Hawk and Wayne — known individually for their starring roles in local professional theater productions, and as teachers, professional actors and all-around leaders in their craft — have been producing original and long-form improv for the past few years. Past shows include The Dumb Show and 321. They’re back for their fourth season at American Stage’s After Hour series with their latest and possibly greatest concept.
Their new show can be seen the first Sunday of the month and it’s based on Chuck Shepherd’s infamous and nationally recognized News of the Weird column, which runs locally right here in Creative Loafing (aptly enough, since Shepherd lives in Tampa).
The column, often the first thing readers turn to in CL, recounts absurd, out-there news stories, many of them unbelievable, all of them real. Hawk and Wayne, as fans of the column, had the bright idea of using the strange but true tales as a jumping-off point for improvs, asking audience members to choose a News of the Weird story from Creative Loafing for the duo to play with. At the October show, audience members sat with copies of the paper spread open across their cabaret tables and shouted out requests for the next skit.
I love the concept. But I’ll tell you one thing; I didn’t expect the sketches to pan out the way they did.
“Courtroom Follies,” one of the requested stories during last month’s show, introduced the audience to a man in jail (Wayne), on charges of trespassing and open alcoholic containers. He requested to be released in a video feed to the courtroom. The suspect told the judge (Hawk) that he should be allowed to return home due to his wheelchair-bound medical condition. After “she” agreed to let the man go, he rose from his wheelchair and quickly walked away. The judge raised both her hands and declared, “He’s been cured!”
Hawk and Wayne took the absurd scenario and made it even more amusing. Hawk’s impression of a female judge was spot-on, and Wayne convincingly hammed it up like a ridiculous thug, sending the entire room into laughter. What started as a simple skit escalated to Wayne being amputated, bulimic and having a glass eye from maggots laying eggs in his head.
Even some elderly guests keeled over — from laughter, of course — demonstrating that the event is suitable and enjoyable for guests of all ages.
In another sketch, Hawk was an Indian masseuse in one scene while Wayne was a Chinese convenience store owner in another. Offensive? Maybe a little — but laughs dominated over judgment. Especially given that they’re wildly animated and appear to have more than cursory knowledge of different types of people and cultures — and more to the point, they’re convincing.
The duo does a lot with a very little. The only things they had to work with were themselves and sometimes a chair or two. The rest stems from skill and imagination.
What I also loved most was the comedians’ ability and willingness to do whatever it took to push a scene forward. Things got a bit touchy-feely as Hawk attempted to grope Wayne during the massage, but they didn’t appear self-conscious. Unlike comics stifled by inhibitions, Hawk and Wayne weren’t afraid of going too far with each other. The ease they demonstrate with one another attests to their chemistry as a duo. They took cues from each other without a word, sometimes picking up on body language — they always seemed to be on the same page.
They certainly pass one of the biggest tests of improv: They know when to end a scene. One could sense that two had had worked together before and had come to understand each other.
The skits were longer than expected — around 15 or 20 minutes for each. Before seeing the show, I would’ve thought that was a little too lengthy. But the show never dragged. The comedians could have continued a single act for hours and still kept my full attention the entire way through.
News of the Weird Live is a great primer for improv newbies like me, whose experience might be limited to episodes of Whose Line is it Anyway? and just a couple shows here and there. I’ve never quite understood how actors could come up with so much material on the spot, but Hawk and Wayne make improv seem so effortless, that I may even want to try it.
Hawk and Wayne's News of the Weird: Live is 7 p.m. Sun., Nov. 4, and the first Sun. of each month at American Stage, downtown St. Petersburg. Admission is pay what you can (suggested $15-$20) or $15 in advance. facebook.com/hawkandwayne