Caro Meets Comedy Interview

The Pajama Men: Just The Two Of Each of Them

By | Published on Friday 11 October 2013


We first came in to contact with Albuquerque-based duo The Pajama Men – aka Mark Chavez and Shenoah Allen – at the Edinburgh Festival, where they have been entertaining the crowds and receiving loads of critical acclaim since 2004, when they were nominated for the prestigious Comedy Award newcomer gong.

Many awards, nominations, and international festival appearances later, they are in London for a nearly-six-week run at The Arts Theatre with their latest show ‘Just The Two Of Each Of Us’, which one of our team described as “infinitely clever and endlessly entertaining”. We sent over some questions, in the hope that they would answer them. And they did.

CM: For the uninitiated, can you tell us what your shows are like, and why you wear pyjamas?
MC: We play an assortment of different characters in various sketches that, as the performance goes on, begin to tie it all together in exciting ways. We focus on comedy as a whole, but take darker themes such as death, or loneliness, or addiction, as our inspiration for creating each show. As for the pyjamas, we did it originally as a neutral costume that was comfortable and loose and could just be forgotten about on stage and that worked. But now, 13 years later, we’re just grown-ass men wearing pyjamas.

CM: For the initiated, can you tell us what to expect from the latest show?
SA: The longer we work on our style the more story driven we get. I think this show ties together better than previous shows. That said, this show is also a lot more joke heavy than usual. We try to give the audience just enough story that they have something to hang onto, but the lion’s share of the show is silly gags.

CM: How did you two meet, and how long have you been working together?
MC: We met in high school at an audition for an improv team that our theatre programme was putting together. Shenoah came up to me and said “you’re Mark, right? You want to audition together?” And we did, and we both got in! The improv team only did one show and it was awful. But we became friends after that and basically worked together in some capacity ever since. That was in 1994, so we’ve been hanging out together for almost 20 years.

CM: How do you develop your shows? Do you come up with things separately or sit brainstorming in a room together?
SA: We develop our shows on our feet. We get into a studio together and improvise and take notes along the way. Once we’ve got enough puzzle pieces we start fitting them together. We sometimes work from themes as well. Procrastination and addiction were the themes we started with with this show. It’s a wonder we ever finished writing it.

CM: Do you ever get fed up of each other?
MC: Of course we do. We have arguments that range from petty disagreements all the way to very serious “discussions” with lots of furrowed brows and crossed arms. I’d worry if we didn’t fight. You kind of have to fight make this (or any) artistic partnership work.

CM: You’ve won or been nominated for lots of awards. Have they given a tangible boost to your career? How does it feel to WIN?
SA: I think it boosts us. People want to see what the hype’s about (I use the word ‘hype’ loosely – we do theatre for a living, we’re hardly Jay-Z). On the down side, you also have people judging you and wondering why your stupid show won and theirs’ didn’t? Audience Expectations go up etc. People resent you. Obviously comedy is appreciated subjectively. Awards make more sense in sports where when you win, you win, and that’s it. Still, when we won the Barry Award at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, we were fucking thrilled. Why we need approval in the first place is a whole other question.

CM: Who are your favourite fellow comedy acts? Has anyone influenced your work?
MC: When we toured the Canadian fringe festival circuit, in the early 2000s, we encountered a comedy duo called Hoopal, comprised of a couple of English guys named Chris Gibbs and Peter Mielniczek. They completely blew me away. I remember Shenoah and I talking about how patient and confident they were with their material. They did everything from really silly physical gags to very sharp one-liners with such ease, it all seemed so effortless. That was a huge influence then, and one that still resonates now.

CM: Please can you tell us an interesting fact about your home town Albuquerque? Or a boring one, we’re not fussy.
SA: Albuquerque was kind of a surreal place to grow up. It’s home to: Kirtland Airforce base, Sandia national laboratories, Intel, a huge university (UNM – Go Lobos!), a wonderfully authentic Dia De Los Muertos parade, poets, gangs, hippies, the Rio Grande, hard drugs, violent crimes, beautiful mountains, the world’s largest hot air balloon festival, the best food in the word, arts and craft fairs coming out the wazoo, and bad fashion choices. Lately the meth dealers have started putting blue food colouring in their crystal meth to make it look like the shit in Breaking Bad.

CM: Other than performing your show, what will you get up to while you are in London?
MC: I imagine you’ll find us at the Soho Theatre on more than one occasion to see what’s on. I also know that I’ll be visiting about 20 museums while I’m here. And if the weather allows it, frisbee on the heath sounds great. Other than that I plan to just comb the isles of Tesco’s and look wistful.

CM: What’s next for The Pajama Men?
PM: Top secret (because we have no idea).

The Pajama Men’s ‘Just The Two Of Each Of Us’ is on at The Arts Theatre from 15 Oct until 23 Nov. See the venue website for more info and tickets.

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