Flipping Their 'Wigfield', Comedy Central crew gives life to quirky town
The Daily News of Los Angeles
by Evan Henerson, Staff Writer
July 28, 2003
First came the book. Then came the book tour that wasn't a tour. Actually, first came the meeting about the idea that didn't become a book.
"Amy Sedaris and I used to improvise a story about a worm, so then she got the idea that we should do a children's book," says Comedy Central mainstay Paul Dinello. "But the children's book seemed a little dark for children since the worm was a tequila worm and an alcoholic."
The folks at Hyperion Books didn't much take to the tequila worm pitch, but they warmed to another idea about a one-horse town, its hack biographer and decidedly oddball population of strippers, attorneys, taxidermists and city officials.
Hence the birth of Wigfield, the brainchild of Dinello and longtime Second City friends and collaborators Amy Sedaris and Stephen Colbert. "Wigfield, The Can-Do Town That Just May Not" is a hot seller, while the 90-minute "Wigfield" theatrical presentation puts the trio back on stage together for the first time since their Chicago days nearly a decade ago.
Not that they've lost touch. Colbert, Dinello and Sedaris have collaborated on the Comedy Central series "Exits 57" and "Strangers With Candy." It's been primarily fans of the two series who have been packing the seats during the mini "Wigfield" tour.
"Our demographic is an oddly wide one," says Colbert. "We get young teenagers to people in their 60s stopping us and telling us how much they enjoyed 'Strangers.' I think our core audience is a lot of damaged people."
"Wigfield" the play, which runs for three performances this weekend at the El Portal Center for the Arts in North Hollywood, is actually Sedaris, Dinello and Colbert's answer to a book tour. The three performers read from "Wigfield" the book, accompanied by multimedia slide projections of the Wigfield characters. The piece workshopped in New York - where all three performers live - before touring.
Likened by some critics to a twisted riff on Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" or the "Greater Tuna" duo, Wigfieldians live in constant fear that their town will cease to exist once the dam upon which Wigfield was built is torn down. The narrator is one Russell Hokes, an extremely bad writer who came to Wigfield to experience small-town life.
Hokes is sort of an extension of the authors, according to Dinello.
"We had never written a book, so it made sense to create a narrator who had never written a book. Really, I don't think he's even read a book." says Dinello. "The character really freed us up. We no longer had to pay attention to any of the rules of grammar."
Hokes has taken on something of a life of his own outside "Wigfield," "authoring" an article for Spin magazine about his aborted attempt to experience Army basic training.
There is discussion of expanding Hokes and the townsfolk into an expanded theatrical event or possibly a film project. Something like that, however, would involved coordinating three already complicated schedules and changing the product.
"Yeah, we'd have to chop it up and rewrite it: all the work you have to put into a real play," says Sedaris. "This way, we can get away with saying, 'Oh it's only a reading.' So it's better than a reading and less than a full play."