Pump up the Volume
A big name comedy duo graces Charleston with their presence

In 2005’s Piccolo Fringe, comedians Paul Scheer and Jack McBrayer nipped down from New York to win hearts and funny bones with their tight brand of improv. Since then, their schedules have been hectic — Scheer with MTV’s Human Giant and VH1’s Best Week Ever, McBrayer with Talladega Nights and NBC’s 30 Rock. But the best comedians never forget their humble origins or lower-key venues (both make great comedy fodder), so the pair are back for a few swift gigs, promising “a lot more of the same” as two years ago.
Their shtick is long-form improv involving multiple characters, all identifiable, all playing off the comedians’ chemistry and unconventional looks; Scheer is gap-toothed and balding, McBrayer skinny with pinched nostrils. They look like the definition of kids who were picked on at school and turned to comedy to win affection from their friends. Now they’re adept at getting the whole audience on their side, which would have been mighty handy in a schoolyard scrap.
On their opening night, the duo took one suggestion from the audience (a title of a work of art that’s never been created) and ran with it. Ignoring a suggestion from the cheap seats (“Bitch Please”), they went with “Bloody Allegory,” set a scene in a classroom and took on student personae. They also set up their own hierarchy — McBrayer passive and kindly as an eager-to-please puppy, Scheer active and gleefully obnoxious.
From the classroom sketch, they came up with a host of situations and characters: a deadbeat dad faking a fake moustache at an Arkansas DMV; a brace-faced babysitter enduring an annoying, picky kid with a torn glute; a creepy closet dweller; flaky dames, a wasted cop, and a dirty old man.
This vast cast of characters was one of the cleverest, funniest elements of the show. At one point, Scheer plays four funeral attendees — a weeping widow, a cigar-smoking fat guy, a one-upping friend, and the deceased, faking his death with Star Trek prosthetics — all originated on the spot. The comedians also made a satisfying effort to wrap up their scenes and bring them all to a conclusion at the end of the show — a tough thing to do, especially in improv. They weren’t afraid to tackle taboo subjects (9/11, wheelchair-bound Miracle Kids) either.
Our one complaint: these TV guys need to be mic’d up or speak up. They were so quiet that by the second half of the show, members of the audience were passing on their lines to each other like some kind of oral Mexican wave. Comments from the crowd like, “What did he say?” were not uncommon.
Maybe Scheer and McBrayer expected to be amped, but even in a relatively small space like Theatre 99 the effect was one of listening in on a private conversation between friends, rather than sharing that conversation. With comedy as inventive as this, the audience deserves to hear and savor every last word.

Scheer & McBrayer • Piccolo Spoleto’s Piccolo Fringe • (50 mins) • $15 • June 1 at 9.30 p.m.; June 2 at 6 p.m. • Theatre 99, 280 Meeting St. • 554-6060