From live sketch comedy and improv-based shows to stand-up and filmed shorts, the Midnight Gardeners League is a D.C. comedy collective that translates their skillset into a plethora of comedic languages. They’ve mastered the art of not taking themselves too seriously while producing a consistent body of work, garnering some serious laughs.
Formed in the confines of a cramped Northwest apartment jokingly referred to as the “Weed Dungeon,” the Midnight Gardeners League began as a place where founders, Pete Musto, Kevin Tit, Yoki Danoff, Andrew Hall and Max Wolfson came together to explore their creativity beyond the limitations of stand-up comedy.
“There’s a lot of ‘rules’ and constraints in stand-up,” says Tit, who, along with the rest of the Gardeners, regularly performs at venues across the DMV, including their own weekly open mic, “Laugh Party” at City State Brewing Co. “We like to give ourselves freedom in the shows we produce to include a little bit of stand-up, but also play videos we created or a call-and-response game that forces us to improv with the crowd and not limit ourselves strictly to one form of comedy.”
Their unorthodox creative process — which resembles a college party pre-game more than an NBC writers’ room — might make parents wag their fingers, but it’s proven to be successful. They’ve produced over 80 filmed sketches, a podcast and countless improv-based shows at DC Improv and are currently touring in cities and comedy festivals all across the East Coast.
“We’re not precious about the things we create,” says Musto. “Our work doesn’t have to be perfect because we give ourselves permission to create what we want, so we don’t have to wait around for someone to tell us we’re finally good enough to do the things we’re made to do.”
The rebel, DIY mentality the Gardeners are known for was greatly influenced by Hall and Tit’s background in punk rock. Both are musicians and band members who spent time producing their own house shows, where the goal wasn’t to become mainstream, but to simply perform their art to a small and loyal fan base with freedom and sincerity.
“Success for us doesn’t look like a sold-out show at the Kennedy Center,” says Hall, while Musto quickly adds that they wouldn’t turn down the gig. “Showing up and doing the work for the work’s sake alone, not for accolades or approval, is enough for me.”
But don’t let their DIY methods and boozy brainstorming sessions fool you. Although perfectionism isn’t the goal, preparation is key for the Gardeners. Many of their sketches are centered around characters they create and develop using the same techniques as trained film and theatre actors, building detailed backstories that bring these dynamic characters to life.
Musto, who created the fan-favorite character, Captain Billy Saltbeard — a Gorton’s Fisherman-esque character who shamelessly betrays his love for the sea to sell TV seafood dinners — grew up watching his mom perform theatre, prompting him to start his own theatre company while living as an expat in South Korea.
In a filmed mockumentary sketch, Wolfson, who practiced theatre arts in high school and college, takes on the persona of Billy Flowman, the last American water salesman. He blurs the lines between script and improv, walking down the street offering Ziplock bags of homemade water to unsuspecting pedestrians.
“How’d I get started?” says Flowman to an off-camera producer. “Well, it’s a family business. My father died and left me a bunch of ice cubes and, well…I waited.”
There’s a spontaneity in the Gardeners’ shows that sets their work apart. Their creativity is on full display, as they utilize all their comedic languages to keep audiences entertained and guessing.
In “Wrong Answers Only,” comedians compete in a game show, where they answer questions with the most absurdly incorrect answers. In “Pitch A Movie,” comedians come up with movie premises based on their stand-up routines and try to sell the idea. Their latest show, “Laugh Quest,” is a choose-your-own-adventure comedy show, where comedians and the audience have to work together to determine what happens next.
Whether it’s Tit’s love for movies, Wolfson’s affinity for game and talk shows, Hall’s fondness for filmmaking or Musto’s fetish for wizards, each member’s personality is harmoniously represented in the comedic art they create.
“The thing that makes us work is that nobody is the boss,” says Musto. “I could spend my whole life trying to be the next best stand-up comedian, and I probably would fail. But when the five of us come together, with our powers combined, it can do more than any one of us can do individually.”
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