Peter n’ Chris shows are not easy to describe to the uninitiated. Peter Carlone and Chris Wilson turn minimalist stage sets into magic school buses filled with epic adventure and riotously silly comedy, using only energetic physical comedy, quick-witted banter, and the power of the human mind. I left their most recent Fringe Festival Show, Peter N’ Chris Explore Their Bodies, feeling like I had just witnessed a transcendent journey, while at the same time laughing my ever-loving ass off. Amazing that it was just two dudes in raggedy housecoats, right? Audiences seem to agree, and the duo piles up Canadian Comedy Awards and Best of Fringe picks like I pile up empty takeout containers.
With their penchant for exploring the outer limits of the creative possibilities of sketch comedy, it’s no wonder Carlone is resurrecting Vancouver’s Sketch Comedy Festival, at Granville Island from Jan. 23-25. The festival gathers together sketch performers from all over Canada and the USA, and also features local luminaries like the hilarious character comedian Andrew Barber, and the improv stars The Sunday Service. It also offers workshops by Chris Wilson, as well as by Mark and Kyle of the Comedy Network show Picnicface. Perhaps best of all, Peter and Chris will debut their new show Peter n’ Chris and the Kinda OK Corral, which promises Western homages, high noon showdowns, and something called “mouth explosions.” Sadmag sat down with the comedians at The Cascade and, while Chris pilfered Peter’s fries, discussed sharing a bed, growing as performers, and of course babes.
Chris Wilson: That waitress is a smoky babe. She provides the smoke.
Sad Mag: So what qualities do you look for in a babe?
CW: Brunettes mostly. Smoky brunettes. Or just attractive women.
SM: Peter, you’re trying to gesture something…What do you look for in a babe?
Peter Carlone: That’s what I was trying to do, secretly gesture under the table. Great question! I have been told that my type is mousy small town angels.
CW: You can stop at mousy and just strike angels.
PC: You can stop eating my fries. Just a small town girl. Hardworking. Real innocent. Achilles heel for me.
CW : And if a girl is at all goofy…I fall in love with them.
PC: If a girl’s more powerful than me I am on board! I will follow them around.
CW : Same here with the power thing. A powerful goofiness.
SM: So how did you guys meet?
CW: I was attracted to Peter’s powerful goofiness. His smoky qualities.
PC: The real answer, not the really silly answer that Chris gave, is that we met at UVic. We were doing the theatre school there in the same classes and we started to fool around a bunch.
CW: Not physically…creatively.
PC : A little bit physically.
CW: Comedy is physical, but not sexual.
PC: And from there we did coffeehouse nights, which are basically glorified adult talent shows, and hosted awards nights and events and just did little bits here and there.
SM: Did you start performing the Peter n’ Chris show at Fringe Festivals?
CW: The first year we took it to Vancouver and Victoria. And our first show in Vic, I remember us almost selling it out the first shot. It went really well because we went to school there and we had all that support. And then we got to Vancouver, when we hadn’t moved there yet.
PC: In the basement of a church.
CW: We were at Pacific Theatre. We opened to seven people: our acting teacher, two friends, a reviewer, and two random old people.
PC: And one of them was the venue manager, who had to be there. And the two old people did not like it.
CW: No, they did not. They fell asleep.
PC: By the end, we had a pretty nice house, and we learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t, namely the critics. A lot of times people say “I never trust the reviews.” I agree you should never read them during your show, but after the show, take a read. That helped me
CW: What hurt the most about the reviews for the first show is that I agreed with everything they were negatively pointing out! I still think about some reviews we’ve had. One was the first sentence of a piece in Monday Magazine in Victoria that said “It starts off painfully. Dreadfully. Slowly.” And she just did three sentences like that.
PC: And it was a three-star review!
CW: And then it went on to say “but then it gets better.” So I was like “We fucked up the beginning. Ok.”
PC: You don’t want to be in the show that gets better.
CW: Another one that goes through my head all the time is that I was handing out flyers at a festival, and a lady said, “Oh, I already saw it” I told her she should see it again. And she said, “Once was enough.” In just the harshest tones.
SM: Do you spend a lot of time together when you’re traveling to different Fringe Fests around the Country?
PC: I would say too much.
CW: But it’s a great time
PC: Every different sleeping arrangement you can think of, we’ve done. Like sleeping in a basement, sleeping on an overturned couch, sleeping in a car.
CW: Same bed.
PC: Same sleeping bag.
CW : Me being in his bachelor apartment. Which is right now.
SM: How are you able to avoid driving each other crazy?
CW: I think in that first year we got on each other’s nerves more than we have since.
PC: We were both going through something we both had never been through before, putting ourselves out there for the first time. So everything that went wrong was either my fault or Chris’s fault. I remember saying to Chris that whole first year, “I am never doing this again for sure. That was my first and last fringe, definitely.”
And then by the end it just doesn’t feel so bad. And then the next year it was also really stressful, but then it just gets easier. Once you’ve learned how to climb that one mountain you can climb that mountain again. And I think the same thing happens with Chris and I spending a lot of time together. It’s the same thing as romantic relationships, too. You just get better at spending time with that person. And then you’re also at a place where you are free to tell them if you are annoyed. You can just say, “Go away! I don’t want to talk to you!”
CW: We just became very open with each other in terms of talking out problems. Whereas in that first year, we had the sense that if you’re gonna be in a duo with somebody, you can’t have problems! Every night that first year, we said, “So what do you want to do tonight?” We still hang out all the time, not just for business.
SM: You just hang out for fun.
CW: Just hanging out for fun. Like we used to when we were real tight friends. Hmm, I said that in a weird way.
PC: We are not friends. We are strictly business partners. I am definitely demoting him to business partner after eating all my fries.
SM: Chris, you moved to Toronto a year ago. How are the comedy scenes different in Toronto and Vancouver, in your experience?
CW: There are more shows in Toronto, that’s for sure. That doesn’t mean they’re all well attended, but the ones that are popular are very popular. If you wanted to get up and do a show every single night you could, but I don’t have a lot of interest in doing that. I’ve been seeking out a lot of standup in character shows. There’s more sketch comedy, there’s more of everything, but there are very few improv groups continually doing improv. In Toronto you do shows as an individual.
SM: Are there any comedic styles or acts that you don’t agree on? Things that one of you finds funny and the other doesn’t?
PC: Maybe? I like stuffy British things and absurdity.
CW: And I like those all as well. Peter sends me stuff online all the time and everything he sends me, I have a laugh at. He likes animation a lot, and I like all the same animated shows.
SM: Chris, how will you approach your physicality in sketch comedy workshop?
CW: I think we’re just going to approach it the way Peter and I do I’ll just get everybody to take a common story that we all know, like Aesop’s Fables or The Tortoise and The Hare and tell the story physically and have fun with it. And also playing with cinema. Everything we do is staged cinematically, we always think about it in terms of what the camera is doing. The audience is the camera.
PC: In the same way that a magician’s whole idea is what they have the audience focus on, the comedian’s way is “How do I make the audience focus on something?” Sometimes it comes down to literally telling them, “This is what you’re looking at.”
CW: Everybody knows movies, we all watch them, so if you do it on stage and hint at what you’re going for…
PC: They can do the rest of the math!