Recently, I sat grabbed a cup of coffee at the coolest coffee shop in Union Square, Somerville, MA. with Jackie Arko and Hannah Foell to talk about The Kerfuffle- a variety show (?) that runs one Wednesday a month at ImprovBoston. While the intent was clear - describe an indescribable show - we got sidetracked and laughed about a lot of superfluous topics and ideas. We fact that the conversation we had was a combination of ideas and jokes told only to make each other laugh is probably a more accurate description of what you can expect from The Kerfuffle, but you’ll see for yourself WHEN YOU COME TO THE SHOW TONIGHT APRIL 24th 2013 .
Tangents include and are not limited to:
- The people around us watching Ted Talks in a café
- Watching this GIF:
- The merits of Punky Brewster’s “Cave” episode
- Expectations for the remake of Carrie
- Our favorite covers of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
- Breaking Up In Public: A List of Do’s and DO NOT’s (inspired by the couple sitting behind us- who was clearly breaking up in public)
What it comes down to is this: you have to come see this show.
IB: At the last Kerfuffle in March, you mentioned that April’s show is the one-year anniversary of the reboot to The Kerfuffle. What was the show like before you unplugged it and plugged it back in?
JA: Yes- we made it up a few years ago. How many years ago was it… two?
HF: About two years ago. Originally we made it up as a replacement for Rock Band Night.
JA: I think so – It was started as a way for us (Jackie & Hannah) to do sets.
HF: Originally we wanted to do a different set every time. It started as a chance for us to do something new and weird every month. It was our Good Will Hunting. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote that movie so that they could act in it- this was our version of that.
JA: We wanted to do all these great things and obviously we couldn’t do a whole show of just us doing different bits, so we started to incorporate stand-ups and improv groups into the show. It was a little scrambly. We let people know that if they wanted to do something – they should just do it and we would close out the show with one of our own sets. There wasn’t a theme for each show at this point- the early version was much different than it is today. Then we went on hiatus for a while.
HF: We went on hiatus for the fall and the winter because Rock Band Night came back. After Rock Band and a few other shows came through, we got our own slot for real and we were doing it the same way we’re doing it before until we decided to do the theme thing and see what happened with that.
IB: And that’s the anniversary that’s coming up.
JA: Yep – April was the first time the show looked like it does now. It was a total crapshoot; we had no idea if it would work.
Jackie & Hannah watching their brainchild at work
IB: What has the process been like since April of 2012? Have you been refining it month over month?
HF: We came up with the blank submission process the first time. People would submit the name of their bit and how much time they need and we pick the acts based on that. The only change to the process we use now is the time limit. 10 minutes is the max time for acts now.
JA: Because we’re not vetting anything, we want to make sure that every act has the time it needs to connect with the audience, but not go over and beyond what the audience will think is funny. Lucky for us, that really hasn’t happened.
HF: The other reason for the time limit is the pace of the show. The pace of the show is so fast that if we put in a really long set, it would feel 10 times faster than it really is.
IB: What has it been like trying to wrangle this thing? I’m sure the submissions you get now are triple what you were receiving a year ago. How has the selection processed changed?
HF: Co-Producer Casey Malone couldn’t be here today because he’s at a bachelor party at a haunted mansion in New Jersey, but he helps out with that a ton. We try to split it up into thirds. We get the submissions, Jackie puts them into an Excel spreadsheet, and we evaluate from there. We only have one running Google Doc for every single submission, which is super helpful in keeping the show fresh and for keeping track of what the audience has already seen.
JA: It also helps us with booking the show. We try to have a mix of favorites and acts that have never performed before. Robert Woo has performed at every single Kerfuffle because every month he’s doing something really creative that’s pushing its own boundaries, is different, and fun. We always make and effort to have a few acts who have never been in The Kerfuffle before so it doesn’t feel like it’s people over and over again. We want everyone to be able to get up there.
Gotham City’s favorite cooking show, BANE CAN COOK
In this scene we find out that Cobra Commander has quit his job as a waiter.
IB: It’s easy to see that you’re pouring a lot into this show. You can tell by watching you host that “Jackie and Hannah” during The Kerfuffle is the truest form of yourselves. You just seem really happy doing it.
HF: Jackie and I do have a baby together and it’s named The Kerfuffle. We love it. A lot of it comes from the blind submission process. Jackie and I literally have NO IDEA what is going to happen. It’s like a walking a tightrope.
JA: We really are that excited and we want the audience to be that excited. We want everyone in the audience to feel like there is no forth wall- no divisive energy. We want the people who always come to this show to feel like they’re just as big a part of it as the performers do. Hopefully the new people pick up on that and want to come back because it’s a really fun place.
IB: The acts that get submitted seem like the bits you would do to make your friends laugh. It’s that kind of energy, but heightened to the maximum because it’s being performed on stage.
HF: Exactly – the audience at The Kerfuffle is READY. They are ready for the weirdest thing possible. So like when someone comes out covered from head to toe in blood and asks them to chant “You miiiight be covered in blooooooood!” they are super willing to do it.
…You might be covered in blood.
IB: if you were trying to describe The Kerfuffle to someone and get him or her to come see this show, what would you say?
HF: Let the record show that Jackie and I are both saying “uuuuugh.”
JA: You should come to the show.
HF: Because it’s great.
IB: Ok. Anything else?
JA: This is a hard question. The words the best describe The Kerfuffle are words like “BOUNDARY PUSHING!” or “EXPERIMENTAL!” or “ZANY!” but it’s a lot more than that. It’s not people going out and being weird for weirdness sake. The Kerfuffle is a super safe space for people to put out there the exact bit they’ve been dreaming of doing, and no matter how zany it gets, the audience is pumped for it. It’s one of the only shows I know of that’s like that every single time.
The audience is invested.
HF: The best thing about The Kerfuffle is that we give people a chance to do whatever it is that they want to do and I really believe that when you give comedians and artists the creative freedom to do that great things are going to happen.
JA: The theme really helps too. When you give someone a starting point, it just makes it so much easier for someone’s creativity to take off in interesting ways.
HF: Orson Welles said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitation.”
HF: We give people total freedom with a structure and I think that’s where the magic with this show really comes from.
JA: You can take the theme however you want. Something like “The Birds and The Bees” can be interpreted in many different ways. It can be whatever you think it is.
IB: Have there been many shows that got their start at The Kerfuffle?
HF: Yes – several of shows started at The Kerfuffle. A Dramatic Reading of Saved By The Bell started there and got a multi-week run at Comedy Lab.
A Dramatic Reading of Saved By The Bell. From Left to Right - Zack, Lisa, Screech, and Slater. Jackie and Hannah found out on stage they had been cast.
Classic Zack Morris aka Chris Duffy
Christine Cuddy’s pop star PRISM ran twice at The Kerfuffle, and then got a full run at SketchHaus.
PRISM. We need more PRISM.
There have also been some acts at The Kerfuffle that aren’t meant to be silly-funny – we also have stuff that you are not going to see anywhere else. I love the acts that are a little more serious. Will Luera did an incredible set about his father during the Crime and Punishment show- that was amazing!
JA: Or the act that Steve Delfino did with Will Lautzenheiser– a comedian who had both is arms and legs amputated. That is the only time I have ever seen a standing ovation at ImprovBoston.
IB: With the growing reputation of The Kerfuffle and idea submissions always increasing, have you ever thought of trying to expand the show to a weekly format?
HF: I don’t think we could do it every week. We need time to plan it out and for anticipation to build from theme to theme.
JA: I would probably lose my mind if we had to run this show every week.
HF: It’s my hope that the more shows start to spring up that fully embodies its own personality. There are opportunities for people to do that if that’s what they want. They can submit an idea to ImprovBoston and get to run a show that they can really say is theirs.
JA: That’s really how it happened with us. I feel like this is truly our brainchild.
HF: The worst day of the month is when we have to go through the selection process. We go through the submissions and come up with our set list and it always winds up being like 3 hours long and we have to start editing and it’s terrible.
JA: A few months ago the theme was “An Embarrassment of Riches”, because that’s what we always say about the submissions. How are we going to say no to these amazing performers with amazing set ideas who only want 5 minutes? I feel spoiled by how many great ideas get submitted every month.
What if the Devil had a game show?
Like I said, you have to see this show. The One Year Anniversary of The Kerfuffle is TONIGHT. APRIL 24th. 2013. AT 40 PROSPECT STREET IN CAMBRIDGE, MA. Tickets are online here. Click on Buy Tickets Now and select April 24th. This show will sell out so make sure you act now and grab one for yourself.