When pondering indicators that make a city great, I doubt few think tanks stop to consider a thriving comedy scene. After surveying the robust comedy offerings in LA and Chicago, Matt Kramer decided to take his chance in Indy with an idea for a new form of comedy -- the live sitcom. His group Defiance Comedy takes every cliché troupe from classic '80s and '90s sitcoms and juxtaposes them against unlikely settings, such as Mom and Pop's Porno Shop. This week, Boyband! finishes season two at White Rabbit Cabaret on March 19. In our Q&A, Matt shares his quest to making live comedy succeed in Indianapolis, his plans for future live sitcoms, and his imagined Cheers recast with local actors.
Justin: How did you get your start in comedy?
Matt: I've been a comedian/writer for around 10 years. I started with Improv at Comedysportz, moved on to sketch comedy with $3Bill, and most recently I started my own project, Defiance Comedy. I have a Philosophy degree from Butler University, so I'm in a unique position to run my own comedy group -- consistently under-qualified for grown-up jobs. Writing, directing, and producing is a lot tougher than it looks. The creative process of getting these shows on their feet is probably my favorite part. Will Pfaffenberger once commented that the first read-through of scripts was like Christmas morning. Truer words were never spoken.
Justin: Where did you get the idea to do a live sitcom?
Matt: The idea came to me when I was the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz" at the Children's Museum. Matt Anderson, Mike Hosp and I had a lot of downtime, so we basically inserted the Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man into various sitcoms. It was a lot of fun, and everyone liked the idea, so I ran with it. Each show runs for four live episodes every other week, with an ongoing character arch and jokes that rewards loyal fans, but is not so complicated newcomers can't jump in mid-season.
Justin: Had anything like this been done before in other cities?
Matt: Before starting Defiance Comedy, I made trips to L.A. and Chicago to try to get a pulse on the comedy scenes. The truth is the markets are saturated. You can find just about any kind of comedy, any level, any day or night in those cities. In Indy, I found that there has always been some resistance to comedy outside of sketch and improv. I struggled to get a sketch group together for over a year, and it wasn't until some big names in the comedy scene enlisted (Will Pfaffenberger, Claire Wilcher, Jeff Clawson and Chad Woodward), that we were able to form $3Bill. When I came up with the live sitcom idea, I was met with even more doubters. I heard, over and over again that there was no market in Indianapolis for what I wanted to do. That's why we're named Defiance Comedy. It's a middle finger to everyone that told me not to start the group.
Justin: You are finishing Season 2 of Boyband! now. For someone who hasn't been yet, fill them in on what they've missed so far.
Matt: Boyband! is the story of a group of 30-year-olds who get their old college band back together -- their boyband. The sitcom itself addresses the struggles the group faces in trying to be a legit boyband, while trying to balance their professional and family lives. Each episode features original songs. Our second season finale is on March 19th, and we will be having a Battle of the Boybands. We'll be bringing in two other bands to compete. We'll also being releasing our second album.
Justin: The Boyband! group BroZone has started to create a life for itself outside the show. Any future plans for the group? Will there be a third season?
Matt: BroZone has done a number of concerts outside of the show, and they've done a surprising number of bachelorette parties. The guys are pretty close, so we try to schedule events during the off seasons. The biggest project we have for the fall is the IndyFringe Festival. If you've missed any or all of the shows, come to that. We'll be performing a sort of "best of" from the past two seasons. A third season should happen sometime next year.
Listen to BroZone's first album featuring hit songs Sex the World, Not Sorry and C-Block D-Bag.
Justin: Next up, you have a show based on popular sci-fi hits, such as Star Trek. What are your plans for that?
Matt: My next project, SpaceShip to Nowhere was suggested to me from a drunk guy in a bar after a BroZone concert. By the way, thanks for the idea, drunk stranger. I'm not a big sci-fi nerd. I mean, I love Star Wars, and I know who Dr. Spock is, but for the most part, it's just not my favorite genre. However, the response I received after pitching the idea to friends and colleagues was overwhelming. I've spent the past eight months or so Netflixing everything from Star Trek to Battlestar Galactica to Firefly to Dr. Who. Don't worry. We're prepared.
Justin: It seems with the rise of cult followings for sci-fi shows and popularity of GenCon and Comic Cons that there could be a different audience for this than a show about boybands. Are you hoping to reach a new audience?
Matt: We are hoping to add to our crowd. I'm constantly overwhelmed at the numbers and great feedback we get from people. The goal is to attract a strong collection of loyal followers who schedule our shows as if they were their favorite TV shows.
Justin: Do you have favorite comedy groups or comedians you follow?
Matt: I grew up on SNL, and I closely follow Internet sketch groups like the Harvard Sailing Team and The Whitest Kids U Know. One of my favorite things to do is to see showcase shows. When I was in L.A., I basically lived at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater for two weeks. They had multiple shows every night that were put on by the different levels of classes. Every show was $5, a different style, different comedians and actors, and the place was always packed with young audiences that were super forgiving and wanted to laugh. The shows weren't always brilliant, but the energy in that room is something that I try to re-create.
Justin: Usually I ask everyone to recast a movie with local actors, but in your case a classic sitcom seems more appropriate.
Matt: Okay, Cheers. I'd cast Ryan Rockman as Sam, Leah Dewalt as Diane, Lisa Ermel as Rebecca, Corey Jefferson as Norm, Zack Joyce as Cliff, Todd Kenworthy as Coach, John Goodson as Woody, Dave Ruark as Frasier, Kate Homan as Lilith, Jaddy Ciucci as Carla and Matt Anderson as Harry "The Hat" Gittes.
Head to Fountain Square to watch the Boyband! season finale March 19 at White Rabbit Cabaret. For more comedy fun in Indy the Gal Pal Comedy Fest is underway every Friday in March featuring the ladies of Comedy Sportz, Indyprov and Defiance Comedy.