In the Funny Stages

We live in a funny place. Watching eccentric and corrupt politicians stumble through their daily duties is a major form of amusement around here, but that only goes so far. Sometimes it's nice to know that the folks making you howl are not juicing your tax dollars, too. You'd almost pay to have someone else make you laugh.

Enter Miami's newest band of zanies, Just the Funny. The eleven-member improv comedy troupe is comprised of defectors from the company Laughing Gas. The new group recently broke away because of inevitable "creative differences," says Alex Perdomo, JTF's spokesman and a seven-year veteran of Laughing Gas. After a few weeks of rehearsals, Just the Funny makes its debut this weekend at the Absinthe House Cinematheque.

Sketch comedy, music, and satire are all part of the act, but most of the frivolity is fueled by audience suggestions. "It's total weirdness," claims Perdomo, adding that after several years of performing the members rarely get stumped. They do get some very off-the-wall recommendations. "Every once in a while people yell out 'Hitler,'" he relates. "But I say 'Oh, c'mon, are you crazy? I'm not taking on Hitler.'"

Although they scorn the notorious, the members pride themselves on the original characters they've created. Equal opportunity offenders, their motley cast pokes fun at the homeless, drug users, and even Cubans, the ethnic background of several members. Gene Gabriel plays Les Holmes, a homeless man whose ultimate aim in life is to collect a quarter. "He has his own mobile home, which is a box," Perdomo explains. One of his own characters is the embittered Cracko the Clown. Cracko is a onetime TV star who "was bigger than Barney" according to his creator. "Unfortunately chemical dependency forced him into retirement and he's now making his comeback."

A popular role, also played by Perdomo, is Carlos Valdez, Jr., a man the actor describes as basically "more Cuban than Cuban." "You've seen him," Perdomo continues. "He wears the biker shorts, Santa Barbara medallion, and super-high white socks with black shoes. He drives an I-Roc, has two beepers, the whole bit." Audiences are constantly trying to figure out if Valdez is based on a true character, but Perdomo insists he is pure invention. "He's a hodgepodge of people I've met throughout my life."

Two real people Perdomo has been lucky to encounter are Johnny Calderin and Cesar Hernandez-Canton, co-owners of the Absinthe House, which is eliminating its midnight movies in favor of the live shows. Known for its low-key style, the theater is adding the performances in order "to have a program that's as diversified as possible," Hernandez-Canton says. "It's interactive and a nice change of pace from the quiet of the movie time. It's funny, fresh, and new."

Well, not that new. South Florida, especially Broward, is teeming with bands of loonies. The groups ComedySportz, Separate Checks, Comedy Salad, and Punch 59 hold forth across the county line. Other than Just the Funny and Laughing Gas, Miami is also home to the recently formed Best Medicine. Given all that competition, JTF jokers can't make a living in comedy alone. More than half work day jobs as actors, others are teachers, one is a model, and another works in television.

But all that work pays off. JTF member David Christopher attempts to explain part of the appeal: "There's way too many serious things going on in life. When you make people laugh, you know they're having a good time, and you're doing a positive thing. It's great when people love it."

-- Nina Korman

Just the Funny performs at 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 5 and 6, at Absinthe House Cinematheque, 235 Alcazar Ave, Coral Gables. Admission is $10. Call 305-446-7144.

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Nina Korman
Contact: Nina Korman