Brian Wohl is one of the creative minds behind “Octavarius,” a group of improv artists who have set up shop at Comedy Sportz in Chicago to put together a unique blend of comedy and sports entertainment. In advance of their scheduled “Battle for the Belt” event which will take place over the next three weeks, I spoke with Wohl about what “Octavarius“ is, the type of show they plan to put on at BFTB, and how former WWE Superstar Colt Cabana got involved with the group:
Geek To Me: Thanks for talking to me Brian. Tell me about “Octavarius.”
Brian Wohl: Technically we’re an independent comedy company. We’re originally improv-based, but we’ve branched out our brand to include a weekly podcast; a blog and website that’s updated daily with all sorts of new content – videos, audio sketches, comics. Basically the website is kind of like a playground for all of our artists to kid of show off their different skills. We’ve even released a full-length music album with all original music, written and performed by us.
BW: Yeah, with Colt we’ve created a special show that combines the Chicago long-form improv style, with short-form improv – that people know from “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and stuff like that – and it also has some scripted portions that the stuff that you would see in wrestling. And so with all of that it comes to create a new form of theater/wrestling – whatever you want to call it – entertainment, that we’re putting on. And there’s not very much violence in it – it’s mostly using improv instead of violence - but every once in a while things get a little bit physical.
BW: In the first one we did with Colt, I was a “bad guy” and I ended up betraying most of “Octavarius“, and I got my comeuppance at the end. I ended up taking a chair to the face from Colt Cabana. (laughs)
BW: And I was knocked out cold and unfortunately things didn’t go my way. But I guess fortunately for all the “good guys”- and probably what was right in the end – I lost.
G2M: (laughs) How did Colt Cabana come to be involved with you guys?
BW: Well when we were doing shows at Comedy Sportz last summer, before we got our run there, we started seeing Colt around. He was taking a couple of classes the get a little bit better as a comedic wrestler, and he’s actually become pretty great as an improviser. Colt is such a fun-loving guy, and he’s really dedicated, that we could not help but love him. So we noticed him in the audience a couple of times at our shows and I am a fan of wrestling – among many other things - so I went over to Colt and said “hey, I have this idea for a show that I think you would be great for.” And we got along great! We got together, did this show last fall – a run at Comedy Sportz that was very successful – so we thought “let’s do it again.” So here we are doing it again, even bigger than before, in a bigger venue with even more spectacle. And, we’re going to have a surprise appearance on the final night by [REDACTED]
G2M: Oh yeah, that’s gonna be a big surprise!
BW: You know a lot of these wrestlers are smart, talented guys who don’t really get looked at for their comedic abilities for as much as they do or their muscles or whatever, you know? And this is a great opportunity for them to showcase a different side of their personality. And it’s a great opportunity for their fans to get to know them and see them outside of the ring in a much more fun atmosphere.
G2M: You say it’s long-form and short form improv, but when you’re putting these bits together do you know where you want to go with them or are you just flying at the seat of your pants like most folks do in improv?
BW: You know it’s really flying at the seat of your pants, but when it comes to our wrestling portions of the show, it will lead toward something that will further the storyline and plot and lead to some new interesting things. Like this first night, the plot going in is that somebody in “Octavarius” has betrayed the rest of us. We don’t know who it is and we’re gonna find out through media and everything. And then he’ll put us through these short-form improv games. Somehow in between these games, people will be betrayed and we’ll have the bad guys revealed. And by the end of the first night, we’ll have a really good idea of what we’re up against. Come the second night, we’re going to find a whole new evil that we didn’t even know was coming. And in the third night, it’s going to be an all-out battle between good and evil for control of the company “Octavarius.” If “Octavarius” does not win in that final night the entire company and everything we’ve created will be destroyed.
G2M: Wow. That doesn’t seem like high stakes at all. (laughs)
BW: (laughs) Yeah, it’s going to be pretty intense and hopefully we’ll be able to win out and keep doing this.
G2M: So if someone has never been to one of your shows before, what can people expect?
BW: Well the improvisers we have in “Octavarius” are highly-trained, fantastic improvisers that come out of IO, Comedy Sportz, and all different schools here in Chicago. A lot of us came out of the “Improv Mafia” at Illinois State University where we won the national improv championship of college as “best college improv group.” And what we do is combine that wonderful artful Chicago long-form with something that is a little bit more accessible to somebody who doesn’t have that “improv vocabulary” that some people do have. And so you can come in to our show, not knowing anything about improv, not knowing anything about wrestling, and know that no matter what you’re going to have an amazing show and a great time.
And with this “Battle for the Belt” we’re upping that level of spectacle, beyond anything we’ve ever done. We’re doing it at Stage 773 this time which is a much bigger space than what we’re used to. This stage will be a “thrust stage”, so what’s going to happen is that the audience will surround the stage on three sides so it will feel like they’re surrounding it like a wrestling ring. And we’ll have turnbuckles and ropes and everything, so it will be like you’re at a real ring. And there will be entrance themes and fog and lights; all sorts of noise and fun characters; its definitely something that everyone can get behind because it’s just silly enough that it’s a blast.
G2M: So you have the wrestlers crossing over into improv, but you say you’ve taken a chair shot to the face, so do you have a sports background? Is this you crossing from improv into wrestling?
BW: For me – and a lot of us – we trained heavily in “stage combat” in college. A couple of us were even certified in hand-to-hand combat and even swordplay. But there are no swords in wrestling (laughs)
G2M: (laughs) You could if you wanted-
BW: I’d rather not (laughs)
G2M: (laughs) But you could do a Princess Bride bit, you know?
BW: (laughs) We’ve talked about that, and there’s a possibility of that coming up. We just signed a contract with “Comedy Sportz” for a term there, starting this June, and we’ll be there from June of this year to March of 2012. And I have a feeling that we’ll probably do something like that and break out the swords again. It’s been a little while, but it’d be a lot of fun.
And since we’ve trained a lot in that stuff and a lot of us were athletes at some point or another – one of our performers is actually a national karate champion when he was a teenager – we have people who have (physical) talent but may have veered away from that to go into acting and comedy. And this is a way we can combine all that fun stuff into one big show.
The thing about this show is that I like making shows for people who wouldn’t necessarily get into a theater. I like making shows that make you want to get up and get out of the house; a reason to see something, an event. And something like “Battle for the Belt” is really an event; an experience. It’s not just a comedy show. It’s not just a play. It’s not just wrestling. It’s everything. And so you don’t have to be an expert in anything to enjoy it. This is something that my father a pipe fitter can enjoy; and some of my favorite professors from college enjoy this stuff.
And we’re syncing up everything with our website, so you’ll not only be able to enjoy the experience live, but also in the weeks leading up to each show we’ll release promo videos, and other content, to inform of what is to come in each successive Sunday.
G2M: Looking forward to it!
Battle for the Belt runs March 13, 20 & 27th 2011 at Stage 773 (1025 W. Belmont, Chicago IL) Tickets are $15, $12 if you bring a sign. Call 773-327-5252 for tickets and info.