Saturday, December 5, 2009
As ThaOvaground.com is exploring many different avenues in the arts...I came across a cool article on HipHopDx.com featuring my homegirl, Tiffany and her sketch comedy troupe, Slow Children Crossing in Los Angeles.
I haven't seen them live yet (don't kill me Tiff...it's work that's been holding me back lol) but they have been collectively tearing down the comedy circuit in Los Angeles. I have been keeping up with the shows via YouTube so I haven't missed out as bad I think.
So, check them out and I will come to the next show Tiff...lol. I got you.
Word to Rakim, this comedy troupe may make you laugh but they ain’t no joke. Raised on Eddie Murphy, Lucille Ball, Richard Pryor and various Saturday Night Live comics, the group is now likened to comedic giants like The Kids in the Hall and In Living Color. Formed in 2006, Destini Meshak, Brett Butler, Alem Sapp, Saudia Rashed and Tiffany Thomas traveled from various points in the nation to Los Angeles and created Slow Children Crossing.
Since then, the group has become stronger, more united and their presence has grown also. Not only have they done well in the sketch comedy world, but each member has also gotten recognition for solo work in independent and commercial work through television and film. Now, the group is working on a variety of projects. Aside from touring sketch comedy festivals, there are also talks of a reality show and much more film work in the future.
Unafraid to talk about comedy and its complex nature, the group’s multi-faceted members sat down to speak with HipHopDX about life in Los Angeles and why it isn’t all glitz and glamour. They also shed light on how comedy has been therapeutic and how being versatile has allowed them to stand out.
HipHopDX: What strikes me as impressive is the fact that you’re all so skilled in different fields. That seems to lend itself or lend more depth to your shows. How do you feel being talented in various areas has allowed your comedy to shine more? What elements from those other elements do you bring to your sketch work?
Saudia: I would say for myself, coming from a dance background, I think that I bring the physical comedy because it’s natural to me. I think that can sometimes be hard for comedians and people who are getting into sketch and improv. They think it’s more about delivering jokes or delivering lines. For me, I’ve added the natural ability of being a dancer. Bringing that to the table has really made me think of comedy more as an experience. It’s not about delivering jokes or lines; it’s how you are as a person, your physicality and the natural essence that you bring to it.
Alem: Adding on to what Saudia said, it’s a really good thing when you run out of material. [Laughs] It’s a good thing to remember and figure out a way to add variety. A lot of times, we’re all writing the sketches and there’s always topical humor, situational humor, whatever…But sometimes, when you’re writing a lot, you get to the point where you go, “How are we rounding out this show? How many O.J. [Simpson] jokes can you have? How many Kanye West interruptions of Taylor Swift can you have?” We’re five different writers so what happens is we’ll jump in and write something. But, if you’re going topical, everybody’s going to find the same thing. But, then all of a sudden you go, “Well, we have enough of this. How do we round this out?” For me, it helps to go, “What is it that sets me apart from the others?” Generally, it’s something that you can fall back on and use to round out the show and give the audience member a better variety. I haven’t checked the Guinness World Records but I don’t think people laugh for 50 minutes straight, non-stop. So, what happens is you want the full experience, which is what I think we are as a group. We are the full experience of laughter, enjoyment, art and thought provocation all at the same time. So, when you need to think about what area isn’t getting fed, just think about the element that you bring to the group that sets you apart and that will fill it out.
DX: You all bring these different elements yet sketch comedy is an art form in itself. What’s the most fulfilling aspect of this art form for you all?
Tiffany: For myself, I think it’s from the planning to the execution of the sketch and the audience reaction. There’s nothing better than having an idea, bringing it to the group, maybe getting it tweaked here and there and rehearsing for God knows how many weeks, doing the show and having the audience roar. It is absolutely organic and the process of the group is just so much fun. That audience reacting in that way and then you go to Montreal and it’s even louder there. Then, you’ll go to Texas and they’ll laugh at different parts that they didn’t laugh at in L.A. and the whole experience is the best part of the art form.
Alem: I think that’s true for all of us but I would liken it to home schooling versus boarding school versus college. The other art forms that we’ve all done, for instance film making, it’s generally such a collaborative thing. But, as an actor, you are only in one facet of it. I think sketch, everything is comprised in one house. Therefore, we are able to home school and then send it out to college, the audience being the college. Then, it comes back to us in the reaction. Tiffany made a good point in noting that after the show…After we’ve raised this child, we watch the child go out into the world. The sketch starts from one or two people. Then you go in and you work it out, you hammer it out and that’s like the early childhood years. Then it gets to the point that it can walk and you’re rehearsing. Then, it’s driving at 16 years old, the sketch and next thing you know, it’s time to send it out to college. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know if what you’ve been doing for all these years or weeks in rehearsal, whether or not it means anything to these people. Then, all of a sudden it comes back to you in this form of adulation, laughter and tears and sometimes people are mad. Anger is good, too. So, I think everything else I’ve done, I’ve always been housed in one part of that experience. I’ve just been a hired gun that does what I do and I get a chance to partake with others but never do you get it in one place. I think that’s what’s good for me.
DX: On your site, it says “If you’re the type to laugh at funerals, then this is the show for you.” You also said in your answers that your comedy can make people mad or make people cry. Has comedy been therapeutic for you all? How?
Alem: It’s gotten me through a lot. We’ve all been through a lot in the last two years and each person could tell their own story but we’ve all been through a lot. It’s sort of funny to watch the lives we’ve evolved into and the laughter gets you through it.
Saudia: Also, speaking about it being therapeutic, the evolution of us as a group…When we met two and a half years ago, most of us didn’t know each other from Jack. We were going through hard times in our lives that I would say for the most part were somewhat difficult. That was a point for us where, not knowing each other as well, the comedy may have been a little more superficial. It was things about other people and didn’t relate to us personally. It was things that we saw from afar. What I like about us as a group now, a lot of sketch comedy groups come and go and in that sense, you don’t have a haven to explore emotional things, maybe dark things but dark things that can be funny, with a group of people that you feel safe with, that you could go out on a limb with and they won’t laugh at you, or maybe they will laugh at you but they’ll still support you. The thing that I like about this group now is that we’ve evolved from that to where we are now. Now we feel like we can literally jump off a cliff with something, as long as it’s funny. It can be dark and emotional, as long as it’s funny and we’re going to support each other and find the funny in it. I think when you first meet someone, you’re not willing to explore that side but now that we’ve been together for so long and we know each other personally and professionally. It’s easier to go there and venture even further. A lot of people are scared to explore that and reach back to where it’s funny. Now, I think we’re at a point where we can do that. For us, I think that’s emotionally rewarding.
DX: You’ve all worked on a variety of films from independent to mainstream work. What’s the biggest difference between the two sides?
Saudia: The difference is, when you’re on a set, there’s no real sense of collaboration. You’re there to do your job. They saw you on an audition, they liked you and your preparation is all done on your own. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a director or someone who wants to collaborate with you but basically whatever you brought to an audition, that’s what you have to bring to the table. The difference between that and independent stuff is that it’s more of an art form. You have people that want to collaborate with you and discuss what your role is and how it fits into the grand scheme of things. That’s how we are as a group, too. Those are things that in general make you a better actor and artist. Unfortunately, when you go on sets, you don’t have that luxury. You just know that you have to bring it.
Alem: I’ve made movies for a long time on both sides of it. I think the major difference for me, besides what Saudia said, because that’s definitely a prevailing factor. One thing I can think of, as well, is when you’re doing independent; it’s more like what we’re doing here. There are no rules. The boundary is there is no boundary, which you need to have sometimes, but the great thing about it is that you also evolve faster and further. You sometimes bring out stuff you didn’t know you had within yourself. The true art form is that you have to be able to bleed over and over again so that you can truly be free. That’s the healing process. In commercial work, what happens is, there are direct avenues. Maybe that’s the way it has to be for commercial films and work. There’s too much money riding on what we’re supposed to do. If we’re supposed to get this done according to contracts, everyone needs to come in, show up and there needs to be no surprises. It’s just a question of what you came to do. What are you in this art form for? There’s the commerce and the art form. If you’re in the art form to make a difference, it’s harder to make a difference in commercial work because it is so rigid but that’s not to say that you can’t. It’s just a different kind of discipline and a different kind of work. So, it’s not discouraging the process. I just think it’s a tighter gap to shoot in and you have to be willing to execute and somehow push yourself to maybe awaken somebody and say, “Look, I think this can be done differently.” Maybe you don’t get to say it but…Some of my parts in commercial films, I’ll show up for a day and there are a million people there. I’ll hang around for six hours and in the next 30 minutes, I have to walk forward and say this line 18 million times or maybe just 5. In that time, I have to say what I’m trying to say to everybody with just those words. So, it’s a different language. I really enjoy the independent way because in that freedom, it leads us to places we never knew we could go. I find them both rewarding. One makes you appreciate the other. It’s nice to show up and get a check for a commercial job, knowing it will be seen all over the world. But it’s also nice to work with friends and family and other artists that you respect and knowing that’s the time we shared and we made something together other than a baby.
DX: Correct me if I’m wrong but you’ve all traveled to Los Angeles from various parts of the country. What advice would you give potential travelers hoping to make it big out here?
Tiffany: Don’t come. [All Laughs] I say that seriously. I tell everyone if there’s absolutely nothing else in this world that you see yourself doing, then okay. L.A., unlike New York, with its hard exterior, you know you gotta work to make it there, L.A. has this pretty exterior, like everything here is pretty. It’s all pretty and it’s going to be very easy. You’re going to come and you’re going to be at a coffee shop and Steven Spielberg will see you and you’ll be discovered. That ain’t happening. It takes a lot of work. So, I say don’t come here unless you’re willing to do that work and you’re really committed to being an artist and having an artist’s lifestyle. I can speak for all of us in saying it’s a journey we’ve been on; it’s definitely not a race. We’re still on it, now. The amount of success we’ve received so far has been a blessing and it’s been wonderful but we still have a long way to go and a long way that we’re reaching for. It’s constant work for us. We meet all the time, we’re writing, meeting about business, traveling…it is a job. Unless you’re willing and ready to make that type of commitment, then there’s no need for you to come here because you’ll want to go to the beach, Robinson Avenue, chill out and hang. There’s so much to do, you can easily get distracted. But, if you’re ready for that type of commitment and ready to put that work in, then by all means, come out here. Let’s have coffee. Let’s talk.
Alem: And she’s good looking, I would have coffee with her. I also think [potential travelers] need to be really clear about what they want from this. I don’t just mean L.A. but from the business and from the art form. Separate them and be very specific. Tiffany, who’s my spiritual counselor in the group, always says, “God wants you to have what you want. You just have to be very specific in asking for it.” I think it’s very important that you know exactly what you want every day you wake up. Don’t just say, “I want to be famous.” Don’t just say, “I want to be an actor.” That’s fine. That’s the beginning but you always have to be very specific because when you come here or New York, either way, they both have their challenges, you wind up getting it like, “Okay, you’re an actor. You didn’t say whether you wanted to be a working actor.” Or, you’re famous but famous because you have a sex tape with some 65 year old music producer who shot you or whatever. The thing is, you have to be clear. Then, what makes it to where you’re really cooking with gas is if you’re specific, you can love everything. You don’t feel like anybody forced you to come here. You feel like, “I love it all.” If you wake up waiting tables, then you have to be like, “I love waiting tables.” Then you’ll have auditions and “I love auditioning.” You have to learn to love the process. I think with any sports fans out there who watched Michael Jordan in his speech for the [Basketball] Hall of Fame, he loved the process. In his speech, you could tell he loved the process of being doubted in the upper echelon of sports. He was doubted all the time. Even now, I think he misses people telling him he couldn’t do stuff. What he learned to love was you saying no and him showing you he could do it. You have to have that kind of resolve and determination in this business and probably in all businesses but especially in this world. You have to have it. Always cling to it, hold it, and wear it like a badge. Get up every morning and say, “I love that you’re going to challenge me because I’m ready.” Then you can rise from the ashes like a fiery phoenix. Sorry, I’m going on my tangent. [Laughs]
Saudia: To make it in this business, you have to be at least 10% crazy. We’re all in a business where you knowingly come into it knowing that 99% of the people in the field are unemployed. To go in a field where people are already scrambling for work, you already have to be a little bit crazy, I think. But, you use that craziness for good…It takes that sort of dedication to really survive. Nowadays, people put success in with being a celebrity but those are two different things. Like Alem said, do you want to be an actor or a working actor? How are you going to get there? A lot of people don’t think that when they move here. They just think, “I have to move here and stand outside of Paramount Studios and some producer is going to drive by and see how hot I look and put me in a movie.” That has happened to people but those people, 10 years from now, are not going to be on TV. They’re just going to be a one credit person. It takes more than that to survive. The people “on the top” have to stay there and that’s what people don’t think. They think you can relax. No. It’s an art but it’s also a business. The business side is just as important as the artistic stuff. The artistic stuff is what makes you different from everyone else. The business side is what helps you sustain yourself.
DX: If you all had to name a definitive comedic moment or movie, what was it and how did it impact your decision to get into comedy?
Destini: As a little girl, I remember just doing comedy, not knowing that was something I wanted to do later. But, that feeling I had and growing up, everyone used to tell me, “This is something you really need to get involved in.” Now, it’s something I enjoy with all of my heart. When I get on stage, it’s my happiest moment. Growing up, we would pretend, I don’t know if you remember D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), but we would have little sketches where we were drug dealers. The D.A.R.E. guy would come in and be like, “Do you want drugs?” The kids would be like, “No! We don’t do drugs.” We used to do this just playing around. It was always something I wanted to do. Also, watching In Living Color every week where we’d see Jim Carrey and everyone on there. That helped me see this is what I want to do.
Alem: For me, I think it had to be the first time I listened to Eddie Murphy’s Delirious. I think what had happened was… I was an only child because my brother passed away early. I had to be around adults a lot. So, when they wanted to hang out, they didn’t want me to go to bed necessarily because that would mean they would have to put me to bed. So, I’d get to stay up to watch Saturday Night Live for a long time. It had a profound effect, of course, watching all the comics come through there and I used to sneak and listen to Richard Pryor records. But, I think it was galvanized for me when I met this kid and he had this record and he played it. I listened to the whole thing and thought about it. I thought Richard Pryor was just a funny guy and nobody else could do it. But, the fact that Eddie Murphy could get on stage, talk about his love for Richard Pryor and then be up there doing it, and have me mesmerized to listen to a stereo where I can’t see him, and have me laughing over and over. I could listen to him and think maybe one day, I could do this. I thought, “Maybe somebody else could do it and just maybe that could be me.” I think from then on, I often watched great performers and admired people with that sense of command. I felt like, form that moment forth, it was a possibility. I didn’t run out and I didn’t get a leather jacket and leather pants right away at seven years old. I just started thinking that this could be my thing and kept my eyes on it. Over time, it was clear that my heart belonged to one woman and it was entertainment.
Saudia: It’s so hard to narrow it down but I love Lucille Ball. When I was little, I watched I Love Lucy countless times. I know how old school that is but she’s extremely talented, especially with physical comedy. She was just overall funny. I could still watch a marathon of it now and laugh my butt off. Watching her, I always thought, “I wish I could do that. I wish I could be like her and not come off as being stupid or overdoing it.” To me, it has to be so organic and I appreciated and loved watching her doing it. Fast forwarding, another moment was when I auditioned for a short film and it was a role that was supposed to be the sexy role. I auditioned for it and they were like, “We want you to read for this other role.” That role was a comical role where this girl was crazy and obsessed. I didn’t understand why they gave it to me but then I went out, rehearsed it, went back in and everybody was just laughing. For about two years after that, they kept saying, “You should do more comedy.” I never really thought anything of it but from there, I started thinking about it more and more. So, when this opportunity to be in this sketch group came about, I decided to really go for it. So, that audition propelled me into becoming a part of this sketch group, definitely.
Tiffany: If I have to pin point a moment, I think it was seeing Whoopi Goldberg in Jumpin’ Jack Flash. That was the first time I saw an African American woman be funny in a major motion picture. I remember that sticking with me. Maybe that moment was when I was like, “Hmm.” I always thought theatrically and in terms of acting. But, in comedy, that was the first time I was like, “Wow, this black woman is really funny. People seem to like her. Wow, maybe that’s something I can do.” It was the first time I thought that’d be something I’d be able to do besides the theatre and drama. That was the first time it clicked, as a woman and in particular a black woman, that I could do that.