The Pajama Men talk comedy

Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez are The Pajama Men – a physical comedy act performed in pajamas.

The Pajama Men
The Pajama Men

The duo from New Mexico have won numerous awards including the Barry Award at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2009 and Best Newcomer and Best of the Fest at The Sydney Comedy Festival in 2009 and in 2012 they were the highest rated show amongst 2000 acts at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

With performances scheduled Down Under this year at the Melbourne and Perth International Comedy Festivals, our Perth correspondent Craig Dalglish interviewed The Pajama Men about their show, life and the future.

I guess the obvious question: why pajamas?

Mark: We started wearing pajamas because we wanted a neutral costume we could wear that would be comfortable and easy to move in, which they are but they are also frumpy and unflattering, but we can’t stop wearing them because our name wouldn’t make any sense. It would be like one of those places that’s called “Just Corn” that used to sell corn, but in the evolution of the business they stopped selling corn and now they sell lots of stuff, and they don’t even sell corn anymore. Incidentally we also sell corn.

What can we expect from the show?

Shenoah – We each play lots of characters in a strange little story. The bottom line is always comedy for us so it’s not quite a play, but it’s not really sketch either. There are elements of stand-up in it as well. We think it’s a pretty unique style we’ve created. It’s not for everyone, but it’s also not for no one. So come check it out and see if you’re the “everyone” it’s not for, or the “no one” it is.

From where do you draw inspiration?

Mark – We often draw themes for the shows we write from what’s happening in our personal lives, but we bury those themes deep in the story, so deep that its like they aren’t even there. As for the characters and jokes we write; sometimes the inspiration just comes out in rehearsal, and sometimes somebody will say something annoying or funny in a line at a café or a grocery store and we’ll take that and run. Characters are sometimes developed by doing semi-accurate impersonations of people we know or have met. Often I’ll forget that a character I’m doing is actually an impression of somebody I know.

[pull_left]Doing comedy is how I try to understand life. It’s important to find life interesting and entertaining even through the low and listless parts[/pull_left]

What is the best thing about being a comedian?

Shenoah – Doing comedy is how I try to understand life. It’s important to find life interesting and entertaining even through the low and listless parts. I suppose doing comedy is how I try to figure my place in the world. That’s all on the analytical, and psychological side. On the more jazzy side of things I just really love performing and improvising.

The worst?

Mark – Having to always carry a whoopee cushion and hand buzzer around with me everywhere I go.

How did it all begin?

Shenoah – We’ve been touring together for thirteen years. In hindsight it almost looks like a thought out plan, but the truth is we’re just responding to what we’re thrown. Who knows where we could get if we ever figured out how to be proactive.  The seminal moment was me walking up to Mark, who I’d never met before, with the three, ridiculous, side-by-side Mohawks I had at the time, and asking if he wanted to be my partner in auditioning for the high school imrov team. He agreed. We both got in. The teem did one performance and then disbanded, but we stuck together.

You have been friends since meeting at high school. What is it about each other that makes you laugh?  

Mark – I don’t really know. There’s a very large section of crossover on the Venn diagram of our worldview. We tend to see things through a similar lens so we’re always laughing at the same stuff. But as for what about Shenoah makes me laugh? I don’t know, he’s a funny f’n guy.

There must be times when things don’t click. How do you deal with those moments?

Shenoah – You really just gotta move the F on. There’s a lot of self-loathing and anxiety associated with this job. Probably more than the job deserves. I listen to a lot of podcasts to help me fall asleep. Podcasts also help me move beyond high school, which was the end of my formal education. Wait was I supposed to give a comedy answer? Fuck. This is one of those times when it isn’t clicking. How will I deal?

What advice would you offer other aspiring comedians?

Mark – This is going to sound cliché, but I’d suggest always making the first few jokes in your set really bad so every other joke will seem great by comparison. You don’t want to set your own bar too high.

When touring, what differences (if any) have you noticed in various cultures sense of humor?

Shenoah – We’re lucky because we’re not topical so we translate pretty well, place to place. The timing is a little different in different countries. It’s not as though we’ll start doing our show in your accent, but there is an adjustment in rhythm—not the easiest thing to put your finger on, you just need to settle into it.

Do you find you need to modify / add anything to your performance when in Australia?
Mark –  A couple years ago Shenoah had to change the words “crossing guards” to “lollipop ladies”, because apparently Australians don’t say “crossing guards” so the joke was falling flat. After the change was made it worked every time. It was such a good joke. I can’t tell you how it went because that would give it away, but I can tell you how it ended: Shenoah would say “lollipop ladies.”

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

Shenoah – Old warner brothers cartoons, Christopher Guest, young Eddy Murphy, young Tim Burton, young Chevy Chase and old Leslie Nielson.

What is next for the Pajama Men?

Mark – TV and movies. And more theatre. And one day our own video game.

The Pajama Men
Melbourne International Comedy Festival

4th – 21st April 2013

Fairfax Studio

Tickets $28.00 – $38.00

Website:   Melbourne International Comedy Festival

Perth International Comedy Festival

One show only:  3rd May 2013

Astor Theatre

$39.90 – $44.90

Website: Perth International Comedy Festival

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