It seems absurd that Pajama Men aren’t better known than they are. Their hilarious, technically brilliant blend of improv, mime and narrative sketch comedy is pretty well universally acclaimed, but in Mark Chavez’s words, they’re “a little under the radar.”
“It’s not rocket science – we’re two guys playing a lot of characters,” one half of Pajama Men says. They’ve had plenty of practice doing it too – Mark Chavez and Shenoah Allen met in 1993, and quite a bit has changed since then. “When we started, our philosophy was just to find the core of the funny sketch and get rid of as much exposition as possible. We didn’t have much story, the audience would just go along with us and we’d just find these gems.”
Chavez pinpoints the change in their work five or six years ago: “We started really getting into plot. It’s such a nice feeling to go through an hour and have a story arc and characters that people care about and want to know what’s going to happen with them.”
This year, they’re tackling the classic Alexandre Dumas story, The Three Musketeers, in 2 Man 3 Musketeers. It’s clear that both Chavez and Allen have studied the book inside and out, and Chavez geeks out about it a little. “The book is hilarious and long. It’s meandering and weird and out there and was written as a serial, so as you read it, you can just tell there are all these little cliffhangers. Like, I don’t think Dumas had an idea of how it was going to end, but eventually the guy who wanted to be a musketeer would be a musketeer.”
For Pajama Men, the challenge with 2 Man 3 Musketeers was simply condensing the story down into an hour-long show. Rather than going the “reduced, Shakespeare” route, they’ve taken an old school approach to finding the story they wanted to tell, picking out the fun, interesting parts. For fans of the book, the show covers the first half of the book, with elements of the other half thrown in there. “We’ve taken the characters and their journey and put our own spin and own commentary on it,” Chavez sums up, including the dubious morals of the Musketeers themselves. “And now we’ve found that story and it’s been great.”
As with their past few shows, there is plenty of room for improv – 20-30% of the show is unwritten and up for improvisation. Chavez warns of “divergences that might be kind of sketchy,” but although new shows always make him nervous, audiences have been very receptive: “people are showing up, which is great.”
They do have a lot of fans, many who would no doubt like to see them on TV. Mark Chavez would also like to see them on TV – in the past few years, Pajama Men have spent a lot of time trying to get various television projects off the ground. Chavez is optimistic about them: “We’ve had a lot of really good experiences – we’ve had a couple with the BBC and HBO that didn’t end up going, a few other independent companies…and they ended up being really good learning experiences. We got to work with some really great people and take almost masterclasses in how to write television and film, so it’s been really helpful.”
Still, he says: “It’s frustrating to spend a lot of time developing something and then just have it go, this is never going to happen now. There’s a line where you hit where it’s like, no, not going to happen.”
Rather than working with production companies, the Pajama Men are focusing on doing it alone now, and it’s only a matter of time, says this aficionado of their work.
2 Man 3 Musketeers is playing at Arts Centre Melbourne until the 19th April. Tickets start from $29 and can be purchased online or at the door.