Monthly Archives: August 2014

The History of Music

Music is an essential component of improv comedy–in fact, of comedy, period. My introduction to improv in Chicago in the late 70s and early 80s was integrated with music, first through the hilarious work of the Mee-Ow sketch comedy show with its incomparable musical commentary by the lightning-sharp piano wizardry of the witty Larry Schanker, and subsequently through the spinoff Practical Theater Company and its musical alter ego Riffmaster and the Rockme Foundation.

As lighting tech for 5 years of Mee-Ow shows, I had the pleasure of seeing the hilarious work of Paul Barrosse and Rush Pierson as “colonels” in a hot zone; Julia Louis-Dreyfuss channeling Mary Taylor Moore through the Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Ordinary People all in the same sketch; and the shockingly good Christmas carolers singing the Ayatollah song. And the seal and penguin romance…hilarious.

Signed photo of the cast of the 1980 Mee-Ow show, Ten Against The Empire
Signed photo of the cast of the 1980 Mee-Ow show, Ten Against The Empire. “Shoulder to shoulder, elbow to knee, zip down your fly when you’re in company…” Front row: John Goodrich, Paul Barrosse, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Rush Pearson, Judy Pruitt. Back row: Michael Markowitz, Ken Marks, Dana Olsen, Rod McLaughlin. Not pictured: Larry Shanker – Piano.

When much of the Practical Theater Company cast got scooped up for a season of writing and acting on Saturday Night Live, Riffmaster and the Rockme Foundation came back to open for castmate Eddie Murphy at the Varsity Theater in Evanston. As lighting designer, I was initially thrilled, then disappointed when told by Eddie Murphy’s manager that Eddie wanted only two follow spotlights, no additional lighting; then, thrilled again, when the limited electrical infrastructure meant that I would have to sit in front of the stage to unplug the lights from the opening act, Riffmaster and the Rockme Foundation, and since I had nowhere to go in the sold out house, sat in front of the front row for Murphy’s raucous set. [Special thanks to Paul Barrosse for the Varsity photo, borrowed from his blog at]

Photo of the Varsity Theater marquee reading "A&O Concerts Presents Eddie Murphy and The Rockme Foundation in Concert Tonight"
The biggest one-night lighting gig of my audio-visual career: Eddie Murphy, with Riffmaster and the Rockme Foundation as his opening act.

When Ed Bachtel and I were constructing our first sketch comedy revue, the 1988 Roadkill Live!!! for the Wort Hotel’s Greenback Lounge (enter through the Silver Dollar Bar), we knew we needed live music. Fortunately, we found Dave Rohrer, who was willing to gig on the side. Dave had a real job as a marketing director for a sporting goods manufacturer, while Eddie and I were river rats and Holly was a radio newscaster and aspiring deejay.  The 1988 show was an independent effort; we worked with the Jackson Hole Actors Co-op for the 1992 revival, Roadkill’s Greatest Hits.

Photo of Debby (DJ Choupin) cheered on the cast prior to the 1988 opening night of Roadkill Live!!! at the Wort Hotel in Jackson, Wyoming
Debby (DJ Choupin) cheered on the cast prior to the 1988 opening night of Roadkill Live!!! at the Wort Hotel in Jackson, Wyoming

Despite my best efforts, though, I was not able to persuade Actor’s Co-op during my 1984-1992 tenure as volunteer lighting designer to mount the funniest send-up of resort town economics/politics I have ever seen, the Practical Theater Company’s production of Paul Barrosse’s Song of The Snells. It has everything: murder, intrigue, mock iambic pentameter…but I digress. Hope springs eternal. Actor’s Co-op is gone, but there are alternative theater companies now, such as Riot Act, that might really go for something as unusual and bloody as Song of The Snells.

Wouldn’t it be great if Song of The Snells was on a double bill with A Roadkill Opera?