Big Terrific, a Williamsburg comedy staple, celebrates five years

Jenny Slate, Max Silvestri and Gabe Liedman reflect on Rififi, chodes and Brooklyn's disinterest in Tilda Swinton's genitalia

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Big Terrific

Big Terrific Photograph: Natasha Ryan


When East Village alt-comedy hub Rififi closed in 2008, young comics Max Silvestri, Jenny Slate and Gabe Liedman began inviting their friends and favorite comics to a weekly show across the Manhattan Bridge at Sound Fix Records. The giddy vibe they cultivated at Big Terrific—which has been at Cameo for the last three years—not only proved that people would show up to hear jokes in Brooklyn, but that the borough was capable of inspiring its own scene. Before a big anniversary show Friday 15 at Music Hall of Williamsburg, the trio—two of whom now live in L.A.—reflected on the last five years.

How did you envision the tone of the show when you started it?
Jenny Slate: We had to create a home for ourselves, or not have one. When Rififi closed, everyone was kind of scattered.
Gabe Liedman: We were three best friends who thought we could carry the load of running a weekly show, and I think the friend vibe came through right away.
Max Silvestri: We all wanted to make each other laugh as much or more than we wanted to make the audience laugh.

Why Brooklyn?
Silvestri: We lived in Brooklyn and all of the friends we were inviting to the show lived in Brooklyn. There was this weird vibe where everyone thought in order to be a legitimate show, you had to be in Manhattan. Because the 11 industry people in the city and all the older comics lived in Manhattan.…
Slate: [Laughing] Max, I just thought you said “legitimate chode.” Because legitimate chodes often do think that Brooklyn sucks.

Although people will come out if they know you've got a legitimate chode.

Silvestri: And our show was always longer than it was wide, so.

You’re friends offstage, but what have you learned from one another onstage?
Liedman: Max is the ultimate riff master. Any joke [of his] goes off in a thousand branches before it comes back for the punch line, and that really opened my mind to the idea that stand-up doesn’t have to be the same every time.
Slate: When I watch Max and Gabe onstage, they’re both really social animals, and you get the sense that even if they’ve told the story before, they’re not telling it on autopilot. It encouraged me to be really personal.
Silvestri: It is immediately clear who Jenny and Gabe are from their material, in the best possible way. So people are in love with them immediately and willing to understand why they were going the places they were. I learned I need to communicate who I am rather than a character.

Can you remember any memorable experiments onstage that failed, that you’re still proud of?
Slate: No shame, but we had some fails with [ongoing Big Terrific bit] “People’s Pussies.”
Liedman: It was always really popular, until one day it wasn’t and we got booed at our own show. And we never did it again.

That’s what happened to “People’s Pussies”?!
Liedman: It’s one of those jokes where people laugh even though it’s super duper duper wrong. And as soon as they don’t, you’re like, Oh, right, I’m a fucking monster.

It always seemed to be offered in the right spirit.

Liedman: It was fun and celebratory. It got mean and weird in a fun way, I think. But one day it just straight up didn’t work. And the celebrity who was up for discussion was Tilda Swinton.
Slate: That her pussy would bite someone’s dick off.
Liedman: And I said that her pussy always had a pounding headache and would invite you over but would never come out of its room.
Slate: My favorite one was that Alanis Morissette’s pussy makes its own kombucha.
Liedman: I remember that Lisa Kudrow’s clit was a fimo bead, but it was also a clown nose or something.We brought back the sound effect of eating chips to accompany the Indigo Girls’ eating each other out. People loved that.
Silvestri: Still one of the best jokes of all time.
Slate: One of the best jokes because you get to eat chips.

Do you feel there have been phases in the show, or just one long run?
Slate: I think Cameo is definitely a different world than Sound Fix. There were times at Sound Fix when I wondered, Oh, are people going to come this week? And then my next worry was: People are expecting something; I hope I’m good. Sound Fix was much more of a launching pad, but it was also good because they had those really spicy Bloody Marys.
Liedman: We used to drink them before the show—
Slate: And blow our colons out! I always have the preshow diarrheas, but that drink would just do it big time. What did you call it, Gabe? The backwards dragon?
Liedman: Yes! [Laughter] And the year Jenny got SNL, that was a new chapter. Now, Jenny and I are in L.A., but you can see Max [at Cameo] every week and all three of us when we can do something like this.
Silvestri: We’ve had a few big shows in theaters, and we’re in a phase of our careers now where we feel comfortable charging money and performing for a half hour and we think it’s fair.

What sort of significance does the anniversary hold?
Liedman: I’m so impressed! It’s been super fun, it’s led to everything, and we’re all still as close as ever. But it’s a real mile marker.
Silvestri: The show has been this giant constant of my life in New York, and I get to do it with my two best friends.

Big Terrific Fifth Anniversary happens Fri 15 at Music Hall of Williamsburg.


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