The Hippo


May 25, 2020








See The Complete History of Comedy (abridged)

Where: Dana Center for the Humanities, Saint Anselm College, 100 Saint Anselm Drive, Manchester
When: Wednesday, April 8, at 7:30 p.m.
Admission: $33.75, $14.75 for students and children,, 641-7700

Comedy: a complete history
Reduced Shakespeare Company visits Manchester

By Kelly Sennott

Finally, all those years of watching Looney Tunes and Monty Python have paid off for members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company.

They bring their latest gig, The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), to the Dana Center for the Humanities on Wednesday, April 8. The two-act comedy show does exactly what the name implies.
“We take a large, serious topic and reduce it to a short, silly comedy,” said Austin Tichenor, company co-owner. “We’ve reduced all of American history. We’ve reduced the Bible. We’ve reduced many things people take enormously seriously. And now we’re doing the history of comedy, which is what we take really seriously.”
The three-man show, made up of Tichenor, actor Dominic Conti and the company’s other co-owner, Reed Martin, starts with cavemen knock-knock jokes and moves through pivotal moments in comedy, from Aristophanes and Shakespeare to Moliere and Charlie Chaplin. (Though don’t let those important names fool you; audiences will get their fair share of fart jokes and road-crossing chickens.) They do it all with the help of five big boxes of props, costumes and wigs backstage.
“We’ll run backstage, throw on a wig or mustache or robe and come back out. We’re moving through history quickly,” Tichenor said. 
RSC was founded in 1981 by Daniel Singer, who wrote a 25-minute, four-actor version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet for the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire in California. After high praise, they tried out Romeo and Juliet, and years later, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). Martin joined in 1989, Tichenor in 1992, and they continued to reduce very important stories or topics (including the Bible, American history, the world of sports, Christmas, American literature and Hollywood) into silly 90-minute shows spiced with a dash of the Marx Brothers and a sprinkle of the Three Stooges.
The latest show, The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), actually took a great deal of research to put together.
“It was Reed’s idea,” Tichenor said. “He got his MFA in acting at UC San Diego, and he’s a graduate of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, where he got a Master of Fun Arts. He toured with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for two years. He’s just a comedy nerd, and it was his real passion that kind of drove the project. But we both had to do research.”
And, oh, the things they discovered. Some fun facts — like how one of the first joke books was written by Vatican priests or that the jester was an important, court-appointed job — made it into the show. (“The jester,” Tichenor said, “was the only one who could talk truth to power as long as he could make it funny.”)
Others — like how the whoopie cushion was invented by an emperor, who used animal bladders — didn’t. They couldn’t keep everything. They needed to create a structure to the show. Whenever they couldn’t find real facts that fit in, they made some up.
“We have Abe Lincoln inventing stand-up comedy. We also track the evolution of the chicken crossing the road, from cavemen to Greeks to how the Vaudevillians told it,” Tichenor said.
The Complete History of Comedy (abridged) is RSC’s ninth staged production, the eighth Tichenor has been involved in writing. Before RSC, Tichenor spent a bit of time in New Hampshire; he was the artistic director for the American Stage Festival in Milford from 1986 to 1991 (where he met his wife), and also briefly an arts and entertainment reporter for WMUR. When they moved to Chicago in 1991 (his wife was joining Second City), Tichenor thought he was leaving the best theater job he would ever have.
“Until the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Turns out, that’s become the best theater job I would ever have,” Tichenor said. “I’m not a religious guy. I don’t look to ancient texts for wisdom, except maybe in the case of Shakespeare or Star Trek. To me, the theater is my temple.”
The company currently consists of about 10 actors in the U.S., 15 or so in the U.K. Audiences normally comment on how they enjoy RSC shows, but this time around, they’re also thanking RSC members.
“It’s a show about comedy. Who doesn’t like comedy? But there’s an odd poignancy to this show, too,” Tichenor said. “I think we’re all responsible for making the world a better place, and that one way to do that is to make people laugh. To fall down more, to mock the powerful, ridicule hypocrites and fart. … People are coming up and saying, ‘Thanks for that message. We need that message now more than ever.’ It’s a different kind of response from all the other shows.”
As seen in the April 2, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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