Rachel Korowitz is producer and host of the Ash Wednesday comedy series, where she performs with her three-person group, Evel Cathedral. She also performs with Mailer Daemon at the UCB Theatre.
Age, occupation, where are you from, where are you now?
I'm 27. I live in Long Island City, originally from Long Island. I've done my route through Park Slope and the Lower East Side, and recently moved to Long Island City. I'm a content writer for the websites for AMC, and other televison shows, and as a freelance writer, I've written for VH1, The L Magazine, and lots of nationwide corporate stuff. I'm a Jill-of-all-trades.
A few for you:
How did you get involved in improv?
Friends I went to college with had taken classes with the Upright Citizens Brigade. We'd all been involved in a student-run sketch-comedy television show at Geneseo, in upstate New York. They were a few years my senior and when they had graduated they took some classes and recommended it to me. They said, "This would be something you'd be into," and lo and behold they were absolutely right. So now it's four or five years later and here I am running my own show.
What's it take to produce a comedy show?
Surprisingly very little. No, it's actually a lot of work. This show was founded initially to help showcase the talent of performers who might not otherwise find their way onto a main stage, like the UCB. And also to help showcase the talents of my three-person improv group, Evel Cathedral. So we created Ash Wednesday, aptly named because it's on Wednesdays. The most difficult problem is having a consistent venue with bar owners who are amenable to the idea of a bunch of rowdy comedians coming in once a week. But now that we found a great location and have started to garner a name for ourselves, we just find that we always drawn really good, wonderful acts, but now they're reaching new levels of hilarity.
How do you feel about Wayne Brady's being the world's most famous improv guy?
I don't know if this is the proper venue to issue--I think I'll tactfully call it a challenge to Wayne Brady. Not even in an improv or comedic venue, I'd just like to fight him. I would take him out to the electric storm. Thunder and lightning, I'd show him what's what. We'd scrap. I dare say he'd be singed. I'm just gonna put that fight out there.
How is Evel Cathedral different from Mailer Daemon?
They're very different in that we chose each other as Evel Cathedral and pulled together specifically to work with one another. Mailer Daemon is run by the Upright Citizens Brigade as one of their house teams. We all auditioned for a slot, and we were chosen, all eight of us, to be together on a team, but we didn't know each other in advance. And again, lucky happenstance in that we all really like each other and enjoy working with each other.
One of the key differences is, because Evel Cathedral is only three and Mailer Daemon is eight, you have certainly different variety, but the fundamental difference in that we do different improv forms with different structures. The show I do with Evel Cathedral is geared toward character development and is more scenic; and the show that I do with Mailer Daemon creates more patterns over time, and showcases different talents. It tends to be a faster arena. Although it is also scenic, there are different connections that need to be made faster. It's great to be able to switch back and forth between the two. They're both fantastic and exciting for different reasons. The UCB stage tends to keep you on your toes in a different way. Especially with new people I'm working with, there tends to be a different discovery every day.
How much practice goes into improvising?
We practice at least once a week for two to three hours. One of the main things you need for improv are trust and comfort. It's incredibly lucky happenstance for us that we all genuinely enjoy each other and are friends.
How does improv help you in your daily life?
I'm actually a terrible liar. If anything, improv has worked to my detriment, because it's made me tell the truth. It encourages you to be truthful in your responses. I've learned tact, but that might be just maturity.
What do you do when a bit tanks on stage?
You look for what's bigger than the bit. Whatever bit you do is set up in some kind of construct to begin with, and generally the more character-based, the more it's rooted in something real, the easier time you'll have saying, well, if this part of this reality isn't working, what else is there, and what else can I find that's in that world. And generally making that shift is a positive move.
Do you ever lose it onstage when one of your costars really makes you laugh?
Not as often anymore, but I definitely had a few moments early on where anything that could come out of any facial orifice did, and unfortunately I wasn't drinking anything at the time, so it was just natural body humor, snot and drool and giggling and spitting.
Who are some of your favorite improv performers?
I would be remiss to not name Stan Laikowski and Chris Schneider, my Evel Cathedral partners. And of course, the people I work with in Mailer Daemon are wonderful, but as far as people I look at and go, Yeah, they get it, there's a guy named Joe Wengert, who's absolutely incredible. Another guy named John Reynolds, who's also brilliant. They're both in a group called Ruben Williams. They're just hilarious. And of course there's heavy hitters like Billy Merritt and Peter Gwynn and all of these guys from the UCB stage. Genius.
Can you tell us a joke?
Really? I'll tell you my dad's favorite joke: "What's a dentist's favorite time? Two-thirty." (Because it's like tooth-hurty!)
Best celebrity encounter in NYC?
Steve Zahn, at the premiere of his movie, Joyride. This is how I was cured of my crush on Steve Zahn. I was sitting way back in the last row--a friend and I had snuck in with quasi-OK passes--and SZ comes walking down the aisle and he's standing right in from of me talking to a friend in the next row, and I'm agog and agape. Steve Zahn! He's fabulous! And his friend says, "Man, I haven't had seen you in forever, dude! Man, we haven't so much fun as the last time I saw you. It was so great, we gotta go out again." And Steve Zahn goes, "Yeah. We gotta play paintball again real soon." I lost my Steve Zahn boner immediately. No offense to the paintballers out there.
If you could change one thing about NYC, what would it be?
Vanity pets. The people who walk around with parrots on their shoulders or ferrets on leashes. I kind of applaud them, but I don't think I can support it.
What bygone thing or place do you wish were still around?
I wish Park Slope was still vaguely affordable. Also, I remember being really little and going to Zabar's and the smell of that place was great. The coffee and my kindred old Jewish spirits being there, and between overdoses of Chanel No. 5 and moldy old vela mints coming out of purses, there was just this great mystique to it. I've been back once since and it just wasn't quite the same. I don't know if it's my personal nostalgia or Zabar's.
What location would you declare a landmark?
Any place where there's anyone who offers the city service. Fire stations, police stations, any place that unconditionally helps New York.
Who in your opinion is the quintessential New Yorker?
I don't know if I I'd say him specifically, but it's probably somebody like Paul McCartney, who has absolutely nothing to do with this place originally, but is beloved here, really for no apparent reason.
What movie or TV show best reflects life in New York?"Sports Night." It never got a fair time slot, they kept bumping it around. But it definitely kept the pace of New York, and the sincerity and the heart of it.
The world is ending in 24 hours. What are you going to do with your last day in NYC?
There's an entourage involved, of course. We go first to the Cloisters, to view the beautiful scenery, presuming it's a season meant for that, in my fantasy Armageddon. And then I think it'd be essential to enjoy the outdoors, have a picnic, and as it starts to become evening, go play pool in some bar, and then after a brief nap, regroup, get ridiculously dressed up and go to an amazingly opulent restaurant that noe of us in real life could ever afford, and have a sumptuous meal with incredible drinks, taste buds exploding with sheer glee. I don't know where to put the sex aspect, but there'd be some sex. There'd have to be some fucking. And then in the orgiastic glee of relaxation and food and enjoyment and general happy love, we'd croak.
Rachel Korowitz performs with Evel Cathedral, headlining the Ash Wednesdy comedy shows at the Parkside Lounge, 317 E Houston Street on the corner of Attorney St., on Wednesday evenings from 7-9 p.m. There is no cover charge, but a loosely enforced two-drink minimum. On Intermittent Tuesday nights, she performs with Mailer Daemon at the UCB Theatre.