Versus vs. Versus
The Pajama Men interview The Pajama Men
By Steven Robert Allen
Just because they spend most of their waking hours in pajamas doesn't mean they're lazy. Far from it. In 2004, Albuquerque's beloved homegrown comedy duo The Pajama Men got picked up by legendary comedy producers The Second City. They moved to Chicago. Many people wept.
Thankfully, their XL flannel hearts still belong to Albuquerque. For the past few months, Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez have been back in town working with local filmmaker Armando Kirwin to produce a pilot television show.
Since they've returned to Albuquerque, the pair has also benefited from a long friendship with Q-Staff, a local experimental theater company, who's supplied Allen and Chavez with free meals at Winning Coffee House (which is owned by Q-Staff's founders). By offering their theater as a rehearsal space, Q-Staff has also provided an environment that's allowed The Pajama Men to produce a new original show, Versus vs. Versus, running every weekend at the Q-Staff Theatre through the end of May.
These days, being funny is a full-time job. After they finish their run in Albuquerque, they'll roll up to Edmonton, Canada, to perform in an international comedy festival. In midsummer, they'll start a long string of shows at the Storefront Theatre in Chicago.
Last Thursday, two minutes past the crack of dawn, The Pajama Men sat down in the Alibi's conference room for an intimate discussion—with each other. Here are some excerpts.
Shenoah: Good morning, Mr. Chavez. It's nice to see you.
Mark: It's good to see you, too.
Shenoah: I see you most mornings. I don't normally see you this early in the morning, unless we're, for some reason, still awake from the night before. But this is nice. It feels fresh.
Mark: You know, it's funny—we see each other on stage a lot, and in the afternoon for coffee, tea, discussions, whatever, but we never actually talk.
Shenoah: Yeah, I'm glad Steve put us up to this so we can clear the air a bit.
Mark: I know. There are a lot of things I want to get out in the open.
Shenoah: This seems like a good time, public forum and all.
Mark: So you've been performing a new show. How do you feel? Are you enjoying it?
Shenoah: I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job in it. I try to get out there and ...
Mark: Wait, wait, wait. When you say you feel like you're doing a good job, you feel like I'm not doing a good job?
Shenoah: I didn't say that.
Mark: But you implied it by not saying “we.”
Shenoah: Yeah, but you were asking me a question. I don't feel like I need to speak for both of us. I feel like what I am doing in the show is better than what you're doing.
Mark: Oh, so I was right?
Shenoah: That doesn't mean you're doing a bad job, just that I'm doing a great job.
Mark: So I am doing a passable job? All right, that's fine. I just thought maybe you forgot that I was up there with you.
Shenoah: You're always there.
Mark: Right, like a stain. Anyway, continue. You feel like the show is going well on your part ...
Shenoah: Yeah, I mean, you know it's just that I feel strong. I feel confident. I feel like we're out there to win and that's what we're going to do. Coach has been giving me a lot of feedback. I don't know if you knew this, but I hired a coach.
Mark: Oh, I do. And he's great. He's really taught me to give it 110 percent. Which I do.
Shenoah: I've always been confused by that expression. What does that mean, to give 110 percent?
Mark: It means to give more than you can possibly give.
Shenoah: I think I just fell in love with you.
Mark: Has it passed yet?
Mark: Good. ... You know, whenever I'm walking on the street and I'm not with you, people often say, “Hey, where's your friend?” Because we're sort of synonymous. So where are you, when I'm not with you?
Shenoah: That's a very good question.
Mark: I never know what to tell these people. Am I my friend's keeper? I don't know! Stop asking!
Shenoah: I go to the dark place.
Mark: Oh ... you actually go there?
Shenoah: I live there.
Mark: I've never been to the dark place.
Shenoah: Don't worry, I'll take you there—just a couple more years ... we've been working together a long time.
Mark: Over a year, less than 11 years.
Shenoah: A little less than 11 years. You seem to be enthusiastic.
Mark: Is that a nice way of saying “annoying”?
Shenoah: You have a certain enthusiasm. You've got a real vigor and enthusiasm.
Mark: Thank you.
Shenoah: I just wish you'd bring a little of that to the show.
Mark: You feel like I'm more enthusiastic in life than I am ...
Shenoah: Well, you're very enthusiastic about “World of Warcraft.” Or whatever that Nintendo game is that you play.
Mark: Yes, I am enthusiastic about that.
Shenoah: Well, I'm just thinking maybe you could go on a quest to do some comedy ... with me.
Mark: Well, the thing is there's no incentive.
Shenoah: No cyber-animal skins?
Mark: Right. What am I going to win? I don't get gold. I do get laughs, but you can't buy armor with laughs, at least not last time I checked. Can you?
Shenoah: You can, actually.
Mark: Oh, this changes everything. I need a new shoulder piece. ...
Shenoah: So, Mark, are you gonna get married anytime soon?
Mark: Oh, no, oh, god, oh, geez. Wow, no way, no way, no, absolutely, no—yikes. Marriage that's ... well, maybe. We'll see. How about you?
Shenoah: I'm married to the work.
Mark: It must be getting really stale then. I just have an affair with the work. That way it's more exciting. I feel like I’m doing something new every time. If you're married to the work then, Jesus, more power to you, man.
Shenoah: Well, we're going to break up soon.
Mark: You'll marry something else, like accounting?
[long awkward silence]
Mark: So what else is new?
Shenoah: That was a pointed question.
Mark: Yeah, I’m just going to cut right to it: What else is new?
Shenoah: That's very personal.
Mark: We said we would get down to bare bones here.
Shenoah: Bare bones? Brass tacks? There's more than one way to skin a cat?
Mark: Why would you skin a cat?
Shenoah: These are questions and answers. What I like to do is ask a question and then answer it. “What's my name?” “Shenoah.” “How am I doing?” “Fine.” “What day is it?” “I'm not sure.”
Mark: So you're one of these guys who when someone asks you a question, you just restate it in different ways. “Is he a nice guy?” “Is he a nice guy? Yes. Do I like him? No, I don't. Can I deal with him? Yes.” I didn't ask you three questions, I just asked you one question.
Shenoah: Sometimes I like to have little conversations with myself. “Do I like to have little conversations with myself?” “Sometimes, yes, I do.” “Is it nice to sometimes reflect and talk to myself?” “Yes, it is.” “Is it something I feel is necessary so that I understand my own ideas?” “Yes.” “Do I feel like you're getting a clearer understanding of what I'm talking about by stating these things in a question format and then answering?” “Yes. Of course, I do.”
Mark: If you weren't doing what you're doing now, being a performer and a writer and that kind of artistic thing, what would you be?
Shenoah: I would be a scientist.
Mark: Really? What do you mean?
Shenoah: I mean I would just freak out and research everything. I would just be an explorer scientist guy.
Mark: Sounds like you would be a hippie.
Shenoah: I didn't mean like exploring the bodies of patchouli-bathed women. I mean exploring my mind and sitting in a field. Oh, yeah, you're right. I'd be a hippie.
Mark: Or a philosopher?
Shenoah: No, I think I'd go science. I think in all honesty I'd be working to save cute species somewhere.
Mark: Species of what?
Shenoah: Monkey, rat, I don't care. I want them to stay on the planet. So, yes, I think you're right. I think I would be a hippie. I'd be somewhere trying to save a cute little furry creature.
Mark: From what? Tyranny?
Shenoah: Yeah, from the tyranny of me. “You're sooo cute! Arrrrrchksdf!”
[makes guttural strangling noise for several minutes]
Mark: That's great. I never knew that about you. Another thing I never knew about you: How do you pronounce your name? Sheh-no-ahhhh. Am I doing that right?
Shenoah: It sounds nice when you say it. I'm glad you finally said it.
Mark: Well, I've just been afraid that I would pronounce it wrong.
Shenoah: I keep telling you, it's just three syllables that mean so much.
Mark: Yeah, well, mine's easy: Mahharrrccccccccchhhhhkkk.
Shenoah: Mehhrrrcckkk? Mehhhrrccckkk?
Mark: It's actually one and a half syllables. Most people mispronounce it as “Mark,” which I find endlessly aggravating. People come up and say, “Hi, Mark.” I'm like, “God, why are you so hardcore about my name? Be more relaxed: 'Mahaarcchk.'” So, Shenoah, what do you think is your best physical feature?
Shenoah: Gee, I think we're going to have to go by process of elimination. It's not my hair. It's not my legs—my great legs. I don't think it's my teeth. I think it's my personality.
Mark: That's not a ...
Shenoah: You might say that's not a physical feature but ...
Mark: You're answering a question that I didn't ask.
Shenoah: I knew that you were going to say that's not a physical feature, but to me ...
Mark: Why don't you ask me what's my favorite star in the sky, and I'll say, “the sperm whale.”
Shenoah: That would send me to a cave for 20 years pondering the meaning of it. I think that's wonderful. Physically what's my best feature?
Shenoah: Probably my voice. That's physical, right?
Mark: It's a physical process, but it's not a feature.
Shenoah: It's my tender voice.
Mark: Let me explain this to you. This table has physical features. It's hard. It's black. It's got sturdy legs.
Shenoah: See, I feel like you are pigeonholing this table. What does it want to be?
Mark: It's a table. It doesn't want to be anything else.
Shenoah: Are you sure? Are you sure it doesn't want to be a chalkboard, ripe for ideas to be scrawled upon? ... We all face challenges, don't we, Mark?
Mark: I'd have to agree with that. I'm facing one right now.
Shenoah: So you consider me a challenge?
Mark: No ...
Shenoah: Am I a challenge that you have to somehow overcome?
Mark: I look at what we do as challenging. That's not saying that you are the challenging part, but any time you are in my life there is a challenge.
Shenoah: I’m starting to feel like you're saying I have special needs.
Mark: We all have special needs. I like certain foods. I don't like certain foods. I need for mayonnaise to not be on my sandwich, or else I won't eat my sandwich. I need that because otherwise I'll complain.
Shenoah: You'll complain, and you'll throw your hands up and start to cry a bit.
Mark: My eyes well up when I get angry. It's not crying. It's ...
Shenoah: That's what crying is.
Mark: It's not crying. They well up when I get mad. It's tough, it's a tough thing. It's angry, like, “You better watch it.” My body shakes. My face gets red.
Shenoah: And you start to cry.
Mark: I get little tears because I'm mad.
Shenoah: And then I start calling you horrible names and keying your car.
Mark: Right. My nonexistent car.
Shenoah: What an ’80s thing to do. Do people still do that or did it go out of style?
Mark: I think it may have gone out of style because you don't hang out with people who key people's cars anymore.
Shenoah: I didn't hang out with those people.
Mark: I'm not saying you hung out with people who keyed people's cars. I did. My friend, [leans toward microphone] Melvin Hasseldorf, and I were at a movie and someone opened a car and dented his car door. So he backed up and drove next to it the long way and took out his key and zzzzzzz. Just keyed it.
Shenoah: How did he drive and key it at the same time? That's a feat.
Mark: Just like that—zzzzzz, zzzzz. He must have taken the key off of the ring.
Shenoah: That's a lot of work.
Mark: He certainly did that, and I was aghast. I was like, “Oh, I guess people really do this. He's keying that guy's car.” It was kind of exciting. I was like, “Wow, I'm a part of this.” To that person, I am sorry.
Shenoah: Yeah, and to the 300 people whose hood ornaments I stole when I was 13, I'm also sorry.
Mark: You stole 300 hood ornaments? Just two minutes ago, you said, “I never hung out with people who keyed people's cars.”
Shenoah: I didn't. You don't come away with anything when you key people's cars. When you steal a hood ornament, you come away with a hood ornament.
Mark: Did you steal a Cadillac? Those are the big ones.
Shenoah: Mercedes were actually the ones that people really wanted because of those leather jackets with the snappy flaps on the shoulder. You could hang it from that, and have these cheesy Mercedes things hanging off your shoulders.
Mark: You're basically saying, “I vandalize.”
Shenoah: And “I can't afford my own Mercedes.” Because if I owned a Mercedes I don't think I would take off the hood ornament just to hang it on my jacket to prove to everyone that I own a Mercedes.
Mark: Do cars still have hood ornaments?
Shenoah: Not so much. I think cars are kind of sad now because it used to be like a little trophy that would ride around on the front, and the car would always be thinking, “I'm winning!”
Mark: Yeah, I used to love hood ornaments. My mom had an Oldsmobile and even those had hood ornaments.
Shenoah: I don't want to know about your mom's hood ornament. That's gross to me. I don't want to think about that.
Mark: What's gross about it?
Shenoah: About your mom's hood ornament? That's just not something I want to know about.
Mark: It's a hood ornament on a car.
Shenoah: OK, now you're just being mean.
[they fall silent, smiling tenderly at each other]
Mark: I'm really glad we had this conversation today.
Shenoah: Do you feel like you know me better now?
Mark: I do. I feel like I know you better. I feel like I'm closer to you. Which I didn't think was possible, but now we've taken that step and we know each other just a little bit better. You know, they say if you go through something traumatic with someone, you're bonded for life. They also say that if you go through life with someone, you're bonded for life.
Mark: And this has been a little traumatic for me.
Shenoah: Me too.
Mark: We are covalently bonded now. We are there. We are the molecule brothers. The Pajama Men. Anyway, thanks a lot, Shenoah. Did I say that right, “Shenoah”?
Shenoah: Yes, you did. Thanks a lot yourself. Thanks a pantsful—for being such a great friend.
Mark: You're welcome.
Shenoah: I mean that.
Mark: I mean that, too.
The Pajama Men's new show, Versus vs. Versus, runs Fridays and Saturdays at 9 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m., through May 27 at Q-Staff Theatre (4819 Central NE). $15 general, $12 students/seniors. 255-2182.
Jill Cohn • indie, singer-