Playful People – Ark – Brian Stack

They did not view the Ark as a place to be taught but came with the excitement of children at Christmas. They arrived with an expectation to play and experience in a carnival of creative possibility – that is really what Ark offered. Little did they know they were learning at the same time.

Time seems to separate us, one from the other, yet there is joy in spirit that is eternal. So, from time to time I want to share the workings and wanderings of some playful people who sailed for some years at the Ark Improvisational Theatre.

Brian Stack

He began doing improvisational comedy, or improv, in 1987 at the Ark Theater in Madison, Wisconsin, while attending graduate school at University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he earned his Master’s degree.

Among the numerous bearded characters Stack plays are God, Gandalf, and The Interrupter.

Stack became a sketch writer on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 1997, and served as a writer, actor and editor on the show and after O’Brien’s move to the Tonight Show in 2009. Stack played many recurring characters on the show, most notably those clad in anachronistic or elaborate outfits, and was known for playing many characters with long beards and mustaches, such as God, Zeus, Socrates, Gandalf, and The Interrupter. Stack makes occasional appearances on the Tonight Show, such as when he played an NRA spokesman who intimates violence to accomplish his agenda. However, he is not featured regularly on the new show.

Among the characters he’s portrayed on the show:

* Kilty McBagpipes, an extremely stereotypical Scottish man who dresses in a kilt and dances to bagpipe music.
* Frankenstein, a smiling, affable version of Frankenstein’s Monster, used in a number of miscellaneous sketches over the years, most notably a recurring sketch called “Frankenstein Wastes A Minute of our Time”, in which the monster takes a winding journey through Studio 6A, sometimes travelling backstage, through the audience, and out into the halls, egging on the camera to follow behind him, until he reaches his destination and presents something totally mundane, such as a light switch, or a mop and bucket. This occurs even when there are more interesting things nearby, as in one installment in which he ended up in bandleader Max Weinberg’s dressing room, where a dominatrix brandishing a cat o’ nine tails was present, and Frankenstein simply picked up a hairbrush and grunted to the camera approvingly.[1] Another scenario involved Frankenstein’s Monster wandering through many different halls backstage. He came across Tom Hanks leaning up against a wall, yanked him aside, and revealed a wall plug outlet.
* Hannigan, a hat-wearing traveling salesman in outdated clothing who bursts into the studio, addresses Conan as “little girl,” and runs through a scripted sales pitch in an attempt to sell Conan unfunny jokes and other useless paraphernalia.
* Artie Kendall, the ghost of an old-fashioned lounge singer who worked in the studio decades ago when it was a radio studio, and whose song lyrics reflect antiquated bigoted and sexist views that offend Conan. Kendall typically sings three brief songs during his appearances, the first of which usually reflects an antiquated social view, the second of which reflects a misogynistic view, and the last of which contains lyrics denigrating to the Irish people, which Kendall sings in reaction to the “hot Irish temper” he observes in Conan when Conan is outraged by the first two songs. Kendall was killed by the League of Women Voters, who, offended at Kendall’s misogyny, had him dig his own grave before beating him to death with the shovel.[2]
* The Interrupter, a melodramatic villain clad in a black cape, a purple ruffled shirt, and wearing long black hair and a handlebar mustache, the Interrupter constantly interrupts Conan by finishing his sentences for him, always knowing exactly what Conan is going to say, even when it’s denigrating to the Interrupter himself. Occasionally, if the sketch runs long enough, the roles will eventually become reversed, with the Interrupter starting sentences and Conan doing the interrupting. On rare occasions the first celebrity guest will replace O’Brien as the one interrupting.
* Fan-Tastic Guy, an enthusiastic audience member who shows his appreciation of the upcoming guests that Conan announces by inventing various words with the suffix “tastic” to describe them, only to become silent and uninterested when Conan mentions his own comedy material on the show.
* Limbus the Late Night Psychic, an over-the-top and cartoony psychic that Conan would call on for advice and insight on the future every now and then.
* A member of the Slipnutz (also known as They Might be Slipnutz), a comedy group of three men that was inconveniently booked on the same show with Slipknot, (and later with They Might Be Giants). Their routine involves the three of them slipping and sliding on nuts scattered on the floor. The Slipnutz also appeared on the program to promote their greatest hits album, which included songs like “Old West Cowboys Slipping on Nuts” and “Viking Raiders Slipping on Nuts”.
* Cheesy Local Commercial Athletes, two amateur athletes (played by Stack and Late Night sketch regular Phil McGlaston) who are best known for appearing in cheesy local advertisements. They will often stop by and tell Conan about the upcoming guests in that same local advertising fashion. Expect lots of cheesy lines, stiff acting, poor line delivery and awkward pauses whenever these guys are around.
* Clive Clemmons, British heavy metal guitar legend with his own channel filled with his favorite inappropriate responses from everyday life.
* Ira (of Jeremy & Ira), performed with Late Night writer Jon Glaser (as Jeremy), as two bizarre French silent film-like figures who would visit Conan & Andy from time-to-time, always appearing in the corner of the tv screen.
* The Wave (of Dave and The Wave), performed with Late Night writer José Arroyo (as Dave), as smooth jazz loving radio DJs who often annoy Conan with their soothing voices and creepy love of Jazz music.
* Father Kelly, Fathers Kelly and DeCarlo (Late Night writer José Arroyo) would often visit Conan wondering why he hasn’t been coming to Church lately. They usually resort to becoming very angry and abusive toward Conan until Jesus Christ (Late Night writer Kevin Dorff) steps in and saves the day.
* Bullet Proof Legs Assassin, a man dressed in all black who always shoots the “Bullet Proof Legs Guys” at the end of every sketch.
* Steve St. Helens, a stagehand on the show whose temper rises until he erupts. This was shown a few times when Mt. St. Helens began showing activity again in early 2005.

Stack also provides the voices of numerous celebrities parodied in the Syncro-Vox faux interviews conducted by O’Brien, including Dick Cheney, Mike Tyson, and Martha Stewart.

Among the other characters Stack has created on the show are Stacy Richter, Andy Richter’s Conan-obsessed little sister, who was portrayed by Stacks’ fellow Upright Citizens Brigade alumna, Amy Poehler. Stack also created the recurring segment “Pierre Bernard’s Recliner of Rage”

Meet Your Playful Self


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