Fans of the improvisational comedy team Four Day Weekend will be pleased to learn that the troupe turned 20 at Bass Hall last Thursday night without showing the slightest hint of having matured in any way.
The eight-man comedy team, which was supported by an onstage, four-piece band led by Ray Sharp, celebrated its two decades of off-the-cuff comedy with a special anniversary performance at that august venue, rather than its usual home in the theater above downtown’s Reata Restaurant. But while the setting might have been more high-brow, the comedy was as broad and wacky as ever.
The evening was a nice mix of nostalgia and the sort of unscripted high jinx for which these guys are so justly known. One of the highlights of the show was a video that opened the festivities. It showed the comedians preparing to come on, and then mistakenly walking onstage at the wrong venue, where their only audience member was Mayor Betsy Price, who told them they were supposed to be in Bass Hall.
The gang then began a dash through downtown to the right hall, only to be very nearly run down by former Mayor Mike Moncrief. Once at the correct venue, they were greeted by usher Ed Bass, who demanded their tickets. Knowing they had no ducats, the troupe managed to bribe their way in by offering the billionaire philanthropist a crisp, new one-dollar bill.
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In each case, the notables in the video offered a one-word assessment of the comedians as they left the shot: “Jacka--es.” It is, obviously, an epithet they wear proudly.
Thursday’s comedy was exactly what the many regular fans of the troupe expected. There was a great deal of audience participation, including a woman who took grief from the boys all through the performance after she confessed that she only came to the show because she had been given a ticket. But it turned out she was not alone in attending without any out-of-pocket expense. After a few other victims from the audience also owned up to wrangling free tickets, Four Day member David Wilk exasperatedly asked the enthusiastic crowd of about 1,600, “Did anybody pay to get in?”
The audience was so much a part of this show that it even took part without taking the stage. The crowd was invited to jot nonsensical words and phrases on Post-it notes and attach them to a suggestion board set up in the lobby before the show. During the show, they were grabbed at random and dropped into a skit, resulting in bits like the one that required the players to use “Southwest Airlines” and “manatees” as their building blocks.
And the amazing thing is, they did. As with any improv show, not every bit worked. But the troupe sure had a lot more hits than misses Thursday. In general, these guys have an uncanny ability to say something in an instant that most of us would think of the next day.
One of the most entertaining bits offered was an old one Wilk said had been requested by his father, who was in the audience. Called “Forward and Reverse,” it required the comedians to start into a skit inspired by the suggestion board. Then, when David Ahearn, who serves as emcee for the troupe, shouted “reverse,” the players would have to do the lines and moves they had just done in reverse order. Then would come the shout of “forward,” and they would deliver the lines in the correct sequence and move the skit ahead — only to hear Ahearn yell “reverse” again. It was even funnier and more manic than that sounds.
There were also plenty of silly wigs and costumes, and some goofy songs. But Josh Roberts, who was wowed by Bass Hall and started begging Ahearn to let him sing something from “Phantom of the Opera” in the splendid venue at the very outset of the show, did a nice job on his “Laughter of the Night,” when he was finally allowed to have his moment in the spotlight. It certainly justified Roberts bounding and gagging Ahearn to clear his way to the microphone.
The performance concluded with a roundtable discussion of the group’s history, led by actress-comedian Cristela Alonzo, who got her comedy training in Four Day classes before going on to bigger things in Hollywood, including creating an ABC sitcom, “Cristela,” and voicing one of the autos in the upcoming Pixar film, “Cars 3.” It was a warm and fuzzy way to end a celebratory evening and, as ever, no one had any trouble thinking of something to say.