How Mick Napier almost killed me…

Mick Napier, as many know, is the founder of The Annoyance Theatre, which has just re-opened at its space at Clark and Belmont in Chicago, a stoned throw away from the one-time site of Crosscurrents Cabaret, where so many of us started out.

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I had been studying and performing at Crosscurrents for a while when Mick Napier came along in the mid-to-late 80s. We were all working with Del Close and Charna Halpern, who had started the ImprovOlympic not long before that. My team, the Baron’s Barracudas, was the first house team of what later became the iO, and Mick moved up through the ranks quickly.

I remember coaching one of Mick’s early teams. I also remember directing a show called “Children’s Hospital” ay nearby Sheffield’s (which is one of the few places that’s still there today), which also featured Andy Dick, among others. And Mick was one of the few non-Baron’s Barracudas (Rich Laible was the other one) to appear in “Honor Finnegan vs. the Brain of the Galaxy,” the first scripted show directed by Del after he left Second City.

Mick eventually approached me about a new project he was doing for a new theatre he was creating. He called it Metraform, and he was going to stage an ambitious, messy show he was calling “Splatter Theatre,” in the upstairs space. He wanted me to present, between acts, what we lovingly referred to as “Meat Puppets.”

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It was a subtle as it sounds. I was the host, a Frazier Thomas figure to pieces of raw meat that were manipulated from below by my puppeteers (who included, if I remember correctly, Dave Pasquesi and Tim Meadows. Wonder whatever became of them?…). The storylines, as they were, usually involved some sort of infidelity between a chicken, a pork chop, and whatever other cuts of meat happened to be on sale that day. They all ended violently.

It was one of my more dangerous shows. Every night before the show, I would have to prepare the various meats (and thaw out the whole chicken–for some reason, the chicken was always at least partially frozen). The water upstairs at Crosscurrents was always as cold as the chicken, so I could never truly disinfect my hands, and salmonella was a real possibility. After each show, I tried to get to the water before the “Splatter Theatre” cast. They were all covered with chocolate syrup dyed red to look like blood, so I didn’t blame them for wanting to clean up. But I was trying to ward off salmonella, so we all jostled with each other for access to the icy water. I guess it was a draw. They got clean, and I didn’t get salmonella.

And now, many years later, after decades of success doing it his way, The Annoyance Theatre has re-launched. I don’t know what they’re going to be doing, but I know it’ll always be worth checking out. So even though you’re undoubtedly uncomfortable about all of the attention you’re getting, deal with it, Mick. It’s what comes of doing things your own way for so long. And long may you annoy.

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