Pleased as Punch

"The world sucks sometimes. The world is great. Then it sucks again. But you've got to be able to laugh." So declares Charlotte Glover, writer, actress, and ad hoc publicist for Punch 59, which bills itself as South Florida's only skit comedy troupe. "Mentally imbalanced for your amusement," proclaims the group's letterhead. Believe them.

The twelve-member group pokes fun at current events, TV shows, movies, and everyday life. One Punch 59 sketch features a woman who answers a personal ad only to find out that her prospective dream man is a pirate -- eye patch, hook for a hand, kerchief tied around the head, sword, et cetera. Another, Sesame Street 90210, trash-compacts the children's television show with the Fox drama about spoiled kids from Beverly Hills. A third twists the sappy TV series Touched by an Angel into Touched by a Whore.

"It's about a whore who travels around the world trying to help people," explains Glover, who co-wrote the gag. "But every time she's about ready to help she gets recognized, and people say, 'Wait, aren't you that whore from the other town?' And then everyone starts yelling 'Whore, whore,' and the audience pelts her with stuff."

Punch 59 is an outgrowth of No Shame Theater, a late-night, anything-goes event that took place at Lincoln Road's Area Stage from 1993 to 1995. No Shame encouraged performers and wannabe performers to get on-stage and uncork seven minutes or less of shtick. Over the course of those two years, a corps of approximately fifteen zanies -- the No Shame Players -- gradually coalesced, presenting rehearsed pieces on a regular basis. When No Shame Theater folded, several players, including Martin Hill and Christopher Vicchiollo, and producer Brian Rochlin decided to continue their antics. They set about recruiting a new comedy troupe, which they named Punch 59 in honor of an old election sign that stuck in Hill's memory after he saw it on the side of a road.

"Originally the idea was to do 'serial theater' -- a combination of sketch comedy and serial pieces that would continue, just be carried through at every show," notes Glover. "There were problems with that, because as much as you tried to reintroduce the scene, still not everyone was going to come to every show. Now we try to keep our scenes a little shorter. We'll do brief skits, one-act plays, performance poetry, and more."

Each 90-minute show includes a musical guest star or poet or comedian. Musicians Magda Hiller, China Doll, and Paul Roub, and comic Buddy Bolton are just a few of the locals who have appeared with the 59ers, who have continued to perform nomadically for the past three years.

The group first set up shop at the now-defunct B.A.R. Space just off Lincoln Road. When the Comedy Zone opened on Washington Avenue, they relocated there, doing a weekly show. After the Zone went out of business, they shifted their operation to the EDGE/Theatre on Espanola Way. Several standing-room-only presentations prompted them to move to a larger space, Miami Beach's (cue the irony) Little Theatre, where tonight (Thursday) they will celebrate their 59th show with a highlight-filled greatest-hits program.

While all of Punch 59's members are devoted to the troupe, by necessity it's a part-time thing for most of them. Several hold nonentertainment day jobs: Hill is a pharmacologist, Glover works in advertising, another is a sheet-metal worker. Others pursue acting full-time.

All work hard to cultivate an audience for Punch 59. "We're not stand-up and we're not improv," stresses Glover. "People have this problem with going to a theater to see sketch comedy. They can see it on TV and understand it, but the idea of going to see it live is something people don't even know exists out there. That's the main thing we want people to know, that it does exist. And we want them to come out and have a good time."

-- Nina Korman

The Best of Punch 59 takes place tonight (Thursday), May 21, at 8:00 p.m. at the Little Theatre, 2100 Washington Ave, Miami Beach. Admission is $10. Call 892-8345.

 
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