UPDATE: Check out my feature of Cecile Monteyne in the New Orleans Advocate, which includes comments from Emily Slazer.
One of the many delights about finally being able to check out Cecile Monteyne’s seasonal “You Don’t Know the Half of It” improv show (now at Cafe Istanbul) is to see the now-steady stream of young comic talent — often as a continuation of sorts with The New Movement. (Monteyne is an alumnae.)
I’ll be previewing “You Don’t Know the Half of It” in a few days in the New Orleans Advocate in advance of the four-year anniversary show Jan. 17, at Le Petit, and in the process of researching story stumbled upon the work a few of her regulars are doing in the start-up sketch troupe Virginia’s Harem — most notably Emily Slazer and Valerie Boucvalt, who performed in the fall show, my first.
Seems the group landed a hard-to-land “showcase” spot at the prestigious SF Sketchfest in San Francisco this weekend — this, after forming just about a year ago. Along with several of the top sketch troupes in the nation, SF Sketchfest will serve host to several famous comedians, including Billy Crystal and Patton Oswalt as well as a reunion of “Waiting for Guffman” cast members and a tribute to “Funny or Die.”
“It’s really exciting,” said Slazer, a 26-year-old Slidell native who’s only been performing locally for about two years after graduating first from Centenary College in Shreveport and then The New Movement. “It is pretty prestigious for such a young group to get a showcase spot. There will be a mix of smaller groups like us and much bigger, nationally recognized comedians ,which will be a special experience for us to see what their comedy is like and what we can learn from it.
“We’re really lucky to be going,” she continued. “This is the first time I’m touring to do comedy so I’m very excited. It feels like a little bit of a legitimacy thing. It sets it apart from being a casual hobby. I never feel I have to make money doing comedy to be fulfilled. But this is more than just your friends thinking you’re comedy.”
Slazer and Boucvalt are reason enough to watch this troupe; I couldn’t keep from laughing at just about everything Slazer did at Cafe Istanbul, whether pretending to be in double arm casts and dropping bizarro Sam’s Club references to her partner (the actor with the script) or simply rolling her eyes. There’s almost a hint of Lena Dunham’s best moments; Slazer has the kind of intuitive comic timing that I imagine one gets either through good genes or lots of training. But she’s flat-out funny.
And yet she was basically scared shitless to take an improv class as a requirement while at Centenary, despite being in theater since she was 10 years old.
“I was terrified and went in kicking and screaming, and fell in love with it after take the class,” she said. “What really appeal to me early on … was the failure of it. Learning how to fail and to be OK with that. If you fail as an actor there are ramifications. But if you do at improv early on, there’s an indication that you’re trying. You’re making big choices. You’re gonna fail at first. You have to learn it.
“I felt this is really cool that I can take big chances and make big choices and fail and it’s OK. I’m a much more brave person in my whole life than when I started improvement. It’s a good life skill.”
Check out this more timely video (released Tuesday, Jan. 5, above), the sketch “Stripping Badges,” a collaboration between Virginia’s Harem (Slazer, Boucvalt, Alicia Hawkes, Margee Green, Erica Goostrey and Liz Beeson) and fellow New Orleans sketch group Stupid Time Machine. It’s about a drunken bachelorette party that gets horrifically sober thanks to some traumatized cops turned strippers (CJ Hunt, James Hamilton). I’ll say no more.
And here’s a link to a scene from this past October’s “You Don’t Know the Half of It,” featuring Slazer opposite Corinne Williams.