This Is &%&$#@# Hilarious!
At least that’s what the folks from The Perch—a seven-year-old sketch comedy outfit—want you to think
(This article was originally published in the May 2001 issue.)
They’re staring at you, hundreds of them, when you first open the door: The Torsos with the Smiling Face. It’s the same person, over and over and over, grinning cheesily at you, mocking you with his pale face, neatly shorn hair, and brown banker’s suit. They could be a minor actor in a sitcom, or they could be any young male in SouthPark or downtown Charlotte.
The Torsos with the Smiling Face are cardboard cutouts that cover the walls of the stairwell leading up to the “lobby" (actually a card table in the hall) at The Perch. He’s not exactly the kind of person you would expect to find at The Perch, a sketch comedy theater with an alternative edge. Of course, folks like him do come here, because even repressed white guys need to feel hip once in a while.
Shannan Brice, who acts in the skits, directs, writes, handles auditions, and, oh yes, owns The Perch, says that people are all the time saying, “I know that guy from somewhere," or “I think I dated that guy." But, as Brice puts it, “It’s just a guy who got paid $50 in L. A. ten years ago to have his picture taken." The cutout was used as an extra in the Charlotte Coliseum scenes of Eddie, the Whoopi Goldberg movie made here in 1995.
So we finally made it up the stairs, which was inevitable, and there was Brice. She took our $8 and gave us “the grand tour." To take the grand tour, you turn your head right, then left. To the left is the stage room and the bathroom. To the right is the prop room and the kitchen, where the actors were smoking cigarettes and making farting sounds. Depending on your view of comedy, this was either extremely promising or a danger sign.
By the time we got inside, the only seats left were directly in front of the stage. There were three people between us and the stage, but they moved. Cowards.
The Perch is not an upscale venue; Brice says “it looks like someone’s attic." The wooden stage fronts an amalgam of fabric-covered couches and chairs that look like rejects from the Salvation Army. “People will actually drive up and drop off couches outside the front door," Brice says, “and we’re like, thank you."
Art made by former Perchers covers the walls, and props Brice has rescued from movie sets she has worked on appear at intervals. To the right of the stage sits a miniscule area that holds Dawn Patrol, the three-person house band. As we settled in, I noticed a guy—he could have been The Torso’s brother—looking around in wonder.
Tonight’s program was an “audience favorites" show, sort of a greatest hits of the past few months. The first skit, “I Wanna Be," was a hilarious send-up of the Kid Rock song “Cowboy." The chorus goes, “I wanna be Al Gore baby/With my plastic hair and white teeth shining."
Sean Keenan, who resembles a combination of actors Ben Affleck and Jason Lee in both appearance and delivery (Although he’s not as good looking as Affleck and not as goofy as Lee. And he has a pony tail), took the lead on this one, and he was pimped out to the max—decked out in fur coat and cowboy hat.
Keenan has been with The Perch almost since Brice and her ex-husband, A. Blaine Martin, founded it in June 1994. He attended a show and left thinking, “That was funny. But you know what would make it funnier? If I was in it." So he auditioned, and, after some anxious moments, he made it. Brice said the stand-up comic wasn’t that good, “but he could write."
Keenan has developed his stage persona. He now serves as the head writer and what passes for the lead actor. “I used to write a lot about nuns," he says.
The next skits took place in a movie theater (in which a twitchy theater-goer pummels an obnoxious cell-phone user, which brought more satisfaction than laughs), at the filming of a beer commercial (can’t print the punch line here, but it was pretty funny), and at a booth in a shopping mall (a very funny skit involving an apathetic clerk and an incompetent would-be criminal). They were pretty good, but no one was forgetting Monty Python.
At this point, I should point out The Perch’s motto: “Cheerfully offending Charlotte since 1994." These skits are rated R for every possible reason you could imagine except nudity (although they’ve had that, too—something about men wearing only cowboy boots and hats).
Despite the raunchy content, the audience features a range of ages, which has always mystified Keenan. “Personally, I can’t think of anything more uncomfortable than sitting next to my dad listening to dick jokes."
The next three skits took the comedy to a new level. “Titillating Trio" satirized the movie Charlie’s Angels. The actors, only one of which was female, sported gigantic fake breasts and subdued the bad guy, Bosley’s evil twin but with a Scottish accent, by shaking them in his face. Trust me, it was funnier in person.
Next up was “Sporting Wood," a song parody to the tune of John Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good." It featured Keenan as a dancing redneck trying to, um, seduce his girlfriend. You can use your imagination on this one, but it had the crowd rolling.
“Breaking Up" followed, about a gay man breaking up with his roommate, who, it turned out, he was not dating and who was not gay.
“How do you explain all the late-night hugs and kisses?" the gay character asked.
“Well, I drink. A lot," came the reply.
The best skit, by a long shot, was “The Critics." Anyone who has experienced this skit is one, lucky, and, two, smiling right now.
There are two characters in it, a stodgy female movie critic, played by Brice, and an anatomically correct baby, voiced by Keenan. The two take turns reviewing movies. The baby is reminiscent of an abrasive, old-style comedian, the kind that would play smoky clubs in New Jersey. He not only doesn’t embrace the phrase politically correct, he couldn’t even spell it. Tonight, the duo discusses Autumn in New York, the Richard Gere/Winona Ryder chick flick, and College Girls Gone Wild, which exists in a number of variations. Talking Baby’s review consisted of a series of macho utterances (one-word review of Autumn: “Sucks!") spiced by interjections of “talking baby!" and “yeaahhh!" and “wooo!" You know what’s coming, but you can’t help but laugh because of the way he says it, and because he’s a talking baby.
If Talking Baby were a Saturday Night Live character, he would have a movie vehicle in the works. Keenan explains Talking Baby’s creation this way: “That character came from me watching Siskel and Ebert after Ebert had died and Siskel was still doing the show by himself. And I thought, ‘What is the weirdest thing you could possibly have [in place of Ebert]?’ "
The rest of the skits are either a blur or too, ah, adult, to print. The last skit, “Down the Tubes,” made for a fun and fitting finale. It involved Pink Floyd and giant sperm. When one of the sperm slammed his head into a wall and wiggled his body wildly, the crowd roared its approval.
As we filed out, the actors scrambled around picking up litter—no cleanup crew here.
Picking our way through the line waiting in the stairwell for the next show, a couple read the program worriedly.
“Where’s Talking Baby? Is it on here?"
“Oh, it’s on there," I thought. And I laughed. Again.