a history of The Grubby Theatre Company
and the genesis of The Comedy Corner
by Timothy Gassen
THE GRUBBY THEATRE COMPANY back in the U of A Cellar
before their 20-year reunion
show in 1999.
(L to R Timothy Gassen,
Chad White &
We were neither actors nor very disheveled, but we were The Grubby Theatre Company.
Our genesis coincided with the birth of the University of Arizona's Comedy Corner in the fall of 1979, when Chad White and I were freshmen and met at the club's organizing meeting. The Comedy Corner has gone on to be the longest running college comedy group in the country, probably because we left after the first two years or so.
Chad was a very large boy (not fat, but with "massive amounts of surface area," I liked to say), and my very thin frame at the time gave us a Laurel & Hardy look on stage. But our roles were reversed – Chad was the funny one (and a natural musician, too.)
Each Friday at noon we'd perform at The Cellar in the UA Student Union – a wonderful venue with a stage and lots of seating, where you could eat lunch and hear us attempt to remember our lines. Soon we collected our best bits and attempted to refine them.
I demanded that we only perform original material, and that we keep adding new parts to the routine. Inspired by the creative buzz of the original Saturday Night Live TV show, I thought this was the only way we could become "real" comics. And yes, at times we were funny, and at times we were pretty good.
CHAD WHITE (left) and TIMOTHY GASSEN performing a public
service announcement on Venereal Disease at their home stage
Marlowe Weisman became the third Grubby, important as a writer as well as performer. My freshman Yavapai dorm roommate Kevin Keating (or "The Bearded Wombat," as Chad referred to him) would occasionally join us onstage, and engineered the audio recordings we have recently restored.
Mark Hertzog was the last of the regulars, though he only wrote material and was too nervous to climb on stage. Smart fellow. Even our friend and egghead Andre Bormanis joined in on some material and some studio recording. (Andre went on to fame as a writer and producer of Star Trek.)
Not all of these players were with the Grubbies at the same time – like a struggling sports league the membership grew and shrank depending on how much I pissed them off at the time. But we hung together long enough
to do some fun stuff between 1979-1982 – we also played shows off campus in local clubs; Marlowe and I even performed in a comedy club in Ohio during Christmas break one year.
MOVE OVER TRAVOLTA:
Marlowe Weisman from the 1980
UA yearbook (left) &
Timothy Gassen feeds Chad White on the Comedy Corner Stage.
It was my job (though no one in the Grubbies ever asked me) to push the group to get "professional," so we recorded some demos in a small studio near campus. The master reels disappeared long ago, and all that exists is one lonely cassette tape dub. I would have copied and archived this tape long ago, but it took me 20 years to find a cassette deck that would play this damaged, cheapo tape. It is a technological miracle that I got the sounds off of this mutilated tape at all!
And while I have saved it somewhat – due to lots of audio trickery and editing – it still hisses and flutters and sounds like it was stored in a toilet in an attempt to hide it from someone. That's another story.
On the tape I found the studio bits, plus parts of one "live" show recorded in our beloved Cellar on December 7,1980. That was a special nighttime show we put on, dubbed the Cocaine Raffle and Pearl Harbor Reenactment. We charged 25 cents and everyone got a ticket to go into a raffle bowl for a big bag of cocaine. The huge stash (made of flower, duh!) of course blew up in a cloud on stage during the show.
This "live" audio tape and the studio snippets were only supposed to be demos to prepare us for our attempt to later record a "real" album, tentatively titled "Comedy Strikes Back." The album never happened – so the crude 30 minutes of material I've saved is all we get, folks! (Hear a short sample below.)
In 1981 we formed Students Against Seriousness as a front to get money from the University to publish a comedy book. It worked! After about 15 minutes of my presentation to the Student Council,
I was told we could have $1,000. I'm no fool, though it took me months to realize that they were paying me to just shut up.
Cover for the 1981 "MEET THE GRUBBIES!" book and a shot with cohort Kevin Keating (far right).
The resulting book, Meet The Grubbies, (In "STEREO, on both sides of the page!") was sold for $1 in the UA college book store, and I think they still have a few hundred copies. See below a sample of the book in all its sophomoric glory!
A selection from "MEET THE GRUBBIES!" and a book promo shot at the old UofA Student
Union with Mark Hertzog (far left).
The fave bit I wrote for the book was the punk-rock parody Repulso & The Upchucks. Previously, The Grubbies had performed their most infamous live act as those same fictitious punkers. During one normal Comedy Corner Friday
show we were introduced as the band, and there we stood – Chad in a bathrobe kimono with an electric guitar and his hair in a pony tail on top of his head, Kevin Keating with a trombone, a stuffed dummy we named Bert ("Believe in Bert or Bert will hurt you!") held another instrument, and I stood at the microphone – with my ripped T-shirt held together with safety pins and the name "Repulso" scrawled upon it.
Only a very few punk bands had played in Tucson at this point (1980), and it was obvious the crowd was confused – was this "real"? We started into our punk-rock song, where I smashed Twinkies into my face (and others), then I went for the big finish – where I smacked Chad over the head with a big 2x4. The plank was made of balsa wood, and we sawed it partially through one end to help it break off without hurting Chad.
But I picked up the wrong end.
And it clunked over Chad's head with a very audible thud. Chad, still in character, looked at me, dazed, and uttered a phony Japanese expletive. So I did the only thing a true professional performer would do – I banged him over the head again.
Until the plank broke.
We turned to the audience – and heard the air conditioner vent come on. It was the quietest I have ever heard an audience at anytime, anywhere. The Grubbies never again climbed that mountain to the pinnacle of ridiculousness. It was our lowest high-point, or our highest low-point. I will never forget it.
Timothy Gassen, Kevin Kearting and Chad White on the Comedy Corner stage, circa 1980.
Remember, we were all about 20 years old, not as talented (yet anyway) as we thought, and just figuring stuff out. It's amazing we did anything at all, let alone get up in front of people and make them laugh!
(And while it is a tragedy that no video exists of Repulso & The Upchucks, see below a restored version of a similarly-themed 1981 short film featuring Grubbies Mark Hertzog, Debra Dickey and me as "Tim Society.")
The final chapter for the Grubby Theatre Company was the 1999 twenty-year reunion show at the U of A. The Comedy Club put on a festival where college comedy groups from around the country performed – and we were the guest "stars."
These kids were good – real good! Comedy clubs and "careers" in humor were only starting when we formed the Grubbies in 1979. Now the college kids were the professionals!
A former Comedy Club alum – then a working comic in L.A. – began to introduce us as we fidgeted backstage. Marlowe and I were close to puking with nerves. Chad was too busy trying to get his adult diaper on to be nervous. Just like the old days.
So this pro comic starts to build us up: "The Comedy Corner wouldn't EXIST if it wasn't for these guys!" he said. "You owe your comedy CAREERS to them!" Marlowe and I turned to each other, whiter than white. "Oh no," Marlowe gasped. "They think we're going to be good." The crowd didn't know that we took approximately 10 minutes the day before to rehearse a new 20-minute routine.
THE GRUBBY THEATRE COMPANY 1999 reunion:
The Student Union & The Cellar were destroyed
soon after the show, but Comedy Corner goes on.
We had old-folk walkers (along with the diapers over our pants) – we were the "old men" of the Comedy Corner. After that hyped intro I truly needed my walker to keep my knees from knocking while shuffling onstage.
But we got through it and had a wonderful time with all the other comics at the party afterward. And again, like old times, after the battle we thought we were so much better than we actually were.
That's OK. We did it.
We were The Grubby Theatre Company.
website created December 7, 2010
(the 30th anniversary of our Pearl Harbor Reenactment)