For number 10 in the interview series, we get the latest from Shelley McLendon, CCO (Chief Comedy Officer) of Bad Reputation Productions. McLendon is a member of comedy / improv acts The Aces and The Liberators, among others, and famously brought Roadhouse: The Play! (an adaptation of that Patrick Swayze film you were re-watching again last night) right “to your face”, as she would say.
Or at least all the way to the stage in the Ellen Bye Studio at the Armory.
Which is relatively close to your face.
This weekend on Friday and Saturday nights, the Armory will once again be the site of yet another McLendon vehicle: Slingshot, a night of smartsexy improv.
So be there. And laugh – OR ELSE!!!
Hello Shelley! Could you first tell us a little bit about your background. Where are you from, and how did you get into comedy and improv?
I am originally from Long Beach, CA and I moved up to the Northwest 20 years ago. My older sister got into doing improv/sketch down in LA with The Groundlings, and after watching her, I wanted to do it too (my sister is Wendi McLendon Covey from “Bridesmaids”, “Reno 911”, etc). It looked like so much fun, so I started taking improv classes about 10 years ago.
You are part of several different acts right now – such as The Liberators and The Aces. Then you have the producing entity Bad Reputation Productions that has put on shows like Roadhouse: The Play!. Can you describe the origin of this empire? How did you get to where you are today?
The Liberators got together 7 years ago and that got the ball rolling. I started performing different places with friends, doing short films, writing and performing sketch comedy, etc and I was having so much fun I wanted to continue. The more commercial stuff I was officially auditioning for back then (commercials, tiny roles in indie films) wasn’t showcasing what I liked doing, which was smart and new comedy, and I also don’t audition well. So, I formed Bad Reputation Productions to put up stuff that I wanted to do, and work with people I wanted to work with.
How did Roadhouse come about?
Road House: The Play! was the first production I put up. It was the staged adaptation of the 1989 film Road House starring Patrick Swayze. That happened because every time I turned the TV on, that movie was on. And I was totally compelled to watch it. It is not a comedy, but it takes itself so seriously that it has become a comedy. I knew it would make a great play, so I asked my pal Courtenay Hameister (host of Live Wire!) to help me adapt the script and write original songs, Johnny Newsome to write the music, and John Breen to direct it. We got a sweet cast of people together and put it up. And it was a hit. I didn’t expect it to be so well received, but it was!I put it up 3 different times and each run completely sold out. It’s pretty fun.
Portland’s comedy and improv scene seems to be healthy and growing. Is that accurate? Can you tell us where we are on the national scale, and what is happening right now on the scene? How is it here?
Yes, the comedy scene is growing. The standup scene is going nuts, and improv and sketch is growing. Portland is getting recognized more nationally- people want to come here and perform. So, we are starting to make a name for ourselves.
You have started a new series at Portland Center Stage called Slingshot. How did that come about?
As mentioned above, Portland’s comedy scene is growing. I wanted to help put Portland on the comedy map nationally, and I wanted to provide an opportunity for the best, smartest and freshest comedy to get a great audience. I pitched the idea of a periodic comedy installment series to Portland Center Stage, and they went for it! Now there is Slingshot!
What other projects do you have in the works going forward?
Right now, I am writing the next show for The Aces, which is the sketch comedy duo I’m one half of (the other half is the comedic genius Michael Fetters). It opens April 12th. The Liberators have shows coming up in April, May and June and then the next Slingshot will be the last weekend in June.
Do comedy people follow the traditional theatre (pronounced “theatah”) scene in Portland at all?
Yep. There is a lot of cross over. Lots of people who do sketch comedy and improv also act in plays and musicals, and many also try to bring theatricality into their comedy. For example, The Aces is not a traditional “sketch comedy” duo – we do theatrical comedy where you may laugh your ass off, but you also feel things.
Do you tour with any of your groups, and if so, what is that like?
I have gone to sketch festivals with sketch comedy duo Sweat (we haven’t done a show since 2011). We performed at the Chicago Sketch Fest and the San Francisco Sketch Fest. It was a blast and also a great learning experience.
It seems like Portland is also seeing an explosion of storytelling formats, and some of them (like Back Fence PDX) are getting on the radio. Does that medium work at all for what you do?
Oh yes. I have told stories for Back Fence PDX and it was a blast. Telling a good story in front of an audience takes effort – you are trying to tell a story that is compelling with a nice story arc, which is what good improv/sketch comedy is also trying to do.
Thanks, Shelley! Good luck with Slingshot this weekend at the Armory.