Not your grandfather's RIOC. This one is supposed to be a laugh-a-minute.
William Neville, a comedian who has lived in New York City since 2013, met a cousin of his on Roosevelt Island one day last fall. As they walked around exploring the Island, Neville took note of the sign for Main Street Theatre and Dance Alliance [MST&DA]. At that time, he was doing a residency at People’s Improv Theater, where he had a weekly show. With his residence scheduled to be finished in January of 2016, he emailed Kristi Towey, Director of MST&DA, to propose bringing a comedy show to the Island.
He said, “There are other shows around town, but I wanted a show that’s mine.” He and Towey partnered in RIOC.
No, Not That RIOC
RIOC, in this case, stands for Roosevelt Island’s Only Comedy (though observers of the “real” RIOC may dispute the “only”). Neville, who is from a small town in Massachusetts, went to Columbia College, a liberal arts college in Chicago. The school offers a semester at Second City, the renowned comedy club in Chicago, where aspiring artists study performance, writing and improvisation. Neville says, “It was the best semester of college in my life.” In addition to Second City he also worked at Comedy Sportz, also in Chicago.
Neville has performed stand-up in various venues in New York City and Boston and currently hosts The Stand Up Showdown most Friday nights at People’s Improv Theater (known colloquially as PIT) “I am also the producer of PIT Presents, the theater stand-up residency program.” He works as PR and marketing assistant for QED, a cafe and education center in Astoria, and also produces occasional shows there. Finally, he works as one half of At the Museum with Mull and Neville which he describes as a kind of Siskel and Ebert style comedic review show of the City’s museums.
He was the night manager of PIT’s improv theater from June, 2014 through September of 2015 where he met hundreds of New York-based comedians. RIOC will perform comedy shows twice a month on the second and fourth Fridays. The first show every month will be a family-friendly evening of improvisation. He has lined up five core performers: Kevin Laibson, Jake Keefe, Tracy Mull, Rachel Scherer, and Langston Belton. These comedians have done improv for younger children in the city for many years. Since these programs are skewed to children age five and up, the improvs are short, two to three minutes each. There will be two teams and one referee. In addition to the core performers, they plan to welcome one or two guest improvisors to Roosevelt Island every month.
Meet the Comedians
The second show each month will be stand-up comedy appropriate for teens and adults, or as Will describes it, “PG 13 or Cable TV comedy, a little more adult.” These shows will include three comedians doing a half hour routine each.
The first performance is on April 22. The initial comedians lined up for the first show are Christian Finnegan who, according to Neville, “appears frequently on TV….and is perhaps best known as one of the original panelists on VH1’s Best Week Ever and as Chad, the only white roommate in the infamous Mad Real World sketch of Chappelle’s Show. He can currently be seen on the TBS sitcom Are We There Yet. Over the past decade Christian, who also writes comedy, has been a fixture on Comedy Central and has appeared on Conan, The Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Good Afternoon America, and The Today Show.
The second comedian is Jacob Williams who has appeared on America’s Got Talent, and has been a cast member of MTV’s Wild n’ Out, since 2013.
The third, Will Mars, is a British comedian who has gained a lot of attention in Britain as host of a live show recording on the BBC, which he started doing within his first year of performing. Neville explains, “He was asked to host his own club in the Canary Islands, a club which he hosted monthly for five years before continuing as a producer only to focus on his solo career.” He has written, produced, and performed at comedy show festivals since 2012. “He has taken productions to the Edinburgh Festival every year since then.” He has performed widely throughout the world and, “in 2015, completed a sell-out double-show World Tour in Australia, Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, Iceland and the United Kingdom, “ before going to a month-long run of full houses at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.” His touring and shows have brought him numerous awards and a lot of attention.
Will says, “I will be bringing in new stand-ups each month. I’m going to try to differentiate shows each month. There are cool theme shows, such as competition on one theme where the audience gets to choose who is funniest.” He says, “I’ve hardly ever met anyone who didn’t enjoy stand--up or improv. We’ll have a very unique show in a very unique setting.”
“I love the space,” he notes, explaining that most comedy occurs in bars and is therefore not inclusive of all ages.The ticket prices are also family-friendly with $5 tickets for children and teens, $10 tickets for adult Island residents, and $15.00 tickets for off-Island audiences.
Towey points out, “One of the things I think is really important for the Island is that the shows will be family-friendly. There’s not a lot of teen-friendly things that are happening in the evening and I would like to have something that teens have to do that is interesting, new and fun for them to do in a group.”
More information about RIOC (No, not that RIOC) is now on the website of the theatre company. Neville also has other ideas for getting the word out. He says, “I have contacts at Time Out N.Y. and the Skint, and there are also comedy blogs, in particular Hy-Reviews, which is not known to the general public, but if you’re a comedian in the city, you know it.” He is also hoping to advertise on the Red Bus and the kiosks. He is mainly interested in bringing comedy to the Island.
He says, “The Island has many youth programs so we think we can tap into that audience,” but with a lot of classes and student performances, he believes that, “There is an opening for a show that is just people, adults and children to come out and enjoy.” Kristi agrees, “What better thing than to come and have fun. Just come and have a good time, meet your neighbors, bring the kids and laugh together. I’m excited for ‘MST&DA’ to be offering something new to the community. I think our community will love it.”