Real talk everyone: I was only at the Brava Theater to see You’re Whole. While I’m a fan of storytelling in general, and while I’d heard of State alum Kevin Allison’s well regarded podcast, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Even though the big draw for the night was Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter’s pitch-perfect late-night informercial parody, I was delighted by the raw looks into the real lives of some talented comedians.
The show opened with Michael Showalter (The Baxter, Wet Hot American Summer) introducing a very special man he met while performing a college show in the Tampa-Orlando area. He described a series of late night infomercials he watched and then showed us a clip, taken from Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim show “You’re Whole” (Co-created by Showalter and Michael Ian Black). During this introduction, Showalter seemed a little uncertain with his lines and quickly brought out self-help guru and life coach Randall Tyree Manderson, a flawless parody of a thousand infomercial pitchmen played by Michael Ian Black (Stella, VH1’s “I Love The…” Series). Black’s portrayal of Soul Astronaut/Life Coach Manderson is a stunning transformation from his other characters, his ponytail bobbing around as he hopped around the stage in a manic whirlwind.
The pair bantered with clumsy timing in between additional clips from the show and it was difficult to tell if their discomfort on stage was part of the act. The comedy was lively and there were some very well pointed jokes at the expense of San Francisco. At one point, Black turned to Showalter and “turned the tables” on him to interview him. This took Showalter by surprise and he stumbled through his lines, though it was again difficult to separate an authentic lack of preparation from staged awkwardness. That is, until Black briefly dropped character completely to berate Showalter for forgetting his lines and bringing the script on stage with them. Showalter explained that he thought they’d have at least forty five minutes to prepare, Black teased him good naturedly and quickly ended the show. At this point, Showalter began to improvise and asked if there was time for a Q&A, explaining that he was “afraid to leave the stage” because he was concerned that Michael Ian Black was angry with him. Black did not disagree with Showalter’s theory.
Immediately following the rather abrupt ending to You’re Whole (congratulations for making it through that entire review without making a dirty pun based on the name can be left in the comments) Kevin Allison bounded on stage and launched into a story about his brief foray into prostitution in the days before MTV picked up The State. At that moment it became clear that this would be a storytelling series dramatically unlike anything I’d hear on NPR. At the conclusion of his story (which featured helpful rules for first time hustlers and a self-effacing conclusion) he introduced the first storyteller: Stephen Tobolowsky (Groundhog’s Day, Heroes).
Tobolowsky recalled a story where he directed a play starring a pre-Broadcast News Holly Hunter while she feared for her life from a dangerous stalker. While the story was a bit name-droppy, it was a fascinating look into his friendship with Hunter and the inner workings of the New York theater scene. Despite the fact that it involved a knife fight and an arrest by the FBI it was the most tame story of the night.
Dana Gould (Seinfeld, producer of Parks & Recreation) followed with a story about his friendship with Plan 9 From Outer Space star Vampira (Maila Nurmi). They met late in her life and he found himself her pen pal and ultimately helping her find a new apartment through a series of misadventures and with the help of not one but two Alice Cooper look-a-likes. The story had a bittersweet ending, but one that was full of hope.
San Francisco native Nato Green (Writer for Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, Laughter Against the Machine) told a tale of the time he was almost molested, but was too self-absorbed to notice the older gentleman’s advances. It was a San Francisco slice of life/molestation cautionary tale/screed on the value of teenaged rebellion and came together very well at the end.
The high-point of the evening was Brendon Walsh (host of the podcast The Bone Zone, featured comedian on Jimmy Kimmel, Conan and more) who told a riotously funny story about brutal teenage violence, complete with concussions, grown men playing basketball, hiding under cars, brass knuckles, aggravated assault charges stemming from brass knuckles, baseball bat wielding firemen, assault-for-hire, police brutality and more. It was raw and humorous while also being terribly, terribly violent. Walsh warned us that we wouldn’t be happy about the story, but I think we were able to overlook his incredibly bad behavior in service of the story.
Though I didn’t intend to sit on an evening of storytelling, I’m very glad to have been able to witness something with considerably more edge and truth than your average comedy show.