Comedy fans might have a few songs stuck in their heads after attending Charleston Comedy Festival's Laugh-A-Palooza at Footlight Players Theatre this weekend. The bill features a three-piece comedy band, a cheeky country duo, and a witty, whiskey-sipping stand-up.
Chicago-based comedy band the Shock T's made a big impression on local audiences during the last two Comedy Festivals and Piccolo Fringe. This week, singer/guitarist Tyler Paterson and singers Sarah Shockey and Tim Dunn — veterans of the Second City Conservatory — return to Charleston.
The Shock T's specialize in sketch comedy and improv that's peppered with saucy original songs and a few bizarre renditions. Their repertoire ranges from covers of tunes like Aqua's "Barbie Girl" to dirty-minded duets about group sex and perky singalongs about male genitalia.
"Musically, we're not contained to any specific style, but I do take pride in creating intricate guitar parts and memorable melodies," Paterson says. "Even though we're singing something absurdist, or loading up verses with set-ups and payoffs, there's a lot of skill involved. We've really found our voice. We started nailing down the way we write, pitch, and collaborate. We're able to look at ideas and find the most effective ways to present them."
The Shock T's have a handful of new songs in their setlist this year, but they'll probably stick with some of the fan faves and leave room for a few spontaneous fits of onstage composition.
"It's going to be a fun mix this year," Paterson says. "We're constantly generating new material, so it's possible a song or two will show up in a set that hasn't even been written yet. Songs don't hit the stage until they're deemed ready, but some of our best material has been churned out within a single rehearsal, so I'm really excited about what we're bringing — and could potentially be bringing — to Charleston this year."
Southern-bred and Brooklyn-based musical comedy duo the Reformed Whores, Marie Cecile Anderson and Katy Frame, have a musical set of their own — one that's considerably more Southern and countrified than the Shock T's. Their official self-description goes like this: "If Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn teamed up together and shared war stories — but funny."
Frame handles accordion and acoustic guitar while Anderson sticks mostly with ukulele and tambourine. The two first met at a mutual friend's birthday party, where they bumped into each other at the buffet table. "We then spent the entire night eating bacon-wrapped scallops and chatting about boys and music," Anderson says. "Katy mentioned she played the accordion, and by the end of the party we decided we were going to start a band. The following weekend, we had our first rehearsal, and we've been making sweet music ever since."
The twosome's band moniker came from a friend's playlist. "The name just clicked with us," Frame says. "Since we were writing about relationships, we thought, hell, who doesn't like a reformed whore?"
Attendees shouldn't expect any rogue guitar heroics from Frame or exotic Hawaiian ukulele tunes from Anderson; the Reformed Whores keep it very country. Their tunes are heavily influenced by the vintage country hits of June Carter and the classic Grand Ole Opry scene. Anderson loves Minnie Pearl the most. Frame prefers Dolly Parton.
There's nothing particularly bawdy or whorish about either of them. But that's not to say that the tunes don't get a little naughty. "We're inspired by the Smothers Brothers, but we're huge fans of contemporary musical comedy like Reggie Watts, Flight of the Conchords, and New York's Stuckey and Murray," Anderson says.
Fortunately, they haven't received any unexpectedly negative reactions about their naughtiest songs and bits. "Actually, the reactions have been really positive," Frame says. "What we've realized is that our songs are pretty universal, and we find that most people can find at least one song that they can relate to during our show."
Stand-up comedian Sunah Bilsted may not bring an instrument on stage for her opening set, but she will probably have a tumbler of Maker's Mark nearby. "The only prop I tend to use during my sets is a glass of whiskey," she says. "Other than that, the special guests I bring on stage with me to every show are the many voices I hear in my head."
Canadian by birth, Bilsted grew up on New York City's Lower East Side. Her desire to pursue a career in comedy came from her theater experiences while attending the High School for Performing Arts in New York. "At that age, I held dramatic acting in such a high regard that it took me a while to realize that comedy was a more natural path for me," Bilsted says. "I think there's a certain amount of confidence involved in making people laugh — not in the annoying egomaniacal way, but in a self-respecting way."
After high school, Bilsted relocated to Los Angeles and began doing stand-up work in clubs, bits of comedic acting for films and television, and improv at the iO West and Upright Citizens Brigade theaters. "I started with doing improv and loved it," Bilsted says. "I loved the camaraderie and the sheer insanity of being expected to make people laugh, and simultaneously not knowing what the hell was about to happen, moment-to-moment. I hear people say that they think stand-up is harder. I don't agree. Both things have their own inherent challenges."
Bilsted believes her experience with various forms of improv enhanced her style and skills as an actor and helped shape her approach to stand-up. No matter how much work she puts into structuring jokes, the challenge of creating moments with the audience in real time is something she embraces. "You still have to be free enough to deal with the reality of the space," Bilsted says. "I find myself more attracted to stand-up because there's a level of control to it — and because it forces you to look at your life, your immediate surroundings, and the world through a certain lens that keeps me stimulated."
She adds, "Putting yourself on the chopping block so that others can sit back comfortably in their seats and laugh at their own crap is so fun for me, too."