Originally posted 12.29.09
Acting in front of a live audience is, honestly, something that Larry and I are not used to doing. Sure, we’ve been in the occasional high school play (and I still have the nightmares to prove it), but I would venture that we are both more comfortable with a camera and the promise of multiple takes if something goes wrong. For this reason if no other, performing our Internet-tastic eleventh episode, “Message Board”, live on stage was a good idea.
The origins of this event had nothing to do with either Larry or myself, but with some friends I knew from grad school. As an aside, you may be surprised that I went to graduate school AND I have friends – and I still make time to produce the wonder that is Franks and Beans. How about that? Anyway, a friend from Youngstown, Ohio, home of the murder sandwich, invited us to be a part of a benefit for his wife, who, with another student from Youngstown State University, would be traveling on a medical mission trip to the far reaches of Africa, Earth. I don’t imagine that they will be delivering supplies and holding clinics for ALL of Africa, but then again, I don’t know that they AREN’T. So, we’ll see. The event was to be called “Laughrica”, which, despite not being named by me, was the first indicator that this would be a fun evening.
I hastily agreed to take part in the festivities, and Larry agreed. Perhaps we both said ‘yes’ without truly considering the reality of having to stand in front of people and act, because we spent much of the next weeks both procrastinating on practicing and fretting our decision. I, for one, did actually lose sleep as I tried to come up with ideas that would work on stage and take up more than thirty seconds – it’s possible to have a really short episode work, but saying two lines and signaling for the next act to come up wouldn’t work nearly as well.
In the end, Larry and I decided that it would be best if we could simply adapt one of our episodes into a live action performance. If we were to do something like this again, I might be tempted to write new material, but for our first time out, an adaptation was exactly the right call. We had a known quantity in “Message Board” in that it was something we had done before and could gauge the reaction based on the episode. We both had a general understanding of the timing of the piece, and while we did have to adjust some of the episode for the stage, we both knew what we were getting into. And, dammit, the episode is our longest at nearly seven minutes, so if nothing else, if we weren’t funny, we were sure to fit the time parameters. Franks and Beans, if not funny, at least won’t take up too much or too little of your time. We should make that into a slogan!
Speaking of episode edits, most of them are obvious if you’ve seen the original episode filmed in Larry’s basement. That is to say, you don’t have to go to Larry’s basement to watch the episode…that’s just where it was filmed. Was that unclear? Man, I wish there was a ‘delete’ button on this keyboard or something. Oh well, we soldier on.
Not having the character known as “Larry’s Mom” for this new edition – it didn’t seem right to ask her to travel two hours for the line “Got some mail for you, Jeff”, as great as the overall joke was – might be the biggest difference between the two versions. Thus, Larry was the one to deliver the mail-based joke. I know that this might turn the world of Franks and Beans upside down, but if you think back to the infancy of the show and episode three, “The Change”, you’ll remember that Larry had his own mail joke in that one, too. So eat it, faithful viewers! There’s precedence to this action. My reaction of “Oh, the new one’s out!” seems to be a little bizarre – the new what, you may ask – to which I reply, I’ve always wanted to use that line, and it’s my show so it doesn’t have to make a whole lot of sense.
“Message Board” takes place over the course of an entire day, which is difficult to pull off in front of a live crowd. We considered ways to work around this – ways to visually show the progression of time with elaborate lighting schemes and verbal cues. In the end, we just had someone should “LATER!” into a microphone and leave it at that, which was really all that was necessary. We were lucky to grab someone from another act – new friend of the show Jason Howell – to provide the voice acting, which was very much appreciated.
Overall, I think that it’s easy to tell that some nerves did crop up at the beginning of the skit. You may notice this because Larry decides to say the word “house” about fifty times in the first minute, and we stumble through our opening lines. Larry says something to the effect of “what are you doing at my house?” (there’s that word again…), to which I respond, “I mean, I’m not always here.” Larry is supposed to move to the part about getting my mail at his house, but instead he continues along the lines of “yes, you are always here. Why?”
At this point, I pretty much died, and had accepted my death as preferable to the humiliation that was sure to follow. Fortunately, both Larry and I really pulled it together after that point, and I think that the results begin to show soon after. Our first laugh doesn’t come until we were nearly done with the first act of our performance, and those few seconds were long and worrisome for me, but the audience begins to respond more and more frequently as we worked our way toward the end. Things really got moving with the line “because you have a disease that makes you pee in your pants” – which proves that there’s nothing like a joke about medical incontinence to really liven up a room. Try it the next time you’re in public and I think you’ll agree!
By the end of our performance, things were going so well that I had the confidence to stand in front of the audience of fifty or so and talk about pornography. When you are comfortable enough to do this, you know you’ve had a good night – and by most all accounts, it was a very good night. Franks and Beans was able to broaden its audience a little bit; Larry and I mingled with some new fans after our act ended, and the response was nothing but positive…and for once, we weren’t just getting positive reviews from parents or other loved ones.
I think that if the right situation came along (i.e., someone asks) once again, both Larry and I would be happy to go out and perform again in front of an audience. We were both excited for the experience and happy that we didn’t have to kill ourselves afterwards from the shame. Any time an evening doesn’t result in my death is a good time, but Laughrica was a special evening in any regard. Our thanks to all involved, from organizers to audience members. Let’s do it again some time!