Richie McCall could be considered a pro at the ins and outs of FST’s hit musical sketch comedy show, Laughing Matters. This year’s edition of the show, subtitled (Variant 6): Paranoia on Parade, marks the fourth version of the show he’s starred in. And the characters McCall has had to tackle in each show run the gamut. In 2009, he entertained audiences as then-President Barack Obama, singing parodies of “Hey, Big Spender” and “C’est Mois.” In 2011, he and his castmates took on the (then new) full-body scanner at the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport with a rendition of “Achy Breaky Heart.” In 2016, he teased and poked fun at local developers who “Can’t Say No” to constructing a new building on every block.
We sat down with Richie to talk about his memories of past Laughing Matters productions, what rehearsal was like for this season’s edition of the show, and the joys (and challenges) of true collaboration.
This is the fourth edition of Laughing Matters that you’ve been a part of. What was your experience like with the 2016 version, Volume 5: Lock the Gates? Are there any moments from Volume 5 that stand out to you?
I am thrilled to once again be a part of Laughing Matters and to be in Sarasota. The last production, Lock the Gates, ran during the winter and spring of 2016, so we were right in the middle of the presidential primaries. One number in the show was a parody of “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
The premise for one of the skits was having Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorino, and Ben Carson take part in a debate and breaking into a song, “Everybody Ought to Have a Gun.” The number went over big. However, as the weeks went on, all three candidates dropped out of the race and eventually we had to cut the number. We were able to update the show and stay current, thanks to the guidance of the show’s Head Writer, Rebecca Hopkins.
Describe the rehearsal process for Variant 6. Are there any memorable or hilarious moments from it that you’d like to share?
As always, we had a ball putting this show together. My cast mates and I were all guilty of cracking each other up and “breaking” character. We all lived to make our director, Richard Hopkins, “break” any chance we could.
As the show’s running order was being developed for a particular part of the show, Richard would stop and announce that there would be a joke or a quick sketch to be added at that point in the show. When this happened, I would immediately run to the middle of the rehearsal room and begin to tell a story or the most filthy joke to rock the room. (I knew very well that there would be no way in the world that it would ever be performed onstage at FST.)
What do you most enjoy about contributing to a show like Laughing Matters? What is most challenging about tackling this type of production?
The best part of doing Laughing Matters is the rehearsal process, where everyone is encouraged to brainstorm, create, and share. There are no rules, except respect and open hearts.
It is difficult to work on a sketch or a song, bring it to life, and then it ends up getting cut. Knowing it is not because the piece is bad, but it just doesn’t fit the shape of the whole show, helps with the disappointment. Even though it can be discouraging when this happens, it’s a vital part of the process.
Also cast in Variant 6 is Nick Anastasia, who performed alongside you in the last edition of Laughing Matters. How are you feeling about being back at FST with him?
On top of working with Richard Hopkins, Rebecca Hopkins, and Jim Prosser on this show to the have the opportunity to work with Nick Anastasia again is the icing on the cake. Nick is force of nature, highly energetic, with a big voice and a wicked sense of humor. We may have completely different comedic styles, but they blend beautifully together.
That being said, rehearsals for Laughing Matters were a mad house. It was pure lunacy with creative minds working non-stop, a pound of laughs, and so much fun!
Is there anything that audiences would be surprised to know about you?
I think they would be surprised to know that, at times, I can be serious and thought-provoking as well as funny.
Me and Stepin’ is a reminder to embrace our individuality, celebrate our worth, and to persevere. During the main character’s journey, you are introduced to the spirit of Stepin Fetchit, a Black film actor of early Hollywood known for playing the stereotype image of “The Coon.” His name alone came to represent a degrading stereotype to the Negro race. You learn, however, that he was a skilled artist, extremely tenacious, shrewd and determined—the antithesis of the character that made him famous. Through all the obstacles he endured, Stepin Fetchit stayed true to himself and became the first Black movie star.
It’s a fascinating story that needs to be told. Me and Stepin‘ is full of inspiration and hope, and makes you feel a little better at the end of the than you did before it began.