Improvisational theater involves the art of creating live theater without preset scenes, characters, props or a script. It’s a distant cousin to sketch comedy, which is written and can be seen on shows like Saturday Night Live and MADtv (although to complicate things, some sketch work starts out in improv). Improvisational theater (or improv for short) is an amazingly difficult craft, and when it’s done well, the result can be some of the funniest and most ‘alive’ theater you can see.
WeirDass, the husband and wife team of Bob Dassie and Stephnie Weir, are extremely well known within the improv world for their dynamic, detailed and hilarious performances. Together they’ve performed at some of the top improv venues in the world, including the venerable Improv Olympics in both Chicago and Los Angeles, and the UCB (Uprights Citizen Brigade) Theater in New York.
Stephnie Weir is an alumni of the legendary Second City and was a cast member on MADtv from 2000-2006, and Bob Dassie worked with the Improv Olympics, performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with Baby Wants Candy (a fully improvised musical) along with 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer and can be seen on HBO’s “Funny or Die Presents…” starring in “Carpet Bros.” along with Tim Meadows, David Spade and Will Farrell. Needless to say, both collectively and individually, these two have extremely impressive resumes.
The Curious Comedy Theater show is a very rare Northwest appearance for WeirDass, something that hasn’t happened since we’ve been following improv and something that probably won’t happen again any time soon. The duo have fairly young kids and so they generally perform together as WeirDass only in their home town of Los Angeles.
Since every show is completely different, it’s difficult to review one night over another. We attended the Friday show where the duo worked an evening of improvisational theater off the suggestion “Don’t step in dog poo”, the response from an audience member for a request for advice a parent would give their kids as they grow up. What followed was a series of thematically connected scenes that riffed mostly on the subject of relationships and dogs and everything in between.
The opening was a beautifully paced and executed faux documentary-style interview of two roommates discussing their attempts to find the right dog to fit their needs – mostly meeting men. “If a man loves a dog, than he’ll love women. We did the math and it works”, proclaims Stephnie’s character, “We can show you the work”, instantly replies Bob. Throughout this scene, and much of the show, the duo effortlessly complement each other. The humor of WeirDass is rarely forced and often feels entirely natural, almost accidental. At times it’s hard to imagine that what we’re watching isn’t scripted . Stephnie and Bob seem so comfortable in their characters and the humor that they are free to pay attention to the even the tiniest of details.
One of the highlights of the show was a scene that takes place in a restaurant bathroom. Stephnie’s character is caught in a stall without toilet paper and desperately tries to convince Bob’s character to help her out. The humor in this scene comes from the finest of details as Bob’s character spools mounds of paper to give to Stephnie and then Stephnie attempts to re-spool it in her stall. There’s an almost savant-like way that these two seem to be completely aware of what the other is doing on stage and where the scene is headed. The result is an amazing mix of physical, situational and verbal humor.
The show winds in and out of different scenes and characters, each feeling like it contains a thread from what we’ve seen prior. While generally playing things more down to earth and ‘real’ with WeirDass, Stephnie Weir did get an opportunity to play a fairly over the top and outlandish character, reminiscent of some of the work she did on MADtv. It was fun to see her play on a number of different levels, including a brief but fun, way over the top character. Bob Dassie is the master of the perfect comment and throughout the set he often said or did the tiniest thing that was simply hilarious.
What makes the WeirDass show so amazing is that in addition to an evening of top humor, you also get an evening of actual theater. Although there’s no script, Stephnie and Bob manage to create, on the spot, compelling characters, story lines and themes that are entertaining to watch outside of their humorous value. It truly is improv at its very best.
Here’s a video clip of WeirDass from the 2007 Vancouver Improv Festival, which gives you a good idea of just how amazingly funny and inventive this improv duo is.