Andre Comfort knows the secret to becoming a full-time comedian in tough economic times. "I got laid off," he says. "That's a really fast way to do it."
While the former graphic designer isn't opposed to landing a paying gig — he says, "I really would prefer not to end up on the street" — Comfort is making excellent use of his time by launching The Assorted Rogues, a brand new sketch comedy act performing at Theatre 99.
"The initial idea came right about November of last year," Comfort says. "I wanted to branch out on my own, and I was looking for something different to do other than improv."
What he cooked up is a series of wickedly funny jabs, mostly at television but also at life in general. "I have a very cynical view of the world, how things work and why they work that way. That's where I get a lot of the material from."
The Assorted Rogues is a multimedia experience, intertwining live stage performance with music and prerecorded video clips, such as the "Great Moments in Boyfriend History" series that the Rogues released on YouTube to build anticipation for the live show.
The great American pastime of watching TV gets the most thorough ribbing. Chalk it up to the love/hate relationship Comfort has developed with the medium over the years.
"There are really some ridiculous TV shows on, and you wonder, 'Why are these even considered good?' And you realize that it's because people sit there and watch them to make fun of them."
To put the show together, Comfort gathered faces new and old to Theatre 99 alike: funny folks like Jordan Reeves, Derek Humphrey, Dusty Slay, and Ally Bing.
"I'm always looking for people who are understated," Comfort says of his selection process. "I look for the little things that people do well, weird, subtle things that make me laugh."
For Brandy Sullivan and Greg Tavares of Theatre 99, watching The Assorted Rogues develop as an act and encouraging them along the way is just part of what they do.
"The Complete History of Charleston for Morons, The Banana Monologues, Foxhole Feng Shui, The Assorted Rogues, and Shoe Horn Comedy are great examples of scripted shows created by company members," note Greg and Brandy in a joint e-mail. "Once the idea is conceived and the group has rehearsed, they can schedule an 'after act' to workshop in front of an audience. We can liken this to how playwrights have stage readings of their work for an audience as a way to develop the play. Shows that blossom during the after-act process are given a premiere of their work for a paying audience."
While much of the writing for the show is done by Comfort and Humphrey, all of the Rogues contribute their unique voices to make the act an enjoyable experience. Watching them practice in the days leading up to their debut, it is obvious that this is a high-energy troupe, each Rogue constantly cooking up ways to fine-tune the dialogue and physical comedy.
That premiere took place on Sat. Sept. 19 to a packed house. The show was a raucous romp across the stuff we see and hear every day, from commercials that gleefully extol the potential financial benefits of being injured to the between-takes banter of TV news anchors who obviously loathe one another.
One of the most side-splitting clips, "Andre & Jordan: Adventures in the South," invites viewers along on a bawdy cross-cultural stroll through the boutiques and streets of downtown Charleston set to the tune of the Paul McCartney/Stevie Wonder classic, "Ebony & Ivory." Viewers may never eye a watchful retailer or Italian ice vendor in quite the same way afterwards.
The comedy is a mix of physical comedy and witty banter, the kind of stuff that people probably think more often than they say out loud. That's what gives it its juice. "I get a lot of that from watching Steve Martin and all the old National Lampoon movies with Chevy Chase," Comfort says. "I like taking some little thing that annoys people, that happens to be funny for whatever reason, and turning it on its head."
The Assorted Rogues hope to build on the success of their debut and make the show a regular recurring feature. To that end, the troupe is already hard at work establishing an online presence, building and promoting their YouTube channel (youtube.com/user/AssortedRogues).
As far as the live show goes, Comfort and company promise that the folks who caught the debut will absolutely enjoy going to see them again.
"It's never the same show twice because we're always writing new sketches," Comfort says. "We always want to leave people wanting more."