For more than five years, Thrilling Adventure Hour has been bringing L.A. a dose of "old-time radio." Well, sort of. Created by writers Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, Thrilling Adventure Hour is actually a stage show done in the style of radio. In other words, you're watching actors on stage in front of microphones as though they were in a studio. The hour is divided into segments, filled with short, sometimes serialized, programs filled with science-fiction, mystery and lots of comedy.Thrilling Adventure Hour is comedy theater for geeks. The show regularly draws a Comic-Con-worthy selection of guest stars, like Nathan Fillion and Chris Hardwick, both of whom will be appearing at Saturday and Sunday night's shows at Largo. Regular cast members include the likes of John DiMaggio (Futurama), James Urbaniak (The Venture Bros.) and Samm Levine (Inglourious Basterds, Freaks and Geeks).
Then there are the stories, which turn genres on their head. When we caught Thrilling Adventure Hour earlier this fall, we were taken by the show's oldest segments, "Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars" and "Beyond Belief." The former is a space western comedy revolving around the misadventures of its titular character. The latter is a romantic, supernatural mystery involving a sharp-witted, cocktail-loving couple.
We recently caught up with Acker and Blacker to talk Thrilling Adventure Hour.
How did Thrilling Adventure Hour begin?
Ben Blacker: The show came out of a feature script that we had written. We wrote a movie called Sparks Nevada Marshal on Mars and it was the first feature that we had written. We got a bunch of actors together. Ben had been working with Paul Tompkins on his Largo show and had gone from Second City, so we picked a bunch of actors, Paul and Dave (Gruber) Allen, Mark Gagliardi and sat in my living room and had them read the script aloud to us. We had never really heard our stuff delivered quite like that, hadn't seen what these actors could bring to the parts. We were just floored. We said, there must be a way we can exploit these people as well as keep ourselves on a regular writing schedule, put stuff on its feet in front of an audience and really learn how to write for an audience.
Ben Acker: And the idea of the radio conceit meant that we weren't asking too much of actors in terms of favors because they didn't have to memorize anything. They could hold the scripts in their hands and we get to play in a bunch of different worlds. That's one of the things we like to do, create the worlds.
How has 'Sparks Nevada' evolved over the years?
BB: The part changed significantly between the initial feature that we wrote and bringing Marc Evan Jackson on board. That was the first big change.Where we always saw Sparks as sort of an idealized hero...
BA: We went from writing a comic western hero to a flawed western hero with the casting of Marc Evan Jackson.
BB: Jackson brought so much of the ego that is part of Sparks, the blind confidence that is part of Sparks, which is all such fun stuff to play with.
BA: It became a collaboration with Marc about the character. In the five years of writing it, it's the one that we get to write long arcs for because we get to really screw with the character. He's the marshal on Mars, well, let's get him fired. He's no longer the marshal, let's take him off Mars, let's put him on the moon.
BB: His only steady relationship is with his faithful Martian companion, let's split them up, let's get a girl between them.