The Brothers Return
Jason Mantzoukas and Ed Herbstman bring their improv duo back to New York
By Michael Shashoua / Jester editor-in-chief
Improvisers Jason Mantzoukas and Ed Herbstman paired up again as “The Mantzoukas Brothers” in a December 7 performance at the Magnet Theater that confirmed that the duo’s mastery is on a level with that of “T.J. & Dave,” the revered Chicago improvisers (see 2009 documentary film review).
In about an hour, Mantzoukas (see interview, 9/9/07) and Herbstman played four different scenes with quick reactions and very sharp on-the-spot writing of dialogue and action. From the very beginning, in a scene where Herbstman took the audience suggestion of “blind” literally, and Mantzoukas turned out to be his verbally abusive and somewhat sadistic father (letting him fall on his butt several times by not telling him that he’d moved a chair), the duo fearlessly went to the darkest places and got laughs there.
This became evident again when Mantzoukas and Herbstman played cops – Jason as the “street smart” one and Ed as the more educated one, who had lost half his body to an archvillain’s pendulum-like weapon (and had it replaced with ‘robots,’ as Jason called it). Of course, the seed they sowed by mentioning an archvillain named the “Gamemaster” paid off later in the improvisation.
Mantzoukas and Herbstman also got more of the dark tone to their comedy into another piece where Ed, as the manager of a Gymboree, had to deal with Jason, as his top salesperson, freely admitting to rapes on the property. The duo did bring out some lighter moments as another pair of characters, young women (maybe sorority sisters) getting ready to go out at night and squabbling over koala clip accessories.
Catching “The Mantzoukas Brothers,” which happens less frequently in New York since Mantzoukas began appearing in more L.A.-based TV and movie productions, is now a rare treat here. In this performance, they showed how they can bring forth fully realized comedy from scratch with its own unique, signature tones and themes.
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© 2005-2017 Michael Shashoua