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Three Friends Goofing Off: An Interview With Pizza Party

By Matt Byrne in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 2, 2013 4:10PM


The three improvisors that make up Pizza Party, Walt Delaney, Alex Honnet, and Brian McGovern, are all deeply involved in the city's independent sketch and improv world. Delaney and Honnet help run the Upstairs Gallery performance space, McGovern produces the weekly sketch revue All Of It All The Time at Chemically Imbalanced Comedy, and all three can be seen performing scripted and improvised material across the city on a regular basis.

Since 2011, the trio has performed silly, high-energy improv as Pizza Party at venues across the city and beyond, and have been featured at comedy festivals like the NYC Improv Festival, the Compass Improv Festival in St. Louis, and the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival. The group kicks off their first-ever run at iO tonight at 10:30 p.m. alongside the similarly party-minded Where Da Party At?. Chicagoist spoke with the boys of Pizza Party about some favorite memories from their time together, as well as the special significance this upcoming run of shows holds.

Pizza Party performs Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. through August 6th at iO, 3541 N. Clark St. Tickets on sale now.

CHICAGOIST: How did the team come about? Is Pizza Party the first time all three of you have performed together?
Walt Delaney: Alex and I went through classes at iO together and played in a lot of independent teams that rarely saw a second show. We were on a 3 man team that was cut abruptly short when our buddy Brennan Lowery moved to NYC.

Brian McGovern: I'm sort of a replacement, actually. Walt and Alex were in a group called "Cool Bros" or something. This guy Brennan moved to New York, and Walt and Alex were slowly hand embroidering robes and they needed a guy whose name started with "Br."

Alex Honnet: [Brennan] decided to pursue an MFA in acting, so we thought: "who is the opposite of someone with that kind of dedication to the craft?" Brian was the obvious choice.

Brian McGovern: I found an email thread from 8/16/11 where it seems like we just figured out we wanted to be called Pizza Party. It was in between the only two official rehearsals we had and our first show. Before that, the three of us had never performed with each other.

WD: So, we asked Brian to join and chose the dumbest name we could think of. As soon as the 3 of us got started playing together, I knew we had something. It's a sore subject for Brian though, some wounds just don't heal, you know?

C: Is there an overarching style or mentality you try to maintain during a Pizza Party set?
A week or so ago, someone came up to me after a show and describe it as "three friends goofing off." I'm not sure it was intended to be a compliment, but I take it as an enormous one. Though we take our shows very seriously, I know that Brian and Alex will support anything I do onstage, and because of that, I know I have free range to be a total idiot and those two guys will make me look good.

AH: The goal is to play the ridiculous as seriously and as real as possible. An ideal Pizza Party show moves very fast with a lot of information being generated and the three of us chewing up as much as we can.

BM: We try to find characters that care about each other. Once we get that going, the show is all about unconditional agreement and trust. That usually means we play super fast and end up dry humping on the ground.

C: Are there any performers/peers you'd cite as influences?
Cook County Social Club is a big personal influence, although I would not say we really play like them, they're masters at patterns and details.

WD: Other teams that I feel share the same spirit, though are much better than us, are Cook County Social Club, Hunks R Us, DMNK, Sand and Superhuman. Also, anytime we can simulate sex on stage, get me in that pile.

BM: Sand, Hunks R Us, and WiseSnatch all come to mind. They all have mostly had three members, they all are masters at escalating into insanity, and they all have probably ended up dry humping on the ground. DMNK too. They're great friends and a huge influence, especially in the dry humping on the ground department.

C: You've performed at venues across the city and at improv festivals all over the country, what has been your favorite/most memorable show?

AH: They gave us two shows at the 2012 NYC Improv Festival at the Peoples Improv Theater. The first show really wasn't good; there was a nice size house, but we weren't clicking. We were trying really hard, and we left the stage feeling like garbage. We sort of beat ourselves up about it for the 3 hours between.

The second show was for seven people in the much smaller downstairs theater and we had probably the best show we've ever done. It ended with the three of us holding each other and crying while singing "Kokomo" by The Beach Boys. So to swing that hard in one night in NYC was pretty awesome. That very few people saw one of the most intense improv experiences I've been through yet feels kind of appropriate.

WD: This year, they gave us a great slot in the main room on Saturday night and the house was packed. As a group it's rare that we get nervous before a show, but we were all terrified. Before the show Alex and I started stretching, something we never do, and Brian threw up in the bathroom maybe 30 seconds before the show.

BM: I do this thing before almost every show where I dry heave before going on stage. I never actually throw up, I just sort of gag and stare at my shoes and then I'm OK. Before our NYC Improv Fest show this year, I was in the bathroom backstage puking my guts out. They were calling our name and music started to play, we all ran out and did maybe the best received show we've done.

It was my Michael Jordan fever moment, my incredibly low-stakes Michael Jordan fever moment.

WD: As soon as we started, the audience was with us and had them laughing the whole show. While it was not our best show, it was the most responsive show we've ever had and one that will stay with me for a while.

BM: We also did a show at the Playground where we sat in a car and each sang a different CCR song simultaneously. That was the best

C: While all three of you currently perform at iO on other teams, this is Pizza Party's first appearance there. Does this run of shows hold any special significance or meaning or are you trying to keep things light and breezy, in an attempt to avoid assigning Real Ass Feelings to anything?

AH: Oh yes, big time. I am not one to shy away from real ass feelings.

WD: While we're all on Harold Teams at iO currently, initially none of us got placed on Harold teams [after finishing classes at iO], which is a hard pill to swallow for an improviser just getting started.

BM: We started right when I didn’t make a team after going through classes and it really served as motivation to just perform and grow and hustle as much as we could. So there’s some sort of “keep trying” or “hang in there, baby” moral somewhere in there... Like that "Michael Jordan getting cut his freshman year" story, a very low-stakes "Michael Jordan getting cut his freshman year" story.

AH: We're fortunate to be in a place where we all had a lot of other outlets and opportunities to improvise, so while we weren't playing at iO, we had our heads down grinding it out anywhere else in town that would have us. You don't dare dream of something like this when you're out in the wilderness, but to come back to the place where I really fell in love with long form improv, and to be able to play there with two of my best friends really means a lot.

WD: While we are thrilled to be at iO for this run, I am more excited by the fact that we are still playing together and doing shows we are all proud of.

BM: Without getting too Real Ass, it is a great feeling to have people allow you to goof around with your best buds in front of a crowd. If we got paid for it, it’d be the best job in the world!

C: You're paired up with Where Da Party At?, another team with "Party" in their name. Is this going to be the most fun night of improv?

WD: If not, Brian will quit comedy to sell insurance. That's a Pizza Party Promise.

BM: A lot of people think two parties would cancel each other out. Those people have never and will never get to experience a double party. 

AH: "Fun" is kind of subjective, but if you're asking if audience will members get laid then the answer is yes.