Monkey see, funny do
Brilliant apes separate
the highly evolved comics from the primordial ooze.
Bob Ladewig needed to shake things up. “I was getting into the habit of doing similar types of scenes and similar types of shows,” the improviser explains. “I was feeling stagnant, and looking for inspiration.”
So, of course, he enlisted the help of hyperintelligent apes from the future.
Impress These Apes, an eight-week cumulative talent competition from Blewt! Productions (Don’t Spit the Water, A Demon Who Never Appeared), has comedians pulling out their wackiest material for a $250 grand prize. A new challenge is issued weekly (stand-up, dance, etc.), aiming to push these comics to their creative limit. Week one required them to write and perform an original song with any “instrument” in the loosest sense of the word. For Erin Carr, the first show’s leader, the musical challenge played to her strengths. Others, like the aforementioned Ladewig, struggled. “The beat got away from me,” he says of his melodica-accompanied rap.
“You don’t normally want to see someone not be funny,” says Gena Bailey, the show’s producer and contestant liaison, “but here, it’s entertaining to see someone fail.”
Apes tacks on an elaborate story line to complement its talent-show aspect. In the year 3011, the world’s last three apes have been manipulated to increase their intellect 27 times over. Big mistake. They enslave their former master, Professor Scoresboard (Dan Telfer), and open a wormhole to the year 2007. As bitter payback to humans, the apes capture eight contestants, lobotomize a game-show host (Jared Logan) and vow to destroy all of mankind with an earthquake machine unless someone can achieve a minimum score of 227 points (www.impresstheseapes.com houses a running total, as well as performance clips from prior shows).
Contestants’ talents are judged on a scale of one to ten by each of the three apes (whose identities are cloaked for fairness) on things like originality and showmanship. The judges have distinct personas ripe for exploitation: Hollywood Ape is the fast-talking, no-bullshit one; World-weary Captain Apehab knows what he likes; Barry Shirley comes off as sweet, but isn’t afraid to call out hideous blunders. The apes and performers are free to have at it—Jamie Buell riffed on the apes’ unopposable thumbs, but Hollywood Ape humbled the mere human: “Well, you didn’t guess the secret genre, because it wasn’t pussy music.”
Not everything is contingent on the will of the apes, though. Up to five bonus points are dolled out by Scoresboard, whose criteria change based on the challenge. Last week, the performers racked up three points for slipping in specific rhymes. The remaining two points came from correctly performing the mystery-song genre (hip-hop) and for uttering the secret word (school).
Silly, convoluted plotlines are the hallmark of shows from the maturing Blewt! production company. In 2007, Blewt! will file for nonprofit status with the state, organize its fund-raising, amp up promotions and install a board of directors. “We’ll be an actual entity, not just some group of friends clowning around,” says Steve Gadlin, the group’s founder. Gadlin also hopes to offer consultations on marketing, PR and Web development to the local comedy scene.
The show falls right in line with Blewt!’s goals. Despite being, as Gadlin describes, “a stupid idea that probably shouldn’t ever be followed through on,” Apes’ impact on the Chicago comedy community is readily apparent. Improvisers stuck in a creative rut are saddled with a unique artistic challenge each week—and subjected to humiliation and ridicule by a pack of brainy primates. Here’s hoping the flea-ridden shit slingers know how to crack a smile, for humanity’s sake.
The apes host the third comedy cage match Monday 22.