The city of Boston, at present, is not known for its comedy. Although at least a temporary home to comedic icons such as Denis Leary, Andy Kaufman, Dane Cook, and David Cross, the Hub’s roll in entertainment virtually begins and ends in the city blocks that Emerson College and its surrounding theaters occupy. But a few Easton natives and their friends are looking to change all that. They do video, they do live, and they’ll do any room that will have them. They are Anderson.
Founded in 2003 by Eastonians Rob Crean, Shakir Shibli, Rachel Berman, and Nick Lymberopoulos, along with Walpole native Jaffney Roode and Connecticut-born Adam Haut, the Anderson Comedy group has been making a splash in the greater Boston comedy scene for years now. And if any of them tell you anything different, “it’s because they’re wrong and have bad memories,” insists Shibli.
Although the first meeting occurred in a kitchen in Jamaica Plain, MA in 2003, members hailing from Easton have known and worked with each other for many years. Crean and Lymberopoulos, old school friends, have been making comedy shorts since 1997, when they filmed the never screened “Weeksville” short fresh out of Oliver Ames High School.
“It was free-form – mostly improv,” recollected Crean about their first project. “The basic idea was that it was a kid that was really privileged, but thought his life was really hard. It was a character we were really familiar with because, you know, we’re from Easton,” implying how common such a juvenile plight is in the community.
With comedy germinating in their hearts and in their futures, the troupe formally came together years later with the intention of making “honest” comedy. Says Shibli about Anderson’s motivation, “I would love to be huge but I don’t think that any of us as artists are concentrating more on fame than art. If you lose sight of the art and concentrate on things like getting huge, you have to water yourself down and cater to certain people. Something I will say about Anderson is that we are very honest with ourselves as artists. We do what we think is funny.”
The comedy troupe’s honesty has won them applause citywide, from an almost sold out performance at Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theater last year to a regular monthly show at the Middle East Corner in Cambridge, which is in its second month now. And how’d they get there? Hard work and ambition, it would seem. “We’ve played a lot of bad shows,” testified Crean, with Shibli’s approval. He recalled one show at a sports bar in the Fenway district that the headliner had cancelled, where they performed in front of about twelve people, and botched the performance pretty badly. “It was one of those shows,” he joked, “where very few people showed up, but you wished fewer had.” They recalled an equally bad experience at the Lucy Parsons Center, a radical bookstore in Boston’s South End, where some of their more offensive material made for an uncomfortable climate. “After our performance, we just stood there in the room and everyone avoided us,” recollected Crean. “It was awkward.”
But it is just that awkwardness that has also gained them ground. At their landmark Coolidge Corner performance, a skit featuring an anti-Semitic can of spray cheese almost caused a riot when an angry Jewish man caused a scene mid-show – standing up and yelling at the group about how unfunny he thought it was. His outburst prompted many from the packed theater to respond that if he didn’t like it, that he should just leave. Crean, holding Lymberopoulos away from the man, frantically searched for a solution, and offered to let the can of cheese defend itself. After a heartfelt speech riddled with the troupe’s trademark saying “y’follow” throughout, the man was ultimately appeased and led in the can’s standing ovation.
The joke? The man responsible for the outburst was a plant – and the father of half-Jewish member Rachel Berman. This Kaufman-worthy moment of turning the crowd on itself is just the sort of thing that the group aimed for.
With five out of six original members still in the group (Roode departed a few months ago), and the recent additions of Gretchen Gavett and Katie McCarthy, Anderson is still moving forward. They have produced, according to Crean, over four hours of video skits, and have performed comedy clubs, theaters, and rock venues, with stand-up groups, improv groups, and musical acts from across the spectrum. And though they don’t necessarily see Anderson as a career for themselves (Crean, when asked whether his parents foresaw his making a living in comedy as a child testified, “I don’t think that they foresee it now) it is hard to imagine them going anywhere but up.
Anderson performs monthly at the Middle East Corner, 480 Mass Ave, Cambridge, MA, on the last Tuesday of the month. More information about them, along with their DVD, is available at www.anderson-comedy.com
This article was originally published in The Easton Buzz on March 2, 2007