They were once described as “The Velvet Underground of comedy”, which makes Albuquerque comedy duo The Pajama Men sound more niche and less accessible than they actually are, but speaks to their extreme cache of comedic coolness and far-reaching influence on other comic acts.
Friends since high school, the pair – Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez – have honed their riotously funny multi-character performances to a (surreal) fine art. Fast, madcap, wilfully silly, they met with WOW247 to describe the development of their new show, 2 Men 3 Musketeers, an inspired retelling of Alexander Dumas’ classic novel…
So to start, that cliché question: how would you describe your act to the uninitiated?
Shenoah: “It’s difficult to describe our shows, not being they’re that ethereal or intellectually challenging, but we combine so many different disciplines in what we do, improv and stand-up, and mime and physical theatre and it’s kind of a play but it’s also kind of a comedy show. It’s a chaotic whirlwind that’s both taut and loose at the same. We have a tight structure that we follow, but we keep it flexible enough to improvise a lot. It’s hard to sum up in a sentence but its a wild ride.”
Mark: “This is the first show we’ve ever had to write the entire script down. The previous shows we’d have a five page sheet of notes and beats, that just say things like ‘the horse bit’ or ‘the housewives’ lined up like that. Because we’re performing every day, we take notes, we’ll talk to each other after the show and say ‘aw yeah, we shouldn’t really do that bit again’. But with this one, there’s a comedy club called Second City in Chicago that asked us to write this, so we’re going to – once we’ve run it here, and run it in London – create a script for them to use and cast other people in and publish.”
Shenoah: “This the first time we’ve ever had to write something that someone else can read and make sense of, but that said the style in which we’re working is the same, where we have a script but tonight we’re still making up a certain percentage of it on the fly cause that’s how we exist”
Mark: “…Which is a blessing and a curse, because if that’s not happening then the show is a little sloppy. We kind of thrive on the spontaneity of it – not that we intentionally leave it bad – but we have to leave it a little bit open so there has to be a risk of failure, and sometimes that failure happens. (Pregnant pause)
And so why have you decided to take on the Three Musketeers as a basis for your new show?
Mark: It was part of the commission from Second City. I had no interest in The Three Musketeers but then we read the book, and I loved the book, it’s really weird…
Shenoah: “… And sinister – the moral compass is really in the wrong place. The musketeers do nothing but lie to people and steal and kill – it’s all in the name of their whole code of honour and ethics and the whole…”
Mark: “…Thing with the character of m’Lady is very weird. She steals a vase, and is branded as a thief, so she changes her identity, to hide, and marries one of the musketeers before he’s a musketeer. And he finds out and literally hangs her, but she survives, and he finds out she’s still alive because of the fleur-de-lys on her shoulder, and then they have a trial and kill her…”
Shenoah: “They cut off her head and throw her body in the river and that’s the end of the book.”
Mark: “Justice is done!”
After eleven years, what keeps drawing you back to the Fringe?
Shenoah: “I love this festival so much. I mean, there’s so much happening. Just the vitality. I know it sounds corny, but everyone here is chasing their dreams, people come here because they’re after something. I love being around that. I love how challenging it is, that you have to get up there and do it night after night no matter how you feel. As a performer I think its the best training you can ever get to come to Edinburgh. Our whole career can be traced back to the Edinburgh Festival. Its opened up a world of touring possibilities. But mainly it’s just a great time.”
Mark: “Without a doubt, this festival has made us better, too. Like when we first started – I mean, you can get away with more in other places. But when we first got here we realised ‘OK, we need to be punchier’. How do you capture an audience that has literally 3,500 other things that they can see? It was after coming here that we really started refining the work that we were doing. Because it’s so difficult it made us better performers.”
Shenoah: “Our standards are pretty high for ourselves. Whether or not you can tell.”
The Pajama Men: 2 Men, 3 Musketeers, Assembly Roxy, until 30 Aug, 8.20pm / listings
The show also features superbly strange musical accompaniment by multi-instrumentalist Ignacio Agrimbau.