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Local lobsters

Wednesday, Apr 18 2001
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It's common knowledge that inspiration strikes when least expected -- say, while you're sleeping or riding Muni. For Paul Charney, co-founder, producer, and director of the wacky sketch-comedy collective Killing My Lobster, it came after one too many drinks, during a round of the word-association game Celebrity. During this particular session, Charney blurted out the phrase that would eventually become the group's moniker -- a phrase he and his Lobster cohorts originally used to mean "Dude, you're bumming me out."

The madcap group's irreverent christening is not unlike one of KML's no-holds-barred brainstorming sessions. Deciding what's funny is often as simple as gauging whether the Lobsters can make each other laugh. "We shoot for originality, to do things we haven't seen before, that we want to see," Charney explains. Chances are, these sessions would make hilariously funny sketches in and of themselves.

The members of KML consciously try not to "dumb down" the humor. The group is known for its sidesplitting combo of silly slapstick, goofy physical humor, and highbrow cerebral references. "I think people appreciate the intelligence of the show. It's easy to rely on base humor, but I don't think we're pretentious," Charney asserts.

Although Charney and co-producer Marc Vogl are the original founders, the group is truly a collaborative ensemble, pooling the eclectic and oddball sensibilities of its 10 members, who are primarily Brown University and Vassar alums. "We function like a band, [but] there's no lead singer or songwriter," Charney insists. Clearly, it's an approach that works. In a little over four years the team has amassed a loyal fan base, regularly selling out shows, and was chosen as Artist of the Month on Comedy Central's Web site in January. What started out as a whim has now grown into a veritable laugh factory. The production company that is KML has spawned the annual Hi/Lo Film Festival, occasional cabaret nights, and, most recently, a CD collection of shticky show tunes by the ensemble's very own orchestra, the Rock Lobsters.

In Killing My Lobster Breaks the Bank, the company's latest collection of over-the-top skits -- this time, they're "vignettes for the financially deluded" -- KML takes a look at a timely topic on every San Franciscan's mind: the economy. The pursuit of wealth -- and the loss of it -- has never been as funny as during these absurdist bits, including one about two dot-commers hawking their online potato-selling Web site, E-potato, to a dubious venture capitalist, another about a peace-loving hippie commune torn asunder when members fight over a J. Crew roll-neck sweater, and a third covering an eccentric art investor who insists on having a piece of art installed over her bidet. With their inventiveness, smarts, and experimental outlook, the Lobsters are well on their way to comic greatness, with immediate plans to take Breaks the Bank to L.A. and Chicago. Will San Francisco lose its beloved Lobsters to the call of fame and fortune? The answer is a resounding "no," according to Charney, who confidently affirms that "Killing My Lobster is a product of San Francisco. It can't leave." And that's no laughing matter.

About The Author

Lisa Hom

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