Can activism and comedy coexist? Watching the humorless, earnest ads on the websites of groups like Greenpeace or considering the screwy moral compasses of many of America's most beloved funnymen (Eddie Murphy's penchant for "pretty women" comes to mind) may have you shaking your head at the thought.
Yet just as you sigh and delete another stentorian e-mail from MADD, a light appears on the horizon in the form of the Late Night Players, four strapping young lads with healthy consciences and sturdy funny bones.
Aaron Kagan, Seth Reibstein, Zach Sherwin, and Andrew Slack first united in 2000 as undergrads at Brandeis University, where they met in the wee hours of the morning ("We had the best idea," Kagan says, "'We'll do everything in the middle of the night, everyone's free then!'") and set stringent rules for their budding troupe.
"Rule number one was absolute secrecy," Kagan says, "rule two was that we were going to be extremely exclusive, and rule three was that we weren't going to make any jokes about the college, like the 'Oh boy, how about that cafeteria food?' kind of thing."
The prescient decision to avoid timely, restrictive jokes has worked well for the Late Night Players, who made the ballsy choice to forgo the typical post-graduate lackey job and instead focus on doing their unique, intelligent brand of sketch comedy full-time.
In the process, the LNP have written jokes for or collaborated with a strange and intriguing mixture of people and organizations, including William Shatner, the Boston Red Sox, BJ Novak (the American Office), the Democratic National Party, Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton, and a very tipsy Robert Goulet — whom you can see posing, in the flushed flesh, with Reibstein on the LNP blog (http://blog.myspace.com/latenightplayers).
"Basically," Kagan says, "because we are such an independent entity — we don't really have a boss, we don't even have a manager — every day we have to sit down and say, OK, in what ways can the world use a sketch comedy group?"
While the star-studded writing gigs provide the LNP with some damn fine stories, it's their nonstop touring on the college circuit that pays the bills. They've spent the last four years performing at least 250 days out of each year, dividing their time between comedy festivals, high-profile gigs at Ivy League colleges, and out-of-the-way schools like Gannon University, Hendrix College, and Rensselaer Polytechnic University.
And the live shows are just the beginning. They've racked up over 300,000 views of the YouTube video they created for Wal-Mart Watch, a hilarious bit of social comedyentary (think "comedy" + "commentary") titled "Harry Potter and the Dark Lord Waldemart."
Their latest one is a cutting-edge interactive clip called "The Text-Your-Own Adventures of Spider-Man," which centers on a tiff between the Golden Girls and the sticky webslinger and calls for the viewer to determine the fate of Spidey by sending a text message at the end of the half-animated, half-live action video. So far, it's garnered nearly two million hits and a whopping 22 response videos.
While their performance at Buxton's East Bay Theatre will include a few films, the hot live action sounds promising, too. Kagan mentions that the show is almost completely new material (the LNP were last here just a few months ago, for January's Charleston Comedy Festival) that's "a little more hip-hop," with Sherwin spittin' rhymes as his rapping alter ego Mr. Napkins, Reibstein and Slack relaying the story of "a coupla guys who were up to no good" (think Fresh Prince), their trademark anagrams, plus maybe just a smidge of wild dancing. All this and consciences, too? You bet. —Sara Miller
LATE NIGHT PLAYERS • Piccolo Spoleto's Piccolo Fringe • $15 • (1 hour) • May 30 and 31 at 7:30 p.m.; June 1 and 2 at 7 p.m. • Buxton's East Bay Theatre, 184 East Bay St. • 554-6060