Monday, March 28, 2011

Laughing Matters Interview

"Monkeys is the craziest people” was the famous catch phrase of 1940s comedian Lew Lehr. Eventually, he turned that around to, “People is the craziest monkeys.” This nugget of comedy trivia has more than a grain of truth—as the daily news cycle proves. Us naked apes are the craziest monkeys of the whole bunch. Florida Studio Theatre’s Laughing Matters: Unconditional Surrender shamelessly turns humanity's craziness into comedy. This year’s production marks the fourth installment of the popular comedic review at the Goldstein Cabaret. The current cast includes past performers Jamie Day, and Stephen Hope and Richie McCall and newcomer Gavin Esham. Langford wrote the sketches and song parodies, along with Stephen deGhelder, W. Joseph Matheson, Jim “the Piano Man” Prosser and Adam Ratner. Richard Hopkins, FST’s artistic director, will direct the monkey business. In the following interview, Langford and Hopkins share some thoughts about the production:

How would you describe Laughing Matters to a Man from Mars who’s never heard of it?
Hopkins: I’d say that it’s like Saturday Night Live put to music. Assuming the Man from Mars had heard of Saturday Night Live
Langford: You could also compare it to The Capitol Steps. It’s satire to the tune of Broadway melodies in that tradition. The difference is, we tackle both social and political subjects on a local and national level. It’s all up for grabs.

Do you have to be up on the news to get the jokes?
Langford: If you get the jokes on The Daily Show, you’ll get the jokes in Laughing Matters. You don’t have to be a news junkie to have a good time. And it’s not just news. It’s the whole human comedy.
Hopkins: Exactly. Humor is our starting point. It’s not a political science class, it’s a comedy, and we play it pretty broad. As a director, I send the actors in different directions. A Man from Mars might miss the political references. But there’s plenty of physical comedy and universal human comedy to laugh at.
Langford: And we’re laughing with people more than we’re laughing at them. It’s satire without a mean streak. We don’t want to lay into anyone.
Hopkins: It’s never been mean-spirited.

Who are the targets?
Langford: Everybody and everything. Health care. President Obama …
Hopkins: Local issues like high speed rail and roundabouts.
Charlie Sheen?
Langford: He might make an appearance.

Is there a political slant? A theory?
Langford: No. Just the theory that people are essentially crazy. We try to stay evenhanded. We have no political axe to grind.

OK, but just to clarify—people are crazy?
Langford: Yeah. But that’s great! We’re not attacking the crazy side of human nature. We love it—because we know we’ll never run out of material. That’s what keeps us in the comedy business. 

And that’s not a left wing or right wing business?
Hopkins: No. Comedy’s comedy.

You don’t want to preach to the choir?
Langford: Preaching to the choir is pretty much impossible at FST. Our audience is 50% Republican, 50% Democrat. We wind up making fun of everybody.

How would you describe the creative process?
Hopkins: It’s no laughing matter.

That’s funny.
Langford: Seriously, comedy isn’t a cakewalk. I write a lot of the sketches, but I can’t do it alone. The great thing about this show is it’s very collaborative. I’m blessed to be working with a team of good writers, but it’s still hard work.

How does the collaboration work?
Langford: We start with a ton of song parody ideas and winnow it down. The material is always topical and we’re constantly changing it right up to the last minute. We all push each other to make the show better. And that makes us better. We all grow creatively—and it all pours into the show. 

I assume the writers’ words aren’t written in stone?
Hopkins: No. The actors are free to change their lines. They can shape the speech to their own tongue and make the words their own. We encourage them to come up with their own material, to bring things to the table. They have to be on their A-game. That can be very liberating. And a little intimidating, if the actor isn’t used to it.

And the writers don’t object? No bruised egos?
Hopkins: No. Comedy comes first, and ego comes last. Our prime directive is: “Let’s make it funny.” As Rebecca said, it’s a team effort.
Langford: Yeah. And I really want to say, I love the team approach. That’s the fun part, and that’s what I love about this show. We’re all on the same page. We just want to make it funnier and funnier. If somebody has a better idea, we go for it. That’s what makes it one of the more fun shows to work on.
Hopkins: And the hardest. We’re constantly refining, right up to the last minute.

So you’re adjusting the timing, seeing what works on stage?
Hopkins: We’re shaping as we go, you bet. Rebecca will look over my shoulder and say, ‘Hey you missed that laugh,’ and I’ll go back and pick it up. Every good musical revue, comedic or not, has a structure, a shape and its own emotional intelligence. As a director, my job is akin to sculpting an image out a block of material. I carve away until I’m left with the essence. 

So, some comedy gets left on the cutting room floor?
Langford: Yeah. Some of my favorite pieces didn’t make it. They’re too extreme; they’re duplicates; they’re not timely anymore. That always happens. We really have to boil it down.

Are the actors free to improvise?
Langford: Absolutely. Every performance is different. The actors stick to the script on the song parodies. They’re free to get creative with their spoken dialogue. It’s not a canned thing. We want it fresh every night—and I can promise you it will be.
Hopkins: It’s never the same show twice. That’s why our audience looks forward to it.

Do people collar you in supermarkets and say, “When’s the next Laughing Matters coming out?”
Hopkins: Yeah. And that’s a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is there’s a dedicated fan base. That bad thing is we always have to be better than last time.
Langford: And it always is.
Hopkins: But that puts us under a unique pressure. The energy and effort that goes into it is amazing.

Now the pressure’s off?
Langford: We’re already working on the next show. 

Well, hopefully you’ll have some fresh craziness to work with.
Langford: I don’t think I’m worried about it.
Hopkins: Yeah. That’s never been a problem.

Laughing Matters: Unconditional Surrender
April 1 through June 19
Florida Studio Theatre
Goldstein Cabaret
1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota

1 comment:

Comedy said...

Great comic, i like it, make me laugh...
Broadway Comedy Club. this is what the comedians do these things.