Alex Gross (a separate entity from the Alex Gross of SuperDPS.com) is a comedian who performs Improv, Sketch and Stand-up in the Philadelphia area. He has been doing comedy since high school where he formed a sketch group called CWA (Crackers with Attitude). After an unsuccessful run at college, Alex decided to major in “comedy” at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York City. He has studied under Bobby Moynihan (Saturday Night Live), Kevin Allison (MTV’s The State, Risk!), Matt Besser (Upright Citizens Brigade, Crossballs), Scott Adsit (30 Rock, Moral Orel) among others.
We were fortunate enough to catch Alex during some downtime in his busy schedule of chuckles and goof-abouts.
SuperDPS: In your performance career, is improvised sketch comedy a permanent place for you, or do you think you’ll drift over to one-person stand up comedy?
ALEX: I find it funny that I’m even doing improvised sketch comedy again. Back in 2007 after studying Improv 101 at the Upright Citizens Brigade NYC, I started college at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The only Improv going on there was an improvised sketch group called F.L.U.S.H. which was awful. We sang a Rent musical song at the beginning of every show and the message was supposed to be anti-drug and abstinence which I hate. I quit about four shows in and swore to myself that I would never do improvised sketch again.
The difference between F.L.U.S.H. and The Gross Show is that everyone in my show is very talented and the show is promoting alcohol and sex. I’m trying to do what punk did to music, to comedy. I find if the performers are being outrageous and extreme while the audience watches and drinks, we all have a fun time. I want The Gross Show to be a comedy show but feel like a party as well. It really is a one-of-a-kind show.
As for stand up comedy, I’m not into the idea of making a set. I did it for a little at 18 but I get annoyed telling the same jokes. I’ve done storytelling but I’ve lost interest in that as well. I love doing characters though. This month I’ve performed a 9 year old boy of a single mom and a Demon who hosts a dating show called “The Lust Circle of Hell” but as for being a traditional stand up comedian, I don’t think it’s for me, yet.
Does your atheism play a large or significant role in your comedy style or writing?
I think it does a little bit because I’m not afraid to be sacrilegious. The problem with comedy and religion is I feel like it’s all been said so what’s the point of rehashing jokes. Whenever I want to write something making fun of religion I just listen to some Bill Hicks, David Cross, George Carlin, Doug Stanhope, etc. I love to study religions still; it’s one of my favorite hobbies. When I hung out with the Mormons it was the most fun I’ve ever had being an atheist.
What is your process for putting together one of your shows? Is there a formula or is it drastically different every time?
It’s a mix of people pitching me ideas and me creating my own segments. I wish I could say there is a formula but it’s more of a schedule. By this date, this needs to be done. I try and have meetings with people in advance and there’s a lot of Texting and Facebook messaging going on. The half hour before the show I do a lot of running around to each segment talking to them about their piece for the show. It’s organized chaos but it always turns out amazing.
What brought you from New York to Philly? Do you have any plans on going back to NYC to continue your career?
In Spring 2009, when I was taking level 401 and about to graduate from the Upright Citizens Brigade’s Improv program I felt like I had nowhere to go. There was no opportunity for me in New York City. I’ll never forget when an improviser told me, “You’re in a great position! You’ll probably get on a UCB house team when you’re 23, 24.” I’m so impatient and I was 20. Three to four years of waiting for something that isn’t even set in stone would have killed me.
The day I got my license back from getting arrested for underage drinking on my birthday there was an Improv festival at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. I jumped into my car without a physical copy of my ID and drove. I met a lot of cool people including Greg Maughan, the Executive Director of the Philly Improv Theater. We talked about me taking classes at PHIT and since then I’ve been having the time of my life in Philly. Our scene is great and hip, I would never have been this happy in NYC. I don’t plan on going back but I do occasionally perform there. I was just a guest performer for the show Self Image at the Magnet Theater.
What do you think is the basis or “framework” for ‘Alternative Comedy’?
Be yourself and do what you think is funny. Once you start worrying about making everybody else laugh you’re selling yourself out. Fuck everybody, if you enjoy this kind of humor, just do it. There are others out there like you and they will find you. Be unique.
Who do you look up to in the industry for what they’ve accomplished?
I love Bill Hicks. That man spoke directly from the heart and he didn’t care about anything else. He is a great example of a stand up comic using truth in comedy. It’s still a shame that we lost him. I respect him so much.
Bill Murray is my favorite actor hands down. He’s extremely funny in everything he’s ever done and reading about his off screen escapades is hilarious. Well everything he’s ever done aside from Garfield.
Also, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention Mr. Show with Bob and David. That show raised my humor growing up.
We’ve been discussing the idea of having a duel for awhile now. What conditions must be met for this epic duel?
We drink the same beer and whoever drinks the most wins. Vomiting is an automatic loss. No guns unless they shoot tequila and/or swords unless inflatable.
Does one of the two (improv or stand up) come easier to you as a performer?
I’ve been doing Improv for over five years now. It’s almost second nature but that doesn’t mean everything I do is good. Improv is a drug. You never know if it’s going to be a good trip or a bad trip until you jump in head first. You just have to have faith in yourself, everybody around you and then you almost always have an awesome time. If you don’t have confidence in yourself or in your fellow performers you can expect to have a shitty time. Improv is comedy on a high wire.
Do you have any horror stories of performances that went awry due to heckling or any other factors?
At Connie’s Ric Rac I did a show called “Beef”, it was half rap battle, half improv show. I was doing an Improv scene and a cell phone went off mid way through. I stood up, walked to the front of stage and screamed, “Are you fucking kidding me?!” and sat back down, continuing the scene. Of course the scene was ruined but it was a bad scene before the phone went off. I just used the phone as an excuse to let out my frustration.
At the first The Gross Show had a heckler who kept saying, “That’s so racist” and it drove me up a wall. Either she didn’t get the point of the segment or she wanted to be a part of the show, but it was stupid. I just ignored it but now my security guard, Husky Hesky, deals with hecklers by shooting them with silly string and that shit smells.
What advice would you give to someone trying to get into improv in a time that is very competitive and, at-times, unforgiving?
Take classes and practice. Improv is a comedy form that goes against every human reaction we have. No one is born a great improviser and if someone is, they are locked up in a mental hospital or in jail. The Philly Improv Theater has classes every month and it is hands down the best Improv school Philadelphia has. All the teachers are awesome. For practicing, at the CEC (3500 Lancaster Ave) on Sundays 7 to 11 there is the Improv Incubator. Everyone is very nice, supportive and it’s donation only. Also, watch a lot of Improv, lots of different groups and especially people you enjoy. I’ve easily watched over 200 hours of Improv in my life and loved it.
For more info on Alex Gross’ regular Improv shows, check out his Facebook Page here.
For more on the Philly Improv Theater and future events, see their site here.
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