Words by Jonny Grave, Photos by Nicholas Karlin
Two very short years ago, I was drunk on the sidewalk outside the Wonderland Ballroom with my friend, Landon Letzkus. We were both wearing what was left of our face paint from an impromptu pre-Halloween show, we were both unable to walk without getting the spins, and we were both singing Stan Rogers’ “Barrett’s Privateers” as loud as we could. We somehow wound up at The Coupe, when they were still open 24 hours, and consumed an less-than-conservative amount of fried food.
I’m not bringing this story up for the sake of nostalgia– I’m touching back on this memory to remark on how far this little band of misfits has come is such little time.
Last December, after only a little more than year of holding “services” at Wonderland Ballroom, Church Night packed up shop and moved to the Black Cat for a monthly show on the Backstage. The services have gotten bigger since their departure, and the shots ‘n tots communions are only getting more and more crowded. It seemed to many as though this was either a bubble that would soon pop, or that they were working on something big.
This year, the team of Rev. Stevedore Maybeline Bidet, esq., Youth Minister Kathy Piechota (pronounced “Pee-Yotta,” preferably with a dose of Iowan tongue-in-cheek), Altered Boy Randy St. Oates Jr., and Musical Director Beulah Hurley, have performed their regular shows at Black Cat, performed and hosted shows for Bentzen Ball, and even went on to participate in this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
All the while, there were whispers of something big, though. Friends of friends kept hearing the words “Church Night TV” get thrown around, as if it were something already established, something already finished, like team was just waiting to pull the sheet off the piece and say “ta da!” The truth, as per usual, is far more complicated. While the team was putting on these shows, and working tirelessly in front of audiences, they were also hard at work on something bigger.
Theater has its downsides. For as much we may all love going to concerts, plays, stand up, or improv, each of these mediums require one thing: we actually have to be in the same room as the performers. This is why movies and television were so appealing at their inception. Someone in Iowa could see the same performance as a person in Natchitotes. Granted, they’re now two perfectly independent forms of entertainment. Back in the day, however, most of the early movie stars were former vaudeville actors. The abilities to sing, dance, and act were all requisite for success. Fred Astaire wasn’t an exception; he was a benchmark.
Now, we’re seeing much of the same thing in the world of entertainment. It’s not enough to just have a TV show, or to co-produce a movie, or to have a funny YouTube channel, or have a standup album every two years. You have to do all of the above. In our own 21st Century way, we’ve come back to vaudeville. Some people can’t roll with the punches. Others, like the team behind Church Night, thrive like chlamydia at a truck stop.
Enter Church Night TV: ten to fifteen-minute episodes of the same ridiculousness that started the fire at Wonderland Ballroom in 2013, but through a completely different lens. Right from the opening credits, we can tell that the team’s affinity for shitty-looking graphics and editing are going to play a major role. It looks like the old VHS tapes your biology teacher used to play for the class when she had a hangover.
The premise of Church Night is somewhat of a quandary– it’s not really surrealist, because these people have taken the time and energy to flesh out these characters into something not just believable, but altogether real breathing. And it’s not really absurdist, because those characters actually believe every ounce of what they’re saying. It’s the kind of satire that would have made Jonathan Swift pee himself laughing. It’s the kind of social commentary that would have made Machiavelli scratch his head in wonder.
On the show, there’s bad editing, there’s horrible sound mixing, there’s clashing dialogue, and a blurred-out dildo in the background. What’s remarkable about this whole spectacle is that it’s all very, very intentional. Linsay’s husband, Theodore Lee Jones (or, Ted, as he prefers to be called in polite company) is the muscle behind the picture. Every fifteen minutes of ad-hoc tomfoolery is co-directed and edited painstakingly by this man. He not only intentionally makes it look like shit, but dedicatedly and devotionally exerts himself to make it look and sound authentic. These five episodes play like a dusty tape someone found in the basement of a church in the middle of nowhere.
So, where do they go from here? After hearing this crew whisper so frequently about this Church Night TV phenomena, I’ve begun to listen a little more closely to the whispers when I hear them. Last night, in the basement of Songbyrd, I heard more whispers. Someone said “Tim and Eric would love this.” Another said “who the fuck knows? We might have to shoot another five episodes.”
Your guess, my friends, is as good as mine. What is clear, and beyond a guess is that Church Night, and all of its irreverent hilarity is on the move. I’m hoping for the best, partly because these are my friends, these are my family, and I want them to make a dent in the wide world. I’m also hoping for the best because I can tell young kids years from now “yeah, I’ve known them for awhile.”
Few people are able to run with an idea in the way that Church Night has done. It’s such a silly concept, and almost unimaginable that it would become as successful as it has. They revealed the secret to their success on Tuesday night: honest and dedicated hard work. You can see it in their live show, and in this new series is evident in the final product. These individuals are committed to their craft, and tireless in their efforts.
Church Night, shine on. Dazzle us with whatever you’ve got next.