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Northeastern graduate takes sketch comedy show on first Off-Broadway run

Nick Shanman (front left), a graduate of Northeastern's class of 2018, created the sketch comedy show "I Mostly Blame Myself," which made its Off-Broadway premiere at The Players Theatre in July. Photo by Simbal Karma. Lighting by Patrick Moriarty

Nick Shanman has always loved performing, especially if it makes people laugh.

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

The days of playing pirate in his living room are long gone, but Shanman is still making people laugh––it’s just on a much larger stage. With his first Off-Broadway show, “I Mostly Blame Myself,” the Northeastern graduate is performing to sold out crowds at The Players Theatre in Greenwich Village. If laughter is a drug, Shanman is riding high.

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

A series of thoughtful, humorous sketches based around 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 sketch comedy show. After graduating from Northeastern with a degree in business–“I got it to make my parents happy,” Shanman jokes–and a minor in film production, Shanman, like many young artists chasing stardom, moved to L.A.

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

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

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

By the time 2021 rolled around, theater companies were looking for ways to get back audiences after a 19-month shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, including finding new acts. Shanman pitched a live, theatrical version of his YouTube pilot to several theaters and ended up securing a test run performance at the 50-person black box in The Players Theatre.

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

In transferring the show to the stage, Shanman had to make some changes.

“The original pilot was a little darker, a little sadder, like that type of comedy, and with the theater, 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 huge hit with audiences that Shanman makes sure to include at least three in every show.

“Half of us are not dancers, which made it even funnier, but we worked our asses off to get on the same page,” Shanman says.

After the test run, Michael Sgouros, owner of The Player Theatre, offered Shanman and the show a full residency for the remainder of 2021. Until June 2022, when it ended its Off Off-Broadway run, the show had sold out each of its bi-monthly performances. When Sgouros offered Shanman the chance to bring the show to the theater’s 180-person main stage for its first off-Broadway run, Shanman jumped at the opportunity.

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

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

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

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

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

That doesn’t mean Shanman is any less involved. He still writes or has a hand in the majority of sketches. And while he originally resisted the idea of putting himself in sketches, he’s now, due to the encouragement of his castmates, in almost every single sketch, including the musicals.

Shanman has been overwhelmed by the response to “I Mostly Blame Myself.” He’s dreamt of “making it” as a writer and director since he wrote his first feature length script as a junior in high school.

At the moment, he still has a day job working as a digital marketer for Slate, a lactose-free chocolate milk startup created by two fellow Northeastern graduates. But he hopes the success of “I Mostly Blame Myself,” which has its next show on Sept. 17, will be a way for him to transition into feature film work. His role model is sketch comedy-genius-turned-horror-maestro Jordan Peele for a reason.

“This is the first thing for me that has actually been tangible, and it’s put me in a position where I’m actually getting a lot closer to my goals,” Shanman says. “This coming to life has given me the motivation and the energy and the inspiration to keep pushing forward as a writer and a performer.”

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