Ever feel like you can’t do something you really want to do because it’s slightly inconvenient? Don’t want to hang out with your friend because it’s raining? Can’t make it to the concert because The Real World is on? Can’t pursue your comedy career because Chicago is half way across the country, or maybe even on a different continent?
What’s that? That last one didn’t stop these two guys?
Enough questions, let’s start using some new punctuation.
Meet Matt Slater and Dino Spezzini, two guys who dropped everything back home to try to make Chicagoans laugh. After seeing them at the Latino Fest Committee’s annual comedy show, I was able to speak with them. A couple of weeks later I followed them down to Jokes & Notes to watch their improv/sketch group perform. After the show they were kind enough to let me ask them a few questions – take a look.
So let’s get down to the Matt and Dino Show here. How long have you guys lived together?
Matt: Since June. Before that, though, I moved in with Dino for like two months because I lived with a roommate who was a complete fucking maniac. He tried to kill me and shit. It sucked. So I moved in with Dino. He was kind enough to let me sleep on his air mattress for a very long time.
Dino: And that’s when I had a studio apartment.
Wow. That is very nice. Two months of that? That is very kind of you Dino!
M: Yeah, Dino and his girlfriend would have sex and I’d watch (laughs).
But then you guys got an apartment back in June?
D: Yeah. Now our place is almost like a little hotel of comedians.
Moving here, both of you said you didn’t really have friends, but I’m assuming now that you do they’re probably all people you’ve met through doing comedy stuff, right?
M: Yeah, I only know comedians.
I just watched you guys and your improv group, The Freshmen. How did that get started?
M: That started when me and Dino met at Second City about a year and a half ago, around May I think. At that time I was doing stand-up. I didn’t even really talk to Dino that much in class, but in the last class I said, “Yeah, I’m doing stand-up. Come do some stand-up with me.” We started doing stand-up all the time. Then we wanted to do improv shit more so we started just having open rehearsals for a group. It started slow and after a little while it started to really build momentum. Then we did our first show and it went very, very well. At that point people were like, “Oh what’s this? What are you guys doing? I want to be a part of it.”
You guys have eleven people in the group right now, right? Did it start that large? That is large for an improv group, right?
M: Yeah, huge.
D: Well, originally it was kind of like people from the class, so like once or twice there were about eighteen people. This was just when we were meeting, before we were putting on any shows. We just wanted to do more improv.
So you both took the improv class at Second City?
Alright, so this is the origin story of Matt and Dino. (To Matt) You’re from Seattle, right?
M: Yeah, I’m from north of Seattle. A town called Bellingham. I came here like a year and a half ago to do comedy. The town I went to school in, Ryan Stiles (the tall guy from Whose Line) lives there and started a comedy club there. I started getting involved and doing that when I was in school. I did it for a little while after I graduated. I loved it, did a tour, came to Chicago, did a show, loved Chicago, then moved here about two months after that.
Dino. Give us Dino 101.
D: So I was born and raised in Paraguay. My mom’s American. She went down there for the Peace Corps, met my dad, and ended up staying there for twenty-five or twenty-seven years. It was always the plan that I would come to the US for college and I was always interested in comedy. So I took theater in college. I moved to the US just like that. I basically dropped all my friends and everything from Paraguay when I was eighteen. The good thing was my parents also moved, so they were about an hour away from where I went to school.
Where did you go to school?
D: University of Montevallo. My mom teaches at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, so they live in Birmingham. When I finished college I just needed to get out. I knew I was going to go to New York, LA, or Chicago. I’d seen a little bit of LA and I’d visited New York, but I just decided to come to Chicago on a whim without ever even seeing it. I knew Second City was here. I knew it was a place for comedy, basically the comedy Mecca. And then, of course, my girlfriend was also going into library sciences and she got accepted into Dominican University. But I’d never been here before but I just decided to come up and do comedy.
You just started looking for open mics, then?
D: Yeah. When I started talking to Matt and he was like, “Come out and do stand-up,” I was kind of unsure. I wanted to do more political and bicultural jokes.
So you did the same thing, Matt? Just started looking for open mics to get your feet wet right away?
M: Yeah. That’s one of the things I kind of like about comedy. The only way to do it and get better at it is to just dive into it, you know? There’s so much shit to do here. I always wanted to do stand-up. The town I lived in before had a bar that would have comics come out every Sunday. I’d go every Sunday and ask if I could go up and do some time. They’d maybe let me do five minutes. It was like nothing. But here, if you want to, you can do like two or three mics a night depending on where you go. If you want to get into it here, you can get into it.
How often would you say you go out and perform now?
D: I think we’ve slowed down now compared to before.
M: Yeah. Right now we’re slowing down because we’re doing a lot of stuff with The Freshmen. We’re rehearsing basically like four or five nights a week. Tonight we were doing a show, but if we weren’t doing that show we would have been rehearsing. [We] don’t really have enough time to go out and do another open mic.
Was there ever a point where you were doing a shit ton of nights a week? Five nights a week? Six nights a week?
M: Oh yeah. There were several months when we would do like eight mics a week. I mean, you can do three in a night. There’s that idea that, “Oh I did three last night, maybe I can just do one tonight and do two the next night.”
When you’re doing all these open mics, like when you do eight a week, do you feel like it’s more for your own practice to get better or to spread your name?
M: I think it’s a little bit of both. Spreading your name is more like networking. I don’t know how many open mics you’ve gone out to, but a lot of the times it’s just other comics there.
Yeah, a lot of times you’ll see the same people at them.
M: Yeah, which is cool. That’s just the scene. There are a lot of people that want to do comedy so we’ll go anywhere and do comedy for anybody. You can feel it when you go out all the time. You know when you’re on and you just get that confidence. No matter what, you have to bomb over and over and over.
Have either of you guys had any fucking awful nights? Any dry spells or bumps in the road?
D: I think it helps when you actually have an audience. There were nights, especially when you’re doing two or three mics in one night, you end up going up after midnight at a place. You end up going up number thirty. It’s just you and the bartender. There have been times when I’ve been on the mic and it’s just Matt and the bartender while everyone else went outside to smoke or down to the lower bar to drink. So what do you do? “No, I don’t want to go up.” No, you just go up and try to (laughs) work the audience.
That’s the thing, you get the big highs where you can go a week and you feel invincible where everything new that you’re trying hits in dingy bars or whatever and you just feel invincible and everything is going, like, perfect. And then you get in this rut. You get in ruts where it’s hard for you to even come up with new jokes. Sometimes it feels like maybe for like a week or even more you just don’t feel funny. It’s like nothing you even try is working. But that’s usually the case that artists or performers or whatever are usually the hardest on themselves. Being perfectionists.
Does it get easier to take it when people don’t necessarily react the way you hope they do?
M: I think that’s the benefit of doing a lot of open mics.
Does it numb you to any potential failure?
M: Yeah, a little bit. You get used to not doing well and doing well with the same jokes. It’s like, “Why?” When I started doing it a lot I would memorize everything. I knew exactly what I was going to say and how I was going to say it. When it wasn’t going that well I stopped doing that and would just have ideas, like, “Oh, I’m going to talk about this idea for a while,” and that worked better. The only way to find that stuff is to go out and do it. Does it work better for you if you memorize shit all day and then do it? Or does it work better if you just kind of riff on it a little bit?
Do you feel like you get an idea and just be yourself, or do you think about things like your timing and your delivery?
M: Yeah. It’s all about the way you say it.
Dino, you said earlier that you try to write two or three new jokes a day. So how often do you actually try out the new jokes at open mics and stuff?
D: Now I’m getting antsy because we haven’t been going out. Usually, if I like one joke, I’ll try it, but then I’ll try two new ones alongside that one. I’ll try to build the one I really like. For me, especially starting off, I couldn’t actually write. I’d write concepts or ideas, or even have a punchline in my head, and I’ll have that down. But then I don’t write everything. I’m more of an on-my-feet, coming out of my mind sort of “riffing,” if you will.
So what’s it take for either of you guys to scrap a joke that you’re trying?
D: The worst is when you try a joke and it works that first time you do it, but then you try it again and it doesn’t work and you’re like, “Ok I’ll just try it again.” Then you try it again. In your mind you’re like, “I’ve done this and it worked! I’ve just got to find the way that it works again!” So you’re going to kind of, I love this example, I’ve been using it a lot, it’s like a bad relationship. The sex is great but the actual relationship is really, really bad.
The sex is the only thing holding it together?
D: Yeah, and you try to keep looking for that. The great sex that only happened once.
Even though the shit that matters isn’t really there. So did you rehearse your stand-up acts at all before you did an open mic or anything? Or did you just write shit down and jump right in? Did you try it for your friends or anything first?
M: I don’t feel like I really did that (rehearse) when I got here because I didn’t really have any friends (laughs).
Do you have friends now?
M: Now I have friends!
Good. I’ll make sure that part gets in. How hard it is for you to let go of a joke? Are there any jokes that you’ve just given up on?
D: No, I actually want to have more time to bring them back. When you’re actually on the mic and you start a joke, and it might be a long joke, and people don’t laugh, it becomes fight or flight. Do you just drop the joke and move on to another one? I don’t know if it’s because I’m just fucking stubborn, but I won’t get any response and I’ll just think, “I’m still telling this joke whether people like it or not.” I’ll usually go through the joke and I end up getting more laughs just because I won’t stop, I won’t give up on that joke. (It’s that) versus you just decide to move on to another one, I feel like sometimes an audience will be like, “Why are you giving up on yourself already? If you’re giving up on yourself, why should I even listen?”
Do you feel like there’s a line between an audience respecting you for trying it and just thinking that you suck?
D: Oh yeah, totally. That’s why you’ve got to try at as many different places as you can. Get out of your safe zone. There are a lot of comedians that will just feel comfortable at just that one open mic where people know them. If you just stick there people might get tired of you quickly. I feel that you’ve got to spread yourself out. You can’t just stay in one bar and do the same jokes.
M: I think that’s one thing about doing open mics that are just a lot of comics. You’re doing jokes for people that all they do is jokes. They think you suck until you write a good joke. That’s the grind of it, you’re writing jokes for joke-tellers. If you make them chuckle a little bit, an audience of people will probably explode. I think a lot of Chicago comics do respect the art of it, they do want to hear smart jokes – good jokes.
Is there anything else you want to say? Any final words?
M: My penis is huge.
I’ll get pictures of it later (laughter). Does The Freshmen have a website or anything?
Any other final things you want to say?
D: Support live comedy!
M: Yeah, so jerks like us don’t have to listen to our own jokes over and over again.
With the short amount of time I’ve spent with these guys, it’s safe to say that they’re a couple of the nicest dudes I’ve met since I’ve started talking to more comedians. Kind as hell and humble as can be, these guys (and the rest of their improv troupe) are worth keeping an eye on.
Check them out with the rest of The Freshmen this upcoming weekend, December 10th and 11th, at the Gorilla Tango Theatre (BUY TICKETS HERE!). Make sure to keep your eyes peeled this January as The Freshmen perform in Sketchfest 2011. And don’t forget to check out FreshmenComedy.com!