American Town Hall, a Comedy Show Celebrating the Weird Side of Anytown, USA
Mary Grill, left, Matt Hobby and Cass Buggé
You've been invited to attend a town-hall meeting in Maui, Hawaii — and fortunately, for the night, Maui will exist inside the Copper Still, a bar connected to Jaragua restaurant, in Hollywood.
Once a month, Cass Buggé, Mary Grill and Matt Hobby host American Town Hall, a character-based comedy show in which they and their guests play community members of whichever town is represented-slash-parodied that month, be it Missoula, Missouri, Rockland, Maine, or Laguna Beach, California.
Each "meeting" opens with the president, treasurer, and secretary (a.k.a. the hosts) introducing themselves and reading the minutes from last month's meeting. At the Grand Island, Nebraska, show, we were reminded that we'd all voted yes to sell our old, retired shovels to trendy coffee shops in Brooklyn. Then, before the floor's microphone is opened up to residents (a.k.a. that show's guest comedians), we also heard a couple of announcements, including a warning to any students of the all-female karate dojo that a man would be in the building during class that week because a computer technician was coming to fix the owner's hacked AOL account. American Town Hall manages to honor the mundane concerns of civic life while mocking them too.
Buggé, Grill and Hobby are all comedic actors and writers making their way up the Hollywood ranks. Buggé will be appearing in the William Monahan film Mojave, as well as in a recurring role on HBO's new series The Brink; Grill had a character arc on The Mindy Project and also appeared on Veep; and Hobby plays a supporting role on Hart of Dixie, and recently wrote on the staff of a Comedy Central pilot. But they wanted a live showcase of their own where they could play around.
The three hosts all have a lot of history performing characters, and noticed a lack of character showcases around town. "Building a show around all the wigs we owned felt like a super plan," Grill jokes, during an interview.
Hobby adds, "I wanted to get the performers into a show that functions like stand-up; like, I literally wanted to be able to talk into a microphone. There’s power in a microphone."
The set-up does make the show more accessible to audiences unfamiliar with theatrical comedy. After a year and a half of performances, first at Bar Lubitsch and now at the Copper Still, American Town Hall regularly sells out, and has drawn some big-name comedy-scene talent, including Thomas Middleditch, Sasheer Zamata, and Nate Corddry. Buggé, Grill and Hobby, who sit on stage at a dais throughout each show, give their guests creative freedom, and frequently don't know what they'll do until they get to the microphone. "I laugh at everyone in every meeting," Hobby explains. "I’m like the Jimmy Fallon of the show. I just blow every single time."
And, occasionally, the guests are all in perfect synchronicity. "I loved the Laguna Beach and Rockland, Maine, shows," explains Buggé. "With those two, everyone involved seemed to subconsciously agree on themes and even took on similar accents. Laguna was a surfer dude, fake, plastic, wealth fest. And Rockland was a picture of a teeny tiny town hopped up on lobster, where we all sounded like broke, distant members of the Kennedy clan. Even I couldn't believe we hadn't planned everything in advance."
The trio puts hours and hours of work into the performances. In addition to the general burdens of producing a show, they each create a new character every month, as well as pen a new theme song for each town, and write a series of fake propositions for the town to vote yay or nay on (for example, obligatory complimentary ranch dressing at any establishment that serves fried things). But it hasn't broken up the band yet. "If there were a Behind the Music: American Town Hall, it would be so boring," says Buggé. "Too much getting along!"
Grill adds, "After every show, I just beam at the hilarious things people have written — and the socks with sandals they wore, and the Band-Aids on their faces, and the coke-bottle glasses. Some superbly odd people have lived in these towns."
The next American Town Hall, with special guests Annie Baria, Nancy Friedrich, Chris Grace, and John Milhiser, takes place Wednesday, Dec. 17 at the Copper Still, 4485 Beverly Blvd., Koreatown; 8 p.m. doors, 8:30 p.m. show. More info at facebook.com/AmericanTownHallMeeting.
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