7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Sunday, July 11
Le Petit Theatre, 616 St. Peter St., 522-2081; www.lepetittheatre.com
Tickets $69-$99, plus $60 to attend cast party following 9 p.m. show
Sometimes a good idea seems to drop from the sky, often at the precise moment when its time has truly come. Just ask writer and actor Eugene Pack, creator of the off-Broadway hit comedy Celebrity Autobiography, a show that has run for three years in New York and recently won the Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience. The idea came to Pack 10 years ago when he happened upon a copy of Vanna White's 1987 autobiography, Vanna Speaks.
"I picked it up and saw the detail, the seriousness, that she was writing how hard it is to change the panels on Wheel of Fortune," Pack says. "And I wondered, if people could hear this stuff out loud would they find the humor that I do?" Pack gained access to a Los Angeles comedy space and asked friends from the city's comedy scene to find their own outrageous excerpts from celebrity memoirs and share them with a live audience. The laughs came fast and furious. "We kept building it, workshopping it, adding material, and eventually doing really creative things with it — combining different memoirs and stories, and juxtaposing different personalities," Pack says.
Celebrity Autobiography evolved in other ways as well: Celebrities of all kinds were drawn to appear in the show and interpret the writings of their peers, and Pack starting taking the show on the road. The production pulls into Le Petit Theatre for two performances Sunday. In addition to Pack, the New Orleans cast includes Ryan Reynolds, Jennifer Coolidge, John Goodman, Bryan Batt, Mario Cantone and Dayle Reyfel, who co-developed the show. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Greater New Orleans Foundation's Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund.
The relatively loose format allows new material and cast members to be rotated into the show to keep it fresh, and it can be customized for local audiences. A current run of the show in Pittsburgh incorporated material written by Shreveport-born quarterback Terry Bradshaw, and a local TV weatherman joined the cast. The show also shifts with the culture at large. Blog posts, Twitter feeds and Facebook musings are all considered fair game, as are the suddenly suggestive writings of Tiger Woods, for example.
But Celebrity Autobiography always walks a fine line. It finds humor in the self-indulgence of celebrities, and in our sometimes inexplicable fascination with the details of stars' lives, but it can't mock its subjects or come off as mean-spirited. "We sometimes get headlines that say the show 'skewers' celebrities, but that's really not the point at all," Pack says. "It's more about lampooning memoirs in a world where if you're famous, you get to write a book. The truth is that if it's a celebrity, we do care. Why is that? We like to generate this discussion. But the best part is that audiences have a really great time."
John Goodman, who will be doing the show for the first time in New Orleans, seems well aware of the potential pitfalls. "If you think you're important enough to publish your thoughts on the weather, you should be interpreted," Goodman says. "But I'm going into it with fun in mind. It's not worth the laughs to go in with a corkscrew."