Thursday, September 22, 2005

Playwright's Weekend

“I haven’t been so uncomfortable since I first tried anal.”

That quote may be the best way to describe how several people felt during a good portion of our semiannual fundraiser this past Saturday. More on the above quote in a minute.

There are times I have to admit to myself that being a self-producing Off-off-Broadway playwright is just plain weird. The most obvious way to elaborate is to simply explain to you, dear readers, how my weekend went.

Nosedive’s semiannual fundraiser comedy show, this time entitled “Nosedive’s Bucket o’ Chum,” came and went on Saturday. Was it a success? Yes and no.

Financially — and in terms of what we set out to do — it was very much a success. We had a full house, made a sizable profit and will be able to use this money to finance a good portion of our December production of A Very Nosedive Christmas Carol.

As for the actual event itself, well…to be fair, you’d probably have to ask the audience. I’m going to go ahead and assume, however, that many audience members have seen better nights.

It started off well enough (with the exception of technical glitches; the Looking Glass Theatre did not provide us with any stage lights and the tap for our keg was being particularly tempestuous. Seriously, for a bunch of drunks like the ones in Nosedive you’d think at least one of us could successfully tap a keg). Our opening sketches got laughs, as did our mini movies we shot for this shindig.

But all of that changed once we did our “Jesus Doing Topical Stand-Up Sketch.”

For those who weren’t there, the idea was that Jesus, played by Scot Williams, was accepting a Humanitarian of the Year Award, and was a complete dick. His acceptance speech would basically consist of racist jokes and jokes about Hurricane Katrina, followed by a version of the Aristocrats joke. The Nosedive gang, of course, would lynch and crucify him (get it? Ha, ha!).

It didn’t work.

We got some gasps, some moans and some uncomfortable silence. Not laughter. It went over like we lobbed a hot and used diaper at the audience.

The original idea was not to espouse a racist mindset, but to mock it. Scot's a very religious guy and has a huge problem with the way the Christian Right has hijacked religion in America (hell, who doesn’t?). We saw the sketch as an indictment of the right-wing racism that helped increase the death toll in New Orleans.

[Also, in case you haven’t noticed, I personally derive a great deal of pleasure offending the histrionic left. I do have the habit of offending people solely for the purpose of offending people (with New York liberals, it’s even easier than offending the Christian Right sometimes). I really should try to fix this annoying habit of mine. So, obviously, Nosedive often goes in the direction of deliberate button pushing and antagonizing. (Sorry about that.)]

Unfortunately, the monologue ended up being so heavy handed that all attempts at satire were lost in the end. It wasn’t funny, simply offensive (and I’m not blaming Scot here; he went balls-to-the-wall with this, without fear, and I for one admire his chutzpah).

Of course, as I’m writing this, I am getting reports that a number of people really did enjoy themselves, although they agreed that the Jesus sketch was a train wreck.

My sincere apologies to everyone who came to this wanting to relax and have a good time and, instead, got very offended. We dropped the ball on that one.

After the sketch, we overheard from a female audience member give the aforementioned quote: “I haven’t been so uncomfortable since I first tried anal.” Beautiful. Seriously, we’ll be holding onto that line and using in future press material forever.


With some exceptions, many of our “regulars” were unable to attend this one. Someone who was able to attend was—with his wife—Pete and my high school theatre director, Steve Kelsey.

My initial reactions upon him entering the theatre were both, “Wow, excellent!” and “GAH!” “Wow, excellent!” because it was great seeing him and Priscilla and I was very touched that they came all the way from South Carolina to see our silliness, and “GAH!” because…well…we want them to have a positive impression of us.

I had to warn Steve that if they were expecting to see a fully rehearsed, tightly scripted and directed play, they were going to be sorely disappointed. “Think of this as one of our high school sketch comedy shows…only more unprofessional.”

I’m guessing we didn’t disappoint.

At any rate, as for how Steve found out about the show? He found out from reading Jamespeak. Who knew?

* * *

So that was Saturday.

On Sunday, Pete, Patrick and I went to see some staged readings presented by this new theatre company, Wild Child. And one of the scripts being read was “The Attempt,” by yours truly.

Earlier last week at a reading I ran into another playwright I know very peripherally (Jason Parker Green) who happened to be looking for short scripts. The next day, I sent him three (“The Attempt,” “Jiffy Squid” and the 10-minute Miss Tyler monologue from Monkeys). He chose “The Attempt,” which was read on Sunday along with 6 other scripts (two from Mr. Green, two from Mac Rogers and two from a playwright named Robert Steager).

It was a blast.

All of the plays were fun. I was of course terrified that mine would stand out as the shitty one, but that didn’t seem to be the case. The actors did an excellent job and the audience laughed.

It was a huge relief (HUGE relief) to see actors reading a script of mine without me having to worry about finding a space, spending money, publicizing or roping in favors from friends for potential audience members. Not only that, but it was super-fun to hear one of my plays being read by two actors I had never met before that night (and wonderful to see that it went over well with the audience).

It also made me feel better about the idea of submitting my scripts to other groups, since for the longest time it’s always ended up being some sort of scam (scam in that, in previous cases, I wouldn’t be rejected, but I’d be given a weird runaround from the group,* or they would fold, or otherwise not be able to get/keep their proverbial “shit together” to mount a production or even a reading).

Going from being Persona Non Grata to an Acceptable Member of Society within a 24-hour period is really nothing new to this bizarre underground shtick.

There are times I have to admit to myself that being a self-producing Off-off-Broadway playwright is just plain weird.

Offending and pleasing people
within the span of 24 hours,

James “Whiplash” Comtois

September 22, 2005

*By “runaround,” I mean there have been more than a few times where I’ve been told that the group was definitely staging the show, then I receive word that the group has folded, or abandoned the project, then I received word from another person even later that the project hadn’t been abandoned, but they went with another script. After this happening a number of times, whenever I’ve been asked for scripts of mine from other people or companies, my initial thought is that it’s a scam that leads nowhere.


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