The American Humanist Association’s 77th Annual Conference is in Las Vegas in just a few weeks, and some wonderful entertainers will perform for attendees. One of them is Cardio Spider, a sketch comedy and improv group. Based in Las Vegas, Cardio Spider explores issues of race, gender, religion, and social justice through comedy. Their past performances include the local Center for Science and Wonder, the Humanists and Atheists of Las Vegas, the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art at UNLV, and the Las Vegas Fringe Festival.
For the AHA conference, Cardio Spider will be offering a sketch comedy and video show. TheHumanist.com interviewed Thea Deley (“Mama Spider”) and group member Raul Martinez.
TheHumanist.com: When did Cardio Spider form as a group? And how?
Cardio Spider: We formed in February of 2016. One morning over donuts, Thea Deley asked her friend Charmin Dahl: If you could be on an improv team with anybody in town, who would that be? Charmin named a handful of people—every single one of whom was on Thea’s wish list too! A few months later, five of the six dream team players met in Thea’s living room. (The sixth person took a little convincing, and was worth the wait!)
After Charmin and another member moved away, we added other players and evolved into the eight-legged ensemble we are today: Christopher [who just goes by first name], Kris Chung, Trina Colon, Dee Dear, Thea Deley, Sue Fronczak Kane, Paul Lirette, and Raul Martinez.
A mix of stand-up comics, actors, singers, improvisers, and a puppeteer you may have seen on America’s Got Talent, we started performing short-form improv together. Eventually, we segued into long-form improv with the goal of making comedy videos based on our original sketch material.
It wasn’t long before we wanted to perform live shows of our sketches, too, which is what we’ll be performing at the AHA conference. Songs, sketches, and videos — kind of like a Saturday Night Live show revolving around a social justice theme. But with more dancing!
TheHumanist.com: What’s the difference between long-form and short-form improv? Can you describe the Sorrentino Spider?
Cardio Spider: Short-form improv describes fast-paced scenes, each one played with a different suggestion from the audience. These scenes, called games, include anything from music to rhyming to guessing. Each game runs about two to seven minutes (think Whose Line is It Anyway?).
Long-form improv describes a series of scenes, some serious and some funny, woven together around a single audience suggestion. These connected scenes are called a “set,” and run about twenty to thirty minutes. (Think, um, well, a Duplass Brothers movie?)
There are tons of long-form styles, from the Harold to the Armando. The “Sorrentino Spider” is a long-form created for Cardio Spider by our coach, Melissa Sorrentino. We begin with a suggestion from the audience, then share short monologues, then act out several relationship-based scenes followed by quick monologues. Then we burst into a series of faster and faster scenes based on the first scenes until everyone’s out on stage in some absurd grand finale.
Both short- and long-form are made up on the spot and keep players on their toes!
TheHumanist.com: How do you rehearse for a performance?
Cardio Spider: If we’re rehearsing for an improv show, we usually hire an improv coach to work with us. They lead us in warm-up exercises and then run us through the form we plan on performing. Afterward, they give us notes on what we did well and areas we can improve upon. We wrap up rehearsal with a big group hug. If someone’s had a particularly bad week, we roll them up in a hug called the “cinnamon roll.”
If we’re rehearsing for a sketch show, we hire a director who puts together a rigorous rehearsal schedule. We write sketches, meet to table read them, and then revise based on our director’s (and each other’s) input. We love collaborating, and almost every sketch we perform has been “punched up” by the group. That’s why in our programs we say “written by Cardio Spider” instead of by specific individuals.
Our director creates a “run order” for the show—what sketches go where—based around the show’s theme. Then it’s time to learn our lines and blocking, which we do inside and outside of rehearsal. About a week before the show we do what’s called a “tech run-thru” with our sound, light, and video cues, and then there’s a dress rehearsal with all our costumes and props.
Our most recent sketch show was in March 2018 at the Vegas Theatre Hub, directed by Natalie Shipman. Titled What If I Told You, it explored how surreal modern life feels right now, from fake news to flat earthers to pyramid schemes.
TheHumanist.com: Does the group have any set pieces or strategies that you can fall back on if you’re doing improv and you get stuck on stage?
Cardio Spider: What do you do if you’re performing improv and you get stuck? Why, you improvise!
But seriously, the beauty of being part of an ensemble is we can fall back on each other if we get stuck on stage. We try to take the advice one of our improv instructors, Liz Allen, gave us: “Trust your instincts. Don’t lead. Don’t judge. Just follow.”
Before every performance—no matter the type—we take a moment backstage to pat each other’s back and say, “I’ve got your back.” This reminds us that we are there for each other, no matter what.
TheHumanist.com: Are you planning anything special for the AHA conference or are your performances already geared to a humanist audience?
Cardio Spider: Because of who we are as individuals, our comedy almost always explores issues of race, gender, separation of church and state, equality and social justice—issues important to humanists as well. We’ve performed locally for the Humanist Association of Las Vegas and the Godless Comedy Hour at the Center for Science and Wonder.
Even before Cardio Spider formed, several of our members were already performing for secular audiences. Thea performed at the 2014 American Atheists Conference, and both she and Raul performed at the 2015 Colorado Secular Conference in Denver. (Raul, a former AHA board member, is also a humanist celebrant.)
The show we created for the AHA conference is entitled Breaking News. Spoiler alert: It’s about fake breaking news. With singing!
TheHumanist.com: Is there anything else you’d like to share about the group or the performers?
Cardio Spider: The Neon Museum selected us as its Spring 2017 performing artists in residence. In addition to a stipend, we received the opportunity of a lifetime: we performed at the outdoor Neon Museum surrounded by vintage Vegas signs.
If you would like to find out more about the Cardio Spiders, you can visit their website for full bios for each cast member, as well information about past shows. Their Facebook page is also a lot of fun and worth a visit.