The BUZZ-O-METER is the City Paper’s concise and critical preview of Spoleto 2006, encompassing both Piccolo Spoleto and its older sibling, Spoleto Festival USA. Use this guide to help you decide what to do and see over the 17 days of the festival. The three BUZZ-O-METER grades are based upon a combination of advance reviews, previous Piccolo or Spoleto appearances, chatter among Spoleto watchers and potential audiences, and random rolls of a pair of well-worn dice.

Elephant Larry

What is it? Some of the smartest, silliest, snappiest sketch comedy to emerge from New York City in recent years. Why see it? The group of five guys known as Elephant Larry made their first impression on Charleston audiences just a few months ago, at January’s Charleston Comedy Festival, when they performed a pair of shows at Theatre 99’s then-new Meeting Street space. And what an impression it was. Their stock in trade is the comedy sketch, but they mix in video clips and music, which takes the production into the realm of the surreal. Who should go? Elephant Larry’s brand of sketch comedy has little in common with groups like the SNL bunch, who often rely on developing crazy, reappearing characters. They’re brainier and farther out. But any fan of sketch comedy is going to be howling at this one. Buzz: Elephant Larry were invited back to Charleston after a solid success at the Charleston Comedy Festival, and it’s easy to see why they’re one of New York City’s hottest new comedy teams. Having seen this group live and in person, I’m telling you now not to miss them if you can help it.(Patrick Sharbaugh)

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15 • 1 hour • May 27, 29, 31 at 7 p.m.; May 28 at 9 p.m; May 30 at 8 p.m. • American Theater, 446 King St. • 554-6060

Woo Pig Sooie! with Matt Besser

What is it? Upright Citizens Brigade founding member Matt Besser returns to Charleston and Theatre 99 for a one-man show that takes a bitingly funny look at American politics, religion, and their pompous intersection in his life. Why see it? Besser, the creator of Crossballs, one of the funniest television comedies in recent history, delivers a singular comic voice in much the same vein as David Cross, with a similarly sarcastic and accurate take on how ridiculous mainstream American society can be. He puts the in “A” in Arkansas, atheist, and “hole.” Who should go? Fans of The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and the first half of the Bible. Buzz: Probably the best one-man show The Have Hots! have brought to town since the late Spalding Gray. (Bill Davis)

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15 • 1 hour • June 8 at 9:30 p.m.; June 9 at 10 p.m.; June 10 at 5 p.m. • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. (above the Bicycle Shoppe) • 554-6060

Rode Hard and Put Away Wet

What is it? The runaway smash hit of the 2005 Charleston Comedy Festival returns for an all-too-brief run at this year’s Piccolo Fringe at Theatre 99. Why see it? Casey Wilson and June Raphael are sure to have made this two-woman, screamingly funny show even funnier. It was so good that Rode Hard earned them a television development deal last year. Who should go? Everyone who saw it last year and those who didn’t. This show brings together the best elements of acting and sketch writing. Buzz: Monumental; call now. (Bill Davis)

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15 • 1 hour • May 26 at 7 p.m; May 27, 28 at 5 p.m • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. (above the Bicycle Shoppe) • 554-6060

You’re Welcome for What You’re About to See

What is it? A one-man parade of comedic characters featuring Charlie Sanders, who performed in the well-timed Buffoons in this year’s Charleston Comedy Festival. Why see it? Sanders’ writing is hysterical, a fact he proved with Buffoons. His overly self-aggrandizing description of the show is even funny: “He moves with the grace of a cheetah between characters, creating a tiny America for the viewer to proudly salute as his own.” Who should go? Anyone who enjoys a less-zany version of black box theater comedy, replete with characters instead of just zingers and one-liners. Buzz: Not much, because no one really knows this guy, except for the crowds who saw him at the Comedy Fest and smartypants who recognize him from his various Conan O’Brien appearances. Could easily grow after the first show. (Bill Davis)

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15 • 50 min. • May 26 at 8 p.m.; May 28 at 7 p.m. • American Theater, 446 King St.• 554-6060

Skinny White Comics

What is it? College of Charleston alum David Lee Nelson returns to his alma mater six years after graduation with two other emerging and talented New York City stand-up comics in tow. Why see it? Because if you don’t, the terrorists win, er, we mean the Iraqis — no, the Democrats … Who should go? Fans of stand-up and anyone interested in what happens to CofC talent when they leave the nest. Buzz: With some strong critical reviews in the toughest of all cities, Skinny White Comics should deliver a solid performance. (Bill Davis)

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15, $12 students • 1 hour 15 min. • May 27, 28, 30, June 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9 at 8:30 p.m.; May 29, June 3, 6, 10 at 6:30 p.m. • Theatre 220, Simons Centers for the Arts, 54 St. Philip St. • 554-6060

Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company

What is it? The New York City comedy theatre that brought the world Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, and Horatio Sanz once again sends down its touring company — this time for an all-improv revue. Why see it? Because improvised comedy is what this theatre does best, even though its members are regularly seen on anything Lorne Michaels puts his hand to on “late-night” television. Who knows, maybe they can be talked into doing “Ball-Tickle Chicken” from last year, too. Who should go? Fans of smart, edgy comedy who want to see how improv is done in the Big Apple. Buzz: Impressive past appearances in Charleston bodes well for this show. (Bill Davis)

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15 • 1 hour • May 27, 28, June 2 at 10 p.m.; May 29 at 8 p.m.; May 30 at 9 p.m.; June 3 at 10:30 p.m. • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. (above the Bicycle Shoppe) • 554-6060

The Have Nots! Comedy Improv Jam

What is it? Charleston resident improvisers Timmy Finch, Brandy Sullivan, and Greg Tavares — otherwise known as The Have Nots! — send audiences into convulsions with their unique brand of improv comedy, likely joined by some of the many comedy artists they’ve brought to town for their Piccolo Fringe at Theatre 99. Why see it? If you’ve seen them before, you know what they’re capable of. If you haven’t, where the hell have you been? Who should go? The Have Nots! generally give a family friendly show, though some references can slip into R territory on occasion. If you’re feeling dim or dull, however, you might want to pass — chances are you won’t be able to keep up with their lightning-fast brand of wit or the rapid-fire pop culture references. Buzz: A few years ago, Piccolo Spoleto didn’t have any interest in allowing Theatre 99’s Fringe into the official festival. My, how things change. This year, the Fringe completely dominates Piccolo’s Theatre Series, and Piccolo didn’t even bother to program festival vets Second City this time around. (Patrick Sharbaugh)

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15 • 1 hour 45 min. • May 27, 28 and June 2, 8, 9 at 7 p.m.; May 26, 31 and June 7 at 9 p.m. ; June 3 at 8 p.m. • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. (above the Bicycle Shoppe) • 554-6060

Improvised Shakespeare Company

What is it? Guys wearing puffy shirts improvise a play based on a title suggested by the audience, in the style and language of the bard himself. Why see it? Shakespeare’s given us the best theatre in the history of the world, hopefully these guys from Chicago’s ImprovOlympic will give us the best improvised Shakespeare in the new millennium. Who should go? If you like your improv comedy served with high camp, lots of European historical references, and silly Shakespearean puns, you’re guaranteed to enjoy this show. And in improv, brevity is the soul of wit (Hamlet). Buzz: You’ll be ‘stabbed’ with laughter if their show is half as funny as ImprovOlympic’s Baby Wants Candy, who improvise an entire musical from a single audience suggestion for a title. And if they’re half as good as Baby Wants Candy (two-time Piccolo Fringe vets), they’ll still be one of the best things in the festival. (Patrick Sharbaugh)

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15 • 1 hour • June 4, 6, 7 at 7 p.m.; June 5 at 9 p.m. • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. (above the Bicycle Shoppe) • 554-6060


What is it? An hour-long tribute to vaudevillian slapstick humor; expect a show that’s part acrobatics display, part comedy gold. Why see it? Come on — watching people fall flat on their faces is always funny. Plus, how often can you see classic vaudeville anymore? Who should go? People who laugh when their co-worker trips on a banana peel; fans of Abbott & Costello; kids with parents willing to put their hands over their ears if the show ventures occasionally into the “adult” territory. Buzz: Word on the street about this one is pretty quiet — but then again, they do say that it’s always the quiet ones… (Isabella Eliot)

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15 • 1 hour • June 1, 8, 9 at 7 p.m.; June 2 at 2 p.m.; June 3, 10 at 5 p.m.; June 4 at 6 p.m.; June 7 at 8 p.m. • American Theater, 446 King St. • 554-6060

Mary Kay Has a Posse

What is it? Creative long-form improv by a batch of talented & time-tested local ladies. Why see it? Mary Kay Has a Posse (MKHAP, if you will) reside under The Have Nots! umbrella, and the quality of their humor is just as top-notch as their “parent” group. The ladies of MKHAP have been doing their shtick for a while now, and they’ve nearly perfected the art of long-format improv, complete with a non-PC version of The View — minus Star’s mysteriously vanishing fat rolls and Meredith Viera’s creepy frozen smile. Who should go? People who like their improv with a side of estrogen. Buzz: Group member Brandy Sullivan has been on the Charleston comedy scene since Coolio came out with the classic “Gangsta’s Paradise.” That’s over a decade, for those of you not up on your rap history. (Shawnté Salabert)

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15 • 1 hour • June 1 at 8 p.m.; June 3 at 4 p.m.; June 5 at 7 p.m. • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. (above the Bicycle Shoppe) • 554-6060

Horatio Sanz and the Kings of Improv

What is it? Saturday Night Live cast member Horatio Sanz comes to town with a jumble of talented cronies from the New York and L.A. comedy scenes for a one-hour jam. Why see it? When is the next time you’re gonna see an SNL castmember in town? And besides, Sanz, who can’t seem to hold his giggles whether he’s performing on stage or TV, will be joined by Jerry Minor (Mr. Show, Crossballs, SNL) and others for a funny, funny evening. Who should go? Anyone who wants to laugh along with Sanz, arguably this generation’s one-man Tim Conway/Harvey Korman pairing. Buzz: We could tell you this show causes typhoid fever and cholera and it would still sell out, so why bother? Read our fake interview with Sanz on p. 78. (Bill Davis)

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $17 • 1 hour • May 27, 29 at 9 p.m. • American Theater, 446 King St. • 554-6060

One Man Star Wars Trilogy

What is it? Using no props or multimedia crutches of any kind, intrepid Canadian Charles Ross singlehandedly takes audiences through Episodes IV, V, and VI (the first three) of one of cinema’s greatest science fiction stories. Why see it? Charles Ross presented this show at Piccolo 2004 in tandem with his One Man Lord of the Rings. If you somehow managed to beg, borrow, or steal a ticket to one of his shows, you know how lucky you were. Who should go? After his 2004 appearance, Ross went on to New York, and made a huge splash Off-Broadway in August 2005, with critics raving about the comic intensity that Ross brings to his work. If you have even a passing interest in the Star Wars franchise, you owe it to yourself not to miss this. Buzz: After Ross’ Off-Broadway debut, word of his unique talent (his spot-on imitations of characters like Yoda and R2-D2 have to be seen to be believed) has spread like wildfire. Recent TV appearances include The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Today Show, and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. To mark the release of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Charles was asked to perform at Lucasfilm’s official movie release convention. To get more buzz than this, you’d have to be carrying a chainsaw … or a lightsaber. (Patrick Sharbaugh)

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15 • 1 hour • May 30 and June 7 at 6 p.m.; May 31 at 5 p.m..; June 1, 9 at 9 p.m.; June 2, 4 at 4 p.m.; June 3 at 7 p.m.; June 6 at 8 p.m.; June 10 at 3 p.m • American Theater, 446 King St. • 554-6060

We Used To Go Out

What is it? A fearless look at the darkest days of a relationship gone sour, this portrait of a couple who should have called it quits long ago is as hilarious as it is accurate. Why see it? Well, you can rest assured it’s going to be funny — writers and co-stars Jason Matzoukas and Jessica St. Clair of New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade make an impressive comedic duo; in fact, the last show they did together, I Will Not Apologize, was featured at HBO’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. Who should go? Anyone who needs a guaranteed laugh, plus those teetering on the edge of a break-up but lacking the cojones to do anything about it — this show will set you straight. Buzz: Packed with wry laughs and cringingly familiar scenarios, We Used To Go Out promises to make you glad you did go out and see it. (Isabella Eliot)

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15 •1 hour • May 31 at 7 p.m.; June 1 at 9:30 p.m.; June 2 at 5 p.m.; June 3 at 6 p.m. • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. • 554-6060

Piccolo Fringe Finale

What is it? A two-hour mash-up of the best Theatre 99’s Piccolo Fringe has to offer this year. Why see it? It’s invariably one of the Fringe’s hottest tickets. In addition to world-class improv from The Have Nots!, Upright Citizens Brigade, Improvised Shakespeare Co., Matt Besser, Mary Kay Has a Posse, and members of other Theatre 99 improv groups, audiences will get samples of shows like Rode Hard and Put Away Wet, 52 Pick Up, We Used to Go Out, One Man Star Wars Trilogy, Wreckage-o-Rama, and Elephant Larry. Who should go? Everyone who wasn’t able to nab a ticket in time to catch Charles Ross’ One Man Star Wars Trilogy, or any of the other Piccolo Fringe shows earlier in the festival. Buzz: A satisfying pu pu platter of comedy where you get to see just about every Fringe act worth seeing in easy-to-digest bites. (Patrick Sharbaugh)

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15 • 2 hours • June 10 at 7 p.m & 10 p.m. • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. (above the Bicycle Shoppe) • 554-6060

The Complete History of Charleston for Morons

What is it? Three centuries of Lowcountry history squeezed through a silly sieve of pop cultural misremembrance. Oh, and some educational stuff too. Why see it? Our favorite parts include a bizarre Mel Gibson impression, a couple of Canuck cracks, a reality show for early settlers, and a guide to other Charlestons across the nation (why leave them out?). Some of the facts will be recognizable, others questionable, but everything’s presented in the kind of comic vein expected from originators R.W. Smith, Caleb Usry, and Greg Tavares, all dependably funny, regular staples of the Have Nots! family. Who should go? You don’t have to be a moron to enjoy this show, but it’ll help. This comedy’s for anyone who felt like a dunce when they sat through high school history. Within the chronological structure there’s a good mix of gags that will appeal to locals and visiting Spoletians. Buzz: This show’s been a monthly treat since last Christmas, and it keeps getting funnier as the cast weeds out the weak spots. (Nick Smith)

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $15 • 1 hour 10 min. • May 27, June 4, 10 at 2 p.m.; May 29 at 5 p.m., June 7 at 4 p.m. • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. (above the Bicycle Shoppe) • 554-6060

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