"I was destined to be a pervert, I think," said Andrew Goffman, writer and performer of the long-running off-Broadway show The Accidental Pervert. "[The play] takes place when Andrew's a boy. He — I mean, it's me — was born in '69 and grew up in Blue Ball, Pennsylvania, which is, like, six or seven minutes away from Intercourse, PA.
"This is all true. You can Google it," Goffman avows. The story, however unlikely, is based on his own real experiences with porn addiction following the childhood discovery of his father's stash of dirty movies."[Blue Ball] is about an hour outside Philadelphia. And I actually lived at 275 Woodcock Lane."
Goffman is now entering his fifth straight year on stage with The Accidental Pervert (the play runs weekends at 13th Street Repertory), a long-running feat that is no small accomplishment in the tumultuous world of New York theater. Though he came into the industry straight from standup comedy and claims no particular business acumen, Goffman's years keeping Pervert up and running virtually singlehandedly have given him unique insight into the ins and outs of off-Broadway. TheaterMania quizzed the actor/writer for his opinion on how to create a show that can lead to long-term success on New York's smaller stages.
Tell a Great Story
The basis of any show is the story it tells. For Andrew Goffman, it's about narrative. "I figured, I have to start with a good story because if the story is good everything else will be much easier and fall into place," said Goffman. "I've seen terrible things that have gotten great actors and still flop. It's like no matter how big a star you get, if the story's no good, it's not going to work."
Even if audiences can't relate to Goffman's story (a lot of them can), it's the honesty that is compelling. Goffman contends, "[They think], 'I believe this, and I believe him, and I'm going to let him take me where he's going with this because I believe him.'"
Have Big Plans, but Be Open to Anything (Including Going International)
When as a young standup comic Goffman began writing Accidental Pervert he had no idea what the show would become, but his key to success has been to remain open to even the most unforeseen opportunities. "They've all fallen in my lap. Some people saw it from Argentina, and they did a run in Buenos Aires for a year. And then it went to Panama City, and it just won the best comedy award in the theater in Panama City. It's going to go to Zurich in 2014." The lesson? Sometimes success looks nothing like what you expected. "Our show has gotten much more exposure and had much bigger, well known stars and celebrities on other continents. But then when you're in New York, it's just our little tiny show. We're like the little show that can."
But just because progress often goes in an unexpected direction doesn't mean you can stop dreaming — and working. "Another thing [that] I haven't announced to anyone is [that] I wrote a huge chunk of part two and I'm hoping by next year to do part two of The Accidental Pervert. I'd like to do something bigger. I would like to have a higher profile for the show…one day make a movie…[and] maybe tour it at some point."
Be Nice, but Don't Let Them Screw You
Even for Goffman, it's not all Argentinean investors and Swiss celebrities. Sometimes problems arise that won't go away on their own. "What bothers me the most is when I see the audience members getting distracted, because I hate that. I know when I've been out there I want to enjoy the show, and I hate when people are texting and doing all that stuff," said Goffman of his audiences. "It's always better if you can defuse the situation with humor," he explained. "There was a lady once that was rustling through her bag, and it was so loud. So I just went down and I was like, 'Who is that? What's goin' on out there?' And of course it was the nicest, sweetest-looking old lady. I said, 'Are you ok? Can I help you? Do you want me to unwrap this? Did you go to Subway first?' And then she kind of got the hint and she stopped."
But it's not always a little old lady. And sometimes keeping the peace involves taking matters into your own hands. "And actually, I've physically thrown people out twice."
Believe in Your Art
The final piece of the puzzle is to believe in what you're doing. Off-Broadway is not a cozy environment, and to survive, especially long-term, an artist has to feel the drive and put in the effort. "I really believe in the show. It's honest. It's truthful, and I really care about it. I want people to have a good time, and so I try to do everything possible for that to happen," said Goffman.
"I do it all. I do everything…but I also have a director and his name's Charles Messina," illustrating the need for support from other people who also believe in your work. "He is excellent, and he's really dedicated. The two of us, we really care about this, and he's been great every step of the way. We took our time and we worked hard on it."