How to make sure you’re never invited to guest star on 30 Rock

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This Spoleto Buzz blogger, having in recent days created a permanent indentation in his computer chair the size and shape of his backside, spent yesterday evening on the Piccolo trail, specifically that section of it carved out by Theatre 99 and their lunatic Fringe. At 7pm I was at Theatre 99 for a nearly sold out show from the Harvard Sailing Team, which is just as good as you’ve heard it is.

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These nine kids from New York’s People’s Improv Theatre (home also to last year’s Piccolo Fringe faves Elephant Larry) create masterful sketch comedy that sneaks up on you and swats you in the face with its cleverness before you know you’ve even been had. It’s not character-driven sketch stuff – the kind of broad joe-six-pack humor the SNL loves to deliver – but deeply creative vignettes that are as often self-referencing (i.e. about the Harvard Sailing Team) as they are reflective of pop culture stalwarts like American Idol, Coldplay, indie rockers, West Side Story, and the loathesome, mindless wasteland known as The Bachelor. Best sketch, hands down: a pair of players stand on chairs and manipulate actors in seats before them as if they are schoolgirls playing with marionette puppets, whose convincing physics as string-actioned objects was nearly perfect. Naturally, big brother comes in with uzi-weilding G.I. Joe and guns everyone down.

Later, at Charleston Ballet Theatre, I saw the very definition of “starstruck” when City Paper editor Stephanie Barna’s eight

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year old son Jack walked in to the lobby and saw Jack McBrayer, of NBC’s 30 Rock – a Jack Barna must-see – standing in front of him. I’m talking paralyzed, eyes like saucers, jaw-on-the-floor stuff. The big Jack was almost as self-conscious as the little one about it. Later, McBrayer and I sat together inside for the Caeti & Bills show we’d come to see.

Old Second City hands (whom many will recognize from previous Piccolo gigs at Physicians Auditorium) Frank Caeti and Jen Bills go way back with McBrayer, and when they spotted him in the audience they decided to have a bit of fun. They’re show runs heavy on audience participation – and not just the kind where they ask for a single-word suggestion. They want improvisers, or at least those who can fake it. The Lowbrow has never taken an improv class in his life, and if he ever manages to be clever with words, it’s only after expending deep thought and a lot of sweat and time at the keyboard. So when the two called on yours truly to stand up and say a few words about their fictional colleague, Jack McBrayer – a sales rep for ABC who’d recently died after falling from a ropes course – I stood and, with the star 30 Rock star sitting beside me, eulogized him with one of the lamest improvisational efforts possibly in the history of the art form. Dell Close would have cried. Afterward, I sat down and immediately retreated to my secret place inside, where I cut myself with sharp things and whimpered.

Naturally, McBrayer was friendly afterward, pretending it had all been just peachy. But I think in his secret place, he wanted to slug me.

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