Tuesday, August 08, 2006

They're all naked? I...need a bloody mary: Surviving comedy (barely)

Maybe you've just finished reading Hatchet for school, or Netflix'd Alive, or perhaps, despite being the type of person who openly mocks reality shows, you're chilling out in front of your television on a Thursday night watching Jeff Probst smarm his way through another episode of Survivor. Inevitably, you ask yourself the question, "what would I do?" "How would I survive?" Most people are confident that their primal skills will kick in and they will be naturally adept at spear fishing. They will know which berries are poisonous and which are simply delicious. They dream of fashioning clothing out of foliage and animal skins, of killing with their bare hands. I hold no such delusions; being raised a vegetarian, I am, in a word, fucked.

Luckily, living in New York doesn't present many opportunities for me to die a slow, painful death due to my lack of survival skills. I may have no sense of direction, but I can find my way around a grid, and I am never more than thirty feet away from a bagel. The Jews may start all the wars in the world, but they do make a delightful breakfast food.

Perhaps I ensconced myself a little too much in my plastic bubble of urban safety, rocked myself to sleep one too many times to the refrain of, "it'll never happen to me," because last weekend, I found myself face-to-face with humanity at its most basic: inside the UCB theater for the Del Close marathon.

Once a year, for $20, you get seventy-four straight hours filled with Improv comedy. Seems like a good deal, if you're into that sort of thing. I am into that sort of thing, so the prospect of this was very exciting. Sure, there were going to be a lot of troupes I had never heard of, but there would also be people from Saturday Night Live, Best Week Ever, and my personal heroes, The Upright Citizens Brigade. Three days, nearly 150 shows, one wristband, and you could come and go as you pleased--in theory, at least.

So here's the first thing I learned: My friends and I aren't the only people in New York who think this would be fun. When I arrive, slightly tipsy from an elongated happy hour, at 10 pm on Friday night, there is a huge line to get in. I find Charlie, and we wait in line for Dave and Laura. It takes over an hour to get in, and I miss the first two shows that I had wanted to see. That's when I realize this shit is serious.

Sure, they say you can come and go as you please, but if you want to see specific shows, you'd better keep your ass in that chair, because once you leave, it can be hours before you get back in. I stayed until about 3 in the morning the first night, and went home knowing that I would need to come correct the next day.

I arrived at 4:30 in the afternoon, armed with gatorade and a box of cheese crackers. Unlike the night before, I was dressed in comfortable clothes and had plenty of cash. I got in line, and shortly after Charlie met me, he made a run for fruit and protein shakes. I was fortified and ready. I was staying through the entire night.

There's not much I can really say about the next 16 or so hours. Over a week later, I'm still trying to make sense of it myself. After a Friday night that included Horatio Sanz in a Dr. Phil costume consisting of a plastic breast on the top of his head for a bald cap and a piece of electrical tape serving as his mustache, and a group called "Emanciprov" that featured Matt Walsh as a bullwhip-wielding slave driver, I thought I was reasonably prepared. I was reasonably wrong.

It was the type of evening in which two guys did a thirty-minute comedy show as Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

It was the type of evening that had beer chugging and banana eating contests between the performers and various audience members.

It was the type of evening in which a dude dressed as Flipper attacked people.

It was the type of evening that featured a comedic wrestling show, that ended with one of the members taking off his clothes and running around the stage with birthday cake on his ass.

It was the type of evening in which I found myself on stage, slow dancing with a stranger to Benny and the Jets at 3:30 in the morning.

It was the type of evening that dissolved into chaos, prompting a very tired Doug Benson to leave the stage in the middle of a performance, saying "this is stupid" and hang out with his tiny Asian girlfriend in the row behind us.

The thing about the Del Close marathon is, once you're in, all vestiges of polite society leave. The effect of a black, windowless theater and a non-stop assault of comedy causes everybody who shares the space to become immediately feral. Survival instincts kick in and you start looking around, figuring out who you can get away with killing. At 8 am, you giggle because there are four guys over there drinking beers, shirtless. Then one stands up and you realize they are completely naked. And nobody says a word as they help themselves to the donuts that one of the troupes thoughtfully provided.

At the end of the marathon, once your friends have all left you, and it's been over thirty hours since you've slept, you may find yourself having a short conversation with Ian Roberts in the middle of one of his shows about how you don't like talking about being a vegetarian. "Good, so you know it's wrong then." he says to you. And you do know. Because even in New York theater, the time may come when you need to kill to survive.

1 comment:

Sorta Runner Guy said...

You make with the writing good. You should, you know, sell the writing in New York then invite me there to hang out with all your socialite friends and Truman Capote.