Our favorite improvisational comedy duo returns to the Improv at Harvey’s this week. The Stagebenders, Kim Thomassen and Gust Alexander, allow you, the comedy-going audience, to dictate what you get to hear at the show.
I remember seeing them for the first time and wondering how can they pull this off night after night. But they do just that, relying on the audience to provide material for them to improvise right on the spot.
Just like the popular television series, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” the Stagebenders shout out a situation and take your suggestions to fill in the blanks. They literally create the scene and have to make it funny.
I can tell you from experience that, depending on the evening, it can get pretty interesting, especially if the audience members respond as a whole. It can get even more interesting if the audience had a few drinks before the show started.
It takes years of performing, not just with one another but also constant gigs on the road, to perfect the art of the improvisational format.
Both Kim and Gust have extensive theater backgrounds that helped them early on. It also helps that both are naturally funny onstage. It’s tough to imagine one without the other, but when they both started out they were separate entities in the entertainment world.
A chance meeting at a sketch comedy workshop would forever prove that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Between the two of them the Stagebenders have appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “America’s Funniest People,” “The Jenny McCarthy Show,” filmmaker Roger Nygard’s “Trekkies 2” and the Coen Brothers’ “The Naked Man.” They have been featured in national publications such as “Esquire” and, believe it or not, “Mechanical Engineering.”
When I asked Kim how they came up with their name he said, “We were doing a show in our home state of Minnesota at this old theater and the stage literally started bending.” OK, to give them the benefit of the doubt, it was an old stage with old wooden planks. But let’s not kid each other, these two are big boys.
When I introduce them onstage, I’ll often say, “They’re truly the last of the fun comedy duos, and I like to refer to them as 700 pounds of Las Vegas showgirls rolled up into two, bald, fat chubby guys.”
If you’ve heard the expression “comedy isn’t pretty,” but didn’t know what it meant, now you can put a face to it. That face is Joel Lindley. Oh sure, he’s a little dark when it comes to his comedy, but he’s merely reflecting the mood of the country, with the nut jobs in congress leading the charge.
You don’t become a dark, edgy comic overnight. It takes years of rejection and not trusting others to fine tune the art of cynicism in the way that Joel has.
An example of how he got his mistrust of others can be found in one of his stories about an ex-girlfriend getting hold of his Myspace account password, locking him out of his account and proceeding to write some pretty nasty things about him, posting it where other women would steer clear of him when he came to their town to perform.
A native of Brighton, N.Y., Joel has worked the comedy circuit for years all over the country. He’s appeared on television shows such as “Boston Public,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “Evening at the Improv,” “MTV’s Half Hour Comedy Show,” “Comix Strip Live” and many more.
What first brought me to Joel’s attention was his reputation for crank calling people and recording it for others to hear. This was back before you had to get permission from those being cranked.
So, as you might imagine, Joel has done some pretty off-the-wall things and gotten some even weirder, off-the-wall responses. He also created fictitious characters such as “Trucker Clock,” “Bouncer Guy” and “El Conquistador” to help assist him with his calls to unsuspecting people on the other end.
But Joel does more than just make people laugh at other people’s expense. He takes great pride in exposing scam artists, especially those using the Internet to steal people’s money. Remember those Nigerian spammers informing you that millions of unclaimed dollars were waiting for you if you would just send a couple thousand bucks as a processing fee? Well, Joel would actually send replies to all of those requests and have a check ready to go only after setting up an appointment with the individuals at Los Angeles International Airport.
He would give them the bogus check if they would agree to have their picture taken holding an outrageous sign or posing like an nimrod to show what idiots they were. Then Joel would post the photos on a website dedicated exclusively to those scammers for all to see.
And, if that wasn’t enough, Joel has been going after Internet dating sites that promise beautiful models who are waiting for you — if you just let them know how much you make and if will you make them citizens first.