On Stage: Broussard takes unusual path to comedy

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times 

Matthew Broussard

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the area entertainment scene into a horrible situation.

The almost non-existent availability of live shows in Philadelphia featuring national acts is no laughing matter.

But shows that are on the list of coming attractions are laughing matters – because they are shows at some of the city’s well-respected comedy clubs such as Helium with 21 performances between now and February 27 and Punch Line Philly with a show on February 21.

This weekend’s comedy headliner is Matthew Broussard, who will be in Philly for a series of seven shows from February 11-14 at Helium Comedy Club (2031 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, philadelphia.heliumcomedy.com).

Stand Up artists find different paths to follow to arrive in the world of comedy – growing up with a parent who was a comedian, being the class clown from first grade on, being funny in prison to create a protective bubble.

Broussard took a different route. He earned a degree in Applied Mathematics from Rice University and then pursued a career in finance.

His father was a Ph.D. chemist. His mother has a master’s degree in microbiology and his brother is a mechanical/aeronautical engineer. Broussard followed in their footsteps and studied mechanical engineering, as well as computational and applied mathematics at Rice University.

“I grew up in Atlanta and then graduated from Rice in 2010,” said Broussard, during a phone interview Monday afternoon from his home in Brooklyn, New York.

“Then I worked in finance in Houston for a couple years. After a while, I started doing open mics in Houston. I was doing it just for the fun of it. I was as doing everything and anything to get a laugh.

“One of my influences when I first started was early George Carlin and also Louie (Anderson) and (Daniel) Tosh. I also like Jon Stewart a lot. He’s smart, sincere and funny.”

Eventually, Broussard decided to take his act west and relocated in West Hollywood.

“I did L.A., for a couple years,” said Broussard, who was the winner of “Houston’s Funniest Person” in 2012. “I filmed my half-hour special on Comedy Central there. I also did my first ‘Late Night Experience’ in L.A.”

Broussard’s television and movie credits include “The League,” “The Mindy Project,” “Conan,” “Guy Code,” and “Roast Battle” along with the film “Balls Out,” starring Jake Lacy.

“I didn’t stay that long in L.A.,” said Broussard, who was born in Summit, New Jersey. “It’s not my town – too much insanity and too many shallow people.

“So, I moved to New York. When I got to New York, I did the clubs and alternate routes – the younger audiences, the hipper crowds. I also did college gigs.

“There were levels of comfort I reached in my career in New York in 2017. Doing comedy shows every night, I started to feel confident.

“I’m now at a point that there is more data to indicate that this is not a fleeting main job. Still, having a safety net (math degree from one of the best science universities in the country and successful career in the world of finance) helped me when I started. I knew I’d have a career.”

Broussard also has another career running concurrently. In 2011, he created the weekly puzzle-based webcomic — mondaypunday.com.

Video link for Matthew Broussard — https://youtu.be/0jX49de8G8w.

Shows at the Helium Comedy Club are scheduled for February 11 at 7:30 p.m., February 12 at 7:15 and 9:30 p.m., and February 13 and 14 at

7 and 9:30 p.m.

Tickets, which are not sold individually because of capacity restrictions and social distancing, are $44 for a two-person table or $88 for a four-person table.

Other upcoming shows at Helium this month are Shane Gillis on February 16, Ryan Niemiller from November 18-20, Ahamed Weinberg on February 21, Ryan Long on February 24 and Adam Ferrara on February 25 and 26.

If you’re a fan of blues music, you’re definitely familiar with Delta blues, Chicago blues and Memphis blues. You probably are also familiar with Kansas City blues, British blues, Texas blues and maybe even West Coast blues.

Gabe Stillman

Now it’s time for aficionados of blues music to open their ears to Williamsport blues – blues music delivered by ace guitarist Gabe Stillman and his trio.

Stillman might be the only accomplished blues guitarist to emerge from Williamsport, which is regarded as the cultural, financial, and commercial center of Central Pennsylvania.

The city hosted the Underground Railway for 35 years prior to the Civil War and is also the birthplace of Little League Baseball. Williamsport has produced pro football, basketball and baseball players — and 2004 Olympic sprint gold medalist Joanna Dove Hayes.

The latest gift to the world from the city on the Susquehanna River is Stillman – one of the country’s most promising young blues/roots guitarists.

On February 12, Stillman and his band will perform live onstage and online via Livestream at the at Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

Stillman has been studying guitar for almost a decade-and-a-half.

“I started taking guitar lessons when I was 11,” said Stillman, during a phone interview Tuesday evening from his home in Williamsport. “I’m 25 now so I’ve been playing for 14 years.

“When I started out, I wanted to play heavy rock and heavy metal. Listening to guitarists in those genres, I realized that heir playing was very fast and technically complicated. A teacher told me to learn rock by getting ingo the blues.

“So, I started listening to a lot of blues guitarists like B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert King, Buddy Guy and Elmore James. I was also listening to guitarist such as Duane Allman and Derek Trucks. I realized – hey, I can do this. I got hooked on blues and R&B – and jazz. When I was 13 or 14, I started to perform live.”

A key stage in Stillman’s development came at the Uptown Music Collective in Williamsport.

For 20 years, the Uptown Music Collective has been providing exceptional modern music education grounded in traditional educational principles. Its programs engage students through an emphasis on modern genres including rock, pop, soul, blues, country, R&B, and funk.

“I studied at the Uptown Music Collective when I was younger,” said Stillman. “I also taught there after I got out of college.”

Stillman spent his college years in Boston where he got a degree in “Professional Music” with an emphasis on guitar performance and songwriting.

“I started my band in 2015 after graduating from Berklee,” said Stillman, whose honors include making it to “Final Eight” of the 35th Annual International Blues Challenge in Memphis Tennessee.

“My band has been primarily a trio but at the Blues Challenge, I made it to the finals with the addition of a harmonica player in the group.

“My bass player Colin Beatty, who is also from Williamsport, has been with me the whole time. We’ve had different drummers come in-and-out. Right now, our drummer is Ray Hangen from Buffalo, New York.

“With the trio, we play mostly blues and American rock. There also is a littler mix of R&B in there.”

Stillman’s first recording effort was a self-produced five-track EP called, “The Grind.” It was released in June 2018.

“My second EP – ‘Flying High’ — came out in October 2020,” said Stillman. “I made it with The Nighthawks as my band – just me and the Nighthawks. We recorded it in a day-and-a-half at Temperamental Recordings, a studio in Geneseo, New York. We cut 13 songs and seven were used on the EP.

“I’m working on my first full-length right now. I’m not sure where I’ll record it – maybe in Austin. I hope to release it in the fall of 2021.”

Video link for Gabe Stillman — https://youtu.be/QGIJgb51Kw8.

The show at Sellersville on February 12, which will also be available via Livestream, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 for live audience and for Livestream.

Tony Sands

The Sellersville Theater is also offering a great option for a romantic Valentine’s Day event. The matinee show features Tony Sands in “Sinatra the Musical.” Sinatra’s best loved songs are performed in this sensational storytelling musical.

Sands was raised in South Philadelphia and, if you’re over 50 and are from South Philly, there are two constants in your childhood – your mother or grandmother spending most of Sunday making “gravy” for the family dinner later that day and listening to the music of Frank Sinatra.

“I’m from South Philly,” said Sands, during a phone interview Monday evening while on tour in Florida.

“I grew up in an Italian neighborhood – 19th and Hicks. When I was a kid, I was listening to my parents play their Frank Sinatra albums all the time – Sinatra and Tony Bennett. That’s what I was hearing at a young age.

“I was also listening to the Beach Boys, Motown, the Four Seasons. I couldn’t let my friends in the neighborhood know I was listening to Sinatra.”

No matter who was on top of the pop charts, Sinatra was always on top of Sands’ playlist.

“I started listening to Frank more and more,” said Sands, who now splits his time between the Delaware beach area and Florida.

“I was about 11 when I started singing his songs. Then I sang in piano bars and nightclubs in my mid-20s and really loved the Sinatra songbook.

“I went from piano bars to restaurants and eventually to casinos. I played the Tropicana in Atlantic City five days a week for three years from 2006-2009.

“When I first started performing years ago, I was in the antiques business. After a while, I realized I had to go into my entertainment job full-time.”

Sands still vividly remembers the first time he heard Sinatra perform in person.

“It was in 1969 and I had taken a date to see him perform at the old Latin Casino near Cherry Hill, New Jersey,” said Sands. “That was a fantastic club. The big guys used to play there before the casinos came to Atlantic City. On the night I went, Dean Martin walked onto the stage to join Frank about10 minutes into the show. It was a great show.”

Now, Sands is doing his part to keep Sinatra’s music alive. In addition to the Tropicana, Sands has performed at prestigious venues such as The Harvard Club, Zanzibar Blue Jazz Club, The Ritz Carlton Hotel, The Breakers Hotel, Tango Lounge and Harrah’s.
His latest production – which he will perform at the Sellersville Theater on Valentine’s Day — is “Sinatra – The Musical,” a musical journey about the life and times of Frank Sinatra.

Originally called “It Was A Very Good Year,” the show, which was written and produced by Sands, begins with the early days of Tommy Dorsey and ends in the bright lights of New York City.

“I’ve been working on this musical for the last six or seven years,” said Sands. “It took me about three-and-a-half years to put the finished product together. There was a lot of production work – a lot of editing. It’s not just me onstage doing Sinatra’s music. We tell a narrated story with multimedia projections.”
Video link for Tony Sands — https://youtu.be/JZ-mZbo3QwI.

The show at Sellersville on February 14, which will also be available via Livestream, will start at 4 p.m. Tickets are $33 for live audience and for Livestream.

Michael Borowski

On February 2, Michael Borowski was scheduled to make his solo debut at the Sellersville Theater as the featured act of the theater’s Soundbooth Sessions.

Prior to the date, Borkowski said, “I played at Sellersville many times before this – first with the Dirk Quinn Band and then several times with Splintered Sunlight. But I’ve never done a solo show there so I’m really excited about it.”

February 2 came and went and Borowski’s solo debut still had not happened.

“Unfortunately, the darn show was moved to February 16 — thanks to the snow,” said Borowski.

There is another threatening forecast for Sellersville for February 16, Chance of precipitation is 80 per cent with snow and ice accumulating 3-5 inches. Hopefully, the forecast will change by early next week and not impact the show for the talented pianist who now lives in Hatfield,  about 15 minutes south of the theater.

As the son of a highly respected piano teacher, Cindy Borowski-Burns, Borowski’s piano journey began when he was just four years old. While growing up, his musical interests were primarily classical composers such as Ludwig von Beethoven, Claude Debussy, Aaron Copland and West Chester’s world-acclaimed composer Samuel Barber. These influences remain with his music today.

When Borowski was 10 years old, his mother took him to see George Winston at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. That concert inspired him to start composing his own music and improvise daily at the piano. He learned Winston’s full album, “December,” by ear and performed it regularly.

“George Winston was one of my major influences,” said Borowski, during a phone interview Monday evening from his home in Montgomery County.

“I play a wide variety of music in my solo show,” said Borowski. “I’ll play songs by Bruce Hornsby, the Grateful Dead and Billy Joel along with some classical stuff. I’ll definitely do a lot of songs from my new album.”

Borowski’s new album, “Peace Valley,” is also his debut album as a solo performer. In 2020, Borowski caught the attention of Will Ackerman, founder of Windham Hill Records founder and Grammy-winning producer. Ackerman’s work influenced Borowski’s music from a very early age.

You can hear Borowski’s show on February 16 online via the Sellersville Theater’s Soundbooth Sessions on Facebook Live.

Borowski also can be heard twice a week on other Facebook sessions — every Sunday at 10 a.m. live from St. Matthew’s Church in Chester Springs and every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9 a.m. when he presents his “Pure Piano Hour” on his own Facebook page.

Video link for Michael Borowski live from St. Matthew’s Church — https://youtu.be/tlPE_8_5NsI.

Tickets for the Soundbooth Sessions show, which starts at 8 p.m. on February 16, are $10 – in person or via Livestream.

Other shows this month at the Sellersville Theater are Ben Arnold & Band on February 13, AM Radio on February 19 and 20, Adam Monaco on February 23, and King Solomon Hicks on February 26.

   Send article as PDF   

Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment