This year, I seem to have been a little cursed when trying to get to a Sketchfest show at Marines Memorial Theatre. I had two events there this year, and both times, I couldn’t avoid being late. The first time, I missed most of the show due to insane traffic. This past weekend, I missed fifteen or twenty minutes because I had to make a choice: leave the day’s first event (The Benson Movie Interruption: “Twilight: New Moon,” something I looked forward to all year long) early, or take my chances with being late to event number two. I opted for the latter, rushing out in the rain to my car, across town, and to do my best to quickly find parking near the venue. Even so, I was late and there was nothing to be done about it except sit down, shut up, and enjoy the rest of the show. I’ve requested to review Celebrity Autobiography before: Rachel Dratch, Fred Willard, Florence Henderson, Pamela Adlon… Need I say more?
When I took my seat, Dratch was finishing up a reading by Gwyneth Paltrow. I missed enough of it to not get what was funny, or why, but was appeased with the promise of the next “special treat:” Willard and Henderson reading Motley Crue. It was the story of how Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson met, quickly fell in love and were married. These two are brilliant, and both seem to constantly just get funnier over time. Willard wore a fabulous, flamboyant suit, and I noticed his bright purple socks right away: definitely the best part of his entire, fantastic ensemble. At the end of this reading, when Tommy and Pamela recalled their decision to tattoo each other’s names on their fingers in lieu of rings, Henderson and Willard flipped the bird to the crowd. From Willard, it was funny. From Henderson, though, it was somehow brilliant. There was so much attitude coming from her, I genuinely felt as though she was flipping off Pam & Tommy, me personally, or perhaps both, somehow. She’s awesome.
Next came Laraine Newman reading from the autobiography of Carol Channing. Her voice impersonation was fantastic, right from the start. (I’ve always been a big fan of impersonations, maybe because it’s something I doubt I’d ever be good at.) She read Channing’s story of her evolution with Barbra Streisand: from friendship to rivalry and eventually a sort of loathing. During this bit, I realized that the show is equal parts interesting and funny: it’s wildly entertaining because they make funny faces, make fun of who they’re reading/what they’re saying, and generally just spice it up. But it’s also full of stuff I didn’t know anything about. In some cases, it’s stuff I didn’t need to know and couldn’t care less about. But it’s still cool to hear stuff as it (allegedly) actually happened, whether poking fun at the author or not.
Up next, Celebrity Autobiography creator Eugene Pack introduced an “extra special celebrity music mash-up” featuring Pack, fellow creator Dayle Reyfel, Michael Hitchcock, and Newman. The idea of the “mash-up” was for each person to read from a different autobiography or memoir in a sort of cohesive theme. This one, Pack said, was a “tribute to book-writing musicians.” Pack read from a book by Neil Sedaka, Newman from one by Carole King, Hitchcock read Michael Buble and Reyfel read Dolly Parton. At one point, Pack lost his character, collapsing into his own laughter while describing Sedaka’s ridiculously penned, horribly boring diet and fitness regime. It was like a pre-Instagram play by play of everything Sedaka ate, and was far more information than I think anyone needed, ever. Hitchcock was hilarious as Buble, especially in a few places about how much Buble apparently loves ping pong. Reyfel’s Dolly accent was quite good, and when she read the part describing Parton’s strange eating disorder (chewing her food, “chew chew chew chew Chattanooga choo-choo” and then spitting it out), she was both adorable and disgusting, but only because of the material. Newman’s Carole King came off brilliantly self-involved and self-indulgent, not to mention uninteresting. (King, not Newman.)
Next came three pieces from Madonna’s book Sex, read by Adlon, Henderson, and Dratch. All three were fantastic, and Adlon was a huge part of the reason I wanted this show. I’ve been a fan of hers since the first season of Californication, and she/my expectations did not disappoint. Her Madonna selection was about pillow talk, phone sex, and men’s orgasms; it was strange, fabulous, and funny. I love how she commits to everything she does. Henderson’s selection was about how arousing Madonna finds the Italian language to be, which is brilliant coming from a beautiful older woman, and Dratch read Madonna’s thoughts on sex with “youngs,” which might have been sort of disturbing, but Dratch’s facial expressions are every bit as hilarious in person as you remember them to be from her days on Saturday Night Live and in many movies. She is the master of making me laugh without saying a word, and that evening was no exception.
Next, “hot off the press,” came a “big book finish:” Hitchcock and Willard came out to explain that they’d be reading from One Direction’s autobiography, Dare to Dream: Life as One Direction. (Disclaimer: I don’t know who’s who in the boyband and I caught a few of the names in time, but not all. Sorry if that’s in any way hindering your experience while reading this review.) Adlon read the part of one cool band member (Zayn, I think) who’s obsessed with shopping, especially sneakers. Her English accent was everything I wanted it to be; she was the highlight of this performance for me. Willard read the part of One Direction’s self-declared clumsy guy, whoever he may be. He was hilariously dorky and adorable; the tales are pathetic and were I a fan, I’d have found myself thinking, is that the best you can do? Pack read the tales of one member’s relationships, complete with the girls’ names; his comedic timing is wonderful. Dratch read Niall’s tales of the crazy things fans have done, clearly mocking her way through, which was delicious. Hitchcock read stories by whoever that leaves on nudity, undies, and the like. I don’t know why I haven’t just bought a ticket in years past to see this show; it’s so much fun to watch funny people make fun of famous people using their own words.
Lastly, it was time for the grand finale, which Pack called a “new twist.” Two of the main people, he added, were “the biggest pop stars of the day, involved in a big love triangle.” Out came Reyfel, Willard, Henderson, and Hitchcock to join him. Reyfel read from Debbie Reynolds’ autobiography, the story starting in 1949. Henderson read the part of Elizabeth Taylor, and Dratch popped out here and there to punctuate Liz’s many marriages. (She’d simply say, “number 3,” “number five,” “number six,” and so on, and then disappear off the stage again.) Hitchcock read the part of Mike Todd, husband number two, who was hilarious when he realized his story had ended – the autobiography timeline continues beyond his death. He flipped through his pages, look forlorn, and sat down. Pack read Eddie Fisher (husband number four), Newman read Audrey Hepburn, and Willard read Richard Burton. Willard and Henderson were, once again, absolutely magical together. They’re charming, funny, and so endearing; they were a joy to experience live.
As the finale was really getting going, someone behind me belched loudly. I shook my head, grossed out, and ignored it. Minutes later, I heard it again, this time followed by the sound of something splashing on the floor. I turned my head, shocked, and looked at the girl sitting next to me, who turned and looked behind me. She looked about as horrified as I know I must have and then said to me, “Yeah. That just happened.” Bewildered, I tried to focus back on the show, but I also couldn’t help noticing that no one behind me got up to rush off to a restroom. As Molly (the girl next to me, I found out after the show) whispered, “I have no idea what’s even going on!” I started to giggle uncontrollably, for all the wrong reasons. At least it was a comedy show, and my laughter wasn’t inappropriate. Molly and I passed the giggles back and forth for a few minutes before finally settling down and trying to check back into the performance. The girl who vomited seemed to have a renewed interest in the show as well, laughing loudly and once even randomly shouting “fuck yeah!” at nothing in particular. So I sort of missed the climax of the finale, but I was still happy to have witnessed so many funny people doing something interesting with comedy, music, and the written word. Next year, I’ll be on time, and I’ll be sure to bring some Clorox wipes, just in case. I hope the girl who sat behind me is feeling better.