No More Funny Business!

Local sketch comedy troupe the NonProphets are in it for the laughs

"What better place to try something out than in St. Louis?" she says. "It's inexpensive, and people are willing to do absolutely anything." She calls the NonProphets one of the most adventurous groups she's seen anywhere. "God! I showed my ass for six months in 'Plumbers' Ass Gone Wild!'"

And it's this energy that inspires most of the players. "I told Bob and Kirsten, I'm dropping everything for this," Rohan says. "We're all working to make this thing take off. We'll see the money later." He views a bigger venue as the first step: "We gotta get our own place. We love the Hi-Pointe, but we gotta be performing Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. We need a place like the Funny Bone, where we can perform before 250 to 300 people a night."

He admits the odds of this happening anytime soon are slim. In the meantime, he and the other NonProphets are feeding off the support of their cult following. That following includes Jim and Jean Jones, the elderly grandparents of Chris Jones, who have attended nearly every NonProphets show that Chris has performed in (and sung along to the Twatley's anthem on each occasion).

A meeting of the "Legitimate League of Library Girls Who Like Girls"
Jennifer Silverberg
A meeting of the "Legitimate League of Library Girls Who Like Girls"

"We're not offended," Jim says over the phone, relaying questions to his wife in the background. "Sometimes it gets kind of raunchy, but it's in a bar, and you have to play to the crowd."

Even if Chris were to move to New York, Jim says, he and his wife would continue to trek across the river to the Hi-Pointe every Thursday night. They love the group that much.

Setting: The basement of the Missouri Historical Society, recently refurbished with clean white walls and harsh fluorescent lighting. NPR is blaring.

Time: Friday. 5:30 pm.

Dramatis Personae: *Travis Estes, the only NonProphet in Equity, the actor's union. Estes gets special permission to do non-Equity work with the NonProphets. His day job is production manager for Historyonics, the theater arm of the Historical Society.

*Ben Westhoff, a great admirer of union actresses Heather Graham and Elizabeth Berkeley.

Travis enters wearing a plaid, collared shirt tucked into his pleated chinos, and buckled black dress shoes. He seats himself at his desk, munches on a microwave dinner and stares at his computer screen.

Travis: Hold on a minute. I just have to print out this script. (Taps at his keyboard) Everything here goes through the Historical Society. It's all fact-checked and stuff.

Ben: Sure.

Travis: Not that I don't love my job. When this -- a benefits and salaried position -- came up, I took it right away. Arts management positions are few and far between.

Ben: What do you hope to be doing in ten years, and where would you like to be doing it?

Travis: In ten years I'd love to be acting at night and writing during the day, sketches and screenplays.

Suddenly, all the lights in the building shut off. The actors are enveloped in a crepuscular gloom.

Ben: It's dark in here.

Travis gets up and turns his office light back on.

Travis: Sorry about that.

Ben: Do you feel like you have to get out of St. Louis?

Travis: I've lived in New York and Chicago, so I have a different perspective from other people, which is: You can succeed wherever you are if you work hard enough. People who say, "I would be a working actor if I lived in LA" -- eck. If you aren't the type who could make it here or in Cincinnati, say, then you probably couldn't make it in New York, either. (Checks his watch) Are you ready to go?

Ben and Travis move downstage right, to a rehearsal space where Travis will practice "Floodgates," a one-act play on the theme of race relations, to be performed for junior-high and high school students around the city. Co-star Eric arrives, followed by the stage manager.

Travis: (Pointing to the stage manager) The NonProphets could really use one of those.

They begin rehearsal of the two-man show. Eric, who is black, answers his front door. Travis, who is white, has shown up to take his sister out. Obviously uncomfortable with each other, the two undertake a series of role plays: Eric is a cracker white cop to Travis' "driving while black" motorist, followed by Eric as a white BMW driver who gets a flat in the 'hood and is held up at gunpoint by headbanded Travis. The end of the show has Travis delivering painfully earnest lines about needing to see people as people, regardless of race, creed or gender. With rehearsal over, Ben and Travis head outside for a cigarette break.

Ben: Do you find it hypocritical to be busting stereotypes during the daytime and then carefully sewing them back together at night with the NonProphets?

Travis: I don't know about that. I mean, if we're doing our job in the NonProphets, we're making fun of the people who don't accept these views, views of equality. Sure, the NonProphets exploit stereotypes, but the stereotypes are done in a goofy way. We have a fairly liberal view, overall.

Another Thursday night and another full house for the NonProphets' show at the Hi-Pointe. The seating area near the stage is packed, and the overflow runs all the way to the door. The folks standing in back are so raucous that various members of the NonProphets have to shush them on a regular basis.

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