Tag Archives: Phil Johnson

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.

Meet the Mechanicals of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical”

Meet the Mechanicals:
(back) Savvy Scopelleti, Brian Imoto, (front) Nathan Riley, Gerilyn Brault, Phil Johnson

Dropping in on the Mechanicals during the early days of rehearsal is not unlike dropping into a cocktail party with old friends – minus the cocktails. And minus any actual history of friendship, for that matter.

It’s true. The five actors who will portray the working class players in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical, which previews this week, have bonded so quickly, one would think that they had known each other for years, when in fact they all met at the show’s first rehearsal.

“It is the first time we’ve worked as a group, but not the last,” says Phil Johnson, who will be portraying Bottom. “We’re getting a van.”

To be a Mechanical in A Midsummer Night’s Dream means that you get to be responsible for most of the humor in the play, as the band of hopeful actors gathers and rehearses in the forest, falling prey to the machinations of the Fairies.

“It was really fun for me to be a part of the group that everyone remembers as just the clowns,” says Gerilyn Brault, who will be portraying Peter Quince, the troupe’s director. “It’s been really freeing to work with this amazing group.”

This sentiment is a common one, even to Savvy Scopelleti, who will be reprising the role of Snug, which she portrayed in last summer’s production.

“It’s a different show this year,” she says. “It’s a new cast with new energy…and it really did gel so instantly.”

Thankfully this insta-bonding has created a safe environment of play and experimentation, relieving some of the stress that learning both the Shakespearean text as well as the 60s tunes which will be infused into the show can bring. Brian Imoto, who will be playing Snout and who is also fairly new to Shakespeare, takes solace in the fact that the Mechanicals are supposed to be “amateur actors.”

“It was a relief to me,” he says. “We’re off the hook!”

The group immediately dissolves into laughter, something that happens every thirty seconds or so. After spending more than five minutes with this crowd, you bring to wonder how they actually get anything done in rehearsals, with all of the gut-busting going on.

But no one seems to be worried. For now, this group of talented actors and singers are indulging themselves in their off-stage repartee. It can only come in handy once the curtains open this week. Nathan Riley, who will be playing Flute and ultimately the lovelorn Thisby, barely contains his enthusiasm for his tribe.

“If you’re going to see Midsummer this summer, which I’m pretty sure you will,” he says, “this is the one to see.” — T.T.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Musical runs July 11-August 18 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas, CA.

Purchase tickets now.