by Dan Fields
Outrageous Live Comedy, Deadly Sharp
“Roughly 24 to 92 hours ago*, STAB!’s team of comedy scientists commissioned 4 specific humorists** to give various potentially comedic takes on several random topics, which they’ll now perform for the first and likely last time, in front of a live studio audience, in a show called…
With these words of introduction, welcome to a world of high-spirited, fiercely funny, savagely dark entertainment. Stab! is a live comedy show featuring a rotating lineup of the freshest young comics you ought to be hearing. Lucky for those outside the show’s home territory, the performances are available as a weekly podcast. Created by Sacramento comedians John Ross and Jesse Jones, Stab! began as a friendly teamup of like minds looking for a new kind of comedy project.
The format of Stab! is simple, but open to endless possibilities. Each night’s panel of humorists take turns presenting sketches, poems and monologues based on a series of prompts they have received only a short time in advance. The format incorporates the wild variety of a standup open mic, the careful composition of a sketch show, and the madcap spontaneity of improv. There are few if any limits on the material, and the results while often inspired tend to be mighty edgy. People wishing to know more of Stab! should take a clue from the show’s title. It is not safe or comfortable comedy. Let those with delicate sensibilities be warned.
*Despite what the introductory voiceover cites, panelists routinely berate John Ross, the show’s MC, for sending them prompts less than a day in advance, much to general amusement.
**Stab! has since cut the original 4-performer lineup down to 3 (and occasionally 2), but rather than waste the signature voiceover track by John Alston, show audiences have made a game of yelling out these inaccuracies as the intro plays. Tradition is important. And do you think these folks are made of authoritative voiceover? They are not.
Earlier this year, the Stab! crew performed at the 4th Annual Los Angeles Scripted Comedy Festival, held at the prestigious iO West Theater. Some will know iO West, or its mothership theater in Chicago, under the former title of ImprovOlympic. By a happy chance, the timing worked out for Stab! to record its 100th show at the festival. Fresh from triumphant conquest in LA, show host and co-creator John Ross shares his perspective on the history of Stab! as it (sort of) turns a century old.
FPR: First of all, how was the Comedy Festival?
John Ross: Overall, it was great. We had a good time, and it was fun to be able to perform at iO, which is kind of a bigger theater. Danielle [Mandella, one of the show’s producers] and Jesse [Jones, a regular featured panelist] are both iO alums, so that was kind of a homecoming for them too.
Is this the first time Stab! has gone “on the road?”
JR: Predominantly we’ve kept it in Sacramento, and that was the first time we’ve gotten to LA.
Most people’s access to the show is limited to what they can find on iTunes, maybe 70 or 75 episodes. How old is Stab! really?
JR: I think we just put our 71st episode on. It’s funny how it landed when we did the Comedy Festival at iO. That was actually our hundredth show! When we first started, it was about three years ago. Jesse and I were producing different shows, like the 48-Hour Comedy Festival. That was an all-night marathon. I had done a show prior to that called Comedy From The Couch. I would host it. Three comedians would be on a couch, and then I would write a couple of bits that we would play with. Most of it was to bring the green room to the stage, where they’d have a comedian on stage and we’d interrupt each other, just talk trash about each other on stage.
So the seeds of Stab! were there.
JR: Yeah. We did that for a few years, and eventually for the 48-Hour Comedy Festival, I’d bump a format to Jesse like “Hey, here’s something I think you’d be good at,” because he’s an excellent writer. We were both working at the Sacramento Comedy Spot, which is sort of a UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade)/iO of Sacramento. It’s more improv and sketch based. I was teaching a standup program there and he was running the sketch program. We had never done anything creatively together. We were at a bar after some shows, and were like “Why are we not working together? We need to work together on something.” And we came up with the idea of Stab!