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Behind The Scenes

At First Friday Night Live

First Friday Night Live at The Firehouse.

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The Phoenix Metro’s Answer To Other Sketch-Comedy Variety Events Of Today And Yesterday Celebrates It’s Third Season Of Laughs, Music And Biting Satire In Downtown Phoenix

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By Josh Wyrick
Special for Modern Times Magazine

April 3, 2014 — Another First Friday, and regulars crowd the seats of The Firehouse, a downtown Phoenix fixture for local artists to display their work and hone their skills.

Tonight is Thursday, and this is just a rehearsal, but the energy around the stage is electric as the all-volunteer cast and crew of The Firehouse are involved in every bit of production, from lighting, to sound, to unfolding the chairs.

They are preparing for the live broadcast of First Friday Night Live, a backyard “do-it-ourselves” homage to NBC mainstay Saturday Night Live where the censors are non-existent and the action is constant. Like SNL, FFNL has musical performances sprinkled throughout the show from local bands such as Wolvves, Small Leaks Sink Ships and Field Tripp, among many others over their three season run.

The cast members and writers mill around for a few minutes discussing their days, what bits they think will hit, and the process of how they are preparing before gathering onstage to run through the script once more before tomorrow’s performance.

The builder, financier, creator, and epicenter of FFNL is Michael ’23,’ a local figure in the Phoenix underground art scene for many years. He maintains and curates The Firehouse where FFNL takes place, pasting the walls with art and keeping a stage fit for production for the myriad acts that perform there on a weekly basis.

Greener than most all of the on-stage cast, Ivan Chavez’s first season has been an exercise in improvisation and stage comedy. Like many of the other cast members, before joining the cast of FFNL, Chavez worked on “The Art House,” a YouTube sitcom based around life in The Firehouse. Chavez jokingly calls his involvement with FFNL “…a desperate need for attention” that can only be filled by the type of live performances and critical moments that take place on the stage. Moments like the inception of “Cumby,” in what can only be accurately described as a sperm-based Gumby parody.

“We were going to initially use this mixture of…corn starch and water…but unfortunately it just wouldn’t work. So I had to improvise a little,” Chavez explains. “I happened to have a bottle of lotion in my backpack because…well, we live in the desert, and you have to moisturize! Moisture is key.”

As the show began, Chavez made a decision to dump the bottle of lotion and make himself the prop.

Chavez came out to groans and disgusted sighs to the mounds of lotion globbed on his face, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I love when we do a joke that just makes the audience groan, audibly!” Chavez proclaims.

As for writers, FFNL has a litany. Fortunately Ian Murdock is there to wrangle them all.

“I’m kind of the one person who for sure has read the entire script,” Murdock relates.

He has been with the show since the second season in 2011, starting off as a contributing writer and ending up where he is now as the head writer. Before joining, Murdock read short comedic comedy at the now-defunct Conspire during open mic sessions.

“I would write some…story every week and Aaron Johnson came up to me, and asked me if I wanted to be in the writer’s room. Of course I was thrilled at the opportunity!” Murdock exclaims. “The show I saw, they started late and went on for three and a half hours…” Murdock remembers while chortling.

As with any monthly and all-volunteer show, tensions can run high before curtain.

“Sometimes there can be a lot of passive aggression…,” Murdock admits, as he adds that this season, the program started with thirteen actors and now has just eight remaining.

With the addition of Murdock and many other members over past seasons, the show is much more cohesive.

“All the jokes hit…it was just this great moment,” Murdock says of March’s installment. “We were dancing with tablecloths…it was very like, an aperture sort of moment. The mystical unity of everything,” he continues as he slides into a reverie of the post-show celebration.

As for the finale, “…I hope there are no laws regarding guacamole,” Murdock says cryptically. “It should be fun…Captain Squeegee will be there!”

While Phoenix continues to boom in 2014, many residents have voiced concerns of the gentrification of the cultural hot spots downtown and what dangers they could bring to the community in the coming years. Being the only program of its kind in Phoenix, FFNL is a bastion for those who want to see something that can be seen above the static.

As the FFNL season comes to a close after an uninhibited year of politically incorrect puns and playful punchlines, the cast members and audience will come up on stage to celebrate a job well done while the band plays them off into night, dancing wildly all the way. Tune in for the season finale of FFNL April 4 from FirstFridayNightLive.com, or see it in person at The Firehouse, 1015 N. First Street, for $7 the night of the show.

Josh Wyrick a freelance writer living in Phoenix, Ariz.
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