For the uninitiated, what is Dink Tank, anyway?
AB: Dink Tank is Renegade Theater Company’s resident sketch comedy team. It’s made up of local actors, writers and directors who have a passion for sketch comedy. We also have a passion for showing each other weird videos on YouTube and talking about Martin Scorsese films when we should be writing sketches.
Why do you like sketch comedy?
AB: Sketch comedy is writing mini-plays, and it’s a real challenge to create a full world in five minutes. The best sketches have clearly defined characters and conflicts – someone wants something from someone else desperately. To me, it’s always best when it’s deadly serious for the characters in the sketch. That’s where I think the best humor is found. Well, that and fart jokes. Obviously.
Who are or have been your comedic icons and influences?
AB: I can’t speak for the rest of the team, but I can remember watching “The Kids in the Hall” years and years ago on HBO and really understanding for the first time that sketch can be more than a series of zingers. It really can be an art form. At least it was when they did it. And when “Mr. Show” did it. I’m not saying it is when we do it, but I’m saying it’s what we aspire to. And yes, I’m aware of how pretentious I sound talking about sketch comedy, but to really do it well is hard. Really hard.
Why the two year hiatus for Dink Tank? You guys seemed to be hitting it pretty well and got some national recognition.
AB: It wasn’t something that was planned. Dink Tank was the first creative decision Katy made and implemented when she took over as Artistic Director. And once it was up and running she put her energy into directing the company’s efforts at improving our mainstage seasons and rebuilding the Improv program. Things are going great on all those fronts, and Improv has surpassed our wildest expectations, but we ended up putting Dink Tank on the back burner for far too long. So we’re thrilled to be back.
Can you give us a sneak peek into some of the stuff we’ll be seeing this year on stage?
AB: Since it’s been two years since we’ve done a show, we decided to put up a few of our favorite sketches from shows past, with some new twists and additions. The last time we did a show, our Improv program was just beginning, so we’re hoping to introduce a lot of our Improv crowd to our sketch comedy team, and we wanted to give them a few of our favorite sketches. But the large majority of the show is brand-new, and we think it’s our strongest show yet. We poke some fun at the Food Network and Glee, get into Tea Party politics in a fun, festive way, and I try to get through an entire sketch opposite Katy’s latest insanely funny character creation without laughing.
Tell us about your fellow Dinks. Who’s bringing the funny this year for the revue?
AB: This year’s team is about half original members and half brand new members. Jody, Evan and Katy are – to me – the team’s anchors. It just wouldn’t be a Dink Tank show without them and their individual talents and senses of humor. But the newbies are doing fantastic work, too. Matt Helbacka has come on as a writer and turned in some really smart, really funny pieces. And Cory Anderson, Amanda Sjohdahl and Loretta Miller are Improv players who are joining the Dink Tank cast for the first time and are doing way more than holding their own. They are seriously talented performers and we’re lucky to have them. And, as great as the on stage cast is, Dink Tank isn’t Dink Tank without Scott Hebert serving as tech wizard. He’s responsible for the look and sound of the show, and delivers some hysterical voice-over work from the booth as well.
What’s your process for writing and making the show happen?
AB: We start out with a series of pitch meetings where we bounce ideas off each other and see which ones spark our interest. Then, I break out the pitches and assign them to the writers. We try to meet weekly to read drafts of pieces and evaluate new pitches and then, about three weeks before opening, we select the scripts we’re going to perform and turn to putting the sketches up on their feet. The writers stay a major part of the process the whole way, editing and adjusting the sketches as we rehearse them. We’re always looking for a way to make the sketch fuller, to have more characters doing more things and finding ways to make each piece as funny and complete as possible.
Has there been any time where you looked back and thought you pushed the limits?
AB: Yes, lots of times. We like our comedy a little bit dangerous, and we think some of the funniest stuff is right out there on the edge of going too far. We don’t believe that dirty humor is easy. We think it’s really hard to do well. To say things or set up situations that are taboo – like having a sketch called “The Virgin Mary Considers an Abortion” are very risky and definitely push the envelope, but we think the fun is trying to find the line between funny and offensive. Because if you stay on the right side of the line, that’s where things are often most funny. Like the sketch we wrote called “Glasses” that revolved around an African-American cast member who wanted to play Jesus in a sketch and we pretended the reason we wouldn’t let him was because he wore glasses, and Jesus didn’t. We felt it was a sketch about race handled in a funny, inventive way. That said, it’s not something we set out to do. We don’t get together and say, “Let’s write a sketch about abortion,” or “It’s time we tackled racism.” We just see what ideas we have and where they lead us. We don’t shy away from any topic, but we don’t actively seek out the taboo either. For example, this show is probably our least button-pushing show yet. Not by design, but just from who was writing and what we wanted to write about.
What’s the right mix of ingredients to put on a successful comedy revue in Duluth?
AB: For us, the fact that we live in Duluth doesn’t really come into it. If we lived in Chicago or Ann Arbor or Miami we would be writing the same show, and we think it would play just as well. We tend to write character and situation based sketches, rather than topical ones. And when we do parody or political humor, it tends to be on a national scale. So, for us the right mix of ingredients is about the right mix of comedy styles. We want to have more straightforward sketches as well as more esoteric and off-the-wall humor all mixed together. Every one of our performers brings something different to the table and we want to make sure every style and sense of humor is given a chance to play.
What’s next for Dink Tank? Surely not another two year break!
No, we’re back. And we plan on sticking around this time. We have another Dink Tank @ the Movies planned for March 2012 (where cast members sit in the front row of the Zinema and poke fun at the movie being screened), and we’ll be back with another sketch show next year, as well.Renegade Theater Company’s “Dink Tank: Return of the Dinks” opens Thursday, December 8 at Teatro Zuccone, 222 East Superior Street, Duluth. Curtain time: 8 p.m. The show runs through December 17.