"I have this one, stupid comedy maxim," comedian and "Colbert Report" writer Eric Drysdale told me at a Starbucks near the Time Warner Center. "Learn how to tell all different types of jokes. That's it."
If this "stupid maxim" sounds like a common adage for professional joketellers, one has rarely seen it demonstrated more fully than in Eric Drysdale's career. In addition to a resume that includes a current gig writing for "The Colbert Report" and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" before that, Drysdale is putting up his wildly inventive new show, "The Man With F.E.E.E.T.," this weekend at the Producers' Club Grand Theater in the Theater District.
"The Man With F.E.E.E.T." is ostensibly a multimedia spoof of '70s sci-fi movies and TV shows, such as "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." and "The Six Million Dollar Man." Except Drysdale's story is told through a medium rarely, if ever, used for comedy: 3-D View-Master slides. Putting on a live comedy show telling a story in a retro style through a retro technology might seem like a gamble, but hearing Drysdale's passion left no doubt that the odd concept would be executed flawlessly.
"I found a 3-D camera in my wife's grandmother's closet in 1995," Drysdale told me. Since then, he's become an avid 3-D photography hobbyist as a side interest to his comedy career. Only a few years after discovering his enchantment with 3-D photography, he co-founded the New York Stereoscopic Society with two other like-minded fans of the retro technology. The group still meets regularly and hosts several events and lectures.
Combining the two passions was something Drysdale had wanted to tackle for a while. When I asked him how this project differs from the sharp political humor he writes for "Colbert" and wrote for "The Daily Show," he paused before responding. He concluded that while he loves working at "Colbert," he enjoys the opportunity to write sillier things that aren't necessarily a reaction from anything in the news cycle. "It's not writing a joke in response to something Sarah Palin said," he added. But he quickly offered that this "silly" element that connects all of his comedy, from his TV work to "The Man With F.E.E.E.T." to other live shows he has done, such as 2003's "The Daryl Hall and John Oates Mumbo Jumbo Hour" at the Upright Citizens Bridgade Theater.
He jokingly claims that his history as a both a comedian and a 3-D photography hobbyist will ensure that "The Man With F.E.E.E.T" will be seen as "the best live sci-fi 3-D View-Master comedy show in recent memory."
I took a moment to peer through the View-Master he brought. Drysdale had come straight from a "crazy" rewriting session at "Colbert," so while he munched on a sandwich, I observed a few of the slides from "The Man With F.E.E.E.T." The images were, in a word, stunning. The composition of a still 3-D slide is completely unlike the 3-D movies of late (of which Drysdale admits he's no fan) -- vivid and captivating. "When you look at a 3-D image, you're in that world," Drysdale explained his infatuation with this niche photography style. "What's important is what's not there in the frame."
In his estimation, nobody has ever blended View-Master slides and comedy before, but through the lens of View-Master's history, it's surprising that the medium hasn't been used more widely. Today, View-Master is mostly considered a children's toy, but when it was originally introduced as a travel souvenir for adults in the 1930s to view color photographs of faraway places. In an age when instant Polaroid pictures are mourned, why wouldn't an analog, backlit slide-viewing device be more popular?
At the "Man With F.E.E.E.T." show, audience members are each given a View-Master, the reels for the show, and a booklet of the story. A live reading is then staged by the actors in the slides, including Christian Finnegan ("Countdown With Keith Olbermann," "Best Week Ever," "Chappelle's Show"), who stars as an ordinary man who accidentally comes across "the most powerful pair of loafers in the world."
The show also features an improvised score from Joel Esher and comedy bits from several New York comedians and actors.
Despite the comedy/adventure show's unorthodox style, it's truly the work of a comedian who believes that knowing how to make "all types of jokes" is the key to effective and inventive comedy. And most importantly, "The Man With F.E.E.E.T." was a labor of love above all else. "I just wanted to do it," he said, shyly. "So I did it."
"The Man With F.E.E.E.T." will be at the Producers' Club Grand Theater (358 W. 44th St.) on Saturday, January 15th. There will be a 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. show. Admission is $20, which includes the View-Master, reels, and story. Tickets may be purchased here.