Theatre Review: “Fiddle Shticks” by Three Dollar Bill Comedy Company at Comedy Sportz

Cast of the Three Dollar Bill Comedy Company

I have now been to two “editions” of the Three Dollar Bill Comedy Company’s “Fiddle Shticks” show at Comedy Sportz.  The first was on Friday, January 9, 2009.  The second was the following Friday, January 16, 2009.  The show is every Friday night at 10 pm for six weeks (through February 13, 2009.)  Each week, the company repeats audience favorites from the previous week and incorporates a few new sketches that are based on up-to-the-minute current events.  You must be 17 years old or older to attend.

The first time I went, a new colleague, Kristin, went with me.  I asked her on a whim, and when the adults-only jokes and language started flying, I remembered that I did not know Kristin well at all.  I wondered, suddenly, if she would find this material funny…or offensive.

But every time I glanced over, she was smiling, and several times I heard her laugh out loud.  As the company members were taking their bows at the end, Kristin turned to me and said, “They are all so talented!”

Whew.

The second time, I went by myself.  I know that some people can not imagine going to a show by themselves, or would rather stay home.  But sometimes I actually prefer going by myself.  Sometimes I just want to be completely free to laugh.  Or cry, for that matter. 

Anyway, I went a second time to “Fiddle Shticks” because I was curious about how the show would change and whether or not the new stuff would be as funny when the show’s writers had had only a week in which to come up with new sketches.

I laughed even more the second time.

This is a high-energy show, offering good value – both in terms of the length of the show and its content – for the money.  (Tickets cost $12.)  It is constantly changing but it is not an improv show.  The humor here is well honed and comes from a variety of sources, including sight gags, physical comedy, taboo subjects, unexpected juxtapositions, joyful word play, imaginative plotting, quirky characterization, and more.  The clever little references in the writing that tie one scene to another provide a bonus pleasure.

Even though this is not an improv show, I think all of the performers have improv backgrounds.  In any case, they seem to hold nothing back.  Paradoxically, their comedic control is spot on.  A flicker of an eyelid…a tiny, well-placed whimper…sometimes the subtlety in the acting made me laugh louder than the actual punch lines, although I loved the writing as well.

Mind you, there is a lot of yelling and dancing and jumping around, too.  The actors are drenched in sweat by the end of the evening.  Pounding club music between scenes drives and keeps the audience in a frenzy, too.  Everyone is pleasantly tired, I think, when the house lights come up.

Some scenes work better than others, but I imagine that is true of most sketch comedy shows.  Again, this is not an improv show, but it always includes completely new material.  The riskiness is part of the fun.

My favorite sketch is my favorite not only because it is funny but because it makes me feel vindicated.  It involves a woman using a wii for the first time.  Her friend tells her to pick an avatar and she chooses a librarian. 

Now I should say that whenever I go to improv shows I put “librarian” in the audience suggestion bowl, but so far, no one has ever used it.  I even saw one comedian throw my slip of paper on the floor in disgust!  That person could not even imagine us being funny.

In this show, however, the librarian is not only funny, but fun.  And sexual.  It is a satisfying sketch in more ways than one.  And the writers and actors of the sketch make it happen without shushing anyone.

I knew that librarians – and fire fighters, for that matter – could be funny.  Thank you, Three Dollar Bill Comedy Company.

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Three Dollar Bill Comedy Company is led by Will Pfaffenberger (and I thought my last name was challenging!) but he told me that all six of the members help to write and perform the material.  The Company includes Jeff Clawson, John Coan, Matt Kramer, Claire Wilcher, Chad Woodward, and Pfaffenberger.

The second time I went to “Fiddle Shticks,” I met Pfaffenberger’s sister, Julie Powers, and her business partners, Brad Zummwalt and Max Jones.  They run the Boggstown Cabaret , which is just southeast of Indy, and have also recently taken on the Coachlight Musical Theatre in Nashville, Indiana.  It was very exciting to hear their hopes, plans, and dreams for these two venues, but they deserve a “Conversation With” post of their own.  I have put that on my list for the future.  In the meantime, I really enjoyed talking with them and I wish them the best!

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When I called to make my second reservation for “Fiddle Shticks,” I got a chance to chat a bit with Troy Hanna, the manager of the Comedy Sportz venue.  I really appreciate his answering my questions.  Unfortunately, between that conversation and now, I have lost a few pages of my notes.  However, I still want to share that conversation with you, so I’m just going to tell what I remember.  As always, if you see any factual errors in this or any of my blog posts, please let me know.

Comedy Sportz has been making people laugh in Indianapolis since 1993.  It is owned by Mia Bauman, Lynn Burger and Ed Trout.  (“They are awesome to work for,” says Hanna.)

The regular shows are run like…well, like sporting events.  There is an electronic score board up on the wall; there are two uniformed teams; and there is a referee, who calls “foul” if someone incorporates a word or topic that is not family friendly.

“What happens if they use the “f” word or something by mistake?” I wanted to know.

Hanna told me that the offender has to sit in a corner wearing a dunce’s cap for a while.  Apparently, this works well as a deterrent for most people.

He also told me that the performers meet for improv practice once a week, in addition to the public performances.  That helps keep them sharp and in the family-friendly mode.

A co-worker and her husband told me recently that they think the family-friendly shows at Comedy Sportz are the funniest, because the comics have to really dig to find the funny.  They can’t go for the cheap-and-easy laugh.

I have not yet been to a regular CS show.  I have only been to the late-night, adults-only shows, many of which, like “Fiddle Shticks,” are presented by outside artists under contract with CS, so I can’t compare.  However, I loved “Fiddle Shticks” and I enjoyed the adults-only Christmas improv show last month.  Both went far beyond the cheap-and-easy laugh as well.

Speaking of the Christmas show, Hanna told me that CS does three “Unscripted” shows per year – the Christmas one that I saw, plus a take-off on Cinderella and a take-off on Romeo and Juliet.  They are written (or maybe “shaped” would be a better word, since they are “unscripted”) by one of CS’s owners.

When there are no guest artists or Unscripted shows lined up for the late-night, adults-only Friday slots, CS runs a $5 improv jam.

“How do people come to be on the staff?” I asked.  “Do you have auditions, or is there an interview process, or…”

Hanna told me that the permanent staff members usually come up through the improv classes taught by CS’s artistic director, Ed Trout.  There are several levels of instruction.  The advanced classes include public performances at CS.  Some of the students register with the explicit hope of being asked to join the permanent staff of improv artists. 

Others take the classes in order to help them improve their performances as sales people, lawyers, and other professionals who are more successful when they can think and respond effectively in the moment.  Still others, of course, take the classes just to loosen up and have fun.

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All ages are welcome at the regular Comedy Sportz shows, which run Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 7:30 and also Saturday nights at 10:00.  For more information or to reserve tickets, please call 317-951-8499 or 866-91-LAUGH.  Call this number or visit the website for info about improv classes, too.

For people 17 years old or older, “Fiddle Shticks” is presented by the Three Dollar Bill Comedy Company on Friday nights at 10:00 through February 13, 2009, also at Comedy Sportz.  Call the same number as above for reservations.

All of these shows have sold out in the past, so I do recommend that you make reservations.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

3 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Fiddle Shticks” by Three Dollar Bill Comedy Company at Comedy Sportz”

  1. Hope! I’m so glad you like the show. We put our hearts into it every week. Thanks for all the great compliments…the guys and I are so excited people are having fun. Also, no worries: the Wii sketch is STILL IN!! 🙂

    -Claire

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