The new sketch comedy group “Discount Tuna” has been on the scene for just under a year, but their work is already being recognized for their hilarious efforts. On Tuesday, June 27 and Wednesday, June 28, the comedy troupe will partner with Richmond’s Coalition Theater for two special performances. And just to spice things up these original shows will not only involve audience participation, but also feature explicit content.
The three founders, Chandler Matkins, Rachel Lamb and Dante Piro, started Discount Tuna when they were rising juniors in the VCU theatre program – TheatreVCU. Since they were fans of the sketch comedy group (the Gourmet Hot Dogs), which was comprised of VCU seniors, they decided to fill the shoes of the departing performers in August of 2016.
That same month, Discount Tuna made their first performance when they took the Gourmet Hot Dogs’ place in TheatreVCU’s No Shame Variety Show, a biweekly show of student sketch comedy acts. The three thespians participated in 13 of the 14 shows in the 2016-2017 season of No Shame.
“This is our first public endeavor, we have never performed outside of the No Shame Variety Show before,” said Matkins.
Before performing a show, however, a sketch comedy group like Discount Tuna approaches the stage with characters, motivations and plotlines that they have already created. This is the key element differentiating it from improvisational comedy, which is performed with little to no prior planning.
“We’re going to be doing a lot of different sketches, and a great thing about sketch comedy is that we get to kind of jump around to a lot of different themes and worlds that we’ve created,” explained Lamb. The “worlds” that Discount Tuna creates for these performances include the characters, setting and narratives for each of the sketches.
Piro describes the group as a team, using their personal skills to move the comedy forward. He explained that as one of the main writers, he can summarize their stag performances as something along the lines of, “…that I pour the concrete down, Chandler sticks his butt in the concrete, and Rachel pulls Chandler’s pants back up.”
According to Piro, the upcoming shows will feature eight different sketches with themes of “family, fantasy and absurdism.”
These themes do not mean that Discount Tuna’s shows are family-friendly events. The comedy is “extremely explicit,” as Matkins described it. However, the more-adult oriented aspects of Discount Tuna’s shows does not mean that they are not silly and light-hearted, as shown by Matkins’ description of some of the scenes.
“There’s a sketch about two dueling fathers, there is a sketch where I fall down an obscene amount of times in a performance art piece,” said Matkins. “A lot of absurdism is the platform that is more relevant in all the sketches than anything else.”
Piro also said that Coalition was his first choice as a partner organization for this upcoming show, partly due to its smaller size.
“Our first partnership has gone very well, and we’re partnering with multiple theaters in Richmond, and hopefully outside of Richmond,” said Piro. He followed with, “We’re hoping that some of those people from some of the theaters will come out and see the show and be interested in working with us.”
The big question, of course, is where Discount Tuna’s name comes from. The moniker is the brainchild of Lamb and several days of brainstorming.
“I came up with Discount Tuna, because I thought it was kind of reminiscent of our style,” she explained. This self-deprecating joke came to her because “You never want tuna to be on discount.”
Other than performing in Discount Tuna, the trio has done a lot of work with VCU’s theatre company. Piro and Matkins have made many appearances on TheatreVCU’s stage, and Rachel has performed with the Shafer Alliance Laboratory Theatre, the student-run theatre project at VCU. Matkins has also worked for Firehouse Theater and several venues in Williamsburg, where he grew up. Rachel does a lot of production work at VCU, and has some film experience through a web series she just finished filming.
These three are the main performers of Discount Tuna, but they are not the only members of the group. Currently, there are four other members, all theatre majors at TheatreVCU. They are rising sophomore Tara Malaka, class of 2015 graduate Dixon Cashwell, class of 2017 graduate Matt Riley and rising sophomore Mason Hemphill, Discount Tuna’s stage manager.
Discount Tuna’s show “Fresh Out of Water: An Evening of Sketch Comedy” will be held at the Coalition Theater starting at 8:00 with an open bar. The doors open at 7:30 and tickets are $5.00.
*Photos by Craig Zirpolo and poster by Dixon Cashwell.