The Jester Interview:
staking their claim as the hardest working sketch comedy group in New
York. Murderfist, with frequent appearances in their home bases of
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the People’s Improv Theater in Manhattan,
can be seen anywhere from five to eight times a month if you’re truly a
dedicated fan. And, promises member Henry Zebrowski, you won’t see the
same show every time. Murderfist draws on a repertoire of about 300
written sketches, 50 of which are ready to go at any given time, as well
as a complete lack of fear about crossing boundaries of taste or delving
into shocking material. Zebrowski exemplifies the group’s ethic, as when
he enters the audience in character in an impression of a deranged
latter period Marlon Brando. Jester spoke with Zebrowski about the
Murderfist philosophy of comedy.
Jester: How did you start doing comedy and how did Murderfist form?
Henry Zebrowski: I started doing it in high school -- there was one seat
left in the drama class, so I took it. I decided that was the only skill
I wanted to pursue. Then I went to college at Florida State University;
all of Murderfist went to FSU. We all lived in Tallahassee together and
then started doing a show. We got into various comedy things separately.
I did improv with a group called ‘Oncoming Traffic’ in Tallahassee and
then it turned into ‘Girls Aren’t Funny.’ That was the original name of
Murderfist, but we had girls [in the group], so it wasn’t misogynist.
Then we got a weekly show at a gay bar in a strip mall in Tallahassee,
the only gay bar in Tallahassee. We got a following where 90 people
would show up every week. Murderfist has been doing it ever since then
[an FSU campus version of the group still exists, with successor members
including Zebrowski’s sister]. I trained in theater. A couple in the
group got [degrees] in theater. I had good classes, but a lot of my
training came from doing as much stuff as possible. I didn’t say no to
any project. At one time I was doing improv and sketch.
I only came to New York two years ago, in 2006. I just have been hitting
the scene ever since. We all moved up here as a group and we all live in
various [combinations] together. It’s like a commune.
J: What are the differences between comedy, improv or sketch in Florida
compared to New York?
HZ: We were the only thing going on in Tallahassee. When we started,
there was us and ‘Oncoming Traffic,’ and nothing else was going on in
the entire city, so we were really thirsty for it. There are people who
came out of NYU who have been in the city and went into doing comedy. We
had no influences, so all our stuff is based on our own brains and
watching lots of “Mr. Show With Bob & David” and “Kids In The Hall.” So
it gives us a unique flavor because it’s a high-flying thing. It’s our
own very unique sense of humor.
J: What is the group dynamic?
HZ: We were all basically just friends and drinking buddies. We banded
together and made each other laugh, and went from there. We used to do
gigantic summer shows which were more like parties, where we would do a
show and have a party afterward. Then it boiled down to doing a weekly
show at a bar. We try to still bring that same feeling. We want a
Murderfist show to be like a party … that we’re doing something that’s
wild and we want everyone to be part of it.
We’re writing sketches that aren’t just for one person. It really goes
all over the place. There are some things that are very … idiosyncratic
… we joke about something that may just be funny to us, like a phrase or
a common joke our characters would come up with and then eventually we
decide this is going to be funny to other human beings, and then we put
it together. We sometimes brainstorm as a group. We always break up into
teams of twos and threes and write the individual sketches and pass them
on to other teams of twos and threes to revise.
J: What is challenging about getting noticed as a sketch comedy group?
HZ: We’re in one of the most gigantic business and media capitals of the
world. What can we offer them that’s really different? I feel like we
offer the most exciting comedy show you’re going to see, that we’re
doing something that’s very different. If we didn’t really believe in
it, there would be no purpose to doing it. We’re completely
self-financed and it’s completely homegrown. That’s good and bad,
because you don’t have anyone to answer to, because it’s all our money
and all our energy. At the same time, it’s really hard because we don’t
have the money to pay a manager. We really need to find people who are
willing to take us on as a project, and it’s hard because we’re not very
easy to pin down.
J: Were your influences all Kids In The Hall and Mr. Show, or were there
HZ: For me personally, the major bond between me and my father was the
Airplane movies, like Hot Shots [also]. I’m very much of that ilk. I
love the ultra-stupid. Really literal jokes I think are really
hilarious. There’s a lot of that. We watch a lot of British comedy.
We’re gigantic fans of the Young Ones. I personally want to do the
American version of the Young Ones. Something about it, the chaotic
energy, really feeds us. Basically, we’re all just media people. We’re
very engrossed in music. Honestly, music probably influences us more
than anything else. We take pride in the fact that our shows have music
is good music and represents what we do. There are several sketches that
evolve specifically from songs. One came from Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’
Gamblin’ Man.” We just became enamored with the concept of a man who was
a rambler and a gambler. We’re just trying to absorb whatever is around.
J: How did you come up with your Marlon Brando impression?
HZ: Brando started in Tallahassee as a bit character. We were just
hanging around and I did a Brando voice. I never thought to do it
before, and everyone thought we should put it in a sketch. So we
included it in one sketch, using the idea that he was already dead. I
was fascinated with the concept of Brando at the end of his life, being
a bloated monster, being washed by Asian handmaidens on his private
island. That’s actually a running theme in Murderfist that we all love
-- the idea of the ultra-rich genius -- because Brando was a genius but
by the end he became a madman, like what happened to Michael Jackson. We
love the idea of people having so much money and power that they’re so
bored that they go completely insane. Our idea was that [Brando] could
say anything he wants, and he had sex with every single person he ever
I saw this great interview with Brando when he was still good looking
and he was talking, but was so bored. Then he started hitting on a woman
who was there. Then a French interviewer asked him a question in French
and he answered it in completely fluent French. He was the coolest man
on the face of the planet, and he turned into Jabba The Hut, this crazy
J: What other characters do you do?
HZ: I do a lot of monologue work. There’s a character named Brett
Carmichael I’ve done a bunch of times in Murderfist, who is a fitness
celebrity. He has a ponytail and acts crazy; he’s like a motivational
speaker or a salesman and has had this horrible past, so things pop up
while he’s doing his spiels. The one main sketch we do with him is where
he tells the audience how he can compress uncut diamonds with his own
body but it’s actually fueled by the fact that he eats his own feces.
It’s just really strange. It’s a lot of infomercial talk.
Then there’s Delia Montgomery who is a ‘starlet’ from the 1950s who
lived forever because she had sex with the Devil. It’s a take on “Sunset
Boulevard.” She’s in love with her agent. It’s this whole thing.