April 23, 2002.

Clowns create ‘Cubist' comedy for new show


Lauren Ryland and Vincent Truman in rehearsal

There’s a new way to do sketch comedy, and Oak Park resident Vincent Truman is one of the Suspicious Clowns proving it.

Every Friday night, precisely at 10:25 p.m., he and five other writer/performers take the stage at Chicago’s WNEP Theatre to demonstrate their innovative technique.

“We sort of think that comedy these days is a joke,” Truman explained. “We've watched ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘Mad TV,’ and the six of us all think that it’s pretty predictable where it’s going, and it’s contrived.”

By contrast, the Suspicious Clowns’ approach is to “get in, say what we want to say, and then cut that scene,” Truman said. “We'll break another scene into it. Kind of a Picasso approach to comedy — Cubist comedy.”

The show contains numerous sketches — none of which are “finished.”

Sometimes the segue comes when a cast member appears to forget a line. “We play with the form,” Truman said. “We give you a snapshot, instead of an entire book. It’s like a photo album — a bunch of pretty snapshots from six excellent comedic performer/photographers.”

In one of the “Snapshots,” Lauren Ryland brings Scott Munn back to her apartment after a night of drinking and carousing. They share a tender moment, and then Truman and the other performers burst in wearing pointy birthday hats.

Truman announces to the couple, “Hate to interrupt you guys, but it’s somebody’s birthday out there.” He chooses an audience member at random and the partygoers stage a celebration, singing one of those tacky restaurant renditions of Happy Birthday. “After which, we go into a script for the sequel to ‘Hamlet,’ ” Truman said. “This happens in a matter of like three minutes. There’s a medley kind of feel to our approach.”

Truman said, “Suspicious Clowns showed up in the minds of my partner Scott Munn and myself late last year. We were working on an improvisation show which was really bad — and we acknowledged it.”

They decided that it would be far better to put together a sketch comedy group in which everybody involved was both a writer and a performer.

The pair held auditions, selecting three women and one man to create and perform a show with them. They felt it was vital to have a balanced male/female ratio.

“When Scott and I have seen comedy shows, it tends to be nine men and the woman who is relegated to girlfriend roles, mom roles, daughter roles,” Truman said. “One of my big motivations was to keep it equal at the start. There’s a lot more than just being a mom, daughter and girlfriend.”

Vincent Truman, Lauren Ryland and Amanda Laneir

Truman chose to call the assemblage Suspicious Clowns because he liked the juxtaposition of the two terms. “Clowns sort of means ‘funny’ but suspicious means there’s something going on that you don’t quite know,” Truman said. “And people have a strange relationship with clowns anyway.”

Tom Vencell and Scott Munn In mid-January, the group began constructing its show. During the first four weeks, all of the writers were allowed to submit material. The next four weeks, Truman and Munn, producers of the project, whittled it down and put together a rough running order. The last chunk of time was devoted to getting costumes and rehearsing.

Then they booked the space at WNEP Theatre for a four-week run. Truman and Munn are already planning the next step: Suspicious Clowns Two. The six members will spend May writing new material and return to WNEP in late summer.

Truman, who was raised in Morris, has lived in Oak Park for 11 years. He studied film and radio at Columbia College, and took classes at Second City and the Neo-Futurarium.

In 1993, Truman produced his first improv show at what was then the Improv Institute. He also appeared in the Noble Fools’ “Flanagan’s Wake” early in its run.

To support himself, Truman has managed to accumulate a list of “strange titles that don’t mean anything.” These include accountant, office manager, coordinator and administrator.

Ask Suspicious Clowns co-founder Truman what he enjoys about being a member of the group and he cheerfully replies, “I just like being a member of any group.”

Suspicious Clowns performs at 10:25 p.m. Fridays through May 3 at WNEP Theatre, 3209 N. Halsted, Chicago. Tickets are $10. Call (773) 296-1100 for reservations.