Left to right: GW Foley, Pierre Vachon and Ryan Kenyon
In the world of standup comedy, is there a creature more reviled than the heckler? Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David expressed their disdain repeatedly throughout the nine seasons of their immortal series. (Remember when Jerry paid a visit to one such loudmouth to heckle her at her workplace?) Middlebury funnyman Pierre Vachon, 38, has done the pair one better. Until now, most comedians have been on the receiving end of gibes and jabs. Vachon's twist? Let the comics do the heckling!
That's the premise of a free monthly event coming to Middlebury's Marquis Theatre. Movie Roast as its creator has dubbed it, will feature a trio of comics razzing cheesy movies for the entertainment of patrons. Sort of like "Mystery Science Theater 3000," only without the robots. And live!
"I'm a huge fan of MST3K," Vachon explains. "I watch movies all the time and heckle them with friends. One night, while doing a show, a TV was playing in the bar, so I started heckling the movie that was on — Showgirls — and thinking, I wonder if a few comics together could do this live. MST3K is produced and edited. I thought it would be fun to do a similar concept without a net."
There will be food and drink specials aplenty, but absolutely no net, when Movie Roast premieres this Saturday, January 16. Joining the show's creator will be Vermont comedy vets Ryan Kenyon, who's been doing impressions and observational humor for nine years; and GW Foley, a standup comic known for his dry wit. Former pro wrestler Vachon — who lists Sam Kinison and Patton Oswalt as inspirations — has been in the funny business for nearly a decade. So it's safe to say the quality of snark on display will be considerably higher than what you might normally hear at your local movie house.
But that's where quality ends and cringeworthy kitsch begins at this event. The first movie to receive a roasting will be 1987's sci-fi fromage fest Masters of the Universe, starring Dolph Lundgren. "I thought it would be a fun one," Vachon says with a chuckle. "It has a little of everything: bad special effects, bad acting, bad makeup and Dolph Lundgren." The picture's based on a Saturday morning cartoon and boasts a 17 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That's pretty rotten.
"I loved the idea when Pierre first approached me," recalls Marquis co-owner Ben Wells. "I just wasn't sure how we could pull it off."
The cinema has a full slate of first-run features, foreign films and independent fare showing at any given time. "But [Vachon] kept at it, and eventually we found the solution," Wells says.
In 2014, the Marquis began a series of renovations that included the creation of a café designed to serve as a community event space. With a full-size screen, stage, new sound system, tables, booths and couches, that café turned out to be the perfect place to test Vachon's concept. Once the work was completed, Wells gave him the green light.
"The three of us will be sitting [in the] front row with mics," Vachon says when queried about tactical aspects of the Roast. "The film will play with full sound. We'll have a separate sound system hooked up for us. We'll also have a sound-effect system so we can add different elements of comedy to the show."
The perfect pairing of Movie Roast and the Marquis is even reflected in the drink menu. Wells likes to tailor it to titles he's showing. In honor of The Hateful Eight, for example, you can pick your poison from a special list that includes such apropos aperitifs as Get It in the Neck and the Hang Man.
Assuming that Movie Roast is, to quote Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, the beginning of a beautiful friendship, what big-screen bombs can audiences expect to see skewered at future scoff-offs? "We want this to be interactive," Vachon enthuses. "Each month we'll bring a list of bad movies like Battlefield Earth, Tremors and Howard the Duck. The audience will make the choice as to which will be heckled next."
Comedians who actually want hecklers? Now that's a new one.
"The audience is welcome to chime in," assures Vachon. "This is one time it's OK to talk in the theater!"
The original print version of this article was headlined "Jeerleaders: Local Comedians Roast the Movies"