As you may be able to tell, I had no idea what to expect. It turns out that they really didn't, either. Part of the night was devoted to reading through some classic scripts, giving a live sneak-peek at the Season Four finale, and showing some awesome videos. The bulk of the show, though, and the stuff I'll remember most, was pure riffing: responding to audience questions, chatting amongst themselves, telling stories, drinking prodigious quantities of bourbon.
The evening began in a style reminiscent of a Paul F Tompkins show: an off-stage voice introduced our host, a man who "is handsome, and insanely talented, and, ladies, he's available after the show for smooches and BJs! The one, the only, LUCKY YATES!" It was, of course, Yates doing the voice, and he swiftly trotted onto the stage to raucous applause.
Yates voices my favorite supporting character on the show, Dr. Krieger. Krieger didn't do much in the early episodes of the show, but over time, he's become the kind of guy who will pop up in a couple of scenes, and say the weirdest, most disturbing, funniest stuff of the show. Yates asked if we know why he doesn't appear on the opening credits to the show. "Originally, Krieger wasn't going to be a speaking part," one guy said. "NOPE!" Another voice called out, "Because the producer's an a-hole!" "HEY!" a voice shouted from offstage as the crowd dissolved into laughter. "Yes, exactly!" Yates said, enthusiastically endorsing that line of thought. He then proceeded to record the entire audience chanting "KRIEGER! KRIEGER!" as he slowly panned his camera phone back and forth. "Thanks," he said when done. "Maybe now we'll finally see my name on the credits.... in the eighth season."
I knew already how some cast members look in real life, but I think this was the first time I'd seen Yates. He's far younger than Krieger, of course, and has more of a goatee than a beard. At one point someone yelled out, "WHERE'S YOUR WIFE?" "Didn't you hear me asking for BJs at the beginning?" Yates asked. "I'm not married. Oh, wait... you mean Doctor Krieger's wife. He's a CARTOON CHARACTER. And she's a HOLOGRAM."
Yates then introduced the remainder of the cast. Amber Nash is far more petite than Pam, with a really nice smile; she was less crazy than the rest of the cast this night, but still fully engaged with the show. Chris Parnell looks exactly like Leo Spaceman, of course; he was very wry this night, not speaking as much as the "stars," but dropping in with some perfectly-placed quips throughout the evening.
The biggest acclamation came for Aisha Tyler, who somehow looks even more lovely in person than I'd imagined. She's very tall, and slim, with a casual but assured manner. Before she took a seat, she lifted up her outer shirt to reveal a sports logo. At the time I'd thought it was the Seahawks, but now that I think about it, the Falcons would make more sense? I dunno. She didn't really comment on it.
Aisha is a native of San Francisco, and a stand-up comedian, so she had some great jokes about the city throughout the night. We're the greatest city in the world - and we don't let anyone forget it! Whenever someone graduates from a San Francisco high school, they get a Prius and two gay friends. They might already have some gay friends, of course, but the ones after graduation are complimentary.
After Aisha was seated came Archer! No, not H Jon Benjamin: Archer. This was the first of several kinda bizarre but funny bits of the night: a tall, slim guy with styled black hair and wearing a black turtleneck strode out onto the stage, mugged for the audience, and badly lip-synched to Archer's voice, inviting all assembled to bask in his glorious presence. This was all pretty clearly being done live, as the actor worked frantically to keep up with the monologue. "Check out these abs! Check out these lats!"
He eventually waded into the audience, looking for someone ("girl.... or guy, but he has to be very good-looking") to smooch. Of course, the source of the voice couldn't see who the actor was pointing at, and so the steady stream of invective and slams on body weight hopefully were discounted. At one point, he stood in front of the first row, unloading for a while, before Lucky Yates (who had been on mike the whole time and would periodically guffaw) broke in. "Oh my god, Jon... he's, like, twelve!" Whoops! I don't know if there was actually a minimum age given for the live show, but given the amount of sex and violence on the cartoon, I'm a bit surprised that any parent would bring their kid. And the f-bombs were definitely flying all night, and not about to stop just because of one minor in the house.
Eventually he selected a woman, who graciously (and with some encouragement) came up on the stage. He was leaning in for the kiss, when his voice said "WAIT!" H Jon Benjamin ran in from the wings, carrying a little pedestal. "Archer" left, Benjamin climbed up on the riser, and planted the kiss while the audience erupted in laughter and applause.
Um... this probably takes us about five minutes into a nearly two-hour show. I can't give all the blow-by-blows, so I'll skip ahead to the best part of the night:
Fairly late (after the cast had drained more than half a bottle of B&E [breaking and entering] that had been delivered from the fine folks at St. George Spirits in Alameda), the producer Matt Thompson was reading through some questions that had been submitted from the audience. One of the questions for Jon had been submitted by four people - something like "Brad, Kelly, Brian, and Ox." "OX?!" Jon exclaimed. "Who's named Ox? Where are you, Ox? Stand up!" Ox, seated close to the back, gamely arose. "Whoa," Jon said. "You're a bear, ox?" He then asked Ox to take off his shirt, and proceeded to lead the audience in a thunderous chant of "OX! OX! OX! OX!"
After maybe ten seconds or so, Ox relented, taking off his outer shirt to reveal a black tank top and some sizeable tattooed arms. The crowd went nuts, and Jon handed out the evening's award: an Archer Spy Pen, which comes with the printed warning, "Careful! The cap slips off for no reason." Sure enough, even though they had brought over a dozen pens, only three had caps left, so those were reserved for people like Ox who worked hard to deserve it. (Also: The guy who agreed to get shot in the nuts by Aisha Tyler. Long story.)
Matt proceeded to ask the guy's question again, but Jon interjected. "No, wait. I'm not done yet. Ox! TAKE OFF YOUR OTHER SHIRT!" This led into ANOTHER chant of "OX! OX! OX! OX!", even louder than the first. I thought he wouldn't do it... but he totally did! Ox ripped off his muscle shirt and stood bare-chested, proud or ashamed at the adulation of the crowd. In return for his sacrifice, he received the ultimate reward of a black Archer T-Shirt. That shirt might or might not have been fired out of an air cannon. My memory is a little fuzzy at this point. Jon collapsed in laughter while Ox strode triumphantly back to his seat. "That guy's, like, Seal Team Sixty!"
Throughout the rest of the evening, Jon treated Ox as his personal attack dog. When someone in the front row annoyed him, he would roar, "OX! Attack! Get him!" He even threatened to unleash Ox on Chris Parnell at one point. Late in the show, he got Ox to come up one more time by throwing him a dollar bill. "That's a real dollar! Thanks!" Ox rejoiced.
There was lots of other great stuff from the show, of course. I have no idea if they were taping it or not - I didn't see any camera, so I'm guessing not, but it would be great to see at least one of the shows pop up on a DVD extra or something in the future. In no particular order, here are some highlights of the night. Minor spoilers for Season 4 are sprinkled within there.
- Most exciting thing I heard this night: Anthony Bourdain will be a guest star on the show! We saw a clip of his appearance, where he's either called or appears on a show called "Bastard Chef." He appears while smoking a cigarette in chef's whites, of course. Aisha told a great story about meeting him at Comic-Con and introducing him to the rest of the cast ("I didn't meet him," Parnell quietly and sadly reflected. "That's because he's my friend!" she shot back.), and hooking him up with the producers. She also made a crack about a sexual activity Bourdain would engage in, involving oysters, which prompted Jon to go on a long, detailed riff that reduced Tyler to incoherent laughing sobs by the end.
- Also on next season? Timothy Olyphant! He and Archer have a bromance!
- Something big happens with Mallory... but I won't spoil it, even after the spoiler warnings! (Sadly, Jessica Walters didn't make it to the SF show, though I think she's scheduled to appear at some other stops.)
- A great example of how these people work: one of the questions was, "How much of ISIS's budget goes to paying for alcohol?" Aisha tackled this first: "Well... most of it, I would imagine. Sterling and Mallory alone drink insane amounts of alcohol. Nobody could drink that much in real life without destroying their bodies." Jon: "I... I drink about that much." Audience: "*Laughter*" Jon: "Shame on you for going there so quickly." Aisha: "I think... yeah, probably a majority of ISIS's dollars go to booze. I think it probably costs at LEAST a million...... dollars." Amber and Matt then talked about how the real-life actors don't drink as much as their characters, but still a lot. Aisha loves bourbon, but her drink of choice is Jager. Amber calls Jager "Mistake Juice." She'll announce this just before she starts drinking it, so other people know what she's about to do (have sex with strangers). After several minutes of chatting, Chris Parnell, who has been quiet lately, speaks during a lull: "Actually, I just ran some calculations. Sterling and Mallory drink pretty good stuff, so we can estimate about $500 a day for alcohol consumption. Multiply that by five days in a week, and that by fifty weeks in a year, and we come up with $125,000." The audience went nuts, and Parnell/Cyril took a bow.
- They showed us a hilarious/disturbing video that was supposedly created by Krieger. It starts off in a shojo anime style, with him and his lovely girlfriend going for a walk and Krieger declaring his love. It rapidly transforms into a tentacle porn anime. Apparently, this will be a DVD extra in the future.
- We also saw an incredible video that depicts Archer after suffering a horrible accident: the doctors save his life, but he's been turned into, well, H Jon Benjamin. The remainder of the time he desperately tries and fails to hit on beautiful women, reach the gas pedals of his car, and receive any modicum of respect.
- One of the live script reads was for the Season Four finale, during a meeting in Mallory's office. Amber very gamely read Jessica's part, despite some light ribbing from Jon. Matt narrated the major scene events (like, "Mallory presses a button, and the map switches to a view of the world.") The scene involves a B-52 that has crashed near Bermuda, and it's utterly hilarious. It was a great feeling to experience something like this before anyone (well, other than those jerks in LA the night before) had, and the comic timing between all the actors was spot-on. Which is especially incredible, since, as they noted, they always record separately; the timing we hear on the show is purely a function of editing, but it's exactly what they do live. Great stuff!
- They did two classic scenes. One was from my favorite first-season episode, "Skytanic." Even though Chris Parnell was there, they asked for a volunteer from the audience to voice Cyril's lines, with Parnell serving as an acting coach. They auditioned a few audience members to find the right person. Yates: "Let's get that guy." Matt: "Wait, is that the guy who said the producer was an a-hole? No way! Wait. Hey, do you want to do this?" Guy: "Sure!" Matt: "Well then f--- off!" They eventually got one guy, who sounded pretty decent during the audition, but when the scene started, he talked kind of like Kermit the Frog. Jon LOVED this. The scene is the one where Lana is trying to shove a bomb off the blimp (excuse me, rigid air ship), while Cyril is trying to apologize to her for his unfaithfulness, and Archer, who has been shot in the leg, is hopping around on one foot. For a prop, they had a gigantic cardboard box with the word BOMB written in black permanent marker. And I think a drawing of an old 18th-century-style spherical bomb with a sputtering fuze. It was... hilarious. I need a thesaurus to describe this event.
- The other classic scene: the season 3 episode, where "we learn that Pam is actually an awesome drift racer for no reason." For this, they set up the chairs to roughly simulate the four-seater car. Jon sat down in front of the first chair, simulating Archer's position clinging to the roof. Aisha and Yates had awesome toy automatic assault rifles that they shook around during the firefight. Yates was playing George Takei's character of the Yakuza mob boss. Aisha: "The great thing about Lucky playing this character is that you know it will be super-racist." And Yates.... hahaha. It really doesn't communicate well in blog format, but Yates did his part with the most glorious, rich, deep, Russian accent you can imagine.
- Oh, yeah: we probably heard the Danger Zone song at least six times throughout the night. They would just randomly start playing it, then the actors would scramble around, find the air gun, and start firing t-shirts into the crowd. It was awesome. They also did an audience recreation of what is, by far, the most-requested scene of all time: "Lana. Lana. Lana! LANA! LANAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" "WHAT?!" "Heh heh... danger zone!" Meme: satisfied.
There was plenty more, but you get the idea. I loved the loose, free-flowing feel of the night... they were gifted improvisers who obviously liked one another and knew how to push one another's buttons (Jon, in particular, could incapacitate Aisha at his whim), and created an organic show that was full of serendipitous comedy. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to see it all unfold.