Philly’s tiniest comedian. Philly’s giant musical force. Josh Machiz releases a new single and a new YouTube series.
Depending on the segment of Philadelphia where you hang, you know local instrumentalist and singer Josh Machiz for his explosive, rangy rock noise of the TJ Kong band. Or his experimental noise jazz. Or you know him from his stand-up comedy work at conventional spaces like Helium Comedy Club and unconventional spaces through the Bearded Ladies’ traveling showcases.
In Spring 2021, however, Machiz seems to be pushing the two separate but equal experimental forms closer together what with the release of a new single, “Murakami’s Ghost” and his recent, most ridiculous comedy YouTube serial, “Tiny Cruiseship Comedian.”
A.D. Amorosi: Certainly I know your work as a musician. TJ Kong in particular. But, I have to admit, too, seeing you at Helium but not quite realizing you were the same guy. Connecting the dots… “How do I know this guy’s face?” Did you forever exist on both planes? Philly’s indie and stand up and sketch scene? Tell me all about that?
Josh Machiz: I know, it feels like I’ve been in the Philly indie scene forever and will be in the Philly indie scene forever. However, it’s only been about 18 years and I will die someday. Although I started performing both at around the same time, I took a 6-year break from stand-up followed by another 12-year break. So I’ve been taking it seriously for about 6 or 7 years altogether. I did my first stand-up comedy performance at 12. My schtick was telling intentionally bad jokes and repeating the punchline 3 times as though the reason nobody was laughing was because the audience didn’t understand the jokes. Of course, I’m referring to the first break facetiously, I don’t consider that a real go at comedy. I did try for a short stint at the end of high school into college though.
A.D. Amorosi: Did you or do you feel more at home in one, than the other scene, or art form?
Josh Machiz: I feel completely at home in both art forms. As far as scenes go, I’ve known some folks in the music scene for longer than I’ve known how to hold a guitar. There were venues and bandleaders in Philly that hired me to play in bars before I was legally allowed to drink. There’s no way the comedy scene will ever catch up to that.
A.D. Amorosi: How did you get from point A to Z on both sides of the ledger?Are you from Philly to begin with?
Josh Machiz: I’m from D.C. originally. I moved to Philly in 2003 to attend Temple and stayed because the music scene was so much better. I started playing piano when I was 6, but didn’t like it because my piano teacher smelled bad and picked his nose and touched the keyboard during lessons. Then my mom started working next door to a place that offered guitar lessons and asked if I wanted to try it. After a year, I noticed that every band on MTV had a bass player, but everyone I knew played guitar or drums. I thought to myself, “All these people are going to need a bass player.” So I gave it a shot. Along the way, I had infatuations with so many different genres and mediums that stuck. Now, I’m the versatile and eclectic musician you see before you today. For comedy, my high school friends and I were always writing sketches and stand-up. We eventually started putting on little house shows and I continued to do that into my freshman year of college. I was really bad though and I had a terrible fear of public speaking so I quit for 12 years. During a snowstorm in 2015, after 8 hours of watching TV, an opening bit popped in my head with a persona, so I wrote it down. Then I continued to write for another 6 hours, then for another 6 years. It’s still a persona that I often use on stage to this day. Who would have thought life experience would give me more to talk about?
A.D. Amorosi: Whether I’m talking about your new solo music, “Murakami’s Ghost”, or new comic work, Tiny Cruiseship Comedian, what are the shared influences? If any? Both things that you do certainly rely on a strong sense of the absurd. Which I appreciate.
Josh Machiz: During a Beck show at Bonnaroo in 2006 where he had a puppet show of the concert on stage and the jumbotron being performed simultaneously with the concert… I will refrain from mentioning what I was under the influence of, I remember writing, “Theater of the Absurd, the Absurdity of the Theater,” over and over again on a piece of paper. That day was the most formative experience for how I saw the performing arts throughout my adult life. It also convinced me to start a business and have political aspirations. I abandoned both after 2 years. I’ve also done a lot of work with Pig Iron Theater Company, NoFace Theater Company, and BalletX that informed my penchant for adding extra-musical or extra-comedic elements to performances. The Philadelphia theater and dance scene is so amazing and adventurous and has been a huge influence on my music and comedy.
A.D. Amorosi: Do you feel as if you compartmentalize the art forms, or whatever comes… comes?
Josh Machiz: I have a subconscious tendency toward compartmentalization. But I have combined the mediums many times over the years. The combinations come out the most when making theater projects, music videos. Or when making a concerted effort to write comedic music with one of my writing partners, Jillian Markowitz, who is a wonderful stand-up and musical comedian and writer on “Josh Matchstick: Tiny Cruseship Comedian.” People constantly ask me if I will ever bring my bass on stage for stand-up, but there really has to be a good reason to do it. The best reason I’ve found is bringing all my instruments: upright bass, electric bass, sousaphone, guitar… on stage, which takes about 5 minutes to set up, then just telling jokes and not acknowledging that I spent 5 minutes setting up all these instruments.
A.D. Amorosi: How did you get from stand up to the film-ic Tiny Cruiseship Comedian? What was the light bulb moment? And how did you begin that process with its collaborators? Chip Chantry is not only an acquaintance but, my neighbor…
Josh Machiz: A couple of months into the pandemic, I had been writing a ton of stand-up and obviously had nowhere to perform other than Zoom, which I hardly consider performing. So I thought I should be working on something that could be made for audiences at home. I knew I had a talkative cat. I liked forced perspective, and I had limited technology. Within an hour I had the ideas for “Josh Matchstick: Tiny Cruiseship Comedian” and another web series I’ve been making, “Josh Machiz Destroys cat Heckler.” I knew Josh Matchstick would be production-heavy, so I figured I should enlist some of my favorite comedians in the world to help me write the shows to get them off the ground quickly.
A.D. Amorosi: Tell me about Tiny Cruiseship Comedian’s filming, please. It looks cramped.
Josh Machiz: It’s actually a little dangerous to make. I have to make a set out of a box that my Aunt made me and some recognizable pop culture items for scale. Then I have to stand on my radiator across the room in order to create the illusion. Then I use the Shrink Ray, of course.
A.D. Amorosi: Why did you choose Murakami’s, “The Mirror” as fodder for a song, period?
Josh Machiz: I was hired a lot as a solo performer by First Person Arts to entertain the audience before the show and to play storytellers on and off stage. Being primarily a bass player, I was not accustomed to performing solo, but I dusted off my loop station and bought a mic and Floor Tom for looping vocals and percussion. I wanted to figure out a project that I could develop while I was regularly being enlisted for these solo gigs, since it was a storytelling event, I thought I should incorporate stories as well, so I started using various short story collections as my setlists. Along with Murakmi’s “Blind Willow and Sleeping Woman” I also used Sallinger’s “9 Stories”, Vonnegut’s “Welcome to the Monkey House”, and Calvino’s “Invisible Cities” among others. The ideas that I came up with while riffing on “The Mirror” that night really felt like something I could develop into a composed piece, so I made it happen.
A.D. Amorosi: What is with the other song on your Soundcloud, “Jekyll & Hyde”? Is that you? It’s a cool jazz version of Harmodelics, as Caj Tjader and Ornette got together. Plus, if that is you, obvious between Robert Louis Stevenson and Murakami, you’re using literature as an object in which to drive your musical work, more so than anything else. Comment?
Josh Machiz: Yup, that’s me! I like literature as a starting point for both music and jokes because the stories are already so developed in the audience’s mind. I can say one line that will elicit the entire story which can give that joke or song immense depth instantly. Unless the audience has never read the book, in which case a joke will fall completely flat. It still gets the point across for music though. Jekyll & Hyde was actually recorded at my senior recital at Temple University. When I was in my early 20s I liked writing jazz tunes with lots of contrasting sections and long forms and Jekyll & Hyde fit perfectly with those motifs. Funny you should mention Harmolodics… I played in Charles Elerbee’s, of Ornette Coleman’s Primetime fame, band for a while. So I learned from the source!
A.D. Amorosi: What complete, maybe, portrait should we have of you from the two works you have out so far in 2021? And what’s next?
Josh Machiz: I’m always going to make stuff that I find exciting even if it’s difficult to make and whether I think people will pay to see it or not. Speaking of difficult to make, the two big items for the year are a sci-fi alternative history of Philadelphia augmented reality experience with Pig Iron Theater Company and Rosie Langabeer that will go live in late Spring. And a remounting of the BalletX’s “Sunset o639 Hours”, for which I was on the writing team, in Vail, Colorado and Sun Valley, Idaho. I will also be performing with the Bearded Ladies Cabaret on their traveling medicine show-style tour around Philadelphia. They turned a box truck into a Covid safe traveling stage that will be making its rounds through a number of neighborhoods. I have an online concert through Groupmuse with Hannah Nicholas of the Pennsylvania Ballet, Gregg Mervine of the West Philadelphia Orchestra and Chris Jusell on April 22. And I’m working on a full-length album that should be ready around the end of the Summer.