Working Title: Dark Comedy and Skeletons!

This week Will Leschber takes a walk on the dark side of comedy.

As you may have noticed, here at Theater Pub, September is a month of comedy!

Looking for live comedy? Check out great suggestions by Allison Page.

Looking to laugh at someone else’s life? Check out Claire Rice’s “Comedy of Personal Errors.”

But if you are looking for something a little on the darker side of comedy, read on. Sad clowns are my favorite. It’s possibly more accurate to say that there’s something about the sad clown juxtaposition that has a greater draw and hits closer to home. The sound of sad clowns and dark comedy seems to me a resonating indigo bell. Maybe it comes down to the fusion of two spectrums of theater, or life in general for that matter. Comedy, tragedy, light and dark all at once. That is closer to my experience.

sad_clown_by_brandongroce123-d5uuwzy copy

We get everything all at once and have to juggle the mirth and the struggle simultaneously. Laughing around a hospital bed as you share old stories about a fading friend. Celebrating an anniversary while a close friend disintegrates towards divorce. Proudly graduating and then being forced to recon with uncertain futures. Moving away from home. Leaving a secure, steady job that you hate. Marveling at a beautiful sunset with no one to share it with. Experience is layered. Great comedy deals with bigger things than just getting a laugh. The best dark comedies may have an easier time straddling line because we give them room to grow beyond the mere joke. Fight Club, Fargo, Barton Fink, In Bruges, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, Death to Smoochy, American Psycho… All these films are concerned with a layer of topics and still remain brazenly funny. They wrestle with Identity, finding your place in the world, materialism, the cost of creativity, definitions of success, commercialism, the meaning of repentance and also unconventional humor.

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One of the best dark comedies of 2014 is in theaters now. The Skeleton Twins stars Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as troubled siblings who reconnect after a ten-year estrangement when one of them attempts suicide. Sounds dark, right? Well, it is. Darker than I expected after hearing the buzz and seeing the trailer. But the film also contains some of the funniest scenes of the year. I laughed so hard and so long at a sequence in which Hader’s character Milo attempts to cheer up his sister by lip-syncing Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” It may be the funniest 5 minutes of film this year. This is bookended with the lives of these characters falling apart. It’s a marvel of balancing tone. Moreover, the two lead performers are the what allow this film to elevate to a higher level. We seen comedic actors given the chance to do dramatic work before and when its done as well as this you should pay attention.

Working Title: Death is Just Another Path…

This week Will Leschber remembers a lost friend. One for whom Theatre and Film stood as well-worn pillars to their friendship.

This last week I lost a dear friend. I had known Christian Oliver Fjell since fifth grade. To me, he was always just Chris. He is the first of my age group to pass. Death is never easy and to experience it with someone who was a close part of your life from adolescence into adulthood is a unique sadness.

I knew the grade school kid who wore out his Jurassic park shirt and could talk endlessly about dinosaurs and spies and movies of all kind. I knew the middle school guy who would read science fiction that was light years beyond his reading level. He could talk your ear off about Robert Heinlein, if you let him. Many times I heard him say, “You gotta read The Cat Who Walks Though Walls, man. It’s great!”


I knew the high school Chris as one of my most valued friends. Friendship at that time sounded like an endless stream of movie quotes, theatre games and excessive laughter. Get Shorty, Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, Magnolia, American Psycho, Gladiator, and still Jurassic Park: We threw around so many lines from these movies, you’d think we knew them by heart. Mainly, we just knew the lines that made us laugh or had an inordinate amount of curse words. Thank you Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson and Bret Easton Ellis. In the years after high school, we saw each other through forays into college, streams of crappy jobs, glorious and terrible relationships, heartache, heartbreak, more movies, the busts and booms of being in our 20 and still searching for our purpose.


Like many errant souls, we had both found a true place in Theatre. Whether that meant being a apart of it, seeing it, or critiquing it. Theatre gave us a unique foundation of personal and artistic connection. It brought out the best in him: athleticism, creativity, community, purpose. Some of my favorites memories stemmed from our time upon the stage. One in particular stands out as a good summation of our friendship. During our junior year the Drama department put on Guys and Dolls, as most high schools do from time to time. Being the superstars of high school theatre that we were, Chris and I were not cast in any of the leads. Oh no! We reigned supreme in the chorus, as backup dancers and various character parts that were beyond the abilities of those actors who could only play merely one part. Pffft, amateurs.


Anyway, in the middle of the run there came a night where the curtain call had a bit of a hitch. When the time came for the group of us dancer/chorus/character-role types to take the front of the stage for recognition, we were bumped by another group who jumped their order in the curtain call and blew right past us. My feeling at the time was these things happen and it was a simple mistake. No harm no foul. These things happen in high school theatre. BUT Chris wouldn’t let this stand.

The next day as the cast collected before the show to warm up and get ready, he called everyone’s attention. Chris was outspoken but was not one to make impromptu speeches to the whole cast. This was equal part speech and equal part reprimand. He went on to say that myself and the others who had been skipped in the curtain call were vital parts of the show and deserved better than to be overrun by others greedy for applause. He defended our hard work and said that we had spent just as much dedicated time at rehearsal as the folks who got much more of the spotlight. He expressed that even though it may have been an mistake, everyone in the cast was integral and should be valued as such. He stuck up for his friends and put himself out there to make sure they felt appreciated. I don’t know if his speech was necessary but I do know that it meant the world to me that he stood up there, took a risk and made sure that I felt valued and loved. Chris always had something to say. Friendship with him was never boring. He didn’t always say the right thing. God knows he said plenty of wrong things, but he always spoke from a place of loyalty and love. Years later (earlier this year, in fact), I felt the same way when he delivered his best man’s speech at my wedding.


Purpose, even now as we’ve passed beyond the barrier of our 30’s, can feel illusive. Chris was just 31. Sitting in the ICU, watching someone fade away, it’s tempting to feel that there is no purpose and that our struggles are pointless. But being in that room surrounded by friends and family sharing stories filled with laughter, tears and times untold, I knew we were all connected. Through this shared collective experience of being with him at the end, I knew that his time with us, although short, was invaluable and was without a doubt purposeful.

Old friends, community ties (theatre or otherwise) and recollected good times are always purposeful. You will be missed, my friend. Be seeing you…


Pippin: I didn’t think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path… One that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass… And then you see it.
Pippin: What? Gandalf?… See what?
Gandalf: White shores… and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: [smiling] Well, that isn’t so bad.
Gandalf: [softly] No… No it isn’t.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

~J.R.R. Tolkien (with some help from Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson)

Theater Around The Bay: Not Safe For Work

Stuart Bousel doesn’t mean to offend you, he’s just heavily referencing not-so-gentle literary satire to make a point without having to name names or get too specific.

Dear Everyone,

You know that scene in American Psycho where Patrick Bateman and one of his asshole friends are doing lines in the bathroom of the nightclub and his friend is blathering about how the drugs aren’t good and then the dude in the next stall is like, “Can you keep it down, I’m trying to do drugs” and then they almost get into a fistfight because they’re all coked out of their minds? No?

Watch this.

That’s basically where I’m at right now, and I’m fairly certain I’m not alone there. Turn that club into the San Francisco Bay Area, that bathroom into the local theater scene, use cocaine as a stand-in for Art or Theater or Idealism or Funding or Resources or Values or Cause Celebre Du Jour, and you get a pretty good idea of what my head has been like 78% of the time for most of this year, maybe longer. Maybe it was just less obvious in the past, but progressively I feel like there is a tension on the rise as the bathroom keeps getting more packed, the club more exclusive, the cocaine keeps ebbing and flowing and the only thing that shifts from day to day is who I am and who you are.

And you know who you are and you know what I’m talking about.

Sometimes I’m Patrick Bateman and you’re the asshole friend, and the asshole in the next stall is mouthing off about his bullshit needs but I’m ignoring it because I’m just trying to have a good time with you and bond over our common interest but you keep screwing it up by having to pick fights with people and yes, I know, they started it, but honestly, if you could hear the shit coming out of your mouth you might understand why they feel a need to say something because man oh man, is it pretentious and stupid and I know you want it all and you want it all yesterday but complaining about the stuff I put a lot of time into getting after you’ve only done one line tells me that you’re either an ungrateful bastard or trying to make it sound like you’re some kind of expert but in reality you’re so inexperienced you don’t know that nobody gets high on the first line unless it’s really really pure and guess what, kiddo: really really pure costs way more than you’re willing to spend so shut the fuck up and make the best of what we have or get out and stop hogging the straw.

Sometimes I’m the asshole friend and you’re the guy in the next stall and even though you may have a legitimate gripe the truth is you’re also a whiny drop of snot who is taking stuff way too personally and while I get that you think I’m a loud-mouthed windbag with nothing important to say, and you may even be right, I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to my friend, and expressing my standards for the bang I get for my buck is not doing you any harm, especially since you’re over there engaging in the same tomfoolery we’re pissing our lives away on and thus really don’t have a fucking pedestal to mount – which means get the fuck off of it and go back to your business or invite us into your stall since you clearly have the good shit (or think you do) which apparently requires so much concentration and focus on your end that my griping about my needs and desires is turning you into a confrontational blowhard when you would otherwise be politely ignoring us ignorant plebes and worshiping whatever fountainhead it was that made you God and leads you to believe you get to tell me or anyone to shut up and by the way, no, no, I’m not sorry that I want more and better.

Sometimes I’m the guy in the next stall and you’re the asshole friend who won’t stop talking and all I want you to do is shut the fuck up because I am trying to get on with my life over here, I’m trying to make the most of my night, okay, so even though in another context we’d probably get along or at least get drunk together, I don’t really give a fuck (nor should I be obligated to give a fuck just because we’re in the same bathroom) about your opinions, your complaints, your needs, your desires, your stupid, made-up, the-world-isn’t-fair-but-I-only-care-about-that-in-regards-to-me “issues”, instead of just going about your business doing what all of us here are trying to do which is pursue some kind of vaguely enjoyable, vaguely satisfying (or at the very least medicating) experience in relative peace for the short duration of time we have on this planet.

Sometimes I’m the other guy in the next stall, the one who doesn’t say anything, you just kind of see his head as he slips in the stall, and you’re Patrick Bateman and because I’m keeping quiet and not saying anything, just minding my own business (or trying to) while our asshole friends are fighting about stuff that doesn’t really matter, I notice that there’s something kind of… off… about you, despite how nice and in charge you’re pretending to be, and I realize that it’s probably a good thing we’ve got this stall between us and, if you chose, that wouldn’t be much protection either so maybe it’s best if we just all got back to our separate parties and pretended this never happened because hey… I’m just having a good time here, life is fucking short and I don’t want this to be the hill that I die on, OK? Or maybe that’s you.

Sometimes you’re the mirror and I’m the cocaine and you keep showing me that I have the power to make this a night to remember and/or turn all of us into monsters.

Sometimes I’m the mirror and you’re the cocaine and I feel like basically I exist for you to be spread on, crushed, divided, consumed, and I recognize that really does kind of suck for you.

Sometimes you’re the music and you’re so loud it’s making it impossible to hear myself think but I sure do like dancing so turn it up.

Sometimes you’re the club and all I want is to get out of you even though I worked so hard to get in and it can be a really fun club.

Sometimes you’re the stall and I’m hiding inside you.

Sometimes you’re the lock on the door and I just need to remember the door locks from within.

Stuart Bousel is a Founding Artistic Director of the San Francisco Theater Pub. He’s had a play about to open, EVERYBODY HERE SAYS HELLO! that you should see. It’s way more cheerful than this. He’s also the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Olympians Festival, which is trying to raise it’s annual budget, and could use your help so DONATE HERE. He promises he won’t be spending the money on drugs.