Local sketch comedy show celebrates 6th season
Last weekend, Saturday Night Live launched its current season, satirizing the latest presidential debate with expert precision. More importantly, though, its Phoenix derivative also premiered — that’s First Friday Night Live, which started its sixth season at The Firehouse Gallery in Downtown Phoenix.
First Friday Night Live (FFNL) is very much Phoenix’s own SNL, with a dedicated group of performers and writers that produce and perform a sketch comedy program with guest hosts and bands every month. Since I’m the guest host this month, I asked head writer Garrett Smith about the origin and process behind the Valley’s leading variety show.
How did First Friday Night Live begin?
Smith: It was a conversation at the Firehouse. A group of people were hanging out and someone said, “Hey, we should produce a live sketch comedy show that is a parody of Saturday Night Live, but with local talent.” Kristy Theilen picked up a pad of paper and started writing things down. Later, she and Micheal 23 followed up on the notes and produced the show. It is in its sixth season.
How much is FFNL like SNL?
Smith: It’s pretty much a straight knock-off of SNL, but with a local host, local musical guests, local actors, local writers, local actors, local set designers, local costumers. It’s funnier. We can say “fuck,” and we don’t have to worry about offending advertisers. The show has always been streamed live, and they have never cancelled a show even in the pouring rain.
What goes into the creation of each episode?
Smith: FFNL is scripted sketch comedy as opposed to improv. The writers room meets once a week to produce a script for the show two months ahead. The “cold read” of the new script happens the day after each performance. The cast rehearses once a week and two times during the week of the show.
Have any FFNL players moved on to bigger projects?
Smith: The show began as a purely DIY endeavor. The goal was to produce a show by the Downtown artist community for the purpose of entertaining the Downtown artist community. The original head writer was Aaron Johnson, owner of Lawn Gnome Bookstore on Fifth Street. The next head writer was Ian Murdock who moved to Seattle where he is performing and writing. Ben Jammin’ is the only cast member from season one who is still part of the cast. Many cast members have moved on to do other artistic activities including Marianne Smith who moved to Los Angeles, and Kevin Patterson who is leading a sketch comedy writers room in Charlotte, N.C. Marcella Grassa and Dilcia Yañez are actors at Space 55 and other theaters. Jen Michelson has gone on to direct plays at Space 55. Amy Jean Page is a producer and director of Mad Kitchen and Where are my Pants? These are both comedy channels on YouTube. Many current and past cast members are active in the stand-up comedy scene in Phoenix like Matt Micheletti, Nathan Evangelista, and Autumn Garza. Ernesto Moncada is a fixture in the Downtown arts scene as a performer, writer and host of the long-running, open-mic variety show Firestage. Other current and past cast members are musicians in the local scene like Ben Horowitz, Jamison McQueen, Joe “Dagger Pan” Sawinski, and John Luther Norris of the Haymarket Squares.
With the Firehouse closing in December, what is the future of FFNL?
Smith: First Friday Night Live will continue (probably) at a new venue beginning in February 2017. Stay tuned.
First Friday Night Live
- This month’s episode of First Friday Night Live is Friday, Oct. 7, at 11 p.m. The Firehouse Gallery is at 1015 N. First St., Phoenix.
- Next month’s episode is Friday, Nov. 4 — same time, same place.
The author interviews FFNL writer/player Margo Brookover on Phoenix Tonight: