A stronger, funnier human emerges; says, "Apes for the memories."
Like his seven compadres in arms, Jamie Buell entered Impress These Apes knowing only that he would be issued a weekly creative challenge. Now that the eight-week potluck talent competition is over, he has flexed an impressive group of comedic muscles (a flatulent, sci-fi performance-art piece about beans; seductively dancing while chugging a 40; a war flick cast with silly plastic soldiers) and emerged victorious. Or…not quite. “I didn’t reach 327 points, and therefore failed humanity,” he laments.
Throughout the competition, Buell leveraged its mythological premise—hyperintelligent apes from the future will destroy mankind if a contestant does not prove sufficiently impressive, pointswise—for even funnier monkey business. At the show’s final night (for which the open-ended challenge was to impress these apes), Buell dressed like a comparative-lit professor and read a selection from his “novel,” titled Beyond the Wheat Fields.It described, in quite haunting detail, the passion between a budding young boy and an escaped circus she-ape. Watching the simian judges fume as he stoically read, “I glimpsed her woman-flower, plump and rich like the flesh of a lychee nut,” added a whole new level of gratuitous satisfaction.
Buell claims that the story was the first idea that came to him, but his literary pursuits began long before comedy took hold. Until 2000, he was set on writing a legit novel about, strangely enough, a cross-species love story involving a long-haul trucker and a sea lion. (It would have been “more lighthearted, without the creepy sex,” Buell avows.) He was living in Michigan at the time, where he co-owned a restaurant with his brother. When one of their investors was indicted for tax fraud, the business went broke overnight.
The unfortunate tragedy inadvertently paved the way for Buell’s comedy. When he moved to Chicago to be closer to family, he immediately enrolled in Second City classes. “I needed to get out of the house and do something new and different,” he says. After graduating, he pursued longer improv and sketch stints, including gigs with the Chicago Improv Anarchyand the Playground Theater’s the Fling.
Buell and fellow performer Glenn Fancher later formed the comedy duo Booper. Their most recent sketch offering, Lost Grandeur, enjoyed a coveted slot at January’s Chicago Sketchfest. At first glance, Grandeur’s material had the potential to be an exploitative downer—as in one bit exploring the relationship between a mentally disabled adult and his oft-cruel caretaker. But Buell’s balanced onstage energy and convincing character work helped the humor emerge from the show’s shaky moments.
The fearlessness evident in Booperclearly fueled Buell in the inaugural Apes iteration (a remount seems inevitable, though probably not for another year). He admits, though, that it wasn’t easy: “Stand-up was the hardest. I think it’s because it was the only [challenge] where I didn’t assume a character. The most difficult thing to do is just be yourself.”—Steve Heisler
The Fling tosses some scenes Saturday Mar 10, 8pm at the Playground Theater.