Thanks to the good folks at Gaslight Lounge and Media Outlaws, we've got video coverage from the conversation with The Sklar Bros. Enjoy! So much Hollywood insight, stand up comedy advice, nature of the business, and so much more.
If someone walked up to you in the street and asked you to get on a stage in front of strangers and tell your story, what would you say?
Campfire aims to bring interesting people with unique stories and project their tales onto others with the hopes of creating something amazing. You can find their action at the St. Louis Public Library, where they combine improvisational skills with their pasts and purge their demons in the hope of connection.
Director and Creator of Campfire Steven Harowitz is the bold soul who organizes and runs this community organization. He brings the lonely souls together, gives them the tools to be brave, and has helped many people find something in themselves that may have stayed hidden if it weren't for the right navigator and coach.
I spoke with Steven about Campfire's endeavors and hopes on Friday. Here is what transpired.
Buffa: How did Campfire get started?
Harowitz: We did a test run during St. Louis design week during October of last year. We wanted to do something where we brought components of people's lives and connected the storyteller to the audience. We took a pause from it for a while afterwards. Some life stuff happened. I then wanted to play with the concept again and the St. Louis Public Library reached out to collaborate. We did it the way I'd always dreamed it would be.
Buffa: Rafe Williams is a comic on the rise in St. Louis and one of your coaches at Campfire. What makes him an asset to your team?
Harowitz: He's a stellar presence and a good person. You want people who are going to be great team members. He has a ton of experience and knows the technical skills it takes to be on stage. He's got a good blend of being a good human also what it takes to be on stage.
Buffa: What do you expect to gain from this long term?
Harowitz: I'm one of those people who is very future thinking but with this I have tried my hardest to turn that off and just enjoy it. Let it grow as it might. There's still things we can do to bring it more to life. Workshops and sharing it with the community. Honestly, I don't know and I kind of love that.
Buffa: I spoke with Bronwyn Ritchie and she told me Campfire was similar to theater because it was cathartic.
Harowitz: They are supposed to feel whatever the story wanted to make them feel. With each storyteller, we chose one main statement. For Bronwyn, it was how to build a home. I want the audience to find themselves through someone's narrative. Everybody takes it differently because we don't force a perspective. Everything has a falling action and there are no answers.
Buffa: If you are on the street and trying to sell this to them, how do you get them in the door?
Harowitz: It's hard to explain. That is something the team is really working on. How to explain it. A storyteller's friend told us that it defies definition. It's like a church without the religion. A tech spot without data. We are figuring it out as we go.
Buffa: Is it engineered towards a 62 year old man or towards the younger crowd?
Harowitz: It started out as something targeted towards the millennial crowd, but it's become something that anybody can come to. If you boil it down past details, it's the same struggles. These people are regular people and not trained speakers. They are the people in the car next to you at a stop light. While we have a target audience that we like, at the same time things cross generational boundaries.
Buffa: When I saw the Facebook page, I saw something that reminds me of improv as well as what actors define as "method" approaches.
Harowitz: Team members have backgrounds in improv. The vague discipline that we've blended together was journalism on the front, wrap in production, and then we put in some of the improv pieces as well. It also becomes guest services. We blend a lot of random stuff into this thing.
Buffa: What's one of the memorable stories you've heard?
Harowitz: It's hard to pick one. I'll pick one from the original story. The first time we ever test ran the event. A story about name and identity. A story from Cintas. Someone saw the speaker's name, which was Keisha Mabry, and made a huge snap judgement. They immediately asked her how many kids she had and are you on welfare? If you know this person, that is her name. You make snap judgements and they have no idea. That name was given to her.
Buffa: St. Louis is going through a harsh phase with all the violence and turmoil. Is Campfire something that can balance it out and give people an escape?
Harowitz: Hopefully. When folks have seen it, they say that it can be something that works towards creative change. If you give people an hour to make the best version of themselves, I think you can help people change from an individual level. That can maybe spurn more change. You can help on an individual level and hope it grows.
Steven Harowitz is trying to change the world, one person at a time and it's working. Speaking to Bronwyn Ritchie a couple days before my chat with Steven, one could tell she was enlightened and bolstered by a newfound purpose. Something that she may have found on the stage downtown at Campfire. An organization that tries to mend the broken wings of people with a story to tell but no place to purge.
Keep an eye on Campfire by liking their Facebook page and reaching out to connect with its creators and members. Some things are slow moving yet change lives one soul at a time. Campfire is trying to do something incredible and the more people who know about it, the faster those baby steps become a steady strut towards positive outcomes.
Bronwyn Ritchie is just like you. She is a vulnerable yet talented human being with a story to tell. Campfire, a community organization in downtown St. Louis that treats the Public Library like a confessional, gave her that opportunity.
Getting up in front of people on a stage and talking about yourself is a form of therapy, but for Bronwyn Ritchie, it was more of a purge. She hasn't had an easy life, and grew up this "awkward genius", but couldn't find the platform to properly tell her story before she found this community.
Campfire is designed to do two things. Bring different types of people together through their stories and create not just one line of communication, but various links that can spread around the entire city.
I spoke to Ritchie this week about her experiences, conquering the fear of public speech, and what Campfire can do for all the wandering souls out there who need to get a few things off their chest.
Buffa: Tell me about Campfire. What does it mean to you?
Ritchie: It's an immersive storytelling experience. The goal is to take people who don't normally do these things a chance to share their experiences. Having a larger conversation instead of someone talking at you. They try and do stuff with music and touch.
Buffa: You were one of the storytellers.
Ritchie: I just told a story. I'm a nobody. I was the season finale. The fourth person to do it, all time. I got an email that said, "Do you want to tell a story? You don't have to be good at it." They let me get on a stage for an hour.
Buffa: What is the allure of a live Campfire event?
Ritchie: There wasn't a dry eye in the house. If you want to feel the feels, it draws the feels out of you. Plus, it's for free. We sat down for an hour while I rambled for my life. They record it and look for a theme. For me, it was home. We then work on for two weeks, and build the spine of the story. They coach you.
Buffa: They take a person and basically direct them. You are the script.
Ritchie: They direct you about your life story. Your car crash wasn't sad enough. Make it worse.
Buffa: What do you gain from something like this?
Ritchie: I've gotten several date offers out of it. Somebody hears your entire life story and wants to get a cocktail with you. Otherwise, there's no agenda behind it. It's been a really intense process. Being on a stage has made me reevaluate my entire life. There's been a positive growth in my life due to this experience.
Buffa: How many times did you want to run off the stage?
Ritchie: Frequently. The people who work on the project are dudes, so I didn't want to cry. There's some pretty emotional stuff in my story. The day of, I didn't even want to leave the house. Someone called me and kind of helped me get there.
Buffa: Rafe Williams is a coach there. How was it leaning from him?
Ritchie: Super fantastic. He knows his stuff. He gives good feedback. He means it. If there is a suggestion, you should take it. He's very funny. He told me about points in my story where I could tell jokes. I actually told my own jokes and he was proud of me. He's impressive.
Buffa: Do you think this kind of upstart thing can truly help people? Is it an escape or more of a rebirth?
Ritchie: For audience members, it's more of a rebirth. The thing about St. Louis is that it's a segregated town. People in Dogtown only want to go to bars in Dogtown, for example. You put them in a room in downtown St. Louis, and there's a lot of renewed hope. It's this really unique thing that Steven(the creator) has done. Very positive for folks.
Buffa: What's some of the saddest stories you've heard?
Ritchie: I've never been to any of them before my own speaker session, so anything I say is going to be about my life. I skipped the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grade. I ran my car into a telephone pole at 80 mph, and flipped it 97 yards. Then, my whole life got better. I was an awkward smart kid, so it wasn't easy. That's pretty crazy, right?
Buffa: If I'm a 62 year old man, does this appeal to me or is it mostly for younger people?
Ritchie: Steven told me it was something for millennials made by millennials since the library is trying to reach the millennial crowd.
Buffa: You need to sell Campfire to a stranger on the street. What do you tell them?
Ritchie: The original point of theater was catharsis for the audience. An escape and place to release. That is exactly what Campfire is. If you are sad and lonely, you can come be sad and lonely with others.
What you see with Bronwyn is what you get. She wears her vulnerability like a shield covering her innocence but through Campfire was willing to lower her guard and help others with her stories.
Think about the places you go to for escape. The movies. A concert. The bar. All those things cost you and never really help. Campfire is free and real, and it heals. Give it a shot and you may meet another Bronwyn Ritchie.
By Dan Buffa, Special Contributor
Greetings fellow St. Louis Sahara dwellers and USA visiting daisies. As the Central West End visits pile up and the temperature rises into the most awful month of the year, allow me to cool you off with some sophisticated quick takes on popular topics. Feel free to take your clothes off first. I'm cool.
BOURNE Is back and for good reason
Matt Damon's forgetful mad as hell whoop ass dispensing rogue agent is back in theaters and garnered 61 million at the box office. Why is he back? Does it matter? He remembers everything and he's mad about remembering. Boom, cue the car chase. The 45 year old versatile thespian made the film work and provided another thrilling adventure for movie fans. Worthy sequel isn't a phrase you can see easily these days but Jason Bourne was worth the 120 million budget. Go see it.
CARDS acquire a Duke
Zach Duke won't make fantasy baseball team owners swoon, but the smart baseball fans will appreciate John Mozeliak going out and getting a left-handed specialist who can also make right-handed hitters miss. Duke is what the leaking Cards bullpen needed, and only costed the team Memphis outfielder Charlie Tilson. The kid had speed to burn, but the Cards don't swipe bags and Tilson was passed up for Hazelbaker 2.0 in late July. Duke will help. He can't play CF, but I'll take it.
RAMS on Hard Knocks: First Rate Drama
I'll be watching. Think of the 2016 edition of HBO's Hard Knocks as a movie. A Christmas family reunion type clash of misery, ineptitude, and shame. I can't wait for the spotlight on their new quarterback, Jared Goff. Puff! I can't wait for the Jeff Fisher hot takes about building players of true character. Smoke! The Rams don't belong to St. Louis anymore and that makes them an expendable yet entertaining asset. I also watch for the riveting narration from the multi-faceted Liev Schreiber.
Liev: The Engine behind Ray Donovan
Speaking of the afflicting actor, I can't get enough of the guy and how talented he is. Do you like hockey films? Schreiber plays the enforcer Ross Rhea and practically owns the film. There's a sequel arriving this year. How about Showtime's Ray Donovan? Schreiber owns the drama series playing an LA fixer with a car trunk full of secrets and demons. Without him, the show goes nowhere near four seasons. How about narration? Liev handles all the HBO Sports and assorted documentaries. How about the Oscar winning film, Spotlight? He brought renegade editor Marty Baron to vivid life and was one of the best parts of the film. You ask me and we have enough cowbell. We still need more Liev.
Attention Musicians: Keep the politics off the stage
There's nothing worse than a musician unleashing his 10-15 minute tirade in between songs about politics at a live show. People in the audience didn't come for a convention. They didn't come to be preached to be by a guy who checked into a hotel under an alias, downed a wheat grass shake, and sings about the good old days. Bruce Springsteen does it all the time. He stands up there in his tight leather pants and tries to get sensual with his audience. Just sing the damn song, Bruce. Save the politics for your web page or the next Chevy commercial. Don't bore an audience who paid way too much money to see you play music.
What else? Parting shots?
Tomorrow morning, I start the brand new radio show, Dose of Buffa. Every Tuesday through Friday I'll dish hot takes from 5-7 a.m. and two days a week, trusted sports and entertainment mind Matt Whitener, will join me from the Cheap Seats. It's been a dream of mine to get on the radio and We Are Live stallion Chris Denman pushed me in the right direction. It may go a month or it may go longer. We shall see. All I know is August mornings belong to me on CBS Sports Radio 920 AM/Inside STL. Get your morning dose before the bell rings for adulting.
Come back Friday for my rare dip into political waters. Until then, thanks for stopping by. Stay loose.
By Dan Buffa; Special Contributor
Bobby Jaycox and Eric Christensen are just like you. They get up every morning to grind away at a day job to pay their bills and keep wood on the fire of a regular life. It's not until after the sun goes down that these two men get together with other notable and talented STL comics (RAFE WILLIAMS!) and produce gold record caliber television with the KMOV talk show, STL Up Late.
After speaking with We Are Live co-hosts Chris Denman and Travis Terrell, Jaycox and Christensen sat down with me to discuss the show's intentions, how real life hot topics play on their series, and the value of storing enough energy to chase their comic dreams. What followed was inspirational dialogue that should light a damn fire under every aspiring funny bone specialist with a dream of entertaining.
Buffa: Tell me about STL Up Late.
Christensen: I was doing improv at the Improv shop. I had been doing comedy for a long time in Chicago and thought St. Louis needed some of that. People told me STL needed the cool stuff I was doing in Chicago. STL Up Late was a way to show people there is cool stuff here and also follow my passion at the same time.
Buffa: Why watch STL Up Late over the other mainstream late night talk shows like Fallon and Kimmel?
Jaycox: All those people are career people. When you see us, you see people that are working for no money and putting in long hours in during the week to make something for people to enjoy. I feel like we set a bar pretty high for the stuff we put together.
Buffa: Comedy is at a high point right now. Do you see it as a means to heal a soul or merely produce a distraction?
Christensen: They've always said laughter is the breaking of tension. I definitely think doing comedy is therapeutic in a lot of ways.
Jaycox: I can imagine a lot of things missing in a society but I can't imagine comedy not being there. So it's everybody's job to keep it on the trajectory of doing new and good things. Some people hit a plateau and think they can't do anything new. Look at Louis CK, who does a new hour every year. Anything is possible. There's people who start on YouTube and then are on Netflix. The people who continue to do new things and drive it.
Christensen: Since the beginning, it's important to keep the serious things in check. That's comedy's job.
Buffa: Rafe mentioned something on Tuesday's WAL broadcast about using heavy hitter topics like the election, gay marriage and gun control in his sketches and comedy in a different way. What is your take on using those real life topics?
Jaycox: I definitely think that part of hitting on political stuff is kind of like growing up. It's not what your age is. It's how long you've been doing stand up. In order to make those points, you have to be like the Beatles and make those first few albums.
Christensen: You have to earn it.
Jaycox: Yeah. Bill Burr was at the Fox and he was hitting all those hard topics and even his fans were getting uncomfortable. That's his job. He's going to give you laughter and make you think about coming onto my side by the end.
Christensen: On STL Up Late, we're never going to attack those points. We don't look at gay marriage and think we have to make a joke. If there's something there that is funny, we will do it.
Jaycox: It's like putting your finger on the pulse and trying to see if there is anything we could do. Like Rafe did with the finger gun.
Buffa: If you can get one of them on your show, who would it be? Hilary or Trump?
Christensen: It's gotta be Trump.
Jaycox: Trump. There's too much material. We've done stuff with Trump.
Buffa: The We Are Live crew is on STL Up Late this weekend. How did you meet Chris and Travis?
Christensen: They'd asked me a while back to be on and then Rafe was on. Josh McNew(STL Up Late director) shot a lot of their stuff.
Jaycox: I'd met Chris at Helium when he judged a contest there recently.
Buffa: What's the harshest part of producing comedy and chasing this dream? The sacrifices.
Jaycox: You have to have a day job. I don't know anyone just doing comedy. You have to do a day job, have a social life, and do comedy. Trying to fit more time into comedy.
Buffa: You have to commit energy to it.
Jaycox: That's exactly right. I knew I had a show so I had to reserve my energy. You can't go out late. You have to save energy.
Buffa: You run into an aspiring young comic. What's the first thing you tell him?
Jaycox: Don't listen to anyone. Listen to yourself. Don't worry about trying to be someone else. It's hard enough being yourself. Whatever you're inspired by, do it.
Christensen: Start creating. Don't worry about the next step. Put your stuff on paper and start recording. Start making something and it will take off.
Jaycox: A great quote I heard is "you don't have to be great to start. You have to start to be great." Just get out there and start. It's an immediate fail or pass on stage in front of an audience. If you are more determined than anyone else, you'll make it.
Buffa: What's the pre-show routine?
Christensen: We will run scripts. Dry rehearsal. Block them out. Dress rehearsals are next. I'm writing the moment I wake up until I get to the theater. Focus on the scripts.
Jaycox: I try to be as present as I can. If I'm thinking about the next thing, that takes a toll. If I'm in the moment, things go well. You can tell when any of us aren't present.
In order to make it in comedy, you have to give a shit. Every day. Every time on stage. A message that is re-affirmed when you talk to Jaycox and Christensen about their work. They do it for the love of the game and the hope that the road leads to bigger and better things.
Watching STL Up Late, you see all the hard work and sacrifice come together on stage. It's a living breathing thing.
Go out and see the show taped live this weekend. Tickets are on sale on this site. Right here. See how hard these guys work to create original unfiltered comedy now that you know their story.
Bobby Jaycox, Eric Christensen, and company are trying to make comedy great again in STL and it's a goal they don't take lightly. Be a part of the experience.
By Dan Buffa; Special Contributor
July 7, 2016
Stand-up comedian: a job title many associate with "cool and easy" and "a lot of fun". What it really means is a person who has to fight for every laugh and minute on stage. Local comic Rafe Williams knows this hustle well and has a chance to break out this week.
Wednesday night, Rafe was voted the funniest person in St. Louis at the Helium Comedy Club in Richmond Heights. The move could open up a ton of doors for the vintage Rafe.
It has come with a lot of hard work that involves work for the KMOV show STL Up Late among other adventures.
I had the opportunity to shoot some questions at Rafe about the upcoming Presidential Race and how if it is fuel for a comedian and how STL Up Late came together. What followed was true comic glory inside 500 words.
You are thrown into a car with Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. You got one joke to tell and both of them need to laugh at it. What do you go with?
Me- Knock, Knock.
Them- Who’s There?
Me - The slowly drowning middle class and impoverished.
Them- The slowly drowning middle class and impoverished who?
Me- Exactly. (*pushes them both from moving vehicle*)
How much does a ridiculously doomed election help out a comedian like yourself?
As a comedian it is fantastic. It is endless fodder for parody and turning a mirror on society which is my job, but also infuriating to watch your society circle the drain.
George Carlin said, “Scratch any cynic and you’ll find a disappointed idealist”...he was right.
First joke you ever told on a stage was and how was it received?
Something about masturbating with self-tanning lotion on accident. I think the punch line was about having to carry around a bag of Doritos for a week until my hand wasn’t orange and my junk looking like a Cheetos Puff.
It got the reaction it deserved.
Full disclosure. Are you Jon Snow's father?
You no say Daddy Me Snow me-a gon' blame
I lick he bum bum down
'tective man they say, say Daddy Me Snow me stab someone down the lane
I lick he bum bum down
Valentines Day. Bullshit "make relationships right again" day or a good time?
Created by the Hallmark Industrial Complex as a means to prop up the iron triangle of greeting card warlords between Christmas and Easter, Line the pockets of Big Chocolate by exploiting the Ivory Coast, and to advance the pharmaceutical agenda by creating a reminder for those who are alone that both causes and cures “seasonal affectation disorder”.
What made you want to tell jokes and connect?
I came from a tough, poor, and abusive home. I realized at a young age that I could “entertain” my mother and two younger brothers when my Father wasn’t home and momentarily provide an escape from a much darker reality. There was a magical power in that. Real good medicine for the heart and soul. I’ve never wanted to do anything else since.
When you get on the stage at Helium, what do you drink before hand? Whiskey or beer?
Went Cold Turkey on booze 5 years ago. Mastered it.
But I am known to be seen with a non-alcoholic beer with olives in it to take the skunk out of a beer that is pulled out of the cooler covered in dust and cobwebs like the arc of the Covenant.
When the beer is real it is called a Texas Martini, when it’s fake beer I call it a Polish Martini. (Throwback to Grandpas senselessly prejudice joke-telling)
Tell me about STL Up Late. What's going on over there this year?
We are wrapping up our first season on KMOV without being cancelled or fined by the FCC. (Moral Victory) A lot of really talented, hard-working, comedic-minded folks doing great work.
I feel real lucky to be a part of it and get to do things I like. They allow me to collaborate but also leave room for me to pilot my own point of view.
This freedom to take risks has helped me grow exponentially as a performer and a human.