One of the best things about SF Sketchfest is that it brings fantastic comedic talent we might not otherwise have a lot of opportunity to see right here to the Bay Area. For example, Megan Mullally. The woman is equal parts brilliantly funny and beautiful. I’ve been a fan of hers since Will & Grace, though admittedly haven’t followed her career as closely as perhaps I should have. That’s why I’d never heard of her musical act (a duo with funny girl Stephanie Hunt, who I know from How to Live with Your Parents…, Californication, and Friday Night Lights), Nancy and Beth.Anyway, thanks to Sketchfest’s awesome musical offerings, I was able to catch their set last Friday night at SF’s JCC with the utterly wonderful and hilarious opener The Lampshades, and one night was all it took to make a fan out of me!
A sweet friend of mine posted on Facebook a week or so ago that she’s a huge fan of Nancy and Beth, and was going to this show. The only minor bummer about Sketchfest shows is that I often go alone: last night, I didn’t have to. So Tiffany and I met in the city and easily nabbed two great seats near the front, ready for the fun to begin. A few minutes past eight, the lights went down and The Lampshades took their places. They are Kate Flannery (of The Office) and Scot Robinson (from Anchorman), and they were hilarious. They could have easily been headliners, but I mean that with all due respect to the wonderful Nancy and Beth; I only mean to say that The Lampshades are brilliant on their own. We were simply lucky to get to see it all in the same night!
A phony lounge act whose material I’ll try hard not to burn, the schtick is that they’re not a couple, which they iterate repeatedly, but “Kassie” (Flannery) is secretly madly in love with “Hori” (Robinson). It adds a bit of fun to the set, as they return to the theme again and again, all the while reminding the audience, “we’re not a couple!” After briefly mentioning a recent performance at NASA, they opened with a dedication: “this one goes out to all you space nuts! Hit it!” The first song was a mash-up of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” which not only worked quite well, but was fantastic. Flannery isn’t afraid to really go all out with her physical comedy, and both have great voices, though they make comedic choices over artistic ones whenever possible. “Thank you so much! We’re The Lampshades, thank you! How nice, how unexpected! Thank you!”
Another theme throughout the duo’s set was Hori’s drinking problem, and right away he checked in to make sure everyone else was drinking. Kassie mentioned something about a favorite drink of hers, a “White Trash Russian,” which she said was vodka and Yoohoo, as they began their next song, the Doors’ “Light My Fire,” which featured a great little dance moment – their choreography, like the rest of their act, is perfectly timed and arranged for maximum laughter. After the song, they explained that they’d also recently performed for “six hundred sober gays” in Palm Springs, and event called “Hot and Dry,” and that they’d opened for Debbie Gibson. After briefly admitting that they’d only learned half of the next song, asking the crowd to “bear with us,” they performed their “work in progress” rendition of Journey’s “Open Arms” next, which was (the good, funny kind of) wretched and fabulous. At it’s conclusion, they decided that perhaps they “don’t need to learn the other half… less is more!”
Hori took a break from singing to read a bit from Sammy Davis, Jr’s book Yes I Can, and then while Kassie gave a bit of encouragement to “young and not-so-young” aspiring performers, Hori promptly fell asleep, his drink in one hand, cigarette still in his mouth. Kassie seized her moment to confess her feelings in song, covering The Carpenters’ “Close to You” in a pathetic, brilliantly weepy voice. Upon his waking, Hori asked, “did I just piss myself?”
“You spilled your drink,” Kassie assured him as they began the next song, a mash-up of Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” and Looking Glass’ “Brandy” that worked wonderfully with the built-in rhymes. At the song’s close, while Kassie was busy scatting away, Horry implored the crowd for a refill in his empty glass before finally wandering off to find one on his own. She was still going by the time he came back, so they finished the song together. With a pause to plug their “sponsors,” the Lampshades sang what I can only describe as an unintelligible jingle in an Asian tongue; the only words I could understand were “dragon” and “cookies.”
When Kassie took a little soapbox moment to proclaim herself “pro misery,” meaning marriage, including the gays, she set up the next song, a cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” After, they decided it was a good time to get to know the audience. After singling out a man who worked in retail and a woman who works from home (in medical benefits), they explained that normally, they perform in Hollywood. (“In a building, not on the street.”) After a quick plug for their website and a shout out to Nancy and Beth, they closed with their last song. Sadly, it wasn’t a song I knew, but the best part was when Hori added in little details about the people he’d picked on in the crowd. After their set was a little intermission before Nancy and Beth, and not only did Tiffany and I sing the Lampshades’ praises, but a couple sitting behind me (who’d asked if I was a journalist because I was sitting in a “reserved” seat) made me promise I’d give the duo a rave review. As if I could do anything else! They were phenomenal: hilarious, clever, awful and wonderful. That’s everything I expect musical comedy to be, and I’ll definitely be looking for more of them when I’m in LA next.
After intermission, it wasn’t long until the lights went dark once again. Nancy and Beth’s first song began while it was still dark, and was immediately catchy, full of tambourines. It was “Please Mr. Jailer” (from Cry-Baby), and they made a grand, silly, fabulous entrance, decked out ridiculously in jumpsuits. Mullally’s was a man-made leather get-up from somewhere between the late 80s and early 90s, topped off with gold necklaces aplenty and crazy boots that reminded me of Napoleon Dynamite’s. Hunt wore ankle boots with a big red, white, and blue jacket stitched with “USA” over a drop-crotch, ankle-length, overall-style jumpsuit; somehow, though, she pulled it off. It was literally one of the wackiest pieces of clothing I think I’ve ever seen, but she’s adorable and wore it like it wasn’t strange in any way, so it worked. Their next song was “One Mint Julep” (made famous by The Clovers and Ray Charles), and I began to quickly appreciate the comedic timing that goes into their hilarious choreography. They were perfectly in synch, perfectly in harmony, and absolutely delicious. There are many elements that make up Nancy and Beth, not the least of which is actual vocal talent, but of course comedy is a huge ingredient, too. Hunt’s deadpan, for example, is flawless.
“Thank you so much!” Mullally said in welcome. “Sketchfest!” Unceremoniously explaining the she was going to be “hockin up some loogies” during the show was her way of explaining that she was ill.
“That’s what we love about you, Meg,” Hunt encouraged. “You make it sexy. You make it work!” Mullally went on to reveal that she’d gotten her jumpsuit in San Francisco before walking to the side of the stage to relieve herself of her phlegm situation. (Honestly, I had thought she might have been exaggerating. Turned out she was honestly warning us that she’d have no choice but to do that in order to get through the set. I don’t think anyone cared; I know we certainly didn’t if it allowed her to bring us a night of such fun!) They were there, Mullally explained, to “dance and sing for your entertainment pleasure,” but added that they couldn’t be dragged away from the mirror easily pre-perfomance. “It doesn’t look like it! But it’s a fight to the death… and this is what you get! Did someone just growl like a tiger?! That’s very flattering. I take that as a compliment!”
The conversation went on to reveal that Hunt, too, had bought her jacket while in the city, “in honor of the Olympics.” Someone died for her to have it, she insisted: an Olympian. “That’s how life goes,” she shrugged sadly. “Take us to church, Meg. Let’s go all Jesus.” Without further ado, the next song was “Waiting for My Child” (notably performed by the Consolers, Patty Griffin, and Mavis Staples). At this point, I had to note: I get that they’re a comedy act, too, but they’re both quite good. They sound lovely together. “Thank you so much! That’s an old spiritual. I wonder if anybody dressed like this has ever done that song before? It’s an honor that we’re the first, even if it’s a little sacreligious.” Next came Dustin Kensrue’s “Blood & Wine,” which again featured the fabulous tambourine play. At the end of the song, Hunt and Mullally threw them down in unison. “Is it time for our big prop? They gave us three chairs! We only asked for two! This place has gone all out! Thank you, Sketchfest! What next?! E-cigs? Please, nobody ever smoke e-cigs. That is so queer!” Mullally begged, before lamenting that they couldn’t “just sit there” in their chairs, that they had “to entertain the masses,” quicky catching herself and adding, “we think of you as individuals; that was just a joke!” Explaining that her cousin was in the audience, Mullally threw a shout-out: “Hi Maggie, hi Bruce! That’s two people, not one with split personalities.” After thanking the EMT who’d given her prednisone so that she could sing, Mullally asked the crowd if they were ready for some jazz. Last time they performed the next song in San Francisco, Mullally explained, had been in a tiny club with the audience right up next to them. “And we were both wearing miniskirts. Keep that in mind!” As they began Nellie Lutcher’s “Fine Brown Frame,” punctuated perfectly by a fabulously risque little chair routine, it was easy to understand why Mullally had noted the closeness of the previous audience and that the two had been wearing short skirts. Indeed, my friend had been in attendance that night, too, and when I asked her if they “just went for it,” she confirmed that in fact they had. It was around this point in the evening that I noted ok, I’m officially a fan. These girls can really sing, they’re both adorable, and they’re such fabulously funny women!
“Let’s turn this into a talk show. We’ll have people from the audience come up and we’ll interview them…” Mullally suggested, though she was clearly not serious, calling audience participation “nerve-wracking” and “the worst.” She went on to tell a story about a time when, while in her 20s, she’d been on stage with Penn and Teller, who juggled three axes in front of her face, whispering “just don’t move” to her. “Only in your twenties!” After pausing to give a shout out to the fabulous Lampshades, who she said were “keeping their shit tight,” Mullally introduced the members of the Nancy and Beth band. “Alright, let’s do a song.” Next up was Louis Jordan song “Jack, You’re Dead,” which was wonderful like the majority of numbers of the evening. During the routine, Mullally laughed at her own dance moves, and discovered at its conclusion that she’d lost an earring, one of them calling it an “earring tragedy:” She found the missing earring on the floor, declared that she couldn’t put it back in, and said, “fuck it. I’m gonna do this earring-free.” Meanwhile, Hunt finally had to shed the outer layer that was her USA jacket. Mullally encouraged her, saying, “you don’t need that crutch” while Hunt shrugged and said “fuck the Olympics.” (Disclaimer: Hunt in no way actually opposes the Olympics, I’m quite certain. It wasn’t a political statement, just a comedic one!) Mullally went back to the earring thing once more, explaining that she “used to not be a germaphobe,” but that she saw a guy on TV saying something about anything being covered in millions of germs as soon as it touches the floor. At the time, she said she thought, “yeah, fuck you!” but then, somehow, she ended up also believing him. “It crept in!”
Next came a “maudlin country song,” George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which concluded with Hunt and Mullally shaking hands. They are such fun, charming ladies, I really could watch them sing all day, every day. “Rock and roll!” One of them shouted at the song’s end.
“I’m pretty sure that’s not a rock and roll song,” the other replied.
“It’s kinda rock and roll…”
“I got some hocking to do, Stephanie. Start talking!”
“Megan and I were both born in 1989,” Hunt obliged immediately. “It’s one of the many things we have in common. It’s crazy, the similarities. It’s weird we didn’t go to the same high school!”
“Why don’t we do a touching love ballad? Cause we really haven’t done that yet. Before we talk about our softer side, let’s talk about our social media,” Mullally suggested. Even though it was a completely awkward segue, it still worked because she’s funny. Rather than social media, though, they got off quickly on a tangent about Dave Eggers’ book The Circle, and Spike Jonze film Her before returning to their “tender love song.”
“What can we say? We’re sentimental!” The song was Gucci Mane’s “I Don’t Love Her,” and was one of the show’s best moments – it’s such a raunchy, ridiculous song, but they make it utterly fabulous and so funny. I think it has perhaps changed my life for the better. (I’m just saying!) When they’d finished, one of the girls remarked that it was really a “beautiful sentiment,” praising it as “honest.”
“She’s got a lot going for her… what is that intangible quality he’s missing?” The “he” they referred to was Mr. Mane, who doesn’t love this sort of perfect woman. “She’s smart, she’s fine, she’s flexible… she’s bananas in bed…” Mullally then quoted the most ridiculous line of the song: “she was suckin’ on Gucci, I had my dick in her butt,” exasperated that even though it was “quite a feat,” he “still doesn’t love her! Oh my God, it’s not enough! I feel like he’s being too hard on her. I don’t know what he wants. I’d like to see how he does on Match.com. I’d like to see his little paragraph…” When the girls admitted to being “fidgety,” one of them assured the other, “it’s the jumpsuits. It’s a lot of responsibility.” Their next song was “in a similar genre,” but it definitely wasn’t at all. It was the Mills Brothers’ song “Cab Driver (Drive by Mary’s Place),” and it was sweet. Finally Mullally realized that she’d forgotten to plug their social media as promised, mentioning their Facebook and Twitter. “Look us up and like us. We live to be liked!” Admitting that she’d recently “dropped the ball” on regularly checking in and updating their Facebook page, Mullally promised she’d “get back on it,” adding, “don’t get discouraged, potential looker-inner-onners of our Facebook page!”
After Lattie Moore’s “100,000 Women Can’t Be Wrong,” Mullally excited Tiffany and I by announcing that they’ve “just recorded a bunch of songs” and that the duo will put their first album out sometime this fall. “So that will be coming down the pikes… What else? Any other business that we’re forgetting?” After joking that they should “get the minutes from the meeting” and call their secretary, the ladies briefly explained that they’d met while in Austin filming Somebody Up There Likes Me, and that everyone in the band except Megan and Joe is from Austin. Somehow, they got to discussing a band member’s degree in Ancient Rome and Greece, prompting Mullally to ask him to “tell me something juicy” about one of the two. Apparently, “everything good” in Roman culture “they stole from the Greeks.” Mullally said she’d “tried to read part of his thesis,” but didn’t get it. “I don’t get it – you’re smart! It’s like it was written in Latin!” Indeed, when he mentioned its title, I only caught part of it: The Relationship Between Political Participation and Military Mobilization… (I think the rest is “in Ancient Rome and Greece,” but at any rate, you get the gist.) “It’s seventy-two pages,” he admitted to the audience, promising, “I’ll email it to you if you want!”
“We’re not very political,” Mullally offered. “We just like to go shopping. We meditate before the show.” After another quick “loogie-hocking break,” Hunt said she liked the next one, and that she thought we would too. It was Rufus Wainwright’s “Vibrate,” and she was right – it was another awesome find to cover, and they did it well. The best part about their material is that they have such pretty vocals, almost always with such silly, funny-bone-tickling lyrics. Next came a song called “Smell Yo’ Dick” by a singer named Riskay, during which Tiffany pointed out a man in the crowd waving his arms from side to side, the way you do during sappy ballads. At the end of the song, Hunt and Mullally held hands, bowed, and took turns curtsying. “Another heartbreaker,” Mullally said in mock tears, calling it a “wonderful song” and reminding herself, “it’s supposed to be a comedy festival!” Thanking Sketchfest for having them, admitting they were “having so much fun,” Nancy and Beth thanked the crowd and the Lampshades, wished everyone a “happy year of the horse” and began “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” by Hank Snow (notably also covered by Johnny Cash). After that came “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” and then a brief break before the encore.
Mullally wanted to do “something old-timey. Right guys? Girls?” To fit the bill, they chose Run-DMC’s “My Adidas,” each with a pair of yellow and green Adidas strung around her neck, tied together by the laces. “The only thing that remains tonight is for us to be saved by Jesus. And so that’s what will now transpire.” And so they began their final song of the evening, The Band’s “Saved.” At one point, Hunt dropped her tambourine and left the stage. Missing nothing, Mullally simply picked it up, tapping one tambourine against each hip in time to the music as Hunt returned lugging a large bass drum and finally, Robinson and Flannery returned for the final send-off, throwing plastic hats out to the crowd like frisbees. And then, sadly it was over. One way you’ll always know you’ve seen a good show is if it leaves you wanting more. Nancy and Beth (and The Lampshades) definitely did that for me. I can’t wait to hear their album when it’s finished, and I’m already looking forward to seeing them again next time they’re in SF.