The Jester Interview:
Citizens Brigade Theatre star performer Charlie Sanders scored big with
his solo show "You're Welcome For What You're About to See" this past
summer (see review), earning a mention
in Time Out's Top 10 Best in Comedy for 2006. Now, with colleagues Bobby
Moynihan and Eugene Cordero he is bringing a second edition of their
sketch show "Buffoons" to the theater, with performances
scheduled for Wednesdays, February 7 and 21.
Jester: What are some of the scenes in "Buffoons"?
Charlie Sanders: There’s … a scene about Scooter and the Beef, who are
two vaudevillian comedians that keep slapping each other in the face; a
scene about a rap hype man who has to work in an office, and we have
some even weirder shit there too that you have to see to believe.
J: How long have you been performing in shows at UCB?
CS: I started taking classes at UCB in 2001, so since then and started
doing sketch shows around the same time.
J: How did you get interested in doing comedy and acting?
CS: Yes. At Central High School in St. Paul, Minn., which was an arts
magnet school, I was in their touring theater company and the acting
classes. It was different from other acting programs where you would do
‘Our Town’ or whatever. We wrote our own plays and did them. They were
always about topics that had to do with the high school at that time. Me
and a few other dudes were the funny dudes in the class, so we ended up
making a sketch and improv group and would do shows in our black box
theater. So ever since I was about 15, I knew that’s what I was going to
J: What are the various things you’ve done in improv and sketch, before
and after The Shoves?
CS: Originally, after high school I did Comedy Sports Minnesota. Then
some of my friends and I did sketch shows during Comedy Sports, until I
was 21 and moved to New York and started doing Chicago City Limits. I
was writing and performing with their touring company for two and a half
years and then switched over to UCB.
There I was on a variety of Harold [improv] teams, including Police
Chief Rumble which was the first one I was on. We were also a sketch
group. That was … the sketch show I did with PCR, we got to do this
really cool thing where we did a midnight show on Friday nights and we
got to try out new sketches and then did improv afterward and came up
with sketch ideas from the improv. We crafted that into a show that we
did at 8 p.m. on Friday nights. That was a really defining experience
for me in comedy and I got some really good chops out of that.
After that I was on a couple more Harold teams and did some sketch
shows, including “Proceed With Honor,” another called “Charlene Figures
It All Out,” and then me and Bobby and Eugene did the Buffoons after PCR.
This is Buffoons second sketch show. Some cool stuff came out of that.
Then I did my one-man-show, “You’re Welcome For What You’re About To
See,” and then we wrote the new Buffoons show. As one show was going on
I would start writing the next one, and when one ends I start putting up
the next one.
J: Where do you get your ideas both solo and with the groups?
CS: “You’re Welcome For What You’re About To See,” a few of the
characters were based on people I actually knew, and then one came from
a character I did in improv and some practices sometime -- the fat dude
writing letters was from an improv show, and the Papa John’s and stoner
characters were both dudes I knew in Minnesota. The Papa John’s
character was based on an actual Papa John’s manager I had at that time
in St. Paul.
The trucker character -- the movie ideas he pitches were actual movie
ideas that I had that I thought sounded so ridiculous that I had to
figure out some sort of character so I could somehow say them, so I
figured out a character who might come up with those kinds of movies.
Coming with character ideas is just people you know, and then premises
for a sketch show like Buffoons come out of weird shit that happens to
you or bits you do with your friends at a restaurant or bar, and taking
those ideas logically or illogically blowing them out into a full
J: Some say improv shouldn’t be geared toward trying to develop
sketches, and others say the opposite, that it’s a good place to get
ideas from. Where do you come down on that?
CS: It’s a great place to get ideas from. Neither one of those things is
the only thing that’s true. When we did PCR shows at midnight we would
totally gear our improv toward that. Sometimes we would have a character
or idea that we wouldn’t have written out yet, and we would improvise
with that character or idea and that would help us write it. At a Harold
night, where you’re trying to do pure improv, you don’t want to come in
with any preconceived notion. You just want to go from a blank slate.
You can go off the audience reaction, but if you come up with a good
idea it’s totally fine to turn it into a sketch.
J: Does Buffoons rely on the total intelligence of the group or the
total stupidity of the group?
CS: That’s funny -- someone just wrote an e-mail to me, ‘I can’t tell if
it’s stupidly brilliant or brilliantly stupid.’ I think it’s
intelligence. … I don’t know how to answer that question. It’s a
combination. You have to be willing to be stupid, but you can take any
stupid idea and use your brains to make that stupid idea become this
greater concept or cooler idea. So both.
J: How have the different improv teams you’ve been on differed from each
other in chemistry or anything?
CS: There’s a whole range of different stuff. I’ve been on improv groups
that sucked and improv groups that were great, like … Chemistry is
weird. I don’t know what makes it work and what doesn’t, but I can say
that the ones that do work really well, the one ingredient I’ve really
found in them is that everyone wants to have fun. Everyone really enjoys
what they’re doing. I know that sounds like a cheesy thing you put on a
poster at a workplace, like ‘Everyone’s gotta have fun to make it work,’
but that’s kinda true.