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Lame Adventure 113: The Return of the British Comedy Invasion

The British Comedy Invasion headed by funnyman Stephen Frost returned to the Marlin room at Webster Hall with their special brand of uproarious improv.  Bill, a tile vendor-friend from California, was visiting and wanted to get together with Milton and I after work.  Milton had already made plans, but I recalled how Zen-like Bill was during our meeting that morning when there was a thunderous crash in our showroom’s back room as the distinct smell of something burning wafted into our elegantly designed shrine to tile, bath and lighting fixtures.  While one member of our sales team checked to see what had smashed to the tune of a million dollars worth of bits, another shut a window and announced in a cheerful tone, “The burning [editorial suggestion: of Atlanta] is outside!”  The first sales associate returned with an explanation of the crash, “It was nothing.”  This made me wonder how he would have described an event like the bombing of Dresden:

Sales Associate:  Just some smoke.  It was nothing.

I suggested to Bill that we join Ling and Lowell Milton-less and see Frost, Steve Steen, Andy Smart and Richard Vranch.  Bill was intrigued.  Although we could have bought tickets on line, I thought they might be available at the door, which I don’t think they actually were.  Fortunately, a venue worker introduced me to Janet, who was working as the boys’ manager – the same role that Elaine, my UK-based friend and colleague, filled when they played Webster Hall last June.  As Janet spoke to me in her mellifluous British accent, I asked if she happened to be acquainted with Elaine.  She and Elaine are great buds, and being Elaine’s American friend guaranteed Bill and I entry to the show.  In the future, when they play Webster Hall again – and surely they must return – I urge anyone wanting to see them to purchase tickets online ahead of time.

Janet to the rescue!

The four of us settled in a banquet as we waited for the show to start.  A  Buddah-shaped woman sat next to me in what should have been Milton’s place.  Lowell asked, “Who is that?”  I explained, “She’s with us.  She’s improvising being our friend.”

Stephen Frost giving us the index finger.

The boys delivered their usual brand of spontaneous mayhem and lightening fast wit but this time they even seemed a little more physical than last, with Frost sucker slapping Smart not once, but twice, and Steen, improvising a circus elephant’s trunk by waving his arm, and then dousing Frost in the face with projectile water shot out of his mouth.  This brought the house down, as dripping Frost announced to no avail, “That’s not funny!”  Vranch provided improvised musical accompaniment that was a joke in itself when he played a completely unfamiliar tune in a skit about the Beatles.  Smart bellowed, “What Beatles song is that?”  Vranch defended his performance and said it was an improvised Beatles tune.

Their repertoire is jam-packed with numerous funny bits inspired by audience shout-outs that these comedy veterans twist into contorted stories such as one about Queen Elizabeth’s ill-fitting thong with the Windsor crest on the label that somehow ends up inside out, and possibly on Prince Philip, or maybe it did not go quite that far, or it went even farther.  This quartet is equal to musicians entering a zone that begin to riff and every note of what you hear sounds great as you’re listening but when you leave, you know you’ll never be able to hum what you just heard.

Bill was particularly impressed with Vranch telling a story about cooking and wooden underwear (intimate apparel was on the audience’s mind Friday night) in fluent gibberish accompanied with flamboyant gestures, which Smart hilariously translated as, “I am not a well man.”  How one could speak nonsense in what sounded like an actual accent from some remote country, while the other spontaneously tells the story in English is brilliant to witness.

Steve Steen’s specialty is the dirty joke, and he seemed to thrive in a skit with Frost where they played surgeons in an operating theater removing a patient’s testicle, but somehow by the skit’s end Frost had sewn Steen’s shoulder to the unseen patient’s half-hollow nut sack.

As usual, the foursome wrapped the evening’s entertainment with a routine that grows in hilarity as it completely implodes.  This is where they tell a story, but each guy voices another guy’s character.  Therefore, they have no clue what anyone is going to say.  This routine should come with a warning: if on medication do not attempt doing this at home, but if you do, this might be a fine time to operate machinery if your goal is to drive yourself off a cliff.

The skit was something about a John Wayne-type father disapproving his daughter’s marriage to a weasel as the vicar prepared to conduct the service.  As this skit descended into complete chaos, Frost, who was mouthing the father spoken by Smart as Smart stood across from him mouthing the daughter voiced possibly by Frost  … I think, or possibly it was the other way around since this zany routine is almost as hard to follow as it is to perform.  Frost, his head about to explode, announced, “I don’t remember my character!”  Neither did we, but it sure was funny.  I think he may have then sucker slapped Smart again, or maybe that second slap happened earlier.  I do know that however that skit ended, all was right in the world of British Comedy Improvisation once more.

Expert funnymen from across the pond (left to right) Frost, Vranch, Steen and Smart

Lame Adventure 57: British Comedy Invasion at Webster Hall

Next week, my colleague, Elaine, is moving back to the UK in high style via The Queen Mary across seas that are not yet saturated with BP oil, although Milton anticipates that if this epic spill climbs up the Eastern seaboard and spreads over the Atlantic we might be able to eventually walk, or possibly belly slide the entirety of what once was the ocean, all the way from Gotham City to Elaine’s house in Banbury.   Before setting sail, Elaine invited her scores of friends to join her at Webster Hall for an evening of comedy improv she promised we’d be sorry to miss.

In the Marlin Room!

Milton, Ling, Lowell (Ling’s significant other), Greg and I signed on immediately, as did Elsbeth, until she fell wickedly ill with a ferocious ass-kicking bug that is immune to the usual over-the-counter remedies so now my frustrated boss is on the verge of huffing Raid.

Bright and lovely Ling and Lowell.

Dark and gloomy Greg, Milton and Me.

Those of us that did attend were in for an evening of non-stop hilarity by four wildly wacky seemingly spontaneous comedy pros – Stephen Frost, Neil Mullarkey, Andy Smart and Steve Steen.  These ordinary looking middle aged guys could easily be the Fab Four of comedy.  It makes no sense that they are not better known on our side of the ocean.  Hopefully, this blog that is steadily read by a devoted audience of seven, will be the post that goes viral and gets the word out about them and some ad revenue for me from a highly coveted sponsor like Nike or Miracle Ear since my hearing is rapidly going the way of my fertility.

The place to have been on June 2nd.

How this quick-witted improv troup works is they prompt the audience for suggestions, the zanier the better, and would then begin to riff.  They were like jazz inspired jesters.  Their opening bit was to tell a fast-paced coherent story featuring Donald Duck, but the rules were that each guy would only say a few words and the next guy had to carry on.  If anyone stumbled, the audience members were instructed to scream, “Die!”

Frost (center) egging on audience with Mullarkey (left) pondering and Smart (right) waiting to pounce or grow redder in the face, whatever comes first.

Another bit involved sending Frost out of the room so he could be out of earshot as his partners prompted the audience for suggestions for something Frost would have to define based on clues from his mates.  That something turned out to be, to the best of my recollection, a salmon used to make the dots in golf balls for a yoga teacher on an iceberg.  Pretty easy … if you’re Frost and you have an ear and eye for the most esoteric clues imaginable.  In barely 15 minutes with Mullarkey mouthing a fish, Smart carrying on about yogurt, penguin-shaped Steen running around like a lunatic, among countless other inane posturings and hints, Frost got it!

Other bits included Steen playing a resident of Lichtenstein speaking fluent Licht, a riotous Steenian-style gibberish, as red-faced Smart stood nearby and translated the story.  Somehow they even managed to improvise a song on the spot, and Steen, who seemed to be a Pixar cartoon come to life or at least a distant relative of The Incredibles, performed a wildly funny dance.

Steen going Bollywood with Frost.

During intermission audience members were urged to write suggestions for more bits on scraps of paper placed in a bowl.

Frost commenting on the audience members' terrible penmanship.

After the break, they were joined by Eddie Izzard, who’s in town to replace James Spader in the David Mamet play, Race.  We thought that considering how busy Eddie must be, that was a pretty generous visit from him, since we doubted that a free beer was enough of a lure.

Eddie!

He quickly followed the guys into a make-believe convent based on the suggestion of playing a nun drunk on Jell-O shots.  Steen assumed the role of the tipsy sister.

Steen on his knees praying and playing drunk.

The New Nun's Story.

Another comedy great that joined the lads was Mike Myers.

Mike!

He and Mullarkey were writing partners back in the eighties, and they did a brilliant improv where Mullarkey played a gravedigger and Myers played everything from a d.j. to a talking corpse.  In introducing Myers before they began the bit, Mullarkey humbly declared that Myers taught him everything he knows about improv, and Myers did not disappoint.

Myers & Mullarkey together again!

Great duet!

The last bit, the finale, Greg referred to as “shenanigans” and that’s a pretty apt description.  With Eddie and Mike still on stage, they played Sherlock Holmes trying to crack a case involving Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Moriarty, etc., that rapidly descended into side-splitting chaos since each guy would voice another’s character, but they had to mouth the words although they had no idea what the other guy was going to say.  Definitely don’t try to do that at home – or at work the next day even if your boss is out sick.  Your head is guaranteed to explode.

Madcap chaos!

Clearly, these guys have a lot of chemistry.  Milton was certain that they must have some way of reading each others signals to know where the routine is heading, just like when Milton gives me the “we’re outta here” look, but with them it’s more subtle and far more funnier.

Crummy poster, great show.

Elaine is hopeful that Webster Hall will book them again, and we are, too for we’ll be back.  This post does them little justice.  You have to see and hear these comic pros riff in person, preferably with your posse, if only to gas about it incessantly the next day with the Quiet Man sitting in the back of the office, who opted not to go, probably fantasizing about harpooning those that did.  It’s fast-paced fun, so the next time the British Comedy Invasion crosses the pond to New York City shores, or whatever shores you call home, don’t miss them.  Elaine’s promise is spot on — if you don’t go, you will be sorry.  Meanwhile, for a hint of Mullarkey’s literary wit, his self-improvement book has just been released in paperback, Don’t Be Needy, Be Succeedy.