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Marina Tempelsman and Nicco Aeed running through Times Square

Buddy Comedy

When it comes to humor, Marina & Nicco are no dummies

After a decade of sharing comedy billing—writing, directing, producing, and (sometimes) performing in their own videos, plays, and web pilots—Marina Tempelsman ’10 and Niccolo Aeed ’10 have grown accustomed to tickling ribs. Now, they’re certified to break them, if necessary.

Or so says their CPR instructor.

“It feels a little too easy to become CPR certified,” laughs Aeed, whose experience with Tempelsman in a five-hour course inspired their latest play, If You Do This Right You’ll Probably Break Their Chest. “I mean, the week after, I was like, Oh wait, what was I supposed to do if the baby is choking?

OK, so maybe they’re not quite experts in resuscitation. But as the creative duo Marina & Nicco, they do know how to breathe life into comedic scenes, finding the funny in everyday occurrences and putting a quirky Swarthmorean spin on each sketch.

Humor honchos in New York are taking notice: A pilot the pair created was named Best Comedy at the 2018 New York Television Festival (NYTVF). As individuals, they were tapped for The Flea Theater’s inaugural class of house playwrights. And their collaboratively written CPR play was a featured production at Ars Nova’s All New Talent (ANT) Festival, a celebration of indie theater-makers.

And that was just this summer.

“There’s a lizard-brain part of me that wants all the awards and recognition and to make a movie that everyone says changed their lives,” Aeed quips.

Hey, it could happen, especially for two talented, driven artists, motivated by a probing curiosity only the College could have fostered.

“We began writing together as freshmen,” says Tempelsman. “Twelve years later, we haven’t stopped.”

Sketch artists

A man walks into a lingerie store looking for a Valentine’s Day present for his girlfriend. As he bumbles among the bras and bustiers, a saleswoman steps in, offering help.

What are her measurements? she asks. Do you know her size, her style? Would she like something sheer, like this little number?

“I guess that’s not really her thing,” he replies. “But you know, some nights she does wear a thing. It’s kind of like a large shirt, and it says ‘Stop Profiling Muslims’ on it. And it’s kind of too big, so like one boob hangs out of it.

“Got anything like that?”

The setup is one of several clips he and Tempelsman created for The New Yorker, in what’s been an optimal outlet for the pair.

“It’s certainly a Swarthmore-like humor,” says Aeed, who also stars in the sketch. “We like mixing highbrow and lowbrow—or doing lowbrow very highbrow.”

Like in their earlier videos, promoted online at Funny or Die, poking fun at tampon ads, Buzzfeed listicles, or super-intense poop dreams (the last of which appeared on Comedy Central’s Tosh.0). Or in their plays, like Room 4, which explored race in Hollywood and was deemed a New York Times critic’s pick during its 2016 run at the Peoples Improv Theater.

No matter the performance, Time Out New York writes, Marina & Nicco attendees “should plan to witness a joyous event or something horribly grisly.” (Dark or disturbing twists? That’s all Tempelsman, Aeed notes: “She can get everyone to be really happy and joyful and then slip in a kind-of Twilight Zone script.”)

It’s a combination the two honed in Swarthmore’s comedy group Boy Meets Tractor, where they were taken on as the troupe’s only freshmen.

“I’m not sure why we clicked,” Tempelsman says. “We’re pretty different people, but we’ve always connected creatively. I think there’s a certain wonky sensibility that we always have.”

It’s that sensibility that drew the strangers to Swarthmore in the first place. The two native New Yorkers—Aeed’s from Midtown Manhattan, Tempelsman the Upper West Side—each sought out small schools with true campuses not terribly far from their hometown. Separate visits to the College sealed the deal for each of them.

“I just met such good people: smart, thoughtful, passionate—but not competitive,” says Tempelsman.

“And they were kind of insane in a great way,” adds Aeed. “Weird and fun. I didn’t feel that at the other colleges I toured.”

Though Aeed, a theater and religion major, had performed with a sketch group in high school, Tempelsman arrived at Swarthmore a comedy novice. The comparative literature major was thrilled to find her niche—and partner—early on.

“I love working collaboratively,” she says. “Like those moments when you’re like, Is this a thing? Is this going to work? Rather than struggle through something alone, it becomes something that’s actually fun or exciting.”

“Having had such a positive college experience,” says Aeed, “it definitely gave us a confidence boost that pushed us past the initial adjustment period of performing in New York, where the audience isn’t necessarily going to high-five you on the way back to the dorm.”

Funny business

A customer-service rep, bubbly and bright in pink and polka dots, fields yet another call from a discouraged client. The refrain is always the same: Why hasn’t the Smüchr dating site found me my soulmate?

There has to be a better way, the rep decides. “Falling in love is not a rational, algorithmic thing,” she says. “It’s messy, it’s magic, it’s human. I know that I can match people better than these machines.”

So she does, on the sly, till her boss fills her in on an industry secret—the ugly side of the meet-cute.

(Cue a classic Tempelsman twist … think You’ve Got Mail meets Silence of the Lambs.)

“It’s a very dangerous game we play.” Her boss shrugs. “Derp!”

That’s the premise behind Smüchr, a 12-minute pilot by Marina & Nicco, which opened the 2018 NYTVF and took top comedy honors in its flagship Independent Pilot Competition. Inspired by Tempelsman’s work experience at the social site Meetup (“Having weirdly intense one-off conversations with strangers was definitely motivating,” she says), Smüchr was filmed at its offices—about two months before she left to pursue comedy full time.

Aeed ditched his day job around then, too—trading writing with an educational company for daily collaborations with Tempelsman. (They both maintain side gigs: Aeed teaches storytelling at The Moth, while Tempelsman leads sketch classes through the Upright Citizens Brigade.)

With no office of their own, they rent workspace from restaurants closed to customers during the day ... and they face the blank page.

For inspiration, they turn to the world around them: “You daydream a bit,” says Aeed. “You take a note on your phone.”

They get lost eavesdropping on conversations and concocting elaborate stories for newly created characters.

“I really enjoy thinking about random people and spending time with them in my head,” says Tempelsman. “For some, comedy can come from a place that’s a little bit venomous, but I honestly just relish trying to unpack people.”

Tempelsman has a penchant for childlike whimsy, made evident on a sunny June morning in Central Park.

“My grandmother said you should always ride on an outside horse,” she noted, while waiting for her first carousel spin of adulthood, immortalized on the cover of this magazine. “That’s how you get the best bang for your buck.”

Aeed’s more drawn to profound realism, the likes of Dave Chappelle and the show Atlanta. Still, he’s not averse to random acts of silliness … like skipping hand-in-hand with Tempelsman and a CPR dummy through Times Square.

“Nicco approaches everything with a certain analysis,” says Tempelsman. “He can look at things that are very fraught and very real and find the comedy and the metaphor in them.”

Each day brings a new adventure, a new chance to inspire, to write, to laugh. With their partnership, however, they’re both deadly serious, even if officially establishing their company last year almost inadvertently created a joke.

“We thought we’d screwed up the paperwork and named ourselves ‘Marina & Nicco LLC, LLC,’” Tempelsman laughs.

“You hear about other teams getting stressed with each other or having drama,” says Aeed. “But with us, we’re always just devoted to the work—what would be the best or funniest thing. And the older I get, the more I’ve realized how rare that is.”

Comic relief

Five people gather for a CPR session—a former cop, a hospice worker, two squabbling siblings, and an aspiring lifeguard … who can’t swim.

So starts Marina & Nicco’s latest play, a one-night-only performance created exclusively for June’s ANT Fest in a Swarthmorean vein. While Aeed and Tempelsman developed the concept and CPR scenes, fellow writers filled in the backstories that came in between (such as that of the perky lifeguard with a ludicrously tragic/tragically ludicrous background—played by Jessie Cannizzaro ’12).

Several other comedic friends contributed to directing, including Tom Buffalo Powers ’13, who helmed a scene with the devil truly getting his due.

Even though Aeed and Tempelsman did not perform in the play, they were celebrated as the show’s stars, earning a standing ovation from friends, family, and fans.

That circle is bound to grow with Smüchr’s success at the NYTVF, which led to meetings and pitches with major production companies. The duo hopes to develop the show into a full-fledged 30-minute TV comedy.

“The win feels good, but it’s just another step along the way,” says Aeed. “Hopefully, this will lead to the next thing, and that thing will lead to the next thing. We keep chugging along.”

Days after the festival, they were on deadline for a four-part radio drama, produced by the podcast The Truth. And there will be new solo stuff, too, as well as side projects with other writers. But in the end, the two agree, their Swarthmore-born partnership—Marina & Nicco—will always be their lifeline.

“The comedy community is full of collaborations,” says Tempelsman, “but Nicco and I are definitely each other’s number one.”

“So much of how I learned to write or how my style developed is bounded up with Marina,” Aeed adds. “It’s hard to think who I would be without her.”

Comedy Buddies

The New York comedy scene is flush with Swatties like Marina & Nicco on a quest to paint the town red, er, Garnet.

Here are a few in the Big Apple with ties to the College—and to one another.

Tom Buffalo Powers ’13

A comedic actor, writer, and director, Powers is a member of BoogieManja’s sketch team, the House; performs improv with the troupe Bad People; and is a founder of the indie sketch group Friends With Names—with fellow Swatties Kyle Erf ’13 and Fernando Maldonado ’13 (and formerly Morgan Williams ’14).

“When you perform comedy, you get immediate feedback from the audience—either they laugh at something or they don’t,” says Powers. “The joy of finding a moment that people connect with is the absolute best.”


Kyle Erf ’13

Dubbed “NYC’s top goth comedian” by VICE, Erf writes and produces for up-and-coming satire publication The Hard Times (which has a TV show in the works). He’s also a full-time computer programmer—“that balance has been pretty wild,” says Erf.

“Comedy is one of the few times as an adult you’re rewarded for playing, for picking up that stick in your backyard and knowing it’s really a sword or a magic wand,” he adds. “The adult world wrongly tells you to squash that urge, but this is one time it’s OK to play again.”


Jessie Cannizzaro ’12

The Vertigo-go and Boy Meets Tractor alumna performs eight shows a week in the Harry Potter-inspired Off-Broadway hit Puffs. She’s also in some notable TV commercials. (Constipation’s never been funnier than in her Senokot ad!)

“We live in difficult times,” says Cannizzaro. “I love when the lines between humor and heartbreak are blurred, and when jokes are in conversation with social and political debates. The power and release within laughter are incredibly important.”


Madalyn Baldanzi ’08

Baldanzi got her start taking classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade, where she now teaches, performs, and directs. Lately, her focus has shifted to TV and film scripts, including a fellowship last fall to develop a pilot under the mentorship of Matt Williams (creator of Roseanne and Home Improvement).

“My honors history seminars with professors Bruce Dorsey and Allison Dorsey instilled in me a love of discourse with smart people on interesting subjects,” says Baldanzi. “Writing for television is a lot like this, but instead of talking about Atlantic history, we’re talking about which joke is sillier. That’s the best of both worlds.”


Morgan Phillips ’96

The comedy veteran teaches improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and performs there Tuesday nights with his improv team, Ice Cold Bev. (“Funny to hear about Madalyn,” he laughs. “We’ve seen each other in the UCB teacher’s lounge, but I had no idea she was a Swattie!”)

“Performing improv is sort of like having a lucid dream, but all of your funniest friends are there, too,” says Phillips. “Teaching it feels like letting people in on an amazing, hilarious secret.”

A Galaxy of Swarthmore Humor

A few more examples—not all, by far—of comic stars in the College’s orbit

Lesley Tsina ’96

An actor and comedian, Tsina is also a TV writer (Yabba-Dabba Dinosaurs!) and author (Restart Me Up).

Sitcom Legends

Michael Weithorn ’78 (The King of Queens); Gail Lerner ’92 (Will & Grace, black-ish); Neal Marlens ’79 and Carol Black ’81 (The Wonder Years, Growing Pains, Ellen); and Paul Young ’92 (Key & Peele, black-ish, are among alumni who forever shaped American TV comedy.

Dorothea Lisa Gillim ’86

Emmy winner Gillim makes smart, funny cartoons (WordGirl, Curious George, Pinkalicious & Peterrific).

The Hamburg Show

Read more about 1965’s production of this long-running musical comedy tradition and see the scores for others, including The Follies of 1916 ( and Lucky ’13 (

Leah Gotcsik ’97

Multi-hyphenate Gotcsik (Odd Squad, Creative Galaxy, comedy group Somebody’s in the Doghouse) was Emmy-nominated for writing for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

The Gregory Brothers

With a noble goal to “Songify® the universe,” Evan ’01 and Andrew Gregory ’04—plus brother Michael and Evan’s wife Sarah—apply auto-tune to video clips like the 141 million-times-viewed “Bed Intruder Song.”

Peter Schickele ’57, H’80

Composer, musicologist, and satirist Schickele created P.D.Q. Bach, the “youngest and the oddest of the 20-odd children” of the famed Johann Sebastian Bach.

Tom Snyder ’72

“Squigglevision” guru Snyder (Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist) also wrote a musical comedy, Is Anyone All Right?

Jenny Yang ’00

A standup comedian honored as a White House Champion of Change, Yang penned a powerful piece on discrimination in her field (

Student Humor Magazines

Browse SPIKE, the comics of No Sin at Old Swarthmore, and more, dating back to 1887’s The Alligator.

Krister Johnson ’95

Writer/producer/performer Johnson (Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later; satirical Christian acoustic duo God’s Pottery with Wilson Hall ’95) won an Emmy for co-executive producing Adult Swim’s Childrens Hospital.

Dito van Reigersberg ’94

A co-founder of Pig Iron Theatre Company, van Reigersberg is famous for his iconic character Martha Graham Cracker, a singing, dancing cabaret queen as incisive, politically astute, and funny as she is hairy.

John Erler ’89

Leader of the Austin, Texas, troupe Master Pancake Theater, this “slacker wisecracker” colorfully comments on Hollywood megahits.

Campus Comedy Troupes

Swarthmore’s Vertigo-go and Boy Meets Tractor have produced humor—and provided a stage for budding performers—since 1989 and 2000, respectively.