Always on a Sunday: The Comedians of 'Thinning the Herd'
"Heavily in reality." You see what I did there? Better to see what Tyler Bryce is doing: He's producing a show in which three teams of comedy improvisers, most of them of substantially imposing stature, compete to create the funniest skits onstage and, between shows, lose the most weight.
Each performer uses whatever program they choose – Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, the Del Close YES-SANDwich Diet, boot camps, sheer relentless willpower driving a haphazard plan, etc. – and the losses (or gains) are tracked, and the winners get to enforce certain "challenges" on the losers. And those challenges are videotaped for playback at the next show.
"Some of the things we've done," says producer Bryce (who also performs in the show), "we trained with an MMA fighter. And we had a team that had to take a really awkward piece of exercise equipment called a Gazelle to various spots around the city, and they had to use the Gazelle there. It's similar to an elliptical machine, but it's a really awkward contraption – and they had to carry it to the top of Mount Bonnell, to Town Lake, to the UT campus. And we auditioned for the Rollergirls, and other challenges. And all of these are on video and are available on our website or through our Facebook page."
Bryce (six-foot-three, currently weighing in at 296), recently returned to Austin, is a local improviser from back in the day. He started with the legendary ComedySportz in 1991 and directed Les McGehee's troupe from 1995 until 2001, then made tracks for the Big Apple.
"I spent five years in New York," he says. "And when you're in New York, you spend so much money just staying in New York; and you have to generate so much money just to stay in New York that you kind of lose sight of what you're trying to do. But I stayed there until 2006, then moved to Oklahoma to get a degree in film & video. I also took a bunch of production classes, which is how I'm able to produce these silly little videos that we make."
And where'd the idea for Thinning the Herd come from?
"Well, I was ready to lose weight," says Bryce. "And I have a buddy, Britain Spellings, and the only way he responds well to doing things is if you make him a bet or a dare. And this whole thing came out of me daydreaming a show where I went, 'You know what'd be really fun? If I try to lose weight and he tries to lose weight, and whichever one of us doesn't has to do some silly thing in the city – and it'll be videotaped.' So it started off as sort of a pranky idea, and then Britain was like, 'Well, this other guy might do the show, too,' and I talked to him, and he goes, 'Yeah, that's a great idea, and we should get this other guy involved, too, and – ' Then someone said, 'Oh, you need some girls involved.' And when I pitched the show to Tom Booker, he said, 'Let's have an audition!' Next thing you know, there are 15 people that are willing to lose weight and be involved in a show where we film them doing crazy things. So it grew – but it grew the right way: A bunch of people saying 'Yes, and' to each other."
Yes, and how much weight has the cast lost so far?
"Almost two hundred pounds altogether," says Bryce. "We have some people that lost in the thirties, some that lost in the twenties, and some that have lost minuscule amounts."
And what does the winner get – besides less weight?
"The winning person gains control of the Golden Refrigerator," says Bryce. "And in the Golden Refrigerator right now –"
Wait, is this a real thing?
"It's a concept," says Bryce. "And inside the Golden Refrigerator are a bunch of prizes. Someone was nice enough to donate an elliptical machine. We've got things like a colonic cleansing and a ionic foot bath. We've got a makeover from a company here in town, passes to Rollergirls matches. And the winner also gets to decide how to divvy everything up, instead of just awarding everything to one team member."
Austin Chronicle: OK, I look at the photos on your site, and I see some big guys. Men, women, some of them pretty big people. But then I see Jeremy Sweetlamb, and, what is he? A flyweight?"
Tyler Bryce: Well, Jeremy had 30 pounds that he wanted to lose. And that's a reasonable amount to lose over the course of four months, which is how long the show happens. And he's reached about half of his goal.
AC: And who's the heaviest person you've got for this show?
Bryce: Jaime Gonzales started this thing off at 340 pounds.
AC: And who's the smallest?
Bryce: That would be Jeremy Sweetlamb.
AC: Aha! And you've got, what? A dozen people performing?
Bryce: There are 14 members of the regular cast. Plus I've got two people working the booth. And a host.
AC: And you've got Tom Booker performing with you. And Chuy Zarate?
AC: And what are these people doing onstage besides weighing in?
Bryce: The way the show's structured, there are three improv sets during the show. Each team does a set, and then the audience rates the set. And the team that wins the show gets a two-pound weight advantage.
AC: And, ah, how much weight have you lost?
Bryce: Well, I had lost 20 pounds. But over Thanksgiving I gained three. So I'm down 17. And right now, because we're between the last show and the finale, because we added some weeks in there, I'm not getting on a scale until the finale.
AC: And that finale's on January Sixth, right? Sunday?
Bryce: That's right – at 6pm, at the Institution Theatre.
AC: Well, good luck, man. And, oh – hold on, before I put this recorder away. Tyler, there's rumors that, for the second season of Thinning the Herd, you're going to have Dave Buckman? And maybe Roy Janik?
Bryce: I can confirm those rumors. And Les McGehee. So I'm already looking forward to that. I mean, if I have a show with Les, Tom, Roy, and Dave – forget what the show's about, you know?