Strictly Come Laughing

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

In the last few years I lived in LA, I had a freelance job as stage manager for a number of small productions, usually for a limited run, and mostly at the Zephyr Theatre on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. I frequently got in conversations with cast members, and in one particular conversation with a play’s director, I commented, “I’ve worked with actors, comedians, and musicians, and would be hard pressed to tell you which of those is the most neurotic.” The director’s only comment was, “Then you’ve never worked with DANCERS!” To that, I could only laugh, since his comment conjured up images of those malnourished, obsessive-compulsive, and whiny dancers I’d encountered at various times.
It was that director’s comment that I flashed back on when the MC of the once-monthly comedy night at my neighborhood Shaftesbury Pub asked if I’d like to participate in an experimental show called “Laugh/Dance,” which incorporated interpretive dance with stand-up comedy. My first thought was “How the fuck is he gonna pull this off?” But then my second thought, after he told me the date, was “What the fuck else I got going on on Wednesday nights other than the weekly pub quiz?” Yes, it meant finding out for myself whether dancers are the pre-conceived notion I had, or whether there’d be exceptions. I found out almost right away that there were indeed exceptions.
Maybe it was because the dancers were all clearly under 30 (as were nearly all the cast, which made my presence seem even MORE strange) and non-professional, or maybe they recognized this was mostly for a lark, but whatever the case, they were a delight to work with. And even more astonishing was the rehearsal yesterday, in which the troupe, given a total of about an hour to sort out their routine behind me, just freaking DID it! No complaints about lighting, or being upstaged, or who had more segments, or any number of prima donna episodes one might expect.
Considering that some of my bits were almost as old as some of the cast members, it was great to see them being given a whole different spin, or maybe even a kick-turn. My ever-developing boy-band “tribute” was given the treatment, from the dancers’ end, of all the cheesy predictable choreography you’d associate with all those “bands.” I worried about their routine encompassing mine, which is to pick songs by the different groups that are all in the same key and tempo, do the songs back to back, then comment sarcastically on how the “art-form” has so obviously developed. Somehow it all worked that the dancers visibly enhanced what I was doing, yet when the punch line came, they yielded. I got my laugh, and we could move on.
One thing I made absolutely sure not to do was ever actually look at what they were doing, because I know that if I did, I’d have probably cracked up, and maybe even lost focus. Especially clever was the idea that for my closing bit, a country/rockabilly version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” four of the dancers lined up symmetrically the way the members of Queen did in the original video, and only moved their heads. I can’t wait to see the video just to see how closely synchronized their head movements were. Since they’re not a “serious professional” troupe, I’m sure there’s a mountain of screw-ups, but what the hell, it’s live theatre!
Is there a future for this sort of thing? I don’t know, but a tip of the hat to the comedian Stu Richards, who put the whole thing together. For starters, despite being white and heterosexual, he can dance quite well himself. There has been talk about bringing it to Edinburgh Festival, but whether that really happens, and whether I’m a continual part of it still remain to be seen. The other three comics who performed, as well as Stu, were very much the type of fringe act that Edinburgh loves, so of course I’d wonder if I’m too mainstream.
In the meantime, I’m just elated to have given a new coat of paint to the wall of material that too many times I’ve sleep-walked through. With the gig being in a theatre rather than a night club, it meant a whole different breed of audience. No punters waiting with bated breath for a dick joke, though there were indeed a couple of them in the show, including a running gag “cock suck” routine from the dancers. A good night for everybody, including my pub quiz team, who won WITHOUT me!

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