Let’s get crazy, Burque style
Shenoah Allen says he always wanted to be president when he grew up, but “I never took any steps toward becoming president.”
Instead, the Albuquerque native became a comedian. His running mate: comedic partner Mark Chavez, with whom he travels the world as the duo The Pajama Men.
“We didn’t get into comedy because we wanted to be funny,” Chavez says. “We liked comedy because that’s where our personalities took us. It’s an easier way to be ourselves.”
Apparently, these men have multiple personalities: Their approximately 70-minute The Last Stand to Reason has each actor playing several roles. It’s not exactly a play and it’s not exactly stand-up. The Pajama Men sit somewhere in between, with Last Stand telling the story of a murder mystery aboard a train and no props, no sets and no costume changes.
Last Stand may be their best show yet. Or, at least, it’s the one that’s earned the duo the most attention, including a five-star shout-out in the London Times and mad props at the Edinburgh International Festival—the most acclaimed comedy festival in the known universe.
So, how do they do it? How do they continuously come up with hilarious performances year after year and keep what they’re doing onstage fresh every night?
“We come up with the structure and then just remember where we’re headed next,” Allen says. “We leave it open to improv because we like the spontaneity of that and we like to keep it alive.”
Chavez adds, “When you have a blank canvas, everything is just way too broad; anything can happen, which is a great freedom. But once you start confining yourself, giving yourself problems to solve, writing becomes a lot more fun. It becomes a puzzle.”
The life they bring to the stage has led to numerous awards around the world, from the Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s Barry Award to the Best of the Fest at Time Out Sydney Comedy Awards. But forget the Australians for a second; coming home is special.
“It’s good to do it here, it’s fun,” Allen says. “It’s safer in a way because our friends are here. It feels different as we go from place to place.” Allen says it takes a little while to get the comedic timing of a country and an audience.
Though they live their lives on the road, traveling to festivals and performing around the world, Allen has been back in the duo’s hometown for most of the summer, with a few quick jaunts here and there, so they’ll be primed and ready for a New Mexico audience. When the Alibi spoke to the two by phone last week, Allen in Albuquerque and Chavez in Vancouver, both were excited to be back working on new material.
Maybe it’s because they’ve been professionally making people laugh together here for more than 10 years. Chavez says they began as high school students doing video announcements in the morning. From there, they realized they had chemistry together and joined an improv group.
Allen’s emphasis is a little different. In his version, the announcements were still there, but he notes that the two got in a bit of trouble together, taking credit for being the more reckless and mouthy of the two.
Whatever it is, the two work together beautifully. “We need each other to write,” Allen says. “When I sit down on my own to write something, it’s OK; but sitting down with Mark, I come up with things I’d never come up with on my own in front of the computer.”
Though they’ve performed The Last Stand to Reason more than 100 times since writing it, Chavez says it’s been a few months since the last performance, so there’s still room for the unexpected, for both actors and audience. “If we do the show perfectly, it’s worse,” Allen says, “But if we mess it up, it causes us to go off on tangents and discover new things.”
Since the boys will only be performing in Albuquerque for one night, there’s not a lot opportunity to find out what they’ll find onstage. But the audience is sure to uncover a funny bone they didn’t know could be tickled so well.
8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 21
UNM Center for the Arts
Central and Stanford SE
$15 to $20, www.unmtickets.com