May 25, 2008
Renegade carries on with new artistic
By Matthew R. Perrine
Renegade Comedy Theatre is moving on. After months of uncertainty,
the Zeppa Foundation-funded troupe has annousnced that its interim
artistic director, Katy Helbacka, is, as of last week, officially
Brian Matuszak’s replacement.
If you’ll recall, Matuszak, who founded
Renegade back in 1991, was booted from his position earlier this
year after a spat with Zeppa about who would manage the box office
at Teatro Zuccone, the newly minted theater that now houses the
We spoke with Matuszak earlier this month about
his new venture, Rubber Chicken Enterprises; now we’ll hear
how Renegade is carrying on post-Matuszak from Helbacka, a Duluth
native and University of Minnesota Duluth graduate, in her first-ever
How have things been going without Brian?
It’s been a transitional phase. There’s
been some things that have been hard, but ... I think we’re
moving in an exciting direction, and I’m excited about where
things are headed.
Did a lot of Renegade regulars leave to go to Rubber Chicken?
I’m not really 100 percent sure yet, because
I’ve been in Chicago the past four years. I’m not really
sure who all the Renegade regulars have been in the past few years,
so I think time will tell. And I’m sure there will be people
who will go to Rubber Chicken. We hope that eventually people will
come and check out what we’re doing here too. So I guess only
time will tell, really.
Are there a lot of new people who have signed up for Renegade
in the last couple weeks?
Well, yeah, there’s been some new people;
there’s been some people who I know have stayed away from
Renegade for awhile who are coming back, like Jody Kujawa and Nate
Carlblom who are in the Dink Tank show — and they, I guess,
used to work with Renegade a lot and hadn’t for awhile. They’re
back, and we definitely do have some who I would consider Renegade
regulars who are still here and excited to work with us. And then
we have some people who are brand new, some people who are involved
up at UMD, some people who have never acted before — who are
going to be in our FinnFest show. We’re just opening our arms
and our doors and hoping that everyone, whether they acted here
a lot or they never acted; we’re here for everyone to come
out and audition and get involved.
What is Dink Tank?
Dink Tank is a wonderfully named sketch team.
It’s kind of a “Saturday Night Live”-style, Kids
in the Hall sketch comedy. And it was just the funnest process.
The way that we created the show is really fun. We had a group of
writers and we would just pitch ideas back and forth. ... It was
like writing on a sitcom team, it was really, really fun. ... It’s
just kind of like “Saturday Night Live,” so there’s
sketches about politics and about pop culture, some character-driven,
some crude stuff, some highbrow stuff — there’s kind
of something for everybody.
How often do you want to do these types of shows?
Our hope is to do them pretty often. One of the
things we want to do is really emphasize the comedy here at Renegade,
and we’ll be doing that through our sketch team and through
our improv sets — which I know Renegade was really well known
for awhile ago with their Comedy Olympics. We really want to bring
that back and do Comedy Olympics, but also concentrate on the Harold,
which is this long form of improv that I studied in Chicago at Second
City and ImprovOlympic. So, through the sketch team and the improv,
we’re really hoping to offer Duluthians some late-night comedy,
which we haven’t had for awhile.
How long were you with Second City?
I took their improv-for-actors courses. You had
to have a B.F.A. to be in it. I did much more with ImprovOlympic,
which is right down to Wrigley Field. I was with them for about
a year probably. Second City’s a lot more sketch comedy, and
ImprovOlympic is all improv, so that’s where I mostly studied
the Harold (long-form improv developed by Del Close). It was really
exciting because when I was there, Seth Meyers got moved up to “Saturday
Night Live.” So I was there for his final performance at Second
City. I didn’t know him or anything, but it was really cool
to see people from these institutions going up to “Saturday
Night Live.” That was really fun to see. It was really cool.
Did you leave for Chicago right after graduating from UMD?
Pretty much. I graduated in 2002 and I moved in
Is “SNL” something you wanted to do?
Well, I don’t know specifically what I wanted
to do. I love comedy, and I really love creating characters. I was
a UMD graduate, with my B.F.A. in acting, and quite a few of us
went to Chicago. We worked together, we would put on shows together
and that was really fun. If we just wanted to do a show, we would
rent the space and put it up. That’s mostly what we did when
we were out there.
Did you miss Duluth?
I did. I missed the lake, I missed my family.
You know, everywhere you go (here) you have a memory. “Oh,
there’s the first time I did that.” I just missed feeling
home. When I left, I was ready to come back. I was ready to leave
Chicago. I just missed the city. I think when you leave Duluth,
when you’re from here, you just always want to be back sooner
or later. … It’s a special place. The lake and the canal,
it’s just really beautiful. Yeah, I’m glad to be back.
Whose idea was it?
It was my idea. It’s just … a form
of comedy that I really enjoy. It’s something that I’ve
done before in Chicago — not these scenes, but sketch shows.
Renegade has done sketch shows before — they did their Christmas
revues, and they had summer revues — so this is not a new
thing to Renegade; it’s just new writers, new voices, so the
material’s very, very different.
One of the new writers said it’s dark, sometimes violent
— which is quite a change for Renegade — was that a
It just reflects the voices of our writers, I
think. There are sketches I’m worried about, because I’m
not sure how the audience is supposed to respond. There are some
that are really risky, and there are some that are a little bit
vulgar. But I don’t know, I do also think that there is something
for everyone in it. Like, for me, because I was involved in the
writing process, it’s so clear to me who wrote what sketch
— everyone has such a different sense of humor. It’s
just very reflective of the voices of our writers. There’s
different senses of humor, and everyone pitched in different sketches.
And everyone just has a really unique voice, and I think it turned
out to be a really well-rounded performance of comedy. We’ll
kind of see what people gravitate toward I guess.
Will you be continuing “Out of the Hat”?
No, we’re not going to be continuing with
the “Out of the Hats.” I know that’s something
that Brian started, and he’s going to be continuing that with
Rubber Chicken. So, that’s not to say we’ll never do
anything like that — never do a collective festival —
but we’ll be doing it from a new angle, something that we
create.... We’re kind of at a spot where we are honoring the
tradition that made Renegade great, but also moving into the future.
We have plans to be a really vital and exciting and professional
Was it hard to come into this position? With all that was
going on, were you a little nervous about it at first?
I was, but I kind of came in naively. I didn’t
read any of the articles in the paper because I was in Chicago.
I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t even know
that there had been any [Uses “air quotes”] “drama”
until after I started. I (had only) heard that there was a theater
opening. When I moved back to Duluth, I kind of came because my
husband got a job. In Chicago I had been performing and teaching
theater and I was really involved, and when I came back here I kind
of thought, Well, maybe I’m done with that part of my life,
because I wasn’t sure what kind of career I’d have in
the arts. So when I found out there was a job opening, I was just
thrilled that I could work in theater in the city that I love. ...
There were parts that were hard, but there were also a lot of really
helpful people who made the transition really easy on me. I was
lucky that there were a lot of really nice people in this building....
People weren’t afraid to come up and help me out by saying,
“This is how it normally goes.” You know, “This
is how we normally do this.” I’ve been really lucky
to be surrounded by good people.
What do you wish to accomplish in your first year with Renegade?
In my first year, I hope to choose a really exciting
and edgy season. ... I hope to really make a strong opening with
Dink Tank and with our improv. ... Also, we hope to open an improv
training school, much like ImprovOlympic and Second City, because
I think that there are a lot of people who want to get on stage
but maybe don’t know how to improvise. Because it definitely
is a craft that you have to learn. I was a B.F.A. in acting, and
when I went to ImprovOlympic I was terrified because that was something
I really didn’t know how to do. I think that we need to train
people, so that we have a whole bunch of strong improv teams who
can perform on our stage. I hope that my first year will be a growing
year, and I just hope to create a place that people want to work
and want to come and participate.