WORDS / JULIA M. TRUPP
PHOTO COURTESY / TOPHER KOGEN
It all started with a too-small “Golden Girls” T-shirt and a microphone.
Local comedians Topher Kogen and Xavier Claiborne floated around the same circles in the comedy scene, but it wasn’t until an open mic at former arts venue Stage Eighteen in 2018 that they realized they were meant to be friends–it was as simple as Kogen saying to Claiborne, “You’re wearing a Golden Girls shirt, I want to be friends,” and Claiborne saying, “OK.”
Stage Eighteen is no longer around, but Kogen and Claiborne’s friendship has evolved over time. They have participated in and won local Roast Battles, and one year for a Halloween show, they dressed as conjoined twins with fake blood and all. The dynamic duo have always enjoyed entertaining and creating random, goofy jokes, which led them to curate a new kind of comedy show locals hadn’t seen before.
“A lot of ideas don’t necessarily come from a tribute place,” Kogen said. “It all comes from not seeing certain comedy being done.”
“On the Spot,” a fully improvised stand-up show, invites local comedians to stretch beyond their comfort zone. Each comedian gets a 10-minute spot with five jokes, but here’s the catch: It’s all done off the cuff. A prompt comes up on a monitor, and then the comedian must improvise their set based on whatever comes to mind and perform as if they are doing a rehearsed stand-up set.
The jokes for “On the Spot” developed by riffing jokes from one topic. “Hours before the show, we’ll argue about which joke to use, until we’re out of time and the show has to start,” Kogen said. The only planned things for the show involve the behind-the-scenes work: writing prompts, setting up technology and finding a theme (they range from western to drag divadom).
“When we started, people were doing the same sh– every week–that’s why we did ‘On the Spot,” Claiborne said, “to push the ones around us to do better.”
As for what’s next for the team, Kogen is the co-host on hit show “The Wendy Love Edge Show with Topher Kogen,” and Claiborne is figuring out whether he wants to move to Chicago or Conway because it’s close to Little Rock and Memphis, so comedy is accessible and he would be closer to family. In the meantime, the two comedians are in the planning stages of a midwestern tour slated for this summer. But who knows–with them, it may just be a trip they plan on the spot.