Called "Hands down the best comedy show in Chicago" by the Chicago Tribune (and described by Season Two Apes winner Kristen Studard as "the best and worst 8 weeks of my life"), Apes once again burdens 8 puny humans with the fate of all mankind, as they struggle with challenging weekly performances under the cruel gaze of their judges, three superintelligent apes from the future.
The Season Five cast includes Clare Kelly, Otis Fine, Chloe Ditzel, Rob Anderson, Alisa Rosenthal, Neil Arsenty, Dyan Flores, and Jamie Campbell, who are each sure to find their own special brand of hell during the 8 weeks of challenges like "stand-up with a puppet," "horror movie," and "interpretive dance" (from seasons past).
At the conclusion of last season, former Bastion editor Elizabeth McQuern chatted with freshly-minted Season 4 winner, Chad Briggs, as well the fearsome Apes themselves, one of whom admitted he could probably never hack it as a contestant himself.
For those unfamiliar with Impress These Apes, can you describe it?
Chad Briggs: Impress These Apes is an 8 week talent show in which 8 contestants are given weekly challenges like impersonate a dead celebrity, or design a wacky fashion outfit like some kind of wacky fashionista, or sculpt an hilarious vase, etc. Also, you're judged by three guys in silly monkey costumes. It's fun, I guess.
Can you fill me in on your comedy background a little, where you've studied/performed?
Chad Briggs: I came here like 6 years ago and took writing classes at The Second City. And I started doing stand-up like 4 years ago.
Any surprises during this season's shows? Anything about the experience of being a contestant that was unexpected?
Chad Briggs: Well, every week the next challenge was a surprise. It always made me nervous, even when the challenge I just finished went pretty well. I expected doing the show would take a lot of my time and I think I still underestimated how much time it would take. I wasn't expecting things like the face your fears week or the fashion show. I thought it was going to be more traditional performance-based pieces. And that made me frustrated. But I guess that's why the show has done well. People like watching performers venture out of their comfort zone and become vulnerable, sometime painfully so. Because people are assholes. Seriously, doing the show was good for me and I think it will pay off in my stand-up if for nothing else I was forced to develop some kind of regular work ethic, which is still a new and frightening concept for me.
What's the toughest part of being a contestant? What was the best part?
Chad Briggs: It just gets tiring. 6 weeks would have been fine for me. I got it by then. It's an endurance test, that's definitely part of it. I was definitely on fumes at the end, working the day job and doing regular stand-up gigs, and this show kind of wiped me out. See above comment about like of work ethic. The best part was just having a mission every week and getting to perform in a truly bizarre and completely unique context. Those Blewt folks are good, really. They're kind of jerks, a little sadistic, but they're funny. And that's the most important thing, right?
About that "face your fears" show, did you feel like you'd been tricked by those damn dirty apes? (At their videotaped audition, each contestant was asked to describe their worst performance fear, and then, during the competition, was asked to use that specific fear as the center of their act.)
Chad Briggs: Yeah. I was pissed about the juggling thing. It wasn't a secret that I was unhappy. I felt pimped out. But then the next week we got to do paired stand-up and that was fun. Such is the nature of the Apes show.
How has being a part of Apes has helped you as a comedian/performer?
Chad Briggs: I think the thing I said about work ethic mostly. I'm excited to just do stand-up and work on that. And not to have to lug a bunch of props and costumes and shit around town. The idea is that now that I don't have the Apes taking a lot of time, I can hit stand-up harder. So again, the show was good for me in that respect.
What were some of your favorite moments from your fellow contestants?
Chad Briggs: Thomas Whittington's memorizing and performing of that impossible monologue was probably the number one apes moment. I liked a lot of Kibblesmith's stuff - his dance craze was a very solid bit. Very funny. Chelsea's laser tag song is till stuck in my head. Girl can write a hooky lyric. My partner Scott's performance the week we had to make a ten-minute horror film was pretty phenomenal. He put in a lot of work.
Did your family watch any of the shows online? If so, any reactions?
Chad Briggs: My parents rooted for me and watched. It was sweet. My dad wanted me to win. He tracked it like a pennant race.
What did it feel like to win? You were a front-runner from the beginning, did that change your overall level of anxiety at all?
Chad Briggs: It was cool to win, but it was just for fun and if you did it for 300 bucks and a bag full of stuff from Uncle Fun (whoopee cushions are still hilarious. I'm serious. Balloons that make fart noises will always be fun. An immutable law of comedy), you missed the point. Having said that, I have to admit being in first a lot of the time made me more nervous. I didn't want to blow my lead. Whereas if I was kind of in the middle the whole time, maybe I would have had more fun.
What did you do with the cash prize?
Chad Briggs: Done spent it on booze and bills and whatever else an idiot spends it on when you hand him a wad of cash.
What are you going to going to do with your Wednesday nights now?
Chad Briggs: I'm doing a show tonight. Hopefully, more of that. Is that Cougartown program on Wednesday? Is that already off the air, is that reference already dated? Geez, I lost contact with the outside world so much during this show that I don't even know if Cougartown is even on or not. WTF, you guys?!
What would you say to anyone considering auditioning for future iterations of Apes?
Chad Briggs: First of all, if they have a camera on you, know they will use all of the footage to embarrass you and/or make the next seven days of your life a shit show of anxiety and self-doubt. All of it. I would gather up all the wacky props and costumes types stuff you have and make a "wacky Apes shit" box. And then use that stuff sparingly. Use your time to write and rehearse instead of going to three different stores to find the perfect laser gun. It helps to know the Puterbaugh Sisterz. But I would make a short list of performer friends who you might like to work with when the time comes.
If you and previous Apes winners Jamie Buell, Kristen Studard, and Seth Dodson formed a band, what would it be called, and what kind of music would you play? Alternately, which one of you would be John, Paul, George, and Ringo, and why?
Chad Briggs: We actually did form a group. We're called Professor Scoresboard after our favorite Apes character. We broke up though, I'm not supposed to talk about it. I kept forgetting what time practice was. I'm Ringo because I'm the least talented. I'm glad I didn't have to face these guys.
Can you share a few details about your inspiration for DK Ediger.? How did that character come about, and what sources did you draw on to create him?
Chad Briggs: DK came from this very bizarre anti-drug presentation captured on VHS called Dick and Jane. My mom was always bringing us home videos from the high school library (she was a teacher then). I'm not sure if they showed us this one in class or not. Anyway, it was this presentation by this toxicologist who had seen firsthand the horrors of teen drug abuse and decided the best thing he could do was a cautionary presentation replete with hacky drawings and dubious facts. It's circa 1982. But the presentation is to an all adult audience. It's my favorite anti-drug video next to a TV movie called The Death of Richie starring Robbie Benson. All the men have that sweet LBJ-esque brill cream greasy hair. I just thought it would be better if DK was an overall safety "expert" so we could cover a wider variety of subjects. Adam Burke does my drawings. He's great - the drawings are too good, I always tell him.
Chad Briggs as Ape-winning character, "professional safety expert and accidentalist" DK Ediger (clip is from a different show).
How has the show changed over these past four years?
Steve Gadlin (Barry Shirley): The performances have become a lot more meta than they were at the start. In season one, the challenges were pretty straightforward. Do stand-up. Sing a song. Do a dance. We've layered the challenges with more twists, and as a result, get performances that are a little more wacky and less sincere.
Paul Luikart (Captain Apehab): I'd say the show has gotten more exciting. I love to perform in it more and more each year. It's gotten to be a really professional show...very tightly produced and...it just feels like a pro show more and more.
Bryan Bowden (Bushmeat): We lost an ape and gained a new one. Our hosts have changed. The location changed. Also, the show dropped having any sort of plot to justify why three hyper-intelligent apes from the future are holding a talent show after season three.
Any major surprises this season?
Steve Gadlin: The biggest surprise I had this season was finding out that only two of our current contestants had ever seen the show before.
Paul Luikart: For me, no humongous surprises this season. The contestants were, of course, great and came up with some good stuff, but I think Season 3 set the bar pretty high, as far as on-stage surprises. "Holy crap, Asmus is naked and covered in jam." "Holy crap, Metoskie is flossing his crotch with an American flag." "Holy crap, the Lakeshore Theater almost burned down." "Are those....yep, those are dancing World Trade Centers." At this point, it's gotta be something really big to surprise me with this show.
Bryan Bowden: (Looking ahead to next season) we're having surprising special guests, and probably some of the weirdest and best challenges we've ever posed to the contestants.
What part of Apes do you enjoy the most?
Steve Gadlin: I really love watching the show from up on stage. The performances are so great. People are constantly out-doing each other and themselves. Also, it's fun to engage in contentious and witty back-and-forth with the contestants during judging.
Paul Luikart: Two things. 1. I love to watch the contestants. I love anticipating what super-weird things they'll come up with. I'm always certain their ideas and performances are going to be new, wild, outlandish. It's so fun to watch these folks be creative. 2. I love to watch Blewtians do their things. I love what each Blewt person contributes to Apes and how that makes for such a great show.
Bryan Bowden: The goofiness of it. I think because the show has such a weird and goofy premise it allows the contestants to have more fun comedically. They don't have to worry about creating art or making an important statement with their work. The contestants are allowed to do whatever their imaginations create. Some people take comedy so seriously that they forget it's really just adults acting like kids: creating, pretending, and enjoying silliness.
Any thoughts about last year's winner, Chad Briggs, and what allowed him to walk away the champ?
Steve Gadlin: Chad's winning trait was his polish. Each of his performances came across as well rehearsed, and his stage presence was very professional. His experience definitely gave him a big advantage.
Paul Luikart: Briggs is obviously very adept at commanding an audience. He is a great performer and very natural with his stage presence. He's funny. He's got great ideas.
Bryan Bowden: Chad Briggs had a lot of things working in his favor. He's a very smart guy, and he makes being funny look effortless. To me, that means he put a good deal of thought and effort into his bits. It also means that he's just a naturally funny and creative dude.
How do you think you yourself would do as an Apes contestant?
Steve Gadlin: I would love to be an Apes contestant. Every show I do is based on the type of experience that I'd like to have as a performer. But I'm doomed to make the shows and never actually be a part of them. I hope it's as fun for the contestants as I imagine it would be for me! I'd probably get my ass kicked, but I'd have so much fun giving a big ol' Fuck You to the judges week after week.
Paul Luikart: I think I would be completely intimidated. I can't take criticism very well, so I think I'd wither under the Apes' merciless commentary.
Bryan Bowden: I would do okay. I know that I can work very quickly and allow an idea to change based on problems or limitations. However, I do not think that I would win. Because I also know that my brain likes to take outrageous risks which would lead to at least one week where I try something crazy and fail magnificently.
Disclosure: Elizabeth McQuern is indeed acquainted with the people in this piece, a fact which does nothing to diminish their hilariousness.
Impress These Apes Season Five, ably hosted by Beauty Pageant Host (Ken Barnard) and Future Human (Jim Fath), opens TONIGHT, 8PM, at ComedySportz. Tickets are $10, available here.