THEATER REVIEW : Groundlings Fans Listening, Laughing


"Saturday Night Live" likes to scoop up Groundlings. Sure enough, Cheri Oteri and Will Ferrell were among the regulars on the "new" edition of the NBC series last weekend. Meanwhile, also on TV the same night, ex-Groundling Tim Stack introduced his "Night Stand" series, a parody of sleazy talk shows.

So are the leftover Groundlings just scraping by? Hardly. Their new first-string show, "Groundlings: The Audience Is Listening," seen Saturday evening before "Night Stand" and "Saturday Night Live," is much more laugh-intensive than either TV show.

Stack, Oteri, Ferrell and the others who have gone on to better-paying jobs emerged from a deep well of comic talent. Indeed, how could "Saturday Night Live" have picked only two out of the current Groundlings crop--when it looks as if every single one of them is ripe for the raiding?

Michael James McDonald appeared Saturday in both the live show and the prerecorded "Night Stand" in very similar roles as trashy talk-show guests. But the brief Groundlings sketch he was in, by John Crane, took the satire further than the half-hour video version--and ended before it wore out its welcome.


Crane and McDonald also register strongly in "The Audience Is Listening" as a disreputable ceiling-fan installer and an annoying "College Bowl" whiz kid, respectively. Jennifer Coolidge's hilarious ditz tells a woeful tale about "My Trip to Hawaii." Then Coolidge knocks Chris Kattan's wonderfully sad sack barfly around in a bit of outrageous slapstick. Jennifer Joyce is a splendidly neurotic employee of "Seal Beach Aluminum."

However, the funniest bits of the evening have Jim Wise's name on them. He co-wrote (with David Jahn) a wickedly witty--and extremely profane--barbershop quartet number, as performed on 3rd Street in Santa Monica for an audience of hecklers. Finally, at the end of Saturday's show, Wise improvised a Led Zeppelin song from an audience-suggested title, to uproarious effect.

Yes, the audience is indeed listening. Melanie Graham directed.

* "Groundlings: The Audience Is Listening," Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Groundling Theatre, 7307 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. $17.50. (213) 934-9700. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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