intrepid Shakespeare (SDA Campus). $60. Enroll here.

Barefoot and Banter

Jason Maddy, pictured here in Macbeth,
changes pace with Barefoot in the Park

Director Jason Maddy discusses Simon, Shakespeare, and situational comedy…

Jason Maddy pauses before he responds to the question of whether or not working on Neil Simon is similar to working on Shakespeare.

“I think there’s parallels in all great writers,” he finally says.  ”There’s always a path to the characters somewhere in the writing.  You just have to find it.”

Charged with the task of directing Intrepid’s upcoming staged reading of Barefoot in the Park, Jason is thankful that these parallels do, in fact, exist.  While he has taken a turn on stage playing the character of Paul, directing this Simon classic is another story entirely.

“It’s different viewing the story through the eyes of other characters,” he explains.  ”Because I played Paul once, he will always be a part of me.  But the story is really Corie’s.  It’s her journey.  The rest of the characters are a part of that journey.”

Barefoot in the Park is set in New York City in the new brownstone apartment of Corie and Paul, who are newlyweds.  Hilarity ensues as they manage parents, neighbors, and the challenges of their new married relationship.  While on Broadway in the 1960s, it was nominated for three Tony Awards and became Neil Simon’s longest running production, with over 1,500 performances.

Jason cites many connections between Shakespeare and Simon, and he would know, having taken the stage with Intrepid in both Macbeth and Richard II.  While his Shakespeare work here has been of a somewhat darker nature, he feels confident in his abilities to handle Simon’s somewhat lighter fare, partly because of these connections and his own past experience with the play.  He points out that most of us know Neil Simon better than we think we do, as this playwright has perhaps contributed more to our social understanding of comedy than we realize.

“He’s the father of situational humor,” he says.  ”We owe a lot of our understanding of how comedy works to his writing.”

Addressing the comedy is also part of the challenge, however, especially in a staged reading format.  ”Some actors go over the top, and some actors are too natural.  It’s exciting to help them walk that tightrope between honesty and comic timing.”

But most of all, the parallels to Shakespeare land within the text.  Just as Intrepid’s mission statement cites the importance of the playwright’s words as the main source of illumination, Jason takes this approach with Simon as well.

“The play is really in the rhythm of the words.  Once we find Simon’s pace within the situation and the text, that is when we find the story.”

Shakespeare probably wouldn’t have said it better.  – T.T.

Barefoot in the Park (a staged reading).  Wednesday, December 5.  Encinitas Library 540 Cornish Drive, Encinitas. Tickets $10 – Purchase in advance here or RSVP here and pay cash at the door. Reception at 7:00 pm, reading at 7:30 pm.