Don’t f**k with America’s sweetheart.
That’s just one of the useful nuggets of wisdom you’ll learn (in this case, via Melissa Gilbert) from a visit to Celebrity Autobiography, the deliriously funny comedy that’s back in New York for a new season of fame skewering fun and fresh material. At each performance, a rotating group of celebrities, plus show creators Eugene Pack and Dayle Reyfel, step up to the stage and read excerpts verbatim from autobiographies of the famous and infamous (think esteemed authors like David Hasselhoff, Barbra Streisand and The Situation). It sounds simple and it is; all the actors use is a microphone and a print out of text. But the concept pays huge dividends in laughs as the players dig in to the jaw-dropping silliness found in these self-serious tomes.
The secret joy of the evening is that you get to watch great comedians at play, loose and unpressured, up close and in person. The cast on the night I attended was delightfully game (check the website to see who is scheduled for a particular night) and, in some cases, brilliantly sharp. In particular, a trio of women provided a fascinating case study in style and technique, while nailing joke after joke. Sherri Shepherd (The View) wowed with her range (she essayed Gilbert, Kathleen Turner and the most demented Cher I’ve ever heard) and attacked each line with infectious energy. Rachel Dratch (SNL) masterfully stoked laughs after the lines, tossing a look or a holding a beat that sealed the deal (her passive aggressive Celine Dion was genius). And let me count the ways I love Carol Kane (Taxi, The Princess Bride); whether playing a Streisand-obsessed Carol Channing or explicating the odd “chew and spit” diet of Dolly Parton, Kane employed deliciously controlled pauses to mine every last ounce of humor from her readings.
Top the evening off with their justifiably famous “Rashomon and on and on” telling of the Debbie Reynolds/Eddie Fisher/Elizabeth Taylor saga (related through the editing of their three autobiographies) and you’ve got one of the most unique, laid back and enjoyable comedy evenings in town. Do note: it’s a two drink minimum kind of venue so seating at the Triad Theater is sardine-tight and the tabs are cash only. The show is usually a Monday night event but they’re offering a Saturday night special tomorrow at 7pm.