Joe Gates: Opening the door to fun

Joe Gates: Opening the door to fun

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These days, we could all use a good belly laugh. Add a little music to it — even better. Throw in a few pumpkins and you have “The Halloween Comedy Show Gates” with impresario Joe Gates.

If you’re not hip to it, Gates has been active in the Philly theater and comedy scene as a member of Yeti Detective, Scary Mofos — winners of PHIT’s VS Improv Championship Spring 2018 — and Rintersplit, which won first place in the South Jersey Comedy Festival.

A man of many talents, Gates is a performer, producer and director and has written and produced several live-action role-plays for various production groups. He keeps it light as a company member of the award-winning Philly Improv Theater’s (PHIT) house team.

PGN: Where do you hail from?

JG: I was born in Boise, Idaho, the Gem State.

PGN: Really? I thought it was the Potato State.

JG: No, Idaho is known for its opals, rubies and sapphires.

PGN: So much better than potatoes.

JG: Yes, but I have to admit my dad did send me a potato for Christmas a few years ago and I was like, “Really, Dad?” But it was great. They’re just not the same from anywhere else. My parents divorced when I was young, so I grew up with my mom and brother and sister in Oxford. I’m the middle child. I like to think of myself as the peacekeeper; the linchpin.

PGN: How old were you when you left Boise?

JG: About 4. Oxford is pretty rural — I’d say at most 2,500 people. We moved in with my mom’s uncle. That’s where I truly learned to be an outdoor kid. In summertime, we’d have breakfast and then they’d just let us loose. I learned to spot poison ivy and to pick fresh mint and wild berries. I have a lot of fond memories.

PGN: I understand that you have hearing problems. Is that recent?

JG: No, it’s congenital. I’ve worn hearing aids and had speech therapy since I was young.


PGN: How do you think the hearing loss affected you?

JG: There’s an element of isolation, especially when I was younger. I was a skinny kid with hearing aids and glasses and kids can be mean, but I learned quickly that you can control the negative narrative and turn it into a positive one. I remember someone once pointing to my hearing aid and saying, “What are those?” I responded, “Oh, it’s a special transmitter so I can contact the aliens.” When he said, “Cool, man!” I realized I had something. Later on, I realized that I was a pretty good writer and concentrated on that. I was shy as a kid and the hearing problems actually made me a pretty good listener. Eventually I realized that I had a voice too, and went from speech therapy to voice lessons and then opera lessons. I sang all through school. I did opera and medieval music. Then in Philly, I really got into acting and improv and, ironically, when I coach for improv, I tend to be the guy people come to when they’re having difficulty with listening.

PGN: What brought you to Philly?

JG: I came here after graduating from Washington College in Maryland. I chose to come to Philly because I didn’t feel brave enough for New York City. I found my niche here in the improv and role-playing worlds.

PGN: And now you’re running the comedy showcase.

JG: Yes, it’s something I’m really passionate about. Often people get into performance because of their egos. They want the audience to validate them, but I believe that the people putting on the show and in the show are there to serve the audience. I got some people together and started doing shows at Tabu, and now we’re at L’Etage. It’s an all-musical comedy show. There’s an element of music and comedy in every act. We have two alternating teams who participate: The first is “The Scary Mofos,” who will be there Oct. 5, and the other is “Sabotage,” a group I performed with at Philly Improv Theater. For Halloween, we’ll also have a group called “Cat & Vegas and the Temple of Boom.” Dottie Riot will be doing spooky burlesque, John Deary will be doing standup and there will be much more. Doors open at 7 p.m. and tickets are only $10, but you must be 21 to enter.

PGN: What do you do off stage?

JG: I do a lot of writing — gothic horror. I currently am helping a Philadelphia-based live-action group. I’m writing something for an RPG convention for them.


JG: Role Playing Game. They asked me to play a scripted character within the story at a convention in Atlantic City. They are a high-level game division. They’re called the Winding Path Initiative. I’m playing a mystical Viking character based on Icelandic folklore. I also do Renaissance fairs. I got to play the best friend to Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, the actor who plays The Mountain in “Game of Thrones.” He’s huge and plays a big scary dude, but he’s actually a pussycat. Such a nice guy. The past couple of years I’ve also done the New Jersey Renaissance Faire. I just finished the one for this summer. [Laughing] I seem to always get cast as a slightly evil Viking.

PGN: What was the last picture you took?

JG: It was right after a show I did last night called “Wavelength” with a couple of improvisers.


PGN: Do you have any tattoos?

JG: That’s awesome! Yes, the show actually inspired me to go to the Philadelphia Tattoo Convention and get another one last year. I only have two, but they’re big. This last one took seven hours.

PGN: Yikes! Ever run away from home?

JG: I don’t think so. I threatened to once and my mom was like, “Go ahead … ” I ended up going into the woods and playing with some friends.

PGN: Name something very popular that you feel is totally overrated.

JG: I actually feel like vampires aren’t as sexy as modern movies are making them out to be. Just my opinion …

PGN: If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you would change about your life?

JG: That’s an interesting question. I don’t think I’d change anything. So much of my successes and failures were so important in making me who I am today. If I really had to choose, I’d probably get away from the countryside and into the city sooner, or perhaps even attend a city college rather than a rural one. That and drink more water, definitely. 

PGN: Three celebs you want in your improv group (alive or dead)?

JG: Oooh! Chris Hemsworth, Patrick Stuart, Judi Dench. Mainly Chris Hemsworth. They all have a certain playfulness about them that I adore. I’d definitely game with them too. I heard Judi Dench played D&D with Vin Diesel between scenes of a movie they did together. That’s so awesome.

PGN: What movie could you watch over and over?

JG: Probably “Thor Ragnarok.” Yeah, I know, Chris Hemsworth again! But it’s definitely the best out of the whole bunch and it’s my absolute favorite superhero movie. It’s got everything I love: Norse mythology, superheroes, giant wolves, Valkyries … and the vibe is so retro. I love it.

PGN: What’s your hidden talent?

JG: Oddly enough, Helen Keller jokes. [Laughing] I know far too many of them. Seriously, though, I’m great on a Quizzo team because I know random bits of trivia and folklore. And I’ve taken enough Zumba classes that I can surprise people when I take to the dance floor. 

PGN: Since Halloween is approaching, if you were undead, would you want to be a vampire, zombie or ghost and why?

JG: Probably ghosts over vampires, honestly. I feel like vampires and zombies have had their run. Of course, I love reading and writing gothic horror. Actually, growing up I read a lot of the Scottish and Irish myths and folklore about the Sidhe. It always struck me as interesting how fluid the categories of ghost and otherworldly spirits could be. But whatever they were, they still needed that human connection, whether they were trying to complete a quest or some deed in life that was left undone. I don’t really believe in ghosts, but I find their stories captivating. I’d much rather be the glimmering spirit that walks along the shore of the lake, leading you towards the ruins of a once-opulent mansion as a bell distantly tolls. Once there, I’d turn to you, point down towards the rubble and place my finger to my lips as I vanish into the mist. I feel that is so much more engaging than the sensuality of the vampire and the desperate violence zombie stories have. It’s all about mystery for me, connecting the past with the present. And it’s also about finding your voice and bringing that mystery to light. 

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