After a few minutes talking to Concetta Caristo, Maddie Houlbrook-Walk and John Robles, I was hooked on their electric chemistry and infectious silliness. The three friends met through theatre sports at Sydney Uni and formed their slithery improv trio in 2017. Now their magic spontaneity and hilarious scenes are selling out comedy nights all over Sydney.
Taking cues from Amy Poehler, Broad City and the renowned Chicago improv scene, there’s only one rule for Snake Pit: if it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing. I sat down with the trio at The Forresters, where they perform improv every fortnight as part of Stand Out Comedy Club.
How did you start out?
Maddie: I came back from doing an improv course in Chicago – which is like the home of long form improv – and Cranston theatre sports competition was on, so we decided to enter as a team. We got into the finals and performed at Enmore Theatre, which was pretty huge.
Concetta: We had a different name then, we were called Snake and Bake. After Cranston we changed to Snake Pit – it has more longevity I feel.
John: Then there was a period of time where we were going around doing 5 or 10-minute spots at open mics, performing in front of 4,000 TAB screens on tiny stages. People would just be drinking a beer and wouldn’t really understand what we were doing.
What’s the pull of improv to you?
Maddie: There’s magic in the fact that you’re seeing something in real time, watching people create a whole world. It’s cliché, but you’ve never seen it before and you’ll never see it again.
Concetta: It’s on the spot and I think that fascinates people. It’s so inherently different to stand up, watching people collaborating and helping each other be funny together.
What are your on stage go-tos?
John: Every improviser has their ‘stock’ characters that they rely on. I’ve been doing a lot of Irish lately.
Concetta: I love to do British. I love to do a shitty British accent. Maddie’s accents are too real.
Maddie: Last week I did Russian, I was being Rasputin.
Concetta: Accents are so good because if you’re getting it right or very wrong, it’s still hilarious.
What do you do outside Snake Pit?
John: We all do stand up and Concetta and I have a podcast called Get Over It. I’m also really into musical theatre. Before I did comedy I was doing computer science, I’m finishing this semester and I’m going to absolutely take that piece of paper and throw it in the bin.
Maddie: I work in regulation for the government. We joke that because I have a regular 9-5 job I have an alter ego as this business lady.
What’s happening in Sydney comedy right now?
Concetta: The scene is really supportive. There are a lot of people to like in this scene who are genuinely funny.
Maddie: I think there’s been a really conscious decision to foster diversity. Audiences are seeing more of themselves represented on stage. In saying that, diversity has come from the ground up, not the top down. That’s the con – comedians have to prove their worth, mainly their commercial viability, before they can move up the ladder.
John: There’s definitely a comedy boom happening. But I think the people who may not understand why a queer story is important are often the people who make the decisions in the industry – straight white dudes. It can still be hard to navigate that.
Maddie: We’ve had room runners say that it’s good there’s a guy in Snake Pit because an all woman group might be hard to relate to. And John doesn’t even count as a man in my mind.
John: Yeah I’ve been continuously discounted as a man. That’s sort of my whole deal.
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Every show our resident Improv team @snakepitcomedy takes 6 random words from the audience and uses them as inspiration to create 20 minutes of high energy improvised comedy. If your word gets chosen, you get a FREE shot of tequila! @snakepitcomedy consists of @maddie.hw @concettaworldwide @thejohnrobles
What are your favourite spots in Surry Hills?
Concetta: The Forresters and Café Lounge for comedy, and best pizza in the world is Epic Pizza on Crown Street. Also Messina.
John: My favourite place for brunch is Cook and Archie’s – the staff knows me, I had my birthday there.
Best piece of advice you’ve been given?
John: As long as you’re having fun and supporting each other, no one can tell you that you’re doing something wrong.
Maddie: The art that you make is only as interesting as you are, so you can’t let it be the only thing about you.
Concetta: Remember to have fun. And live, laugh, love.
Any pearls of wisdom for our readers?
Maddie: If you want to see comedy, ask comedians where to go – don’t just google Sydney comedy gigs.
John: If there’s any little part of you that thinks you might want to do it yourself, take an improv class. Anyone can do it. It makes your life better.
Concetta: Go see Snake Pit!