A neighbor of mine asked me for weeks to invite him along to a live comedy show.
When I brought him to see The Pajama Men on Tuesday night at SubCulture New York (45 Bleecker Street’s underground Off-Broadway theater), I tried to warn him that this wasn’t stand-up like the comedians he had told me he enjoys. Perhaps warn is the wrong word. Prep him, at least. It’s two guys doing sketch comedy in a theater. That’s the truth, but not the whole truth. Two guys, one musician. Still not quite doing them, or their new show, “Just the Two of Each of Us,” justice.
Truth is, Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez remain comfortable onstage in any capacity — and it’s not just because they wear pajamas to remain brand loyal.
Allen and Chavez perform two-man sketch comedy with the confidence and vocal repertoire of a company of characters three times their number. They imagine and create richly dense scenes that overlap and span centuries, so flexible and in sync as a duo that they can jump and weave around one another like short-track speed skaters to inhabit all of the roles. Human, plant or animal. Whether animate or inanimate, they’re always acting quite the former. It’s an intricately choreographed dance that barely stops to breathe.
Not that they won’t break character.
When an elderly woman rose from her seat Tuesday night and walked to the back of the house — whilst Allen demonstrated the seductive call of the “South American Giveittome bird” during a “Hot Five News” sketch — the moment gave them pause, too.
When the hyperactive scene-work caused Chavez’s headset microphone to edge too far from his mouth, Allen wasted no time pointing it out and making fun of him for his alleged carelessness.
As hurried as it all may appear, as frantic as the action may pace, they’re not worried at all about slowing it down and going off script for moments at a time.
There’s no intermission. But the second half of the roughly 65-minute performance does find the duo launching into multiple showcase bits that mine the audience’s love of repeated punchlines and gags. How does Nadine affix her prosthetic arm, again? How long will another character put up with a spanking?
It’s all woven into a narrative thread that covers 700 years — as that’s how often a great beast returns to devour all of the villagers and city-dwellers alike (depending upon the century). In between, there’s spelunking, motorcycle riding, dinner dates, TV newscasts, animal handlers, spider-eating and immortal spells (how else to defeat the beast seven centuries later?!).
Kevin Hume, standing a few feet behind the duo, provides musical accompaniment throughout on guitar and piano — and sometimes both, simultaneously — proving he can multi-task, too.
Though Allen and Chavez have performed together for nearly two decades since meeting in an Albuquerque high school while auditioning for improv teams, this is only the second show they’ve toured in New York City. They previously performed “Last Stand to Reason” here three years ago. Since then, they’ve been winning awards and breaking box-office records in the U.K. and Australia. They debuted “Just the Two of Each of Us” last April at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
My neighbor, who didn’t know what to expect, couldn’t stop laughing and talking about it afterward. His reaction embodied the superlative of breathtakingly funny. You should follow our lead. It’s the neighborly thing to do.
Here’s a promotional video from their tour of Edinburgh Fringe in 2013: