Mixing music with comedy is, for many, the best of both worlds, and New York City's hip-hop improv group North Coast is teaming up with the musical sketch-comedy guys of Pop Roulette, also from the Big Apple, to bring Charleston a bit of both. Two shows in one for two nights this festival season — not too shabby, eh?
Hip-hop improv company North Coast formed six years ago in response to New York City's flourishing improv scene. The vision was to put on a Baby Wants Candy-style show — in other words, a completely improvised, full musical — that uses a beat boxer rather than an accompanist. Instead of musical theater numbers, members burst into freestyle raps.
"We take a suggestion from the audience, and using free association, we paint a location using freestyles, embodying objects or people in the location as we go," North Coast co-manager Douglas Widick says. "After that, we use the same location to inspire scenes and songs that usually go into a freestyle rap. Raps can be short, long, fast, slow, or even slow-jam R&B numbers, whatever the scene dictates ... Every show is like a hip-hop snowflake, never to be repeated."
Currently, Kaila Mullady is the group's nationally ranked, championship-winning beat-boxer and beat-rhymer — she won the Beatrhyme Championship twice. As for the type of hip-hop or R&B you'll hear, the tone and pace of the scene or how the rapping scans rhythmically will dictate the genre. "We can go real simple with it, just hitting the quarter notes on a four-bar phrase and landing rhymes every fourth word, or chain together polysyllabic lines that mirror each other," Widick says. "Sometimes you'll want to hit punch lines like Drake, and other times you might even rap-sing like R Kelly. If the rap is about butts, then you definitely want to do that."
Musical sketch comedy troupe Pop Roulette formed three years ago when eight NYU students on the school's musical theater and sketch-comedy circuits met and decided to form something they could call their own.
"Basically, we're all very, very close friends who are lucky enough to have the same sense of humor, and we want to share that in a unique way," says Pop Roulette member Matt Rogers. "So, from the start, we all have been learning from each other, picking up skills, and forming a really specific and singular act that's fun to watch and fun for us to create."
There's plenty of fun to be had at the expense of popular music, and that's Pop Roulette's specialty. "We've found that pop songwriting, and really any genre of music — be it rap, country, Broadway-style musical theater — is really compatible with the traditional style of sketch-comedy writing," Rogers says. "I've always felt that music is special in theater because it heightens the emotion, and it also can be used to heighten comedy and cause a comedic idea to hit even harder."
Though some of the members do improv on the side, Pop Roulette is very much a written-and-rehearsed piece of theater, with a side of Ke$ha or Carrie Underwood thrown in for good measure.
"When you pair the right comedic situation with the right genre of song, something very cool happens," Roger says. I love traditional sketch comedy, we all do, but when you add in music, it gives it something extra. As a musician, you want people to sing your hooks. As a comedian, to have people singing your jokes? It's even more satisfying."