How do you go from “two dozen hungry pigs” to a blob monster that lives under a butcher shop? Ask the wildly inventive improv comedians of X Plus One, who take audience suggestions and spin them into tall tales a la 1940s radio.
Each month, the cast of seven dresses in sports coats, fedoras, ties — and in producer Rachel Scherer’s case, a vintage dress — and put on their best 1940s speech patterns.
The experience is convincing — the actors smoke fake cigarettes and drink out of tumblers as they “recite” their nonexistent lines into old-timey microphones.
Comedian David Armstrong is the show’s Foley artist, in charge of providing the door knocks, sounds of nature and other noises that arise within any show. He has little time to react since the story and dialogue is made up on the spot, which takes a lot of practice, he told amNewYork before a show on March 15.
The performance, which follows a typical radio show format, including silly commercials (for combs and a ‘fish helmet,’ this time), and features some music before the storyline begins. In this case, Lana L’Amour (special guest Lorraine Cink) performed songs with pianist Edna Witherspoon (Rachel Kaufman) that were pitched by the audience, like “Mom’s hot soup,” and “Meeting strangers.”
“So what if he has a hook for a hand/or wears a shirt that says I’m gonna stab you,” Cink crooned.
As the story of “Two Dozen Hungry Pigs” unfolded, it was clear that the radio show was going to take unexpected turns. When reporter Dandy Delight went looking for the secret recipe belonging to the owners of a German butcher shop, enlisting a young boy to scout out the shop, a monster made of jelly made an appearance (hilariously voiced by Armstrong). It turned out that all along the recipe used the jelly monster, who ate people alive. All of this derived from a one-line suggestion.
We sat down with the cast after the show and asked them what it is like to make jokes within the boundaries of a 1940s-style radio show.
How do you know when your show is successful?
Jeff Scherer: I 100 percent lost it in the second commercial. I had to turn away and I was crying. I could not hold myself together.
Rachel Scherer: We’re a group of people that regularly cracks each other up and just enjoys each other. It’s a hallmark of a good show for me if we can make each other laugh.
What’s it like pretending to be a ’40s voice actor in this day and age?
Austin Sanders: The norms of the time are sort of odd when you look back at them but being able to keep my current, modern day perspective is the best way to make sure this is comedy I can stand behind.
Jeff Scherer: There a sense of ‘I can’t make a Kardashian reference,’ which is so hard for me to do — to improv without a Kardashian reference.
Austin Sanders: I did want to go on a factory farming rant.
Rachel Scherer: We all have characters with back stories, too, so we are able to pull upon them and we know who we are as those ’40s actors playing roles. We embrace the American optimism of the 1940s, the can-do spirit — we can do it because we’re American and Americans can do anything. And there is a beautiful hubris to that. It’s fun to play with and informs a lot of the actions that we do. It allows audiences to unhook from the present day news cycle for a few minutes and get into that mode of excitement, happiness, delight, silliness and weirdness. I consider that a political act. I think it empowers people to go forward to carry the message they need to carry now.
X Plus One’s next show is at Caveat on April 4 at 9:30 p.m. For more information and tickets, visit caveat.nyc.