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Secret Sufi

Charlie Sanders brings out the absurdity of growing up in unlikely circumstances, while cohort Anthony Atamanuik does the same with his own addictive past.

Pictured: Anthony Atamanuik and Charlie Sanders.

Two of the UCB’s most gifted improv and sketch performers reveal that their personal stories can yield comedy more surprising than written sketches, in their new solo monologue shows -- Anthony Atamanuik’s “Pissing My Pants On Vine” and Charlie Sanders’ “Minnesota Muslim,” seen at the theater November 14.

Although one wonders if maybe there’s just a bit of hyperbole in Atamanuik’s stories of extreme drug abuse and sexual obsessions -- as well as Sanders’ tales of unlikely coincidences and outlandish characters from his past and childhood -- their command of the storytelling and the way they connect with the audience while performing, captivates and carries you along.

Atamanuik, of UCB improv group Death By Roo Roo, tells of his past in L.A. working for Jim Henson Productions by day and being consumed by cocaine, meth and alcohol abuse by night. Without ever spelling it out, he highlights the absurdity of the contrast between contributing to wholesome children’s entertainment while being engaged in the most X-rated behavior outside the office.

The pairing of Atamanuik and Sanders’ shows was a good one and a thematic match because Sanders also effortless highlights unlikely contrasts in his own show, particularly, as suggested by the title, he grew up Muslim in Minnesota, maybe the only Caucasian who was doing so back then. But the contrast wasn’t with how most perceive Muslims now as Arab or Middle Eastern, but with Black Muslims, since the movie “Malcolm X” and attendant “X” hats were popular when Sanders was in high school.

People kept challenging Sanders as to whether he was really Muslim, he recalls, asking him to speak “Muslim” to prove it. That’s just one little aspect of the unlikely stranger-than-fiction experience Sanders relates in the early part of the show. But he takes the story into a greater tour-de-force when recalling all the unusual past associations that returned around the death and funeral for his father, a 1960s hippie who became Muslim and raised Sanders and his brothers that way -- like a crazy ex-girlfriend of his dad’s and the Muslim congregation his father ended up finding later in life, which consisted mostly of Somalis.

The genial personalities of these two performers, Sanders and Atamanuik, go a long way to getting audiences to suspend their disbelief if their stories might be slightly embellished, and successfully portray the events of their past lives, bringing the absurdity to the fore without having to spell it out -- being entertaining with their own material all the while.

Atamanuik’s show returns Friday, November 28 and Sanders’ on Friday, November 21. 



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