When Suzanne Rand and John Monteith met 10 years ago, he had long hair and a full beard. "And I was very blonde and out to here," Rand said, indicating a mammoth bosom. She was fat? "No. fiber-filled."
"I thought they were real," Monteith said.
Today they are a successful comedy team with a Broadway run behind them and a four-week stint at the Kreeger Theater just getting under way. Those first personas are behind them: He's as close-cropped as a bureaucrat; she's a brunette with a less buxom figure. He calls her Sooz. She, and everyone else, calls him Monty.
Although their brand of improvisational comedy has been billed as the "Nichols and May of the '80s," they demur. "We're broader than they were," she said. "We like cheap tricks."
It was a late breakfast for them in the restaurant at their hotel. He ordered eggs benedict and she ordered matzo ball soup.
They first put their act together in three days in 1976, inspired by the offer of a job on Cape Cod. They refined it through "a starving winter in Boston" and another summer on the Cape, and after a few years of successful club dates and appearances on the Johnny Carson Show, took it to Broadway in 1979. After their sojourn here, they are scheduled to start rehearsing their first play, a two-character item called "A Hell of a Town" written expressly for them. "It's sort of Neil Simon with a touch of Gahan Wilson," she said. "It's wonderfully sick."
They met at The Proposition, a now-defunct improvisational theater in Boston, and shared a house with Bill Russell, who is now their technical director (i.e., he turns the lights out at the right moment). Rand had a job with Second City in Chicago ("the only place that hired me after college") and Monteith came out of Boston University. They learned the peculiar demands of improvisational theater, which is dedicated to spontaneity but requires a sharp sense of timing and restraint, as well as the ability to think fast.
Their show is about one-quarter pure improvisation; the rest is prepared sketches. They solicit suggestions from the audience, and then, without consulting each other, wing it.
One improvisation presented Rand with the challenge of making up a song that started with the phrase "Easy come, easy go" and ended with "Let your fingers do the walking." While Monteith played a kind of talking blues, she produced -- off the top of her head -- a ditty about her Japanese cooking, done without utensils. In fact she "let her fingers do the wok-ing."
"People think if they give us something obscure, that will be harder," said Monteith. "Actually it's much easier to be funny."
"We get the White House a lot," she said.
They are not married, but they do fight--about twice a year. "Mostly because Sooz can't act and gets in my way," he said. "If the show is going badly, it's her fault." But they always share a dressing room, so they can talk before the show, and no matter how mad they've been at each other they make up before they go on.
Until recently she, 33, lived in Boston and a vacation home in Jamaica. Last month she moved to New York, where Monteith, 34, lives with about 3,000 toy soldiers. They both write; he, screenplays (thus far unproduced), and she, a book on "pinball etiquette and suspicions for barrooms."
"There is an etiquette for barrooms and if people just knew it, there would be far fewer bar fights," she said, seriously.
"I thought that was the main fun of pinball," he said.
When she lived in Boston, they saw each other only when they had a gig, so "whenever we got back together it was like a big party." Now that she's in New York, they don't know exactly how things will work out. But they know they will.
"One reason we've lasted so long is that we said at the beginning that if the act threatened to destroy the friendship, the friendship would be saved," she said. He nodded in agreement. There was no punch line.