I first met Jon Spayde at the Bryant Lake Bowl Cabaret maybe a year ago, on a Sunday night that is otherwise memorable only for the slush, cross walk puddles and snow that crusted Minneapolis.
Mr. Spayde, who I soon learned, had done turns in theater, Harvard, internet editing, The Utney Reader and counseling, has a one man cabaret show featuring more than ten characters of his own creation including a clinically depressed motivational speaker, a Catholic priest, a ladies man and a ghost from the Snoose Boulevard era when Scandies got drunk and brawled a lot outside the saloons and vaudeville halls in Cedar Riverside.
To my delight that night, Mr. Spayde was more than an impressionist – each of his lightly satirical characters was fully etched within the historic, pop culture and/or current issues contexts from which they emerge. At Bryant Lake Bowl, Mr. Spayde invited members of the audience on stage to engage with the character of their choice in a conversation or line of questioning or even a faux psychiatric counseling session. I chose Vic of Rhode Island. Vic, through Jon, knew stuff about Providence, pizza and working class brio. So do I. He’s been there and the laughs perculated through the small theater.
There ain’t nothing more comfortable for me on a drudgey, wintry night, than to hang out in hardscrabble improv comedy clubs like the Huge Theater or venues like the Bryant Lake Bowl and – during the twentieth Century – Dudley Rigg’s Brave New Workshop and Barbara Contardi’s kinetic, First Amendment on Bond Street in Manhattan.
Of late, however, despite scores of improvisational riffs that spark ripples and waves of laffs and groans at Stevie Ray’s, Comedy Sportz, The Huge, and the post Dudley Brave New Workshop, and despite all of the improv groups (Hooray!!), the most consistently satisfying improv artist I’ve encountered is deceptively, low-amp Jon Spayde.
Why? Well, dear possums, Spayde provides his characters with rich and informed contexts. The man clearly reads books (and writes them), has himself been through hard times, frustrating times and great times, is good-hearted and intuitive and swims in a life stream with lots of different fish, snakes, anglers. poachers and game wardens. Spayde, like Lorna Landvick (who also writes books and plays Bryant Lake Bowl), delivers more than a clever or risqué punch line; provides the ticket buyer with more than the shell of an archetype. And he knows political issues and players – few other comedian performers in the local goldfish bowl of improv and cabaret comedy share his level of awareness. Most are unfunny and trivial.
We recently produced four new segments with Jon for Democratic Visions, the cable and internet program that is handcrafted by mostly DFL volunteers in the southwest ‘burbs. The current program also features ex-blogger, vinegary scold Eric Pusey (late of Minnesota Progressive Project); a report on DFL Senate District 48’s precinct caucuses and an award-winning, short film on environmental activism.
In the first of his new segments, Jon takes on the guise of his clinically depressed motivational speaker character to advise well known Republican and Democrat candidates and power players.
Democratic Visions can be seen in Hopkins, Minnetonka, Edina, Richfield and Eden Prairie – Comcast Channel 15 – Sundays at 9 p.m., Mondays at 10:00 p.m. and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m.
Bloomington – BCAT Cable Channel 16 – Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.; Fridays at 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.
Minneapolis – MTN Channel 16 – Sundays at 8:30 p.m., Mondays 3:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m.
Segments of the program are posted on the web at www.dfl48.org/.