When asked to describe what makes sketch comedy group There's Waldo unique, team member John Buseman suggests: "We leave the stage like a bed after good lovemaking: messy."
When asked to explain further, Buseman's fellow comedian Christine Giordano explains, "We eat some gross things during the show while dancing sexily to Wham's "Careless Whisper," dressed like senior citizens. Basically, we're just committing fully to our weird senses of humor."
Their new show, A Silent Show: Now With Sound!, plays Fridays and Saturdays at the newly renovated Institution Theater throughout April. This is the group's third complete show as a fully-collaborative writing and acting team (which also includes Erica Lies, Tyler Reece Booker, Amy Dietze, Sarah Osburn and Taylor Overstreet). And, if familiarity breeds confident creativity, they've got that in spades.
"We all love eccentric characters and the really dumb stuff that you can't explain why it's funny, but it makes us all laugh," says Giordano. "We love bizarre characters, I think, because we all feel like such weird characters in real life."
The group's members met through the Institution, where they have all taken improv comedy classes. Since sketch comedy classes are taught less frequently at the improv house, the future members of There's Waldo originally met as a comedy writing group to further build their skill set.
After a few months, they cite an unexpected synergy within the group that prompted a continued working relationship. "I just couldn't imagine not getting to work more with some of their scenes or not eventually getting to be in their pieces," recalls cast member Erica Lies. "We barely knew one another when we started; and by the end of the writing group, we were all obsessed with each other."
Before the Institution Theater's renovations were complete, There's Waldo performed their first show, Jerkholes, in October last year at The Velveeta Room. Those late night shows attracted a mixed bag of Sixth Street stragglers, the cast members recall, including a few first dates, some senior citizens and a good number of heavy drinkers just passing time before they could drive home.
"Those first performances definitely developed our loud, high-energy style because we had to be engaging so that the audience members couldn't look away," laughs Giordano. "Still to this day, we have really fast transitions and we hate down time. We save our messiest sketches til the end because we just leave everything we use out on the stage."
Everyone in the group contributes during their regular cast writing sessions, and most of their favorite sketches evolve from silly conversations they have during those meetings. "A lot of it will start with doing weird voices back and forth and then with everyone trying to top one another with the next joke," explains Lies. "It helps that we all have improv training because we're not afraid of saying anything dumb. It's all just building and editing each other's ideas."
In writing and performing as There's Waldo, the cast members assert how their perceptions of comedy have slowly opened their perceptions of comedy in general. "There's something magical and in-the-moment about improv that I love," says Giordano, "But I'm also an OCD perfectionist as well, so I really appreciate getting to rework and perfect a scene before we do it. I also think that sketch can prepare you better to make a living writing comedy, which is important to me."
"I definitely need more than one process," adds Lies. "We all use improv to inform and develop sketches earlier on, and it allows us to get on our feet rather than just sitting at a computer for hourse. But I also love the challenge of writing and acting that's involved in sketch. And it's easier to take sketch outside of Austin by recording it and putting it online."
There's Waldo has been very proactive about posting their sketches on YouTube, Facebook and Funny or Die. It doesn't hurt that Giordano is also a filmmaker and editor in her everyday life. One of their sketches even attracted the attention of a prominent Los Angeles comedy director at SXSW who offered to professionally shoot their sketch "Hot Pocket Pocket." (Yep, those Hot Pockets.)
Tireless promotion and ample product has quickly established this group as a sketch powerhouse in the already prolific comedy circuit of Austin. After their April run at the Institution, the cast of There's Waldo will be participating in the upcoming Ladies Are Funny Festival, the Austin Sketch Fest and the brand new Moontower Comedy Festival. Clearly, they're already in on the joke.
"We can guarantee there will be lots of humping and groping across the board," exclaims Lies. "Definitely lots of physical comedy and weird bits: that's how we like to do it."
A Silent Show: Now with Sound! plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. from Apr 13 - 21. Tickets available through the Institution Theater website.