We all have that one friend in our group that is funnier than everyone else. The friend, who when their names comes up, it is usually followed by the phrase, “The funniest person I have ever met, seriously!” I’m not talking about your buddy who gets wasted every time you go out and is constantly making a fool of himself but the smart one. The one with the one liners that always sting the most, the one who always knows when and when not to point out something embarrassing about a situation, the person you ask to help you write a witty wedding toast. As well, that person is usually the one you can’t help but wonder, “what if they decided to do something with their talents?” Now I don’t know any of Michael Terry’s friends or the group he hangs out with, but I can’t imagine him not being the funniest one. He won’t admit to it, that wouldn’t be his style. He’d probably just make a joke that somehow or another makes you sound stupid for even assuming that…and still you can’t help but laugh. We all know this person, and you maybe reading this, you are that person. Regardless, Terry’s comedic career is on the rapid up rise. As I reviewed my notes for Michael Terry, I imagined all the smart remarks that would come my way…I’d be eaten alive, I thought. Luckily however, Terry went easy on me, only leaving me with a few embarrassing scars, even when he takes shots (no pun intended) at my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. “Baltimore, a town that coined the slogan [The City That Reads] to shake its reputation as a drab, crack-addled hellhole.” I had no good comeback…and I had to laugh. Michael Terry, as you will probably think as well, looks like a younger Steve Carel CHECK SPELLING and performs with the intensity of a seasoned Broadway showman; wit, charm and charisma. He says that he was pushed into the comedy scene after a friend’s encouragement but then realized comedy was his true passion. He helped create the comedy trio, Party Central USA (PC USA), which has performed around New York City to sold-out audiences, been seen in comedy festivals and even appeared in an MTV2 television commercial. On large note on their success is PCUSA’s videos have been featured on iFilm and vmix.com, totaling more than 100,000 views. Terry and PC USA are and intricate component to bring back smart comedy; the kind of comedy where curse words are not the basis for all jokes and derogatory terms are not the punch line. Don’t get me wrong, PC USA love to poke fun at all aspects of daily life but when done right, you can see where the real art lives. Intelligent comedy writing tends to get in our pop culture, thanks to reality shows where producers, thanks to clever editing, make us laugh at a plastic celebrities and their casual misuse of everyday terms and exploiting their lack of talent, allowing us to laugh at them not with them. The opposite is to be said about what team PC USA is doing and time will only tell when PC USA is a standard on national television. I laugh louder every time I watch his work. Every time I notice something different that I missed before. Lucky for me, I know that Terry and PC USA will be around for a long time to keep me heavily entertained.
XXQs: Michael Terry
PensEyeView.com (PEV): How and when did you first get involved in comedy and writing?
Michael Terry (MT): While a lot of the comedians I know got started young Ð in high school or college, I was much later to the game. Four years ago a friend of mine urged me to take a sketch writing class. I kept refusing, but she was persistent. So I finally gave in Ð mainly to get her off my back Ð and ended up taking a class with Kevin Allison from The State on MTV. It’s hard to explain how strange it was to unexpectedly find something that instantly became an all consuming passion. In a matter of weeks, comedy became my second full-time job.
PEV: Tell us about your first standup performance.
MT: My first standup was at an open mic at an ironic tiki bar in New York’s East Village called Otto’s Shrunken head. It was at 6pm and there were only five other people there, all comics waiting to try their stuff. It was brutal Ð nobody laughed at anyone else, either because they were still memorizing their material or because sometimes comics just don’t laugh at other comics. Standard open mic. I was so focused that, when one of my jokes bombed, I lost my train of thought, and everyone had to wait while I pulled out a paper with my jokes written on it to finish out the set. Talk about the sounds of silence…
PEV: What is the New York comedy scene like and what are the best and worst aspects about it?
MT: As you’d expect, New York has a pretty robust comedy scene. It’s amazing how many venues there are to go and try or see comedy. The best aspect is the amazing array of talent. There are so many excellent and often unappreciated comics out there. What’s the worst part? I suppose I continue to be surprised at how frequently dick jokes and pure shock humor are considered “edgy.” I’d rather have an audience member say “That was hilarious” instead of “I can’t believe he said that.” I think there’s a word for it – oh, yeah “na•vetŽ.”
PEV: I may regret asking this, but what was your favorite part about growing up in Baltimore and how has the transition to New York been for you?
MT: The best part about growing up in Baltimore were the slogans the tourism board came up with to try and convince people to come visit a city that is best know for its hard core crime (and resulting crime dramas like Homicide, The Wire, The Corner). My favorite was “Baltimore: The City That Reads.” Of course the best part about this is the unspoken lead-in, as in: “We know you probably think we’re illiterate crack heads, but actually we’re…the city that reads.” I lived in Tokyo for five years prior to moving to NYC, so I’d already lost any sense of personal space. That said, people in Tokyo are much more polite than the average New Yorker, and a lot more Asian.
PEV: Tell us about Party Central USA. (who they are, how did they form, etc.)
MT: Party Central USA formed out of the sketch class I mentioned. The three of us gelled right away. Mike is an advertising creative and Bri is a publicist in publishing. We all have an extremely dark sense of humor, but love to wrap it up in a cheerful package. With PC USA you’ll see a lot of humor about the weird or bleak moments of daily life.
PEV: How is working/writing with a group, like PCUSA different from your solo performances? Which do you prefer and why?
MT: Writing with a group is great because of the different viewpoints. Three minds are better than one and you get immediate feedback on how funny something is. With standup you usually don’t get feedback until you’re onstage. Group writing takes longer, because there are invariably disagreements, but I think you get to a finished product faster. Performing as a group is a little less stressful, with standup all the pressure is on you and you alone Ð which is, of course, part of the thrill. At the end of the day they’re both fantastic ways to get the attention and approval you missed out on as a child.
PEV: What can we expect from a live Michael Terry performance?
MT: About 67% of the time people mix up my names, so you might actually get a Terry Michaels performance. In sketch I’m usually playing some kind of insane or delusional person. As a standup, I’m kind of a nerd and I talk like one. You’ll probably hear words like “juggernaut” and “molybdenum.”
PEV: Who were some of your comedic influences and why?
MT: I love clever comics Ð nothing’s better to me than really sharp material that’s well delivered. For standup I’m a huge fan of George Carlin. His ability to deliver social commentary without being heavy-handed, while seamlessly sliding in good old observational humor is amazing. His focus on language is fantastic. I worship at the altar of deadpan, and Bill Murray has been an influence for a long time. Stephen Colbert has inherited the mantle Ð one of the greatest moments of my comedic life was making him laugh by asking him earnestly who invented the umlaut. For sketch I used to watch Mike Meyers on SNL Ð Sprockets was a favorite, and later Wayne’s World. Christopher Guest is a legend, and his form of deadpan absurdity is a genre all its own.
PEV: In your opinion, what is the single greatest comedic movie of all time and why?
MT: Rushmore with Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. Wes Andersen manages to create these incredibly rich, oddball characters that we love and invest in completely. And his attention to detail is meticulous Ð Max’s notes in the hymn book while Bill Murray is railing against the elite (Rich kids Ð bad? Best chapel speaker I have ever seen). Hilarious. I’d argue it’s Bill Murray’s greatest performance, and his chemistry with Schwartzman is incredible. As for Schwartzman, I can’t imagine anyone else pulling off the role the way he did Ð faux cosmopolitan, perennial over-tryer and underachiever Max Fischer. Perfection, for me at least.
PEV: Which comedian on the scene today should we be looking out for?
MT: John Mulaney is a shooting star as a stand up. Sometimes you see someone perform and you can’t help but think “That person has IT” Ð that mix of talent and charisma that can’t help but lead to fame. He’s been on Conan a couple of times, and I suspect you’ll be hearing his name a lot more. Matt Higgins is a longstanding improviser here in NYC whose one man shows are so incredibly original and hilarious, it’s hard for me to understand why he isn’t more famous.
PEV: How has the internet and “online exposure” impacted the success or promotion of comedians?
MT: Everyone is gearing their work toward the internet. This is great because 1) it allows comics to deliver their material to a huge audience and get the recognition they deserve – quickly and 2) YouTube has single-handedly lead to a golden revival for sketch. With so many websites and outlets, the demand for original content has never been higher Ð this is great news for comedians. And there are some real talent discovery stories. That said, because anyone can post anything, you have to sift through a lot of material to find things you like. It also means people have incredibly short attention spans Ð most sites won’t promote sketches that are longer than three minutes.
PEV: What do all your family and friends think about your comedic career?
MT: My family is horrified that I’ll quit my day job for comedy. My friends are split between those who think I’ve finally found my calling and those who think I’m insane. Actually, those groups overlap sometimes.
PEV: Which city to do feel offers the best environment for good comedy?
MT: While I know I’m expected to say New York, Chicago has a pretty amazing comedy scene. Second City was the seed for a comedy culture that is not only deep, but perhaps the most tightly knit and supportive that I’ve seen. I love performing in Chicago.
PEV: What do you find to be the best source for material?
MT: Real people. The funniest ideas and moments come at the strangest and most unexpected times in daily life. Or when I make a social blunder. Which is often.
PEV: Is there a certain atmosphere you surround yourself in when you write your material?
MT: I can only write comedy if everything in the room is swathed in white Ð white leather couches, white linen draperies, white lilies in white vases, etc. Also Air Supply or an Air Supply cover band must be playing.
PEV: What is one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Michael Terry?
MT: I speak Japanese.
PEV: When you are not writing or performing, what can we find you doing?
MT: The New York Times Crossword puzzle. Going to movies. Trying to figure out whether there’s a God and if (S)He loves us.
PEV: What is currently on your iPod or in your CD player right now?
MT: Idlewild Ð the band, not the Outkast movie, Neutral Milk Hotel, a customized One-Hit-Wonders-of-the-80s mix that would make your mind implode
PEV: So, what is next for Michael Terry?
MT: Fame. Fortune. Several appearances on MTV’s Cribs. Drug addiction. Novelty pets and/or cars. An E! True Hollywood Story that contains the phrase “Just when he thought he’d hit rock bottom Ð the bottom fell out.” For more information on Michael Terry, check out: http://www.michaelterry.com/ and Party Central USA at http://www.partycentralusa.net