Some comedians give the audiences exactly what they want — straight laughs, no chaser. Others are more masochistic, pushing themselves to invent new characters and situations that are harder to sell to the crowd. But once they do, the payoff is far more satisfying.
The double bill of Eliza Skinner and B.S. is full of twists, turns, and outrageous individuals. The first half is a scripted trip to the world of New York narcissism. The second pairs Dad's Garage alumnus Tim Stoltenberg with Rob Belushi, who continues the Belushi family legacy of unforgettable comedy.
Eliza Skinner is ... Shameless!
Eliza Skinner (I Eat Pandas, Baby Wants Candy) knows something about being shameless. After all, you need to have some brazen qualities to write and stage your own 30-minute one-person show. But the Queens-based Skinner has examined that compulsion to take center stage and uses it to inform her portrayals of three hateful, blatantly self-centered women: arrogant Karen, youth-obsessed Debra, and Amy, the man-chasing party girl.
"I wanted to create characters who were all pretty unlikable, then try to make them likable for the audience," she says. "I was trying to see how much I could get them to care about the characters." Quite a lot, apparently — she earned a glowing review from Time Out NY, which promised "you will love her."
Each twisted woman is visited three times. They're desperate for adoration and shameless about how they get it. Although the characters are products of Skinner's imagination, she has taken some juicy details from real life. "There are all kinds of people [in New York], driven about what they want to get. That leads to some shamelessness."
The show finds humor in the "horror of people in life who you can't stand, but once you get to know them they're not so bad." Skinner doesn't have to yearn for attention — she's beautiful, wickedly funny, and spot-on with her investigation of the human hunger for the spotlight.
BS: Belushi and Stoltenberg
While Karen, Debra, and Amy spout more than their fair share of egocentric bullshit, Shameless! is followed by a different, improvised kind of BS: Belushi and Stoltenberg, a two-man team from Chicago that makes light of topical news, politics, history, and personal observations.
Rob Belushi's incredible resume includes work with Second City, The Steppenwolf Theater, New Line Cinema, and his dad, Jim (John Belushi was his uncle). Three months ago he performed a one-off show with fellow Second Citizen Tim Stoltenberg. "We felt good about it, didn't want it to end, and stayed in contact afterward," Stoltenberg says. They could smell success and that smell was B.S.
The comedians' fast and furious 30-40 minute set is spurred by an audience suggestion. According to Stoltenberg, "The audience plays a huge role in the show. We're always asking ourselves what's going to connect with them."
Like Skinner, Belushi and Stoltenberg want to take their format in unanticipated directions. "Variety's really important to us," Stoltenberg continues. "We like to keep the audience expecting the unexpected. Sometimes it doesn't work out, but that's part of the rush and opportunity improv provides. It's scary and fun. The excitement of getting out on stage keeps you on your toes."
While the performers can't help play themselves, the "everyguys" from time to time, they try to change that by transforming into different characters. Once again they're trying to exceed audience expectations. Since he's made previous trips here with Dad's Garage, Stoltenberg feels comfortable trying new things here. "[Theatre 99] has done such a good job of creating a community that respects our style of theater," he says. "That's great for us because we want to do new things to keep us moving around. We want to be enjoyable, and we really want to do something with the time we're given here."