Seven Questions for Matt Donnelly and Paul Mattingly

The podcast duo on improv comedy, nerds vs. jocks and gynecologists with penis hands


Your podcast, which launched in April, is called Matt & Mattingly’s Ice Cream Social, which sounds so 19th century. How did you come up with the name?

Matt Donnelly: I co-host Penn Jillette’s podcast, Penn’s Sunday School, a very popular podcast. Since Penn called his Sunday School, we wanted to keep it in that fake-churchy vibe, so Ice Cream Social was actually coined by Penn.

Paul Mattingly: About Episode 17, I decided we needed to name our fan base and “scoops” came to me.

Donnelly: Our fans are called “scoops,” “ice cream socialists,” “ice cream sociopaths,” and there is one “ice cream sandwich.”

Mattingly: There is a movement for certain people who want to be called “creamers.”

Donnelly: We’re totally against that.

Are there commonalities between the podcast and your weekly comedy improv showcase, The Bucket Show? (Wednesdays, 10 p.m. at the Scullery in the Ogden—pay what you think it’s worth by tossing it into a bucket at the end of the show.)

Donnelly: The podcast is much more conversational. We don’t stop and present a lot of games. We just keep it flowing. What’s similar is that we break off into scenes and do bits where we play characters. (In The Bucket Show), it’s really as if you’re hanging out with us at a bar, more than watching a show.

Mattingly: It’s a very similar skill set, almost the same kind of vibe. We try to bring that conversational vibe (to The Bucket Show). We’re here in a small, very intimate space, and we try to keep that intimacy with the audience we have here. A lot of them are friends as well as first-time viewers. The same kind of rules apply; we just get more visual here.

How big an influence on both shows is Las Vegas?

Donnelly: Our original intention was to make it incidental, but it turns out most people dig our podcast because of how Vegas-centric it is. It’s not that we hang our hats on that, but we happen to be artists getting by in this town and this town has a lot of unique circumstances for us to make a living as comedians.

Mattingly: You can drive down the street and get eight characters. Just look out the window. It’s pretty easy. This town has character out the wazoo, from the mayor on down, you take your pick.

Are there any sacred cows that escape your comedy fangs?

Mattingly: There is one cow that I worship, the one that makes chocolate milk.

Donnelly: You have been worshipping Betty the Chocolate cow? You didn’t tell me that.

Mattingly: Betty and I wanted to keep it small. We’re 5th-Day Milkists. But there’s no sacred cows. To me, that’s the heart of improvisation—honesty—so we hit it hard.

How has the podcast progressed?

Donnelly: We almost wish we were like jocks, doing it every day. Now our listenership from April has grown exponentially. It’s quintupled our listenership in eight months.

Mattingly: We do our best to guesstimate by subscribers. Until people subscribe, we can’t for sure count them as scoops. So if you’re hearing this, scoops, subscribe and have your grandmother subscribe—now. (You can get subscriber info at MattAnd

Nerd culture vs. jock culture is a big source of your comedy on the podcast. Why?

Donnelly: There are a lot of similarities between nerds and jocks when it comes to their enthusiasm for stuff, but there’s a huge divide in how they behave culturally. Right in that conflict is a very funny space that we really enjoy. I service the jocks culture, Paul is the nerd. We love not having a clue what the other person is talking about in any given podcast.

Mattingly: Both groups are sometimes obsessed with minutiae and ridiculous facts about their respective entities, whether it be a favorite football team or a beloved comic book. You know them inside and out, so we cross over in those respects. Even to a greater degree, the nerd and jock lifestyles feed into improvisation because of the attention to detail, the obsessive behavior, it all works on the stage as well.

Donnelly: There’s tension in those spaces, and then comedy cures that tension, We lure them in with the tension of how we’re going to react to each other’s stuff, but at the end of the day, Paul and I put comedy first. We’re only going to fight if it’s funny. But the similarities end when I take Paul’s lunch money.

With Las Vegas hosting its own Comic Con last June, is the city becoming increasingly nerd-friendly?

Mattingly: With Comic Con and anime conventions and a local comic book convention at the Flamingo Library, it’s an underground nerd culture that is very strong. We’re in the top 10 of geek-friendly towns. There’s an amazing amount of comic book stores, in terms of residents per capita, in this town. And it’s an interesting time because nerds have conquered in a little bit of a way. Video games are the No. 1-grossing entity as far as entertainment is concerned, movies are a close second, and many of those are helmed by superhero films.

Donnelly: Here he goes.

Mattingly: But that pendulum is gonna swing back and we’re gonna lose our lunch money again.

Donnelly: Last time I checked video games were a $9 billion-a-year industry—oh, wait, no it’s not. Football is!

Mattingly: There are football video games.

Donnelly: It’s true, the nerds won, everywhere you turn. Even fantasy football has become Dungeons & Dragons for jocks.

You were introduced to each other six years ago. Why do you make a good team?

Donnelly: The very first time I performed with Paul, it felt like I was performing with him for five years. Even my friends who came to see me couldn’t believe the chemistry we had immediately.

Mattingly: Improvisers test by fire. You jump up and play and that can shape forever your relationship with that player. If you have a bad night with them that [first] night, you might not want to take the stage with them again. But we knew where each other was going. After about three performances, it got ridiculous. [To Donnelly] Remember the scene with the director and the bee? I was a director trying to get a scene out of you. He was auditioning to be a bee. It blew the roof off the place.

Donnelly: What’s fascinating is Paul and I are from completely different backgrounds, him being from Kentucky, me from New Jersey. We have different comedy training. His is Second City and the Groundlings, mine is Chicago City Limits and the Upright Citizens Brigade. Yet somehow it seems to be a perfect complement onstage. I love performing with Paul for those differences. He makes moves I would never make. It’s a relief to have that onstage.

Why is improv comedy more fulfilling for you than classic stand-up?

Mattingly: When I turned 21 in Kentucky, I was desperate to perform. I’d found improv earlier, but hadn’t had a chance to do much with it. The only stage performance I could get was stand-up, so I tried it. I could do it OK as a character, but as me, it was … ugh. Improvisation is my drug of choice. The feeling I get when I’m improvising, everything else goes away and I’m there, as much me as I can be.

Donnelly: I like improv because you co-accomplish. You fail and achieve as a team. Shared glory feels a lot better than individual glory.

Mattingly: If you’re playing with someone you totally trust, you don’t worry. That’s what makes improv so special. When you get someone who catches those Hail Mary passes and runs with it, that’s the fulfilling part. You have someone truly say yes to you. A ridiculous idea is accepted completely.

Donnelly: Improv also helps the podcast. We perform in front of audiences all these years, so when we’re recording in the studio and the audience isn’t there, our instinct is really just our memories of performing for those audiences. Those years pay off because it gives us our instinct in the studio.

Have you ever been thrown by an off-the-wall suggestion for an improv routine from an audience member?

Mattingly: That’s our favorite moment. The suggestions that really throw us are the ones we get excited about the most.

Donnelly: It was Paul’s birthday [recently], and we often do bits where we send someone out of the room. I got inspired a la Andy Kaufman, and I took the whole audience out of the theater, outside, and we went back around and Paul was waiting. We literally snuck the audience up behind Paul in the hallway and surprised him.

Mattingly: It was pretty great. Improv allows for those true moments, and that’s a rarity in anything. You try something totally new, see where it takes you. It’s totally dangerous.

How do you handle it when someone shouts out an idea and the rest of the audience really hates it?

Donnelly: If someone calls it out and you hear the whole audience go, “Ooooh!” like that, then I will make fun of that person, bust their balls, then get into the topic, and then go back and bust that guy’s balls again. By messing with the guy who calls it out, I am creating an experience based on the suggestion, I’m just not doing it the way they think I’m going to do it.

Is the possibility that an improvisation might offend someone something you try to avoid—or something you actually try to accomplish?

Donnelly: At this point, I feel like it’s failure if we don’t offend. We’re giant children, and sometimes we do shows for people who have standards or dignity.

What do you do if the topic thrown out is particularly distasteful—say, the Holocaust? Or ISIS?

Donnelly: We would do it. When you’re doing improv, you’re in the arena. It’s not like we said we can’t wait to do our Holocaust material. But we’re being dared by the audience, and it’s like you’re the lion tamer with the chair and the whip and that’s the lion they threw at you, so you want to tame that lion.

Mattingly: Not that we want to do dark material, but when you get something with true pathos about it, you’ve got to have that tension to get the release.

Donnelly: Also, I would read the room. Laughter is the release of tension. If it’s on their minds and they need to get it off their chest, you want to address it. If it’s so horrific that they don’t want to get it off their chests, then you can’t do anything about it. Comedy is a tool that way. Tonight, would we take on ISIS holding a (severed) head? No. Five years from now? Probably.

Mattingly: If you look to some of our heroes like Gilbert Gottfried and the like, they push it at the very moment. To a point, I really respect that. But do we at that moment have something that compelling or groundbreaking to say through comedy about that? I don’t know that I’ve even gotten my head around an issue like that, never mind speak satirically about it.

Are there topics you’re tired of being asked to riff on?

Mattingly: If someone gives us the suggestion for the one-millionth time of a gynecologist who has penis hands, there’s only so much we can do with that. We get that all the time.

Donnelly: I wish he was lying, but he’s not.

Who were your influences as improv comics?

Mattingly:  It became the Second City players I worked with [here] where I really cut my teeth. Jason Sudeikis, I took a lot of classes with him. All these people really shaped the way I look at and address improvisation, even the way I teach it now.

Donnelly: Amy Poehler taught me at the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City and I watched her perform every Sunday for four years, two shows. I learned more listening to her and watching her than all my improv teachers combined. And then Wayne Brady, who gave me my big break when I first moved to Vegas, being in a show at the Venetian. He really taught me about Vegas and being an entertainer.

Do you have ambitions to move The Bucket Show from downtown to the Strip?

Donnelly: Yes. The Bucket Show is designed to take on new tourists every night. It’s a well-built comedy machine. Paul and I do other artistic shows, more adventurous, on the side, but this thing is built to be like a freight train. I’d love to see it either in some late-night spot in one of the clubs on the Strip, but we could also do a clean version of it in the afternoon. It’s a good add-on to a Strip property, we’re local hires, and I really think we could entertain people night in and night out.

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