In preparation for SketchFest NYC, amNewYork spoke with Chris Principe, 27, and Jeff Solomon, 26, two members of the New York-based five-piece sketch comedy group Elephant Larry, which formed in 2002.
There is nobody named Larry in the group, nor are there elephants.
They will be performing Saturday, June 9 at 10pm.
How do you define sketch comedy?
Jeff: I think what’s funny about sketch comedy is that people tend to know what it is, and not know that they know, actually. So if you say, “Oh, it’s like Saturday Night Live,” they’re like, “Oh, that thing, yeah.” And then if people don’t like SNL, you say, “It’s like SNL, but funny.”
Chris: [SketchFest] is cool, because you get to see a lot of different groups, and yeah, it’s all sketch comedy, but there are so many different ways to take it that you don’t realize. And especially for outsiders, people who aren’t familiar with the form. It’s so much more than Saturday Night Live.
Can you describe a typical Elephant Larry show for someone who’s never seen you before?
Jeff: We try to keep our shows pretty short and sweet, and hopefully leaving people wanting more. Generally our sketch shows don’t have a clear, overarching theme. It’ll usually be disparate ideas. Probably not the kind of recurring-character sketch that you see on SNL, but more like something like The State or one of the newer shows out there like Human Giant. And we’ll do live sketches interspersed with videos, so that we try to have a seamless 45 minutes.
How has the growth of sketch comedy in New York affected Elephant Larry?
Chris: It’s funny, it’s like everybody has a comedy group now. It’s kind of like the equivalent of a rock band. You’ll see groups everywhere, just popping up. I think it’s a good thing. I don’t look at it in that competitive way. You can go any night of the week and see a sketch comedy show, and specifically sketch, not even improv or standup. It makes sense, kind of, that sketch has really grown.
What are your comedy influences?
Jeff: I think for me, Looney Tunes is actually a big influence, particularly Chuck Jones’ stuff. His cartoons in the mid-’50s,¬ to get particularly nerdy about it,¬ are very inspiring to me. They have a strong emphasis on writing, and they kind of played with the conventional notion of these characters, and broke the fourth wall and did a lot of the meta-humor stuff that is pretty prevalent nowadays, and was really ahead of its time back then.
Are you guys funny in everyday life?
Chris: No! Oh God, no. No, I will immediately talk seriously about anything.
Jeff: It’s that pizza place analogy of working at a pizzeria all day, and you don’t wanna go home and have pizza for dinner.
Describe the process of writing and performing a sketch.
Chris: Usually, it’s just whatever makes us laugh. It’s kind of the curse of the comedian, in a way, where you have this one moment of the natural joy of the joke. ‘Oh, that’s really funny. Can this work on stage?’ And it immediately becomes a mathematical thing.
Jeff: You immediately have to analyze why it’s funny. One second of laughter, and then we start working on it. It’s a cool journey though, because the first time when that joke hits — it’s great for us, and we love it. And then we write and we work on it, and then finally when we get to put it up on stage that first time, it’s realizing that it’s funny again –¬ hopefully. It kind of comes full circle.
Do you have any favorite sketches?
Jeff: I have a sketch that I love to do that everybody hates, including the audience. That would be Giant Venus Flytrap Land, in which I play a clerk at the Ikea customer service desk, and this customer is angry because he didn’t get his couch delivered. He got a huge clay flowerpot delivered to him, and that¹s because his items got switched with a customer in Giant Venus Flytrap Land.
Chris: And how does that sketch usually go over?
Jeff: Terribly, actually! Everybody hates it. I love it.
How does Elephant Larry still keep it fresh, when you’ve been performing together for so long?
Chris: I think the humor of the group has kind of evolved and changed, as we’ve changed too. I know that sounds kind of corny. We always make each other laugh. I guess it’s like a relationship ¬ you find new ways to fall in love with each other. And we’re all in it for the long haul. I respect the other guys in the group immensely — and I trust those guys, and they trust me too, at least I think.
Jeff: Well, we started out as friends, and I think that definitely has something to do with it. I hear about a lot of groups starting because they’ve taken a class together, or sometimes classes actually form groups even when people don’t necessarily select to be part of it. And the five of us knew each other in college, we were writing comedy together in college with a larger group, and we saw in each other a commonality in our sense of humor. The fact that we sought that out as friends definitely has a huge amount to do with it.
What is it about SketchFest that keeps you coming back for a third year?
Jeff: The crowds are great, and because it’s a festival and because it takes place in a different part of the city than some of the places where we’ve taken residence over the years, it brings in different crowds. I think we always end up making new fans and new friends whenever we do the festival.
Chris: It’s also got a real convention-like feel to it. The shows are awesome — but it’s also the opportunity to see a lot of groups doing different things with the same kind of form, from all over the country.
Jeff: It’s a chance to see our friends.