"All comedians either secretly want to be in the WWE or they want to be Broadway stars," comedian Jenny Jaffe recently observed.
"That's totally true," fellow comedian (and occasional TheaterMania contributor) Mara Wilson chimed in. "Wrestling and Broadway are both highly theatrical." Rather than establish their own amateur wrestling league for standups, Jaffe and Wilson decided to create a new cabaret act: Send in the Clowns is set to debut at 54 Below on July 21. The show will feature comedians talking about and performing selections from their favorite musical-theater roles that they'll never get a chance to play in real life.
Wilson and Jaffe will host the evening, which is guaranteed to be a blast if their repartee during their TheaterMania interview is any indication.
What's the connection between standup comedians and Broadway?
Mara Wilson: All comedians have a flamboyant side. They're drama nerds who have learned to temper the enthusiasm.
Jenny Jaffe: They're drama nerds who aren't good enough singers!
Mara: They were either a little too good or not good enough. A lot of people find drama people really annoying because they're too enthusiastic and they try too hard. It's supposedly cool not to care, but drama people care too much.
Jenny: And all comedians secretly care way more than anyone else on the planet.
Mara: Musical theater is pure spectacle and emotion. It felt like a natural fit.
How did you come up with the idea for the show?
Jenny: We were at Marie's Crisis, which is my favorite place on the planet.
Mara: Was that the night we saw Eugene Mirman and H. Jon Benjamin there?
Jenny: Yes! There were legit comedians there. We thought we should get comedians to do songs they secretly wish they could be performing on Broadway. Mara tweeted about it and there was this explosion of responses.
Would you like Send in the Clowns to feel kind of like a piano bar?
Jenny: Some of the songs are going to require a chorus and we're relying on the audience being big enough Broadway fans to jump right in.
Mara: Our rule is to let people get through the first verse and then start singing along. Even if voices crack, we want you to cheer and applaud. It's about embracing this part of yourself, even if you're not doing it particularly well. It's very much an inclusive atmosphere. The reason Jenny and I get along so well is because we want to welcome people in. A lot of comedy is about alienating people...provoking them. That's just never been us.
What are you singing?
Mara: I'm going to sing "The Ladies Who Lunch" from Company. I love it for the turn around when she realizes that she's been insulting all these people, but the joke is really on her. That's something I've dealt with a lot. Growing up, I would say, "Oh, I'm not like the other girls." But there comes a point when you realize, "Oh, wait…yes I am." And you understand that's OK. But that moment of realization can be difficult.
What is your most embarrassing musical-theater memory?
Jenny: Forcing my family to listen to the cast recording of The Phantom of the Opera when I was in seventh grade. My boyfriend and I have half-ironic affection for that show. We went for our anniversary. You get this attachment to it as a kid. Then you see it as an adult and realize how thin the plot is. It's not a great show, but everybody grew up with it.
Mara: It's like going to Universal Studios.
Jenny: It's totally a theme-park ride.
Mara: For me it was when I played the Broadway cast recording from Assassins for my little sister. My dad is very conservative and I got in trouble because he didn't approve of his daughters listening to a musical about killing presidents.
Jenny: It's about the American Dream, dad!
Mara: He acted like I was listening to death metal. He was like, "This is no better than songs about shooting cops or killing women."
I am sure Mr. Sondheim would be pleased to know that his musical still has the power to scandalize and offend.
Mara: I bet my dad would like that musical in the right context. We went from Wicked to that, so it was a steep climb for him.
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