Trash TV fantasy

Admit it. You’ve spent at least a few afternoons watching the parade of arrogance and misery we know as talk show television. And you liked it. The situations are deplorable and the guests unbelievable, but it’s like a car accident or a porn movie—you can’t look away. The Actor’s Theatre on Del Paso Boulevard is capitalizing on this fact with its improvised comedy show Talk Show Theater. The actors play guests on The Harry Dinger Show and the audience plays, well, the audience.

When I first heard about the show, I imagined myself grabbing the microphone from Harry and yelling, “Kick him to the curb, girl!” The idea is ludicrous, but strangely appealing, like talk show TV itself. I convince one of my louder friends to be my partner in attitude-filled verbosity and we head down to opening night.

Upon arrival, we are instructed to write down our favorite talk show theme. I write, “My 12-year-old daughter, who dresses like a ho, stole my husband, my lesbian lover and my favorite pair of shoes.” My friend scribbles something about “necrophiliac salamander farmers” and “whooping cough.” We turn in our answers and are granted admittance.

“Welcome to The Harry Dinger Show,” our host announces, “where socially unacceptable behavior is good television.” He informs us that the most popular suggestion is “My spouse is sleeping with my best friend’s significant other,” so that will be the show’s topic.

The first guests are hillbilly Dwight, his cheating wife Billy Jo (who walks onstage in a clashing mini skirt and sports bra ensemble with both middle fingers raised yelling, “Shut up! You don’t know me!”) and Dwight’s best friend’s girlfriend, who gropes Billy Jo the minute she arrives onstage. The second panel includes Maven the biker broad, her husband, Raymond, and her new lover, Raymond’s stepbrother.

The guests fight with intervention by bouncers and puff psychologists who base their therapy on suggestions from the audience. One therapist, responding to the suggestion “bowling,” explains how Billy Jo can “shake the lesbianism out of her body” by practicing bowling stances and reading his book, I Have More Than 10 Pins. “Deep down in her deep-down insides, she only has nine pins,” he informs Harry.

The dialogue has a self-aware edge, absent from the guests on real TV. When Harry affects sensitivity by putting a hand on Raymond’s shoulder and saying, “Your wife just dumped you on national TV and she’s sleeping with your stepbrother. How does that make you feel?” Raymond snappily replies, “Shut up, Harry. What kind of question is that?”

By the end of the evening, however, it’s apparent that parodying talk show television is a difficult task, simply because the real shows are already overly dramatic and ridiculous. Talk Show Theater is sometimes hilarious, but often indistinguishable from its TV model. But in the theater, if you get the urge, you can stand up and yell, “Kick her to the curb, Dwight!”