Repeat-viewings of Lennon Parham's show She Tried To Be Normal at the UCB theatre will leave no audience-member unaltered. Playing an entire pageant of strangely endearing hopeless rejects -- including an aging Solid Gold dancer wannabe, an insecure casanova, and a country-western singer who faked her death to escape an abusive husband -- Parham transforms herself so effectively that a few days after the show, I still somehow failed to recognize her when I saw that Onion newscast about the Iron Man trailer. It was at the point in her show when she performed Ronee Blakley's monologue from The Nightmare on Elm Street (and not during the impromptu lap-dance I received from Sandy Michaelson, pictured at left) that I knew I had to talk to Parham about her own origin story, as well as Fred Krueger's.
Lennon Parham will present her show in New York on September 3rd and 29th, and at the Los Angeles UCB on Sept. 11th and 17th.
TB: Have you noticed a difference between LA and NewYork audiences?
LP: I can’t say I was paying quite as much attention during my show because I was so worried about nailing it. It was cool to have what my friends refer to as “pure laughter,” people enjoying it who have no reason to, who are not predisposed to like it because they’re not my friends. It was brand new for them.
TB: Your Nightmare on Elm Street monologue was my favorite part of the show. Can you tell me how it came about? (And is this some sort of audition for the remake they’re filming? Maybe you should start sending letters to those producers.)
LP: I was not aware that they’re remaking it... Usually that works, right? Sending a letter? And I can include a snapshot of me in a bikini in my kitchen! And a VHS of the scene from my show.
I used to do a show called Fillet of Film. They would show short films and in between them actors would re-enact various films from the past. A scene from The Abyss… a scene from Sling Blade… It gave us opportunities to do things we normally don’t do in the theatre. I didn’t wind up doing (this monologue) for that show, but I really liked it and wanted to use it; I just think it’s really funny. So I tried to figure out how to put it in my show, and for the longest time I kept wondering, “Is this funny??” It’s the least laugh-out-loud funny piece, but I really get a lot of enjoyment from creeping everybody out... It’s been interesting because for some people, it’s their favorite part. There are a lot of guys in their 20’s and 30’s who know it’s from the movie and get really excited and want to talk about it afterward. Which is pretty cool, because if you don’t recognize what I’m doing, you think it’s just another of my crazy monologues.
TB: If you had to spend five hours on an airplane sitting next to one of these characters, which one would you choose?
LP: Five hours? Maybe Kitty O'Sullivan, the country music singer... I think she’d be fascinating to talk to. Though probably Raphael would let me lean on his shoulder.
TB: Does your Solid Gold-wannabe Sandy Michaelson hint at some subconscious dread that you’ll still be performing this show 30 years from now?
LP: I haven’t thought about that! I do consider her to be sort of my essence. You know, like in that movie The Dark Crystal? I think she is sort of my core, what I would consider the perfect comedy. She has elements of everything that I love and think is funny: the darkness and the sadness, and circling around something that’s clearly never going to happen. Sandy came out of an incident in which me and a roommate of mine were bored and dancing around the living room, and she told me, “You look like a Solid Gold reject dancer!” I kept that in my mind for many years, and when I got to New York I took a character development class, and I thought, I have to do this character.
TB: So a lot of these scenes are the result of really long creative processes. What about Raphael?
LP: Raphael was actually a real dude who hit on me at a bar. I was working, I was actually writing Sandy Michaelson, and he came up to me and wouldn’t leave me alone. It must have been about four years ago, because I remember he asked me who I was going to vote for. He said, “I’m European, so I can’t vote,” and wouldn’t leave me alone. And then I went home that night and wrote down everything that he said, and began with that.
TB: The title of your show is She Tried To Be Normal. How hard did you try?
LP: I think I’ve always known I was pretty weird. I tried pretty hard though! At least until I got to college, and then I was like, “Oh. Okay. Not everybody is this kind of person.” I grew up in the suburbs of Atalanta, and there’s a model of behaviour that I knew I definitely didn’t fit into. But I did try... I was on the prom committee! But nobody wanted to have “Nights In White Satin” as our prom theme. I thought it would have been really dramatic -- do you know that song, the part where he’s just wailing “I love you,” over and over again? I guess that was too much for fifteen-year-olds. They decided on “Dream a Little Dream.”