Actor William Selby seems to eat, sleep, and breathe comedy. He recently returned to perform in Laughing Matters (Variant 6): Paranoia on Parade after going on a brief hiatus to direct—and act in—the popular revue parodying Broadway musicals, Forbidden Broadway. Now, Selby returns to FST to lend his comedic charms to FST’s popular sketch comedy musical revue and make audiences laugh.
The rehearsal process for every FST Cabaret, especially for one like Laughing Matters, is highly collaborative. What do you most enjoy about contributing to a show like this? What is most challenging about bringing this type of show to life?
Collaboration is such an important part of sketch comedy. Richard Hopkins, the show’s director, knows this, as did Gerard Alessandrini (Director of Forbidden Broadway, a show I’ve done for many years). You’re working with some great comedic talents that have been brought together to “bring the funny,” and it would be foolish not to listen when ideas are thrown around. Both Richard and Gerard stay open to what’s brought up in rehearsal. Of course, that doesn’t mean they choose to go ahead with every idea, but they’re wise enough to identify when something good comes up and know not to walk away from it.
I’ve learned this as a director, myself. I have a plan for each number, but if someone in the room—be it an actor, writer, or musical director—suggests something clever, I’ll absolutely try it out (and thank them afterwards, of course)!
The challenge with this show, I believe, is admitting when a number or sketch is just not working and letting it go. Listening to your gut is important. There may be things about a sketch that are funny and that really work, but you must have the ability to recognize when a number simply needs to be removed, for the benefit of the entire production.
What is your favorite song or sketch in Laughing Matters to perform and why?
I’ve talked about the “Mother Nature” sketch before as being my favorite number in the show, so I’ll mention one more I really enjoy: “Trouble,” based on the big number from the Broadway musical The Music Man. I had performed two other parody versions of the song in Forbidden Broadway, so this was my third time singing alternate words to the same song (and I know the original lyrics as well).
The difficulty level? Pretty darn high! But it’s so fun to perform. It’s very wordy, non-stop, and there’s no time for mistakes or you’ll really trip up! So rehearsing it in front of the crew and rehearsing it elsewhere—on my bike, in my bedroom, in front of the dog in the living room, walking to the theatre, on a bench in a park—was a necessity. It’s very rewarding to get it right and finish successfully; the crowd gives it a big cheer at the end of Act I. Yes, I’ve tripped on it a couple of times on stage in the past, but that just means hitting the books again and ironing out those wrinkles. It’s a great number about the troubles in Sarasota and a real blast to deliver it to our audiences.
Is there anything that audiences would be surprised to know about you?
I suppose anyone who watches me in a comedy on stage, or in a sketch revue like Laughing Matters, may not pick up on the fact that I’m quite an emotional guy and can cry at just about any given moment. This is a real plus for stage work. When I do emotional scenes in plays, I’m usually able to come up with the tears by just being “in the moment.” It’s funny, when I was younger, I wasn’t able to tear up quickly at all. As a matter of fact, I would sometimes laugh at inappropriate times on stage. I believe this came from nervousness and from not being able to really deal with a serious situation. But now, I have experiences to draw on when it comes to performing an emotional or dramatic scene. It’s made me more of a complete human being and a better actor. Those moments in life do happen to us, and we have no choice but to deal with them, head on.
Was there anything that you drew from your experience performing in Laughing Matters and brought to the directing chair for Forbidden Broadway? What are you most looking forward to about returning to Laughing Matters?
It was quite a task to take on Laughing Matters (Variant 6), and then leave in the middle of the run to direct and act in Forbidden Broadway, only to return to FST and get the show back in my head! To do this I “checked in'” with Laughing Matters once or twice a week while I was in California, to make sure it didn’t disappear. I didn’t want to come back to my put-in rehearsal confused and forgetful, so it was important that I didn’t ignore Laughing Matters while I was away.
The two productions are similar, in that they both include Broadway songs with the original music, but changed lyrics to parody either the show itself or topical subjects of today. So I’ve felt very comfortable in the Laughing Matters world, since Forbidden Broadway has certain elements that are the same. The North Coast Rep production of Forbidden Broadway was the 20th one I had directed, but this time, I acted in the show as well. It was an enormous amount of work (maybe more than I had expected) but honestly, the rewards were great.
Since Laughing Matters is inspired by the trends and events of TODAY, there have been some updates to the show since it first opened. What are these changes like and how have you learned to become so adaptable/flexible as an actor?
We’ve had to be careful with certain subjects in the show, especially in the news reports, that deal with political topics and figures. When reality becomes deadly serious and takes a turn for the worse, we must be sensitive to that, and take out anything that suddenly becomes in bad taste. We adapt and make changes. As an actor, you’ve got to learn to go with the flow. We’re given new lines, deliver new ideas, and continually try to find the humor in this crazy world of ours. Laughter truly is the best medicine – it tastes good!