April 10, 2014

Well-dressed for comedy

The comedy troupe of Robin Duke (Saturday Night Live), Jayne Eastwood (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), Kathryn Greenwood (Whose Line Is It Anyway) and Teresa Pavlinek (The Jane Show) tour with the long-running show “Women Fully Clothed.”

The idea of four women sharing the stage together, keeping their clothes on and making an audience laugh shouldn’t be revolutionary. But in comedy circles in the past few years, the “Are women funny?” question keeps floating around for some reason.

So let the ladies of Women Fully Clothed put all questions to rest. Yes, they’re funny. And they’ve got the packed houses and rollicking audiences to prove it.

The Canadian comedy troupe of “Saturday Night Live” alum Robin Duke, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” actress Jayne Eastwood, “Whose Line Is It Anyway” comic Kathryn Greenwood and “The Jane Show” star Teresa Pavlinek have been performing together since 2003. Their first show was a Mother’s Day fundraiser with The Second City, the famed improvisational comedy showcase. All of the women except for Eastwood are alumni of Second City.

“We got together and all just got along. We came into rehearsals laughing and telling stories and eating, of course,” said Duke, who organized the group. “We had so much fun and enjoyed each other’s company during rehearsals so much. Then when we did the show, it was a success. We knew we had an audience of women that wanted their voices heard.”

From there sprung the Women Fully Clothed show, a series of sketch comedy routines all written and performed by the group. The troupe originally had five members, but Debra McGrath left to pursue other opportunities in 2009. The four original cast members have toured together for 10 years now and have written two separate shows for their performances.

The women will come to the Gallo Center for the Arts on Wednesday with a production that includes material from both shows. The subject matter covers everything from home life to work routines and even low-rise jeans. Duke said the name of the troupe was a clever way to tweak convention.

“For me, Women Fully Clothed hit for two reasons,” she said. “One, it was finally women with their clothes on. Which is a change. The other was it was about women getting dressed up and celebrating. It’s about being done up and going out for the evening.”

Duke, who was an “SNL” cast member from 1981 to 1984, said all the women bring their own skills and strengths to the show. The cast ranges in age from new mother Pavlinek at 43 to grandmother Eastwood at 67.

“Everyone brings something different to the table,” Duke said. “Jayne is a brilliant actress, she knows how to deliver a performance. Same with Kathy, who is very sharp and witty. Teresa comes with a point of view. And I am just a big clown, a big ham.”

Duke went to “Saturday Night Live” after starring as a regular on the Canadian sketch comedy show “SCTV,” which produced such famous alums as Martin Short, John Candy and Catherine O’Hara, among others.

During her time on “SNL” she worked with Eddie Murphy and co-wrote his first “Velvet Jones” character sketches, as well as the series’ first Mr. T impersonation. She spent two years as a staff writer for the show, as well.

“It certainly helped me grow as a writer. I was always intimidated there by the camera,” Duke said of her “SNL” years. “I had come from Second City, from the stage. But then with someone like Eddie, the camera loved him. So I started writing because no one was writing good scenes for the women anyway. Then I started writing for other people. I managed to get a lot of material in that way.”

Since leaving the late-night sketch comedy show, Duke has appeared in feature films including “Groundhog Day,” “Stuart Saves His Family” and “Multiplicity.” She also has done extensive voiceover work and is a faculty member at Humber College in Toronto. There, she is a professor of comedy in the school’s two-year Comedy: Writing & Performance program.

The 60-year-old Duke said as much as Women Fully Clothed is a showcase of female comedy, it also is a celebration of maturity in comedy. She said the genre is often seen as a young person’s game. But funny knows no age.

“I think that is what is so refreshing,” she said. “The audience is so surprised they can laugh again. A lot of them grew up watching ‘SNL’ and ‘Second City.’ We’re just doing that, but older, more mature and more insightful.

“I feel now I have so much more to say than I had when I was doing this in my 20s and 30s. I have an opinion and strong point of view, I’ve seen some roads. The show is just about all the stuff that we have lived through as women, as people. We have all been there, we can laugh at it.”

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