New Live Comedy Show Is Doper Than What, Exactly?
Heckle Her Productions goes all Nineties-style with latest comedy gig
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
2:30PM, Wed. Jul. 13, 2016
There was this sort of televised explosion in the early Nineties that unleashed, like, a skadillion Wayans family members into the national comedy zeitgeist. Remember? Also, that Jim Carrey guy.
The show was In Living Color, yes, and now Austin’s Heckle Her Productions is bringing a live version of that show – they’re calling it Doper Than Dope – to The Institution Theater this weekend and beyond, with original material and full-on choreography and a live DJ and the sort of panache they brought to that Love Me Tinder of theirs at the recently shuttered Salvage Vanguard Theater.
Heckle Her Productions, which means that Adrienne Dawes is one of the head honchos here. (Note: She’s also the director of Doper Than Dope.) And Dawes is also the playwright responsible for last year’s much-acclaimed Am I White?, and she’s a general mover & shaker in the creative community, and she’s also (damnit) leaving Austin for Tulsa in January.
So how could we not sit down with her and writer/performer Andie Flores and a hotshot young actor named Kenah Benefield and grab some details for you, citizen?
Answer: We couldn’t.
Brenner: What inspired you to bring back In Living Color?
Adrienne Dawes: This show was pitched by Scott Hearne, one of the producers, and he really wanted to see In Living Color come back – because it was such an inspiration for so many people, there were so many stars who came out of the show and went on to do amazing things. But he was like, “But I’m a white guy,” essentially, and he felt there should be people of color behind the show. So he talked to me about directing and writing for it.
Brenner: And of course you were a big fan of the show, too, back in the Nineties.
Dawes: No, actually. My parents didn’t allow me to watch In Living Color. Or Saturday Night Live. Or My So-Called Life. I was in junior high at the time, and my parents were very strict. It wasn’t until I was, like, 16 or 17 that I could watch what I wanted. So there was a bunch of cultural stuff that I got into in college, that everybody else grew up watching. But when I researched In Living Color, I was like, “Oh, this is so much fun! There’s so much here.” Discovering Kim Wayans, what a wonderful performer she is. Even though it was mostly the male performers who went on to huge things, the women in that show were just as strong – the characters they created, the stuff that they wrote, it was incredible. So there was a lot for me to get into.
Brenner: And how did you find the people involved in Doper Than Dope?
Dawes: Mostly auditions.
Brenner: So, when you were holding auditions, did you go to Maggie Maye or did Maggie Maye come to you?
Dawes: Oh, I definitely went to her! She and Da’Shade Moonbeam and Jarrett King were three people I really, really wanted to work with. I sat down with each of them, and totally convinced them to do it. They’re really hard to pin down, because they’re so busy all the time with shows, with film and music. But – luck of the draw, yeah. And the whole cast, I mean, they’re all great.
Brenner: And how did you go about casting the, ah, the one white person in this show?
Dawes: Well, I had a quota. [grins] No, just kidding. Chelsea [Bunn]’s a great performer and writer, she’s perfect in so many roles. But also we didn’t have as many white actors audition as we did people of color. I was like, “Hey, we want to see a lot of diversity in performers,” and you kind of assume people know what that means, that it includes everyone in the room. But we only had two white guys show up. But everybody that auditioned, it wasn’t like “I don’t know …” because all of them, they were all so good. It was hard to whittle them down.
Brenner: How did you choose the sketches for the show?
Dawes: Well, we had two weeks to write. And at the end of that, we had enough material to do three shows. I had the opposite problem that I thought I would. I thought it’d be like pulling teeth to get people to write material but, instead, everyone was writing. Andie, in particular, wrote a ton of sketches. The cast wrote the majority of the sketches, and then there were some that outside writers wrote for the cast, so we’ve got a combination of what really hit in rehearsal, and what the cast wanted to do, what characters they wanted to play. And there was a lot. I like everything we have, but there’s a lot of good material that didn’t make it in.
Andie Flores: Each week that we had rehearsal, we had different things to play with – whether that was writing for a solo sketch or for as many people as we could fit in from the cast. And we played a lot of games that put the characters into different situations. And a lot of it’s focused on things from the Nineties, so we have O.J. in there, we have Mary-Kate and Ashley –
Brenner: So the show is actually set in the Nineties?
Flores: Yeah, the early Nineties. And I was born in 1990. I watched In Living Color because my mom was a huge fan, but, in terms of going back and revisiting all the cultural stuff of the time, this was like a big research project for me. And we have some weird stuff, stuff that’s just fun, but also a lot of political commentary.
Brenner: Political commentary of that time? Or stuff that’s timeless, or things that are more relevant now?
Flores: Unfortunately, a lot of the stuff that was going on then is still happening now. So there’s a lot of opportunity for people to work through the same frustrations, to talk about the stuff that really bugs us today.
Dawes: Hillary Clinton’s in the show. And we’re doing a Friends parody, “Black Friends.” And we’re playing it all TV clean – as clean as a TV show would be. So Doper Than Dope isn’t necessarily kid-friendly, but it’s pretty friendly.
Brenner: And most comedy shows, whether they’re improv or sketch or whatever, they don’t use a choreographer. But Doper Than Dope …
Dawes: We have the Fly Girls, so there’s a big dance component. Carissa McAtee was someone I reached out to early on – she’s done a lot of choreography, and this is really her style of dancing. And we’ve got a live DJ – DJ Mahealani – who used to be onstage, but now we’ve put her in the audience to make this work.