Some people view hell as fire and brimstone. For several Madison comedians, hell is watching movies. Bad movies. The worst movies imaginable.
On the last Friday of each month, Eric Olander, Anthony Siraguse and Cynthia Marie joke their way through cinematic disasters during Movie Hell, Madison’s only live film commentary show.
At the show, which takes place at the Fountain on State Street, Satan — who looks an awful lot like a sock puppet — appears from behind a podium, introducing the panel and boasting about the amount of pain he inflicts.
Other comedians have mocked films for the enjoyment of audiences, most notably in Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax. But Movie Hell’s bright cast creates a special rapport with the audience. The minimalist set includes a fake bookshelf and a table covered with a black cloth and microphone. “It makes you feel like you’re in Satan’s living room,” says producer/host Tucker Rowan.
“We make the audience feel like we’re all in this weird secret club together, like we’re all sharing a private joke,” says Siraguse.
Guest stars often accompany the regular cast members. At December’s end-of-the year show, local comedian/evil red-robed wizard Patrick Henry sat on the panel for Neil Breen’s cinematic bad trip, Fateful Findings, a Z-grade film featuring magic stones, ghosts and the “most secret government secrets.”
Movie Hell has also been blessed by the presence of Guy Fieri (aka Chicago-based comedian/writer Ian Erickson), who sat in during the Halloween screening of 1988’s B-horror Night of the Demons. That film features one 1980s hair metal song and approximately 87 minutes of fake blood, fake boobs and every horror trope imaginable.
The four cast regular members are seasoned improvisers and stand-up comedians who write, act and produce The Whoa Show, a bimonthly sketch comedy event at Broom Street Theater. Olander often turns to the audience for suggestions. And they don’t hold back. At the December show, Tucker tore into Breen, director of Fateful Findings, calling him a “dollar store David Lynch,” and mocked the film’s royalty-free score, calling it “broke-ass Titanic music.”
I’ve seen the last three installments of Movie Hell, and it’s nice to see the audience steadily growing. While at theaters, people aren’t supposed to talk, at Movie Hell, reactions are welcome. Encouraged by the cast, audience members turn to each other, elbows in ribs, pointing at the screen, taking it all in together.
If you’re looking for a comedy show different from anything else in town, featuring bad films, a receptive audience and, says Siraguse, “a bunch of dumb friends having the time of their lives,” it might be time to visit Movie Hell.
The next Movie Hell will be Jan. 27, with special guest James Corlett.