Last night at L.A.’s Steve Allen Theater — a small proscenium whose full name is “The Steve Allen Theater At The Center For Inquiry West” and whose upstairs houses a variety of inquisitive groups like the empoweringly-named “Atheists United” — a rag-tag bunch of kids got together and put on The Strike Show, the first of two performances intended to raise money for the Motion Picture Television Fund, and help out some of the folks being financially afflicted by the writers’ strike.
Okay, not so rag-tag. The show’s actually the brainchild of ‘Til Death‘s Kat Foster (pictured) and her associate, occasional Cavemen man Nick Kroll, who called up a bunch of industry pals — including Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, Emily Deschanel from Bones, Ed Helms, Brad Garrett, and perfectly-matched comedians the Sklar Brothers — to help them slap together a combo sketch and improv comedy show. The good news: It’s really, really funny. Not just funny in a “oh that’s nice you’re all finding a way to fill your spare time” way. Funny, like, “let’s turn Death of a Salesman into a sitcom” funny. Funny like, “let’s do a hyper-melodramatic staged reading of the infamous Saved By the Bell episode in which Jessie takes too many caffeine pills and utters possibly the greatest line in the history of Saturday morning TV” funny.
I’m trying not to overstate the case here, or to spoil too much, because L.A. residents can catch the whole thing again on Friday night — and if you’ve got an extra $25 (and are not an easily-offended member of the AMPTP, or NBC president Ben Silverman, who may just want to stay home and feel good about himself instead), you really should. It’s got musical numbers. It’s got dance numbers. It’s got puppets. It even, in a way, has the Olsen Twins. It’s a solid hour of laffs for a worthy cause. And I’d say that even if I wasn’t biased.
Oh, by the way, I’m biased: Ms. Foster was three years behind me in theater school at NYU, and once I became faculty, I taught her everything she knows, or at least like to tell people I did inappropriately. As I’m currently spending the night at her apartment, I thought I’d take the opportunity to interview her over a glass of wine and some reheated zucchini pizza. She has a very nice white shag rug that feels good on my sleepy feet. After the jump, some words from Kat. Meanwhile, first person to quote the aforementioned Saved By the Bell line in the comments gets their pick of swag from my office.
addCredit(“Kat Foster: Matthew Simmons/Getty Images”)
Entertainment Weekly: Hey Kat.
Kat Foster: Hey Whitney.
EW: How’s that pizza?
EW: Did you earn it tonight?
KF: We so earned it. It was fierce.
EW: Like Tyra Banks fierce?
KF: Like — what’s that drag queen basketball player’s name? Dennis Rodman fierce.
EW: That works. What was the impetus behind this show?
KF: Me and my partner Nick Kroll wanted to help the WGA cause, so we decided to put on a show, because that’s all we really know how to do.
EW: But that’s not true, because there was obviously writing involved in this show.
KF: We got writers. We were like, we have nothing better to do, so let’s get the best people to work on this show, as writers, directors, and actors.
EW: This is really good pizza. Some of the material was awfully edgy, like making fun of Ben Silverman.
KF: Yeah. When I read that sketch, I was worried that no one would want to act in it or direct it, but to my pleasant surprise, everyone was willing to take a risk, and I think it paid off.
EW: Do you think it’s like, what else is there to lose at this point?
KF: You mean that people took that risk? Yeah. I think people came at this project with a sense of humor and with a real fearlessness. We had very little rehearsal…
EW: It reminded me of stuff we used to do in college.
KF: Exactly. It was like putting on a play in very little time. And yeah, there’s not much to lose. I can’t believe how fast you type.
EW: It’s what I do for a living. How’s the show gonna change for Friday?
KF: Ed Helms will replace Seth MacFarlane. And it’ll be tighter. Tonight really went off without a hitch, but it’ll go smoother. You have to learn to hold for laughs, and where the laughs will happen. And given our amazingly talented cast, I think everyone’s performance will just get stronger. And Patric Verrone will be there.
EW: Who’s Patric Verrone, for the folks at home?
KF: The head of the WGA.
EW: And so he’s condoning this?
KF: Yes, he seemed very excited. The reason he’s coming is cause I wrote him an e-mail today. Isn’t that sweet?
EW: Aw! But wait — there’s another big benefit on Friday, called Write Aid, featuring Eddie Izzard and Sarah Silverman and Tenacious D and whatnot. Why should people come see you guys instead?
KF: Because ours feels more grassroots?
EW: Which means less famous people?
KF: Yeah. Also, we’re charging less. And I’m not sure, but I think theirs is standup acts, and ours is live theater, like, scenes. And Patric Verrone’s coming.
EW: Hey, so where’s the money you raise going, exactly?
KF: To the Motion Picture Television Fund. The logline is “helping those in need during these challenging times,” but we’re specifying to people both above and below the line in this strike.
EW: “Below the line” meaning Teamsters and whatnot?
KF: Anyone in need of financial assistance.
EW: Which reminds me, things got very sensitive and sincere at the end, with the singing of “Suddenly Teamsters,” to the tune of “Suddenly Seymour,” which is now stuck in my head.
KF: The interesting part of this whole experience since the strike started for me has been how Hollywood, which is a town usually characterized by competition and one-upsmanship, has really banded together and become political. We’re feeling a sense of solidarity that I don’t think we do, usually.
EW: So you’re not all secretly using this as a personal showcase?
KF: No, I think everyone feels strongly in support of the writers on their shows, and strongly in support of this cause. And I think everyone feels happy to get the opportunity to be political in a town that usually is focused on more superficial things.
EW: You have a giant big-screen TV on your mantel. Should I actually feel sorry for you right now?
KF: No. We’re all very fortunate. We’re fortunate to be working. And I think that’s part of the reason why everyone is so willing to help out, for people who might be struggling.
EW: That’s nice.
KF: I’m nice.