On September 16, an unprecedented cast of some of the finest up-and-coming comics and performers in Philadelphia joined forces for the finale of their faux Pro-Wrestling extravaganza–Pro Mania–during the final string of the Fringe Festival. The episodic, weekly show was a massive group effort from Philly Improv Theater players and area comedians looking to lend a helping hand. Some of the driving forces behind the show were performers Greg Maughan, Alex J. Gross, and Ian David Vaflor, all responsible for coordinating the chaos into something that would eventually resemble semi-controlled chaos.
Having only caught the final show, some of the story lines were lost on me, but became gradually easier to pick up as the evening progressed. It also helped to have Improv cast members shouting out back-story elements during moments of silence or preparation.
It’s difficult to go into too much specific detail about the show without sounding like a mental patient, but suffice it to say that the characters and scenarios presented for an enthusiastic audience (and very forgiving front row) were entertaining, funny, and rarely missed a beat. Everyone played their parts with much more energy than–I believe–anyone was expecting. (Pictures below)
Stand-out performances included Alex J. Gross going from a white ensemble, to an Amish wrestler enticed by fire, to an uncomfortable-looking pair of tightie-whities…always, however, flanked by a topless ring-girl who caught everyone off-guard. James Hesky, one of my favorite Philadelphia comedians, never disappoints as a referee or body guard on the Philly Improv stage; whether he’s devouring cold Arby’s sandwiches, pounding down whiskey, or simply keeping the show flowing, he’s one of a kind. Ginger Comedian Joe Dougherty went out on a limb portraying himself as a reluctant participator. The audience backed him completely, making him perhaps the biggest star of the show who wasn’t a topless girl.
The show’s commentators may have won the award for most impressive use of alcohol on stage. The team of Brendan Kennedy and his comedy partner threw the audience and the other performers into a frenzy with show-stopping jokes, jabs, and quips, and even more epic drunk antics which ultimately resulted in someone being tackled so that the show could progress. I was able to have a perfect view of the mayhem without the unfortunate happenstance of sitting in the front row.
All-in-all, despite some minor technical difficulties, a delayed start, and audience abuse, the show was massively entertaining and successful. For now, the Pro Mania series is over, but we can only hope a new concept is in the works.
The next Gross Show improv comedy performance will be September 30th. View all details here.