In Common Room Theater’s new show, a group of zombie hunters carefully patrol a post-apocalyptic landscape. Spotting an undead creature attacking a fellow survivor, they rush to save him, before telling the bewildered victim what’s befallen the ravaged terrain once known as Cleveland.
You might think you’re watching a Midwest spin-off of The Walking Dead, but when the hunters explain that the outbreak may have been caused by a petition to remove Chief Wahoo, the scene quickly shifts from sci-fi horror to cheeky comedy.
Such is the irreverent, local humor of Pop Cleveland, an inventive sketch comedy show that lovingly skewers the city’s quirks in monthly performances at Forest City Brewery. Launched Sept. 27, it’s the first program from Common Room, a newly formed performance troupe aiming to stake a claim for sketch in the city’s comedic landscape.
“We want to focus on all of the positive aspects of Cleveland that make our city great and quirky,” says co-founder and co-artistic director Ryan Santa, who’s been developing Common Room Theater with creative partner Beau Buccilli over the last two years. “There’s not too much scripted comedy out there.”
Before launching Common Room Theater, Santa and Buccilli worked together in Chicago, where the two Case Western Reserve University theater majors spent years immersed in the Windy City’s revered sketch comedy scene. When a sketch show they were cast in fell apart right before its Cleveland debut, they decided to create their own comedy showcase.
“We wanted to put on a show that really engaged the crowd in a different way,” says Buccilli. “This is content and style Clevelanders haven’t seen before.”
For their first show, Santa and Bucilli wanted to set Pop Cleveland apart by blending theater and technology. Audience members interact with the show via phone by signing into a website-based game system, designed by fellow CWRU graduate John Horton, which sends questions right to their devices.
Players compete to answer Cleveland trivia questions, vote for their preferred skit ending in a Choose Your Own Adventure-style poll and submit drawings for a bit lampooning new exhibits at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Winners receive a 32-ounce Forest City growler, four tickets to the next show — and bragging rights.
Still, the comedians insist you don’t need to know your Cavalier from your chandelier in order to be entertained.
“We really want Pop Cleveland to be accessible to everyone, not just those in the know,” says Santa, who’s prepping for the next Pop Cleveland Nov. 21. “You’ll be able to laugh, celebrate Cleveland, and, hey, maybe even make a lifelong friend. Or you could just have a drink. That’s fine too.”
Pop Cleveland tests audiences’ CLE cred. So we turned the tables with a little pop quiz for Common Room Theater’s Ryan Santa and Beau Buccilli.
What was Cleveland’s claim to fame in 1879?
Buccilli: Was that when we started delivering the mail?
Santa: Nope, I’m pretty sure we won the Super Bowl that year. 1879 was a proud year for Cleveland.
Incorrect. Cleveland became the world’s first city to be lit using electricity.
Originally settled by Moses Cleaveland, our city came to be known as Cleveland. Why the spelling change?
Buccilli: It didn’t fit on the newspaper’s headline. We got one right, right?
That’s correct! The spelling was changed in 1831 when the now-defunct newspaper The Cleveland Advertiser dropped the “a” to fit the name on the masthead.
What former U.S. President is buried at Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery?
Santa: Grover Cleveland, but only because of his second term. That’s when he really embraced the name.
Incorrect: James A. Garfield