Northeast grad takes part in sketch comedy show on Off-Broadway

Nick Shanman has always enjoyed acting, especially if it makes people laugh.

“My dad said I put on a pirate costume when I was 4 and wouldn’t take it off for a year,” says Shanman, 27, a Northeastern University grad of 2018.

Long gone are the days of playing pirate in his living room, but Shanman still makes people laugh – it’s just on a much bigger stage. With his first Off-Broadway show, “I Mostly Blame Myself,” the Northeast graduate performs to sold-out crowds at the Players Theater in Greenwich Village. If laughter is a drug, Shanman rides high.

“When you’re up there and you get that laugh from something you wrote or something you say, there’s just no better high,” Shanman says.

A series of thoughtful, humorous sketches based on a common theme that changes every few months, “I Mostly Blame Myself” is a showcase for Shanman, the creative force behind a show that has had a winding path to the Off-Broadway stage. Shanman’s recent success as a writer/director/actor didn’t happen overnight.

The Off-Broadway version of “I Mostly Blame Myself” hit the stage in July, but it’s actually the third iteration of Shanman’s comedy skit. After earning a business degree from Northeastern — “I got it to make my parents happy,” Shanman jokes — and minoring in film production, Shanman, like many young artists seeking stardom, moved to LA

Throughout his time at Northeastern, he made short films with other students. He hopes to take this experience and apply it to bigger and better projects, but he found that he mainly shoots documentaries for other directors. But in his spare time, he wrote and filmed a pilot version of “I Mostly Blame Myself” with some friends.

“I just wanted to create a show that was really about dark but relatable sketches that people could connect with,” Shanman said.

He successfully pitched and released the three-sketch 15-minute pilot on YouTube, where it quickly racked up around 90,000 views. Ultimately, the pandemic threw a wrench in Shanman’s plans for the show, and he returned east to New York, instead turning to the film and theater scene there.

By the time 2021 rolled around, theater companies were looking for ways to recoup audiences after a 19-month hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, including finding new acts. Shanman performed a live theatrical version of his YouTube pilot in several theaters and ended up getting a test performance in the Players Theater’s 50-person black box.

Despite having no cast or crew, Shanman put together the show in two months and sold out the first performance in August 2021, even receiving a standing ovation.

Transferring the show to the stage, Shanman had to make some changes.

“The original pilot was a little darker, a little sadder, like that kind of comedy, and with the drama we wanted to make it a little bigger, a little more digestible,” Shanman says.

The stage show features more movement and more musical numbers, which have become such a hit with audiences that Shanman makes sure to include at least three in each show.

“Half of us aren’t dancers, which made it even funnier, but we worked hard to be on the same page,” Shanman says.

After the test, Michael Sgouros, owner of The Player Theater, offered Shanman and the show a full residency for the remainder of 2021. Until June 2022, when he ended his Off Off-Broadway run, the show had sold out each of its fortnightly performances. When Sgouros offered Shanman the chance to take the show to the main stage of the 180-person theater for its first off-Broadway performance, Shanman jumped at the chance.

“Hearing 180 people laughing is so much more satisfying than 50 people laughing,” Shanman says.

Going from Off-Off-Broadway to Off-Broadway – definitions are based on crowd capacity – came with new challenges. Shanman had to learn to give up some creative control, which he was initially reluctant to do. Shanman wrote and directed the original YouTube pilot himself, but now, with a cast of trained actors, there are more cooks in the kitchen.

“When you do a show in Manhattan … and you bring the script to eight actors, some of them are writers, some of them don’t think their character would say that,” Shanman explains.

Now, the entire cast is involved in writing sketches, which has given them a new sense of connection to the series.

“When people perform on the show, you want them to be proud of it, you want them to be happy doing it, comfortable doing it,” Shanman said. “You want to make sure they’re just as excited and think it’s as funny as you are.”

That doesn’t mean Shanman is less involved. He still writes or participates in the majority of the sketches. And while he originally resisted the idea of ​​getting into sketches, he is now, thanks to the encouragement of his castmates, in almost every sketch, including musicals.

Shanman was overwhelmed by the response to “I Mostly Blame Myself”. He has dreamed of “succeeding” as a screenwriter and director ever since he wrote his first feature film script while in high school.

For now, he still has a day job as a digital marketer for Slate, a lactose-free chocolate milk startup created by two other Northeast graduates. But he hopes the success of “I Mostly Blame Myself,” which will air next September 17, will be a way for him to transition into feature films. His role model is Jordan Peele, sketch comedy genius turned horror maestro, for a reason.

“It was the first thing for me that was really tangible, and it put me in a position where I’m getting a lot closer to my goals,” Shanman said. “This take on life has given me the drive, energy and inspiration to keep moving forward as a writer and performer.”

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Javier E. Swan