2019 has been quite the year, and that certainly calls for some reflection. Philadelphians can do just that in a wildly entertaining way with 1812 Productions’ annual political comedy “This Is The Week That Is.” The unique production incorporates sketch comedy, musical parodies, and newsdesk style reporting that changes nightly depending on the news happening in real-time. It’s this element that has helped cement the show as a must-see and has already gotten audiences buzzing about what this year’s edition will hold. Metro sat down with two of the talented performers, Barrymore Award winner Justin Jain (JJ) and Barrymore Award winner Brett Robinson (BR) to get the scoop on the show, their performing styles and how their writer’s room is a truly wild place to be right now.
Two cast members give the scoop on 1812 Productions’ wildly entertaining political comedy ‘This Is The Week That Is’
For those who don’t know, how would you describe the show?
JJ: “This Is The Week That Is” is humor that sort of takes what we know about what happened in the past year, not only politically, but in the general news, and we try to find the funny in it all. We create sketches based around the things that we find. The sketches are different from what I think “SNL” does best which are parodies, we do incorporate some parody but we also include subversion, some musical acts and audience participation with our very small cast of six. We all portray many different kinds of roles. What we do is very alive and in the room, it’s all about play and finding the pleasure underneath all of the awful things that have transpired throughout the year as well as some of the more absurd and funny things.
BR: I would say something similar. This is my first year, but “This Is The Week That Is” often feels like a year-in-review show and does summarize with a particular Philadelphia lens. I think what’s so successful about the show is that we really are interested in doing this show for Philadelphians and bringing that local humor and national humor with that sense of flavor and kind of spirit of Philadelphia with it. The cast is so small that we all write and come up with these ideas together. Everyone also sings and plays an instrument, so not only is there a ton of music, there’s just a ton of talented performers who can do a lot of things and have written to showcase their own skills.
What is special about this particular style of show for audiences and for you as creative artists?
JJ: I think this form of sketch writing and show allows us to digest, process and find the light in things that are otherwise dark and difficult. It’s also to celebrate the things that were really fun and memorable about the past year with the world and also on a local level. There are a lot of jokes that point towards local Philadelphia news that are really fun and lighthearted. We try to have a good balance, we call ourselves equal opportunity offenders in the sense that if we go too far one way we are able to balance it in other ways. Also, it’s a way of ending the whole year with this kind of review by opening ourselves up. It really is such a nice way to end the year not with just ourselves as the cast, but with the audience as well. The ensemble also changes every year, so every time the audience comes back they are going to see something different.
BR: As a performer, it really asks you to be elastic and take big bold and creative risks that are really funny— which is always thrilling and always makes you have to think fast and on your feet. The show is written pretty quickly and in real-time, so it creates this kind of electricity in the room. Everyone is together working towards a common goal and that allows you to take comedic risks that you wouldn’t naturally do yourself. The more people think about a project, the more angles from all of our different experiences we can bring to it. All of those different senses of humor and sensibilities arise in this work which makes it really thrilling, and audiences will have something in common with at least one of us on stage. It’s important to have a writer’s room and a group of performers who are diverse with experiences so the audiences knows they are in good hands and that they will laugh at something from the show because it’s true for them.
Justin, since this is your fourth year, is there anything that stands out to you from this year’s production?
JJ: One of the main theses that we’re teasing out in our writer’s room is talking about what is the new normal? The progression that I’ve followed in the last four years with my first year being the election year with all of the zany candidates, to the next year having a new administration, and then the next year the show responding in shock. So that’s why we are teasing the thread of what is the new normal? There’s so much in the last two years that we’ve just accepted as normal: How rapid the news cycle changes, or even how certain things have become normalized now that in previous years have been taboo or even offensive. So this year is very much about understanding, unpacking and looking at the shock at what is normal now versus what was normal then.
Since this is your first year Brett, were there any challenges you didn’t anticipate or maybe some things you didn’t expect?
BR: Not necessarily unexpected, but what feels certainly great is that entering into a show like this can feel intimidating, but with a cast that’s been doing it for so long, they are so clear on what the vision is. Really all I have to do is to be as creative as I can and to generate as much as I can while trusting that there have been people who have been doing it longer and who I can trust for re-writes and things like that. I’m not surprised, but I’m also thrilled that the room is so generous. Especially when it’s filled with a whole bunch of people who love laughing and who love writing comedy. In a way, it’s a total gift. I feel like I have permission to go for it as wildly as I want, and I trust that they have their eye on the larger shaping of the show.
Overall what do you hope audiences take away from the show after watching a performance?
JJ: First and foremost that they are entertained and have great fun while they are with us, and that they are able to open up themselves up to thinking about, talking about and laughing at a lot of the things that have been really difficult in the past year. There’s so much that can transpire in that theater not only entertainment-wise but also in terms of healing and bringing people together. It can make people step back from the seriousness of it all and try to find some light in the darkness. I also think it’s quite a great privilege to be able to be in the room and make comedy out of this material. I have a lot of friends all over the world in China, Barcelona and Turkey, and anytime they even remotely try to do a show kind of political, it ends up with people getting arrested and people getting thrown in jail. Also sometimes learning comes out of it and people learn something new about the world or even Philadelphia.
BR: I really hope people walk away being able to have so enjoyed themselves and have the feeling of being able to laugh at this year and think where they were in those particular moments. Not only politically, but in those technological moments where everything goes so fast. I hope they reflect on this year and remember their year on a personal level because time moves by so quickly. Such as where were you or what were you thinking when Gritty was first announced? I hope seeing those moments on stage elicits those memories for people.
“This Is The Week That Is” will run onstage at 1812 Productions (1714 Delancey St.) Nov. 29- Jan. 5. For more information visit 1812productions.org