In Their Own Words
Sketch troupe Your Terrific Neighbors present new long-form show, Ron Stepppresents Ron Stepp and the Stepp Sisters
Sketch comedians Curtis Luciani, Courtney Hopkin and Joel Osborne are some of the funniest people in Austin that you will have the pleasure to meet.
Individually, they will amuse you with their word play and good-natured ribbing. But, collectively, as the three-headed comedy troupe known as Your Terrific Neighbors, they will leave you slack-jawed at their ability to constantly set up a punchline and knock it out of the ballpark.
Each member occupies a fully developed comic archetype, which allows them to pit their strengths against one another in every scene they write. Luciani typically plays the high-minded satirist and harlequin; Hopkin, the sexy gross-out artist; and Osborne, the sarcastic, smiling leading man. Of course, they frequently switch roles within a show, and the results are equally as impeccable.
Now the funny threesome are preparing for an eight-show run of their latest comedy experiment, starting Friday at Salvage Vanguard Theater. Produced by GNAP! Theater Projects, the show is called Your Terrific Neighbors present Ron Stepp presents Ron Stepp and the Stepp Sisters. The long-form sketch comedy one-act tells the tale of a family musical act that gathers together to heal the wounds of the past (and sing some songs) after their manager/father, Ronald Stepp, passes away.
We sat down with the Neighbors prior to a pre-show editing session to discuss the upcoming show and got a serious dose of their signature one-upmanship and playful lampooning. We'll leave it up to you to decide what is fact and what is fiction.
CultureMap: The name of your latest show is Ron Stepp presents Ron Stepp and the Stepp Sisters, and it's a sketch show... but with a plot and music? That's a lot to wrap your mind around.
Curtis Luciani: It’s a sketch comedy one-act play.
Is that a real thing?
CL: Yes. Remember how there was a Wayne’s World movie that was based on the original sketches? It’s like that.
Courtney Hopkin: Except ours is a much smaller stage.
Joel Osborne: And we changed all the names.
CL: And we couldn’t get Rob Lowe to play our dad in the play, so we had to write him out. So Ron Stepp, the fictional father is already dead at the start of the show.
Y’all look so professional and the music sounds great in your advertising video for the show. Are you musicians in real life?
JO: No, we’re not. But it was a real simple, catchy one-minute song. That’s all you gotta do, I guess.
CH: Joel is the most of a musician of any of us so he wrote the song. And I can play drums, and Joel can play bass guitar and…
CL: …and I can’t do anything. But I had to do something, so they let me sing.
Well, for non-musicians, y'all look like old pros. Did it take forever to write it, record it and shoot it?
CH: It actually only took about an hour tops. After it was written and the basic beat was figured out, we took about three takes in our amazing friend Adam Hilton’s studio, and he helped us make it sound so great. We thought it was going to take forever, but then, there it was. I guess if you perform together on stage for a long time, some of that stuff bleeds over, y’know?
How much music is there in the rest of the show?
CH: There are three performed live songs, and there are a few more recorded songs that are punchlines throughout the show that we also recorded.
CL: Some may accuse us of stretching the definition of a “song” in a few of those instances; however, we would argue…
JO: Go back to song school!
CH: Art is art!
CL: ...if you laugh, then that is a comedy song, so we win.
So the point of the show is to "make people laugh"? Who came up with that idea?
CH: Well, we’ve been doing sketch for several years and have not yet made anybody laugh. And we would like to see what that is like.
CL: We would like to make a few people laugh.
Sketch shows are traditionally several short pieces strung together with a possible theme. Where did the idea to do a single long-form narrative come from?
CL: We have once before done a one-act.
CH: It was a couple of years ago for the Out of Bounds Festival. It was called Baggage. It was about luggage handlers who have emotional issues still hanging around them that make them feel bad.
CL: It was a very silly show. Maybe even sillier than the current one we’re working on.
JO: I think it caught the festival audiences a bit off guard because they introduced us as a sketch group, and then we did a one-act play. It took about 15 minutes of the 25-minute piece for people to realize that the scene wasn’t changing.
CL: We were goofing on a few different things in that one. We were goofing on plays and on one-act plays on purpose.
CH: Particularly, high school UIL one-act type plays.
CL: You had three particularly blue collar folks expounding on their dreams and their wounds, like people don’t really do. They would all rub up on each other until they would all snap and reveal their deepest emotions.
That actually sounds amazing in the right context.
CH: Well, maybe we’ll bring that back some day.
Do you foresee this new long-form sketch format that you're using becoming a regular pattern for you?
CL: It’s fun, but we wouldn’t want to be locked in to one thing forever.
JO: It’s actually a lot more time consuming, layering several narratives on each other rather than making each scene really punch home one joke.
CL: If you have individual sketches, people only have to like most of them. But if you’re doing a one-act and they don’t like that one thing, you’re in trouble.
So do you expect the reception will be different for Ron Stepp and the Stepp Sisters? How will you prepare people for what they’re about to see?
CH: Well, when we were in the festival, no one knew what to prepare for. This time, it’s people who are buying tickets and know exactly what they’re getting in to with this show. They’re going to be prepared for it as opposed to, ‘What’s the name of these people? Okay, it’s happening!’
CL: With that said, I think this show is still pretty weird. But I think everybody will be on board for it. And they will be repaid with laughter.
CH: I think we have sort of an idiot savant reputation in town. I guess we’re those people. Most of our sketches break out of the conventions of what sketch is supposed to do. As soon as we begin hitting any formula, we’re like, "Ugh, get that out of here."
CL: Yeah, [to me:] write down that we’re “reckless experimenters and innovators.” We’re basically the only true artists in town.
[Writing it down:] “…reckless experimenters…only true artists…”
CL: Yeah, and then put down that anyone else in Austin who thinks they’re an artist can just shut up.
CH: YOU shut up, Curtis!
JO: We’re calling ‘em out right now! Let's do this!
CL: We’re calling ‘em all out! WE'RE THE ONLY ARTISTS!
This is such unexpected bravado since you guys have earned a reputation for being one of the nicest, friendliest comedy groups in town. How did you earn that reputation while making these clearly antagonistic statements?
CL: People think we’re nice? Who said that?
We heard it several times from people at this year's Sketch Fest. Do you deny those accusations?
CH: Yeah, you’re nice, Curtis.
CL: Is Joel nice?
CH: Yeah, Joel’s pretty nice.
CL: Tell people they should rank us online about which one of us is the nicest neighbor.
JO: Can you do polls on Facebook? We should make one of those. I want to see that.
[Curtis opens laptop and starts typing.]
Do you like being called nice? Can you be both nice and still be funny?
CH: Hells, yeah. That’s awesome.
JO: I’d hate to be known as the meanest, the… stucky-uppest group in town.
CH: Or even the most emotionally unavailable group in town.
CL: I want to be known as the nicest, only true artists.
CH: We’re changing our name to just a symbol. [Laughs.] But seriously, I think that we’re starting to see a change with the comedy scene where people are really being kind to one another and talking to each other after shows. Or maybe I'm just talking to more people and realizing people have been nice the whole time... I don't know...
As the only true artists in town, can you help us understand your divine writing process for a show like Ron Stepp?
CL: Let’s face it: Writing is a pain. And your brain is only so big. So I think there’s always going to be a limit to the number of people who are going to put up with the pain in the ass that is sitting down to write sketch. And then when you have a 9 to 5 job and a family…
CH: And sometimes it can be so ridiculous the things that you stress yourself out about while writing. In another life, you might be asking yourself, “Why am I writing this stupid piece about mice? And why am I getting so upset about it? There is more to life than this!”
CL: But is there? Not if you’re the only true artist.
CH: Basically, when we sit down to write, we already know exactly what is going to happen.
CL: God talks to us. It’s like Michaelangelo and the slab of concrete. We’re just taking away from what is there to find what’s underneath.
JO: Our work is the vessel, and we wait for our Muse to take hold and show us what we’re making.
CL: What Joel says is nice, but I disagree. We are vessels for God.
CH: Can't God and the Muse be one and the same?
JO: That’s what I like to say.
But since you’re not actually the only true artists in town, you’ve asked several other troupes to perform with you at each of your upcoming shows, yes? What will that look like?
JO: Yeah, we’re doing this run of eight shows and we asked different sketch groups in town to open the show for each night. And all of them have been so great to join us. It's really exciting.
CL: [Showing us his computer screen:] Oh, look, there’s already one vote for Curtis!
CH: You already made the poll? And you voted for yourself?
CL: I voted for myself!
Wow. So you have eight separate sketch groups that are opening for you?
CH: Oh, yes. Well, some are individuals. But they're all doing sketch. I'm happy to say that we all know each other now and we know how to get in contact with one another.
CL: We’re all fresh off Austin Sketch Fest, so that helps too.
JO: It’s also great that we like all the groups we’re working with.
Have you planned anything for your next big outing in August for Out of Bounds?
CL: We actually haven’t started working on that yet, but it’ll definitely be something cool. We’ll start discussing it as soon as we’re done with this show.
CH: I imagine we’ll return to a more expected format. But who knows? We reserve the right to change our minds. We are un-pinnable-downable until somebody makes the posters or puts it in print.
Well, you know that’s what we’re doing here, right?
CH: Oh, dammit, you’re right.
Anything else you would like to say to folks considering coming to the show?
CH: If you like us, you will like this because it’s very much something we would do.
CL: And if you don’t like us then you should come see this and start liking us because you will like this.
CH: Also, if you don’t like us, come make fun of us.
JO: Yeah, if you don’t like us, come back and watch it as many times as it takes for you to like us.
CL: Or see it just to make sure you don’t like us and remind yourself why you still don’t. That righteous indignation will fuel for days.
JO: But if you like it the first time, don’t come back. You don’t need to. But thank you.
CL: [Holding up the computer screen] Hey, look, someone voted for Courtney! Joel, we’re both beating you!
Your Terrific Neighbors present Ron Stepp presents Ron Stepp and the Stepp Sisters plays Fridays and Saturdays at Salvage Vanguard Theatre between June 22 - July 14. Tickets are available now. And make sure to vote for whom you think is (probably) the Nicest Neighbor in their totally arbitrary Facebook poll.