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The Raspberry Brothers Make a Scene at the Movies

Jerm Pollet, Michael Austin, Aaron Kheifets, and Johnny McNulty make up the Brooklyn comedy team known as The Raspberry Brothers. Their shtick: spoken comedy over movies. Screening nostalgic favorites (think Top Gun) at venues like Nitehawk Cinema, where they're now monthly regulars, the group performs routines that mock the action onscreen. Consider them Brooklyn's very own Mystery Science Theater 3000. It all began at Austin's Alamo Drafthouse Cinema where Pollet, now 41 and living in Greenpoint, performed similar sell-out shows for seven years with his troupe, The Sinus Show. Following their split, he headed to New York City and re-launched under a new name, eventually recruiting a few new comedy siblings. At Ella Café in Williamsburg a few nights ago, we met up with Pollet; Austin, a 28-year-old former pollster who now runs comedic events company Secret Formula alongside Pollet; and Kheifets, a comedian and cognitive science graduate student who isn't sure how old he is ("This is not a bit -- I'm pretty sure I'm 27"). McNulty, an Upright Citizens Brigade-er and freelance contributor to The Onion and Weekend Update, couldn't join the rest of the group ("I think I was in therapy at the time. Because comedians are fucked-up people.").

How did you guys meet?
Jerm Pollet: I went to comedy clubs and sat in the back with a little pad and pen. If there was somebody who I thought might be a good fit, particularly made me laugh, I would approach them afterwards and say, "Hey, I just moved here to do this show, are you interested in auditioning?" I was some creepy guy in a trench coat in the back of these comedy theaters taking notes and that's how I found Johnny McNulty; he was doing improv comedy at Creek and the Cave. I was just teasing on the trench coat.
Michael Austin: I like that version better.
JP: Me too. It's more romantic. Aaron was, I think, someone that Johnny recommended.
MA: I had seen the Sinus Show many, many, many times. I moved up here and I saw a poster: Raspberry Brothers, comedy over movies. Oh, that sounds awfully familiar...to that thing I used to go to in Austin, religiously. And I read about it and found out it was this motherfucker from the original group. I immediately had to grab like two of my female friends and drag them. And then afterwards, I just went up to him and introduced myself.

How do you prep for a show?
MA: Get really drunk.
Aaron Kheifets: We just watch the movie a bunch of times -- more than you should -- both on our own and together. We plan a bunch of bits out but we leave a lot of room for improvisation.
JP: We usually watch it together once, just for fun. And then maybe discuss some motifs that come up or ideas that we have about it. Then we'll watch it again but this time more slowly: hitting pause and thinking, "Oh, what can we do with that scene?" Then we'll break and divvy up sections and we come back and teach our lines to each other. And then we watch it again.
MA: And then again and then again. And someone will have a joke, and someone else will tweak the joke, and someone else will have a different joke, and sometimes we're like, Absolutely not, that joke is terrible.

Do jokes ever bomb on stage?
MA: Oh, sure. Jokes that we love sometimes get very small reactions.
AK: But that's every live performance.
JP: But especially this one because there are maybe 500 jokes per show.
MA: Some just don't work at all. There's like shit we'll be doing in rehearsal and I'll be on the floor just losing my shit and then we do it and...just nothing. That happened with Die Hard.
JP: Are you talking about the fart explosion?
MA: Yes! John McClane jumps off this building and then behind him there's a giant explosion. When timed perfectly, it's a fart noise. It's so stupid but every time just made me smile.

Which movies don't work for this format?
AK: Comedies.
MA: Are there any comedies that we've done successfully?
AK: No, because the line is so blurred between what's their joke and what's our joke.

So which ones do?
MA: Eighties films are always really easy. And early nineties as well.

Favorite movie?
MA: God, I hate this question. I hate favorites. My favorite comedy is actually very easy to say -- I'm not going to say it's the funniest movie ever but I can literally watch it everyday for the rest of my life -- Groundhog Day.
AK: That's a funny thing to say about that movie.

What about onstage?
MA: I used to love doing Lost Boys because Lost Boys was actually also one of my favorite films ever. But in the process of doing it like 15 times, I now hate Lost Boys. It's totally ruined the movie for me because now I see it as a-piece-of-shit movie and now I can only think about the jokes and how bad this movie is.
JP: Is the difference that we've messed around with your childhood memories? Is that why you don't like Lost Boys?
MA: Possibly.
JP: It's like we told you the Easter Bunny isn't real or something.

What do you think works best onstage?
AK: I really like it when we have a thesis about a movie that arches through the whole film -- Home Alone, like, it's a really deeply fucked up movie, especially to show to kids. The end sequence when all of the traps are going off, I think I spend like two minutes just being like, That would kill you. That would kill you. This little kid would've murdered two men who are just like down on their luck, have stooped to stealing things. They're not proud of it. They're going to steal a TV from a kid for whatever reason, because they don't have a job. And he's going to murder them. Just like fucking murder them.
JP: The movie is asking you to root for this child of an extremely privileged family to mutilate and cause such incredible injury and pain to these people in the name of protecting the family's property.
AK: It's a lens through which to view the movie.

What do you think it is about your show that audiences enjoy?
JP: Something about seeing the familiar in a new way is enjoyable.
MA: Nostalgia is definitely a big part of it. Here's this movie that you've seen over and over and over again and most people have never really considered it in this way and it sort of blows their fucking mind.
AK: But in that way it's anti-nostalgic. Take this thing that you know and see it in new eyes. It's like a mind-fuck for people, I think they like that.

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