Tuck in to laughter with the Pajama Men
By Peter Marks,
The condition known as laughing oneself silly is, it turns out, no medical myth. Doctors of comediology can observe, nay, can experience the syndrome themselves, right here, right now, thanks to the groundbreaking exertions of a couple of young men in lab coats. Well, actually, not in lab coats. In pajamas.
The Pajama Men is the professional title this rascally duo goes by. And the results of their guffaw-inducing experiments — a show called “The Pajama Men: In the Middle of No One” — are ready at Woolly Mammoth Theatre for your inspection, delectation and altogether rhapsodic examination.
I am still recovering from my exposure to their antics, which oscillate at something on the order of 1,000 jokes per minute. Or maybe it only seems like that many. I couldn’t keep count because at one point in the progress of this 60-minute show, I was doubled over in a kind of hysterical agony. I felt as if my lungs had migrated into my throat and that my anatomy would soon be inside out.
The paroxysm was occasioned by a physical bit by the Pajama Men — Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez — that I found so tickling that my laughter reflex got stuck in the “on” position. It’s a blissful problem to have. In the interest of keeping their gags absolutely fresh for you, I will bite my knuckle and refrain from describing in any detail what convulsed me (and many of those around me). In fact, I’m not sure I actually could. Nothing kills a joke faster than trying to explain it.
Okay, you forced me. Allen’s impression of an exotic bird with an erotic screech virtually did me in. The impenetrable logic of an intelligence test administered by one Pajama Man to the other is a priceless riff on a classic bit of double-talk. And the sight of the Pajama Men as marionettes whose strings get crossed thanks to an inept puppeteer is a level of uproarious that should require the theater management to have a physician in the house.
Allen and Chavez are a pair of accomplished actor-mimics, originally from Albuquerque, who’ve honed their act at Edinburgh Fringe and other top-drawer comic laboratories and now — lucky us — bring it to Washington for the first time. The men look nothing alike and yet are completely the psychic yin to the other’s yang. They appear so at ease, so in their element, that they can come up with what seem to be newly improvised bits — who knows if they really are? — that momentarily break each other up. And still, they never fail to sustain the evening’s momentum.
Their breakneck rhythm feels entirely their own, too. To the onstage accompaniment of musician Kevin Hume — who sits at a keyboard, trying to maintain the appearance of not hearing a word that Allen and Chavez are saying — the Pajama Men riff at incredible speed. (Some of their interconnected skits last no more than
The comic influences of yore and now, from the well-oiled gags of Abbott and Costello to the banter of Nichols and May to the absurdist skits of Monty Python to the blood-spattered satire of “South Park,” are detectable in their impressionistic style.
They apply a thin layer of unfolding narrative: something to do with a baby and time travel and aliens with multiple mouths and sexy zebras and speaking in a lost language called “Chinese French.” (As I said, explaining a joke kills it.)
If you and I tried to do this material, the customers would come after us with pitchforks. As it all remains safely and hilariously in the keeping of the Pajama Men, what an audience wants to do is present them with bouquets.
The Pajama Men:
In the Middle of No One
created and performed by Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez. Music by Kevin Hume. Dramaturg, John M. Baker. About 60 minutes. Through Jan. 6 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D St. NW. Call 202-393-3939 or visit www.woollymammoth.net