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After appearing on The Special Without Brett Davis and performing to a sold out crowd at The Montreal Sketch Festival, New York City sketch comedy duo, The Wire Mothers are bringing their hit show, ‘Mel Buttermench: A Memorial Concert’ back to Philadelphia this Friday night at 8:30pm as part of Philly Sketchfest Presents December showcase. They’ll be joined by Philadelphia’s, House of Solitude and stand-up comedian, Jake Mattera. Earlier this week, we spoke with Madonna Refugia and Briana Kelly of The Wire Mothers to talk about Mel Buttermench, comedy built from reality TV and live theatre, moving from Philly to New York City and their future…

Mel Buttermench with cast from 'A Midsummer Nightmare - The OJ Simpson Story'
Mel Buttermench with cast from ‘A Midsummer Nightmare – The OJ Simpson Story’
Philly Sketchfest – Welcome back to Philly, you were here earlier this year and we thoroughly enjoyed your show, ‘Mel Buttermench : A Memorial Concert’. For those that are unfamiliar, can you tell us a little about Mel Buttermench?
Briana Kelly – Mel Buttermench is Staten Island’s answer to Andrew Lloyd Weber! He is the off-off-off-Broadway composer whose work set stories to music that no one else dared to such as, “A Midsummer Nightmare: The OJ Simpson Story” or “Rwanda: A Jazz Opera.” According to some critics, these were stories no one should have set to music.
Philly Sketchfest – Where did this story, these characters come from? Was there anything in particular that inspired you?
Madonna Refugia – A fever night terror dream.
Briana Kelly – Originally we were going with a completely different concept; “Reality Divas.” This was going to be staged and performed like the Les Miserables anniversary concerts but with songs based on moments in Reality Television. We created our current characters, Carol Gudenplente & Diana Nowandlater, as a framing device to test out songs for “Reality Divas.” As time went on though, we realized we were having so much more fun with the characters we’d created and this sad universe that they lived in that we just ran with it.

Philly Sketchfest – When did you begin working on ‘Mel Buttermench’? Have you noticed any changes in how you’re performing the show now in comparison to the beginning? Has anything intentionally been updated as you’ve performed it over time?
Briana Kelly – Madonna and I started writing the songs over a year ago and, while the music’s stayed the same, the structure of the show and our characters have evolved a lot.
Madonna Refugia – The show was initially all about Mel and his history – but with the help of our director, Michael Wolf (NANCY, OSFUG), we were able to focus the show on these incredibly self-obsessed, desperate women.

photo by Dan Ramos
The Wire Mothers perform at the 2015 Montreal Sketchfest – Theatre Sainte Catherine
Philly Sketchfest – You performed this show at Montreal Sketchfest this year. How was that experience for you both as a group or individuals?
Briana Kelly – It was delicious! To be honest, Poutine comprised about 70% of the entire experience.
Madonna Refugia – It was sick! Montreal has great crowds.
Briana Kelly – The audiences were great and we were able to get by with the eight words of French Madonna had in her arsenal. Their television programming is terrifying though.
Madonna Refugia – I’m particularly fond of Tranna Wintour – the lovely drag queen who hosted our all-female block of comedy. She was very sweet and it was nice to perform for our target audience: FIERCE GAYS!

Philly Sketchfest – Speaking of all-female comedy, the last time you were in town you opened for ManiPedi, the group that you started together in effort to showcase female sketch writers and performers in an ever-rotating cast. What was it like to be on a ManiPedi show you weren’t a part of and your thoughts about this incarnation of ManiPedi?
Briana Kelly – It was incredible! There have been so many talented women who’ve been part of ManiPedi, and it’s amazing to see what each member has brought to the group. The show we opened for, “Karen’s Dream,” was spectacular and we can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Madonna Refugia – I felt like Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest watching Christina be the star in that soap opera: a confusing combination of immensely proud and jealous as hell of their youth/beauty/talent!! Just kidding! I’m just proud. One hundo percent. Everytime I’m feeling down or insecure, I look at the copy of Philadelphia Weekly that we were on and I feel GOOD! Then I start talking to Kaitlin (Thompson) and Shannon’s (Brown) faces like they’re right there with me. We mostly talk about the weather. And LADIES! Stop hating on each other and start supporting one another. Be the awesome push-up bras I know you can be! MEN! Stop using “she’s a very funny lady,” as a way to introduce a woman onstage. If this is already happening – keep doing ya thing! Ya great!
Briana Kelly – Yeah, if you’re a lady or any kind of human and you want to do comedy, do it.

Philly Sketchfest – You’ve both been in NYC for over a year now, any notable differences in what you experience from other performers, work ethic, the “scene” and audiences?
Briana Kelly – Personally, I feel like Philly comics are a lot more willing to take risks and have more unique perspectives. I think there are more opportunities in New York, and people work incredibly hard in both cities, but I think the sketch scene in Philly is way better.
Madonna Refugia – There are very hardworking people in both cities! But I was really inspired by comedians in Brooklyn doing different types of comedy I’d never seen before – really innovative stuff. Watch a few episodes of The Special Without Brett Davis and you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about. Everyone within that scene has really helped me find my voice as as a comedian and I’m truly excited to see where they’ll all be in the future.

The Wire Mothers at The Annoyance Theater in Brooklyn, NY
The Wire Mothers at The Annoyance Theater in Brooklyn, NY
Philly Sketchfest – We see that when most people leave Philadelphia to do comedy elsewhere, they leave for New York City or Los Angeles looking for paid work/opportunities. You both moved out to New York City separately, so why did you both choose New York over Los Angeles.
Briana Kelly – I require a good degree of grime and surliness in my life.
Madonna Refugia – Taye Diggs’ mom lives around here. Gotta be close to my future mother-in-law (Editors Note – On Twitter, @TheMadonnaMarie has been consistently ‘reaching out’ to ‘check in’ on Mr. Diggs). Honestly though, I wanted to be close to my family and I had more connections and opportunities to take the next step as part of the NYC scene.
Philly Sketchfest – How do you compare Philly’s sketch scene between the time you left and now? Any thoughts on new or ongoing groups here?
Briana Kelly – For me, Secret Pants will always set the bar for sketch and The Incredible Shrinking Matt and Jacquie are magnificent.
Madonna Refugia – I’m just happy to see more sketch groups. Period.

Philly Sketchfest – What’s next for The Wire Mothers or individually as writer/performers?
Briana Kelly – The Wire Mothers will keep freaking out audiences as long as people are willing to subject themselves to us, and individually Madonna’s working on several different projects (writing and performing for the “Special Without Brett Davis,” co-hosting a monthly show with Matt Weir, performing solo musical characters, contributing to Reductress and other online comedy sites), and I’ve started doing stand up. We’ll also be a part of the UCB run of “Bent But Not Broken,” the brain child of Philly’s own very talented Shannon Devido and a slew of other great Philly writers and performers.
Madonna Refugia – I am going Beyonce on Briana’s Michelle Williams’ ass!!! In addition to what Briana told you, I’ve started performing my own solo material and am working towards creating a one-woman show. Alright, I take it back, Briana.
Briana Kelly – You’re not leaving me for solo projects?
Madonna Refugia – Oh, not that. Yeah, I’m doing all that stuff you mentioned. I wanted to apologize as you’re more of a Kelly Rowland than Michelle Williams.

HoS_11x17_quarterinchbleed (2)Philly Sketchfest – Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today and we’re really looking forward to the show. What’s the one food spot you’ll be looking forward to hit while you’re in town?
Briana Kelly – Underdogs in honor of Aubrie Williams.
Madonna Refugia – ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?!?! WAWA, duh…
You can see Madonna & Briana as The Wire Mothers along with House of Solitude and Jake Mattera, this Friday night, December 18th at The Playground of the Adrienne Theater! Tickets are $10 and available online via TicketFly, Keyword – House of Solitude.

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