Some true stories are so good they deserve to be retold. They become an anecdote for friends, a stand-up gag, or a tale to tell the grandkids. But only a few stories warrant a two-hour, one-man show. Far less are worthy of hundreds of performances and the kind of critical acclaim received by Man 1, Bank 0.
Most of this play’s longevity is due to Patrick Combs, a charismatic California-based inspirational speaker. He developed the show after a much-publicized battle with his bank stemming from a $95,000 junk mail check that he deposited on a lark. Although it was marked non-negotiable, the money went through. The bank said nothing until Combs took the money out. They wanted it back, and they didn’t ask nicely.
A bank-wrangling yarn may not sound exciting, but who hasn’t gotten stuck in the doldrums of penny-pushing bureaucracy? With Combs’ likable everyman delivery, Man 1, Bank 0 has become a favorite at theaters, arts centers, and comedy festivals. Combs even performed a month-long run Off-Broadway.
“Every writer needs a rule,” says Combs. “I have a beautiful one. I have to tell the truth and nothing but.” His show has changed a lot over its seven-year existence, but that rule has remained constant. “That’s what it’s all about — finding the right way to tell the truth on stage.” Audiences and reviewers have responded to this candor by encouraging him to retell the tale night after night. But the popular production wasn’t always as slick as it is today.
“I sucked horrendously for the first year,” Combs admits, “because I lacked all the skills required to make it work.” Up until then, he’d thought it would be easy to stage Man 1, Bank 0. He’d described his underdog saga in writing on the internet and received positive feedback from the press. “People loved it when I told it in the living room,” he says. “It was a great story on the page.” He learned the hard way that a direct adaptation didn’t work.
Although he won multiple awards and sold out performances, the writer/performer knew his show still needed some work. A major breakthrough came when he switched to using props and audio-visual aids to tell his story more effectively. “The first two years were painful. I did them without any visual aids. Then I decided that I wasn’t going to say I received a memo from the bank. I was going to let it come out of a fax machine in real time so it became the audience’s experience, not mine.”
Five years later, Combs has sound effects, video clips, and documents to react to in real time with painfully funny results.
When he started M1B0 back in 2003, Combs had no idea it would take so long to perfect. “I didn’t know it would take me 300 performances and six years with real audiences to walk off the stage and go, ‘Holy shit, it’s done.'” Notwithstanding the evolutions, rewrites, and technical developments, Combs swears he isn’t a perfectionist — just a painstaking artist. “I have to get something right in my mind before I can move on,” he insists. He hasn’t messed with the show since that “holy shit” moment.
For Piccolo, he will be messing with it in one regard: he has to squeeze his 120-minute act into a 75-minute slot. He’ll watch tapes of his last performance here in 2005 to help him slim down the running time.
Thanks to Theatre 99’s challenging remit, we’ll get a show that’s as tight as a money clip. Inevitably, some bank-baiting plot points will be dropped, but Combs has enough experience and confidence to keep the heart of his story beating.