The Michaels Jordan of Improv
I described seeing Ronna and Beverly on stage like seeing the Beatles. I haven't been that excited to see a live show since college, when Arcade Fire played a tiny little venue in Houston call Mary Jane Fat Cat in 2004. First, they make you wait outside in a line, while things are moved around onstage and talent is located. Having worked in theatre in Chicago this whole lining up outside business was not a little bit annoying, especially since the new Upright Citizens Brigade on Sunset does have a proper lobby space for people to mill about and chat. However, once I got inside all I could think about was seeing Ronna Glickman and Beverly Ginsberg (née Kahn) get beautifully weird in front of a small crowd of their biggest fans.
I've been listening to the Ronna and Beverly podcast since it debuted in 2012. These days it ranks alongside 30 Rock and Mr. Show as one of my topmost-favorite-of-all-time comedy things. When their podcast comes out every two weeks (egads, my friends, they are thinking of going weekly!!) I always feel a rush of Christmas-morning glee. But like my other favorite things, Ronna and Beverly are more than funny. Peel back their character work and perfect technique, so skillful that I've never seen anyone else even attempt something like it, and what you get is a story of two old friends. Certainly, they are ruthlessly mean to each other. Ronna often points out what a classless boob Beverly is, and Beverly never misses an opportunity to remind everyone that Ronna's husband is dead. But you only get to do that--and recover--with someone you really love. And no matter how pants-wettingly funny they can be, the real payoff is an exquisitely extreme portrait of friendship.
So at the top of 2017 I still hadn't seen them live. I had heard their live shows, but never managed to time my visits to LA to coincide with one of their much-loved performances. Finally, when I heard they were back in LA this February, I drew a line in the sand. I planned a trip around seeing them. And let me tell you, was it ever worth it. Their live shows differ considerably from the podcasts, which are subtle, and can go long stretches without anything exactly resembling a "joke." On stage their artistry is blindingly obvious. Jessica Chaffin shows her effortless ability to provide structure and coherence while Jamie Denbo--a quicker mind I've never seen--pulls off one high-wire trick after another.
I dragged my best friend along to the show, someone who had heard the podcast but didn't find them especially funny. I was a little worried. But he laughed along with the rest of us, and after the show confirmed that it was probably the best improv he'd seen. Granted, I felt a bit of satisfaction, but what Ronna and Beverly have come to mean for me actually surpasses comedy. Ronna, for all her snobbish blathering and puffed-chest bragging, is a comforting voice. She has seen something of the world and always makes it feel a bit more reasonable. I realized after the election of Donald Trump that what I really wanted to hear was her say everything was going to be ok. I didn't quite get that, although they did release a much needed post-election special podcast. But it was darn close. They should put her on CNN. Like all truly great comedy, Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo offer a new way to see the world. Luckily for us all, it is a beautifully crackpot vision, and one that continues to make my life better.