Somewhat based on real people, Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor brings the audience into the writer’s room of a 1950’s comedy-variety show. The show follows Max Prince and his writers in their battle with NBC executives about the show’s humor. In this feature Q & A, cast members Lauren Rosenzweig, Ray Hilton and Gus Langley share their thoughts about the production in a round table discussion.
Who is your character and how would you describe him/her?
Lauren: My character is Carol. She is a strong woman who plays in a man’s world, and she knows it. She is tough on the outside so as to survive in this world and takes pride in being able to hold her own.
Ray: I play Ira Stone, a definite hypochondriac who believes he is the funniest one in the room, except maybe for Max, although at times he does think he is funnier than his boss. He hates when people are funnier than him but also recognizes when a joke might actually be funnier than what he has to share and, sometimes begrudgingly, steps aside.
Gus: My characters name is Brian Doyle. I’m an Irish comedian with aspirations of
writing for the big screen.
What real-life person is a counterpart for your character
Lauren: My character is based on a combination of Selma Diamond and Imogene Coca.
Ray: Mel Brooks
Gus: Brian is not based on any one writer in particular. He is more an amalgamation of several writers sprinkled with stereotypes common to the profession as a whole.
What is your favorite moment in the show?
Lauren: Is it cliché to say “the end scene”? The realization all of the characters go through at the end is truly touching.
Ray: I think my favorite moment is when Ira threatens to “steal” Stelluh, a joke he wrote that Max claims to now own. Ira is offended when Max gives Kenny credit for the joke and, through a bit of arguing, decides to take the joke hostage. This leads to Ira being thrown on a table until he submits to Max and spits out the joke he is threatening to swallow. This scene is a lot a fun to play from beginning to end.
What do enjoy most about working with your fellow cast members?
Lauren: Laughing! We have been cracking each other up since rehearsal one, and I am so excited to see it play out in front of an audience now!
Ray: My favorite thing about this cast is the camaraderie we’ve developed through the rehearsal process. With a script like this, you’re almost forced to create that sense of brotherhood, but there’s still the possibility of it coming off as a fake kinship. I think we’ve been able to move past that and really make our time in the writing room count and have created a strong sense of brotherhood, where we fight, laugh, and sometimes cry together, but not too much because crying doesn’t get you paycheck on a comedy show.
Gus: We are lucky to have such a talented cast. We all come from very diverse
backgrounds and it is a joy watching us all learn to work with one another.
What can audiences expect when seeing the show?
Lauren: I’m hoping they can expect to see a glimpse at what life was like for comedy writers in the early 50s and how a group of people can come together to fight for what they believe. All while making you cry laughing!
Ray: You can expect a fast paced, old school, quick witted comedy, but with a lot of heart. The script is brilliantly funny and, I think, does a great job recreating what it might have been like during the time leading up to end of Your Show of Shows. It’s a comedy that includes the personas of some of the greatest comedic minds ever, who brought us works like The 2,000 Year Old Man, Blazing Saddles, The Dick Van Dyke Show, M.A.S.H. – the list seems endless. You can expect to laugh at least once.
Gus: Expect hard laughs and soft tears.
Which comedic actor or writer inspires you?
Lauren: I love all the greats: Lucille Ball, Mel Brooks, Steve Martin and the new kids on the block like Kristen Wiig and Tina Fey.
Ray: Steve Martin is my all time favorite comedian, though I gravitate quite a bit to Mel Brooks and his works, which is funny since my character is based on him. But, don’t expect a Mel Brooks impersonation.
Gus: Judd Apatow has opened the doors for a very diverse group of comedians. I am inspired by his work and the work of the actors whose company he keeps.
What is your favorite weekly comedy/ variety show (pastor present)?
Lauren: Just one favorite? I currently love Portlandia. Older shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Tyler Moore and I Love Lucy will always be favorites of mine as well.
Ray: I know it’s not the most popular cast, but I still love watching SNL each week and Chappelle’s Show always had me laughing, sometimes uncomfortably. As for current sitcoms, I never miss an episode of Modern Family and New Girl, two of the best comedies on right now, but Friends and Seinfeld will always be at the top of my list.
Gus: There are actually some really funny shows on television these days. There has been a real shift in the industry to allowing more improv on the set. This has led to some great innovations. It is important to remember some comedy is crafted. This show harkens back to that old style. Personally, I cannot wait for that new Arrested Development to drop.
Next Stage Theater Company’s production of Laughter on the 23rd Floor plays on the Alley Stage through February 23, 2013. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. Atlanta Theater Fans readers who use the coupon code “ATLTheatreFan” will receive 20% off of their tickets.