A man stands onstage, his dog-eared college dating journal in hand, sharing the tortured teenage musings within to a room full of strangers and friends.
He reads a passage about trying to impress a date with a meticulously assembled Easter basket, only to discover that the guy is Jewish. Another entry explains his plans to reveal his heart’s desire to his current crush atop the Empire State Building. When that doesn’t happen, he creates a flow chart in his journal explaining why not.
Welcome to Richmond Famous at the Coalition Theater, tag line: “live comedy, dead serious.”
The audience laughs with every painful anecdote shared by Kevin Clay, at one time the editor and publisher of GayRVA.com, and now owner of marketing and public relations company Big Spoon. But the real hilarity begins when the troupe of improvisational comedians takes this ripe material and runs with it. The performers’ lightning-quick improvisational skills result in a skit in which two people deny their love for each other using not only flow charts, but also Venn diagrams, bar graphs and all kinds of geeky visual aids. The audience roars.
Once a month, Coalition Theater, based downtown, presents an evening based on true anecdotes told by a local personality. It’s a monologue-based comedic form created by Armando Diaz, widely considered one of the best improv practitioners and teachers in New York.
“It seemed like a great format to bring to Richmond,” Coalition’s creative director David Pijor says. “Everyone’s got one or two degrees of separation from everybody else here.” The goal isn’t to make fun of people or their “good and heartfelt” stories, he stresses, but to respect the source material.
When Marc Cheatham, scheduler for Sen. Tim Kaine and creator of the popular Cheat’s Movement blog, is the willing victim, Kaine’s there in the front row. He looks as stunned as the Coalition crew when Cheatham drops to his knee and proposes to his girlfriend onstage during the show. Kaine stands, points at the troupe and roars, “Top that!”
It somehow does, when Pijor drops to his knees in front of Katie Holcomb during a bit and implores, “Will you scratch my itch?” pointing suggestively between his legs.
The guest of honor sits onstage while the long form sketches unfold, inevitably adding to the audience’s amusement watching the storyteller’s reactions.
DJ Black Liquid tells a tale of going to the South by Southwest music festival with his brother, scoring a bottle of Maker’s Mark, some PBR “because we’re from Richmond” and ending up in a sea of white women. Then it was advice time. “This is some rapper shit,” he says. “If you ever need weed, go to the bathroom.”
The skit that followed featured stoned out-of-towners endlessly ogling Austin’s food cart menus. “Uh, what’s a Tripe Called Quest taco like?” one asks. “One boneless thugs and harmony taco, coming up!” another responds.” And, “What’s in this KRS A-1 Sauce anyway?”
By now, DJ Black Liquid is saying, “Oh, man!” doubled over in his chair laughing as hard as the audience.
When artist and activist Noah Scalin of the Skull-a-Day project was the guest, he told of going on the Martha Stewart show, where he’s instructed never to correct Stewart when she mispronounces his name.
The television appearance was scheduled to demonstrate his peanut butter and jelly skulls, a gold mine for the Coalition. Performers portray the queen of all things domestic as a busy bee who, when she isn’t knitting a sweater for the goat she plans to sacrifice that evening, is stealing the souls from children. Stewart is skewered as much as Scalin.
“There’s not a weird criteria list or anything for being asked to do Richmond Famous,” Pijor says. “We just have lots of cool folks in town doing cool stuff. The guest sets the tone.”
For Clay, there were unexpected benefits to baring his soul and journals that night a few years ago. “Besides watching them perform the singalong gospel version of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart,’” he says, “the one you always wanted to have at your funeral, having people come up and relate to my stories was pretty awesome. I think there was even a date or two from the journal in the room. Small Richmond, right?” S
The next Richmond Famous will be held Friday, July 24, at 10 p.m., at Coalition Theater, 8 W. Broad St. For information visit rvacomedy.com.