Jack McBrayer’s star has ascended since he appeared at last year’s Piccolo Fringe. He’s made a heap more episodes of 30 Rock, giving increasingly confident performances as Kenneth Parcell. He’s appeared in movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. He’s all over VH1 in a Mariah Carey video. You’d think that with all the TV and press attention he’s getting, McBrayer would be too lofty for the Lowcountry. But the the Georgia native’s back in Theatre 99 with his improv partner Paul Scheer, doing the same quick-witted, harebrained kind of show that’s endeared them to Charleston audiences for years.
Apparently there were many “Jack fans” in the audience, and the Theatre 99 staff had to field more than the usual amount of freaky phone calls in anticipation of his new show. Spare a thought for the less drooled-over but equally amusing Paul Scheer, who’s no TV pariah himself; he’s all over VH1 as well, commentating for Best Week Ever. He also stars in MTV’s Human Giant. He just doesn’t seem to get the crazy fans that primetime network success brings.
Once on stage, the two comedians thankfully don’t coast on their fame. Instead they have fun, promising a night of “made up skits and sketches, actories, costumeries, and pretending.” Dressed in striped polo shirts and tatty jeans, they take a suggestion from the audience, same as last year — the title of a work of art that hasn’t been created yet — and run with it, or rather run circles around it. They have the time to do that because their improv is long form, allowing them to develop memorable characters and bizarre situations.
Every night is different and completely original, but in the show we saw, McBrayer applied for a job in a Jos. A. Banks clothing store and was sold grey slacks by an unhinged employee. This opened up a rich vein of workplace humor that bled into the next scene, where Scheer was a regular H&R Block office worker plagued by a co-worker who kept sending him annoying e-mails. The scene got complex when the performers also took on the roles of a manager and investor, using two chairs and their imaginations to evoke an office space. “It’s like Narnia in here,” Scheer said of McBrayer’s cubicle. “How many animals do you have?” McBrayer explained that he didn’t have enough room in his apartment to keep them. Mystery solved.
This is goofy stuff, with lots of characters (at one point the two guys populate half of a national beauty pageant) and quirky wordplay. The banter and rapport between the two performers make the show a valuable addition to the Fringe. As a bonus, Scheer and McBrayer have pumped up their volume since last year, with Scheer in particular projecting so that he can be heard even in the cheap seats.
Whether you’re a Jack fan, a Scheer buff, or a casual theatergoer, you’ll find yourself enthused by the performers’ infectious enthusiasm for improv. That makes them a perfect fit for Theatre 99, and with luck they won’t outgrow the stage for a long time to come.—Nick Smith
Scheer & McBrayer • Piccolo Fringe • $15 • 50 minutes • May 31 at 5.30 p.m., June 1 at 6 p.m. • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. • (888) 374-2656