The Magnet Theater just announced their new house teams and people are rightfully congratulating each other across the Internet right now, but I’d like to take a moment to talk about my buddy Phil whose team was cut and who did not get placed back on.
I first met Phil as a hopeless comedy nerd sitting at 4:30pm outside the UCB Theatre waiting to see the free all-star improv show ASSSSCAT. The show was at 9:30 but the tickets were given out early. Still, I was the only doof there that early and Phil Wolff was the intern who would come and put the line barriers in front of me, making fun of my utter dweebishness.
I looked up to Phil, he was the ASSSSCAT intern, a job for the best interns at the theater, often people in his place would get paid jobs there or even wind up on teams. Sometimes those interns become stressed and short dealing with the hundreds of people for a free celebrity improv show, but Phil was always nice to me, ready to do bits and talk improv.
I’d tell him I felt like I’d never be good and how I’d run away from UCB to take classes at the Magnet and he told me he felt frustrated too, that he didn’t feel like people liked him at UCB, but to keep working if you enjoy it.
Months later, we found ourselves taking two classes together at the same time, Neil Casey’s Advanced class at UCB and the Conservatory Level 5 class at the Magnet.
In Neil’s class everyone was nervous, even though this was before he was hired at SNL, but Phil and I killed it, especially when we did scenes together. It was my first advanced class and when Phil told me how he wished he’d done his scene with me instead of his scene partner, I felt pretty awesome and I felt the same way too.
But in the Magnet class, where I thought I was in home territory, I couldn’t do a scene to save my life and it was me telling Phil how I wished I had done a scene with him as it felt like everyone was speaking a language I couldn’t understand. Phil felt the same way, but was so funny he got by even though he seemed confused by the style. I found myself hoping on the back line that Phil would step out for my scene so I would just know someone who didn’t think I was terrible would do a scene with me.
Then both classes were over, Neil’s class and the Magnet Level 5. Phil got into Level 6 and decided to take a break from UCB and I didn’t (and never did) and went back to UCB because I felt like I had nowhere else to go.
I didn’t stop by the Magnet much for my dumb ego and my broken heart, but I would hear how well Phil was doing there and he kept on encouraging other people too. He named his level 6 team after a shy player on his team who would later become a powerhouse at the Magnet, bringing him out of his shell.
When auditions came around, he was placed on what everyone thought was the sickest team, the best people from some of the older teams were on it who were already doing shows at the theater as well Story Pirates and Russ Armstrong, one of the strongest comic performers in NY.
Right from the get-go his team, Bloomer, was skipped out of “training wheels” forms, given prime time slots and used as an example of good play in classes.
Other people at the theater I stayed in touch with would tell me enviously about their shows and time slots, how much they liked each other and how silly they played.
Nothing lasts forever, people couldn’t make rehearsals, people came and went and after a year, when I invited Phil to guest in a show I did, he told me backstage he was nervous about getting cut and I told him not to sweat it, that he had always been great and that if he couldn’t control it anyway, so just to have fun.
I couldn’t say now I have anything on Phil, any wisdom or experience. In my mind, Phil’s still that guy telling me the dweeb sitting on the sidewalk not to get so down on himself.
But I can say as we go and congratulate the new teams and even great people like Evan Barden who found himself in the same boat as Phil, I guess I’d just like to speak for me personally and say thank you too to Phil who surely made my improv journey better and from what I can tell, made the Magnet and the community in general a better place.
You’re the best, buddy.